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Irish Baby Names - History and Origin
By John Lynch

The meaning of baby names of irish origin lies hundreds of years back in the Irish gaelic language of the ancient Celts who migrated from Central Europe before the foundation of the Roman Empire.

The Celts Dominant

Those Celts who came to Britain, France and Ireland were dominant for a long period. With the spread of the Roman Empire, the Celts gradually were pushed back into North Western France (modern Brittany with its distinct Breton language), Western Britain (Cornwall and Wales), Northern Britain (Isle of Man and Scotland), and the island of Ireland which was never conquered by the Romans.

As a result of Ireland's separate development from Roman influence, the gaelic language and way of life was much less diluted than in Scotland or Wales. Again the influence of the Anglo-Normans and later the English was less in Ireland because of the difficulty of establishing control in the country other than a few coastal towns such as Dublin.

The English kings' governor sat in Dublin Castle issuing edicts against native Irish habits in dress, custom and language, only to have them ignored in about 80% of the country with the exception of the areas around Dublin called The Pale where the English army held sway.

Gradual English Control

This situation continued for hundreds of years until the English asserted an uneasy control at the end of the 17th century with the defeat of James 11 at the Battle of the Boyne by William of Orange (the Dutch Protestant prince who was offered the English throne by Parliament)in 1690.

So the first name origins of Irish Christian names and surnames lie overwhelmingly in this gaelic Celtic culture which was totally dominant until the end of the 19th century. Only at this point do we see English culture making inroads in language, games and of course in first name origins.

In fact, this was not voluntary as primary schools were established in all the major towns from the 1830's onwards where English was the only language of instruction and Irish gaelic was forbidden.First name origins of Celtic descent gradually declined and English baby names became popular for the first time.

Irish Revival

By the end of the 19th century, Irish was in crisis and English totally dominant in all the commercial, legal and cultural spheres of Irish life. At this time organisations to stem the English tide were established such as the Gaelic Athletic Association(to foster the games of hurling and gaelic football), and the Gaelic League to prevent the decline of the Irish language.

This brings us up to the present where the meaning of baby names of most first names in Ireland are English in origin or anglicisations of native Irish names.This bilingual melange will continue. It remains to be seen whether first name origins of Irish gaelic ancestry will increase as they have been doing, or whether the sea of Anglo-American influence will predominate.

(c) John Lynch

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