Irish Place Names: A-B

Names beginning with Abbey-

Abbey (Mainistir) means Monastery or Abbey and indicates that the place you are in grew up around a monastic settlement.

  • Abbeyfeale Mainistir na Féile
    The Feale (Féile) is the name of a river, so this means “Abbey of the River Feale”.
  • Abbeylara Mainistir Leathrátha
    -leath means ‘half’ and ‘rath’ means fort, so this is the “Abbey of the half fort”. The ‘half’ may mean small and the name refers to whatever fort was there before the abbey was built.
  • Abbeyshrule Mainistir Shruthla
    Sruthla is an Irish word for ‘stream’, so the name means “Abbey of the stream”.

Names beginning with Ard-

Ard simply means ‘high’, so when you encounter a place with Ard at the start of the name you may well be standing on a hill. If you are not, it’s possible the name means ‘high’ in the sense of high status: the High King of Ireland was the Ard Rí.

  • Ardagh Ardach
    -ach means field, so  “High Field”.
  • Ardfert Ard Fhearta
    The word Fearta means a burial place, often used in reference to a site of pre-christian burials,  so the name means “High Burial Place”.
  • Ardmore Aird Mhór
    Mor or mhor means big or great, taken with Ard this means ‘great height’. This may seem odd if you are in Ardmore in Waterford, which is a seaside town. But there are high cliffs and hills around it, on one of which is the monastery and cathedral which gave the town its name.

You’ll also find many place names that end in -ard. For example Clonard means ‘High meadow’. You can guess what Clon- means from that.

Names beginning with Bally- or Ballina-

You’ll find these everywhere, and they can be the cause of much confusion because the Bally- or Ballina- can have one of three different origins:

  1. Baile – A town, place or field
  2. Baile na – Town, place or field of (very similar) but the na usually means the name will be the ‘town of the…’.
  3. Beal – Mouth, as of a river, which can also translate as ‘Bel-‘.

While these are fairly distinct in Irish, by the time they’ve been translated into English things can get a little mixed up. It often requires local or historical knowledge to sort out the correct meaning. Obviously if there is no town or river mouth it helps narrow it down to a field or place.

  • Ballybunion Baile an Bhuinneanáigh
    Bhuinneanáigh refers to Bunnion, a family name. So this is “The town (or place) of the Bunnions”. I’d a history teacher in school called Mrs Bunnion. Not sure of any connection!
  • Ballinahinch Baile na hInse
    -inch or hInse means Island or River meadow, and the Irish prefix is Baile, not beal, so the name means “Town of the river meadow”
  • Ballintogher Baile an Tógher
    Tógher means causeway, so ‘Town of the Causeway’. Most people think of a causeway as a strip of land connecting the mainland to an island, but Ballintogher is inland, as are many of the places simply called ‘Togher’. It makes more sense when you realise  ‘Togher’ also means a raised road or path over a bog. These are boggy places.
  • Ballinasloe Béal Átha Sluaighe
    Átha Sluaighe means, literally, ‘ford of the crowd’, so “Ford mouth of the crowds” There is indeed a river here to be forded and a famous and ancient annual fair take place here, which still draws huge crowds and presumably gave rise to the name.

Names beginning with Bel-

Bel comes from the Irish Béal, which usually means opening or mouth, so as you might expect you’ll find these places where a river flows into the sea. However Béal can also mean face or eye, so it can refer to something the town overlooks.

  • Belturbet Béal Tairbeirt
    Located on a U-shaped bend on the River Erne. Tairbeirt means ithmus, and describes the way the town is tucked into the river bend. There is also an island in the river here called Tairbeirt.
  • Belfast Béal Feirste
    The mouth of the sandbanks. Belfast is built on a flood plain where the River Lagan enters the Irish Sea.

Names beginning with Bun-

Bun means ‘foot or end’ often referring to the mouth of a river, though it may just mean beside a river. The location of the place is an obvious clue to the meaning.

  • Bunratty Bun Raite
    Raite or Ratty is the name of a river, but Bunratty is not at its mouth so we can take this to mean “Beside the Ratty”.
  • Bunmahon Bun Machan
    Again Machan or Mahon is the name of a river, which flows into the sea at this Waterford village, so in this case the name means “at the end of the Mahon”
  • Bunbeg Bun Beag 
    Beag means small. Bunbeg in Donegal is close to the mouth the Clady River. So is it ‘the Mouth of the Little River’ or ‘the little mouth of the river’? I’d go with the latter, the Clady is big enough but it’s mouth is indeed small.

Article updated: March 31, 2017

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3 Comments

  • Brendan says:

    Hi there looking to find out the meaning of Carrifin Lake ,it’s located in a place called Innishmore, Butlersbridge, Co. Cavan . Wondering how the name came about and what it’s meaning is .

    Thank you

  • Scott McNutt says:

    Hello, we are thinking of buying a house in Co. Leitrim
    called ‘Cornagowna’ Cor meaning small rounded hill makes sense however ‘nagowna’ is not so obvious.
    I would appreciate your comments
    Many thanks Scott McNutt

    • Katherine says:

      Hi,

      Gowna means a lake or literally a ‘calf lake’, so maybe a small lake or one that was part of another one, not sure about what the calf indicates. There is an actual Lough Gowna not too far away – on the Cavan/Longford border, but I doubt the name refers to that. Leitrim has lots of small lakes, so the name probably means ‘Small rounded hill at the calf lake’ – which is lovely really!

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