Thursday, May 30, 2013

Irish Female Family Names

Female Gaelic surnames differ from male surnames because girls & women could not be a son or grandson! Accordingly, Ó (from Ua meaning grandson of) is replaced with Ní and Mac (meaning son of) is replaced with Nic. These are contractions of the original form of the female surnames "Iníon Uí" and "Iníon Mhic" (modern O and Mac). The naming system worked like this

The forename is placed first and is followed by "Iníon Uí" which in turn is followed by her great Grandfathers name for example -Iníon Uí Donaill - meaning daughter of the grandson of Donal. Where Mac is used the original form was "Iníon Mhic" meaning the daughter of the son of (name) for example Máire Iníon Mhic Donaill translates as Mary daughter of the son of Donal

When women married they dropped the ní and nic and took the title "Bean" (p. ban) meaning wife for example Bean Uí Dhónaill or Bean Mhic Gearailt.

Obviously surnames could change with each generation but there is evidence to suggest that surnames were becoming fixed (like those of today) before the Norman Invasion. According to Fr. Woulfe, an early authority on Irish surnames, the first recorded fixed surname is O'Clery (Ó Cleirigh), as noted by the Annals, which record the death of Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh, lord of Aidhne in Co. Galway in the year 916. It seems likely that this is the oldest surname recorded anywhere in Europe.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fairy Rings

Fairy beliefs - practically every article written on the subject of fairies suggests that people once believed in them. It is true to say that people would avoid certain actions for fear of tempting fate rather than actually believing in fairies. The modern world of science has similar parallels for example one of the world’s most popular sports, Formula 1 is purely based on science, mathematics and engineering. It is also a dangerous sport and there is no number 13 and it is not that people actually believe that 13 is bad luck but why should one tempt fate and add to the already high risk nature of the sport? (Cars did carry the number 13 until a spate of fatal accidents occurred in the 1920s to drivers with number 13, prompting the French automobile club to stop using the number and the tradition remains to this day.)

Fairy rings also occupy a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into elfin kingdoms or places where elves gather and dance. According to the folklore, a fairy ring appears when a fairy, pixie, or elf appears. The circular pattern of the mushrooms looks like a place where fairies danced in a ring holding hands.

In an Irish legend recorded by Jane Wilde (mother of Oscar), a farmer built a barn on a fairy ring despite the protests of his neighbours. He was struck senseless one night and a local "fairy doctor" was called to break the curse. The farmer says that he dreamed that he must destroy the barn. - No doubt this particular variety of mushroom was hallucinogenic!

Collecting dew from the grass or flowers from inside a fairy ring can bring bad luck. While destroying a fairy ring is both unlucky and fruitless as it will just grow back. Also science tells us some mushrooms in fairy rings are poisonous and inhaling mushroom spores can cause a respiratory disease called Lycoperdonosis.

Moonshine distillers traditionally discard the first 50ml of distillate known sometimes as the fairy portion. Science tells us that the first few drops from a still contain nasty and unwanted substances like methanol which have a lower boiling point than alcohol and therefore come out of the still first.

Therefore we can conclude that some superstitions were useful in learning scientific knowledge.

Image: A fairy ring on a suburban lawn in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Making Irish surnames English

In 1518 a City Council decreed “neither O' nor Mac shall strut and swagger through the streets of Galway”. The names of the native Irish male population all began with O’ or Mac meaning “grandson of” or “son of” followed by the personal name of the ancestor. In the late 16th century the Irish nation under duress began the process of changing their surnames to be more English sounding.

The English Poet Edmund Spencer who spent 20 years in Ireland called upon the English to commit genocide against the Irish as Earl Arthur Grey had done in 1582 using brutal scorched earth tactics resulting in a serious famine which killed as many as 30,000 people in just six months.

The Elizabethan conquest of Ireland resulted in the establishment of a central government in Ireland for the first time, the outlawing of the native Brehon laws and imposition of English law, the ethnic cleansing of the native population, the despising of Irish manner hairstyles, clothing and all things Gaelic. Therefore it is not surprising that it became unfashionable to have an Irish name.

While the surname change process was initiated by oppression it was not simply due to it alone but was driven by a complex interplay of many different circumstances. For example one could gain significant social advantages by appearing to be English or to appear to be in support of the English. Families might even be able to avoid land confiscations. However written records do not allow us to count the many families went by their original name but used an official name for paper records and interactions with government. (perhaps this is the primary reason for the survival of Irish surnames). A similar practice continues to this day most notably in the forename Liam, almost no holder of this name is called Liam on their birth certificate. They are all called William.

English officials unfamiliar with the Irish language recorded surnames as the heard them and thus wrote the names down a phonetically. For example Mag Oireachtaig (Ma-gur-ach-ti) becomes Ma’Geraghty or Mac Geraghty. Another scribe might hear it different like Mc Garrity or recorded it carelessly. Thus one surname takes on the appearance of many and we get all these variations Gerrity, Gerty, Gerighty, Gerighaty, Gerety, Gerahty, Garraty, Geraty, Jerety, McGerity, MacGeraghty, MacGartie, MacGarty and many more.

Misspellings were also common because the uniformity of spelling we enjoy today was not present in the English language until very recently. An interesting example is William Shakespeare (1564-1616) who spelled his name in a variety of ways. Despite his great learning and literary accomplishments 83 variants of his name have been attested in English source material

Direct translations of Irish names also occurs for example Ó Marcaigh to Ryder, Ó Bradáin to Salmon and Fisher, Mac an tSaoir to Carpenter or Freeman , Mac Conraoi to King, Ó Draighneáin (meaning from a place abounding in briars) is translated to Thornton. Ó Gaoithín (meaning from a windy place) is translated to Wyndham.

Assimilation is the name given to the process of substitution with foreign names of similar sound or meaning like these French examples. Ó Lapáin became De Lapp, Ó Maoláin became De Moleyns, Ó Duibhdhíorma became D'Ermott. Molloy (O’ Maol an Mhuaidh) and Mulligan (O’Maoláin) became Molyneux.

Pure substitution occurs where the connection between the original surname and the substitute is remote for example, Clifford for Ó Clúmháin, Fenton for Ó Fiannachta, Loftus for Ó Lachtnáin, Neville for Ó Niadh, Newcombe for Ó Niadhóg.

Sometimes rare names are often subsumed by more common names in a process called attraction.

Ó Bláthmhaic is anglicised as Blawick or Blowick and becomes Blake

Ó Braoin is anglicised as O'Breen, Breen becomes O'Brien,

Ó Duibhdhíorma is anglicised as O'Dughierma or Dooyearma, becomes MacDermott,

Ó hEochagáin is anglicised as O'Hoghegan becomes Mageoghegan,

Ó Maoil Sheachlainn is anglicised as O'Melaghlin becomes MacLoughlin.

Image taken from “Mapping the Emerald Isle: a geo-genealogy of Irish surnames”. Tip: type in a name of interest or zoom to a place to see the names associated with that place in 1890.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Two Patricks et al

St. Patrick was not Irish, St George was not English, St Andrew was not Scottish and of the four nations only the Welsh St. David is a native patron saint. St. Patrick was not Welsh or English as it is sometimes claimed in error because Wales and England did not exist in Patrick’s time. He was a Romano-Briton meaning of a Roman family living in Roman colonial Britain prior to the withdrawal of the Romans.

St George never killed a Dragon and St. Patrick never banished snakes from Ireland and some claim he did not even bring Christianity to Ireland it was Palladius. Therefore the Irish should be celebrating St. Palladius Day on March 17th which is and absurdity reliant on gross ignorance of plain Latin for sustenance!

The great Irish historian T. F. O'Rahilly's "Two Patricks" theory first posited in a lecture in 1942 where he decided to be deliberately controversial in order the initiate academic debate. O'Rahilly like many scholars before noted that a continental chronicler wrote that Palladius was ordained bishop by the pope and sent to Ireland in 431AD. Yet tradition tells us that Patrick was ordained bishop and sent to Ireland to convert the Irish in 432AD. O'Rahilly was arguing correctly that the histories of two men had been confused and folded together in error. No official record exists of Palladius or Patrick’s ordination and the issues arising from the debate has been the subject of much speculation. However, it is not possible to say much about Palladius due to the lack of evidence other than one thing; it is certain that he did not bring Christianity to Ireland and this is expressly stated in the historical record.

Prosper of Aquitaine states in a chronicle entry for the year 431AD “Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur”.

Translated as “To the Irish believing in Christ Pope Celestine sends Palladius as the first Bishop”.

In plain black and white is the statement that there were Christians in Ireland before Palladius arrived and by extension before the arrival of Patrick too!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Noble Hound

In early Irish society dogs were considered noble creatures possessing aspiring qualities like intelligence, loyalty, companionship, guardianship, speed and agility, the very human qualities imperative for survival in all early societies especially for warriors. Heroes in both real life and mythology were given names with “dog” or more specifically “hound” in the title like Cú Chulainn, Con Cétchathach etc. The evidence of reverence of our ancestors had for these creatures is abundant in surnames and sometimes in place names like Connacht, Connemara, Conaghrea. Glenamaddy, Limivaddy etc. However, most of the place names ultimately derive from personal names.

Con, (the genitive form of Cú) depending on the context in which it is found can translate directly as wolf/dog/hound but its original sense would be more akin to hero, great warrior or tribal leader. Con is sometimes anglicised with an extra ‘n’ e.g. Conn.

Many Irish names which begin with Cú (a hound) were originally all prefixed with Mac with apparently one exception, which took the O’, namely, Cú-cheanann, which gave rise to the surname O Conceanainn, anglicised 'Concannon,' and sometimes even 'Cannon possibly meaning ‘fairheadded hound/hero’'.

Sometimes Con means wolf as in Conalty which comes from O’Conallta meaning wild wolf. The Irish for wolf hound is Faolchú Faol- cú - wild hound. Other names for a wolf include mac tire and madra alla/allta (wild dog).

Madra is the word for dog in modern Irish and is found in the surnames Madden, MacAvaddy, Madigan from O’Madaihín and Mac a' Mhadaidh. This form is found in place names too like Limavaddy (Leim an mhadaidh) literally “the dog's leap”.

Glenamaddy from Gleann na Madadh" Gleann meaning valley and madhadh from madra meaning dog. This would suggest that the name means "Valley of the Dogs".

Some other examples of names with ‘con’; Conboy from Conbhuidhe meaning yellow (haired) hound/hero. Conneely from Mac Conghalile, the gal element means valour thus valorous hero. Connolly has the same meaning but it derives from the Munster O’Conghalile.

Conway (Mac Con-bhuadha, sometimes also for Mac Con-mhaighe) Conmee, or Conmey (Mac Con-Midhe - hound of Meath), Confrey (Mac Confraoich – hound of the heather), Conroy (Mac Con-raoi- warrior king).

Some names have retained the Mac and suppressed the Con; but have put in a syllable 'na,' which does not occur in the original Irish form such as Macnamee (for MacConMidhe –hound of meath), Macnamara (for Mac Con-mara - Cú-mara - sea-hound). It is also found with the words swapped around as in Murchú often anglicised as Murphy which also translates a hound of the Sea. MacCon - Mac Mhíolchon meaning hunting dog.

Image: Fionn Mac Cumhaill accompanied by his two hounds, Bran and Sceolan located near Newbridge, Co. Kildare at Exit 12 of M7 motorway.