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Magherally Parish, County Down


Ir. An Mhachaire Abhlaí ‘apple-tree plain’


Magherally is now both the name of the parish and of the townland containing the parish church. The parish of Magherally appears as Analle in the 1306 papal taxation and it seems clear that the original church name must have been Abhaill ‘apple-tree’, as in the reference to ‘Colmán bishop of Abhaill’ in the Martyrology of Tallaght for Sept. 12th which does not necessarily refer to this place. In 1834 O’Donovan called Magherally townland ‘the finest townland probably in all the county Down’, and reported the tradition that it was ‘said to have derived its name from... apple trees... in a field adjoining the graveyard’ (OSNB).  Machaire ‘plain’ appears as part of the name in the 17th century.  At the same period references to the townland begin to include baile and the article, as Ballynemagherihauley in 1609 (CPR Jas I 395b). This spelling apparently represents Baile na Machaire Abhlaí ‘townland of the apple-tree plain’, where the older name has been given an adjectival suffix, becoming Abhlach ‘abounding in apple-trees’. Machaire is usually masculine (cf Magherabeg, Dromore), so one might expect Baile an Mhachaire Abhlaigh.  However it has been treated as feminine in Magherabeg in the parish of Drummaul in Co. Antrim and in Ballymaghery in Clonduff (PNI iv 53, iii 80).  Without baile the spellings with final -y, -ie, e.g. Magherawly c.1601 (EA 309 (King's Bks)) indicate either that the name Machaire Abhlach (fem.) became fixed in its dative form, or that Abhlach was a collective noun, making the name Machaire Abhlaí ‘plain of the apple-tree place’.  As often, it is not clear if baile, even followed by the article as here, is a genuine part of the name or an addition in English.  If one ignored Ballyne- the name could be simply Machaire Abhla  ‘plain of the apple-tree’, with machaire qualified by the original name Abhaill.


Muhr, K. (1996): Place-Names of Northern Ireland vol. 6 p. 257-9

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