The Process of Anglicising

Patrick Weston Joyce


Irish pronunciation preserved.—In anglicising Irish names, the leading general rule is, that the present forms are derived from the ancient Irish, as they were spoken, not as they were written. Those who first committed them to writing, aimed at preserving the original pronunciation, by representing it as nearly as they were able in English letters.

Generally speaking, this principle explains the alterations that were made in the spelling of names, in the process of reducing them from ancient to modern forms; and allowing for the difficulty of representing Irish words by English letters, it will be found that, on the whole, the ancient pronunciation is fairly preserved.

Aspiration.—The most common causes of change in the reduction of Irish names, are aspiration and eclipsis. Some of the Irish consonants are, in certain situations, subject to what is called aspiration ; it is indicated by the letter h, and it always changes the sound of the consonants.

B and m aspirated (bh, mh) are both sounded like v or w and, consequently, where we find bh or mh in an Irish name, we generally have v or w in the English form: examples, Ardvally in Donegal and Sligo, in Irish Ard-bhaile, high town; Ballinwully in Roscommon, Baile-an-mhullaigh, the town of the summit (mullach). Sometimes they are represented by f in English, as in Boherduff, Bothar-dubh, black road : and often they are suppressed, especially in the end of words, or between two vowels, as in Knockdoo, Cnoc-dubh, black hill, the same as Knockduff in other places.

For c aspirated see below.

D and g aspirated (dh, gh), have a faint guttural sound, not existing in English, and they are consequently generally unrepresented in anglicised names; as in Lisnalee, Lios-na-laegh, the fort of the calves.

F aspirated (fh) totally loses its sound in Irish, and of course is omitted in English; as in Knockanree in Wicklow, Cnoc-an-fhraeigh, the hill of the heath.

P aspirated is represented by f; as in Ballinfoyle, Baile-an-phoill, the town of the hole, the same as Ballinphuill and Ballinphull elsewhere.

S and t aspirated (sh, th) both sound the same as English h; as in Drumhillagh in Cavan and Monaghan, Druim-shaileach, the ridge of the sallows, the same name as Drumsillagh in other counties, in which the original s sound is retained.

Eclipsis.—An eclipsed consonant has its sound altogether suppressed, the sound of another consonant which is prefixed, being heard instead. Thus when d is eclipsed by n, it is written n-d, but the n alone is pronounced. The eclipsed letter is of course always omitted in English.

When a noun is used in the genitive plural, with the article prefixed, its initial consonant is eclipsed. Each consonant has a special eclipsing letter of its own.

B is eclipsed by m; Knocknamoe, the name of a place in Queen's County, represents the Irish Cnoc-na-mbo, the hill of the cows.

C is eclipsed by g; as in Cloonnagashel near Ballinrobe, which ought to have been anglicised Coolnagashel, for the Four Masters write the name Cuil na-gcaiseal, the corner of the cashels or stone forts.

D and g are both eclipsed by n; as in Mullananallog in Monaghan, Mullach-na-ndealg, the summit of the thorns or thorn bushes.

F is eclipsed by bh, which is represented by v in English; as in Carrignavar in Cork, which is in Irish Carraig-na-bhfear, the rock of the men.

P is eclipsed by b; as in Gortnaboul in Kerry and Clare, Gort-na-bpoll, the field of the holes.

S is eclipsed by t, in the genitive singular with the article; as in Ballintaggart, Baile-an tsagairt, the town of the priest.

T is eclipsed by d; as in Lisnadurk in Fermanagh Lios-na-dtorc, the fort of the boars.


While the majority of names have been modernized in accordance with the principle of preserving the pronunciation, great numbers on the other hand have been contracted and corrupted in a variety of ways. Some of these corruptions took place in the Irish language ; but far the greatest number were introduced by the English-speaking people in transferring the words from the Irish to the English language. The following are some of the principal corruptions.

Interchange of l, m, n, r. The interchange of these letters is common in Irish and English, as well as in other languages. We find l very often substituted for r; as in Shrule, Shruel, Struell, Sroohill, in all of which the final consonant sound should be that of r, for they are derived from Sruthair [sruher], a stream.

N is sometimes, but not often, changed to l, as in Castleconnell near Limerick, which is the castle of the O'Connings, not of the O'Connells, as the present form of the name would indicate.

The change of n to r is of frequent occurrence, as in Kilmacrenan in Donegal, which should have been called Kilmacnenan, for the Irish authorities write it Cill-mac-nEnain, which Colgan translates the church of the sons of Enan, who were contemporaries and relatives of St. Columba.

The change of l to r is not very common, but we find it in Ballysakeery in Mayo, which is written by Mac-Firbis, Baile-easa-caoile [Ballysakeely], the town of the narrow cataract.

M and n are occasionally interchanged. For example, the barony of Glenquin in Limerick, should have been called Glenquim, for the Irish is Gleann-a'-chuim, the glen of the cum or hollow. Kilmainham near Dublin is called Kilmannan by Boate, which is more correct than the present form. The name signifies the church of St. Mainen (Irish Maighnenn), who was bishop and abbot there in the seventh century.

Change of ch and th, to f. The guttural sound of c aspirated (ch) does not exist in English, and in anglicised names it is occasionally changed to f; for example, Knocktopher in Kilkenny, is from the Irish Cnoc-a'-tochair, the hill of the togher or causeway. F is also sometimes substituted for th; thus, Tiscoffin in Kilkenny took its name from an old church called Tigh-scoithin [Tee-Scoheen], the house of St. Scoithin, who erected his primitive church here towards the close of the sixth century.

Substitution of g for d. D aspirated is often changed to g; as in Drumgonnelly in Louth, which should have been anglicised Drumdonnelly, for the Irish is Druim-Dhonghaile, the ridge or long hill of the Donnellys.

Addition of d after n; and of b after m. The letter d is often corruptly placed after n;—as we find in case of Rathfryland in Down, which is called in Irish Rath-Fraeileann, Freelan's fort. B is also often placed after m; as in Cumber or Comber, the names of several places in the northern counties; the Irish word is Comar, which signifies the confluence of two waters, and it is correctly anglicised Cummer and Comer in many other names.