Jan 5, 2011

Place Names

I haven't done a study on Irish place names, but I sure was curious when I was in Ireland. Every other town was named Bally-something--Ballynahinch, one of my favorite names. It just rolls off the tongue. And what about Ballymoney and Ballycastle. Bally actually means "place of" so it's easy to tell what's in Ballycastle, for example.
(Ballycanal, the B&B we stayed at in Moira, which sits beside a canal.)

The place names are pretty logical. For instance, Banbridge is a town with a bridge built over the River Bann.
(Photo of Banbridge in the early 20th century. It looks about the same now only with cars.)

Down, Dun, Don--mean a fortified place. Obviously there were wars fought in Ireland and some sites were easier to defend than others. This would be equivalent to "fort" in America.
(The fort at Fort Atkinson, WI)

So we have Donegal, Portadown, Downpatrick. In America we have Fort Worth, Fort Collins, Fort Wayne...
(Donegal Castle)

When you see "glen" in a name, it is probably going to be a beautiful place. It means a valley between two mountains or in the first example, between two lakes--Glendalough, Crossmaglen...

Lough means lake: Lough Neagh, Glendalough...
(Lough Neagh)

(Inch Abbey)
I was curious about Inch Abbey. Inch is a measurement, right? Nope. It's the same as Inis or island, or a place along a river.

Most of the place names in Ireland are as beautiful as the places they represent. The names are descriptive and vivid. Here in America we have some names like that. I'm curious about a lot of them as well. The place I live, Pataskala, is an Indian word. When I met author J. Philip Newell, he wanted to know where I lived. Most people ask me how to spell it. Newell asked me what it meant. Names often have meanings and history behind them. What's your favorite place name, and why?

(Pataskala means "Bright Waters," the name the native Americans gave the nearby river.)

(The river natives once called Bright Waters. It was probably "brighter" in those days!)

For more posts on place names go here or here.


  1. And I'll add "kil" means church/church of... Kilkenny, Killarney, Kildare, Kilrush, Kilmurry...

  2. I was thinking of adding that one as well. Thanks for pointing it out!