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!

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