Whats with all the Ballys

09 May 2023

Whats with all the Ballys

It feels like you can’t travel a few miles through Ireland before you come across a placename beginning with ‘Bally…’. It’s so common that even the infamous ‘Aisling’ books by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen are set in the fictional Irish town of Ballygobbard. Ever wondered why it’s so popular?

Thanks to Dónal Casey on Twitter (@Pearoid) we know that there are 5,182 throughout Ireland, with most located on the northeast and southeast of the island. To locals it’s the norm, but it is probably a bit confusing to tourists trying to navigate their way through our beautiful country.

Most of our placenames have been anglicised from their original Irish. These placenames have beautiful, centuries old, original meanings that can usually describe the scenery and geography of their location, or are often named after individuals or families of stature from the area, and it is definitely worth having a look into.

Like most placenames, ‘Bally’ is the anglicisation of the Irish ‘baile na’ which means ‘place of’ and can refer to settlement or homestead. For example, the townland of Ballyreilly in Barony, Co. Laois comes from the Irish ‘Baile Uí Raighilligh’ meaning the town/home of Reilly or Reilly’s town. Ballyjamesduff in Co. Cavan comes from the Irish ‘Baile Shéamais Dhuibh’ meaning the home of James Duff. As you can probably tell,  many placename origins are pretty straight forward!

Bally isn’t the only common anglicised prefix in Irish placenames; ‘Carrick’ is another popular one. Coming from ‘carraig’ which is the Irish for rock, placenames that include the word carrick are usually rockier parts of the island. Coming from ‘Carraig Fhearghais’, Carrickfergus in County Antrim means ‘Fergus’ rock’.

The list of common prefixes is endless and we could go on all day, but the main takeaway should be that every placename in Ireland has a history and a story. Why not do a little research on where you’re from and find out more about the place you call home?