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Calving season - Culdaly/Coill Dá Lao “wood of (the) two calves” (see logainm.ie #45533)

Date: 15/04/2024

As we are now well into calving season in the countryside it is interesting to note some of the numerous townland names that refer to the two common words signifying calf in Irish, gamhain and lao. Although placenames referring to calves form only a small portion of the huge overall number of townland names which refer to cows (a proliferation which derives from the central importance of cattle husbandry in Gaelic Irish society) they are nonetheless far too numerous to list in full here. Examples include Ballinalea/Buaile na Lao “the boley, cattle-fold of the calves” (#55476) in Wicklow; Móin na Lao/Móin na Lao “the bog(land) of the calves” (#53313) in Wexford; Cornalee/Corr na Lao “the round hill of the calves” (#42521) in Roscommon; Gortnalee/Gort na Lao in Laois (#28695) and Fermanagh (#60537); Lios na Lao “the ringfort of the calves”, which is the forerunner to Lisnalea in Cavan and Kilkenny as well as Lisnalee in Monaghan (see logainm.ie); Cluain Lao “pasture of (the) calves”, which is the forerunner to Clonlea in Clare, Clonleigh in Donegal, Cloonlee in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo, Clonlee in Offaly, Clonalea in Tipperary (see logainm.ie); Drumalee/Droim an Lao “the ridge of the calf” (#4602) in Cavan. Killaloo in Derry is from Coill an Lao “the wood of the calf” (#58830), a placename that makes clear that the existence of woodland and cattle husbandry need not be mutually exclusive, as is often the case with more intensive modern farming methods. (Note that all of the placenames referring to calves in the plural use the genitive form …na lao “of the calves” rather than the modern ‘strong plural’ ending …na laonna “of the calves” [see eDIL s.v. lóeg]; we know of no townland name, excluding modern translations such as Deerpark/Páirc na bhFianna, whose Irish form contains a strong genitive plural ending in -anna.) The particularly deceiving spelling of Culdaly in Sligo at first sight seems to point to the surname Ó Dálaigh/Daly, but in fact this townland name is pronounced with the stress on the last syllable. It is an anglicization of Coill Dá Lao “wood of (the) two calves” (#45533), another placename that reflects the practice of cattle-grazing in wooded areas. Remarkably, a 1930 recording of one of the last native Irish speakers from the Culdaly area features a song praising the wonders of this very townland (archived online at the Doegen Records Web Project under the title ‘Coill Dá Laogh’). Of note in the context of the current article is the laudatory line ‘Tá caoirigh bhána ann is díol eallaigh…’ (“There are white sheep there and plenty cattle…”).

(Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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