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(Mis)translations Lugacaha/Log an Chatha “the hollow of the battle” (see logainm.ie #45107)

Date: 08/04/2024

The nature of Ireland’s colonial past, as well as the more recent language shift from Irish to English, meant that Irish placenames — when not translated or replaced with new names — have long been shoehorned into the unsuitable phonetic system of the dominant administrative language. This has left us with many anglicized townland names which on face value might represent one of a number of possible Irish precursors. For instance, a modern spelling such as Ballinahorna could easily derive from Baile na hEorna “the town(land) of the barley”, Buaile na hEorna “the boley, cattle-fold of the barley” or even Bealach na hEorna “the pass of the barley”. Such variation in potential Irish forerunners means that the historical evidence for every townland name must be thoroughly researched by An Brainse Logainmneacha/Placenames Branch of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, before being analysed by An Coiste Logainmneacha/Placenames Committee who advise the Minister for the Gaeltacht on establishing the Irish version of each placename under Part 5 of the Official Languages Act 2003. Of the various possible methods of anglicization to contend with, by far the most common is the direct transposition into English by phonetic approximation: to use one of the examples above, Buaile na hEorna “the boley, cattle-fold of the barley” (#52773) in Wexford became Ballinahorna. In this type of anglicization, elements of the original Irish placename can sometimes remain quite apparent (such as -nahorna < Ir. na heorna), but can often be rendered less recognizable due to various types of linguistic corruption. These can include regular phonetic developments of the name through long years of use by English speakers, including confusion with more common elements (such Balli- representing Ir.* buaile* “boley, cattle-fold” where it more usually represents Ir. baile “town(land)”), as well as the unavoidable loss of fidelity in consonant quality, etc., caused by the initial anglicization itself. In a small proportion of cases the anglicized Irish name itself went on to be completely discarded and replaced by an entirely new English name, such as Ramstown outside Gorey in Wexford, which superseded Tomready, an anglicization of Tom Roide “hillock of (the) bog-mire” (#53045), in the early eighteenth century. Another large category is that of translated placenames, such as Streamstown/Baile an tSrutháin “the town(land) of the stream” (#44671) in Sligo. There are many interesting sub-categories of translation which will be highlighted in future notes. One such consists of names in which certain words have been tweaked in translation, apparently due to prudishness. In Galway we have the mountain called Devilsmother, whose original Irish name was Magairlí an Deamhain “the devil’s testicles” (#1166434); in Kerry Magairlí Muice “testicles of (the) pig” (#1394803) was translated as Pigs Rocks. (It should be pointed out that the same thing happened in Scotland, too: Bod an Deamhain “the devil’s penis”, the name of a peak in the Cairngorms/Am Monadh Ruadh, was made Devil’s Point in English.) And Cnoc an Chaca (#31782) in Limerick — literally “the hill of excrement” but closer in meaning to “the worthless hill” — was rendered as Sugarhill. This tendency towards euphemism was not only confined to English translations, although examples from Irish are very difficult to identify with certainty. In Sligo we find that Log an Chaca “the hollow of excrement (i.e., the worthless hollow)” (#45107) morphed into Log an Chatha “the hollow of the battle” in Irish itself. In that case it seems that a battle was thought preferable to excrement — one supposes it’s all a matter of timing! (Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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