HISTORY is knowing that none of us inherit the earth – we simply live, leave our footprint and pass it on. A new book by West Limerick historian Gerard Curtin has captured, in staggering depth, how the echoes of past generations can be found in the names of townlands, localities and even individual fields.
Every Field Had a Name – The Place Names of West Limerick is a study of circa 1,300 minor place names across the local area, drawn from exhaustive research and over 100 interviews by the author.
Gerard, who has been researching local place names for over ten years, said that understanding how successive generations came to know and understand the land is at the heart of his study.
“The countryside of West Limerick is itself a map that is constantly being torn up and the pieces carried off. Place names are unevenly remembered, people migrate, people forget, people pass away and place names are lost”.
Gerard said that the shifting sands of time have always claimed pieces of oral history, such as minor place names. Today, that risk becomes even more acute as fewer and fewer people understand the histories, lore and place names of where they live.
“Before, because of the way people worked the land, this knowledge would have been a lot more intimate. Years ago, you’d tell two lads to cut a farm field by field; today you send in a harvester and he does it in one go.”
Every Field Had a Name combs West Limerick townland by townland and documents each minor place name that survives today, and its likely origin and meaning.
Gerard said that the his research has shown that in places where Irish survived longest as a “living language”, such as rural uplands in Tournafulla, Abbeyfeale and Athea, minor place names lasted longer against the slow decay of time.
“The work is vital. Place names, and minor field names are a very different kind of history. It’s very rare that many of these names would be on maps or ordinance surveys. A lot of this information is with the older generation, and if we waited that knowledge would be gone.”
Gerard Curtin’s new book is available for €20 at O’Mahony’s bookshop and in outlets across West Limerick, or from the author directly at 0876275560.