Kill (also Kil, Kyle or even Cal) is second only to Baile as a common root word. Care is needed because Kill can also derive from the Irish word for a church, Cill, or a wood, Coill. Joyce reckons about one-fifth of 3,400 Irish place names with Kill refer to a wood. Telling the difference can come down to pronunciation in Irish or a church ruin. #Irishplacenames
Kill is directly taken from the Latin Cella (a room in a building) and marks therefore the arrival of Christianity in Ireland in the fifth century. Other names in Irish for church all come from Latin: Eaglis, teampall, and domhnach.
Another indicator that Kill in a place name refers to a church is association with a saint’s name: St Canice (Kilkenny), St Columba or Colman (Kilcoman). St Brigid gives us Cill-Bhrighde or Kilbride and Kilbreedy Kilmurray might come from a surname but could be Cill-Mhuire, the church of Mary.
As Flanagan points out, if Kill is associated with a parish, the chances are it refers to a church. Kill as a church is often joined with a local feature; Kildare (Cill-daro, Church of the oak tree), Kilroot (Cill Ruaidh, Church of the red [soil]).
The mellifluous Killashandra, Co. Cavan, is Cill na Seanrátha, the Church of the old fort. Shankill is simply Seanchill, old church and may mean that its original name, likely associated with a saint, is lost.
Tulach is a hill which gives us the parish of Kiltullagh in Co Roscommon. As Joyce records, it could be the hill of the wood but the ruin of a church on the hill provides the solution. My grandmother Winifred Kirrane was born in Cloonfad East in the parish of Kiltullagh. Recall Cluain fáda, long meadow or pasture, often near a river or a marsh: that indeed is the topography of Cloonfad.
Christianity in Ireland arrived in three ways. There were small colonies of Christians in the east of Ireland, thanks to the Irish influence in southwest Wales and the traffic across the Irish sea, including the slave trade. Palladius was sent from Auxerre (Burgundy) by Pope Celestine to Ireland in 431 as bishop of the Christians in Ireland. Palladius focused on the south, possibly with Cashel as his base. After his famous six-year stint as a slave, St Patrick returned from Roman Britain around 432. His activities were concentrated in the northeast, central and western areas (see Kathless Huges, The Church in Early Irish Society). His base is traditionally associated with Armagh. Where Palladius was learned and steeped in continental christianity, Patrick declared himself unlearned, speaking a rough Latin without a wide or sophisticated vocabulary. He never refers to Palladius or to any Christians in Ireland before his mission to convert the Irish. Accompanied by young Gaelic nobles and bearing gifts, he was a remarkably successful missionary.
The arrival of Christianity in Ireland was a profound event in Ireland’s history. It brought with not just a new religion but writing. This began a process or recording Gaelic society’s language, laws, literature, history and genealogies. Up to that point, the vast corpus of knowledge and culture was memorized. It is an incredible thought that a whole society lived essentially in a mind-palace. Christianity itself adapted its form to Gaelic society, its power-structures, laws and landholding. Irish monks left their churches and monasteries in the C7th and C8th centuries to establish monasteries and centres of learning in France, Germany and Italy, playing a critical role in saving Western civilization.
In the ruins of churches and monasteries, and in their associated place names, monks prayed, meditated and wrote (and illustrated) the books that changed the course of Irish history and saved western civilization.
30 January 2021
2 responses to “Kill (Cill, a church but also Coill, a wood)”
Eamonn: Thanks for the article yesterday. Hope you and Mary are enjoying Canada. Best
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Yes, all good if a tad quiet. We under stay-at-home orders! Hope all well with you and Mary.