Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh’s love of Irish place names began when he was seven or eight. A friend told him that he and his family were going on holidays to Ballyhornan. “Where’s that?” Seoirse asked, and his friend pointed in the direction of some far-away hills. “Over there”, he said. It was a green, misty region of rolling hills and tree groves. Seoirse repeated the mantra in a whisper “Ballyhornan, Ballyhornan, Ballyhornan…” It was a similar enchantment to that which the American sailors experienced in the musical South Pacific to “Bali Ha’i”, a mystical island, visible on the horizon but not reachable – an exotic paradise. Ballyhornan was Seoirse’s Bali Ha’i.
Know Your Place: An Exploration of the Place Names of Ireland is aimed not at the academic but at the general readership. It is exactly what it says on the tin, an exploration, and not an all-embracing compendium. The author has selected a group of place names from each of the 32 counties – about 80 from each. It’s a very personal selection. For each, he discusses the anglicized name, the original Irish name and the meaning of the name. Alongside this are a smaller handful that required some further explanation. At the beginning of each county section, he also provides a paragraph or two on the formation of that county and how it came to be named.
In the course of this exploration, the book provides some insight and enlightenment, and, perhaps, offered a challenge to some long-held (but erroneous) interpretations. The exploration of the place names of Ireland is a never-ending story.
Know Your Place will appeal to all those with an interest in Irish history and culture, and one’s sense of ‘place’ in the world.
Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh is an Irish painter and writer from Inishowen, Co. Donegal. He has made considerable contributions to the lexicography of Donegal place names and has published his findings and given talks on the subject. As a painter, he has established himself as an artist with a highly individual vision. Among the seven books he has published is Sunlight and Shadow, exploring the world of Irish classical music. It is illustrated throughout with his paintings.