Ancient Origins

Ptolemy, writing a description of Ireland in the second century, based on earlier works, mentions over fifty places whose names had been learned from early Phoenician sailors, but few of which can now be iden­tified. One easily recognisable name is Bououinda, the Boyne, and another, Doonon is a form of Dún which is found in Dunderry, Dunshaughlin and many other places through the county. The ancient Greek reference reveals the antiquity of Irish place names, and even a little know­ledge of simple Irish word roots can set one off on a voyage of discovery in one's own parish.


The earliest place names are connected with geographical features. The most common Irish word for a hill cnoc is anglicised as knock or crock, but this name which, according to Joyce in The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, forms the beginning of 1,800 townland names in Ireland, is comparatively rare in the plains of Royal Meath.

Mullagh, however, meaning a top or summit, is common. There is The Mullagh on the Meath-Cavan border, for instance, and The Mullagh on the road from Summerhill to Dunboyne. The first generation of English speakers translated the latter as The Hill. Both names were used, and then a generation which forgot the original meaning called it The Hill of the Mullach. A similar process of naming and forgetting gives us The Naul. The Irish was An Aill, the cliff. The English definite article was substituted for the Irish an, but the letter n was tacked onto the name itself. Naturally, Magh, meaning a plain, is very common in Meath. It is usually turned into Moy in English, and appears as The Moy for a district near Summerhill; but another form is Muff, site of the famous battle.


P.W. Joyce on the hills of Meath writes

"The first day of November was called Samhain, from samh-fhuin, i.e. the end of summer; and like Bealtaine, it was a day devoted by the pagan Irish to religious and festive was celebrated at Tlachtga, now the Hill of Ward near Athboy in Meath, where fires were lighted, and games and sports carried on. It was also on this day that the Feis or convention of Tara was held; and the festivities were kept up three days before and three days after Samhain....the hill of Ward, though not high, is very conspicuous over the flat plains of Meath"

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