Genealogists are sometimes able to find out the name of the places where their ancestors lived and worked. American genealogists who are learning about ancestors who lived in a foreign country might think that the place names sound strange. Have you ever wondered what the name of your ancestor’s place of birth means in “plain English”?
Irish Central is the largest Irish site in North America. Part of the its focus is to tell stories about Irish culture, roots, history, and genealogy. It is also a leading source for news and politics from Irish America and Ireland.
The name of a specific place is often due to a variety of situations. Ireland has a long history of having its native kingdoms supplanted by invading Vikings, Norse, English, and others. The place names of Ireland’s counties has been affected by the various cultures that lived on that particular piece of land.
In 2012, a group of Irish genetic researchers set out to try and find a genetic link between Ireland’s oldest families and the Vikings that once took over the land. The researchers focused on men who were over the age of 18 and who had an “established” Viking surname. In June of 2015, Ancestry.com posted a blog that showed a map of the UK that was color coded to indicate the amount of Scandinavian genetic ethnicity in various places.
Irish Central has two very interesting maps for genealogists to take a look at. The top map is one of modern Ireland, with the place names as you would expect them to be. The second map is also of Ireland, but it shows the names of each place in “plain English” (based on the actual meaning of the modern place name.)
What we know of today as County Donegal was once part of what was called Ulster. Donegal means “stronghold of the foreigners”. The “foreigners” were the Vikings. Donegal was also known as Tir Conall which means “the land of Conall”.
Kilkenny was established in 1200. It means “church of Cainnech” and was named in honor of St. Cainnech. Much of what is known about him is from legend. Saint Cainnech of Aghaboe was a Gallic abbot, monastic founder, priest, and missionary during the early medieval period. It has been said that he converted Ireland to Christianity in 597.
Some of the other places had more practical names. Wexford got it’s name from the Norse term for “fjord of the mud flats”. Derry was once called Doire, which means “oak wood”. Cork was established in 1200. It means “swamp” or “marsh”.
Image by Normal B. Leventhal Map Center on Flickr.
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