Captain Courier van – 'To Finaghy and beyond!'
A lot of place names have common features – the most likely is Bally, from the Irish 'Boile', meaning 'place of' – so we get places like Ballynahinch, 'place of the island' – 'inch', or 'inish' meaning island. Ballymore would mean 'the big place', whereas Ballybeg means 'the lttle place'. The same with places called Dromore and Drumbeg – both in Co. Down, meaning 'big hill' and 'little hill', respectively. Bunmore and Bunbeg are again 'big river mouth' and 'little river mouth', respectively. Derry comes from the Irish 'doire', meaning 'an oakwood' – so again you'll find Derrybeg and Derrymore, or sometimes Deramore, all over the place. In Co. Down we have a small place known as Derryboye, 'boy' meaning yellow.
The Irish word for a rock is 'carraig', (from which we get the name Craig), or sometimes 'carrick', for example Carrickfergus, a port town in Co. Antrim, meaning 'the rock of Fergus'. You'll also find plenty of places called Ballincarrig, or Ballycarry – 'place of the rock', and similar. The word for black is 'dubh', as in Dublin, which comes from the Irish Dubh Ling, meaning 'black pool'. So Carrigdubh, or more likely Carryduff, simply means Black Rock.
Another common place name is 'maghera', which means 'a plain', so you get Magherafelt in Co. Derry, Maynooth in Co. Kildare, and Moycullen, in Co. Galway. A great one in Co. Down is the townland of Magheraconluce, which means 'plain of the meadow of the fort'. Another example is the area known as The Maze, near Lisburn, famous for The Maze Racecourse.
A lot of Irish place names have some religious significance. The Irish word 'kill', meaning a cell, or church, is found all over the country, from Kill, in Co. Kildare, outside Dublin, to Shankill, meaning 'old church' – found near Bray, Co Wicklow, Lurgan, Co. Armagh and also, of course, in north Belfast – the famous, or infamous, Shankill Road. There are lots of Killbegs and Killmores, Killdrums, Killoughs and so forth. The word 'temple', from the Irish 'teampaill', also meaning church, is often found, for example, Templepatrick, Co. Antrim, or Templemore, in Co. Tipperary.
A more unusual word for church though is Donagh, which literally means 'Lord', but is usually short for 'the Lord's house' – Donaghadee, in Co. Down, for example, means 'the Lord's house of St. Dee'. Donaghmore in Co. Tyrone just means 'big church'. 'Tobair' is an Irish word meaning 'a well', so you get places like Tobermore, 'big well', in Co. Derry, and the monastery of Tobair Mhuire, or 'Mary's Well', in Crossgar, Co. Down. There's a Ballintober, 'place of the well' in Co. Roscommon, and another Ballintubber, in Co. Mayo.
Then there are lots of variations on the word 'fort'. 'Dun' is a an example, usually meaning a fortified house, or stronghold, so we get Co. Down = 'An dun', Downpatrick, Dunmurry, near Belfast, (next to Finaghy, actually!), Dunfanaghy in Co. Donegal, and lots of Dundrums, Dunbegs, Dunmores, etc. 'Lis' is another word for a fort, usually a Celtic ring fort. I've mentioned Listooder before, which is 'fort of the tanner'. Lisnagarvey, Co. Antrim, was the old name for Lisburn, 'Garvey's fort', or 'fort of the gamblers', until the fire there in the 1600s, when it was renamed, Lisburn.
Yet another name for a fort is 'rath', which refers to the earthen bank enclosing a fort, whereas 'lis' refers to the open space inside. There are quite a few places with 'rath' in their name, Rathlin Island, off the north coast of Co. Antrim, being an obvious one. In Dublin you have Rathfarnham, with its castle, and just outside Belfast there is the Rathcoole Estate, along with a few Rathmores, and a village simply called Rath, in Co. Tipperary. 'Rath' is often abbreviated to 'ra', for example, Rathmelton, in Co. Donegal, which is spelt 'Rath melton', and the townland of Rademon in Co. Down, which comes from 'rath, (or fort,) of the demons'. A stone fort is usually referred to as a 'caiseal', from which the word 'castle' obviously comes, so most names have become castle, e.g. Newcastle, which can be found in several places in Ireland. The famous one is of course the Rock of Cashel, from which Cashel town gets its name.
And before we leave the subject, there's also 'droichead', which means 'bridge', from which we get Drogheda, the town in Co. Louth, and Droiched Nua, or Newbridge, in Co. Kildare.
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