When you're traipsing home through a field in the dark after a music festival, with your jumper on inside out and thimbles in your pockets, you might be thinking about how the place you’ve been or the place you’re going to got its name. Cathy Scuffil, Historian in Residence with Dublin City Council and Robbie Sinnott, Linguist and Folklorist have you covered. Talking to Claire Byrne, the pair were discussing the influence of various visitors – invited or otherwise – to these shores and how they left their mark on our placenames. Cathy summed it up nicely when talking about the Huguenots:

"Everybody who comes to Ireland leaves something of themselves behind and the Huguenots were no different."

The Huguenots, who came to Ireland from France around the 17th century, spoke – yes – French, but the Irish did not and nor did they care for the French names the Huguenots put on places. So, the pleasingly sophisticated Marie Le Bon Lane was chewed up by Dubliners and spat out as Marrowbone Lane. A little less sophis, perhaps. Mind you, Cathy tells us, when it comes to the Irish language version, the original name has been preserved:

"I have to give Dublin City Council their due, they have it have correct as Gaeilge. It’s Lána Mhuire Mhaith as Gaeilge, but in the English it’s Marrowbone Lane underneath. So, it’s one of those wonderful curiosities we have in Dublin."

If you’ve ever wondered how Laighean becomes Leinster – and who hasn’t? – Robbie has the answer for you:

"Most of our provinces are – apart from Connacht – they're all originally, well, a mixture of Irish and Viking. So, Mumhan is Irish for Munster, but the Norse changed it into Mumhan-ster, Mumhan’s country. Laighean is the Irish for Leinster, so they changed it into Laighean-ster, or Leinster, Laighean’s country. And Uladh is Ulster, so they changed it into Uladh-ster, which is Uladh’s country."

Similarly, Robbie says, anywhere with ford in the name – Lifford, Langford, Wexford, Waterford – are all Norse names, from the Norse fjord. And, Cathy adds, the Norse word for an island is ey or ay:

"So, we have Lambay, ay, meaning Lamb Island, we have Dalkey, ey, meaning Thorny Island and of course my favourite, Ireland’s Eye, the one off Howth."

And what about those other visitors who filled up the very long term car park? The English left their mark on our placenames as well – of course they did – and Cathy gave Claire some examples:

"Portobello - every time we say Portobello, we’re commemorating the Great Battle of Panama, under the British campaigns across the world, and it was led by Admiral Vernon, so nearby in Portobello we have Vernon Street."

But what about that business of walking through the field with your jumper inside out, clutching some thimbles in your hands? That’s to protect you from the fairies – naturally – and Robbie told Claire that it's related to places with lis in their name, like Listowel, Lisburn and Lisdoonvarna, because the Irish word lios means a fairy fort and, as we all know, you shouldn’t mess with the fairy folk:

"As a protection against the fairies because they might want you to get lost, is if you turn your coat or your jumper or whatever inside out before you go into a field, or even before setting out at night, if you’re coming home from a music session or whatever, you know, that is one way to make sure that you’re going to be all right. Also, if you carry some iron of any type, that generally does the trick as well. Or even some thimbles, or something like that."

So now you know. You can hear Claire’s full discussion with Cathy and Robbie – including how the Weavers used to have running battles with the Butchers in Dublin on May Day, as well as lots of other nuggets – by going here.