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).
ANNOUNCING OUR FIRST COMPETITION!
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|
|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|
|Terrain||Doire (oak wood)||Derry|
|Poul (hole, hollow)||Powl|
|Descriptive||Mor (large, big)||More|
|Dubh (dark, black)||Duv|
|-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.