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The sun
Ballygreany/Bealach Gréine “pass of (the) sun” (see logainm.ie #40528)

Date: 13/05/2024

To continue with the theme of summer in the month of May, it is interesting to note that the word grian “sun” is a relatively common element in townland names, although, as usual, some placenames containing this element can be interpreted in more than one way. The presence of the article na in Ballynagrenia/Buaile na Gréine “boley, cattle-fold of the sun” (#50797) in Westmeath confirms that it without doubt refers to the sun. So too Auburn/Achadh na Gréine “the field of the sun” (#50761) also in Westmeath, along with Ballynagrany in Carlow (#3175) and Ballynagrena in Louth (#33997), both from Baile na Gréine “the town(land) of the sun”; In County Cork, we find Sunfort/Lios na Gréine “the ring-fort of the sun” (#10707), Rossnagrena/Ros na Gréine “the wooded height of the sun” (#8543) and Ardnagrena/Ard na Gréine “the height of the sun” (#12993). Other similar examples can be found elsewhere in the country too, and in this regard mention must be made of Monagreany/Móin na Gréine “the bogland of the sun” (#53213) in Wexford, the county which nowadays sells itself as part of the Sunny Southeast.
Where the article na is absent, things can become far more problematic. For instance, as Grian (genitive G(h)réine) is also the name of a female character in Irish mythology, Athgreany/Áth Gréine (#54756) in Wicklow might be interpreted as “the ford of Grian”. However, in this instance there is a stone circle in the townland, of which the ‘outlier and the entrance stones are in a direct line with the setting sun at the Midwinter Solstice’ (R. Marsh; Tales of the Wicklow Hills, p. 67). This information sways the balance of probability back in favour of grian “sun”. In the case of Knockgrean/Cnoc Gréine (#32401) in County Limerick, things get even more complicated. That placename refers neither to the heavenly body nor to the personal name, but to the ancient district called Grian which gave its name to the modern civil parish of Grean (#1547) (seeLogainmneacha na hÉireann I: Contae Luimnigh). As always, it is evident that each name must be analysed individually in order to determine its original meaning. Note Tomgraney/Tuaim Ghréine “mound of (the) sun” or “the mound of Grian” (#7778) in County Clare; Ballygreany/Bealach Gréine “pass of the sun” or “the pass of Grian” (#40528) in County Monaghan; the two townlands called Kilgraney/Cill Ghréine “church of (the) sun” or “the church of Grian” (#3513), (#3120) in County Carlow and Coolgreany/Cúil Ghréine “recess of (the) sun” or “the recess of Grian” (#52954) in County Wexford. In many cases it will be exceedingly difficult to disentangle the evidence. Indeed, the very fact that Grian was a figure of Irish mythology means that the likes of Bealach Gréine “pass of (the) sun” (#40528) could always be reinterpreted as containing the name Grian, particularly given the propensity in native Irish culture to create origin tales based on such mythology.

(Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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