As attention turns towards west Cork this weekend and the 100-year anniversary of the assassination of Michael Collins, there continues to be much debate and speculation as to what happened on that fateful day in August 1922.

While 'Béal na Bláth’ may be known by many around the world, the meaning of the place-name - and indeed how to spell it - has become something of a topic itself and perhaps it has been lost in translation to a certain degree as well.

According to Dr Seán Ua Súilleabháin of University College Cork - whose areas of expertise include Irish dialects, historical lexicography, translation, Gaeltacht literature and the folklore and traditions of West Muskerry - the name of the actual ambush site is often misspelled and its meaning regularly misinterpreted.

Dr Seán Ua Súilleabháin of University College Cork

As Dr Ua Súilleabháin explains, the area was originally known as Béal na Blá, with no 'm’ and no ‘th’, and the meaning of the placename, or 'logainm' has nothing at all to do with flowers.

However, the word 'Blá' is thought to mean 'pasture land'.

There is a change in landscape as the boundaries of Gaeltacht Mhuscraí give way to the fields of west Cork and the meaning of this particular logainm is thought to reference that.

"The word 'Béal' is very common in placenames, meaning 'the entrance to', and so 'Béal na Blá' probably means 'the entrance to the good land'," said Dr Ua Súilleabháin.

"Where Béal na Blá is, the River Bride is also located, and where the river flows to the east is generally considered 'the entrance to the good land'," he explained.

Collins Memorial Cross at the Béal na Bláth site
The Michael Collins Memorial Cross at the Béal na Bláth site

As time passed and as the area became synonymous with the events of that fateful day in 1922, various versions of the placename began to emerge.

"Because it sounded like the word 'Bláth' - which means 'flower' as Gaeilge - people were trying to make sense of it, thinking the placename meant 'The Mouth of the Flowers'.

"People then started writing it and started to put in this 'm' in front of the word Bláth, giving rise to ‘Béal na mBláth’, but there is certainly no ‘m’ in the placename."

"Indeed the actual spot on the roadside upon which General Collins was killed, is technically not Béal na Blá at all, but Gleann na Ruaige in the Parish of Kilmurray.

"The reason the association was made was that the nearest thing you could call a village was Béal na Blá, a mile up the road, on the road between Copeen and Crookstown. That was the name of the nearest village as they saw it on the day."

"If you search for it now on Google Maps it brings you directly to the monument at Gleann na Ruaige," said Dr Ua Súilleabháin.

Today, official heritage and road signage marking the ambush site contain both 'Béal na Blá' in reference to its true origins and also, 'Béal na Bláth'.