The Last of the Names? Urris Place-Names Project

Ian Wright

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Time is running out for Clonmany's place-names. When our place-names are forgotten, one of the richest mines of local history will be lost. Gone forever.

It is late but, I would like to persuade you, not quite too late. The purpose of this paper is to show why they should be saved; to suggest ways of doing it; and to share experience of the current Urris Place-names Project, begun late last year (1998). It is too early to come to firm conclusions: collecting names in Urris is still going on.

The Urris project grew directly from the first McGlinchey Summer School and the inspirational talk by Brother Tom Connolly, which is reprinted in this volume. Brother Connolly came to Clonmany in the early 1960s to study regional variations pronunciation, part of a piece of national research. The test words were common place-names. As he moved around the parish on his motor scooter the young academic was struck by the wealth of Clonmany's place-names at that time and he began, in a very methodical way, to collect them, townland by townland.

How place-names became a pre-occupation, he described vividly at last year's summer school. He went on to say that he had hoped also to locate the names he collected on the Ordnance Survey map. But unfortunately that never happened.

Two inspirations

Beside Brother Connolly, I must record the names of two others who inspired the place-names project in Urris for both deserve credit. Eddie Dennis (Canny) of Dunaff knew every inch of Urris, particularly the shoreline - and its names. Though he spent more than half his 89 years outside Ireland, Eddie, like Charles McGlinchey, retained a rich store of local knowledge. It is to our shame and loss that none of us recorded it, none of us had wrote it down.

When Eddie died in December 1997, it was a warning that something needed to be done, and quickly before others like Eddie left us bereft. That's the measure of the challenge.

The other inspiration was the discovery of the treasures of the old Ordnance Survey maps. In particular I'm grateful to James Crilly, born in Draperstown now of Dunaff, who first introduced me to the wonders of the 1902 edition which was drawn to the huge scale of 1:2500 or approximately 25 inches to the mile. Nearly 100 years later, these maps are still used as the basis for legal land transfers.

McGlinchey Summer School

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