Irish Place Names and Their Meanings

This article has been syndicated, with permission, from Ireland Family Vacations.

One of the first things you might notice when starting to travel around Ireland is the road signs. You’re much more likely to see Irish on road signs than hearing it spoken.

Just about any road sign pointing you to a town or city will have the Irish place names on top in italics and English name beneath in capital letters.

Generally, place names in Ireland were originally in Irish, but then adapted into English (often by sound and not well). For example Gaillimh is Galway, Corcaigh is Cork, and Luimneach is Limerick.

road signs in Kenmare, Ireland
Signs in Kenmare in both Irish and English

Those Wonderful Irish Signs… What Do They Mean?

You can learn a lot about the history of a place by simply understanding its Irish name!

You’ll see some names more often than others- these are some of the most common Irish place names and their meanings.

Meaning of ‘Bally’

You’ll see place names with this word everywhere! “Bally” comes from Baile na which means “place of”.

For example, you might see a sign for Ballycastle/Baile an Chaisil. It’s easy to tell what this one means: the town of the castle.

Ballyjamesduff/ Baile Shéamais Dhuibh in Cavan literally means the place of James Duff.

Meaning of ‘Kil’

This is a religious one. In Irish Gaelic, “cill” means a (small) church.

On a road sign, above Kildare you’ll see written Cill Dara, which means “the church of Dara”.

Kilkenny/ Cill Chainnigh, both the medieval city and the county, are named for the Church of Cainnech (or Canice).

Meaning of ‘Lis’

As you’re driving along the countryside, keep an eye out for ring forts. There are some large ring forts you can visit in Ireland, others are literally circles of stone and trees in the middle of a field, and most are very old. The Irish word for a ring fort is lios.

So if you see Lismore/Lios Mor, this means “big ring fort”.

Also in Co. Kerry, there’s Listowel/Lios Tuathail which means “Tuathal’s ring fort”.

Irish road signs in the Gaeltacht
Signs in the Gaeltacht

Travel Tip in the Gaeltacht

Many tourist towns, such as Dingle/An Daingean, are found within the Gaeltacht, or Irish speaking region of Ireland.

Places found within the Gaeltacht are only referred to by their Irish Gaelic name on road signs. So be sure to know both the English and Irish names on your itinerary, at least by sight!

Learn to Speak More Irish!

Say- and Sing!- Happy Birthday in Irish!

Learn why the Irish language is so lyrical! Sign up for Bitesize Irish with a free course! Memberships begin at $35 per month.

Celebrate Women’s Little Christmas on January 6

January 6 marks the end of the 12 Days of Christmas. Commonly known as Feast of the Epiphany or Little Christmas, in Ireland the date is also known as Women’s Little Christmas.

On this day, the final of the Christmas season, women would get a much deserved rest after catering to family and friends during the holidays.

Speak Irish: Nollaig na mBan (null-ug na Mon) means Women’s Christmas

How to Celebrate Women’s Little Christmas

Traditionally it is considered bad luck to take down Christmas decorations before January 6 – so leave that task to the gentlemen and enjoy a well-earned respite with the ladies in your life!

In Ireland you’ll find Women’s Christmas Breakfasts, women filling restaurants and pubs, or even small gatherings over tea and cakes in private homes.

Here are a few ideas to celebrate Women’s Little Christmas wherever you are!

Happy Women's Christmas to You All!
Happy Women’s Christmas to You All!

Host a Women’s Christmas Tea (or Open House)

While you’re prepping everything for your Christmas celebrations make some extra and tuck them in the back of the freezer. Invite friends to visit January 6 for a bit of a ‘catch up’ over tea or bubbly, accompanied by the treats you saved back, lovely nibbles from a local shop, or fine Irish fare ordered online. If you can, have men or kids on hand to act as waitstaff.

Meet Friends at the Pub

Gather with the ladies at a local pub for a meal, drinks, and chin wag. A good Irish pub should know the tradition and be able to help you create a fun, lively experience. If your local isn’t Irish let them know what you are planning and ask how they can help, or if you can bring in some things to make your gathering festive.

Host an Extravagant Dinner

Coordinate with a favorite restaurant for a fabulous women’s only holiday meal! Coordinate a prix fixe multi-course menu with different options and invite all the ladies you know! Think big! Mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, friends, friends of friends… The more the merrier!

Take Time for Yourself

Had too much together time and really just want to enjoy a peaceful afternoon? Spoil yourself a little! Pick a few of your favorite things, then sit back and savor them in the way that make you happiest!

Whatever you do, whether big and extravagant or small and personal, don’t overlook Women’s Little Christmas, a wonderful Irish tradition that needs to catch on everywhere!

Looking for more Irish Christmas Traditions?

Read about these Irish Christmas Traditions to Celebrate at Home!

Irish Gifts for Christmas (or any other occasion!)

Irish gifts to give for Christmas

Add a little bit of Ireland to your gift giving this year!

Whether you’re looking for gifts for a loved one or you need to add ideas to your own gift list, these Irish gift ideas will add culture and craic to your holiday!

Irish Gifts to Give
Click Here to add this to your Gift Ideas board on Pinterest!

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Irish Gift Ideas

Don’t forget the Christmas Crackers!

This is really more of a cultural tradition than a gift, but no Irish table is complete without Christmas crackers.

Usually placed atop the place setting or above the plate, these tube ‘pop’ when pulled apart, showering confetti, candy, trinkets, and the obligatory paper crown as they explode.

You can find Christmas crackers at World Market and Amazon has a huge selection of Christmas crackers. Buying tip: buy different crackers for adults and children. Most crackers have images of what lies inside on the box or in the description.

Want to make your own Christmas crackers to stuff with personal goodies? I recommend a Christmas cracker kit so you get the ‘snap’, but you can also just use toilet paper rolls and wrapping paper (instructions here).

Cultural Irish Gifts for Christmas

Bitesize Irish

There is no better way to understand Ireland than to learn a bit of the language. Bitesize Irish has easy to follow ‘bitesize’ lessons designed to help you speak, read, and understand the Irish language.

As you delve into the lessons you’ll understand why the Irish have such a fanciful way of speaking. Did you know there is no word for ‘no’ in the Irish language?

Sign up for Bitesize Irish with a free course! Memberships begin at $35 per month.

Emerald Heritage

Become an Irish land owner! This is a super fun gift for the person who has everything.- except a title! Yes, with the purchase of this gift your recipient becomes a ‘Squireen’, an official title that can be added to anything…

Another benefit of this gift is that is helps replant Ireland’s native woodlands and restore historical buildings. Land owners can even visit their plot!

Buy a plot starting at $39.59 from Emerald Heritage.

DNA Testing

Are you as Irish as you think you are? Find out with a DNA testing kit!

Choose Ancestry DNA if you want to create a family tree and dig into your roots. Add an Ancestry membership for the full experience.

Choose 23andMe if you want to dig into your health and traits. It’s kind of amazing the quirky things that are passed down from our ancestors!

Save up to 50% on 23andMe kits! Ancestry + Traits $79 and Health + Ancestry $99.

Give Gifts from Ireland

Burren Perfumery

This is one of my favorite places to visit when in Ireland. The natural perfumes, colognes, soaps, and creams are truly fabulous.

Great options: Man of Aran for him and Ilaun or Summer Harvest for her – available as fragrance, lotion, and castile soap. I swear by the Rosehip Oil facial serum for keeping fine lines and deep wrinkles moisturized and less noticeable.

The wonderful bar soaps are terrific hostess gifts or stocking stuffers.

Shop online at Burren Perfumery. Tip: follow Burren Perfumery on Facebook and watch for their Free Friday deals!

Aran Sweater

It’s a timeless classic- the original Aran Sweater direct from the Aran islands just off the west coast of Ireland.

The Aran Sweater Market still crafts their woolens on Inis Mor. And though their designs have gone beyond the traditional Fisherman’s Sweater, you’ll feel wrapped in the history and traditions of Ireland no matter which item you wear.

Purchase from the Aran Sweater Market online.

My Ireland Box

This monthly subscription box is perfect for someone who loves Ireland! Each month’s box is specially curated, featuring designers and artisans from across the country.

The items change monthly, but past boxes have included jewelry, candles, soaps, woolens, calendars, and other wonderful Irish finds!

Available as a ‘once off’, monthly subscription, or in 3 and 6 month subscriptions.

Order soon to get the Christmas Box or begin a subscription in January.

Irish Food

Do you fancy an Irish Breakfast or maybe a traditional afternoon tea? Maybe you just want to taste some Irish treats like Tayto, Butler’s chocolates, or Ballymaloe Country Relish. Whatever your desire, there’s an Irish Food Hamper to fit your taste!

For traditional Christmas flavors try The Season Selection with Starry Mince Pies, an Irish Whiskey Cake, and plenty of chocolates.

I like the Traditional Treats hamper for tea or an evening watching Christmas movies.

Order online (but maybe order enough for before the holidays as well as gift giving!)

Handmade Gifts from Ireland on Etsy

Handmade is special, even if it wasn’t made by your hands! Use Etsy to find handmade gifts from Ireland!

Give Great Stories of Ireland

Curl up with a great story or plan your next trip with these recommended reads!

Plan: Choose an Ireland travel guide to help you plan (or dream about) a future trip to Ireland.

Learn: Get your kids excited about Ireland with tales, stories, and facts about the Emerald Isle.

Books for Irish Dancers: Rod Vick has a few great books for Irish dancers. Check out the Kaylee O’Shay series (7 books) and Dance of the Third-String Quarterback.

Escape: grab a pot of tea and a few biscuits when you sit down with these books:

Give the Gift of Ireland Travel

Wouldn’t you like to find Ireland in your stocking?

For a truly special Ireland vacation purchase tickets for A Celtic Experience, a small group luxury tour of Ireland. This 8 night tour includes luxury accommodations (2 nights in a castle!), spectacular dining, immersive history, time to explore on your own, and a private driver guide. Cost is €2600 per person and group is limited to 10 people.

Get more information on A Celtic Experience.

Excited to plan your own Ireland vacation but need tips on how to do it? Then the Planning the Ireland Vacation of Your Dreams digital book is for you! Designed to guide you through every step of your Ireland vacation- from planning when to go through filing the VAT as you leave.

Order for just $5 through December 24, 2019.

Want to add some Irish Traditions to your Christmas?

Be sure to read Irish Christmas Traditions to Celebrate at Home as you prepare for the holidays!