Placenamesni.orgthe history behind our place-names

Ardkeen Parish, County Down


Ir. Ard Caoin [ard keen] ‘fair/pleasant height’.


bar: Ards Upper

The ruins of a Church of Ireland church a short distance west of the village mark the site of the medieval parish church of St Mary’s of Ardkeen [(Ecclesia de) Ardkene 1306].

Ardkeen is the name both of a townland and of this parish in which it is situated. Reeves (EA 21n) proposes that the name is ‘probably so-called from Ard Caoin ‘the pleasant height’, a view reproduced in Knox Hist. 463-4, and it is further suggested (Sav. Ards 288) that the entry Fionntain Arda caoin, i.e. ‘Fionntan, of Ard-caoin’ which occurs in the 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal (at September 8 p. 238), is a reference to a St Fionntan in this area, a view also tentatively endorsed by W. Stokes (p. 295 of his edition of Mart. Gorm.).  Leaving aside the difficulty of turning up evidence of a St Fionntan here, Ard Caoin ‘pleasant height’ would seem a reasonably safe etymology for Ardkeen. A place named Oirear Caoin ‘fair coastline’ is referred to in some early sources and is possible that this was the original form of the name Ardkeen and that the name was subsequently reinterpreted as Ard Caoin ‘fair height’.  This reinterpretation may have occurred in the Irish language but, whether or not this is the case, the spelling Ardkene is found as early as 1306 AD.  The element Ard ‘height’, whether it occurred in the original name or whether it replaced an earlier Airear/Oirear, would certainly be applicable to Ardkeen judging by the remarks made by Harris (Harris Hist. 46): ‘The name of the place imports a high head [more correctly fair height], and with great Propriety, according to the Ancient Situation of this Seat, which was a Castle and dwelling House enclosed within a Ramberd and standing boldly over the lake on a pretty high Hill’.


McKay, P. (2007): A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, p. 6; Hughes, A. J. (1992): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 2 p.10

Additional Information

See townland of Ardkeen for historical forms of this name.

Historical name form

Old FormRef. DateReference
~Arda caoin, Fionntain1630cMart. Don. Sep 8 p238
~Ard Caoin ""fair/pleasant height""1999Dict. Ulst. PN 6
Ards Upper
Parish in 1851
Place name ID
Place name type