Irish Language Blog

Ainmneacha Crann: Irish Names for Trees (native and non-native to Ireland), cuid/pt. 1 Posted by on Nov 11, 2017 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Tree Branch of Cape Ash, posted by Lynn Greyling; Téacs Gaeilge agus dearadh le Róislín, 2017

Our recent blog on duilleoga (leaves) seemed to be quite popular, so I thought I’d continue with various trees.

One of the most interesting pictures I’ve found for a tree in leaf is the one shown above.  A great angle (uillinn iontach!) although I doubt this particular tree grows in Ireland.  The emphasis in most of the entries in this blog series will be for trees in Ireland but the one in the graphic is the “Cape Ash” of South Africa (LA Ekeburgia capensis).  Pictiúr iontach, nach ea?

Here’s one general observation before we look more specifically at the tree depicted above.  From my viewpoint, and as an aid to learners, tree names in Irish can be divided into three main categories:  trees whose names start with “crann,” trees whose names don’t start with “crann,” and trees whose name can start with “crann” but don’t have to.  There aren’t too many examples of the last one, afaik.

1)) trees whose names start with the word “crann” (tree):  these usually include those with fruit we can eat, so we need to separate the fruit from the tree itself.  Examples include úll / crann úll, oráiste / crann oráistí, unless, of course, it’s a “crann mandairíní.”  Note that most, though not all of these, literally translate to “tree of  _____ (name of the fruit in the plural).”  So “crann úll” is “tree of apples” and “crann oráistí” is “tree of oranges.”  Logical, since the trees bear more than one fruit.  But remember, for “apple-tree,” it’s a little confusing because “úll” can mean “an apple” as well as “of apples.”  “Orange-tree” makes the pattern clearer, since “oráistí” is clearly plural, with “oráiste” (and the slight spelling difference) meaning “an orange.”  “Yay, genitive-case endings!” for telling us who owns what, but “Oh no!” to genitive plural endings that look singular!

Among trees found in Ireland, this category includes: crann silíní fiáin (where it’s the tree that’s wild, not the cherries!) and crann fia-úll.

A somewhat smaller subset here would be trees whose name starts with “crann” but which are not followed by a fruit name, like “crann creathach,” whose name literally means “quaking / trembling tree,” but which is known in English as __________ (freagra thíos)

2)) trees whose names don’t start with “crann“:  These can be further subdivided into those which a) end in the suffix “-eog” or “-óg” or b) have no suffix at all or no suffix that forms a category or c) are compound words.  These include:

a)) suffix “-eog” or “-óg”: fuinseog, fearnóg, saileog (a variant of “saileach“)

b)) no suffix, mostly one syllable: beith, caithne, coll, dair, draighean, sceach (sceach gheal), iúr, or a few that may have a very basic suffix, but not one that seems to repeat much for trees: aiteal, cuileann, leamhán sléibhe

c)) compound words: donnroisc, fionncholl

3)) tree names with or without “crann“: an example is “caorthann” OR “crann caorthainn” — and note how the genitive case rears its charming head when we want to use “crann” first.  In other words, we insert the letter “i.”

This tree, the “rowan” (aka “mountain ash”) is confusing enough to begin with, since “ash” is normally “fuinseog,” as listed above, but “mountain ash” apparently is not a “fuinseog.”  OK, whatever you say,  Ó lucht ainmnithe na bplandaí, whether you’re luibheolaithe eolaíocha, baill den phobal go ginearálta, or na SeanGhaeil!  I just try to keep track of the differences, no matter who decided it.  Speaking of which, how did we ever come up with a system of naming plants for what they’re not?  That’s probably due to the luibheolaithe, who sometimes thought it would be helpful to put the word “false” in some plant names.  I find this totally intriguing but a bit frustrating — instead of saying what the plant is, you say what it isn’t!  Some day I’ll figure out if there’s any patterns as to when this happens in Irish, but for now, I’ll just give an example of each (“false African violet” = sabhaircín na Rinne, with no element of “falseness” to the Irish name, which literally means “Cape primrose,” but “false catshark” (CATSHARK!?) lives up to its English and taxonomic name, as “catsúileach bréige,” lit. “cat-eye of falseness” (LA Pseudotriakis microdon).  Go figure!

The phrase “crann caorthainn” (meaning “rowan” or “mountain ash”) also has no specific reference to mountains, which would be “sliabh” or “sléibhe” or “sléibhte.”  If anything, the tree name “caorthann” refers to the berry, from the word “caor,” which could also bring up many other topics, since many “berries” in Irish aren’t called “caor“-anything, but rather “sméar” or “,” etc.  Another rainy day project!

Now that we’ve done an overview, let’s look a little bit more at the tree shown in the graphic above.  I couldn’t find a definitive name for it in Irish, and the “mountain ash” example makes me quake in my boots about trying to assume any plant name in Irish based on the English terms, so I’ll simply say the following:

The basic word for an ash tree in Irish is fuinseog (an fhuinseog, npl. na fuinseoga)

The basic phrase for “of the Cape,” referring to South Africa, is “na Rinne.”  I specify “South Africa” because another plant, the “Cape gooseberry” is “físealach Peiriúch.” The English name apparently refers to the fact that this plant, originally Peruvian, has been cultivated in South Africa for at least about 200 years.  So how did “Cape” come to dominate in the English name but the Irish name is based on it being Peruvian?  Diabhal a fhios agam!  To add to the convolution, it’s not as though “físealach” normally means “gooseberry” either — that’s usually “spíonán,” and “físealach” is basically “physalis” (natch), so go “fig”-ure it out for yourself, if you can, and then let me know!

The Cape of Good Hope (Africa) is Irish is Rinn an Dóchais, lit. “the Cape / Headland / Promontoary / Point of Hope,” no particular emphasis on “good.”  Cape Horn, (South America), btw, is Rinn an Choirn, quite literally, the Cape of the Horn, so in theory, “na Rinne” could refer to Cape Horn.

Anything “na Rinne,” could of course, also refer to “An Rinn” (Ring or Ringville, Co. Waterford), in Ireland, but I don’t think that area is particularly known for mountain zebras, elephant fish, or squid, all of which either have “na rinne” or “na Rinne” in their Irish name.  Context tells us, though, that “cainteoirí Gaeilge na Rinne” probably refers to Contae Phort Láirge, not An Afraic Theas.  And “An Rinn, Co. Phort Láirge” is indeed known for great Irish speakers!

So, while we could combine “fuinseog” and “na Rinne,” I’m not 100% convinced that there’s any precedent for this term.  No form of it showed up in a Google search.  If any deindreolaí on the list knows differently, please do let us know.   By the way, I can’t find any version of “deindreolaí” online either (for “dendrologist”) but it seems like it should exist, since we have “deindreacroineolaíocht,” which should at least give us “deindreacroineolaí.”  I’ve also checked combinations of “crann” and “eolaí” and haven’t found any occupational term there, either.   Somehow, I don’t think we have a scientific need for one last possibility, “bile” + “eolaí,” which would be a “sacred-tree-ologist.”  Maybe in a study of miotaseolaíocht or diagacht, but probably not in luibheolaíocht as such.

You may have also picked up another word from the text of the graphic, “bunoscionn,” one of my favorite words in Irish, meaning “upside-down.”  Literally, though it’s “bottom over head,” so there’s no “up” or “down” or “side” to it.  And the downside for now is simply that this blogpost is getting beagán fada, so I’ll have to wrap it up for now.  And putting all adverbial nuances aside, I hope you found it helpful.  And maybe you could write in and tell us if you have a favorite tree or one you’d especially like to hear about.  And any Dubs are welcome to submit “three trees,” since that often sounds like “tree-trees” when they say it, which also reminds me of Béarla Thalamh an Éisc, and that will have to be another blog topic, lá den tsaol!    Idir an dá linn, SGF – Róislín

BTW, if you’re looking for translations of all these tree names, please stay tuned for the next blogpost.  Hopefully, some of them are already familiar.

Freagra: crann creathach = aspen

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