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Ash-trees, translations, rivers and surnames.
Ashhill/Cnoc na Fuinseoige “the hill of the ash”
(see logainm.ie #47206)

Date: 15/06/2024

Hurling was the theme of the previous two articles, and it seems that we can’t get away from that wonderful game this week. Art Ó Maolfabhail observed in his essay ‘Teorainneacha, Áthanna agus Iomáin’ [“Boundaries, Fords and Hurling”] (Tipperary Historical Journal, 2008, pp 164–174) that Ashhill/Cnoc na Fuinseoige “the hill of the ash(-tree)” (logainm.ie #47206) is situated next to Aughnagomaun/Áth na gCamán “the ford of the hurls” (logainm.ie #47499). Those with knowledge of the game will know that even in today’s world of composite materials and glass-fibre wonders, ash remains the preferred material for the making of hurls. So is the occurrence of Ashhill/Cnoc na Fuinseoige “the hill of the ash” next to Aughnagomaun/Áth na gCamán “the ford of the hurls” just a coincidence? It is hard to be certain, as the word fuinseog “ash(-tree)” and variants thereof are actually quite common in the townland names of Ireland. There is a Ballynafineshoge in County Waterford (logainm.ie #50166), and a Ballinafunshoge at Glenmalure in County Wicklow (logainm.ie #55583), both from Baile na Fuinseoige “the town(land) of the ash(-tree)” - note that the anglicized spelling -fine- in Waterford example attempts to preserve the characteristic diphthong in the local Irish pronounciation of fuinseog. Constablehill in County Carlow (logainm.ie #3034) was also orginally called Baile na Fuinseoige and interestingly the Irish name is actually attested in 16th century Irish poetry.
Tomnafunshoge/Tuaim na Fuinseoige “tumulus of the ash(-tree)” (logainm.ie #52479) in County Wexford and Ashglen or Glennafunshoge/Gleann na Fuinseoige “the valley of the ash(-tree)” (logainm.ie #27387) in County Kilkenny also contain references to this species. Genitive plural forms of fuinseog are found in Funshoge/Baile na bhFuinseog “ the town(land) of the ash-trees” (logainm.ie #53264) in County Wexford (originally anglicized ‘Ballinefunshoge’, et var., the shorter form ‘Funshoge’ emerging in the mid-17th century) and Coolafunshoge/Cúil na bhFuinseog “the recess, corner of the ash-trees” (logainm.ie #55930) in County Wicklow. And it doesn’t stop there. Fuinseog is also found in simplex form in the name Funshoge/Fuinseog “(the) ash-tree” (logainm.ie #53547) in County Wexford as well as Funshog/An Fhuinseog “the ash-tree” (logainm.ie #33533) in County Louth.
Some apparently English coinages are in fact translations, such as Ashhill, mentioned above, which represents Irish Cnoc na Fuinseoige “the hill of the ash(-tree)”. Similarly, Ashtown translates original Irish Baile na Fuinseoige “the town(land) of the ash(-tree)” in Counties Kilkenny (logainm.ie #26435), Waterford (logainm.ie #49728) and Wicklow (logainm.ie #55719). (The last-mentioned townland, near Roundwood, has the full official English name Ashtown or Ballinafunshoge). Ashfield in Offaly is a partial translation — or even a mistranslation — of Gleann na bhFuinseog “the valley of the ash-trees” (logainm.ie #42268).
Townland names which do in fact seem to be of genuine English-language origin include Ashford (official Irish form Áth na Fuinseoige) (logainm.ie #55475) in County Wickow, and Ashgrove which is the name of two townlands in County Cork (logainm.ie #9389; #11919) (official Irish version Garrán na Fuinseoige in both cases), and one in County Kildare (logainm.ie #24922). The same is true for Ashfield (official Irish form Gort na Fuinseoige) in County Dublin, which appears to be a very old English-language placename whose original ending in -town/-ton (see ‘Asseton’’, ‘Ashton’’, ‘Ashetowne’, etc.), only later developing to -field (see logainm.ie #17352).
Notably, however, probably the best known location called Ashtown, which is the suburb of that name in Dublin, has no direct connection to the ash-tree at all, but actually derives from the surname of an Anglo-Norman colonist, whence the official Irish version Baile an Ásaigh “the town(land) of An tÁsach (i.e., the person surnamed Ashe)” (logainm.ie #17263). Exactly the same placename, Baile an Ásaigh “the town(land) of An tÁsach (i.e., the person surnamed Ashe)” occurs as a townland name in the Kerry Gaeltacht (logainm.ie #22600) the official anglicized version of which was Ballinasig (See Section 33(2) of the Official Languages Act 2003, Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order 2004.) The same surname is also found in Farranasa/Fearann an Ásaigh “the land of An tÁsach” (logainm.ie #48791) in County Tipperary as well as Garrananassig/Garrán an Ásaigh “the grove of An tÁsach” (logainm.ie #12358) in County Cork.
Placenames such as these three last-mentioned provide wonderful evidence of Anglo-Norman settlement followed by later (re-)gaelicization of the areas in question. Indeed, in that regard, to return to the theme with which we began, it is curious to note that with the exception of County Clare, the native Irish game of hurling happens to be strongest nowadays in counties where there was once substantial Anglo-Norman settlement. .

(Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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