Some less obvious Irish place-names

Usually, Irish place names have just been adapted to English spelling, or translated. However, there are many that aren’t so obvious. Here are some examples:

Arklow – an tInbhear Mór, gen. an Inbhir Mhóir. This place-name is one of the relatively few occurrences of inbhear “river mouth” in Ireland (béal is more common). As everybody knows, Inver-this and Inver-that is typically Scottish, though.

Brookeborough – Achadh Lon. The Brooke family was granted the ownership of the village during the Ulster Plantations. Achadh Lon is what the place was called before. It means the same as Kosovo Polje, i.e. the field of blackbirds.

Carrick-on-Shannon – Cora Droma Rúisc. People often attempt to translate the English name back into Irish. as something like “an Charraig chois Sionann”. However, that is not the historical name of the place.

Dublin – Baile Átha Cliath (usually pronounced as “B’leá Cliath”), or in more literary language Áth Cliath (gen. Átha Cliath). The usual explanation is, that there were two towns to start with, Duibhlinn the harbour, and Baile Átha Cliath, which was the part further away from the sea. Thus, the English who came in from the sea called the place by the name of the old harbour, and the Irish-speakers who approached it from the interior called it Baile Átha Cliath.

Milltown Malbay – Sráid na Cathrach. This is a small place in Clare, near Spanishpoint (which is Rinn na Spáinneach in Irish, if you were curious). Milltown Malbay has been called Poll an Mhuilinn or Baile an Mhuilinn in Irish too.



Killary Harbour – An Caoláire Rua

Killary Harbour, in Irish an Caoláire Rua, is a long, narrow sea-inlet in Connacht, between County Galway/Contae na Gaillimhe and County Mayo/Contae Mhaigh Eo. A place definitely worth a visit, but what does caoláire mean?

It is actually a compound of caol, “narrow”, “slender”, and sáile, “saltwater”, “sea”, thus caol-sháile, “narrow-sea”. Sh- is only pronounced [h], and as a rather fleeting sound it has gone missing when the original etymology has been forgotten.

As regards the l > r change (caolsháile > caoláire), there is a linguistic phenomenon called dissimilation (díshamhlú in Irish, I’d say), which is quite universal and frequently applies to words with two similar liquid consonants (two r’s, or two l’s). It means that one of the similar consonants changes into something else, typically just into the other liquid consonant, as here. (There are similar examples from many languages of the world – for example, from Georgian, where the nationality suffix is –uri, but a Russian is rusuli; or from Finnish, where a bourgeois person is called porvari, but in dialects often becomes porvali.)


Provinces and Counties in Ireland

Ulaidh – Cúige Uladh – Ulster

Ulaidh is the nominative, Uladh is the genitive. After simple prepositions, dative can be used: in Ultaibh, le hUltaibh.


Aontroim – Antrim (gen. Aontroma)

Ard Mhacha – Armagh

an Cabhán – Cavan (gen. an Chabháin)

Doire – Derry

an Dún – Down (gen. an Dúin)

Dún na nGall – Donegal (Tír Chonaill – Tyrconnell)

Fear Manach – Fermanagh

Muineachán – Monaghan (gen. Mhuineacháin)

Tír Eoghain – Tyrone

Laighin – Cúige Laighean – Leinster

Laighin is the nominative, Laighean is the genitive. After simple prepostions, you might see the dative form: i Laighnibh.


Áth Cliath – Dublin

Ceatharlach – Carlow (You’d expect this -ach to become -aigh or -aí in the genitive, but the recommended genitive form is Cheatharlach, i.e. with just the first consonant mutated.)

Cill Chainnigh – Kilkenny

Cill Dara – Kildare

Cill Mhantáin – Wicklow

an Iarmhí – Westmeath (gen. na hIarmhí)

Laois (gen. Laoise)

Loch Garman – Wexford. Actually, the form is etymologically speaking Loch gCarman, with an eclipsis that isn’t a regular feature of the language anymore (similar fossilized forms are found in an Muileann gCearr ‘Mullingar’, Loch nEathach ‘Lough Neagh’ etc.); Wexfordmen are called Carmanaigh in Irish.

an Longfort – Longford (gen. an Longfoirt; it would make more etymological sense to write it as an Longphort)

– Louth

an Mhí – Meath (gen. na Mí)

Uíbh Fhailí – Offaly

An Mhumhain – Cúige Mumhan (!) – Munster

an Mhumhain, gen. na Mumhan.


Ciarraí – Kerry

an Clár – Clare (gen. an Chláir)

Corcaigh – Cork (gen. Chorcaí)

Luimneach – Limerick (gen. Luimnigh)

Port Láirge – Waterford

Tiobraid Árann – Tipperary

Connachta – Cúige Chonnacht – Connacht

Connachta, gen. Chonnacht, dative Connachtaibh (i gConnachtaibh)


Gaillimh – Galway (genitive: na Gaillimhe; in Munster Irish, “in Galway” is “sa Ghaillimh” rather than “i nGaillimh“)

Liatroim – Leitrim (genitive: Liatroma)

Maigh Eo – Mayo

Ros Comáin – Roscommon

Sligeach – Sligo (genitive: Shligigh)