Place Names – and PRIZES!

View from Cappaghglass

Several of my Canadian readers have asked me to do a piece on place names. As a Canadian, it’s hard to fathom that the address ‘Finola Finlay, Ard Glas, Greenmount, Ballydehob, Co. Cork, Ireland’ could actually get to me – “What?” you say, “No street address? No postal code? And how on earth do you pronounce Ballydehob?” (Actually, just Ballydehob, Ireland, would probably make it to me.)

When Ireland was mapped by the Ordnance Survey in the 1820’s to 1840’s, place names were Anglicised mostly by trying to reproduce the Irish names phonetically. With some basic knowledge of Irish it is possible to winkle out the meaning of many place names. The smallest unit of land recorded on the maps is the ‘townland’. This being Ireland, the term ‘townland’ has nothing to do with a town but is a defined geographical area, probably based on very ancients divisions. Townlands vary in size, but 300 acres would be typical. In rural areas, the address often includes the name of the house (Ard Glas), the townland (Greenmount), the nearest town with a post office (Ballydehob) and the County (Cork).


Below is a basic Irish-English dictionary of common place name words. Use it to translate the names of some West Cork place names – submit your responses by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ at the end of this post. Use your imagination, your poetic sense, your personal lexicographic preferences and your sense of humour. There will be LOVELY PRIZES for the best entries!!!

Words for Irish word (translation) Pronounced
Field Gort (small field) Gurt
Ban (meadow) Bawn
Cappagh (tilled field) CAppa
Settlement Liss or lios (round earthen enclosure) Liss
Dun (fortified enclosure) Doon
Rath (round earthen enclosure) Rath
Baile or Bally (settlement or town) BOLL-yeh
Cill (small church) Kill
Hill/Mountain Ard (high place) Ord
Drom (rounded hill) Drum
Cnoc (hill, rocky) K-Nuck
Letter (hillside) LETTer
Croagh (mountain) Croke
Sliabh (mountain) Sleeve
Mullach (summit) MULLock
Terrain Doire (oak wood) Derry
Mona (bog) MOAN-Ah
Carraig (rock) KArrig
Poul (hole, hollow) Powl
Descriptive Mor (large, big) More
Beag (small) Byug
Glas (green) Gloss
Rua (red) RU-ah
Dubh (dark, black) Duv
Ban (white) Bawn
-Een (as a suffix – diminutive: little, small) Een

Place Names around Roaringwater Bay


Oh and Ballydehob? It’s pronounced BAlly-dee-HOB. From the Irish Béal an Dá Chab, meaning ‘mouth of the two river fords’. Just to confuse things.

beal an da chab

12 thoughts

  1. Could / Would anyone have any family history, or a list of the families that lived on Horse Island. My G. G. Grandfather Was an O’Regan from there.


  2. Having recently learned that prizes remain, I offer the following slapdash translations (to be spoken in an Irish accent, of course):

    Cappaghglas = Place of the green tilled field
    Gortnamona = That special place with the small boggy field
    Gorteenakilla = You remember that really small field beside the small church? There.
    Ballybane = The one-and-only town with the meadow.
    Derreenard = The little high place, the one with oaks.
    Lisheen = That little round earthen enclosure place.
    Letterscanlan = The hillside where the little trapper lives.
    Mullaghmore = The large summit; no, the other one.
    Ardraha = That reddish, high place.
    Cnocnacarriga = The rocky hill with more rocks; no: the one beside it.


  3. And another stupendous piece of work – this time by our friend Chris Park.

    Cappaghglas Green tilled field only in Ireland do the field remain green when tilled
    Gortnamona Small boggy field Swamp
    Gorteenakilla The small field with an even smaller Church
    Ballybane White town or White Meadow
    Derreenard High Oak woods
    Lisheen Small hole in the ground Pit
    Letterscanlan The attractive hillside worth looking at
    Mullaghmore Big Peak
    Ardraha Redhill
    Cnocnacarriga Craggy Rock – Bottom Boot Boys

    Lovely prize on its way!


  4. Cappaghglas – The Place of Confusion (? I don’t see how it can be both green and tilled.)

    Gortnamona – Bogfield (sounds very unattractive)

    Gorteenakilla – Microfield

    Ballybane – The Settlement Formerly Known as Meadow

    Derreenard – The Backside of The High Place

    Lisheen – The Outhouse

    Letterscanlan (I give up on this one)

    Mullaghmore – Gianthill

    Ardraha – Goldmountain (raha seems to mean money in Estonian and Finnish)

    Cnocnacarriga – The Really Really Rocky Hillside


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