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Moira, County Down

Origin

Ir. Maigh Rath 'plain of streams' or 'plain of wheels'

Background

Village is close to border with Co. Antrim, 6.5km NE of Lurgan

bar: Iveagh Lower, Upper Half

Moira village, like Magheralin a mile further south, is not built directly on the river, but on higher ground a mile from its western bank, occupying the small townlands of Carnalbanagh East and West.  The village gets its name from the surrounding district, part of which was formed into the parish of Moira, created in 1725, when it was divided from the parish of Magheralin.  Nevertheless the name was already well known referring to the district, largely because of the famous battle of Mag Rath fought in AD 637.  The name was well-known in Irish. The first element is magh (Modern Irish ) 'a plain', probably anglicized from the dative or locative form maigh, which has more recently been used as the nominative.  The traditional interpretation of the rest of the name has been either Magh Ráth 'plain of forts' or Magh Rath 'plain of prosperity' (John O'Donovan: Circuit of Ireland 31; cf. forms from OSNB).  Several forts such as Rough Fort and Pretty Mary's Fort, survive near the village of Moira.  Atkinson assumed the name meant 'plain of the fort' (Atkinson's Dromore 216), but this would require the second element to be spelled rátha, and there is little evidence in the Irish sources for a final vowel,  the only example being mag cuanach Muigi Ratha 'the beautiful plain Magh Rath', to rhyme with the artificial place-name Daire in [Fh]Latha 'oakwood of the prince' (CMR II 174 n-5).  Likewise the internal vowel of Rath is rarely marked long, and a short vowel is confirmed in verse, where the name is frequently, and predictably, made to rhyme with cath 'battle' (Buile Suibhne §6 v4, §16 v1, v13; CMR II 210, 312).  

Ráth 'fort' is thus excluded.  If the second element were rath 'prosperity', the form would have to be genitive plural, an unusual formation unless rath could be understood in a more concrete sense, e.g. 'of bounties'. 

Many of the early forms, up to the 14th century, give the vowel in the second element as o not a, in some cases confirmed by the rhyme-scheme used in verse, so that ar Muig Roth 'at Moira', and a cath Roth 'from the battle of Moira', rhyme with moch 'early' (Clann Ollaman 64 §20; Buile Suibhne: §75 v9 p140 top).  The ordinary meaning of roth is 'wheel'.  The place-name element roth has been discussed by J.B. Arthurs (1952-3(a), 10-11).  The meaning 'wheel' had been suggested in names like Rouen in France (of Gaulish origin), which seems to be a parallel formation to Mag Roth, as Rotumagos 'wheel plain'.  Arthurs thought this unlikely, and quoted Welsh and Gaulish names which suggest that roth could be connected either with the Irish verb rethid 'runs', or with Welsh rhyd 'ford' and Latin portus 'harbour'.  If Mag Roth once meant 'plain of rivers' or 'fords' this might provide one explanation why it was given Magh Comair, 'plain of the confluence' as an alias name (Arthurs 1952-3(a), 10; CMR II 110, 226; noted EA 369; though it is doubtful whether the name was still 'understood').  Apart from the river Lagan, there is a stream in Tullyard, ponds in Risk and in Legmore, and probably a stream preceding the Lagan canal ('the going of the water called the ford of Hakar' between Aghalee and Blaris, Fiants Eliz. §4327).  A 'small stream' formed the chief part of the boundary between Aghagallon and Moira parishes (OSM xxi 26b), and several streams join the Lagan near the old ford at Spencer's Bridge.  On the other hand this area was at the meeting of routeways north and south, and east and west, and thus could be called 'the plain of wheels'.   

After 1583 the later anglicized spellings have a final -gh, but it is doubtful if this was intended to show that the name ended with [x] or even [h]in pronunciation.  Although it is not clear when the current stress on the first syllable Moira developed, it may not have changed in the 17th century and the -gh may have been added to the second syllable to indicate that it bore the stress in pronunciation.  One could contrast the name, stressed on the first syllable, of the Moyry Pass on the old route from Dundalk to Newry (Lawlor 1938(a), 3, map), which was anglicized from Bealach an Mhaighre (AFM vi 2222n, 2256n: AD 1600-1).

References

Muhr, K. (1996): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 6 p. 271-7, where the name is discussed in further detail; McKay, P. (2007): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 108

Additional Information

T., 1851 Census; see also the parish of Moira for historical forms of this name.

Find further information about this place at:

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference

cath Maighe Rath

0634AFM i 252

cath Maighe Rath

0636Chron. Scot. 84

Bellum Roth

0637AU (Mac Airt) 118

cath Muighe Rath

0637Stokes, W. 1895,96,97 183

Cath Roth

0639AIF 90

in bello Roth

0700cAdomnán 108a

Adhaigh dhuin im Muigh Rath redh

0942Circ. of Ireland 30

(?) do laech Muman a Muig Ráth

1050cLebor na Cert 131

Trí meic Fiachna, Trí ruirig Roth

1100cTBC (Rec. I) l.3778

co hIeth co Roth

1100cTBC (Rec. I) l.3455

Cath Maige Roth

1160cTrip. Life (Stokes) ii 516 l.29

Congal Caech.. i Cath Roth

1160cLL 41c/ i l.5796

Eocho mac Dáre din Róth (rhymes with lóc)

1160cLL 21b/i l.2050 LG

Mag Roth la hU Echach Coba

1160cLL 16a/i l.1916

cath ar Muig Roth (rhymes with moch)

1160cClann Ollaman 64 $20

comaidm catha Raith/Roith roruaid

1160cTrip. Life (Stokes) ii 538 $39

i cath Roth

1160cLL l.5923

a Muig Rath (Dal A)

1200cDescendants Ir xiv 111

Magh Rath

1350cBuile Suibhne 4

Mhuigh Rath, o

1350cTopog. Poems l. 421

a cath Roth (rhymes with moch)

1350cBuile Suibhne 140 (verse)

(?) Magh Comair risi raiter Magh ruaid-lintech Rath

1392cCMR II 110, 226

Ar Muig Rath na ríghraidhe

1392cCMR II 304 (verse)

Bid Mag Rath o'n roth-mal sa

1392cCMR II 174 (verse)

Cath Mhuigi ruadh-linntige Rath

1392cCMR II 110

Cath Muighe Rath

1392cCMR I 90

Cath Muigi Rath andso

1392cCMR I 232

Macan docing sligi rath / imma tuarad lechta roth

1392cCMR I 240 l.139 (vers

Macan docing sligi roth

1392cCMR I 240 l.144 (vers

Mag cuanach Muigi Ratha (rhymes with latha)

1392cCMR II 174 (verse)

Magh Rath x3

1392cCMR II 276

a Maig Roth

1392cST Temra $26

ar Cath Muige Rath

1392cCMR II 260,270

for Muig Rath

1392cCMR II 210,312

re maidm catha Muigi ruad-linntigh Rath

1392cCMR II 168

tucait Catha Muige Rath

1392cCMR II 86

Corco Ruisen i Muig Rath is fuiri ita Land Ronain

1397L. Lec. 198,96b

cath Muige Rath (X2)

1397?Trip. Life (Stokes) ii 552 l.30

Corcu Ruisen a Maig Rath is fuiri ita land Ronain Fhind

1397cL. Lec. 88v b15

Rothmag a crích Coba cian

14thcL. Gabála (Macalister) v 430, poem xci

co Dun Roith co Leidhe

14thcCath Aen. Macha $5

(?) Iveache wherein the Myorie

1552Knox Hist. 298 (Ed VI ms)

Myra

1583Fiants Eliz. $4218

Moyragh

1609CPR Jas I 395a

Moyragh, Mortagh McTirlagh O''Lawrie of

1610CPR Jas I 195b

Moyragh

1611CPR Jas I 190b

Moyragh

1618CPR Jas I 373b

Moyragh

1624CPR Jas I 576b

(?) Maighe rátha, Tiopraite

1630cMart. Don. Dec 27 p348

Moyrough

1659cCensus 1659 81

Moyrath, Towne of

1692Rent Roll Down 6

Moyra

1712Maps Down (Mac Aodha) 68

Dúin Róith 7 Tulach na nArm

1715Cogadh FC 408 $3 15thc

Moyragh

1717Deeds & Wills (Mooney) 215

Moirah [inscrip.]

1719OSM xxi 30b

do sgélaibh Catha Muighi Rath

1720cCMR II 321

Moyrah

1743Harris Hist. map

Moyra, Moyrah

1744Harris Hist. 83, 103

Moyra

1755Map of Down (OSNB) E4

Moira

1776Maps Down (Mac Aodha) 68

Moira

1810Wm. Map (OSNB) E4

Magh Ráth ""plain of the fort""

1834cOSNB Inf. E2

Magh rath ""plain of prosperity""

1834cJ O'D (OSNB) E4

Moira

1834cJ O'D (OSNB) E4

Tulach na nArm re nabar Magh Rath

1900Stokes, W. 1900 l.2939

Magh Ráth

1905Post-Sheanchas 97

Maigh Rath

1969AGBP 118

Maigh Rath / Moira

1988Éire Thuaidh

Maigh Rath

1989GÉ 134

Maigh Rath

1992PNI 274

Maigh Rath perhaps ""plain of the wheels""

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 108

Magh Roth la hUibh Eachdach

3549AFM i 38
Barony
Iveagh Lr., Up. Half
Parish
Moira
Parish in 1851
Moira
Townland
Risk/Carnalbanagh East/West/Clare
Place name ID
11007
Place name type
M:V