Irish Language Blog

Más É “Coffey” Do Shloinne … Posted by on Jun 15, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Our most recent blog looked in some depth at the surname Ó Cuil(l)ean(n)áin, including its meaning, its various spellings, and its role in creating place names or landmark buildings.  While there are thousands of such sloinnte suimiúla in Irish, which could create blogs topics from now till Lá Thaidhg na dTadhgann (Cén lá?  Féach ar an nóta thíos), for this blog we’ll just look at one more.  Or, depending on how you look at “looking” at it, four more.

All four of the Irish surnames below have been anglicized in the same way, as “Coffey.”  There could be other anglicizations, of course (surnames are full of variations), but “Coffey” is standard:

Ó Cobhthaigh, meaning “victorious” (descendant of the victorious one)
Ó Cathbhadha, probably from “battle-tent,” based on the variation “cathbhoth; genitive: cathbhotha“; this surname has a geographical match, Abha Ua gCathbhadha, near Nenagh, Co. Tipperary
Ó Cathbhuadhaigh, meaning “battle-victorious” (as opposed to plain old “victorious”; “cath” [KAH] means “battle” and “bua,” originally spelled “buadh,” means victory), cf. the modern Irish adjective, cathbhuach (victorious in battle)
Ó Cathmhogha, descendant of a “battle-slave,” from “mogh,” a literary, somewhat archaic, word for “slave,” the more typical modern word for slave being “sclábhaí,” or sometimes, “daor.”

Oh, did you want a pronunciation guide?  Here goes, with some slight variations:
Ó Cobhthaigh [oh KOFF-ee, or possibly “oh KOH-hee” or “oh KOH-hig”]
Ó Cathbhadha [oh KOFF-uh, or possibly “oh KAH-wuh-uh”]
Ó Cathbhuadhaigh [oh KOFF-ee, or possibly “oh KAH-WOO-uh-ee” or “oh KAH-WOO-ig”]
Ó Cathmhogha [oh KOFF-oh-uh, or possibly “oh KAH-wo-uh]

Basic moral of the story is that a “th” preceding a “bh” or “mh” is likely to become an “f” or a “w” sound.  And a “bh” before a “th” is also like to become an “f” or “w” sound.  This process isn’t limited to these names of course, as can be seen in older (early 20thc. spellings) like “lobhtha” for “lofa” (rotten), “scríobhtha” for “scríofa” (written).  The letters “th” coming before “bh” or “mh” is probably less common, but we have a related phenomenon in the case of the name of the druid “Cathbhadh” (-thbh-) which has been anglicized as both “Kaffa” and “Caffa.”  I actually recommend sticking to the original Old Irish (Cathbad) or the slight modernization “Cathbhadh,” but “Kaffa” shows up as a druid in World of War, so there’s “Cathbad” clinched for the 21st century.  “Caffa” shows up as the anglicized version used by various writers, including Patrick Weston Joyce and Ulick O’Connor.

But hang on!  Come to think of it, maybe all these folks are just descendants of Cathbhadh the druid.  Á, níl mé ach ag magadh!  But, as you might recall, he did certainly have a lot to say about procreation, “lucky hours” for “begetting” and all that!  Of course, we’re sort of drifting back the misty dawn of time, or at least of Irish literature there.  Ach cén dochar?

Anyway, back to an lá atá inniu ann.  The usual modern Irish spelling of “Coffey” is “Ó Cofaigh.” The modern spelling also shows up in various place names including:
Áit Tí Cofaigh Thoir (Atticoffey East, Co. Galway), which literally means “the place of the house of Ó Cofaigh – East.”
Áit Tí Cofaigh Thiar (Atticoffey West, Co. Galway), which literally means “the place of the house of Ó Cofaigh – West.”
Inis Cofaigh (Enniscoffey, Co. Westmeath, the island or river-meadow of Coffey)
Doire Uí Chofaigh (Derrycoffey, Co. Offaly, “the oak grove of Coffey”)
Ráth Chofaigh Theas (Rathcoffey South, Co. Kildare, “the ring-fort of Coffey”)
Ráth Chofaigh Thuaidh (Rathcoffey North, Co. Kildare)

These places all, no doubt, had older spellings as well, and it would be interesting to trace them back to their pre-spelling reform days.  Ach sin ábhar blag eile.

It does seem that anyone of these would be a shoe-in as a location for a coffee-shop (Caife Uí Chofaigh)?  So then the trendy new way to refer to it could be @UíChofaigh, assuming our hypothetical café is in one of the Atticoffeys.  Cuppa, anyone?

On that nótacathbheinated,” I’ll call this blog a wrap, except of course for the gluais and nótaí thíos, SGF, Róislín

Nóta 1: Lá Thaidhg na dTadhgann
I’ve never really found an explanation for the “-ann” ending of “na dTadhgann” but it looks like a pseudo-genitive-plural ending.  Why “pseudo-“?  Well, normally if you wanted to refer to several people named “Tadhg,” you’d say “Tadhganna” (not that I’ve seen it all that often, but a couple of times, yes).  And normally, nouns that make their plural with “-anna” do not change that ending any further for the tuiseal ginideach (busanna / dath na mbusanna sin; carranna / suíocháin eisteilgin na gcarranna sin, srl.).  Cén sórt suíocháin iad sin?  Féach ar nóta 2 thíos.

Ach fan go gcloise tú beagáinín eile faoi.  I’ve been wondering if “na dTadhgann” is a fairly cryptic example of comhfhoclacht, creating a non-standard genitive plural to parallel the Irish verb phrase “nach dtagann” [nahkh DAH-gun], which means “doesn’t come.”  Literally, Lá Thaidhg na dTadhgann” means “The Day of Tadhg of the Tadhgs,” which, like Tibb’s Eve, is a day that never comes.  So is it, in essence, “Lá Thaidhg nach dtagann,” or as might be said in Munster, “Lá Thaidhg ná dtagann“?  Hmmm.  So maybe Tadhg’s day never comes, even with all the other Tadhgs to keep him company.  Or maybe our friend “An Paorach” got all the “laethanta” anyway (remember: Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach“) and Tadhg is just left waiting, forever, go Lá Philib an Chleite, one might say.  Á.B.E.?

Nóta 2: Maidir le suíocháin eisteilgin iad féin, de ghnáth ní bhíonn siad i gcarranna ach seo fís (i mBéarla) ina n-úsáidtear ceann.  Well, sort of “úsáidtear.”  Ceist eile ar fad, an oibríonn sé i gceart?  So, the time finally come in which I can paraphrase Séamas de Bond and say, “Suíochán eisteilgin, an ea?  Agus níl tú ag magadh?”  Ar ndóigh, ag caint faoi Aston Martin DB5 a bhí sé, sa scannán “Goldfinger” (, srl.)

Gluais: ag magadh, joking; comhfhoclacht [KOH-OK-lukht], punning; eisteilgean, ejection (eisteilgin, of ejection) and btw, there is a related word a tad closer to Bond’s original phrase, “teilgire” (ejector) but “seat of ejection” works better in Irish.

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