Tongue twisting place names of Ireland
Posted by Neil Hand on the 6th of March 2015 at 14:56:41
Our followers really enjoyed this piece when it was first shared a couple of years ago. I've updated it and added a few new bits. Hope you enjoy!
You find yourself on vacation in a country that you’re not familiar with. It’s a different climate, a different culture, different currency. But more often that not, the most baffling thing you can come up against while on vacation is a strange place name. I’ve been there – approached a stranger looking for directions and repeated my destination over and over as they patiently tried to humor my request.
Stranger: “I’ve never heard of the place.”
Me: “But I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.”
Stranger: “Nope… never heard of it.”
And so on until the penny drops and the friendly local realises that I’ve been mispronouncing the place name from the start. Cut to me – very embarrassed, but now with comprehensive instructions on how to get to *insert baffling place name here*. Thank you kind stranger!
Ireland is no different. So if you’re visiting in the near future or just planning a trip, be prepared to get your tongue in a twist. It’s not something to lose sleep over though – no matter how wrong your pronunciation, the Irish locals have heard them all, and we’re not the type to deny a visitor in need.
Or you could always get practising before you go. Below are 5 Irish place names that just defy logical pronunciation. We’ve listed how to pronounce each one phonetically as well as some things to check out if you find yourself in the area .
Place name: Cobh
How you should say it: Cove
Oddly enough, Cobh was originally called Cove, dating back to 1750. Then in 1850, it was renamed to Queenstown to commemorate a visit from Queen Victoria, and in 1922, with the foundation of the Irish Free State, it received its current name Cobh – essentially a Gaelic version of Cove. In Gaelic, bh receives the same pronunciation as v, to make up for the lack of v’s in the Irish alphabet.One of Cobh’s biggest claims to fame is its link to the HMS Titanic. On the 11th April 1912, Cobh (then Queenstown) was the final port of call for the infamous ship.
Visitors to Cobh toady can join the Cobh Titanic Trail – a fascinating tour visiting many locations in the town with ties to the legendary ship.
Place name: Dún Laoghaire
How you should say it: Done Leery
You’ll find Dún Laoghaire on the east coast of Ireland, just south of Dublin. Once again you can thank its Irish origins for the perplexing pronunciation. Dún is an Irish word, which means fort and the area was once the seat of King Laoghaire – the Ancient High King of Ireland. So a true English translation would result in Fort of Laoghaire. Like Cobh, Dún Laoghaire is special in that it has kept its full Irish name, whereas Donegal (Gaelic: Dún na nGall or Fort of the Foreigners) for example has not.
This town boasts a fantastic seafront that attracts visitors every year as well as being a favourite location for a day trip for Dublin. You get drawn in by the beautiful views and the abundance of shops, restaurants and pubs ensure that you make the most of your stay.
Place name: Laois
How you should say it: Leash
County Laois is in the heart of the Irish midlands and it’s another one of those places, which has gone through a few name changes over the years – from Laoighis to Leix and now Laois. Often visitors to Ireland will bypass the midland counties in favour of Ireland’s coastal beauties, but Laois still has plenty to offer in the way of attractions.The Slieve Bloom Mountains link the counties of Laois and Offaly (Off Alley – just in case you were wondering) and are truly one of Laois' most arresting assets.
The stunning natural setting of this humble mountain range is home to forests, blanket bogs and even their very own waterfall. Whether you’re walking, cycling or driving, there are a number of trails to choose from if you’d like to explore the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Place name: Naas
How you should say it:Nace (as in rhymes with Mace)
Naas is derived from its Irish place name: Nás na Ríogh. Nás means a place of assembly and Rí means King, so its full English translation is Place of Assembly of the Kings. Naas has a long and colourful history and it is noted that St. Patrick made several visits to the town during his ministry.A plethora of historic sites can be found in Naas from Juggenstown Ruin (one of Kildare’s most prominent ruins) to Punchestown Standing Stone (which dates back to the Megalithic era). But above all else, Naas is an extremely pleasant town.
With friendly locals to match their colourful history Naas is always worth a visit on your way through Kildare.
Place name: Youghal
How you should say it: Yawl
Back to Cork we go, where you’ll find the quaint seaside resort of Youghal. Youghal comes from the Irish, Eochaill meaning Yew wood and sits on the estuary of the River Blackwater.*Youghal is home to not 1, not 2, but 3 Blue Flag beaches; an 18 hole, par 71 parkland golf course; Foxes Lane Museum (a folk museum, which will take you back to simpler times in Ireland); St. Mary’s Collegiate Church and Gardens (one of the oldest Christian sites in the country) and more. So it’s easy to understand why it’s such a popular destination for holiday makers.
That’s it for my roundup of obscure Irish place names. If you come across any strange Irish place names you’d like us to do a feature on let us know! If you want to learn more about how the Irish speak read our blog about some interesting locals terms and words! You'll be talking like a local in no time!
*For any Irish music buffs out there, you might recognise the River Blackwater from the opening lines of the Jimmy MacCarthy song, Bright Blue Rose. Here’s a reminder if you’ve forgotten how it goes: