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!

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The Colors of Ireland

40 shades of green on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands, Ireland

The Emerald Isle. A country with more verdant shades than the eye can distinguish.

It just stands to reason that the national color of Ireland is green.

Or is it?40 shades of green on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands, Ireland

How many shades of green can you see?

Does Ireland Really Have 40 Shades of Green?

During a visit to Ireland in 1959 country singer Johnny Cash wrote a song titled ‘Forty Shades of Green’.

But are there truly 40 shades? It would seem a good guess, though no one has ever recorded all 40 distinct shades if the green in Ireland.

But if you count everything from the yellow-green of new spring grass to the deep blue-green of the ocean, I bet you could come up with at least 40 different shades.

Speak Irish: glas (pronounced gloss) is the Irish word for green

St. Patrick’s Blue

Long before Johnny Cash’s ’40 Shades of Green’, St. Patrick’s Blue was considered the national color of Ireland. A dark, rich hue, St. Patrick’s Blue was adopted by the Anglo-Irish Order of St. Patrick in the 1780s.

Today this blue is seen on the Coat of Arms of Ireland and the Standard of the President of Ireland, as well as the racing colors of horses at the Irish National Stud.

Coat of Arms of Ireland and the Standard of the President of Ireland
The coat of arms of Ireland is a St. Patrick’s Blue background with an Irish harp

Speak Irish: gorm (pronounced ger-um) is the Irish word for blue


The Irish Harp, the official national emblem of Ireland, is always shown in gold.

Speak Irish: óir (pronounced  or) is the Irish word for gold

The Irish Tricolor

The national flag of Ireland is three colors: Green, White, and Orange, with the green at the hoist.

The first tricolor Irish flag was presented to Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848, a gift from a group of French women sympathetic to the Irish nationalist cause. It was intended to symbolize the inclusion and hoped for peace (white) between the Roman Catholics (green) and the Protestants (orange).

Flag of Ireland | Irish Tricolor
The Irish Tricolor has been used as the national flag of Ireland since 1916.

Speak Irish: oráiste (pronounced er-aw-ste) is the Irish word for orange

What is the Official Color of Ireland?

The short answer is that there isn’t one.

While the Irish government uses the blue of the Coat of Arms for everything from the President’s standard and the cover of the Irish constitution to the carpets in the Dáil (Parliament) and Seanad (upper house of Parliament), green is recognized the world over as being the color of Ireland.

References if you wish to know more:

Hear spoken words in Irish:




Learn more Irish! Get a free Irish for Beginners course from Bitesize Irish Gaelic.

Collins Very First Irish Words (affiliate link from Amazon) is a great resource for learning the first, simple Irish words. The paperback version should come with a CD to assist with pronunciation.