Dublin: Hurdled Ford or Black Pool?

30 Jan

I am currently taking an Irish for Beginners class this semester, so I have been taking notice of words around town that appear in Irish. One of the terms that is very common to see – on license plates, on buses, on street signs – is Baile Átha Cliath, the modern Irish name for the city of Dublin. We learned that this means “town on the hurdled ford” and derives its name from a crossing point along the Liffey where the water was low enough to traverse by foot. This point was called Átha Cliath and was located where the Father Mathew Bridge stands today, connecting Merchant’s Quay and Church Street. Baile Átha Cliath was a Christian Monastery that was likely located on Aungier Street, so it is easy to see that we at DBS are right in the heart of Dublin’s history. This monastery is no longer standing, but the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church was supposed to have been built in that original location in 1536. Because the church currently houses the Our Lady of Dublin stature that dates back to medieval times, it is clear that this site is very old and could have very well been the original Baile Átha Cliath.

This "Black Madonna" dates back to the medieval period.

This “Black Madonna” dates back to the medieval period.

However, we also learned in our last class that the original Irish name for Dublin was Dubhlinn, meaning “black pool,” and it was the Vikings who first pronounced it Dublin and gave the city its name in English. I was curious to find out why the city is not still called Dubhlinn in Irish and it is instead referred to as Baile Átha Cliath on all official documents.

It seems that Dubhlinn and Baile Átha Cliath were two separate settlements at first, and because the Irish ended up rebelling against the Scandinavian settlement the Vikings called Dublin, it would be logical for modern day Ireland to not refer to the Scandinavian settlement in their own language by calling it Dubhlinn. Baile Átha Cliath, however, because it was the site of a Christian monastery, seems to be a much more traditionally Irish name for the city. According to How the Irish Saved Civilisation, it seems as though Christianity could have very well died out if it weren’t for its dominant presence in Celtic Ireland. It seems, then, that Baile Átha Cliath is a more authentically Celtic Irish name for Dublin than Dubhlinn, which is associated with the Viking invaders.

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