Annascaul or Anascaul? The Name of the village and what it might mean…

What’s in a name? What does it mean? How is it spelt? Not as simple as it seems!

One “n” or two?

As can be seen by the selection of business signs and names shown here, the way most business and organisations in the village spells the name of the village is ANNASCAUL with two “n”s.

map
Annascaul Tidy Towns Action Group
Annascaul Post Office
Annascaul Post Office
Annascaul Walking Club
Annascaul Walking Club
Annascaul Heights
Annascaul Heights
Annascaul Pottery
Annascaul Pottery
pudding
Annascaul Black Pudding Co.
Annascaul House
Annascaul House
Annascaul Parish
Annascaul Parish

Whereas Kerry County Council and the National Roads Authority seem to prefer ANASCAUL with one “n”.

road3

road2

roadsign

lakesign

river

Although sometimes they spell it the other way, ANNASCAUL with two “n”s…

image

milestone
“ANNASCAUL” set in stone!


River of Shadows? Ford of the Heroes? Who knows?

Apart from the spelling (in English) the meaning of the village’s name is far from certain. Father John Ashe, writing in his book  Annascaul: Revisited and Reviewed in 1949 had this to say:

The name of the village, strange to say, is not at all certain. Paradoxically enough the village has several names. The name is variously spelled: “ANNASCAUL”, “ANNASCAIL”, “AUNASCAUL”, “AUNASCAIL”, “ANNISCAIL”, and that does not not by any means exhaust the list of alternatives. This difference of spelling might not matter so much were it not for the fact that it involves a corresponding difference of meaning, and if there is any one thing we should all endeavour to avoid it is saying one thing and meaning another. Let’s try and get this thing straight. Since the correct meaning must necessarily give us the correct spelling it would be well to run the rule over the various meanings alleged. A commonly accepted version is that the name means “The River of the Shadows”, correspondingly rendered in Gaelic “ABHA-NA-SCAIL” or in English “AUNASCAIL”. This translation possesses the two-fold grace of being both mystical and euphonious. [But]… those who take it upon themselves to sponsor this version are confronted with the awkward fact that at no point of the river’s course, from its source to the estuary, is there to be found the slightest semblance or suggestion of a shadow, let alone shadows, falling upon its waters. a more treeless tract of land, in fact, it would be difficult to imagine. It is suggested, by way of subterfuge, that the river really gets its name from the lake whence it flows. The name of the lake, it is further suggested, is “LOCH SCAIL”, by reason of the shadows which are allegedly thrown upon its waters by the surrounding mountains. Well, the present writer went to the trouble of putting this theory to the test, and my experience is, that at no time during the whole long day, except when the sun is low in the west, does the mountain cast its shadow upon the lake. In this respect, I venture to suggest it does not differ from countless other lakes. All in all, it would appear as if the shadow theory does not hold water. Here I must mention an alternative and a much more romantic explanation. It is the thesis of local seanachies that the lake directly, and the river indirectly, owe their names to a legendary lady concerning whom a pretty tale is told. [This is the legend of Scal which you can read more about here] It is, of course, quite within the bounds of possibility that this lugubrious legend may have had some foundation in fact. It is equally possible but, to my mind, much more probable, that it had its origin in the the fertile imagination of some ancient romancer. There is scarcely a lake in the length and breadth of Ireland about which some similar fanciful tale is not told involving the demise of a beautiful lady… Grammarians and etymologists, however, will not be amused. These inflexible people will insist that if the deceased lady’s Christian name was “Scail”, and everybody seems to agree that such was the case, then the name of the lake should not be “Loch Scail” but “Loch Scaile”. It’s a pity, I know, to spoil a good story. …An alternative Gaelic rendering of the name is “ABHA-NA-SCAL” or in English “AUNASCAUL”, which, being interpreted, means “The River of the Heroes”. This rendering is significantly supported by that eminent Irish scholar, Father Dineen, in his English-Irish Dictionary… …Still another version, which is supported by Richard Hayward, is “ATH-NA-SCAL”, in English “ANNASCAUL”, the meaning of which is “THE FORD of the Heroes”. It will be noticed that these erudite authorities are unanimous in rejecting the ‘shadow’ translation, and whether the correct interpretation of the first part of the name be ‘River’ or ‘Ford’, they both translate the second part as the genitive plural of the common noun ‘Hero’. …The Question naturally suggests itself, at this stage, “Who were the Heroes?”(1)

Father Ashe goes on to theorise that the area had been the site of a “bloody and decisive battle”, suggesting that it was “the vital and final battle between the Tuatha-De-Danaan and the Milesians” that was recorded in the placename. Depending on the source used this placed the battle in either 1700 BC or 1287 BC. Unfortunately for the reverend father and for the legend, modern scholars have conclusively rejected the existence of either the Milesians or Tuatha Dé Danaan, now thought to have been invented as part of a pseudo-history dating from the sixteenth century and actually used to justify the legitimacy of English rule in Ireland. As Father Ashe would say himself “It’s a pity, I know, to spoil a good story.” So, river, ford, shadows, Scal or heroes… the choice is yours!

(1) John Ashe PP, Annascaul: Revisited and Reviewed (Melbourne, 1949) pp.7-11

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