Irish place names have quite an interesting history. Most Irish cities, towns, even the smallest villages can trace their names back to their original Gaelic meanings. The original names usually have something to do with the natural layout of the town or village itself, or refer to some particular physical feature or sometimes a person or religious figure connected to the surrounding area. The way the names are spelt and pronounced in English are really just pseudo-phonetic versions of the original Gaelic name.

A good example of this, and one I am most familiar with would be the town of Dundalk in County Louth. Dundalk is a large town on the north east coast of Ireland, more or less equidistant from Dublin and Belfast. So large in fact that it achieved city status recenty, but I digress.

The name Dundalk comes from the original Gaelic "Dún Dealgan". In Irish (as Gaelige) the word "Dún" means "fort", "palace" or "stronghold" and the word "Dealgan" or "Dealga" refers to the mythical fort of Dealga, home to a mythical ancient Irish warrior called Cuchulainn. So many hundred years ago, before the Normans and the English arrived, the town of Dundalk would have been known as "Dún Dealgan". So the name "Dundalk" is really just an anglicised version of "Dún Dealgan".

Got it?

Dundalk = Dún Dealgan = Fort Of Dealgan

However, there some exceptions to this naming convention. For example, if the word "ford" is used in the name of a town like Wexford or Waterford, then that town most probably originated from "Fjord", which would indicate that the name was created by the Vikings, but these are few and far between.

Using the following list, it is then possible to reverse engineer the names of many Irish towns and cities back to their original meanings. The list is not complete, but it will give you an idea of where many Irish place names came from.

Format:
Gaelige = English - Example

  • ard = hill or tall - Ardagh, Ardmore
  • áth = ford or fjord - Adare, Athenry, Athlone
  • baile/bally = town or townland - Ballydehob, Ballina, Ballinlough
  • bóthar = road - Stoneybatter, Boherduff
  • bun = bottom, mouth of a river - Bunclody, Buncrana, Bundoran, Bunratty
  • carraig = a rock - Carrick, Carrickfergus, Carrickmacross
  • cill = church - Killarney, Kildare, Kilcullen, Kilkenny
  • cluain = field or meadow- Clones, Clonmel, Clontarf, Clontibret
  • cnoc = hill - Knock, Knockroe, Knocktopher
  • coill = forest or wood - Kilclare, Kilgowan, Killylea, Kilturk
  • cúil = corner or nook - Coleraine, Coolgreaney
  • cúl = back - Cullohill, Coolcullen
  • domhnach = Sunday or in relation to a church - Donaghadee, Donaghmore, Donnybrook
  • droim = ridge or hillock - Drumcree, Dromkeen, Drumanoo
  • dún = fort or palace - Doneraile, Dundrum, Dunloe, Dunmanway
  • gleann = glen or valley - Glendalough, Glenealy, Glenroe
  • inis = island - Ennis, Inch, Inistioge
  • leitir = hillside - Letterkenny, Lettermore
  • lios = ring fort - Lismore, Listowel
  • loch = lake - Lough, Loughbeg, Loughrea
  • muileann = mill - Mullinahone, Mullinavat, Mullingar
  • ráth = ring fort - Raheen, Raheny, Rathkeale, Rathmore
  • ros = woods or headland - New Ross, Roscommon, Roscrea
  • sean = aged or old - Shandon, Shankill, Shanmullagh
  • sliabh = hill or mountain - Slemish, Slievenamon, Slievenamuck
  • termon = church lands - Termon, Termonfeckin
  • trá = beach or strand - Tralee, Tramore


The above list is a condesned and slightly updated version of Trish Loughman's list available at www.loughman.dna.ie/general/placenames.html
Here are the Irish names of counties in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland:

Antrim     Aontroim, Condae Aontroma
Armagh     Ard Mhacha, Condae Ard Mhacha
Carlow     Ceatharlach, Condae Cheatharlach
Cavan      An Cabhán, Condae an Chabháin
Clare      An Clár, Condae an Chláir
Cork       Corcaigh, Condae Chorcaí
Derry      Doire, Condae Dhoire
Donegal    Dún na nGall, Condae Dhún na nGall, Tír Chonaill, Condae Thír Chonaill
Down       An Dún, Condae an Dúin
Dublin     Áth Cliath, Condae Átha Cliath (the city is Baile Átha Cliath)
Fermanagh  Fear Manach, Condae Fhear Manach
Galway     Gaillimh, Condae na Gaillimhe
Kerry      Ciarraí, Condae Chiarraí
Kildare    Cill Dara, Condae Chill Dara
Kilkenny   Cill Chainnigh, Condae Chill Chainnigh
Laois      Laois, Condae Laoise
Leitrim    Liatroim, Condae Liatroma
Limerick   Luimneach, Condae Luimnigh
Longford   An Longfort, Condae an Longfoirt
Louth      Lú, Condae Lú
Mayo       Maigh Eo, Condae Mhaigh Eo
Meath      An Mhí, Condae na Mí
Monaghan   Muineachán, Condae Mhuineacháin
Offaly     Uíbh Fhailí, Condae Uíbh Fhailí
Roscommon  Ros Comáin, Condae Ros Comáin
Sligo      Sligeach, Condae Shligigh
Tipperary  Tiobraid Árann, Condae Thiobraid Árann
Tyrone     Tír Eoghain, Condae Thír Eoghain
Waterford  Port Láirge, Condae Phort Láirge
Westmeath  An Iarmhí, Condae na hIarmhí
Wexford    Loch Garman, Condae Loch Garman
Wicklow    Cill Mhantáin, Condae Chill Mhantáin
Here are the Irish names of provinces in Ireland:

Connaught  Connachta, Cúige Chonnacht
Leinster   Laighin, Cúige Laighean
Munster    Mumha, Cúige Mumhan
Ulster     Ulaidh, Cúige Uladhh

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