Explore our heritage in the spoken word

There are many fascinating little gems of our heritage contained in the words we speak every day but go unnoticed. For example, the name Scotland translates as ‘land of the Irish’, while another country name literally means ‘fierce people’. The surname Cameron is a transliteration of cama shrón, which Irish speakers will translate as ‘crooked nose’, and Cambell comes from cam béal, meaning ‘crooked mouth’.

The meaning of the slang term for a Dubliner, ‘jackeen’, is no longer obvious to us because it has become abbreviated over time. The full term reveals the heritage of native Dubliners, their attitude to the rest of the country, and the non-Dubliners’ attitude to Dubliners. The full term is Union Jackeen, and jackeen in turn has rude meaning.

This year’s Galway Civic Trust heritage talk, taking place on Monday next as part of Heritage Week, explores what historical evidence can be revealed from the literal meaning of words contained in place names, terminology, forenames, surnames, etc.

An evening which will both fascinate and surprise awaits attendees as the literal meanings in words are explored, including those of many common Irish surnames. Examples include descendants of his highness, the mighty one, the hairy one, ugly head, hard hero, super hero, and more.

In ancient Ireland the wolfhound was much admired for its loyalty and bravery, and it has given us many surnames like Conroy, Conneely/Connolly, and Conboy, and even one James Bond actor, Sean Connery. It is also found in place names such as Connacht and Connemara.

Slang terms like ‘cute hoor’, ‘gombeen’, and ‘gobshite’ are commonly believed to be nonsense terms, but they all have a literal meaning. The literal meaning of term ‘cute hoor’ will be revealed for the first time at this public talk.

The Galway Civic Trust Heritage Talk takes place at An Taibhdhearc on Monday August 25 at 8pm, and will last one hour. All are welcome and admission is free.

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