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Dáibhí/Dáith versus Dáithí Lough Dahybaun/Loch Dháithí Bháin “the lake of white(-haired) Dáithí” (see logainm.ie #114293)

Date: 28/02/2024

As we enter into the month of March it is notable that despite the proximity of Wales to Ireland, the Welsh patron saint Dai/David, whose feast is celebrated on 1st March, is not mentioned in Irish calendars of saints. In fact, the principal saint listed under that date is Seanán of Scattery Island/Inis Cathaigh (#7214) in Clare. The name David itself was brought to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invasion — the early waves of which largely emanated from Wales — and subsequently gaelicized as Dáibhéad (producing the surname Mac Dháibhéid/(Mc)Davitt/(Mc)Devitt/(Mc)Kevitt). Its diminutive form Davy was realized as Dáibhí, which became the most common version of the name in Irish-speaking areas. This name was popular among families of both gaelicized Anglo-Norman and native Gaelic stock, and therefore it is no surprise to find it in townland names such as Derrydavy/Doire Dháibhí “the (oak )wood, grove of Dáibhí” (#28554) in Laois and Ballydavid/Baile Dáibhí “the town(land) of Dáibhí” (#18435) in Galway. However, in some dialects, the palatal (slender) consonant /v′/ represented by -(i)bh- in Irish orthography was lost in certain positions, and disyllabic Dáibhí became monosyllabic in speech, producing the variant form Dáith. This form can clearly be seen in the historical evidence for a number of anglicized placenames such as Ballyda (#10198) in Cork, Ballydaw (#27719) in Kilkenny, and the Wexford townlands Ballydaw or Davidstown (#52608) and Ballyday (#53315). Hence Baile Dháith “the town(land) of Dáith (David)” as the standard Irish form of these names. There was another completely unrelated and relatively rare native Irish personal name Dá Thí, now written Dáithí, which was a traditional favourite of the Ó Dúda/O’Dowd sept in Sligo but was never in common use amongst the native Irish in other parts of the country. The name may feature in the minor name Tobar Sean-Dáithí “the well of old Dáithí” (#1415832) in Limerick; however, it certainly occurs in the placename Lough Dahybaun/Loch Dháithí Bháin “the lake of Dáithí bán [i.e., white(-haired) Dáithí]” (#114293) in north Mayo, near the barony of Tireragh in Sligo where, saliently, the Ó Dúda/O’Dowd sept had been the principal family. After the decline of the Gaelic order the O’Dowds began to anglicize traditional Dáithí as David, a name with which it has no connection — just as we have already seen with Méabh becoming Madge and Mór becoming Mary. However, an unfortunate misunderstanding has arisen over the course of the last hundred years or so by virtue of this obscure personal name Dáithí having being spuriously adopted as the standard gaelicized form of the name David since the early days of the Gaelic Revival at the turn of the twentieth century. The identification of the two names has become so well established that it is often assumed that placenames such as Davidstown/Baile Dháith (#27543) in Kilkenny and Ballydavid/Baile Dháibhí (#12126) in Cork, etc., should more properly be rendered ** Baile Dháithí in Irish — the historical evidence shows that nothing could be further from the truth! (Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich & Aindí Mac Giolla Chomhghaill)

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