It’s no secret that Ireland has a rich and fascinating history: With thousands of years of existence, and invaders and residents from England to Norway, the country has been built, shaped and influenced by countless visitors.
As we mentioned in our first story on Irish place names, we can get a glimpse into the past by just looking at a name. These words reflect who lived here, who was in power, and how our ancestors spoke. These names often evoke nature (large rivers and mountains that define a whole area), the man-made intentions of an area (derivations of “fort” and “port” loom large) or the founders themselves.
The amalgamation of language styles and interpretations of the area has led to some poetic words and phrases, and town and village names help to define an area.
Here are some more of our favourite Irish places and place-names and how they came about…
This lovely port town has given us authors, athletes and countless sun holidays. Indeed, this is a place well used to visitors (welcome and otherwise).
The Vikings called it Veisafjǫrðr some 1300-odd years ago when they founded it. That actually sounds quite like the name we use today. Meaning, however, depends on who you ask: It’s either “inlet of the mud flats” or “inlet of the way”.
Viking settlers were Norse, of course, and the Norwegian word “veisa” means “way” while “fjord” might have played a part in the second half of the name. So, “veisa” – “fjord”, meaning “way of the fjord” is very plausible too.
However, come the Middle Ages, it became an Old English settlement, with the name Weiseforthe – not a million miles from what the Vikings called it and the town’s modern name.
Scenic Sligo might have been too remote for invaders: This would explain the simplicity of its relatively untouched Irish name (“slig-ock” – it’s fun to say), which means “abundant in shells” or the equally charming “shelly place”.
That name used to belong to Sligo’s river Garavogue, which (like its beaches), had no shortage of shellfish. Shell middens (mounds of shells, usually a historic artefact) can still be found in Sligo.
The country’s name is accurate to this day, as any local seafood fan will testify!
Just down the road, Galway is enthralling locals and a steady stream of visitors, who can’t quite agree how this town got its name. There’s some consensus that Galway got its name from the River Gaillimh (now the Corrib), from the Irish word for “stony”. Mystery solved, right? Not so fast…
Some believe that the county’s name comes from the Irish word Gallaibh, meaning “foreigner”.
That’s a logical conclusion, but it’s unlikely, since the river name Gallaimh predates the name of the town, and the town and river name have the exact same spelling (using an “m”).
Others speculate that the town and river get their name from a young woman named Gallaimh, the daughter of a Chieftan who tragically drowned in the river centuries ago.
The likeliest explanation is the commonest one – that it’s named after its stony river.
Dingle/Daingean Uí Chúis
The name of this popular Kerry town was, as you might have heard, the subject of some dispute in the past: Depending on who you asked, it was either Dingle or An Daingeann, however the official and correct name is Dingle/Daingean Uí Chúis.
Like much of Ireland, its name was formed around the time of invasion. So, the Irish name means “Fortress of Hussey”, named after the Flemish family who arrived in the 13th Century, but there are other theories. An older origin theory referring to “chieftain with a leg disability.”
As we mentioned, many Irish place names are sourced from local nature or the founders’ names. In the case of Tipperary, Tibrad Ara, means a spring in the territory of Ara.
Meath, at least in its original spelling, has one of the oldest county names. Its oldest name, Midhe means “middle” or “centre”, appropriately enough giving its location. (The Irish version is endearingly simple, Contae na Mí or just an Mhí.) The Kingdom of Meath was established in the 5th Century, encompassing West Meath as well as parts of Dublin, Cavan, Longford, Offaly and Louth.
Ireland has more than its share of beautiful places with even lovelier names. All of these locations can be handily found in the OSI Discovery Map, which will always keep you on the right track.