The history of Ireland and place names can be traced back to Gaelic Ireland, which existed from the prehistoric era to the seventeenth century. Many Gaelic place names were anglicised after England colonised parts of Ireland. The Gaelic name for Ireland is Eire, which means ‘western place’. The Anglicisation led to Ireland, which means ‘land of Eire’.
Names of Gaelic Irish origin have particular characteristics. For example, the word ‘down’ means ‘fortress’ and originates from the word ‘dun’. Hence, Downpatrick would mean ‘the fortress of Patrick’. Dundrum means ‘fort on the long hill’.
A number of Irish towns have ‘bally’ in them, which means ‘town’. Ballymena means ‘middle town’ while Ballycastle means ‘town by the castle’. Ballymoney means ‘town with shrubbery’. Monaghan is from ‘Muineachan’ and means ‘little shrubbery’.
Belfast means ‘ford at the sandy bank’.
Carrickfergus means ‘rock of Fergus’.
Larne is named after a legendary character called Lathair.
Derry means ‘oak wood’.
Sligo means ‘abounding in shells’ – a reference to the fact that ‘Sligeach’ was the original name of the local river there.
After the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, some English names in the Republic of Ireland were returned to their Irish form. In most cases, the Irish Gaelic name became the only official one (for example Kingstown became Dún Laoghaire in both languages).
See also: Isle of Man and Place Names
"Ireland and Place Names". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.