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Maytown/Baile Maoilbhealtaine “the town(land) of Maoilbhealtaine” (see #12121)

Date: 22/04/2024

Unlike the word for the native Irish festival of spring, Iombolg (< Old Irish Imbolc), which was completely superseded by Lá Fhéile Bhríde “the feast day of Saint Brigit” during the early Christian period, the Irish word for the festival of Summer, Bealtaine (< OIr. Beltaine) remains in common use right up until the present day, generally in reference to the whole month of May (see eDIL s.v. Bel(l)taine). It also survives in a handful of townland names including Lisbalting/Lios Bealtaine “the ring-fort of May” (#48350) in Tipperary, Beltany/An Bhealtaine in Donegal (#16481) and Tyrone (#63248), Beltany Mountain/Sliabh na Bealtaine (#14425) in Donegal and Tamnaghvelton/Tamhnaigh Bhealtaine “the grassy upland of May” (#1417840) in Armagh, the townland in which the mill-town of Laurelvale (#136051) was established in the nineteenth century. A more unusual placename containing an indirect reference to Bealtaine “May” is Baile Maoilbhealtaine “the town(land) of Maoilbhealtaine” (#12121) in Cork. Maoilbhealtaine is an exceedingly rare personal name modelled on the type seen in Maolphádraig “servant of Pádraig” < maol + Pádraig/Saint Patrick (eDIL s.v. 3 Máel). This once-common manner of forming personal names, discussed in an earlier note, seems to have largely died out by the late medieval period. This structure typically involved maol + a saint’s name, but by-names or nicknames were also formed on the same model, as in Maolanfa “servant of (the) storm” < anfa “storm”, from which we get the surname Ó Maolanfa (var. Ó Maolanfaidh)/Melamfy. The personal name Maoilbhealtaine “servant of Bealtaine/May” doubtless belongs to this category. Baile Maoilbhealtaine was anglicized as Maytown, which, of course, is only partially accurate — the fact that it contains an old Gaelic personal name has been lost in the translation. There are two other townlands named Maytown in Ireland, one in Wexford and one in Armagh. However, neither appear to have any connection with the month of May or the festival of Bealtaine. In Wexford, Maytown (#54165) is possibly an English placename consisting of mead “meadow” and town, while the etymology of Maytown in Armagh is even more opaque (see the discussion note and historical evidence at For a full discussion of Bealtaine see Kay Muhr, ‘Bealtaine in Irish and Scottish Place-names’, The Journal of Scottish Name Studies 10.

(Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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