Further calls to preserve and
promote Waterford’s townlands
Kieran Foley reports
FURTHER calls have been made in support of the promotion and preservation of the names of local townlands across County Waterford.
The need to highlight local place names was raised at the March Comeragh District meeting of Waterford City & County Council by Cllr John O’Leary (FF).
Since an article detailing his concerns was published in The Munster Express, Cllr O’Leary says he has received many representations from different people in relation to the issue.
“There are many difficulties in trying to direct people to certain rural areas, be it for a social or business call,” he said.
Cllr O’Leary used local examples in the Ballyduff/Kilmeaden area such as Carrickphilip, Carrigadustra and Blacknock.
He said erecting signage displaying such place names would help foster “a sense of pride and belonging” and suggested that the project could be undertaken by Waterford City & County Council over a number of years.
At the Comeragh District meeting, in response to Cllr O’Leary’s concerns, Senior Engineer Pat McCarthy had highlighted the dangers of “information overload” for drivers, particularly at dangerous crossroads.
However, Cllr O’Leary believes low sized signs displaying the name of each townland could be erected – similar to signage in rural villages across England.
He suggested the issue was an “arts and culture matter”.
“There’s no art or culture more important than where a person lives and the history of their area,” he said.
“It would give meaning and generate pride in an area.”
He added: “In the city, you’ll see signs on the side of buildings to indicate certain areas such as the Yellow Road.”
He spoke of a similar project which was recently carried out by the GAA’s Munster Council. Cllr O’Leary, who has a strong association with the Munster Council and served as Development Officer for Waterford, explained that a project was undertaken to erect signage for all GAA grounds in the province.
He pointed out the significant benefits which the initiative has had.
One local woman who agrees with the need to promote and preserve the names of local areas is Goretti Gallagher Murphy, who believes action must be taken before the names are forgotten.
“All of these names will be lost if they’re not recorded and promoted,” said Mrs Murphy, whose family is connected with the area.
For example, she highlighted Bóthar an Aonaigh (The Road to the Fair) in Kilmacthomas which is instead referred to locally as ‘The Union Road’.
She explained that the name derived from a large fair which took place in the area long ago.
“All of these rural Irish names should be preserved,” she said.
“We need to preserve all of these names while people who remember the origins of the names are still around to speak about them.”
She believes the Waterford Greenway presents an opportunity to highlight and preserve local folklore, local place names and local historical features such as the Kilmacthomas Workhouse and Famine Graveyard.
Garvan Cummins of the Waterford Greenway group agrees that the Greenway presents a significant opportunity to promote and preserve local history and place names.
A Fáilte Ireland workshop recently took place at The Park Hotel in Dungarvan with a view to linking the Greenway to the Ireland’s Ancient East initiative.
The issue of preserving and promoting the names of local townlands was one of the issues discussed.
“One participant said that names of townlands are more interesting ‘as Gaeilge’ as they describe the area or some event or deed that happened in times past. The workshop was centred around folklore and stories along the Greenway,” he explained.
“Names ‘as Gaeilge’ would definitely explain the area. Unfortunately a lot of names were anglicised which does not give meaning. Also it was pointed out that each field in Ireland had its own name.”
Liam O Súipéal of Colaiste na Rinne, a historian who has a special interest in the preservation of local place names, attended the Greenway workshop at The Park Hotel.
He says there is an “enormous wealth of place names and stories” along the Greenway route – including the names of different fields.
“Why not speak with older inhabitants to find out more information about all of the names of different fields? Fields have been given many different names due to a number of factors such as the Civil War or the location of ancient sites such as dolmens,” he explained.
He believes the prevalence of ‘L’ prefix signs on local roads is “diluting the personality of the countryside”.
“These roads signs are fine but why not put the place name above or underneath the number. These names provide people with a sense of place and a connection with their ancestors,” he said.
“Place names hold the key to our history, geography, Irish language, folklore, and genealogy.”
He believes that, with the advent of postcodes, there’s a danger “we could lose our connections”.
“In a short period of time, all of these names of townlands, fields, roads etc. will disappear.”
He has spoken with Waterford City & County Council to highlight the issue and he said the local authority was “sympathetic”.
“But we’re living in a world where road numbers are viewed as more convenient than using place names,” he said.
Mr O Súipéal highlighted the popularity of cultural and educational tourism.
“I can’t see tourists being interested in where the road number L2024 comes from for example, but they might be more interested in learning of the origins of names such as Coill Mhic Thomáisín,” he said.
Waterford City & County Council remains reluctant to the suggestion of erecting additional signage for local townlands.
Responding to a query from The Munster Express, Marina Murray of Waterford City & County Council stated: “In planning terms it is not something that we would favour. Due to, among others, potential visual and traffic impacts, our policies would be to limit signage in the countryside. These policies are set out in the current County Development Plan.
“Townlands are irregular in shape and include many roads resulting in the need for numerous signs to identify a single townland which would potentially have a significant visual impact and may also lead to confusion. It would also be the policy of Transport Infrastructure Ireland to prohibit signage on our National Roads.”