John McCullagh March 9, 2006
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Allow me if you will, the space to expand somewhat on the information re. the origin/ meaning of the placename FORKHILL which is already carried on Newry Journal.


The subject is very close to my heart. Let me begin by stating the danger inherent in the practice of curtailing place names, a practice which has become all too prevalent in the past number of years. One case in point is the Irish for the city of Newry. Unfortunately the name has been so curtailed that, as far as I can discern, the "HEAD OF THE STRAND" element of that place name has been consigned to redundancy.

This is to my mind a very sad lack, as in another fifty years people will not know at all about this element and will question the meaning of the Irish words on the City’s coat of arms.

Similar curtailment has occurred in the case of the place name of FORKHILL with – to my mind – disastrous consequences. When I was a boy no person who had even the merest smattering of IRISH would have recognised the place name "FOIRCEAL" without its important and integral latter part.. "na CLEIRE".  It is all the more lamentable that this curtailment has taken place (in this manner) because, while there is doubt about the meaning of the first part of the place name (as pointed out elsewhere on this site) there is no possible doubt about the meaning of the latter part.

The second part of the name translates into ENGLISH as "of the PRIESTS" or "of the CLERGY"  and is of course a direct reference to the fact that during penal times the FRANCISCAN ORDER founded in the townland of SHEAN a locus refugii. The reader will now understand the piece of important history which has been omitted and become redundant by  the unfortunate expedient of curtailment. The first part of the placename FOIRCEAL has always been open to debate as to its meaning, but by far the most common translation into ENGLISH is….. COLD WOOD (fuar coill). I would tend to favour this translation, but I would also not rule out the possibility of the validity of others…..  eg…. SUB-CELL.

As my authorities for most of the opinions stated here I would cite my first two IRISH TEACHERS…… (1) THE LATE PAUDRAIG McNAMEE of CARRICKASTICKEN (and latterly of HOLLYWOOD Co. DOWN) who did his best to impart a few words to me when as a small child I lived right beside him in Carrickasticken. This man was a world renowned authority on IRISH and dedicated his life to the furtherance of all its aspects.  

(2) The late WINIRFRED LARKIN who taught me Irish in CARRICKASTICKEN HALL and in FORKHILL P.E.S. There you have it.


… More on S Armagh history? …

If you are a betting person, the odds are 11/10 fav…. COLD WOOD OF THE PRIESTS.  3/1 SUB-CELL OF THE PRIESTS. 7/1 bar. 

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