The meaning of Irish place names

The investigation of Irish place names has been a very important area of research for Mythical Ireland and 'Island of the Setting Sun' over the course of the past 13 years. Many Irish place names are very ancient, and predate the Norman and even the Christian periods. Some, as has been demonstrated in our book, relate to cosmology, others to significant mythological characters. Some are obscure and defy explanation.

Map of County Meath
An old map of County Meath  

From the very earliest days of our investigations into the Irish landscape and ancient myths and monuments, it became apparent that the unravelling of place name meanings would play a significant role in understanding how mythology, archaeology, landscape and cosmology intertwined. Some interpretations, both ours and those of other experts, are probably still open to further debate and scrutiny. Nonetheless, there is a profileration of Irish towns, villages, townlands and geographical features which bear names that were given to them in prehistory.

Some major sources on Irish placenames include P.W. Joyce's Irish Names of Places, in three volumes, published in the early 20th century, along with the Ordnance Survey Letters for each county, some of which have been published in book form, and others which have been published in archaeological journals. The Metrical Dindshenchas is a collection of Irish place name lore, found in the 12th Century Book of Leinster and other Irish manuscripts.

An investigation of some place names in the vicinity of the Brú na Bóinne monument complex in the Boyne Valley reveals some interesting cosmological and mythological connections. For example, the hill behind which the sun appears to set on Winter Solstice, as viewed from Newgrange, is called Réaltoge, meaning 'star' or 'young star'. Interestingly, it was also at this hill that the bright Dog Star Sirius would set in the Stone Age as viewed from Newgrange.

NAVAN: The meaning of the name of Navan, County Meath, on the banks of the Boyne

GRANARD: An extract from P.W. Joyce's Irish Names of Places, about Granard in Longford

DINDSHENCHAS: You can see some of the more significant Dinshenchas extracts on this page.