Living in Colour

Main Street, Ballydehob

Main Street, Ballydehob

I remember greyness. Grey stone, grey plaster, grey slate, grey concrete, rain-washed grey windows. In 1965 my parents painted our house navy blue, with white trim. In the middle of a terrace of grey houses it caused a minor scandal.

Kilmore Quay Thatched CottageWhile the traditional Irish cottage of the postcards was whitewashed and thatched, with perhaps a daring red half-door, there were always isolated farmhouses in lurid colours in the deep countryside. Inexplicably painted bright purple or tangerine or electric green, they hinted at the farmer wanting something he could find in the middle of the night coming home on the bicycle after a long evening in the pub. But the general change came gradually with the popularity of the Tidy Towns competition, where villagers were encouraged to spruce up their houses, trim their lawns and keep the village neat and clean. I left Ireland in 1974 and a constant delight of visits home since then has been the discovery of Ireland of the Colourful Houses.

2012-05-08 10.51.272012-12-16 12.15.29Towns and villages are a riot of multi-coloured shop fronts and dwellings. In some, the decorous and tastefully pastel abound. The streets that provide most eye candy, though, are those that have kissed goodbye to any sense of discretion in favour of in-your-face vivid and clashing shades. The rainbow streetscapes, whether quietly elegant or flamboyant, work delightfully, buoying the spirits and infusing every shopping trip or sightseeing expedition with a sense of play and exuberance.

2012-05-08 10.45.342012-05-08 11.46.20This is our last post for 2012. HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our dear family and friends, wherever you are. May 2013 bring all good things your way.

Oh, and by the way, the place names competition is still open for entries. Prizes still to be won!

The Sober Streets of Skibbereen

The Sober Streets of Skibbereen

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