Celebrating Ulster's Townlands

 

 

Signpost: Townlands

  22. Place-Names and Tradition

Raven map 1622 of Ballyholme, Co. Down: North Down Heritage Centre.

Raven map 1622 of Ballyholme, Co. Down: North Down Heritage Centre.

Logo: Townlands

If Ballyrobert hadn’t been

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

Wesleydale development, Ballyrobert 1999: Country Estates / Kenny Homes

  Ballyholme 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

Crannog at Reloagh, Co. Tyrone: EHS

 

 

 

Fort at Lisnamintry, Co. Armagh: 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.
 

The 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 means.

  To 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

A councillor and a local resident with new bilingual street signs: Belfast Telegraph, Feb. 1999

 

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