Celebrating Ulster's Townlands
|22. Place-Names and Tradition||
Raven map 1622 of Ballyholme, Co. Down: North Down Heritage Centre.
If Ballyrobert hadn’t
So Ballymena ‘bout his Ballymoney
He might have had a Ballycastle
For his Ballyholme.
|No one could read this far without realising that Bally / baile in local place-names refers to a townland or larger settlement – it’s not a term of disapproval. However this kind of humorous verse does show how people have tried to make sense of place-names. Bally Robert is fair enough: this type of personal name along with baile is likely to indicate the holding of an Anglo-Norman settler – probably originally Robert’s Town and later translated into Irish, as happened frequently in the Ards peninsula. Ballymena is the “middle settlement” though the middle of what is now rather unclear. Ballymoney has nothing to do with money and means the “settlement of the bog”: not that this stopped robbers from digging up the cairn on Carnmoney Hill in the hope of finding treasure, which they did not! The Irish words caisleán or caisteal are normally translated back into English as “castle” in anglicised spellings of place-names.||
Wesleydale development, Ballyrobert 1999: Country Estates / Kenny Homes
is more difficult. The dialect word holme,
pronounced the same as home,
means “river-meadow”. It was borrowed into English from Norse, and
is still current in Ulster today, while putting holme
with baile / Bally in this
name indicates that it was also used in Irish. Since there is a Viking
grave at Ballyholme, people have wondered if Vikings lived there, but
there is no evidence for settlement and even the names Carlingford and
Strangford must have been kept alive by sailors.
Crannog at Reloagh, Co. Tyrone: EHS
Fort at Lisnamintry, Co. Armagh: EHS
|There are many place-names where similar words in the different languages cause confusion. The spelling muck as in Portmuck, Lisnamuck (Co. Antrim) is not English muck but the Irish for pig, muc. Muckleramer which seems to contain Scots muckle “big” is merely a spelling for Irish mucail ramhar “pig-backed productive hill”. Likewise Fernhill House in the townland of Ballynafern, Co. Down, has misinterpreted the spelling fern, which represents the Irish for “alder” fearn, and Glenlark Co. Tyrone is not the “glen of the lark” but of the leirg “slope”. Some other reinterpretations are current among local people for the fun of it, like Money-fer-nuthin’ for the townland of Mullafernaghan, Co. Down.|
translations of names given in this exhibition result from the
professional methodology of place-name study, where as many early
references to the name as possible are collected and compared.
Thus it is clear, from spellings like Rathlough in 1615, that Reloagh
in Tyrone must be ráth locha
“fort of the lake”, referring to the crannog seen in the photo, and
not the meanings suggested for it in the 19th century.
However the history of some names reveals further complexity: Lisnamintry
in Co. Armagh was Lissereminy
in 1609 and Lissdrummentida in
1661 and apart from lios
“fort” at the beginning we do not know what the end part of the name
work out original form and meaning of a place-name local knowledge is
essential, which is where we hope you can help the Ulster Place-Name
Society. The enquiry
service is free to those who have some local knowledge to contribute.
The Place-Name Project provides a central archive for all information so
far gathered on place-names. The database covers all Northern Ireland,
and we can also help with names for new places and translations to
go on signage. These are all ways to keep the place-name heritage alive
for the future
A councillor and a local resident with new bilingual street signs: Belfast Telegraph, Feb. 1999