UCC crest

1) Executive summary of project:

a) Project summary for the layman

Since Woulfe’s early 20th century work (Sloinnte Gael is Gall) and the prodigious if more generalist publications of Edward Mac Lysaght (Irish Families, More Irish Families, A Guide to Irish Surnames), very little original or sustained research has been carried out on the origins, geographical expansion, current distribution and meaning of Irish surnames and forenames.

Irish surnames are amongst the oldest in all of Europe - The establishment and consolidation of permanent/hereditary surnames in Ireland predates those in England by c.100 years and France by over 100 years. Lithuania developed permanent surnames in the 18th century - Iceland still does not have such a naming structure. The research project envisaged therefore:

1. Seeks to establish the origins of Ireland’s surnames.
2. Seeks to establish ethnic diversity - (especially the Norse-Irish contribution) - in the island through an analysis of both surnames and forenames.
3. A third part of this study is to analyse the changing distribution of surnames since the 17th century plantations and the 19th century upheavals through to the late 20th century.


b) Project summary for the expert

Ireland exhibits one of the oldest hereditary surname structures in Europe. The first part of the project seeks to establish the reasons for such an early emergence - it is hypothesised that the development of sharply defined kin-based property and professional classes was critical force in hereditary surname development.

Using the Annals and other early Irish sources, the reasons for the dramatic transformation and narrowing of Irish naming structures (including use of far more limited number of new Christian names) in the period c.900 - c.1000 will be explored. A critique may emerge of the assumed Gaelic quality of all these names. A key hypothesis here is that the extent and range of Scandinavian Viking contributions to Irish naming patterns has been seriously underestimated.

Using state of the art Geographical Information Systems, a third part of the study is to analyse the better official documents of the 16th century, 17th and 18th century as well as telephonic directory data for late 20th century so as to establish the origins, spread and diversification of later anglo-Norman, New English and Scottish surname and forename patterns in Ireland. Key sources are Petty’s extraordinary ‘1659 Census’ and Griffiths Valuation records for all surnames and Christian names from mid 19th century.



2) Explaination of how the project fits into the College strategy

This project forms part of a broad-based Humanities initiative to enhance the research capability of the institution by innovative use of new information technology. It seeks to further high quality research capabilities amongst staff and senior postgraduates in the merging of basic questions about the reconstruction of Irish cultural patterns with the most advanced data-handling and mapping technologies. Through this project, graduate skills will be enhanced and a talented research group will be established which will build on existing and developing strengths within the Geography Department and across the Faculty of Arts.

The complementary work of project teams in CELT and LOCUS (see parallel submissions enclosed) will add to the research strengths and capabilities of the Atlas of Irish Names which in turn will help to enhance research in those other areas. The broader project will also enhance the content and quality of teaching on Ireland’s historical and cultural geography and is consistent with a long term research strategy in the department which is geared to the exploration and reconstruction of past societies and environments.



3) Details of scientific proposal

a) Introduction of project

As outlined in 1a above, the scientific study of Irish names - whether surnames, forenames or placenames - has advanced very little in the past 75 years. Highly original work was carried out at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, some of it by distinguished German and Scandinavian scholars, but for particular reasons, this whole area of research ‘dried up’ - with the notable exception of more popular work by Edward MacLysaght and more detailed scholarly work by people such as Professors Brian Ó Cuiv and M.A. O’Brien.

New information technologies now available to us - especially Geographical Information Systems - allow for a sustained assault on c.4000 surnames, numerous forenames and close on 62,000 townland names (to begin with).


b) background and state of the art of project

GIS involves the linkage of digital cartography to a relational database and so provides the researcher with unparalleled opportunities to produce spatial data at a micro level (parish and townland) for the island as a whole and apply a wide range of statistical analyses to such, a geographically-structured ‘intimate’ database. In a project for 1994/95 called Mapping the Great Famine, a team of researchers and technicians constructed a digitised map of the country as a whole, containing all 2400 civil/’medieval’ parish boundaries. It took two years to construct this digital base map. It is now intended to analyse Irish surnames and forenames and their distribution via such a detailed GIS structured database.

Equally, this project will require active collaboration with colleagues in Early Irish language and literature and Early Irish History as well as colleagues who are specialists in Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon so as to unravel the evolution, origins, and meanings of naming of these names.


c) General objectives of the project

As stated in 1(b) above the project involves a carefully sequenced series of objectives. Firstly, the very early development of hereditary surnames in Ireland (from c.950 AD onwards) need to be explored and explained. Secondly, the revolutionary transformation and narrowing in the range of Irish name structures - both forenames and surnames - between c.900/950 and 1000/1050 will need to be investigated. The central hypothesis here is that the Viking conquest was far deeper than existing literature allows for and this may have acted as one of the key catalysts for widescale cultural transformations including name changes. A major part of the project will involve the inputting of detailed areal lists of surnames and forenames for Petty’s ‘1659 Census’, from the parish lists in the mid 19th century Griffiths Valuation and the use of ArcInfo technologies at the smallest areal scale for current telephone directory lists for both the Republic and Northern Ireland to explore, map and analyse the changing distribution, concentration and diversification of Irish surname structures since the plantations.


d) Expected outcomes of project

The longer term outcome will be the production of an Atlas of Irish Names which will contain a large number of GIS-based computer maps of name distributions island-wide from the mid 17th century onwards. This Atlas will be accompanied by as comprehensive a text as possible which will address the questions raised in 3(b) and 3(c) above. In the short term, it is intended to report in both scholarly and more popular journals (i.e. History Ireland) on the methodologies used in the project and report on some of the initial results and maps. Other outcomes will be the training of postgraduates in both skills and concepts and the introduction of new knowledge into our teaching programme. It will also involve collaboration and more active teaching for colleagues across a wide range of disciplines both at UCC and also informally with colleagues in UCG and UCD especially.

It should also be stressed as an outcome that, apart from the intrinsic fundamental research component of this study, a further research implication arises from theorised new findings which may challenge accepted views about the nature of Irishness, especially about the extent to which it derives from a Celtic or Anglo-Norman or other strands. The issues addressed are therefore, not only interesting from a historical/cultural point of view but may also have serious implications for the continuing debate about Irish identity and the relations between the peoples of both these islands.



4) Research work programme to include milestones and deliverables or phases:

Year 1: will involve the carrying out of research on source materials and concepts relating to the names. It will also involve the carrying out of research and complementary methodologies in relation to the analysis of GIS mapping of names. This will include checking our GIS civil parish scale maps (c.2400) with parish entries for 1659 and the 1850s. In addition a GIS-based barony map (c.300) needs to be created to analyse a far greater number of Irish surnames and forenames at this meso-scale.

A sample of c.50 key surnames - which will be chosen from a series of hypotheses re ethnic origins of early names - will be extracted from the relevant data sources and mapped at barony & (where applicable) parish scales. This sample of names will then be processed by ArcInfo to arrive at individual name distributions island-wide as well as cumulative name distributions. After the first year’s programme of work, it is intended to make a summary publication of these critical results and report on same in seminars.

Year 2: having tested a series of hypotheses about name origins, ethnicity, regional concentrations, a more refined definition of key diagnostic names will be analysed and mapped. In addition a wide series of new names, whether Gaelic/Norse-Irish, Anglo-Norman, New English, Scottish or 20th century will be added to the list that needed to be abstracted from primary databases and mapped. This second phase will almost certainly involve a refinement of methodologies and greater cross-referencing with cognate groups in CELT and LOCUS. Again it is intended that interim results from this phase will be published and reported on at seminars and conferences.

Year 3: this phase sees the completion of testing and additional diagnostic names derived from previous two years testing. It will also see the completion of the abstracting and mapping of a large series of other names for mapping either at the parish or baronial scales.

However, the major project for this third year will involve the working up of an explanatory text and the high level colour reproduction of a large number of ‘name’ maps - if possible for publication by Cork University Press. The end product after 3 years work will be as intended: An Atlas of Irish Names (with accompanying narrative).



5) Contribution to the quality of teaching:

This research project will enhance the teaching programme and omit of the institution in three major areas. Firstly, the participants in the project, from research coordinator through to colleagues through to research assistants, will gain new skills and new knowledge in a whole series of conceptual and methodological domains which will further enhance their teaching and research activities.

Secondly and very particularly, the training of a cadre of keen good postgraduates in both research questions and new methodologies (especially re GIS) will enhance these students’ confidence and ability to win better positions, be involved in other longer term research projects, as well as improve their skills as teachers/tutors.

Thirdly, all of this work clearly feeds into undergraduate teaching. Universities are concerned with the generation and transmission of new knowledge as well as the consolidation of existing knowledge. This project builds solidly on these two goals as well as providing valuable new teaching materials in geography courses in Cultural Geography, GIS and Historical Geography of Ireland. It will also facilitate exchanges of ideas as between a whole series of disciplines from English, Irish, History and Irish language to the Germanic languages and Geography.


6) Describe proposed co-operation:

The first level of cooperation is within the Geography department itself, bringing two rather diverse strands and personnel together - from both cultural/historical geography and GIS/Remote Sensing.

The second level of cooperation is within the HEA proposal itself and will involve cooperation and coordination with Professor Ó Corráin's CELT project and Professor Ó Riain’s LOCUS project. At a broader interdepartmental level, the project requires consultation and discussion with members of the departments of English, Old and Middle Irish , Modern Irish, French, German, and History as well as with Computer Science and the Computer Centre.

The project will also require informal consultation at the island-wide university level. In particular, it will be intended to consult with Early Irish/Irish Scholars such as Professor Máire Ni Dhonchada in NUIG and Dr. Art Hughes in QUB, equally with early Irish historians such as Professor F.J. Byrne and Mr. C. Doherty at UCD and Dr. Colman Etchingham at NUI Maynooth.