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Donaghadee Parish, County Down


Ir. Domhnach Daoi 'Daoi's church?' or 'church of the motte?'


The initial element of Donaghadee derives from Irish domhnach, an early term for ‘church’ borrowed from Latin dominicum.  Many domhnach-names are traditionally associated with St Patrick, and whilst others may have been coined independently of the Patrician mission, the word domhnachhas been taken to indicate a church of the Early Christian period, as it appears to have fallen out of natural linguistic use by the end of the 7th century (Flanagan, D. 1981-2c: 70).  However, Donaghadee is first attested in 1204 (ecclesiam de Donanachti,  Pontif. Hib. i §59) and there is no tradition of a pre-Norman church or settlement here.  Indeed, little is known of the town before it was planted by Sir Hugh Montgomery in the 17thcentury.

The second element is particularly problematic.  Although the official Irish version of Donaghadee is Domhnach Daoi (89), the meaning of Daoi is obscure and there are no early references in Irish language sources on which to rely.  Reeves suggested that Donaghadee derives from Domhnach Díth ‘church of loss’ (EA 17).  The variety of 19thcentury interpretations suggests that the name was not understood.  R.J. Hannan considered the possibility of a saint, as combinations of domhnach + saint’s name are reasonably common (PNI ii 195).  One might consider David, bishop of the Welsh, who lived in the 6th century and whose Welsh name is Dewi.  However, we lack supporting evidence for his veneration at Donaghadee, and in Ulster more generally.  Although the church of Donaghadee is listed in the Papal Taxation of 1306 as ecclesia de Dofnachti (EA 16), there is no mention of a dedication to a particular saint, and, at present, this gap cannot be filled from later church records.

A further possibility may be provided by the word daoi ‘embankment, moat, house’ (Dinneen; OIr. doé, DIL), an interpretation which was apparently supported by Seán Mac Airt (see archival records at, though this view remained unpublished.  The earliest known structure at Donaghadee is a medieval motte, now surmounted by a castellated tower built in 1821 (ASCD 193).  If the correct meaning of Domhnach Daoi is 'church of the motte', it would appear to date to Anglo-Norman times rather than the Early Christian period (cf. Donaghcloney, which also lacks early medieval history).  


Hannan R. J. (1992): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 2 p. 195; revised PT, 2013.

Additional Information

See town of Donaghadee for historical forms of this name.

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