A Letter from Ireland:

An Irish Placename Travels Abroad to the City of Baltimore.


Did you ever wonder where your town got its name? Does it have a twin city with the same name, in another part of the world? In this letter, we will see how Irish town names often travelled with Irish immigrants to the far off places they settled.

A View of the City of Baltimore, Maryland

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week! All is well here in County Cork this morning – there’s a crisp feel in the air but the sun is serving us well.

I’m starting into a nice cup of Barry’s tea as I write (very appropriate, as Carina discovered just yesterday that her paternal grandmother was a Barry – a longtime mystery solved). I do hope you will join me now with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into today’s letter.

Let me ask you a question: If you were to pull out a map of your area this moment and have a look, how many places would you spot named after Irish villages, towns and counties? As you may have noticed, anywhere that Irish – and other nationalities settled in numbers – they also brought along the names of their Irish home places. Do you have any Irish placenames “transplanted” to the area around your home?

An Irish Placename Travels Abroad.

Just this week, a new property survey came out here in Ireland. Thankfully, house prices are rising out of the hole they fell into during this last recession. However, some areas have a little catching up to do. One such place is County Longford – or to give it the longer name: “Longfort of the O’Farrells”. Longford is a small county in the middle of Ireland with a population of 40,000 across the entire county.

Other surnames that are prominent in the county include:

Abbott, Allen, Armstrong, Banks, Bannon, Beirne, Belton, Boylan, Brady, Brennan, Briody, Burke, Burns, Cahill, Campbell, Carolan, Carrigy, Casey, Cassidy, Clarke, Clyne, Coffey, Collum, Conlon, Connell, Connolly, Connor, Corcoran, Corrigan, Cosgrove, Cunningham, Curran, Dalton, Daly, Delany, Dennigan, Devine, Devlin, Doherty, Donlon, Dolan, Donnelly, Donohoe, Dooris, Dowd, Doyle, Duffy, Duignan, Early, Egan, Fallon, Farrelly, Flanagan, Flood, Flynn, Fox, Geraghty, Gill, Gorman, Greene, Hagan, Hanley, Healy, Higgins, Hughes, Jones, Keegan, Keenan, Kelly, Kenny, Kiernan, Leavy, Lee, Lennon, Lynch, Maguire, Mahon, Martin, Masterson, McCabe, McCann, McCormack, McDermott, McGrath, McLoughlin, Molloy, Monaghan, Moran, Mulligan, Mulvihill, Murphy, Murray, Murtagh, Prunty, Quinn, Reilly, Reynolds, Rogers, Sheridan, Skelly, Smith, Thompson, Walsh, Ward, Whitney.

Like to add your Irish surname to our list? Signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking hereand we’ll let you know how to join in the fun! 

The county was created, or “shired”, in 1586 – and a number of individual families were granted lands and titles in the area. One of these individuals was George Calvert – in 1624 he was made “Lord Baltimore” of Baltimore Manor, County Longford. The title was held in succession by his family, until it was extinguished in 1771.

Abbeyshrule, County Longford

The anglicised placename of  “Baltimore” comes from the Irish “Baile an Tigh Mhoir” (if you say it fast is sounds like the way people in Maryland pronounce Baltimore). This translates as the “town/place/homeland of the big houses”. These days, we find “Baile” within many anglicised Irish placenames – the majority of which start with “Bally…”.

But, our story does not finish there. As you may be guessing – or know full well – the son of the first Baron Baltimore, known as Cecil Calvert – administered much of the family lands in the British colony of Maryland. When the town of Baltimore was laid out in 1729, it was named after Cecil Calvert, this second Baron Baltimore. And so, an Irish placename came to be anglicised and transplanted to a place many thousands of miles from the piece of land that held the name.

The curious thing is that there is no real sign of Baltimore in County Longford today – no one is quite sure where it is located as the name fell out of use in the vicinity many centuries ago. However, the name lives on in it’s “twin city” across the Atlantic – the City of Baltimore in Maryland. However, there is another Baltimore – a port fishing village just a few miles from here in Skibbereen – where the name lives on. But that is a story for another day!

Would you like to learn a little more about Irish placenames? To finish up, I have pulled together two earlier letters and a podcast show that should paint a fuller picture for you – and give you more of an insight into the places that your Irish ancestors held dear in memory, word and song.

​That’s it for today – as always, do feel free to comment below and share any questions or stories you might have yourself.

We’ll see you next week!

Slán, Mike and Carina

  • Shaun Carney says:

    I’m currently in Southern Maryland. Up near Baltimore, however, is a town named Carney. About 25 years ago, while working for the Pronce George’s County (Maryland) government, I was sent to a statewide meeting. There, I met someone named Patrick Carney (which was also my father’s name). I asked him about his name and when his family came over from Ireland, and he told me they came over about 1848 and settled near Baltimore. The town was of Carney was named for his family.

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