Irish Language Blog

Ainmneacha Crann: Irish Names for Trees (native and non-native to Ireland), cuid/pt. 2: Ainm crainn sna logainmneacha  ‘__ __ __ Cinn Trá’ agus ‘Maigh __ __’   Posted by on Nov 23, 2017 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín), By Charlesdrakew (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; téacs Gaeilge le Róislín, 2017

Today’s tree figures prominently in at least two place names in Ireland, perhaps more.  Curious thing, though, is that even though it’s the same tree, it has two different names in Irish, one much more commonly used today, at least in my experience.  That’s why, in the title of today’s post, the same tree had three blanks spaces for one phrase and two blank spaces for the other phrase, both referring to the same tree.


Did you recognize either of the “logainmneacha” (place names)?  The first is “Iúr Cinn Trá,” aka “An Iúraigh” or “An tIúr” or Newry.  The Irish names have slightly different translations: “Iúr Cinn Trá” means “Yew-tree (at the) head (of the) strand).  “An Iúraigh” comes from “An Iúrach,” a grove of yew-trees, and “An tIúr” simply means “the yew-tree.”  “Cathair an Iúir,” lit. the City of the Yew-tree,” is also sometimes used.  Within the local area, at least one additional place name. a townland, refers to yew-trees: Baile an Iubhair, which uses the old spelling.  The “bh” is more or less like a “w” in this word.


The second place name is “Maigh Eo” (Contae Mhaigh Eo, County Mayo), which means “plain of yew trees,” using “eo” for “yew-tree.”


These days, “iúr” seems to be used much more than “eo.”  Its forms are quite standard:


an t-iúr, the yew

an iúir, of the yew (aois an iúir, the age of the yew)

na hiúir, the yews

na n-iúr, of the yews (aoiseanna na n-iúr, the ages of the yews)


To really emphasize that we’re saying “yew-tree,” we can say “crann iúir.”  It’s about the same as choosing to say “yew” or “yew-tree” in English.


The word “eo” is considered a literary usage today, and the word no longer seems to have a plural form.  It’s just “an eo,” the yew, and “na heo,” of the yew.  I’ve really never used it in any ordinary conversation.  Its use in the place name “Maigh Eo” is kind of interesting, because the phrase is usually translated as plural (plain of yew-trees) .  So maybe “eo” was once a plural form as well, or at least a genitive plural form.  Similar patterns occur in a few other Irish words where the possessive singular and plural forms are the same, except, sometimes for some initial consonant changes (súile bó, a cow’s eyes; súile bó, cows’ eyes; súile na bó, the cow’s eyes, re: one cow; súile na mbó, the cows’ eyes, re: more than one cow)


As for the crann iúir in the graphic above, it’s in the churchyard of Bignor Church in West Sussex.  I wonder why so many of these yew trees are in churchyards.  Barúlacha agaibh?  I’ve also included a link below (nasc thíos) on “aoiseanna iúr” (ages of yews, in general, i.e., without the “na n-“, which you may find interesting.  This series will probably continue intermittently and moltaí (suggestions) are welcome for trees to cover, native to Ireland or not.  But meanwhile, we’ll be starting soon on themes like “An Geimhreadh” and “An Nollaig.”  SGF — Róislín


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