2024-06-25

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More ash-trees, prostetic f-, and ash-dieback.
Aghnahunshin/Achadh na hUinseann “the field of the ash-tree”
(see logainm.ie #30379)

Date: 22/06/2024

Continuing on last week’s theme of fuinseog “ash-tree” in Irish placenames, it must be said that we have only seen the half of it so far. In fact, the various versions of fuinseog in townland names can actually become quite bamboozling to those not acquainted with some of the finer points of developments in the Irish language.
To start with, the standard Modern Irish (Mod. Ir.) form fuinseog "ash-tree" is not actually the earliest form of the word, but rather a derivative of Old Irish (OIr.) uinnius (eDIL s.v. uinnius). The f- which developed at the beginning of the word is usually described in linguistic terms as 'prosthetic', i.e., non-original. It arose in the same way that the word oscail “open” (Middle Irish osclaid) occurs as foscail in more northern dialects of Irish, and aill “cliff (Mid. Ir. all)” is also found as faill in some southern dialects.essentially due to the fact that the two variants often produce phonetically identical morphology, e.g. d’oscail/d’fhoscail, an aill/an fhaill. The addition of the diminutive suffix -óg (-eog after a slender consonant) at the end of the word can be compared to dair “oak” → daróg “oak-tree”. These regular developments explain the potentially confusing relationship between OIr. uinnius and standard Mod. Ir. fuinseog “ash-tree”.
Of course, there were many other intermediate forms in various dialects of Irish such as uinse, uinseog, fuinse, etc., treated variously as feminine or masculine, as the evidence from townland names demonstrates. Indeed it is likely that there are more townland names that contain one or other of these variants than contain the standard Modern Irish form fuinseog! Thus we have the likes of Aghnahunshin/Achadh na hUinseann “the field of the ash” (logainm.ie #30379) in County Monaghan where uinse “ash” has been treated as a feminine noun, while in Aghanunshin/Achadh an Uinsinn “the field of the ash” (logainm.ie #771) in County Donegal it has been treated as a masculine noun. Uinse has also been treated as a masculine noun in Askunshin/Easca an Fhuinsinn “the gully of the ash” (logainm.ie #52606) in County Wexford - note in that case that there is clear evidence for a prosthetic f- in a number of 17th century references. We also have the prosthetic f- in Doire na Fuinseann “the (oak-)grove, wood of the ash”, which is the forerunner to Derrynafinchin in County Cork (logainm.ie #8323) aswell as Derrynafunshion in County Laois (logainm.ie #28483). Note that fuinse has again been treated as a feminine noun (gen. sg. na fuinseann) in these names.
The variations continue with the likes of Derrynafunsha/Doire na Fuinse “the (oak-)grove, wood of the ash” (logainm.ie #23119) in County Kerry, and Coolafancy/Cúil na Fuinse (logainm.ie #55869) in County Wicklow where the feminine gen. sg. na fuinseann has been replaced by na fuinse. We also have the occurrence in placenames of adjectival forms of uinse and fuinseog such as uinseogach and fuinseogach “abounding in ash” in Counties Armagh, Cavan, Fermanagh and Monaghan, e.g. Corrinshigo/An Chorr Uinseogach “the round hill abounding in ash” (logainm.ie #3752), (logainm.ie #39697) and Unshogagh/Fuinseogach (logainm.ie #5562). Yet another adjectival variant is seen in the name Arunsaghan/Ard Uinseachán “height of the place abounding in ash” (logainm.ie #28967) in County Leitrim, which is based a diminutive of the adjective uinseach “abounding in ash”.
There may well be even more variants of OIr. uinnius “ash-tree” in townland names than those highlighted above. There are certainly more than 80 townland names containing fuinseog “ash-tree” or another Modern Irish variant, and a perusal of a distribution map of these elements on logainm.ie (uinnius) demonstrates the widespread nature of the ash-tree during the native Irish Gaelic period. (Note that data on which the map in question is based is intermediate. More names will certainly be added as our systematic research continues on the incomplete counties.) Moreover, not only was the O.Ir. uinnius “ash-tree” quite widespread in the early Irish countryside, it also belonged to the most important category of tree in native culture, known in Old Irish as Airig Fedo “nobles of the wood”, or in Modern Irish Aireacha Feá (see Fergus Kelly Early Irish Farming, p.380).
Needless to say, due to the large-scale loss of indigenous culture and the destruction of most native forests, there is no longer any general understanding of Aireacha Feá "nobles of the woods" in Irish society. Nevertheless, at least the common perception of the importance of the ash-tree has been retained due to its use in the making of hurls. The unfortunate arrival of the ash dieback disease in the country in recent years has left much of Ireland’s ash stocks in a precarious position, however, and - much like in the case of the elm-tree - we may be solely reliant on townland names such as Aghnahunshin/Achadh na hUinseann “the field of the ash-tree” in County Monaghan to remind us of the erstwhile ubiquity of this species in the Irish landscape.

(Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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