Placenamesni.orgthe history behind our place-names

Bangor, County Down

Origin

Ir. Beannchar, perhaps meaning 'place of points'

Background

17km NE of Belfast

bar: Ards Lower

 

A number of Irish-language sources offer origin legends and meanings for the name Bennchor, later Beannchar.  The Old Irish text Táin Bó Fraích (TBF 15-16) contains an explanation for Trácht Bennchoir “Bangor strand”.  The Connaught warrior Fróech and the Ulster warrior Conall Cernach were returning to Ireland from the Alps with Fróech's cattle when Conall's servant, Bicne mac Láegaire, died at the place which then came to be known as Inber mBicne, today Bangor Bay.  When they came to shore, the cattle shed their horns, thus giving rise to the name Trácht mBennchoir, “the strand of the horn-casting”.  Here Bennchor is taken to derive from benn “horn” + cor “casting”.  There are similar stories which account for the name in the Metrical Dindsenchas and in the Martyrology of Oengus (Fél. Óeng.). 

By and large, more recent scholars have not been convinced by these explanations.  There is a consensus that the name contains the word beann which can mean ‘horn’, ‘point’ or ‘peak’ but its exact significance in this place-name is uncertain.  Nor is the exact structure of the name clear.  P.W. Joyce suggested that Beannchar contains the word beann “horn” which “signifies horns, or pointed hills or rocks, and sometimes simply peaked hill” (Joyce i 385).  Joyce seems to be suggesting a compound beannach + ar, where the first element consists of beann + adjectival suffix -ach, followed by the suffix -ar.  Joyce also mentions Banagher in Co. Offaly, which he claims was named from the sharp rocks in the adjacent River Shannon.  It is also possible that Bangor, Co. Down, was named from sharp rocks around the shore.  However, most recent attempts to explain the name have taken it to refer to the monastery of Bangor founded by St. Comgall in AD 555 or 559.  Its site is marked by the present Church of Ireland church (the Abbey Church) at the head of the town, in the modern townland of Corporation.

There are a number of townlands in various parts of Ireland which have been anglicized Banagher and derive from an original Beannchar.  It seems strange, however, that Beannchar in North Down should be anglicized as Bangor.  Perhaps it was influenced by the name Bangor which is commonly used as the name of ecclesiastical sites in Wales.  The two names may share some common attributes.  Bedwyr Lewis Jones draws some interesting parallels between the name Bangor in Wales, and Bangor in Co. Down (Ainm 5: 59-65).  Alfred Neobard Palmer has suggested that Bangor in Wales normally meant “high choir” (Palmer 1990), however, he also states (ibid.) that bangor is found in the Welsh laws meaning “wattling”.  Ifor Williams derives Welsh Bangor from ban “a band used to strengthen something” + côr “a plaiting” (Williams 1990).  Melville Richards takes Welsh Bangor to mean “a cross-bar in a wattled fence”, which referred to either the wattled construction of the monastic cell, or to a fence surrounding it (Richards 1970).  This suggests another possible derivation for Irish Beannchar.  One meaning for the first element benn is “prong” (DIL s.v.); the second element could be cor “act of putting, placing; setting up”.  If this etymology is accepted, it could be argued that beannchar refers to a type of fence constructed with prongs surrounding the monastic site, and that it subsequently came to mean the area within the enclosure.   

References

Hannan R. J. (1992): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 2 p. 141-50; McKay P. (1999): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names 19-20.

Additional Information

T., 1851 Census

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference

Beannchair, natiuitas Comgaill

0516AU (Mac Airt) 62

Bendchair, eaccluis

0552AFM i 188

Bennchuir, eclesia

0555AU (Mac Airt) 78

Bendchair, iascaire Comhgaill

0559AFM i 202

Benncair, eclesia

0559AU (Mac Airt) 80

Bendchair Uladh, abb

0600AFM i 224

Bendchair, S. Comhgall

0600AFM i 224

Bennchair, Quies Comghaill

0602AU (Mac Airt) 100

Bennchoir, abbatis

0610AU (Mac Airt) 104

Bennchair Uladh, ecclas

0611AFM i 236 et passim

Benncoir, abbas

0613AU (Mac Airt) 106

Benncoir, combustio

0616AU (Mac Airt) 108

mBendchair Uladh, hi

0666AFM i 278

Benncuir, abbas

0728AU (Mac Airt) 180

mBennchoir, for altóir

0739AFM i 340

Bennchuir, abb

0742AFM i 342

Bendchuir, abb

0800AFM i 410

Bendchor

0800cTriads of Ireland 2

Bendchuir, abbdaine

0800cTriads of Ireland 4

Bennchur, oc

0800cTBF 16

Trácht mBennchoir

0800cTBF 16

o Bennchor

0824AU (Mac Airt) 280 et passim

Bendchair, ab[bas]

0830cMart. Tal. Jun 12 p49 et passim

Bennchair, ab[bas]

0830cMart. Tal. Feb 28 p19

Bennchair, ab[bas]

0830cMart. Tal. Apr 8 p31

Bennchoir, hi féil Silláin

0830cFél. Óeng. Feb 28 p63

Bennchuir, Cenn-faelad ab

0830cFél. Óeng. Apr 8 p105

Bennchuir, Comgall buadach

0830cFél. Óeng. May 10 p123

Bennchuir, comarbai búain

0830cFél. Óeng. Dec 15 p251

a mBennchar

1065AU (Mac Airt) 502

Bennchair, co amsir Comgaill

1100cLU 3093

Bendchur, Mobae ó

1125cCSH 707.803 151

Bennchair, Comgall

1125cCSH 16, 97

Bennchoir, Comgall

1125cCSH 712.11 161

Bennchuir, Mochoemoc

1125cCSH 707.740 150
Bangowre1306cEccles. Tax. 12
Beandehar1429Annates Ulst. 295

Bennchoir, abb

1453Fél. Óeng. Feb 28 p63 et passim

Bennchor

1453Fél. Óeng. Mar 30 p102n
Bangor, Mon. de1454Annates Ulst. 117 app
Beannchor1470Annates Ulst. 110
Bengor1500Annates Ulst. 113
Bangor1510Annates Ulst. 114
Bangar1567Goghe's Map
Bangar1570cNowel's Ire. (1)
Bangor Ca[...]1570cEarly Chart B'fast Lough
Bang[a?r]1573Ortelius Map
Banger Abbay1580cSE Ulster Map
Bangar1585Fiants Eliz. $4788
Bangor1590Dartmouth Map 5
Bangan1591Hondius Map
Bangor ab1595Mercator's Ire.
Bangor abb1595Mercator's Ulst.
Bangor abb1595Mercator's Ulst.
Banchorie1598CSP Ire. 676
Bancor1603Bartlett Maps (Esch. Co. Maps) 1
Bangor al Banger1603Ex. Inq. (Dn) 2 Jac. I
Bangor1605Inq. Ult. (Down) $2 Jac. I
Bangor al val Angloru1605Inq. Ult. (Down) $2 Jac. I
Bangor otherwise Banger1605CPR Jas I 72b

Mc Banger

1610Speed's Ulster

Mc Banger

1610Speed's Antrim & Down
Bancher monasterium1610Mercator's/Hole's Ire.
M. Banger1610Speed's Ireland
Bancor1610cNorden's Map
Bangor1615Terrier (Reeves) 49
Bangor1615Terrier (O'Laverty) 326
Bangor1620Ham. Patent [1620] xx
Bangor1622Ulster Visit. Reeves 47
Bangor1625cRaven Map Clandeboye 11
Bangor1627CPR Chas I 225
Bangor1630Ham. Patent [1630] x

Beannchair

1630cCéitinn iii 138

Beannchuir, Cuimmein, abb

1630cMart. Don. Sep 17 p250

Beannchuir, Reghuil

1630cMart. Don. Jun 11 p166

Bendchai, Saran, abb

1630cMart. Don. Aug 1 p208

Bendchair, Cas

1630cMart. Don. April 26 p110

Bennchair Uladh, abb

1630cMart. Don. Feb 28 p58

Bennchair, Cronán, abb

1630cMart. Don. Nov 6 p298

Bennchair, Daniel, epscop

1630cMart. Don. Sep 11 p244

Bennchair, Ruiffine, epscop, Glinne da loch acus

1630cMart. Don. April 22 p108

Bennchair, Seighin, mac Ui Chuinn, abb

1630cMart. Don. Sep 10 p242

Bennchair, Torannan, abb

1630cMart. Don. June 12 p166

Bennchair, abb

1630cMart. Don. Apr 8 p98 et passim

Bennchair, abb

1630cMart. Don. April 21 p106

Bennchair, an tan do fagaibh Mochua

1630cMart. Don. June 24 p178

Bennchair, in abdaine

1630cMart. Don. Nov 25 p316

Bennchuir, Beoghna abb iar cComhgall

1630cMart. Don. Aug 22 p226

Bennchuir, Colum abb

1630cMart. Don. Oct 3 p264

Bennchuir, Fland, abb

1630cMart. Don. Dec 15 p336

Bennchuir, Mac laisre, abb

1630cMart. Don. May 16 p130

Bennchuir, abb

1630cMart. Don. May 10 p122 et passim

Bennchuir, ceallóir Comhgaill

1630cMart. Don. Sep 16 p250

Magh Beannchair

1630cCéitinn iii 138

Beannchair

1633cCéitinn iii 138

Magh Beannchair

1633cCéitinn iii 138

Beanchor

1645cMacCana's Itinerary 55

Benchor

1645cMacCana's Itinerary 55
Bangor1657Inq. Down (Reeves1) 137
Bangor Corporacion1659cCensus 1659 93
Bangor1661Trien. Visit. (Bramhall) 13
Bangor1661Trien. Visit. (Bramhall) 13
Bangor1664Trien. Visit. (Margetson) 22
Bangor1679Trien. Visit. (Boyle) 44

Beannchuir, eó

1680cLCABuidhe 260 l.73

Bheannchuir, ó bhaidhbh

1680cLCABuidhe 107 l.171

mBeannchuir, fa iath mbraonsholus

1680cLCABuidhe 106 l.132
Bangor1693Collins B'fast Lough
Bangor1743Maxwell Rent Roll fol. 2

Beanchor

1744O'Neill Fun. Oration 267
Bangor1810Wm. Map (OSNB) No. 54
Bangor1830cBnd. Sur. (OSNB) No. 54

Beannchair "little peaks, cows horns"

1834cJ O'D (OSNB) No. 54

Beannchar Árd Uladh

1905Post-Sheanchas 33

Beannchar

1969AGBP 114

Beannchar

1988Éire Thuaidh

Beannchar

1989GÉ 118

Beannchar "exact meaning uncertain"

1999Dict. Ulst. PN 19
Barony
Ards Lower
Parish
Bangor
Parish in 1851
Bangor
Townland
None
Place name ID
17106
Place name type
M:V:Y