Celebrating Ulster's Townlands

 

 

Signpost: Townlands

  6. Maritime Names

Carlingford Lough and the "Three Nuns" seen from Cranfield West Beach, Co. Down: Crónan Ó Doibhlin 

Carlingford Lough and the "Three Nuns" seen from Cranfield West Beach, Co. Down: Crónan Ó Doibhlin 

 

Strangford Lough 1. The entrance to Strangford Lough, the original "strang fjord": National Trust

Strangford Lough 1. The entrance to Strangford Lough, the original "strang fjord": National Trust

 

Strangford Lough 2. Called in Irish "lough of the harbours" from its many islands: this is Gibb's Island: National Trust

Strangford Lough 2. Called in Irish "lough of the harbours" from its many islands: this is Gibb's Island: National Trust

 

Murlough 1. Co. Down: National Trust. The "sea-bag" seen from the castle of Dundrum "fort of the ridge"

Murlough 1. Co. Down: National Trust. The "sea-bag" seen from the castle of Dundrum "fort of the ridge"

 

Murlough 2. Co. Antrim: National Trust. The north coast example is less sheltered

Murlough 2. Co. Antrim: National Trust. The north coast example is less sheltered

 

Logo: Townlands

 

The most certain evidence of the Vikings is the few coastal names they have left in Ulster. Strangford, “the strong fjord” and Carlingford “the hag’s fjord”, are Norse names for these sea loughs. The reason for the name Carlingford is likely to be the mountain tops known locally as the Three Nuns, which are still used as a mariner’s mark. The Norse word was borrowed into Scots as Carlin, and a rock called the Carlin’s Loup, “the hag’s leap”, from which witches launched their broomsticks, gave the name Carlops to the village south-west of Edinburgh in Scotland.   

At first the name Strangford only applied to the lough entrance, which has a strong tidal current, while the rest still bore the Irish name Loch Cuan “lough of the harbours”. The half-submerged drumlins in the lough provide it with many islands and places of anchorage. Some of these islands are termed pladdies, apparently a Norse term meaning “flat island”. The term probably arrived in Ulster in the speech of Scots settlers, like the word selk “seal” which appears in the names of east-coast rocks.  Other rocks covered at high tide are called skerries, a Viking word, also borrowed into Irish: Skerriagh on Rathlin, “speckled reef”, from Sceir Riabhach.  

Other interesting elements in coastal names are Gaelic. Moyle council in north-east Co. Antrim is not named from the Mull “bald head” of  the “headland” of Kintyre but from Sruth na Maoile, “stream of the maol”, where maol refers to a sea-current. Another, the “red current”, named Mulroy Bay in Co. Donegal. 

 

 

Two bays on the north and east coasts were called muirbholg or “sea-bag”, now simplified to Murlough, although the double bay at Dundrum Co. Down, seen here from Dundrum Castle, explains why it was called a “bag”.

 

 

 

Back in Strangford Lough there is the term dorn for a stony causeway or ford revealed at low tide. The Gaelic word dorn originally meant “fist”, in Ireland it also developed the meaning “throwing stone” or “pebble”, while East Ulster shares the Scottish Gaelic meaning of a stony causeway exposed at low tide, or “narrow channel passable at full tide”. The place-name Ballydorn “townland of the dorn” has been given to the Lightship which is now the flagship of the Down Cruising Club.  

 

 

 

Ballydorn lightship: Ben Bolton. With permission of the Commodore and Council, Down Cruising Club.  

Ballydorn lightship: Ben Bolton. With permission of the Commodore and Council, Down Cruising Club.  

 

 

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