Irish Personal Names

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    EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs

    The early Irish had an extraordinary variety of personal names. Indeed, some twelve thousand names are recorded in the early sources. Yet only a handful of names drawn from this rich heritage are in current use in Ireland. A lot of them fell out of fashion when English became the dominant language of the country; common English, biblical and classical names often replaced native ones.


    Irish names are enjoying increasing popularity, which is encouraging, because it repairs to an extent an element of our culture which had almost gone. The different peoples who came to Ireland all left a mark as we adopted some of their names. So we have names from the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans, the English.


    Here are examples of some Viking or Scandinavian names. Amhlaoibh (old Irish Amlaíb) pronounced ‘ow-leave’, is a borrowing of Olaf which still a popular name in Scandinavian countries. It was adopted by the Irish and became a favourite name amount the O’Donoghues of Loch Léin (Killarney, Co. Kerry) in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and from Amhlaoibh MacCárthaigh descend the Mac Amhlaoibhs (Mac Auliffes), an important branch of the McCarthys.


    Amhlaoibh is still common in west Munster where, however, it is absurdly anglicised as Humphrey, an Old English/Old German name with which it has no connection. My father often claimed that Sheep’s Head peninsula in West Cork was called Ceann Amhlaoibh Uí Dhálaigh (headland of Amhlaoibh O Daly) but I have no basis for this.


    Raghnall (Old Irish Ragnall) is a borrowing from Old Norse Ragnal. This was the name of many Vikings who settled in Ireland. One Ragnall Mac Amhlaoibh was slain at the Battle of Tara in 980. Ragnall Mac Ímair, king of Waterford, died in 1018. It was soon borrowed by the Irish and became relatively popular.


    Raghnall Ó Dálaigh (O Daly) was principal poet of Desmond (South |Munster) and died in 1161. In the middle ages it was popular with the Mac Branains of Connacht and by the Mac Raghnalls (now usually Reynolds). It was very popular with the Hurley family of West Cork. Many of their chieftains used Randal as their personal name.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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