What is in a place name?

Feb 27, 2017


Our inaugural Irish American Cultural Enrichment summer camp will be based in the Irish Gaeltacht of Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair), in Donegal, and our base camp is the world class An Óige hostel which is situated in Dunlewey (Dún Lúiche) at the foot of the majestic Mount Errigal.

We picked this location for a number of reasons – the countryside, the five star hostel, the accessibility to places of historical and cultural interest, the activities based nearby.  But there was another reason for choosing Gweedore, and in particular Dunlewey.   This is a place that we know well and a place that we love. And to be grounded in a familiar location, to know each twist in the road, each bend of a tree, gives us the comfort and safety that we need for the children we are welcoming this coming summer.

And as with so much of our island, this place is seeped in history, tradition and culture and will provide our children from the States with the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in what it is to be Irish.

You only have to look at the place names of the area to be drawn straight into the wonderful history of Ireland.  As with most of the Irish townlands and villages, the history and meaning of Irish place names are very much lost in translation.  Dunlewey is no exception.  The original, Irish name for this place is Dún Lúiche which translates as the Fort of  Lugh.  Lugh (Lú) was an ancient God in Irish mythology, a member of the Tuatha De Danann, a supernatural race who invaded and ruled Ireland for over four thousand years.  We have so many stories about them.  The very place names around us were created by their epic tales.  Take for example ‘The Poisoned Glen’ (An Gleann Néimhe) which lies at the foot of Mount Errigal.  Legend has it that Lugh slayed Balor, an evil, one-eyed supernatural being, in this very spot and that the poison from his eye split the rock and poisoned the glen.  Not a bad story for a wee village in Donegal now is it!

And so it goes on – every hill and valley, every rock and river, every road and village, have a story to tell.  Stories that can bring us back to a time of mythical people and creatures, or even tell us a little about the normal people, the gnáth daoine, and their customs and traditions.

We know these stories, each one of them, and look forward to sharing them with the teens that will be landing on our shores this summer.  And we guarantee they will return Stateside, bursting to the brim with the richness of our history and culture, and will never look at the name of a place quite the same again.


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