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Ráth Cholaim
genitive: Ráth Cholaim
(also: ráith)
Explanatory note
  • English

    Colam's ringfort

    While the generic element of this anglicised place-name is clearly ráth “ringfort, rath”, the second element is somewhat opaque. The surviving evidence seems to support ‘Rath Cholaim’ [Ráth Cholaim] “Colam’s ringfort” as suggested by O’Donovan (7) (cf. BPP p.81).

    Ráth Ólaim “Ólam’s ringfort” might be suggested (cf. Derryolam/Doire Ólaim, MN) if it were not for the short vowel in the second syllable of the local pronunciations (8, 8a). That said, the absence of any unambiguous reflex of the initial ch- in Cholaim is problematic. Irish broad lenited ch- in this position is not regularly lost in anglicisation, although some examples of (-)ch- > /h/ are found elsewhere, particularly in the north, e.g. Staholmog (< Stigh Mocholmóg) in Meath (see and Raholp (< Ráth Cholpa) in Down (see; see also RATHROE (par.).

    The personal name Colam/Colm (OIr. Columb < Lat. columbus “dove”; see DIL) was quite common in the early medieval period (see CGH p.553). It is interesting to note that it occurs among the Fotharta, the eponymous population group of Forth barony in which this townland is located (see CGH 126a17). The same personal name occurs in the precursor to the parish name ARDCOLM, although in that case it derives from the ecclesiastic Colam Cille (var. Colm Cille).

    Despite the presence of ráth in this place-name, no ringfort or similar structure has been recorded here. The name may originally have referred to the ‘enclosure’ just over the townland boundary in the southern part of present-day BALLYBRENNAN LITTLE (par. Ballybrennan) (see AIW;

    [It has also been suggested that the second element may be the Old Norse word holmr “islet, small island”. However, this suggestion is problematic for a number of reasons. The lack of any early historical forms makes any attempt to derive the second element from Old Norse very speculative. While we have an example of ON holmr serving as an equivalent to the Irish word inis “island” in Holmpatrick, an early translation of the Irish placename Inis Pádraig (#849) in County Dublin, the proposed hybrid structure Ratholm < Ir. ráth + *Holmr, i.e., an Irish-language coinage in which the generic ráth has been prefixed to a putative Old Norse simplex place-name *Holmr “(small) island”, is unlikely.

    The townland is indeed bounded by two streams but it is not an island in the sense of ON holmr. If it is supposed that the second element is descriptive of the land, a more reasonable derivation — given that the name is unattested before the 18th century — might be that the name is a late English construction comprised of the anglicised word rath (a commonly occurring borrowing from Ir. ráth), in close compound with the English generic holm. (The same construction is found in 1538 ‘Ratheton’, 1539 ‘Rathtowne’ = RALPHTOWN (#53982), par. Kilcowan < angl. rath (specific) + Eng. town (generic).) English holm is derived from ON holmr but it developed in sense to include “low-lying waterside land”. However, the English word is not at all common in this sense in Ireland and there is no evidence of its use in the English dialect of Forth. Neither ON holmr nor Eng. holm was borrowed into the Irish language at any stage, and in fact the borrowing went the other way — inch (< Ir. inse) is the common term in Leinster field-names for what in England would be called a holm, i.e., low-lying land beside water.]

    [Excerpt from Logainmneacha na hÉireann IV: Townland Names of County Wexford, 2016]

Irish Grid

T 06581 12520

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