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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

the Romans.

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.

Irish Revival

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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