[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #3 1924]



20th February, 1919.

Before entering upon this subject, I should like to impress upon the members of this Society the necessity of co-operation in these matters.

A mason does not paint a house, neither does a painter build a house, yet when their efforts are united they are crowned with success. I, myself, am but a painter, and need the co-operation of the mason. To make myself quite clear, one may have the history of a country at one's finger-tips, as it were; another may have a thorough knowledge of its topography; while a third may be entirely acquainted with the country's language. and if these three combine they produce something worthy of their labours. Many a time have I been baffled and disappointed in a name through not having a sufficient knowledge. of the locality, or a too cursory acquaintance with the history of the period to which I would assign a name. Therefore, some of the names which I have chosen as illustrations of Manx philology and grammar, have merely been in the hands of the painter-skeleton forms clothed in the autumn hues of a dying language-forms devoid of the rudest chisel markings of the mason.

The Place Nomenclature of Europe is composed of the languages of various races and nationalities indicating successive settlements, which for that reason are absorbingly interesting and valuable as a means of historical research; but they are so often perplexingly corrupted and difficult to unravel, that it requires the greatest patience and study on the part of the investigator to fathom their meanings.

Modern Manx names are, as a general rule, easily translatable by anyone having an average knowledge of the vernacular, but older names found in the 'Chronicle of Mann ' (1017 to 1376) and the 'Manorial Rolls' (1511-15), are much more difficult to translate, as they were probably written down by men having a very imperfect knowledge of Manx Gaelic, if any at all, and who used a system of phonetics sufficiently clear to themselves to indicate the pronunciation, but to us, almost unintelligible. Especially is this the case with the Abbey Land Boundaries of the Chronicle, the names of which seem to have been taken down from dictation. Yet, when one succeeds in evolving some kind of order out of the chaos of phonetic symbols, found in these old names, the task is not so difficult as it at first appears, i.e., as regards their sound-values or their approximate pronunciation at the time they were set down, and this, with a due regard to their philological and grammatical development, has been the principal factor I have made use of in endeavouring to throw some light on the meanings of these hoary word-pictures of a bygone and almost unrecorded age. In the course of centuries, some of these places have been re-named, but in a few cases, these old names still exist in a more or less corrupt, or a more modernised form.

For the sake of convenience, I shall divide Manx Goidelic place-names into two periods: Old and modern, the former of which I shall deal with first.

Many of these old names represent a grammatical construction of much older date than the period they were written down, and to ascertain, or attempt to ascertain their meanings, it is not only necessary to have a grammatical acquaintance with Manx, but also Irish, and Old Irish. The reason for this must be obvious to anyone acquainted with Manx history, for all our MSS. written in Manx are of comparatively recent date, and quite useless from an investigator's point of view. It is from Ireland that the greater part of our history has been gleaned, and it is chiefly to Ireland that we must look for the elucidation of our Goidelic place-names.

Old Irish may be divided into three stages, as follows:-The first stage is represented by many Ogham inscriptions and a few early inscriptions in the Roman character; the second stage represented by later inscriptions in the Roman character, the Würzburg Glosses, the Cambrai Homily, the Turin Palimpsest, the Codices Philargyrii, and the Irish names recorded in the Book of Armagh, and in Adamnan's Vita Columbae; and the third stage represented by the rest of the Würzburg and other Continental Glosses; pieces of old Irish prose in the Book of Armagh, Lebor na h-Uidre and other MSS, old Irish poems of St. Gall, Milan and St. Paul's Kloster, Carinthia; Felire Aengus, and the Irish hymns in the Liber Hvmnorum.

These three stages are defined by certain philological and grammatical characteristics which it is unnecessary to enumerate here, but a few illustrations of which I shall give as I go along.

As the first stage is represented merely by inscriptions composed of proper names linked together by means of maqi or avi, and as the second- stage is practically confined to proper names or glosses consisting of single words, the period with which I have to deal is the third one, when there is sufficient documentary evidence to show, not only the grammar, but to a certain extent, the pronunciation also. The total period covered by these three stages of Old Irish is, roughly, from the 5th to the 10th century.

From the fact that the 'Chronicle' and many of the 'Rent Roll' names show grammatical forms and pronunciation of the 10th century, it is reasonable to conjecture that they belong to this early period, and the instances I shall adduce may, I venture to hope, be of sufficient interest to arouse a spirit of investigation in the minds of my hearers.

The pronunciation of Old Irish seems to have differed considerably from that of the modern dialects, notably in the following particulars: th was a voiceless spirant and dh a voiced spirant as proved by the Old Icelandic Transcriptions of Irish names; e.g., 'Dufthakr,' from Old Irish `Dubthach'; Modern Irish 'Dubhthach ' ; 'Tadhkr,' Old Irish 'Tad,-,' Modern Irish Tadhg.' Our Runic crosses furnish us with similar examples as 'Athakan' for the Ir. 'Aedhagan'; whence our Manx surname Keggin. It will thus be seen that in Modern Irish th has become an aspirate or h sound, and dh has either become vocalised, or has a back palatal sound similar to gh in 'laugh.' So it will be observed that in Modern Irish although the sounds have altered, the same collocation of symbols is still used. In Manx we have gone a step further, for these consonantal sounds to which I have referred, have not only suffered a change in their phonetics, but also in the symbols which represent them.

The same phonetic changes have taken place in English; note the labialization of gh in `laugh,' where gh was formerly a guttural or back-palatal; whereas in 'though,' the gh has become vocalized (German 'dock Note also English 'fowl,' German 'Vogel,' and many others of a similar nature.

A word of frequent occurrence in Gaelic place-names is 'ath,' a ford; this word in Old Irish was pronounced to rhyme with Eng. 'path'; but in Modern Irish, although the old spelling is still retained, the pronunciation has altered, and it is now sounded 'ah.'

This word is found in one of the Lezayre Abbey-land boundary names: 'Hatharygegormane,' Irish: 'Ath air-he Ui Gormåin,' i.e., `The Ford of O'Gorman's Shieling or' Hill-pasture.' This surname is obsolete in the Isle of Man. This ford was probably somewhere on the Block Eary Stream.

An example of the old pronunciation of dh is found in a name taken from the same source as the last, 'Hesca na appayze ' (also written 'Hescanakeppagë '). Ir. ' Esge (Mod. fr. uisge) an apadh (nom. ap), The Abbot's Water. This referred to Malar Lough of which the Abbot of Rushen had the fishing rights. The Bishop appears to have had the fishing rights in Dufloch, another extensive lake which formerly existed in the Curragh or Mirescoge.

Another Lezayre Abbey-land boundary name, which, perhaps, exhibits linguistic characteristics more modern than the previous examples, is 'Leabba Ankonathay,' Ir. `Leaba (O.I. lebaid) an Chonnachtaigh.' This either means `The Connaught-Man's Tomb ' or `The Tomb of the Connachtach,' the use of the article in the latter implying that Connachtach was a chieftain, and the head of his clan. `Leaba' (Manx 'Lhiabbee ') means a bed; but in a wider sense was used to denote the grave, sepulchre or resting-place of some important personage. Irish history informs us that the great poet Rumann, who died in the year 747 at Rahan in King's County, 'was buried in the same Leaba with Ua Suanaigh, for his great honour with God and Man.'

Leabba Ankonathay should be somewhere near the farm now called Ardonan, in 1643 Ardona; and it is quite possible that the latter may be a mutilated form of Leabba Ankona that'.

In 1313 we find the surname Mac Conky in the parishes of Patrick and German, which may be a corruption of Mac Connachtaigh.

Who was the chieftain whose memory his people sought to perpetuate by raising this cairn?

Names of this kind are the more fascinating because they are wrapped in the mists of a long-forgotten past. Here you have one of the pictures of which I spoke, a mere shadowy film without any real substance beckoning to us from the obscurity of a dead and silent age.

Another name of this type from the same source is Karraycheth, Ir. Carraig Aith, Ford Rock. It is difficult to say where this rock was. Quartz boulders were often placed near a ford, so that they could be seen by night, and thus indicate the crossing place.

In Old Irish there were three genders: Masculine, Feminine and Neuter. In the Modern Gaelic languages there are only two, Masculine and Feminine, and as this old Neuter does not occur in Middle or Modern Irish, it is safe to assume that it dropped out about the end of the 10th century. An O.I. Neuter noun caused Eclipsis of the first letter of a following noun. Eclipsis is the suppression of the sounds of certain radical - consonants by prefixing others of the same organ, and was usually caused in O.I. by words ending in n. For this reason eclipsis is sometimes called nasalization, and in fact b, d and g are nasalized. If a noun (or adjective) following the eclipsing noun begins with a vowel, n is prefixed.

In Modern Irish, when one letter is eclipsed by another, both are retained in writing, but only the sound of the eclipsing letter is heard. Thus, when b is eclipsed by m it is written in Irish mb, but the m alone is pronounced. In Manx the eclipsed letter is omitted.

Eclipsis is now subject to various grammatical rules, but the first to which I shall draw your attention is that caused by the old neuter noun. It is interesting to note in this connection that many of these old neuters may be masculine in one province of Ireland and feminine in the next, as though they had not yet quite settled down in their new garb. As an illus-tration of this indecision I may note the word 'gleann ' (Manx 'glion'). Now the 0.1. 'glenn ' was a neuter, but in Modern Irish and Manx it is feminine. In place-names, however, it is often treated as masculine, thus we find Glen Mooar (Great Glen), Glen Beg (Little Glen), etc., where, according to modern grammatical rules we should have Glen Vooar, Glen Veg, etc.

There are not many examples of neuter eclipsis in Manx place-names, but in the names Glen Meay (older Maij) and Ballanard we may possibly have two cases. Gleann m-buidhe, Yellow Glen, and Balle-n-Ard, High Homestead. In the latter name, however, n may represent the article.

In relation to Glen Meay, 'buidhe ' (Manx 'buigh ') yellow, was often used to designate streams and fords for various reasons, such as the colourization of the stream with oxide of iron, clay, etc. Gorse and broom were also responsible for this colour-name.

In the genitive plural of nouns, the article causes eclipsis of the first consonant (or vowel) of a following noun. In Manx place-names we have many examples of this law, such as: Kerroo ny Gronk, the Quarterland of the Hills; Croit ny Moght, the Croft of the Poor People; Croit ny Gonning, the Croft of the Rabbits: Eanin ny Geyrragh, the Cliff of the Sheep; Giau ny Moayrd, the Cave of the Tables-which was said to be frequented by fairy carpenters; Gob ny Voillan, Promontory of the Gulls; Magher ny Grongan, the Field of the Hillocks; Croit ny Garnane, the Croft of the Cairns; Crot ny Mooghill, the Croft of the Shepherds (or boys). The singular nominatives of the foregoing are: cronk, boght, conning, keyrrey (gen. keyrragh), boayrd, foillan, crongan, carnane, bochil.

In the Lezayre Abbey-land boundary name Glen na droman (fr. Gleann na d-droman), the Glen of the Trammons or Elders -still called Glen Trammon-we have a further example.

Aspiration is the changing of a mute to a spirant, or in other words, the softening down of a consonant to one produced by the same organ of speech, or one closely related. Aspiration is now governed by various grammatical rules, which are too lengthy to include in a short paper like this. I shall give examples of this rule, however, and I trust that the place-names I submit may be sufficient illustration without further explanation. The singular nominative is given in brackets.

Lheeannee Vriw (briw), Deemster's Meadow; Cooill y voddee (moddey), the Nook of the Dog; Curragh y phunt (punt), the Mire of the Pound: Croit y Chaillin Vane (caillin and bane), The Croft of the Fair Girl; Close y Chaptan, The Captain's Close (enclosure).

The oldest form of the Gaelic article was 'sant.' The initial s has disappeared as part of the article, but is still found as the last consonant of many prepositions, such as a-ss, out of ayn-s, in; voi-sh, from; dy-s (or gy-s), towards; etc., etc.

Before a vowel the final t still appears in Irish and Scotch Gaelic, but in Manx it is quite obsolete. Thus the Irish An t-uan, the lamb; uan, a lamb. We have several examples of this rule in Manx place-names. Tholt-e-Will (1703 Tholtawilly) Ir. An t-Alt-Bhuaile, Mx. Yn t-Alt-Woaillee, the Cliff Fold; Tallan More, Ir. An t-Oilean-Mõr, Mx. Yn (t) Ellan Mooar, the Great Island. This latter was one of the islands in Mirescoge mentioned in the Abbey-land boundaries of Lezayre, now called Ballamona.

The termination 'ach ' (Manx 'agh ') added to a noun or adjective means a `place full of' or `abounding in.' Thus Reeast, waste land or a moor; Reeastagh Buigh, Yellow Moor; lag, a hollow; Laggagh Juys (1703 Guse), Fir Hollow. The dative case (sometimes called the locative) is often found in place-names: Ir. -aigh; Mx. -ee. Rhenniagh, a fern; Rhennee, a ferny place; Lostey, a burning; Lostee (p.n. 1703 Lasey), a burnt place, i.e., where the scrub has been burnt off for cultivation; aittnagh (p.n. Atnaugh), a place of gorse, is a modern naive showing the use of the termination 'ach.' ,Many of my examples I have taken from the Manorial Roll of 1703, which teems with interesting names, many of which are now obsolete. Let me give a few examples. For the sake of uniformity I have adopted the modern Manx standardised spelling.

Glion ny guiy, the Glen of the Geese; Glion Sheillagh. Willow Glen; Close ny chibbragh, the Enclosure of the Well; Roddagagh, the Place of Moorgall (a plant): Lheeannee Cheyl, Narrow Meadow; Cooid ny pingey, Penny Portion; Close yn argid, Enclosure of the Money; Turlagh, a Lake (which dries in summer); Lhaggee Vollagh, Rough Hollow; Cooill Rea ny Ein, the Level Corner of the Birds: Clagh y veilley, the Stone of the Basin (in Bride, perhaps a font) ; Loghan Sallagh. Dirty Puddle; Lheeannee Cliogagh, Flag Meadow: Cappagh, a Tilled Plot: Croit y ,hreasee, the Shoemaker's Croft; Close Maynagh, the Monk's Enclosure (in Lezayre); Crot ny muck, the Croft of the Pigs; Baarney yn Erinagh, the Irishman's Gap (or pass); belonged to Governor Ireland in 1703: Rheynn Liauyr, Long Ridge ; Close ny Goal, the Enclosure of the Strangers; Croit y Phundail, Pinfold Croft: Mwyllin Glion ny gro, the Mill of the Glen of the Nuts; etc., etc.

Many English names of intacks occur, being for the most part translations from Manx: Hard Meddow, Goose Meddow, Penny Nook, Lane near the ffirr Moss, White Boys' Croft, Ten Croats Curragh, Long h by the Way, etc.

When a landholder is mentioned in connection with his holding the term Balla (farm) is usually omitted. John Cowle ny Creggey was the holder of Balley ny Creggey (Rock Farm), William Comaish ny Loghey was the holder of Balla ny Loghey (Lake Farm), John Stephan y Chruink was the holder of Ballachrink (Hill Farm), etc.

Occasionally we find them translated into English as: To Curlet of the Hill near the Church. Such cognomens as these have given rise to the English surnames Hill and Church.

We find the Norse 'fell ' a mountain in Barvell, Bavr yn ell. where f becomes quiescent by aspiration caused by the genitive article.

Creagh (cree), meaning 'end,' ' confine,' or 'boundary.' is often met with in Manx place-names. This word has gone out of use in modern Manx, and owing to the similarity of pronunciation with 'cree ' (a heart), places bearing this name are popularly derived from the latter word. Found in Boayl ny cree, Place of the Boundary; Creg ny Cree, Rock of the Boundary: Balley Cree (Ballacree), End Farm; Croit Crec, End Croft.- In Chibbyr ny cree baney, we find an example of a grammatical form found in Irish but very uncommon in Manx, where not only the noun, but also the adjective is put in the genitive case. Ir. Crioch bhån, White End; Tobar na criche båine, The Well of the White End.

In regard to some Manx place-names, it is difficult to say whether they should be classified as ancient or modern, because they do not conform to the grammatical rules of either. In the case of a few, where aspiration takes the place of eclipses, it is quite possible that the former is a weakening of the latter. I have met with such cases in spoken Manx; for instance

'Nyn hie ' for ' nyn dhie,' our house (thie, a house). As in Close ny cholbagh for C. ny golbagh, Heifers' Close; Close ny chollagh for C. ny gollagh, the Close of the Stallions.

In other cases the radical form is restored, as in : Faaie ny cabby] for F. ny gabbyl, the Flat of the Horses; Eary ny kione for E. ny gione, the Shieling of the Heads or Ends.

In Geau ny kirree (o.f. G. ny geyrragh), the Creek of the Sheep; Giau yn ghow (G. yn ghew), Creek of the Ox; Gob ny creggyn glassey (G. ny greg glass), Headland of the Grey Rocks.

In the course of time the meanings of many old names are forgotten, popular etymology sets in, and the name is made to conform to new linguistic rules. Thus in England the word ' beefeater' is corrupted from buffetier, which was applied to a certain class of persons, so called, not from eating beef, but because their office was to wait at the buffet. Shotover Hill, near Oxford, a name which the people sometimes explain by a story of Little John shooting an arrow over it, is merely the French Chåteau Vert. The tavern sign of the ' Goat and Compasses ' is a corruption of the older signboard ' God encompasseth us;' ' The Cat and the Wheel ' is a St. Catherine's Wheel;' Brazenose College, Oxford, was originally called Brazenhuis, i.e., brew-house, because it was a brewery before the foundation of the College; ' La rose des quatre saisons ' becomes ' The rose of the quarter sessions;' and ' Bellerophon ' is changed to ' Billy ruffian,' etc., etc.

So in the Isle of Man we have similar corruptions : The parish of Santan has been handed over to St. Ann, instead of Sanctan, an early Celtic saint; Baldwin (Manx Boayldin) is said to have taken its name from the fact that the Danes when they landed in Mann, and saw the Vale of Baldwin from the surrounding hills, exclaimed ' Boayl Dooin ' (the place for us). It is worthy of note in this connection that the Danes must have been able to speak Gaelic as well as Danish.

Cregneish is popularly supposed to mean ' The Rock of Ages' (Manx Creg 'n eash). Its older form, however, was Croknes (Crow Ness) which was probably the Norse name of the promontory now known as Spanish Head and Black Head. This was part of the treen of Croknes.

Let me give a few derivations of a similar nature : Ballacross in Kirk Andreas does not take its name from some renowned cross in the neighbourhood as one might suppose, but from a family named MacFrost, who were the holders in the 16th century. Ballahuggal in Malew has nothing to do with ' shoggyl ' (rye), but takes its naive from the holder in 1511, Hogell. The Kewishes held Ballakesh in Bride, so it is probable that the farm name means ' Kewish's Farm ' and not ' Foam Farm.'

Henry McPerson was the holder of Ballafesson in 1511, and not a ' parson.' Port Greenaugh does not mean ' Sunny Port.' Its older name was Grenwyk, which is Norse, meaning ' Green Creek.'

There are several Ballalonnas in the Island, and they are sometimes said to mean ' Ale Farm! ' The older forms, however, always reveal the fact that ' lonna ' is not ' lhionney ' (the gen. of lhune, ale; Ir. lionn, gen. leanna), but ' glionney' (gen. of glion, a glen; Ir. g;leann, gen. gleanna). Thus Ballona, Ballalona or Ballaglonna means ' Glen Farm.'

Balleykilleyclieau has nothing to do with a church as the name suggests. It took its name from a family named Mac Kill, who held it in 1515. The family was called Mac Kill y clieau, i.e., Mac Kill of the mountain, because the farm was situated at the foot of Slieau Freoaghane, and in accordance with custom, when the farm was specified, ' mac' dropped out, hence Balley Kill y clieu, the Farm of (Mac) Kill of the mountain.

Cronk Fedjag means the ' Hill of the Plover ' not ' Feather.' Ballavaish represents the Ir. Baile Mhåis, ' Ridge Farm,' and contains no reference to ' baase' (death) or ' maase' (cattle). Part of this ridge bears the Norse name ' Lambfell,' meaning ' Iamb Mountain,' and this may have been the Norse name of the whole ridge at one time.

Barnagh Jiarg, now Barnagh, 1643 Barnet' Garg, in Michael, is said by the natives to mean Red Limpet (Flitter) ' from the fact that-its fields are spotted over with tumuli, which lie on the surface like limpets on a rock ' (Moore's Names). Its older name, however, proves conclusively that it is Baarney Jiarg, Red Gap or Pass; probably so called from the fact that from here commenced the old road or track over Slieau Curn.

The subject of place-nomenclature is one of absorbing interest. The late A. W. Moore was the only Manxman who ever took the work seriously in hand of elucidating the place-names of his native land. Considering the time he had at his disposal, and the enormous amount of literary work he accomplished during his lifetime, his work on 'Manx Names ' is one of painstaking ability. This work, however, does not, probably, contain more than half of the place-names of the Island. I myself have gathered about 100 names from the old people of Kirk Christ Rushen which do not appear on any map, some of them being actually Norse.

It will thus be seen actually much still remains to be done. The passing of each year makes the garnering of these names one of increasing difficulty, for the older people who know these names, and to whom we must look for the correct pronunciation, are rapidly passing away. I appeal to everyone interested in this subject to help gather these waifs and strays so that they may be placed on record, and thus add to our knowledge of the past history of our island home.


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