Irish Language Blog

Ó “Ó Cuileannáin” go “Bling” agus Smaointe Fánacha (Ramblings) Eile Posted by on Jun 8, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

As I was mulling over the recent entries on “diamaint,” I decided to look a little further into diamond lore. I always wondered what exactly Koh-I-Noor meant (turns out to be “mountain of light” in Persian) and had a general curiosity about the largest known diamond ever. Hope? Taylor-Burton? Uncle Sam? Excelsior? So, lo and behold – guess what I found at the top of the list for uncut diamonds? Yet another Irish connection! The Cullinan Diamond, at 3106.75 carats, found in 1905, was the world’s largest, until it was cut into nine (or more?) separate pieces. I’m not really all that concerned with all the exact measurements and values (though they are impressive) but am intrigued by the Cullinan connection.

Cullinan turns out to be a small town near Pretoria, South Africa (2001 population ca. 7,700), named after Sir Thomas Cullinan (1862-1936). And where does his moniker come from? He was a diamond magnate, owner of the Premier (Cullinan) Mine. He was born in South Africa (Elands Post near Seymore, Cape Colony) but the family history probably traces back to the area of Ennis, Co. Clare, through a James Cullinan (grandfather or great-uncle, it’s not clear to me). Sir Thomas was the father of 10 children and the Irish connection also shows up in the name of one of his grandsons, the South African poet Patrick Cullinan (1933-2011).

And what’s “Cullinan” in Irish anyway? Well, like most Irish surnames, there’s a masculine and a feminine version:

Ó Cuileannáin, the masculine form. This is often anglicized without the “Ó” (grandson, descendant), so it may appear as Cullinan, O’Cullinan, O’Cullinane, Cullinane, and perhaps other versions.

Ní Chuileannáin, the feminine form for unmarried women or, as occurs often enough, married women keeping their “maiden” name. I put “maiden” in quotation marks since in Irish, the term is actually (and more straightforwardly) “sloinne réamh phósadh” [SLIN-yuh RAYV-FOHSS-uh, sort of gliding the “-mh,” a v-sound, with the “ph-,” an f-sound], lit. “name before marriage.” And, in fact, there are other ways to say “maiden name” in Irish as well, but none of them have to do with being a “maiden.” The word “,” short for “daughter of,” is pronounced “nee” and triggers lenition, causing “Cuileannáin” to change to “Chuileannáin.” A rough guide for that is “KHIL-un-aw-in,” with the “KH” as in the “ch” of German “Buch” or Irish “loch” or Welsh “bach.”

Uí Chuileannáin, the feminine form indicating that the woman is married. The “ch” pronunciation is the same as above, so a rough guide is “ee KHIL-un-aw-in,” “” is the possessive form of “Ó” and is pronounced “ee.”

Uí Chuileannáin” would also be used to say something is “of” (possessed by) Ó Cuileannáin, so, in Irish, the Cullinan diamond, if possessed by a Mr. O’Cullinan, would be “Diamant Uí Chuileannáin.” Can’t say I’ve found any references to this term, as such, in Irish, but that would be the structure anyway, with Ó becoming . Just like O’Byrne’s shop would be “Siopa Uí Bhroin” (shades of Buntús Cainte, anyone?) and Ó Broin’s wife, for that matter, would be “Bean Uí Bhroin.” With her given name, let’s say, Máire, she would be “Máire Bean Uí Bhroin” or “Máire Uí Bhroin.” Ó Broin’s daughter would use “Ní Bhroin,” at least until marriage; after that the name could change to her husband’s or she might retain “Ní Bhroin.” Blogworthy in its own right?

There are lots of other intriguing diamond names, far too many to discuss further here: Briolette, Great Chrysanthemum, and Martian Pink, to mention just a few. But like I said, it was really the Irish connection that caught my interest in this case. Martian Pink, though – hmm, “Bándearg Marsach“? Gaolta leis an bPantar Bándearg i ndóigh ar bith?

Meanwhile, here are a few other related terms:

carat, carat (same in Irish and in English, all derived from the Greek for “carob bean,” ach sin scéal (agus blag?) eile

réinchloch, you guessed it, “rhinestone,” from “An Réin,” the River Rhine. “Buachaill Bó na Réinchloch” (the cowboy of the rhinestones)? Oh, if it’s just one rhinestone “Buachaill Bó na Réinchloiche“! I forget exactly how he was decked out.  Cé mhéad réinchloch a bhí air?

Another word for rhinestone is “bréagdhiamant,” literally “false diamond.” Neither seems to be all that widely used in Irish, at least not in a way that’s trackable online. I got no hits for “bréagdhiamant” (singular), and just one for the plural subject form (bréagdhiamaint), which traces back to one of my own blogs (, from April 11, 2011. “Réinchloch” doesn’t fare much better online, with five hits total, three from what I find to be a very bizarre website, somebody’s business-growing site I suppose (“gineadóir“), one from the same 4/11/11 blog just cited, and one that I can’t decipher at all.

So maybe the whole world of “costume jewelry” (with réinchlocha go leor ) isn’t as big in Ireland as it is/was in the U.S., but there is, at least, a phrase for it: seodra bréige (lit. jewelry/jewellery of falseness). “Seodra” is based on “seoid” (jewel), an interesting word with the following forms:

an tseoid, the jewel
na seoide, of the jewel
na seoda, the jewels
na seod, of the jewels

This can also give us the word for “Crown Jewels,” which is inherently plural: na Rísheoda [nuh REE-HYOH-duh]. Sometimes they are simply known as “na Seoda,” but that must be culturally specific.

Ultimately, I guess, instead of ultra-expensive jewels and bling, I’m more interested in “Marmar Chonamara” or the intriguing new look of “Heathergems” (made of fraoch triomaithe comhdhlúite, dried pressed heather, Or other Celtic jewelry like Rhiannon (, or Aidan Breen or Declan Killen at the Kilkenny Design Centre ( And that, if you’re interested would be “Ionad Dearthóireachta Chill Chainnigh” in Irish, though I don’t see it promoted as such online. Sílim go bhfuil sé suimiúil go bhfuil an focal Béarla “bling” go díreach mar a gcéanna i nGaeilge (“bling”) ach níl mórán suime agam sa bhling é féin! Now, rambling thoughts (smaointe fánacha), that’s more like it for me, more up my bóithrín. Pé scéal é, SGF – Róislín

Iarsmaoineamh (10 Mí na Nollag 2014): Reading over this, I realize I should point out that if we’re specifically talking about Cullinan, the town, we could postulate something like “Baile Uí Chuilleanáin.”  Then the phrase would be “Diamant Bhaile Uí Chuilleanáin.”  Otherwise, we could always simply say “Diamant Cullinan,” and leave the town name as is in the phrase.


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