14 Ancient Names for Ireland (Video) - The Brehon Academy (2023)

The Names of Ireland

An Ainmneacha na hÉireann

With a land as ancient as this, it should come as no surprise to learn that the place we call ‘Ireland’ was not always known by this name. In fact, it was given many names by different groups of people at varying stages throughout history.

Written during the 17th century, Geoffrey Keating’s General History of Ireland; an epic compendium of Irish history from the earliest times to the coming of Saint Patrick, demonstrates this variety chronicling fourteen earlier names along with their accepted origins. This section is reproduced here in its entirety:

(Video) 14 Ancient Names of Ireland

“The first name which was given to Ireland was ‘Inis na bhfiodhbhadh,’ that is to say Island of the woods; and the person who called that name to it was a warrior of the people of Nin, son of Bel, who came from him to spy out Ireland, and on his coming thither he found it to be all one forest-wood.

The second name was ‘Crioch na bhfuineadhach,’ from its being at the limit or end of the three divisions of the world which had then been discovered; ‘fuin’ indeed, from the Latin word ‘finis,’ being equivalent to ‘end.’

The third name was ‘Inis Ealga,’ that is, noble island; for ‘inis’ and ‘oiléan’ are equivalent, and likewise ‘ealga’ and ‘uasal’: and it is during the time of the Firbolg it was usual to have that name on it.

The fourth name was Éire, and it is said that wherefore that name is called to it, according to a certain author, is from this word ‘Aeria,’ which was an old name for the island which is now called Creta or Candia; and why that author thinks that is because the posterity of Gaedhealglas [Gaels] dwelt in that island some space of time after Sru, son of Easru, son of Gaedheal, had been driven out of Egypt: and, moreover, Aere is given as a name for Egypt whence the Gael proceeded.

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However, it is the common opinion of antiquaries that why it is called Éire is from the name of the queen of the Tuatha Dé Danann [Éiru] who was in the land at the time of the coming of the Clanna Míleadh [Milesians] into it: Éire, daughter of Dealbhaoth, was her name, and it is she was wife to Mac Gréine who was called Ceathúr who was king of Ireland when the sons of Míleadh came into it

The fifth name was Fódhla, from a queen of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who was called Fódhla: it is she was wife to Mac Cécht, whose proper name was Teathúr.

The sixth name was Banbha, from a queen of the Tuatha Dé Danann, that was in the land, who was called Banbha: it is she was wife to Mac Cuill, whose proper name was Eathúr.

These three kings [i.e. Mac Gréine, Mac Cécht, and Mac Cuill] held the sovereignty of Ireland each year by turns; and it is the name of the wife of each one of them would be on the island the year he was himself king. It is why the island is called Éire oftener than Fódhla or Banbha, because that is the husband of the woman whose name was Éire was king the year the sons of Míleadh came there.

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The seventh name was Inis Fáil; and it is the Tuatha Dé Danann gave that name to it, from a stone they brought with them into it, which was called the Lia Fáil: and ‘Saxum fatale,’ i.e. ‘Stone of Destiny,’ Hector Bocce calls it in the history of Scotland; and it was a stone on which were enchantments, for it used to roar under the person who had the best right to obtain the sovereignty of Ireland at the time of the men of Ireland being in assembly at Tara to choose a king over them.

However, it has not roared from the time of Conchubhar forward, for the false images of the world were silenced when Christ was born. Here is a verse of quotation proving that it is from this stone Ireland is called Inis Fáil, as Cionaoth the poet said:-The stone which is under my two heels, from it is named Inisfail; Between two shores of a mighty flood, the plain of Fál on all Ireland.

The eighth name was Muicinis; and it is the children of Míleadh who gave it that name before they arrived in it. When, indeed, they had come to the mouth of Inbhear Sláinghe which to-day is called the haven of Lochgarman [Wexford], the Tuatha Dé Danann, with their druids, assembled to oppose them there, and they practised magic on them, so that the island was not visible to them but in the likeness of a pig, so it is, therefore, they gave (the name) Muicinis to Ireland.

The ninth name was Scotia; and it is the sons of Míleadh who gave that name to it, from their mother, whose name was Scota, daughter of Pharaoh Nectonibus; or it is why they called it Scotia, because that they are themselves the Scottish race from Scythia.

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The tenth name was Hibernia; and it is the sons of Míleadh gave that name to it. However, it is said that it is from a river that is in Spain which is called Iberus (the name) Hibernia is given to it. It is said also that it is from Éibhear, son of Míleadh, it is called Hibernia; but, however, holy Cormac, son of Cuileannan, says, that why it is called Hibernia is from this compound Greek word ‘hiberoc’ (i.e. ‘occasus’ in Latin) and ‘nyaon’ (i.e.’insula’); that is equivalent to saying ‘insula occidentalis, ‘i.e.’ western island.’

The eleventh name was Iuernia, according to Ptolemy, or Iuerna, according to Solinus, or Ierna according to Claudian, or Vernia according to Eustatius. I think there is no meaning in the difference which is between these authors concerning this word Hibernia, but that they did not understand whence came the word itself; and, accordingly, that each one of them separately gave a guess from himself at it, so that from that came this variation on the word.

The twelfth name was Irin, according to Diodorus Siculus.

The thirteenth name was Irlanda; and I think that the reason why that name was given to it is, because that it was Ir, son of Míleadh, was the first man of the Clanna Míleadh who was buried under the soil of Ireland, and accordingly, the island was named from him: ‘Irlanda’ and ‘land of Ir’ being indeed equivalent, for ‘land’ in English, and ‘fonn’ or ‘fearann’ in Gaelic are alike. The truth of this thing is the more admissible, since the book of Armagh says that a name for this island is Ireo, that is to say, the grave of Ir, because that it is there is the sepulchre or grave of Ir.

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The fourteenth name was Ogygia, according to Plutarch: indeed, ‘Ogygia’ in Greek and ‘insula perantiqua’ i.e. ‘most ancient island,’ are equivalent; and that is a suitable name for Ireland, because that it is long since it was first inhabited, and that perfect is the sound information which its antiquaries possess on the transactions of their ancestors from the beginning of eras, one after another.”

– Geoffrey Keating, General History of Ireland, c.1632.

Ancient Names for Ireland (Video)

FAQs

What are the ancient names for Ireland? ›

Hibernia, in ancient geography, one of the names by which Ireland was known to Greek and Roman writers. Other names were Ierne, Iouernia and (H)iberio. All these are adaptations of a stem from which Erin and Eire are also derived.

What is the Brehon Academy? ›

The Brehon Academy aims to be of valuable service to the world by acting as a bridge between the wisdom of old Ireland and the world today; a digital hedge-school for Irish heritage and culture with a special focus on the Brehon laws of early Ireland.

What is the ancient Irish name for Ireland? ›

Etymology. The modern Irish Éire evolved from the Old Irish word Ériu, which was the name of Ireland and of a Gaelic goddess. Ériu is generally believed to have been the matron goddess of Ireland, a goddess of sovereignty, or simply a goddess of the land.

What does Eire mean in Ireland? ›

Eire is the Irish name for Ireland.

What was Ireland called before it was a country? ›

Pre-1919. Following the Norman invasion, Ireland was known as Dominus Hiberniae, the Lordship of Ireland from 1171 to 1541, and the Kingdom of Ireland from 1541 to 1800. From 1801 to 1922 it was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as a constituent country.

What God is Ireland named after? ›

Since Ériu is represented as goddess of Ireland, she is often interpreted as a modern-day personification of Ireland, although since the name Ériu is the Old Irish form of the word Ireland, her modern name is often modified to Éire or Erin to suit a modern form.

What is the oldest Irish name? ›

O'Cleary or O'Clery (Irish: Ó Cléirigh) is the surname of a learned Gaelic Irish family. It is the oldest recorded surname in Europe — dating back to 916 CE — and is cognate with cleric and clerk. The O'Clearys are a sept of the Uí Fiachrach dynasty, who ruled the Kingdom of Connacht for nearly two millennia.

What was old Irish called? ›

Old Irish, also called Old Gaelic (Old Irish: Goídelc, Ogham script: ᚌᚑᚔᚇᚓᚂᚉ; Irish: Sean-Ghaeilge; Scottish Gaelic: Seann-Ghàidhlig; Manx: Shenn Yernish or Shenn Ghaelg), is the oldest form of the Goidelic/Gaelic language for which there are extensive written texts.

What is the real name of Ireland? ›

The Constitution of Ireland of 1937, provides that Ireland (or Éire in Irish) is the official name of the State and following the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act of 1948, in 1949, Ireland became a Republic.

What do Irish call themselves? ›

Irish people (Irish: Muintir na hÉireann or Na hÉireannaigh) are an ethnic group and nation native to the island of Ireland, who share a common history and culture. There have been humans in Ireland for about 33,000 years, and it has been continually inhabited for more than 10,000 years (see Prehistoric Ireland).

What did the Celts call Ireland? ›

The Celts called Britain and Ireland the "Pretanic Islands" which evolved into the modern word "Britain". The word "Celt" comes from the Greeks, who called the tribes to their north the "Keltoi", but there is no evidence that the Celts ever referred to themselves by that name.

What did the Vikings call Ireland? ›

The actual Norse name is Írland, which is of course just based on the Gaelic name rather than meaning anything in Norse. Well it means "land of the Irs".

What was Ireland called in medieval times? ›

One of the earliest medieval writers about Ireland was the seventh-century scholar Isidore of Seville. In his encyclopaedic work Etymologiae he notes: Ireland, also known as Hibernia, is an island next to Britannia, narrower in its expanse of land but more fertile in its site.

What did the ancient Celts call Ireland? ›

Early Accounts:

These describe Celts in France and in the North Sea, where the British Isles are. He calls Ireland Insula Sacra (Holy Island) and its inhabitants gens hiernorum, thought to be a Latinisation of the Greek word for Ireland, Ierne.

What was Old Irish called? ›

Old Irish, also called Old Gaelic (Old Irish: Goídelc, Ogham script: ᚌᚑᚔᚇᚓᚂᚉ; Irish: Sean-Ghaeilge; Scottish Gaelic: Seann-Ghàidhlig; Manx: Shenn Yernish or Shenn Ghaelg), is the oldest form of the Goidelic/Gaelic language for which there are extensive written texts.

What was Ireland in ancient times? ›

The historian Roger Chauvire writes, "In the beginning, Ireland was virgin and empty land" and had remained so for the 3,000 or so years the hunter-gatherers had roamed through the forests, but that time had now passed (20). The land was tamed and the people settled into stable communities.

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