Muckanaghederdauhaulia

The above is the longest place name in Ireland, and is obviously quite a mouthful. It’s an Anglicisation of the original Gaelic name Muiceneach idir Dhá Sháile, which, as you all know, means “pig-shaped hill between two seas.” Most modern placenames in Ireland are similar Anglicisations. For example, many Irish towns begin with Bally- or Balli-, coming from the Irish word Baile (town) being part of the original name. A town like Ballycastle would have originally been name Baile an Chaislean (town of the castle).

Such Anglicisation can lead to redundancy. This is often the case with rivers, as many of them begin with Owen-, from the Irish word abhainn, meaning river. So Abhainn Buí, meaning the Yellow River, was translated to the River Owenboy.

Some pretty ordinary sounding placenames have such origins, but some can be a bit of a mouthful due to some clumsy translation:

Dublin: an easy one, from Dubh Linn (Black pool, referring to tidal waters in the area), though the official Irish name is Baile Átha Cliath (town of the forded rushes)

Stradbally: a small town in Co. Laois, whose names comes from An Sráidbhaile, meaning the village/one-street town. So the name of this village means… village. Quite appropriate really.

The Knockmealdown Mountains: the name of this mountain sounds like what a toddler throwing a tantrum at breakfast might do, but in fact comes from Cnoc Mhaoildhomnaigh, meaning Muldowney’s (an old Irish surname) Hill. Not sure how poor old Muldowney felt about the change.

Newtwopothouse: The name of this village in Co. Cork isn’t an Anglicisation. In the area in the 18th century there was an inn known as The Two-Pot House Inn. When a crossroads was built nearby, it became known as Two-Pot House, after the inn. But in the 19th century, another crossroads was built nearby, which was also known as Two-Pot House. To avoid confusion, this new crossroads was referred to as New Two-Pot House, as was the village that grew up around it.

While it can be easy to scoff at such translations, as I have just done, and hold them up as examples of the English-language clumsily distorting the words of another language to fit it, I think that would be unfair. First of all, their combined British and Irish etymology reflect that Ireland is an English-speaking country, with only about 3% of the population speaking the country’s first official language with any degree of competence. The fact is that many Irish people would struggle with the pronunciations of Irish placenames. And second, tourism is an important industry in Ireland, and tourists need to have some ability to be able to pronounce the names of the places they want to visit. That being said, even as an Anglicisation, with Muckanaghederdauhaulia they’re on their own!

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