Celebrating Ulster's Townlands

 

 

Signpost: Townlands

  5. Peoples of Ulster

Logo: Townlands

Ulster comes from the tribal name Ulaidh plus, it is thought, the English or Viking possessive –s and the Irish word tír “land”, meaning “land of the Ulster people” (Sommerfelt 1958). This name must have been used by the Normans, because Gaelic speakers continued to call the province Cúige Uladh “Fifth (i.e. province) of the Ulster people”.

The Mourne mountains, Co. Down: Kieran Clendinning

The Mourne mountains, Co. Down: Kieran Clendinning

 

  The people of ancient Ulster were not all the same. Tradition lists three main groups in Ireland, often named as the Érainn, the Cruthin and the Gaels. The Érainn have given their name to the island, Éire in Irish while the English language has made it Ire-land.  The Romans seem to have got the earlier form Iwerio confused with their word for winter, hiber, and thus called the island Hibernia. In early historic times we know that the people of mid-Down and the Glens of Antrim were Érainn. So were many of the people of Munster, and several legends explain the links.  

Map showing Ulster and the "Irish Sea Province": the colours are not political but from the Geological Map of the British Islands, 1912.

Map showing Ulster and the "Irish Sea Province": the colours are not  political but from the Geological Map of the British Islands, 1912.

 

  The second major group, called Cruthin, bore a Gaelic version of the name Briton, and they may have come to Ireland from Britain. In Ulster they once held the north and east, from Duncrun “fort of the Cruthin” near the north coast below Benevenagh to the Crown Mound  Áth Cruthean “ford of the Cruthin” by the river north of Newry and the Mournes.  The group called the Manaigh found in the county name Fer-managh and the Belfast name Taughmonagh (“men” and “people” of the Manaigh) are also likely to be connected to the tribe called Menapii in Britain. 

Binevenagh from the Bishop's Road, Co. Derry: NITB

Binevenagh from the Bishop's Road, Co. Derry: NITB

 

  It is less easy to define the Gaels, since in historic times all the Irish population used the Gaelic language. When people from the Glens of Antrim founded a new colony in the west of Scotland they named the area Argyll, Oirear Gaidheal, the “coastland of the Gael”. The Gaelic name for Scotland was Alba, and a Scotsman was an Albanach. The townlands called Carnalbanagh “Cairn of the Scotsmen” in Counties Antrim and Down are probably too early for the other meaning “Presbyterian” attached to the word Albanach in modern Donegal. A famous confusion in the early history is that an early Latin name for the Irish, the Scotti, migrated with the people and gave Scot-land its modern name.

Binaughlin, Co. Fermanagh: Eddie McGovern

Binaughlin, Co. Fermanagh: Eddie McGovern

 

  The language history of Scotland is more complicated than Ireland, since it was multilingual from an early period. Welsh, Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon (the ancestor of English and Scots) were spoken in the south of Scotland long before the Normans brought English and French to Gaelic Ireland. Viking colonists settled in Galloway from the Hebrides and the Isle of Man, so that it became known as Gallghaoidhealaibh “place of the foreign Gaels”.

Spray on the Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim: KM

Spray on the Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim: KM

 

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