We need to better educate people on the Irish language origins of many of our town names…

As a school teacher in the mainly Protestant and Unionist sector I always believed it was common sense that our pupils understood the Irish language origins of many of our town names, seeing this as a way to desensitise our population from the divide over language. While explaining that so many of our towns begin with ‘Bally’ because the Irish word ‘Baile’ means town I had many interesting conversations with our GCSE pupils about geography and nationality.

I argued more recently in a letter to the Newsletter that unionists should support a move where every town in N. Ireland should have a sign welcoming visitors with the town name in both English and Irish versions. I believe such a move would be much better than the current system where we have an emphasis on Irish street names which inevitably opens the danger of Irish becoming a territorial marker.

(I also believe it should be a requirement of the GCSE Geography syllabus that a small number of Irish words that contribute to our town names be taught – see below.)

On Twitter some nationalists criticised (and ridiculed) unionists for their reaction to Irish signs. I believe a little more tolerance and understanding is needed on both sides. During the long conflict both our communities reacted territorially, trying to define areas as unionist or republican. We unionists used marches, flags and painted kerbstones, republicans used the tricolour and a range of signs, often Irish. The imposition of a sign without prior discussion or explanation is seen in that context. We need to do the groundwork first and local councillors should be involved in those discussions.

If we are honest, both our communities, will admit that some bridge building over Irish is needed. Let’s try to keep our sense of humour and avoid unnecessary offense.

Irish word and meaning Town names derived from this:


means field & gives us the prefix ‘agh’ as in:

Ahoghill Achadh Eochaille, meaning field of the yew forest.
In early documents, Ahoghill is referred to as Magherahoghill meaning “the plain of the yew forest.”Aghadowey Achadh Dubhthaigh, meaning “Duffy’s field”Garvagh Garbhach, meaning Garbhachadh meaning “rough fieldPronunciation (In Irish words bh is pronounced like the letter v – hence confusing names like Siobhan)


means town or townland & gives us the prefix ‘Bally’ as in:

Ballintoy Baile an Tuaigh, meaning “the northern townland

Ballycastle Baile an Chaistil, meaning “town of the castle

Ballykelly Baile Uí Cheallaigh, meaning “O’Kelly’s Townland

Ballymena Baile Meánach, meaning “the middle townland

Ballymoney Baile Monaidh, meaning “homestead on the peatland”
Think of Bord na Móna



means mouth or river mouth & gives us the prefix ‘Bel’

Belcoo Béal Cú, means mouth of the narrow water – check it out on a map.

Belfast Béal Feirste Béal =”mouth” and feirste=sandbar or crossing at a river’s mouth


Means Rock & gives us the prefix ‘Carrick’ as in:

Carrickfergus Charraig Fhearghais = rock of Fergus

Carrickmore An Charraig Mhór = the big rock (Mhór meaning big)


Means fort or castle as in Dunluce in N. Antrim

Dundrum Dún Droma, meaning “fort of the ridge”

Dunloy Dún Lathaí, meaning “fort of the muddy/marshy place

Dunmurry Dún Muirígh, meaning “Murry’s fort

Dunseverick Dún Sobhairce, meaning “Sobhairce’s fort”)


Means Church & gives us the prefix ‘Kill’ as in:

Killowen Cill Eoghain, meaning “Eoghain’s church

Kilkeel Cill Chaoil meaning “Narrow Church” an old church overlooking the town,

Killadeas Cill Chéile Dé, meaning “church of the companions of God (Culdees).


Means valley & gives us the prefix ‘Glen’ as in:

Glengormley is situated on a valley that passes through Belfast’s hills from the north. Gleann Ghormlaithe, meaning “Gormlaith’s valley”

Glenarm Gleann Arma, meaning “valley of the army”


Means Peatland or bog & gives us the fragment ‘money’ as in:

Ballymoney Baile Monaidh, meaning “homestead on the peatland”

Moneyreagh Mónaidh Riabhach, meaning “grey bog or moor


Means large or big and gives us the fragment ‘More’ as in:

Carrickmore An Charraig Mhór = the big rock (Mhór meaning big)

Dromore Droim Mór, meaning “large ridge

Moneymore Muine Mór, meaning “large thicket or large hill

Mullaghmore Mullach Mór, meaning “the big hilltop


Means hilltop & gives

us the prefix Mullagh

Mullaghmore Mullach Mór, meaning “the big hilltop


Means hill & gives us the prefix ‘Letter’ as in:

Letterbreen Leitir Bhruín, meaning “Bruín’s hillside

Letterkenny Leitir Ceanainn, meaning “Hillside of the O’Cannons


Means beach and gives us the word ‘Strand’

Portballintrae Port Baile an Trá, meaning “port of the beach settlement
Other examples are the Portstewart Strand or the
East Strand and West Strand in Portrush


Means large field or plain & gives ‘Maghera’ as in:

Maghera Machaire Rátha, meaning “plain of the ringfort

Magherafelt Machaire Fíolta, meaning “plain of Fíolta”


Means large shallow valley & gives us Stra

Strabane An Srath Bán, meaning “the white strath” or
white river valleyStranocum Sraith NócamStrathfoyle Srath Feabhail)



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