The vast majority of place names in Ireland come from the Irish or Gaelic language.
Most of today’s English forms of these place names are corrupted and often badly translated versions of the original Gaelic name. The English also called the names as they heard them on their travels, or as they were written down for them by the native Irish. They were unable to understand or pronounce many Gaelic sounds, and this also led to difficulties in tracing the original meaning of a name.
Let us begin this week with one such case: Strokestown
The modern translation of this name is Béal Átha na mBuillí, and even this has recently been shortened to Béal na mBuillí.
Béal Átha na mBuillí literally means ‘the mouth of the ford of the strokes. The ‘strokes’ refer to a battle or faction fights which took place in the area, possibly down by the stream which now runs in front of Strokestown Park House or The Demesne (this was before the foundation of the GAA, when factions or teams could hit one another legally on a parish v parish basis). A ford was situated in this place.
The name could also come from the townland of Bellanamullia, located 3 km east of Strokestown. This place was recorded in the Annals of Connacht as early as 1411. Gaelic versions vary and change over time - Bél na Muilnedh changed to Béal na Muilleadh, which in time appeared as Béal Áth Maille. There is an argument that the ‘béal áth’ could, in fact, be ‘baile’, or town, and that ‘muilleadh’ translated as ‘a mill’, could lead us to the conclusion that the English version of the name should be Milltown and not Strokestown. There is evidence of mills in the area.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, versions such as Belawhnamhully (an English attempt at pronouncing the Gaelic), Beúl na mBuilligh and Béal Átha na mBuille were used, but grammatically speaking, ‘Béal Átha na mBuillí’ is the correct modern version of the place simply known to most people nowadays as ‘The Town’.
The modern town of Strokestown was designed by the Mahon family, later Pakenham-Mahon, in the 17th century. Their base was the Demesne or ‘Big House’, now called Strokestown Park House, and they modelled the town’s main street on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, except that they wanted it to be wider. The National Famine Museum, situated on the site of the old stables at the house, is well worth a visit, on its own merits, and also for the irony of having such a memorial in the same buildings which housed the infamous ‘coffin-ship’ landlord, Major Denis Mahon, who was assassinated for his deeds in 1847.
Cúpla Focal (Words and phrases which can be used in everyday conversation) – le DC
It’s our language, so let’s use it!
Dia dhuit – dee aah ghit – hello
Conas atá tú?– kunnas ataw too – how are you?
Cé chaoi a bhfuil tú – kay hee will too – howaya?
Tá mé go maith – Taw may guh mah – I am well
Slán – slawn – ‘bye
Sláinte – slawn che – your good health
Go raibh maith agat – guh rev mah agut – thanks
Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam – teer gone changa, teer gone on-im – A country without its language, is a country without a soul.