Ceatharlach
genitive: Cheatharlach
(Irish)
Carlow
(English)

Explanatory note

  • Gaeilge

    place of cattle, herds

    Tá an Comórtas Treabhdóireachta 2019 ar siúl i mBaile an Treathain (#3235) i bparóiste Fhionnmhach (#326) i gContae Cheatharlach. Fuair an contae ainm ón mbaile ar ndóigh; is mar seo a leanas a scríobh Tomás Ó Conchúir, duine den fhoireann topagrafaíochta leis an tSuirbhéireacht Ordanáis, faoi bhunús an logainm i 1837:

    The ancient name of Carlow was, it is locally said, Catharlach (cathair-lach) which is explained as signifying the city or fort on the lake or river […], as the town is built at the junction of the Rivers Burrin and Barrow, where tradition says the waters of both rivers covered so extensive a tract of ground, as to merit the name of a lake.

    Thuig Ó Conchúir gur bhréagshanasaíocht í seo, cé nach raibh ar a chumas féin aon bhunús le dealramh a mholadh. Chuir Seán Ó Donnabháin, an mórscoláire úd a bhí ag obair leis an tSuirbhéireacht freisin, an nóta seo a leanas le litir Uí Chonchúir, ina luann sé an míniú a chloiseadh sé féin ag lucht na Gaeilge ina chontae dúchais, Cill Chainnigh: an bhrí a bhí le ‘Ceithiorlach,’ a scríobh sé, ná ‘the quatriple [quadruple] lough’. Dá bhrí sin, dar leis an Donnabhánach, tá an logainm díorthaithe ó ceathair “four” agus loch (lach) “lake”.

    Ina shaothar mór (The origin and history of) Irish Names of Places, ghlac P.W. Joyce le míniú seo an Donnabhánaigh gan cheist: sa tríú himleabhar is é “four lakes” an míniú a thugann sé ar ainm na háite seo, cé go ndeir sé freisin ‘there is no lake there now’. Bhí tionchar mór ag saothar Joyce ar thuiscint an phobail ar logainmneacha na hÉireann — agus is amhlaidh atá cuid mhaith den eolas a sholáthraíonn sé ann bunaithe ar an obair thaighde a rinne Ó Donnabháin agus a lucht chúnta le linn na chéad Suirbhéireachta Ordanáis.

    Ach de réir gach cosúlachta ciallaíonn Ceatharlach “place of cattle (or) herds”. Is é is bunús leis an logainm SG cethir, focal a chiallaíonn beithíoch ceithre chos (cf. leis an cnuasainm SG cethrae “herds”) agus atá gaolmhar gan amhras leis an uimhir cethair sa tSean-Ghaeilge . Is éard atá sa dara cuid den ainm an foirceann -lach a chiallaíonn “place of”, seachas an t-ainmfhocal loch. Tagann cuid mhaith tagairtí anuas chugainn i bhfoinsí Gaeilge: sa scéal Meán-Ghaeilge Bórama (Laigen) sa Leabhar Laighneach (*c.*1100), mar shampla, tugtar ‘Cetharlocht’ air. I mBeatha na Naomh (deireadh an 12ú haois) deirtear gur bronnadh an teampall anseo ar Chomhghall ó Bheannchar, Contae an Dúin — ‘Ceatharlach’ an litriú ansiúd — agus luann na foinsí comhaimseartha Laidine freisin go raibh an teampall tiomnaithe don naomh sin. Rinne na hAngla-Normannaigh daingean ríthabhachtach de Cheatharlach, agus luann na hAnnála gur chuir Art Mac Murcha, Rí Laighean, an áit trí thine sa bhliain 1405 mar chuid den chogadh mór a bhí aige leosan: ‘Cocad mor ag Mac Murchada re Gallaib … Cethurlach … do loscad leis’ (Annála Chonnacht).

    Ó thaobh forbairt an logainm de, bhí fuaim chuimilteach ag an bhfóinéim -th- /θ/ sa Mheán-Ghaeilge, díreach mar atá aici sa Bhreatnais nó sa Bhéarla Caighdeánach inniu. Is é an cuimilteach sin atá i gceist sna foirmeacha luatha gallda ‘Catherloc’ (1200c.), ‘Catherlagh’ (1297), srl. Go deimhin daingníodh an litriú sin sa Bhéarla sa tslí is go raibh an fhoirm chaomhnaitheach Catherlogh le feiscint corruair i gcáipéisí gallda anuas go dtí tús an 19ú haois, cé nach bhfuaimnítí an logainm mar sin sa Ghaeilge ná sa Bhéarla faoin tráth úd gan dabht (cf. ‘Catherlogh, a bar[ony] in co. Carlow … also the antient name of that co.’ ag Seward in Topographia Hibernica (1795)).

    D’imigh an foghar -th- /θ/ i léig sa Ghaeilge sa 13ú haois, go ndearna /-h-/ de. Sa logainm seo idir chamáin, d’imigh an /-h-/ idirghuthach sin féin i léig agus rinne guta fada de na gutaí gairide a bhí timpeall air. D’fhéadfadh sé gurb é an próiseas béarlaithe faoi ndear é seo, ach tabhair faoi deara gur nós é seo atá le sonrú i roinnt logainmneacha Gaeilge i sean-Chúige Laighean. Níl sé as an áireamh mar sin go raibh an litriú ‘Carelagh’ (1528) gairid go leor d’fhuaimniú Gaeilge na linne, mar a bheadh *Cea’arlach */kʹaːrləx/. Tá an guta fada sin le clos fós sa chéad siolla den logainm Béarla. Is é ‘Kerlac’ (1480), i gcáipéis Laidine, an litriú is luaithe a chuireann cailliúint an -th- in iúl.

    Chuir an Béarla suas den -ach /əx/ deiridh, mar ba dhual dó i logainmneacha Gaeilge, agus sa logainm seo rinne /ə/ de .i. an guta láir nó schwa (an fhuaim i ndeireadh an fhocail mála mar shampla). Is é an guta sin a bhí á chur in iúl leis an litriú -ow ó cheart, litriú atá le fáil chomh fada siar leis an 17ú haois. Mar sin, rud cosúil le *Caarl-uh /kaːrlə/ a bhí á rá sa Bhéarla i leithéidí ‘the castle and bawn of Carlow’ (1614) — ní dhéanfadh sé rím le ‘Fallen is your star low’ an uair úd!

  • English

    place of cattle, herds

    The Ploughing Championships 2019 are being held in Ballintrane (#3235) in the parish of Fenagh (#326) in County Carlow. Of course, the county received its name from the town Carlow; Thomas O’Connor, a member of the topographical staff employed by the Ordnance Survey in the early nineteenth century, wrote as follows on the origin of that anglicized placename in 1837:

    The ancient name of Carlow was, it is locally said, Catharlach (cathair-lach) which is explained as signifying the city or fort on the lake or river […], as the town is built at the junction of the Rivers Burrin and Barrow, where tradition says the waters of both rivers covered so extensive a tract of ground, as to merit the name of a lake.

    O’Connor rightly considered this explanation of the name to be rather fanciful, although he was unable to suggest a different origin. John O’Donovan, the famous placenames scholar who was also employed by the Ordnance Survey, added another explanation for the name to the same letter, which he heard from Irish speakers in his native County Kilkenny: ‘Ceithiorlach’, he wrote, meant ‘the quatriple [quadruple] lough’. Therefore, according to O’Donovan, the name is derived from the antecedents of the Modern Irish ceathair, ‘four’ and loch (lach), ‘a lake’.

    O’Donovan’s explanation of the name was subsequently accepted without question by P.W. Joyce in his popular and very influential three-volume work on the placenames of Ireland entitled (The origin and history of) Irish Names of Places. In the third volume of his work Joyce explains the name as meaning ‘four lakes’, although he noted ‘there is no lake there now’. In fact much of Joyce’s material on placenames was derived from the earlier research work compiled by O’Donovan and his assistants in Ordnance Survey documentation.

    Carlow or Ceatharlach in fact signifies, in all probability, the ‘place of cattle (or) herds’. The underlying word, spelled cethir in Old Irish, means a four-footed animal (cf. also the collective noun OIr. cethrae “herds”), and is of the same origin as the numeral ceathair “four”. The suffix -lach conveys the meaning ‘place of’ rather than ‘lake’. There are a number of references to the placename in Irish-language sources over a long period of time. For instance it is referred to as ‘Cetharlocht’ in the Middle-Irish saga Bórama (Laigen) [‘the cattle-tribute of Leinster’], which is preserved in the Book of Leinster manuscript (*c.*1100). The church of ‘Ceatharlach’ is said to have been granted to St. Comhghall of Bangor, County Down in the late 12th century Latin Life of that saint. The church was also dedicated to Comhghall according to various other Medieval Latin sources. Following the Anglo-Norman invasion, Carlow became an important English stronghold. There is a reference in various Irish Annals to the burning of ‘Cethurlach’ by the King of Leinster, Art Mac Murchadha in 1405 as part of ‘a great war with the foreigners’.

    As regards the phonetic development of the name, the phoneme -th- /θ/ still had its fricative sound in Middle Irish, just as it has in Welsh or Standard English today. This fricative is reflected in early transliterated forms of the name, e.g. ‘Catherloc’ (1200c.), ‘Catherlagh’ (1297). Indeed this form became established in English to the extent that the archaic spelling Catherlogh was still to be seen in English documents down to the 19th century, even though at that stage the placename was not so pronounced in Irish or in English (cf. ‘Catherlogh, a bar[ony] in co. Carlow […] also the antient name of that co.’ in Seward’s Topographia Hibernica (1795)).

    The phoneme -th- /θ/ became obsolete in Irish in the 13th century and developed to /-h-/. In the placename under discussion, this intervocalic /-h-/ itself disappeared and one long vowel was made of the surrounding short vowels. While this may have been due to the anglicization process, note that this development is also seen in other Irish placenames in this part of Leinster. The spelling ‘Carelagh’ (1528) may therefore be quite close to the Irish pronunciation of the period, as if *Cea’arlach. This long vowel can still be heard in the first syllable of the English name. ‘Kerlac’ (1480) in a Latin document is the earliest spelling in which the loss of -th- is indicated in writing.

    The anglicized form of the name eventually rejected the final -ach /əx/, as is typical in anglicized placenames of Irish origin, and in this case it was replaced with /ə/, i.e., the central vowel or schwa (the final sound in the Irish word mála, for example). This vowel is the sound originally intended by the spelling -ow, which is found as early as the 17th century. Therefore, the English pronunciation in historical references such as ‘the castle and bawn of Carlow’ (1614) was something like *Caarl-uh */kaːrlə/— there would have been no rhyme with ‘Fallen is your star low’ in those days!

Centrepoint

52.8304, -6.9238latitude, longitude
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Irish Grid (without letter)
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Historical references

1100c
(boróma) ón Chetharlocht
LL Leathanach: 308 b 25
1181-98
Catherloc, the church of St. Congall of
Alen's Reg. Leathanach: 26
1181-98
Catherloc
Alen's Reg.
1200c
Ceatharlach
var. Chetharloch
VSH Leathanach: ii, 16
1200c
Catherloc, Sancti Congalli de
Crede Mihi Leathanach: 52
1204
Cetorlocth
CPL Leathanach: I, 18
1204
Cetorlocth Slebre
Pont. Hib. Imleabhar: 1, Leathanach: 61
1234
Grathelach
CDI Leathanach: 1, 317, #2140
1247c
Katherlac
CDI Leathanach: ii, 161
1247
Katherlac
Kn. Fees Leathanach: 88
1261
Katherlac
COD Imleabhar: 1, 138
1295
Catherlath
CJR Leathanach: I
1297
Catherlagh
CJR Leathanach: 1, 84
1300
Katherloch, the liberty of
CJR Leathanach: I, 304
1300
Katherlogh, the liberty of
CJR Leathanach: I, 304
1302
Catherlaht, liberty of
CJR Leathanach: I, 403
1302-6
Catherlagh
Pap. Tax.
1307
Catherlach, county, hundred of
CJR Leathanach: ii, 347
1405
Cethurlach
AConn. Leathanach: 392
1405
Ceithiorlach
ARÉ Leathanach: iv, 784
1405
Cethurlach
ALC Imleabhar: ii, Leathanach: 110
1440
Catherlagh
Ir. Mon. Poss. Leathanach: 23
1445
vicecomes Katharlatie
CPL Leathanach: ix, 533
1480
Kerlac
CPL Leathanach: xiii, 722
1528
Carelagh, county, lordship
COD Imleabhar: IV, 128
1537
Cathirlagh
Forf. (N. L.)
1549
Catherlaghe
F
1550
Cathirlaghe
F Leathanach: 444
1551
Catherlagh
F
1552
Catherlogh
Carew Mss. Leathanach: 606, 87
1552
Catherlaghe
F Leathanach: 1112
1557
Catherlagh
F Leathanach: 160
1559
Catherlaugh
F Leathanach: 182
1561
Catherlagh
F
1563
Catherlaghe (towne of)
F Leathanach: 563
1570
Catherlaghe
F Leathanach: 1600
1571
Carloughe
F Leathanach: 1693
1572
Catherlogh
CPCR Leathanach: 550
1573
Catherlagh
F Leathanach: 2345
1575
Catherlaghe
F
1576
Catherlaughe
F Leathanach: 2838
1576
Catherlaghe [county of]
F Leathanach: 2921
1577
Catherlaughe
F Leathanach: 3164
1578
Carthelagh
F Leathanach: 3497
1584
Catherloghe
F Leathanach: 4321
1584
Caterlogh
F Leathanach: 4427
1586
Carlough
F Leathanach: 4836
1592
Catherlaughe, castle
F Leathanach: 5764
1595
Catherlagh
Mercator
1597
Catherlaughe
F Leathanach: 6161
1601
Carlagh
F
1604
Catherlogh or Catherlagh
CPR Leathanach: 58
1614
Carlow, castle and bawn of
CPR Leathanach: 271
1620
Carlow
CPR Leathanach: 481
1631
Catherlagh
Inq. Lag.
1633c
i gcontae Ceithearlach
FFÉ Imleabhar: iii, Leathanach: 46
1633c
idir Cheatharlach agus Léithghlinn
FFÉ Imleabhar: i, Leathanach: 30
1657
Catherlogh
DS
1659
Catherlagh
Cen. Leathanach: 353
1660c
The Towne Land of Catherlogh
BSD (Ce) Leathanach: 82
1669
Catherlogh, parish of
ASE Leathanach: 217
1685
Catherlagh
Hib. Del.
1685
Catherlogh
Hib. Del.
1783
Carlow
Taylor Ire.
1839
Ceithearlach
OD:AL Leathanach: Ce 13, 4
1839
Carlow or Catherlough
Rec. Name:AL Leathanach (AL): Ce 13, 4
1839
Carlow or Catherlough
Treas. Warr.:AL Leathanach: Ce 13, 4

Please note: Some of the documentation from the archives of the Placenames Branch is available here. It indicates the range of research contributions undertaken by the Branch on this placename over the years. It may not constitute a complete record, and evidence may not be sequenced on the basis of validity. It is on this basis that this material is made available to the public.

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