Do you have names like “Jeremiah” or “Cornelius” in your Irish family tree? These names obviously come from the bible – but you may be surprised by the ancient Irish names that lie just under their surface!
Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. It’s a great time of the year to be out and about in Ireland – there is a fabulous autumnal light for photographs and we’re having a great time gathering lots of stories, photos and videos to share with you over the coming weeks and months.
Now, I’m settling into a cup of Barry’s tea, and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself.
Do you have any biblical names in your Irish family tree? Of course, there are plenty of Davids, Marys, Michaels and Theresas spread across our shared families – but how about some of the more “biblical-sounding” names? Names like Moses or Cornelius? Or maybe Isaiah or Jeremiah?
While many of these names have been prominent in Ulster among Presbyterian families, people are sometimes surprised to see them among Roman Catholic families in the “deep south” counties of Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary and Wexford. The thing is, if you travel around County Wexford – even today – you will come across plenty of “Moses”. Head west to County Kerry and you will be surprised that every family seemed to have a Cornelius or two in the family up the 1950s.
In our own families – Carina (who is a Cronin) can trace back to one Jeremiah Cronin – a farmer in the north west of Cork in the 1700s. For myself, I go back to a Jeremiah Collins – a farmer in West Cork during a similar period.
Let’s take just two of these names – Jeremiah and Cornelius – and look at their origins. When Irish surnames came to be anglicised from about the mid 1600s – there were many Irish Gaelic given names in circulation at the time. Names that went all the way back to pre-christian times in Ireland: Concubhar (Conor), Diarmait, Gobnait, Maedbh (Maeve), Aoife and so on. As you might expect, these names were in everyday use alongside Gaelic surnames.
Somewhere along the way, these Irish given names were also anglicised (like surnames) towards a more Anglo-familiar set of names – and what better place to get this ready-made set than from the bible? As a result, many of the biblical names that you hear used in Ireland have an old Irish name “hidden” in their depths.
Let’s take two examples. First, the boy’s names “Jeremiah” – which replaced the old Irish name “Diarmait” in many Irish counties across Munster and Cornelius – which similarly replaced the old Irish name “Conchobar/Conor”.
Do you have a Jeremiah (also known as Jerry, Jer, Miah or Darby) in your Irish family tree? Well, rest assured that this name honours the ancient Irish warrior’s name of Diarmaid.
Maybe you have a Cornelius (also known as Con, Conny, Corny and Nelius)? Then be sure that their name honours the old Irish name of Conor – meaning “lover of the hounds” and an ancient King of Ulster.
This reminds me of the old Irish Proverb:
“Níl aon ní úr faoin spéir
Níl dada nua sa saol”
Which roughly translates as “there is nothing new under the sun”!
How about you – do you have any of these Irish given names in your family tree? Do leave a comment below and let us know.
Slán for now – chat again next week,
Mike and Carina.
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