The finn- in Fennor

The meaning of the placename Fennor is as simple as it looks - a derivative of finn, meaning white or fair. As applied to land, finn would signify whitish clay or rock, or the whitish grass that was peculiar to the soil, or some white flower that was distinctive at a certain time of year.

Meadowsweet, Spiraea Ulmaria There is the plant called in English Meadowsweet, formerly Sweetmeadow, which would give the fair appearance.

It was used to scrub milk churns because of its clean, wholesome smell. It has various Irish names, the commonest being Airgead Luachra, silver sedge, and the most fanciful being Crios Conchulainn.

Another flower which would justify finn in a place-name is the cana or ceanabhán (in English, bog cotton). The word cana used by old people for the fluff that collects in the seams of clothes. The fair flowers might also be those of the elder, a tree known in the north as the boletree, or boretree. There is a tradition that this was the tree on which Judas hanged himself, and whether for that reason or another, the tree is very much disliked in the country. So if you know a place called Fennor, and there are at least three of them in the county, you will have to decide why it was called the fair place.

You may happen to know Moyfin, the fair plain; Mullaghfin, the fair summit, or Raffin, the fair rath. These are all townlands in Meath, and there are probably many similar names of smaller division.

The -or in Fennor

The -or at the end of the name Fennor requires explanation. According to Eugene O'Curry's (1796-1862), On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish it is from abhar, a brow, which would be intelligible where the Fennor in question is the slope or brow of a hill. It seems that Finnabhar or Findabair was in ancient times a common name of a person, either man or woman, and a lovely descriptive name it was. But there are places called Fennor, Finnor or Finnure in various parts of Ireland that have no hill to justify this explanation, and it would seem to mean just a place or spot. The Duleek Fennor, by the way, is referred to in the Annals as the fennor of the river and it was a place of great importance in ancient times.

Two other well-known placenames which derive from finn are Fingal and Finglas. The former means fair foreigner, as DubhGall (Doyle) means dark foreigner, the foreigner in this case being the Dane. Finglas is Finn-glais, the fair stream. It suggests crystal-clear water dancing in the sunlight over the white pebbles, and is further testimony to the love our ancestors bore for the beauty around them, even in the smallest things of nature.

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