LISNAGUNOGUE by Cahal Dallat.

This article first appeared in Volume VII of The Glynns (1979).  It is re-produced here with additional photographs and the article to which it refers is re-produced below.

In a previous issue of this journal it was claimed that there has never been any published attempt to interpret the meaning of the place-name `Lisnagunogue’.1 However, Joyce leaves us in no doubt about this place-name which occurs not only near Bushmills in County Antrim but also near Holycross in Tipperary. He tran­slates Lisnagunogue as ‘the fort of the churns’ and he also quotes Ardnagunogue as ‘the height of the churns’.2 Power translates Poulnagunogue (Clonmel) as ‘the pool or hole of the churns’.3


Lisnagunoge, County Antrim

Why then should there be an attempt to equate the word `gcuinneog’ with `hound-stags’ or ‘fine-stags’? Is it because the ‘fort of the churns’ sounds strange? Churns do not seem important in our present day world. However if we remember that Ireland was a pastoral society we realise that the churn was an essential item of equipment. The churn played an important role in the making of butter and milk products — and milk products were extremely important in the Ancient Celtic economy as was the supplier of the milk, the cow.

Cattle represented the riches of the Celtic chiefs. The wealth of every clan consisted mainly in cattle of every kind. Hill tells us that the English soon discovered this and always aimed at the wanton destruction of such cows, sheep and swine as they themselves could not devour.4 Fynes Moryson emphasises the esteem in which cattle were held when he writes ‘In the heat of the last rebellion, the very vagabond rebels had great multitudes of cows, which they still (like the nomads) drove with them, whithersoever themselves were driven, and fought for them as for their altars and their families’.5

Joyce tells us that ‘from remote ages cows formed one of the principal articles of the inhabitants of Ireland; they were in fact the standard of value, as money is at the present day; and prices, wages and marriage portions, were estimated in cows by our ancestors. Of all the animals the cow is, accordingly, the most extensively commemorated in local names. This is certainly borne out by the proliferation of place-names referring to the cow and the calf, e.g. Dunboe (in Co. Derry) — the fort of the cow; Drumbo (in Co. Down) —the hill ridge of the cow; Portnabo (at the Giants Causeway) — the port of the cow; Broughinlea in the Parish of Culfeightrim — the palace of the calf; Ballinlea (in the Parish of Ballintoy) — the town of the calf; Lislea — the fort of the calf and Car­nalea — the cairn of the calf.

Drumbo Village 1952

Drumbo Village, County Down. (1952)

The cow also gives us the name for a road — bothar — a cow lane. And the Brehon Laws laid down the standard measurements for the bothar. It had to be wide enough to accommodate a cow and her calf standing along the road as well as a cow and her calf standing across the road. The cow also gave the name to a measurement of land — the ballyboe — a cow’s grass which was sixty acres. Eight ballyboes made up a townland. Also deriving from the cow was the third or outer ring of a fortress — the bo dun — the cow fortress. This was later contracted from bo dun to bawn.

Since so many words have derived from the cow – the source of milk, it is hardly surprising to find that the milk churn is responsible for other derivations. In view of this ‘the fort of the churns’ can be seen as the obvious translation for Lisnagunogue.

1 Nodder, C.R. (1978) Lisnagunnogue in The Glynns Vol. 6 p.33

2 Joyce, P.W. (1873) Irish Names of Places Vol. II p.191

3 Power, Rev. P (1907) Place-names of Decies p.251

4 Hill, Rev. G (1873) The MacDonnells of Antrim p.176

5 Moryson, F. (1850) Historie Part III p.159




**The short article referred to above is re-presented in full below.


The Glynns Vol. 6 p.33
That is a village between Ballintoy and Bushmills. I have never seen published any attempt to interpret the meaning of the word, though there has been a suggestion that it means “fort of the churns.” In Irish that would be LIS-NA-GCUINNEOG and that might equally mean “fort of the wild angelica.” The pronunciation of the first syllable of GCUINNEOG would be GWIN— and that we certainly do not hear. People of the district call the place “THE GUNYAH” if  I put it as well as possible without phonetic symbols. I believe the ending -OGE to be spurious, the result of folk etymology aiming at a diminutive form.
The only way I can interpret the name, after years of thought, on and off, is as LIS-NA-GCOIN-FHIADH, the fort (or, better, enclosure) of the hound-stags or fine stags. You will find COIN-FIHIADH in “Dinneen.” The pronunciation of what I suggest would be just what we hear, the FH being silent and the ending —ADH being softened. COIN is eclipsed to GCOIN after NA, the genitive plural. Nothing else that I can find will meet the case. We may note that in nearby Ballintoy there was a deer-park, walls of which can still be seen.

COIN, dog or hound, is akin to Irish CU (genitive CON) and Latin CANIS. Among other combined forms it is seen in :

COIN-FHEAR, dogtail grass

COIN-BHILE, dogwood

COIN-EAS, ferret (EAS being a stoat),

COIN-DRIS, dog-briar

COIN-RIOCHT, wer-wolf (RIOICHT means shape or appearance)

COIN-FHIACAL, a dog tooth

COIN-REACHT, laws for dog keepers

and COIN-GHEOIN, the baying of hounds!


3 thoughts on “LISNAGUNOGUE by Cahal Dallat.”

  1. My father in law was born and reared in Gunagh and spells it the way he remembers it ,Lisnagunagh , there is also a little Gunagh nearby . He is adamant that his spelling of it is the proper way to spell it. The snippet of history is accurate the fort of the churns ,it is never talked about now ,he was delighted by your article well done.

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