Welsh Names

Robert E. Matheson
Chapter IV | Start of chapter

Welsh immigrants also found their way into Ireland. The name “Walsh”—Irish, Brannagh or Breathnach, a Briton or Welshman—occurs in early times in the counties of Cork, Dublin, Kerry, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, and Wicklow; and at the present day the name is largely represented in nearly every county in Ireland, especially in Cork, Mayo, Waterford, Galway, Dublin, and Wexford.

According to some ancient authorities, Welshmen of the following names settled in Ireland after the English Invasion: Howell, Lawless, Lillis, Lynagh, Lynnott, and Merrick.

A remarkable colony from Wales, yet not consisting solely or even mainly of Welsh, was formed at any early date in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy, county Wexford.

It is supposed to have been a settlement made at the time of the Norman Invasion.

The interest in this colony is centred in the fact that it continued to exist separate from the native Irish, and maintained its peculiarities, character, and language down to a recent period; and traces of its special characteristics are still to be found.

Reference is made to this colony in a series of returns supplied to Sir William Petty, written about 1680. In them it is stated “they preserve their first language and almost only understand the same unless elsewhere educated.” Also that “they observe the same form of apparel their predecessors first used,” which is, “according to the English mode, of very fine exquisitively dressed frieze, comlie, but not costlie; that they invioblie profess and maintain the same faith and form of religion,” and that “they seldom dispose of their children in marriage but unto natives or such as will determine to reside in the Barony.”

Several peculiar customs and usages of the colony are also detailed in the returns referred to.

In 1788 General Vallancey visited the colony and embodied the result of his researches in a paper which is printed in the Second Volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, and in which he gives a specimen of the old dialect of the colony.

He remarks:—

“This Colony have preserved their ancient manners, customs, and language; and fully occupying every inch of ground, the natives could never obtain a re-establishment therein. As population increased some of the English have been obliged to remove into the neighbouring baronies within these fifty years, and by an intercourse with the Irish the language of these emigrants became corrupted, and these by their connections with their kindred remaining in the baronies of Bargie and Forth have in some measure introduced this corrupted dialect there.”

He mentions, amongst the names of the old colonists at that date—“Hore,” “Cod,” “Stafford,” “Whitty,” “Rossiter,” “Sinnott,” “Stephen,” “Quiney,” and “Walsh.”

In Hall’s Ireland also (published in 1841), there are references to this interesting colony.

Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall observe:—

“The baronies of Bargy and Forth, which extend along the coast from the Bay of Bannow to the Bay of Wexford, form perhaps the most singular and remarkable district of Ireland, its inhabitants being to this day ‘a peculiar people.’ … The peninsular position of these baronies—the sea on the one side, and the mountain of Forth on the other—contributed, no doubt in a great degree, to the safety and stability of the Colony; yet had it not been for the numerous castles, or, more properly speaking, ‘fortalices,’ the ruins of which form so remarkable a feature in the landscape, the courage and daring of the native Irish would have caused their extermination. Over a surface of about 40,000 acres there are still standing the remains of fifty-nine such buildings; and the sites of many more can be still pointed out.”

A paper on the subject of the dialect of the Barony of Forth was read by the Right Rev. Dr. Russell, late President of Maynooth College, at the Dublin Meeting of the British Association in August, 1857.

After an examination of the fragments of the language extant, he states:—

“I venture, therefore, to conclude that the barony of Forth language is a lineal descent of the English introduced by the first settlers, modernized in its forms, and also, though in a less degree, in its vocabulary.”

Dr. Russell also remarks—

“Like Irish in what used to be the Irish-speaking districts, the Forth language has become unfashionable in Forth itself, and the young generation are unwilling even to acknowledge an acquaintance with it, much less to employ it as a medium of ordinary intercourse.”

Dr. Mitchell, Inspector of Registration, who visited the locality in June last, states:—

“There is a very great change over the face of this district since Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall—50 years ago—described its inhabitants as still ‘a peculiar people.’ The change is easily explained by the opening up of the whole country—the district markets—and the facilities for travel afforded by railway train and steamboat. There is no doubt, I think, that the present inhabitants are largely the offspring of intermarriage with native Irish. It is only among the most illiterate that any considerable number of words of their old dialect is now used. Of the surnames given by Vallancey two, viz., Stephen and Quiney, appear to have died out in these Baronies, and others have spread all over the county and beyond. The names Codd, Stafford, Sinnott, Hore, Rossiter, and Walsh are very common in the town of Wexford.”