Irish Roots

November 7th, 2011

John Grenham


The Irish Placenames Commission, An Coimisiún Logainmneacha, was set up in 1946 to "search for the correct original Irish versions of placenames". Terrible distortions and absurdities were indeed visited on the names of many Irish places during the standardisation that took place in the first half of the 19th century. Systematic research to uncover the originals could only be welcome. But the vision of Irish and English that lay behind the establishment of the Commission was coloured by the rigid scholasticism of the 1940s civil service: everything English on the island had originally been Irish and its task was to scrape away the English veneer. With that achieved, we would be restored as fíor-Gael and regain our step-dancing cattle-raids and our comely maidens being interfered with at the crossroads.

A little unfair, perhaps. Over the years the Commission has been responsible for a lot of serious scholarship and is now making it publicly available on its website, logainm.ie. A free, fully-searchable database of more than 100,000 items covers many names ignored elsewhere, including such features as turloughs, racecourses, monuments and wells. The main focus is on providing official bodies with Irish-language versions of the placenames, but there is also direct access to much of the original research that has gone into the deciphering of names, with digital images of the notes and sources used: it's good to see such lively disagreement about whether "Dolphin's Barn", recorded as far back as the 14th century, could have a "correct original Irish version" Carnán cluana Uí Dhunchadha. For local history especially, the site is indispensable.

In addition, the baldly-titled "Information resources" section has an absolutely wonderful collection of historic maps from the 18th and 19th centuries, including the only map I've ever seen of District Electoral Divisions, the geographical units used for the 1901 and 1911 censuses


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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