Celebrating Ulster's Townlands

 

 

Signpost: Townlands

Slieve Bearnagh, Mourne Mountains Co. Down: EHS 

Slieve Bearnagh, Mourne Mountains Co. Down: EHS 

 

Barnes in the Sperrins, Co. Tyrone: EHS

Barnes in the Sperrins, Co. Tyrone: EHS

 

Summit of Knockninny, Fermanagh: Eddie McGovern 

Summit of Knockninny, Fermanagh: Eddie McGovern 

 

Orangemen at Drumcree Church, 1998: Belfast Telegraph 

Orangemen at Drumcree Church, 1998: Belfast Telegraph 

 

River Bann (Upper) near Lough Neagh: Kieran Clendinning

River Bann (Upper) near Lough Neagh: Kieran Clendinning

 

Church at Loughinisland, Co. Down: Kieran Clendinning

Church at Loughinisland, Co. Down: Kieran Clendinning

 

Rathlin, off the coast of Co. Antrim: Kieran Clendinning

Rathlin, off the coast of Co. Antrim: Kieran Clendinning

 

Omagh Co. Tyrone: W.A. Green, UFTM

Omagh Co. Tyrone: W.A. Green, UFTM

  11. Landscape in Irish-language names

Logo: Townlands

Because the townland system was in place before the plantation, most townlands have Gaelic names. So do large features of the landscape, all now spelled as if they were English.   

 

“Mountain” is in Irish Sliabh: the first picture shows Slieve Bearnagh,  the “gapped mountain”, and the word bearna(s) “gap” appears in other mountain passes like Barnes in the Sperrins and Barnesmore “big gap” in Donegal. A smaller hill is cnoc, Englished as Knock as in Knockninny, "Ninnidh’s hill”.  

 

The river has a very old name Banna “goddess”. The streams which gave the name Clady and Claudy to villages share the name of the great river Clyde in Scotland, an old word meaning “one who washes”. The usual Irish word is Abhainn and this appears in several rivers called Owenreagh, Abhainn Riabhach “speckled stream”, usually swift-flowing rivers with a stony bed. A form of the word for stream, sruth appears in the river Strule near Omagh and Struel Wells in Co. Down. 

 

 

The most frequent term is droim “back, ridge”: as in Dromore, counties Down and Tyrone  “big ridge”. Drumcree is “ridge of the boundary”, where the boundary is probably the river Bann.

 

 

The element béal “mouth” often means “approach to a river crossing place”, as in Belfast “approach to the sandbank/river Farset”, and the townlands of Belcoo, “approach to the narrows” and Belleek “approach to the rocky ford”. Belturbet Co. Cavan is also “approach to the crossing place”. An element like Carry, Irish cora, indicates a weir which could be used as a ford, as in Ballycarry “townland of the weir” Co. Antrim, Doochary “black weir” Co. Donegal. 

 

 

A river valley is Glen, gleann borrowed from Gaelic into Scots in Scotland, as was the word for a broader valley srath, anglicised as Strath in Scottish place-names. In Ulster, we have Strabane, the “white river holme” and Stranorlar “river holme of the valley floor”.  The Gaelic word loch, in that spelling in Scotland and Lough in Ireland, is used for English “lake”.  Several townland names, like Ballylough “townland of the lough” near Banbridge in Co. Down, provide evidence for small loughs which have now been drained. However some names in –lough contain an ending that meant “place of”, such as Gregorlough townland meaning “place of tree-stumps” in Co. Down.  

 

Many townland names contain the word Annagh, Irish eanach “marsh”, like the village of Annahilt “marsh of the doe” in Co. Down. Sheskinshule in Tyrone, is seisceann siubhail “the moving bog”. The commonest word is móin which often appears as money.  

 

 

Inis means “ island”, as in Enniskillen “Ceithlean’s island”, Fermanagh, the monastery of Inch, Co. Down. Another word appears in Loughinisland, Co. Down where there are medieval church ruins. Rathlin, as in the island but also Raffrey and Raghery townlands in Down and Armagh, seems to mean a “place by water”.   

 

 

Má, earlier magh “plain” appears in Omagh the “untouched plain”, while Armagh is the “height of Macha” the “goddess of the plain”. Many names begin Agh- from achadh “field”, not now used in Irish but still the ordinary word in Scottish Gaelic. Gortin in Tyrone is the “little enclosed field”.  

 

 
 

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