Where Collins met his tragic end
A chara, – In my paper to which John A Murphy (August 16th) refers, “The Placename Béal na Blá”, published in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 104 (1999), on the evidence of those in the area who knew the last natural bilingual speakers there and who could recall their speech, and also on certain (though scanty) evidence in the Ordnance Survey Namebooks and maps, I point out that the second element in the placename was neither bláth nor mbláth, but blá instead – debunking thereby ideas of efflorescence and “the mouth of flowers” and all that.
Blá, a feminine noun, denoted (historically) a green, a lawn, a level field, and then a fertile plain, and fine pasture land. The term survives in placenames in Gaelic and former-Gaelic Scotland also.
The first element béal also has an extensive semantic range in placename studies: a mouth or opening, a river mouth or other such entrance, a starting point, a gap or hill pass, an approach or access or a passageway to a particular feature, for instance.
Béal na Blá then, “the passageway to the pasture”; it fits grammatically so that there is no need for the linguistic meddling which we had in mid-20th century, which Prof Murphy rightly finds so objectionable; it represents the traditional form on which my informants in the area were insistent, and it accords reasonably with the Bealnabla Bridge of the Parish Namebook of the OS for 1842.
More importantly still, maybe, topographically and with regard to soil quality it fits exactly: the 2½ mile (or so) ravine, through which the river Bride flows from the area of the Diamond Bar and converging roads down to the Crookstown area is the most striking feature; it connects the broader upper Bride Valley and its thinner and infertile soil with the very fertile limestone lower Bride Valley which itself extends eastwards to the fertile Lee Valley and on to Cork city – Béal na Blá, the passageway to all that fine pasture in centuries past.
Oh yes, that homophony, of course, of blá and bláth for centuries now, and its capacity to confuse and mislead eventually! No flowers, please. – Yours, etc,