Irish placenames bring you on a journey trying to get to the bottom of them. Or just glory in the sheer madness of them, writes Colm O'Regan
New Tipperary in mid-Cork: I’ve driven through it enough and meant to ask where the name came from.
That’s the problem with thoughts when you’re driving. There’s always something else — like that clown passing me on the white line — to drive it out of your mind.
New Tipperary always fascinated me: The presence of another county’s name miles inside enemy territory. County Tipperary is forty or fifty miles away. Also, ‘New Tipperary’ is two words, so it must be a very pointed reference.
Other counties are isolated far from home. For example, Omeath is in Louth. It’s not a wave of nostalgia for better farmland. It’s named after a man called Muireadach Meith, or Fat Murry.
Speaking of which, surely a child named Muireadach must be coming soon to a Bugaboo near you?
Claregalway is not a disputed territory between Clare and Galway and which appears stripy on a map. It’s just a town in Galway on a river called the Clare that doesn’t flow anywhere near Clare.
Kerrypike is not a pike with no prongs. It’s where the Butter Road tolls used to be collected. Apparently, there were worries that butter road tolls might be controversial, but there was surprisingly little friction.
And there are Derrys all over the country and not a London in sight. But New Tipperary? That feels like somewhere that persecuted Tipp Lutherans finally fetched up, disease-ridden and huddled; nursed back to health with black pudding provided by friendly Cork natives who put the refugees up in their B&Bs, who were then massacred for their kindness and the survivors were forced to live on a reservation in Rylane.
There is a New Tipperary near Tipperary town. This was a new district built for people evicted by a dastardly landlord who might also have been a landlord in Cork.
I asked on Twitter and one friend suggested it was the name of a railway station, back when we had an actual public transport network, in the late 19th century.
That’s the thing about Irish placenames. The places might be stationary, but they bring you on a lovely journey trying to get to the bottom of them.
Or, you don’t need to get to the bottom of them at all. Just glory in the sheer madness of them. New Tipperary is at the epicenture of a blizzard of stone-mad names.
Dripsey is my home place. But near there is Berrings. I never took any notice of it, but now everyone is asking me if it’s anything to do with the narrow water between the USA and the Soviet Union.
Go to Nad, near Banteer. It means ‘nest’.
Sometimes, there are coincidences. Bottlehill is on one side of the Cork-Mallow Road. On the other side is Glashaboy. Well, it was inevitable, really, that someone young lad would get hurt.
Who could leave out Bweeng? It sounds like an Adam West Batman sound effect, right after KPOW. And everyone’s shouting ‘Ahoy’ at Matehy.
It’s not just in Cork, of course. There are at least four very rural towns in Ireland that could easily have been the name of whopper night-club nights in a building that was later knocked by its grasping owner and a load of substandard apart-hotels put up instead.
The fantastic four are Tang, in Westmeath; Tempo, in Fermanagh; Pettigo, in Donegal; and my new favourite place, Spink, in Laois.
It is impossible to think of Spink without an exclamation mark. “Spink! is on Friday nights, over-23s, R.O.A.R”. A headline in Laois Today, from March 2017 says: ‘The Spink community were out in force at their parade this morning.’
I can’t be the only one imagining the whole parade being Ru Paul’s drag race on tour, marching past the graveyard, the post office, and a vaping shop.
So, as you cross the river Gowl, on the M8, or pass through Stripe, in Galway, without taking your eyes off the road, make a note to come back to them.
One way or another.