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.

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