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The hawthorn in bloom
Knockskemolin/Cnoc Sceiche Moling “the hill of the hawthorn of St.Moling” (see* logainm.ie* #53289)

Date: 22/05/2024

An enthralling sight of the Irish countryside in May is the ubiquitous hawthorn in bloom, sometimes called in Irish bláth bán na Bealtaine “the white flower of May” (not to be confused with lus buí Bealtaine “yellow herb of May”, i.e., the marsh-marigold). Just as the blossom of the hawthorn proliferates across the country at this time of year, the Irish name of the tree itself, an sceach (gheal), features in quite an incredible number of townland names — some 200 in total. Aghnaskea/Achadh na Sceach (#33241) in County Longford and Gortnaskeagh/Gort na Sceach in Counties Kerry (#22982) and Leitrim (#29856) both mean “the field of the hawthorns”. The loose translations of Thornhill in County Cork, from Cnoc na Sceach “the hill of the hawthorns” (#8762) and Bushfield in County Laois, from Machaire na Sceach “the plain, field of the hawthorns” (#28712) are interesting given the secondary meaning of sceach “thorn-bush”. Bushypark in County Galway, too, appears to be a translation of Páirc na Sceach “the park of the hawthorns” (#18670), while on the other hand, Bushypark in County Kildare (#25159) seems to be of English origin. Yet another Bushypark, in County Cork, may represent a partial translation of Scairt an Arbha “the thicket of the grain” (#10400), which has nothing to do with the sceach “hawthorn; thorn-bush”.
Two instances of sceach (gen. sg. sceiche) in County Wexford deserve special attention, namely Scaughmolin/Sceach Moling “the hawthorn of Saint Moling” (#54320) and Knockskemolin/Cnoc Sceiche Moling “the hill of the hawthorn of Saint Moling” (#53289), as they belong to a peculiar group The hawthorn in bloom Knockskemolin/Cnoc Sceiche Moling “the hill of the hawthorn of St. Moling” (see logainm.ie #53289) of townland names in that county that specifically link the Irish saint Moling to trees. The other placename in this group is Monamolin/Muine Moling “the thicket of Moling”, which is found as the name of two completely distinct townlands — one near Rathnure north of New Ross (#53556), and the other near Ballycanew south of Gorey (#1411737) (also the name of a civil parish). See the following extract from Logainmneacha na hÉireann IV: Townland Names in Co. Wexford (2016) pp. 1209–1210 (published by An Brainse Logainmneacha/Placenames Branch of [what is now] the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media):
Moling, bishop of Ferns diocese in the seventh century, is the eponym of the parish names ST. MULLIN'S (par.) and MONAMOLIN (par.), as well as the townlands of MONAMOLIN (par. Templeludigan) and SCAUGHMOLIN (par. Rathaspick). The generic elements sceach “hawthorn” (see de Vál, 1987 p.56) and muine “thicket, brushwood” in these names may originate in the saint’s association with Suibhne Geilt “Suibhne the madman” in Irish literary tradition. Suibhne, driven mad by the terror of battle, resorted to roaming and living wild in trees and hedges. After an encounter with Saint Moling he began to visit his monastery for food each evening after his travels (see ITS xii). This legend seems to have generated the notion of a particular sceach “hawthorn” or muine “thicket”, where Suibhne could sleep, in the environs of Moling’s foundations. Note that Kilnamanagh, the parish in which this townland [Knockskemolin] is located, was also dedicated to Moling (see Culleton, 1999 p.211; cf. RATHASPICK, par.).

(Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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