We love our Irish place names here at OSI. These names, in both English and Irish, tell a story of how the country came about, from the people that shaped it to the landscapes they lived on.
Our first Irish Place Names article lists Dublin, Cork and Limerick, among other counties and towns. While our second Irish Place Names article looks at Wexford, Sligo, Galway, Tipp, Meath and Dingle.
This time around, we’re turning our eyes to Clare, Kerry, Wicklow and then some smaller parts of the country.
We’ll take a wander through some county names, before swinging by some towns and villages for a quickfire round.
Irish County Place Names
Clare packs a lot into one county, with the Cliffs of Moher, surfing mecca Lahinch, geographical marvel the Burren and a music scene that’s pure mighty.
The Banner County gets its name Clár (or Clare) from the Irish for “board” or “plank”. This refers to a bridge that sat across the River Fergus, between Ennis and what’s now known as Clarecastle Town. There was a De Clare family, who were prominent in Clare in the 13th Century, but the county’s name predates their arrival.
As for the “Banner” name, Clare has a history with banners, dating back to battles in the 18th Century and later to political gatherings in the 19th.
Ireland’s Garden County is the place to go if you want a ramble, a walk or just a stroll. With coastal towns and countless hills and mountains, you’re never short of somewhere to explore.
Like many parts of the East, Wicklow has a rich Viking history. So, they say its name derives from the Viking “Vykyngelo”, meaning “Meadow of the Vikings”. In more recent years, it would be more accurate to call it “Shooting Location of the hit show, Vikings”.
The Irish name is even better. “Cill Mhantáin” means “church of the toothless one”.
This one hews very close to its original Irish pronunciation – Cabhain. You might remember from school that the Irish “bh” sounds like the English “v”. Cabhain (or Cavan) simply means “hollow”, inspired by some of its geography.
If you happen to find yourself in Cavan, you should try a spot of fishing or hiking. Or, if you want to take it easier, the beautiful Deerpark Forest was a star of our Forest Trails story.
Like many corners of this country, Kerry enjoys several names, including “The Kingdom”.
“Kerry” and “the Kingdom” have essentially the same origin: “An Ciarrai”, the Irish name, comes from Ciar’s Kingdom or Kingdom of Ciar. These dates back to the First Century AD, so some time before Kerry became a haven for tourists and holidaymakers!
Dingle, incidentally, appears in our second place-names story.
Irish Village and Town Place Names
Moll’s Gap, Kerry
This part of Kerry is where a woman called Moll Kissane reportedly ran her shebeen – like a speakeasy before anyone had heard of a speakeasy – and serving the potent, illegal poitín.
We like the Irish name even more: “Céim an Dáimh” which means ‘the ox’s step’. From certain angles, that gap indeed looks like a giant ox planted its enormous hoof on a hill, cleaving a space.
Many Irish place names come from descriptions of rivers and crossing. And in the case of Clifden, it’s “An Clochán” (what a beautiful word) meaning “stepping stones”.
“Gaoth Sáile” is Irish for sea wind, which refers to the fresh, bracing Atlantic breeze that locals will experience in this part of the world.
Staying in Mayo for a bit, its famous pilgrimage site comes from the Irish “cnoc” (another fun word). The first “c” is silent, so pronunciation is the same as English. It means “hill”.
Yes, there were duels in Dublin once upon a time – at its peak, some say that there 20 duels a day in Ireland the early 19th Century! But the name of the North Dublin village of Swords is unrelated to that. Instead, it comes from “sord”, which means “well”.
OSI – Getting you where you need to go
We’ve been helping people find their way across Ireland for over 100 years now, so whether you’re finding your way to Knock, rambling in Wicklow or heading to Clare to surf, don’t forget to stock up on OSI maps. The Official Road Atlas Ireland makes a particularly great present for the map lover in your life. Click the link below to buy online.