Irish Baby Names - History and Origin
By John Lynch
The meaning of baby names of irish origin lies
hundreds of years back in the Irish gaelic language
of the ancient Celts who migrated from Central Europe
before the foundation of the Roman Empire.
The Celts Dominant
Those Celts who came to Britain, France and Ireland
were dominant for a long period. With the spread of
the Roman Empire, the Celts gradually were pushed back
into North Western France (modern Brittany with its
distinct Breton language), Western Britain (Cornwall
and Wales), Northern Britain (Isle of Man and Scotland),
and the island of Ireland which was never conquered by
As a result of Ireland's separate development from Roman
influence, the gaelic language and way of life was much
less diluted than in Scotland or Wales. Again the influence
of the Anglo-Normans and later the English was less in
Ireland because of the difficulty of establishing control
in the country other than a few coastal towns such as
The English kings' governor sat in Dublin Castle issuing
edicts against native Irish habits in dress, custom and
language, only to have them ignored in about 80% of the
country with the exception of the areas around Dublin
called The Pale where the English army held sway.
Gradual English Control
This situation continued for hundreds of years until the
English asserted an uneasy control at the end of the 17th
century with the defeat of James 11 at the Battle of the
Boyne by William of Orange (the Dutch Protestant prince who
was offered the English throne by Parliament)in 1690.
So the first name origins of Irish Christian names and
surnames lie overwhelmingly in this gaelic Celtic culture
which was totally dominant until the end of the 19th century.
Only at this point do we see English culture making inroads
in language, games and of course in first name origins.
In fact, this was not voluntary as primary schools were
established in all the major towns from the 1830's onwards
where English was the only language of instruction and Irish
gaelic was forbidden.First name origins of Celtic descent
gradually declined and English baby names became popular for
the first time.
By the end of the 19th century, Irish was in crisis and
English totally dominant in all the commercial, legal and
cultural spheres of Irish life. At this time organisations
to stem the English tide were established such as the Gaelic
Athletic Association(to foster the games of hurling and
gaelic football), and the Gaelic League to prevent the
decline of the Irish language.
This brings us up to the present where the meaning of baby
names of most first names in Ireland are English in origin or
anglicisations of native Irish names.This bilingual melange
will continue. It remains to be seen whether first name origins
of Irish gaelic ancestry will increase as they have been doing,
or whether the sea of Anglo-American influence will predominate.
(c) John Lynch
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