Maybe the best way to understand place names is to see them as thresholds, writes Manchán Magan whose new 375-page work is an accessible yet erudite stroll back through the Irish landscape, and the lore it still provides for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.
Magan, an indefatigable figure striding lithe and long-legged across the central plain has been a firm fixture on TV in the past 15 years or so, his enthusiasm infectious and his learning lightly worn. He recently presented the fascinating DNA Caillte on TG4, which concerns related matters, but he can turn his hand to many aspects of culture and heritage and beyond. Scanning through recent emails, I noticed he was to stand in for Seán Rocks as presenter on RTÉ Radio 1's Arena and that was neither today nor yesterday.
He has been around, in other words, and those boyish features belie the breadth of experience and the depth of knowledge, entirely contingent surely on the the fact that he is also go líofa as Gaeilge.
The TV presenter and author argues that Irish place names can be usefully viewed as 'portals through which you can access other eras or access the Otherworld that was always only a thin veil away.' He writes that the most famous 'threshold' point - to repeat that resonant usage - in Ireland is 'probably' the passage tomb at Newgrange.
The almost unimaginable historical aura of the place is gleaned somehow from his stark sentence, as follows: 'The light penetrates a long stone passage to light up a womb-like space beneath the earth that was built between 3200 and 3100 BC.'
But to the matter in hand, the matter of the place-name itself. Newgrange's modern Irish name is Sí an Bhrú - fairy mound of the fairy palace - and it only acquired the name Newgrange when the land became property of the monks at Mellifont Abbey in the 13th or 14th century as an additional farm to cultivate produce for the monks' own use.
There are chapters on the connections between Irish and Arabic and Indian languages which are utterly fascinating. Gearradh is the Irish translation of the word 'cut', which is gyarra (phonetically) in Arabic. The Irish for 'port' is caladh, the Arabic rendering is kh'ala. In Malta, Machán heard the word skhupa used for 'brush', on enquiry he discovered it was a Maltese Arabic word. In the Yemen and the Middle East, our intrepid Irishman has heard sakin and skinia used for 'knife' which is scian in Irish.
Listen to Manchán discusses his new book on Today with Claire Byrne
Books on landscape have endured, despite it all and there is a ready market for the works of the late Tim Robinson or the very much still with us Robert MacFarlane, along with a number of illustrious others who continue to till the land to see with wonder what it yields.
Manchán Magan is at least the equal of such writers in levels of meticulous scrutiny and general understanding of what is in essence a difficult subject, because we are talking times very much past. His book would be a very useful addition to the school curriculum - don't be put off by the word count, those 375 pages are in a welcome large-ish font, with good spacing too.