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What’s in a name

Lyracrumpawn! I love that name. I love the way it rolls off the tongue, smooth and rounded like a spoonful of Strawberry Pavlova.

I think I must have been about five years old the first time I heard my father mention it, and the wonderful, resonant tone of it attached itself to my brain like a limpet.

And it stayed there for many days, rolling around in my mind like one of those endless music tapes, waiting for an opportunity to display itself, and then when the chance did come I let it just trip out as if I knew exactly what I was talking about.

Nobody else did, of course – they thought I was a bit of an eejit having some sort of a fit.

Anyway, I quickly tried to redeem myself by repeating the story that I’d heard my father tell about Lyracrumpawn, a humorous tale that went way over the head of a child but nevertheless drew a spurt of laughter from everyone else.

Apparently the local priest had been invited to represent Ireland during a rare conference with the Pope in Rome, and all the parishioners were anxious that he didn’t go there empty handed. So they had a special collection at Mass every day for a month. They collected a fair amount of money, and when the priest was eventually introduced to His Holiness the Pope, he presented him with the envelope.

‘From the people of Lyracrumpawn, for the love of God,’ said the priest.

The Pope hesitated for the briefest of seconds.

‘For the love of God,’ he queried, ‘where’s Lyracrumpawn?’

OK, on paper not so hysterical, but imagine it being told in a full-bodied Kerry accent, the singsong tone emphasising each nuance to perfection.

But in answer to the Pope’s question, where is Lyracrumpawn? Well, it’s actually a small district in the rolling North Kerry countryside, generously dotted with an assortment of wonderful old villages that were once the centre of a thriving community with their churches and their pubs and their rows of diverse little shops.

Of course that was back in a more sedate age, long before the arrival of the motorcar and bulk buying, the fridge/freezer and the Environmental Health Officer. It was a time when the surrounding farmers and their families ventured into town on a daily basis to conduct business and exchange a bit of banter with the neighbours while gleaming important snippets of local gossip along the way.

Sadly, as the ever-increasing pace of modern Irish life demands a wider, straighter, faster highway, these sweet, sedate little villages are hardly ever seen nowadays, having been reduced to a blur through the window of a speeding car. They only exist to most people on roadside signs or as a dot on a map, and if you actually find yourself in one of them then you’re lost! You should have stayed on the big road with the white line down the middle …

But I digress! Tis names I was talking about, the wonderful, colourful local names that have many a visitor to Ireland struggling to pronounce but which invokes in every Kerryman a beautiful image of a rolling, rugged countryside cascading away gently towards the edge of the wild Atlantic ocean.

In fact some of the Kerry villages have such poetry in their names that they’ve been incorporated into many a music hall song. One of the most famous includes Abbeyfeale, Knocknagashel and Duagh in its title. I can’t swear to it but I think Listowel’s very own John B Keane might have mentioned it in one of his plays.

I’m well aware, of course, that every country on earth has its own collection of beautiful place names – here in Wales we have our fair share; Ynysddu and Pontllanfraith, Ynysybwl and Merthyr Tydfil. Wonderful sounds to all Welsh people who hail from the Valleys, of course, but it’s the names that linger in my own memory that taste the sweetest and invoke cherished moments of my childhood adventures during trips to the country.

My mother’s family lived on a farm called Patch, near the village of Duagh. You had to put Listowel in the address or nobody would find it.  So there’s a whole string of places all around there that often pepper her conversation when she’s reminiscing about the good old days.

Rightly or wrongly, the English get the blame for the corruption of a lot of names in rural Ireland. The names as they’re pronounced now bear no resemblance to the original Gaelic version. For instance Tralee is a corruption of Tra Lee. The direct translation should be Lee Strand, Lee being the river on which the town was originally built, and Strand being the stretch of coast where it entered the sea.

No one is sure if it was because the English were just lazy and couldn’t be bothered to learn the proper pronunciation, or if it was simply an administration decision to phonetically transfer the names onto the English version of their maps.

Historian will insist, however, that it was actually a weapon of suppression, deliberately instigated to antagonise and subdue the population by stripping them of their identity, but that’s material for another debate another time – and with people a lot more knowledgeable on the subject than me, I might add.

Anyway, getting back to names, how beautiful is the name Anascaul? Don’t ask me what it means; I just love the sound of it. We were out there a few weeks ago visiting my nephew in his most amazing house perched halfway up a mountain just outside the town of Anascaul.

Breathtaking is too simple a word for the scene you look down on. Or up, even, when you look out of the back window. The Dingle Peninsula sweeps away from you in a colourful concoction of mountains and troughs, pointing sedately towards America somewhere out there across the ocean.

And Ballybunion! Everyone has heard of Ballybunion and its famous golf course, where ex-president Bill Clinton is reputed to have lost his ball. Well, actually, it was the one that was used to adorn his statue, which stands outside the Garda station in the middle of town, erected to celebrate his visit some years ago.

A big bronze statue showing Bill about to take a putt at a … well, there’s no ball there now. Someone probably decided it looked better in an ornamental case in their front room, to be used as a conversation opener with the line; ‘Did you know I’ve got Bill Clinton’s ball …’

And the original sign over the hairdressers across the road has been restored, too. I mean, why would anyone think the name Monica’s was going to cause offence to a visiting American President? But still the sensitive town officials had it painted over anyway, just in case.

Now it’s famous in its own right …

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