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HISTORICAL.-LANDMARKS OF THE ANCIENT INHABITANTS.
1. The oldest inhabitants of Ireland of which we have any knowledge were the Gaels—a Celtic tribe, which originally came across from the Continent. Like that of the ancient Britons their religion was Druidism, but early in the fifth century Christianity was introduced by Patrick, whose native place appears to have been Kilpatrick, near the mouth of the Clyde. For six years he was a slave in Ireland, but obtaining his release he went for a while to study in France, and then returned to Ireland to preach—A.D. 432.
2. The island soon became so famous for its Christianity and for its learning, that it was called the “ Isle of Saints.' Men from Britain, and from the Continent, resorted to her schools of theology, and great scholars went forth to teach and to preach whose names are still held in high esteem in France, Switzerland, and Germany. Ireland is rich in the remains of abbeys and churches of these early ages.
3. Ireland was not molested by the Romans, and during the wars between the Britons and Saxons, and the earlier struggles of the Saxons and Danes, the island was at peace, and religion and learning flourished. But in the ninth century those adventurous sea-kings, the Danes, landed on various parts of the coast, and ravaged the land. Brian Boru, an Irish king, defeated the pirates in many battles, but it was not till in 1014, in the last and greatest fight that their power was completely broken. The Irish king, however, his son, and many Irish chieftains, were slain. From this time the Danes became a part of the Irish nation.
4. Many names in Ireland still bear witness to the presence of the Danes and other tribes from over the North Sea. Thus Waterford was called Vadre-fiord (the fordable part of the bay), Wexford was Weis-fiord (the western creek or bay), Carlingford, Caer-linn-fiord (the town or fort near the junction of the river with the fiord), and Strangford, viz., Strong-fiord (having reference to the strong tides at the mouth of the fiord). The word wick means a bay; hence Wicklow, Vigloe (bay-shelter), Smerwick (butter-bay).
5. It is to the language of the earlier inhabitants, however, that we trace the great bulk of the Irish names, and, as in England, Wales, and Scotland, they refer almost entirely to the physical features of the countryhills and mounds, rocks and hollows, islands and peninsulas, meadows and woods, rivers and lakes, woods and trees, all contribute their share.
6. A few of the many names applied to elevations of the land are:-(1) Slieve, meaning a mountain or hill; hence, Slieve-snaght (snowy mountains); Slieve-bloom (Bladk's hill); Slieve-corragh (rugged hill). (2) Maol, corrupted to moyle, a round or bald hill; hence, Kilmoyle (bald church); Dunmoyle (bald fort). (3) Tulach, a little hill; hence, Tullaghan (little hill); Tullyallen (beautiful hill). (4) Cnoc, a knoll or mound; hence, Knockbane, Knockdow, Knockglass (the white, black, and grey or green hill); Knockmoy (hill of the plain); Knockrath (hill of the fort); Knockaderry (hill of the oak wood); and scores of others. (5) Ard, or aird means high, or, a height; hence, Ardglass (the green height); Ardbeg (little height); Ardeen (the hillock); Ardboe (the cow's height); Ardclere (high plain). (6) Craig, carraig, or carrick, a high rock; hence, Carrig and Carrick (the rocks, or the rocky ground); Carrigafoyle (the rock of the hole); Carrickfergus (the rock where Fergus was drowned); Carrick-on-Suir (the rock of the river Suir); Carrickduff (black rock). (7) Ceann, kin, or ken, a head or promontory; hence, Kenmare, Kerry, and Kinsale (the head of the sea).
7. Common names of plains, meadows, and valleys are :-(1) Magh, maw, or moy, meaning a field or a plain; as, Magh-breagh (the beautiful plain); Moyne (the little plain); Mayo (the plain of the yew trees); Mallow (the plain of the River Allo, now the Blackwater). 12) Cluan, or cloon, a meadow: as, Clonmel (the meadow of honey); Clonbeg (the little meadow); Clonkeen (beautiful meadow). (3) Coire, or cuire, a ravine or hollow : as, Corrie-dow (the dark ravine); Corriebeg (the little hollow).
8. From rivers and lakes we get such names as :-(1) Ath, or agh, meaning a ford : hence, Athmore (great ford); Athdare (the ford of oaks); Athlone (the ford of St. Luan); Athenry (the king's ford). (2) Bel, or beal, an estuary or ford : as, Belfast (the ford of the sandbank). This word is often used in connection with ath ; as, Ballina, from Bel-an-atha ; thus, Ballinaboy (the mouth of the yellow ford); Ballinasloe (the ford mouth of the armies); Ballyshannon (the mouth of Seanagh's ford). This word bel sometimes takes the form of ballie and bally, and is thus apt to be confounded with baile, which means a town.
9. Hundreds of names of places in Ireland contain the word baile, bally, or bal. The word originally meant a place, or a home; but afterwards it came to mean a town and a fort. Hence we have Balbriggan (Brecon's Town); Ballinderry (dwelling of the oaks); Ballingarry (dwelling of the garden); Ballycastle (castle town); Ballyclare (the town of the plain); Ballymore (great town or dwelling). Lis is another word which means a fort, or a place enclosed for shelter and protection : as, Lismore (the great enclosure); Liscarrol (Carrol's fort); Liseen, Lissen (little fort); Lissart (high fort); and numbers of hers. Dun, don, or down, means a hillfort, or a stronghold : thus, Dunluce (strong fort); Dundalk (Delga's fort); Downing (little fort); Dungarven (the fort of Garven); Down-Patrick (so named from an entrenched hill near the cathedral).
10. We have seen that in ancient times Ireland was famous for its churches, and it seems but natural that the towns and villages which grew up around the sacred buildings should be named after them. Cill, kil, or kel, was the name for a cell or church, and such names as Kilbride, Kilmarnock, Kilmartin, Kilpatrick, Kilpeter, Kilbrandon, and Kilkenny, refer to the churches named after the saints St. Bridget, St. Marnock, St. Martin, St. Patrick, St. Peter, St. Brandon, and St. Canice. Kil, or kel, from the word coill, means a wood : as, Kilmore (the great wood); Kelburn (the woody stream). The ancient Irish, like other nations, had their smith-god, Goban, and the Gobha, or the blacksmith, as a maker of weapons of war, was regarded as an important personage: hence such names as Ballygow, Ballygowan, Ballingown, Ballynagown, each meaning the town of the blacksmith.
11. Other common words are cul or cool, meaning a corner: hence, Coolbane (white corner); Coolboy (yellow corner); Coleraine, Coolraine (corner of ferns). Dare, or derry, means an oak tree : hence, Coolderry (the corner of the oak wood); Derrylane (broad oak wood); Derryallen (beautiful oak wood). More and beg are adjectives meaning great and little, as Ardmore (the great height); Ardbeg (the little height).