More Place Names Around Greyabbey

Author: Elsbeth Barnes, Will McAvoy and Philip Robinson

Date: 1994

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 2 Spring 1994

In the first issue of Ullans we described several hundred field names collected around Greyabbey, almost all of which had never been written down before. When collecting these and talking about them among members of our local Historical Society, it was obvious that there were a host of other interesting place names in the district, other than those given to fields.

Starting with our own village, Greba or Grayba (pronounced GRAIBA) is the local form of Grey Abbey that is still used as a ‘pet-name’ and it has been written as Greba by local poets and other Ulster-Scots writers for well over 150 years. Inside Greyabbey, the ‘official’ names of the streets are not necessarily the same as those used. North Street is (or was) Hard Breid Raa; Main Street (at the top end) was the Big Raa; Church Street was Water Lane; and the Meetin-Hoose Brae is where the Newton (Newtownards) Road comes into Main Street. This junction, at the Kosy Korner, formerly Buntin’s Corner, is opposite the Police Barracks, beside the site of the old weigh-brig. The Meetin Hoose Brae was a new line for the Newtownards-Portaferry Road, opened some time before 1800, and later a deeper cut was made to lessen the slope of the brae. Material from the cut was dumped on the Strangford Lough shore by a contractor called Gill, and so the new ground there became known as Gill’s Isle, beside another piece of ground on the foreshore called Goat Isle. The original line of the through road is still marked by a narrow lane marked with a sign ‘School Lane’. This is also known as Sammy Brown’s Loanen or the Schule Loanen; and before 1830 went straight on through the present gates to Rosemount House, along the Lang Shot. Beside this is a raised earthen rath (known as the Moat) although nearly obscured by the trees of the Plantin, overlooking the Shore Road to Portaferry, which was built about 1820 around a small bay. The fresh water lake formed in this inlet, ‘Greyabbey Lake’ to give it its proper name, is known by some Kirkibbin folk as the Swan Hole.

All these names are found at the shore end or low en’ of the Main Street, with the Abbey ruins at the top end. Moving up Main Street, three small ‘loanens’ on the left, named after the owners of the fields to which they give access, run between the houses to give access to the fields to the left. One is known as Dunn’s Loanen and another as Davy Davison’s Loanen. A vacant site (once used for bonfires) on the other side was called the meeda, and behind this a stream (simply known as ‘The Burn’) separates the village from the demesne lands of Rosemount House. The Burn, just before it enters the outside of the village from the east, drops quickly over a stoney bed and so is known there as the Rummlin Roaks.

One terrace of two-storey houses along the Big Raa was called Askin’s Raa. Turning left at the head of Main Street was Hard Breid Raa with Andy Carson’s Loanen off to one side, and the Smiddy Hill behind the houses on the other side. The bottom slope of Smiddy Hill was the Gressie Gairdens, and at the top of Hard Breid Raa the road out of the village forks. One road here goes towards Carrowdore, and although it is officially called the ‘Carrowdore Road’, it is known locally as the Ballyboley Road. One of the first hills along this road is Muckleboy’s Brae, named after the McAvoys that lived there. On the Newton Road is the Pea Hill Brae, named after a field called the Pea Hill or Plea Hill.

One very localised feature of pronunciation introduces an ‘r’ where it would not be expected. ‘Out and about’ or ‘spoutings’ (gutters) can become ‘ort an abort’ and ‘spurtins’. So too ‘loanen’ can become ‘lornen’. Around Greyabbey, countless scores of lanes are known by local names such as the lang loanen, the docter’s loanen and so on. New road signs on the major roads are a recent innovation, and by no means always the same name as that used locally. The ‘Quarry Road’, for example, is more often known as the Bugglebo Road.

The townlands around Greyabbey, working in a clockwise direction from the lough shore to the north, are: Ballyurnanellan, Kilnatierney, Gordonall, Ballymurphy, Ballynester, Tullykevin, Ballyboghilbo and (back to the lough shore south of Rosemount townland), Ballybryan and The Bootown. Most readers will be aware that Volume II of the Place-Names of Northern Ireland (for the Ards) was published in 1992. This fine work of Celtic scholarship provides the Gaelic meaning of these townland names. Ballyurnanellan is explained as “the townland of the yew of the island”, where the norse-influenced ‘ellan’ form of ‘island’ is used rather than the more usual Gaelic ‘inis’. Last century it was suggested by O’Donovan in his Ordnance Survey name book that the name meant ‘townland of the arable land belonging to the island’, or ‘at the edge of the island’, presumably because of the adjacent Mid and South Isles in Strangford Lough.

Gordonall is noted as ‘of uncertain origin’ in the recent Place-Names study, noting that O’Donovan’s explanation of it as Gort Donnell, (‘Donell’s Garden’) does not rest well with the local pronunciation, where the stress is on the last rather than the first syllable — something like ‘Gordon-all’. Local tradition in Greyabbey maintains that this townland was a land gift from the Montgomerys to a family in service at Rosemont House called Gordon. Indeed one local sampler dated 1864 has the location embroidered at the base as ‘Gordon Hall’.

Kilnatierney is ‘the Lord’s little wood’, or (according to O’Donovan) ‘St Tierney’s church’. Its older spelling of Callnaterny is close to the local pronunciation.

Tullykevin is ‘Kevin’s hillock’, although the usual local pronunciation of ‘Tullycavey’ is not recorded.

Ballymurphy is ‘Murphy’s townland’, and Ballyboghilbo the ‘townland of the cowherd’. For the second of these townlands, which is situated between the ruins of the medieval Grey Abbey and the deserted site of Black Abbey, the local pronunciation ‘Bugglebo’ is correctly recorded, although the authors are unaware of the Scots word ‘boglebo’ (meaning spectre or ghost). One 19th century local poet (who always referred to Greyabbey as ‘Greba’) even wrote a poem called ‘Bugglebo’ about ghosts and demons.

Ballybryan (pronounced locally Ballybrain) is sometimes spelt ‘Ballybrane’ on headstones in the grave-yard, and The Bootown (pronounced The Boot’n) is a Norse/Old English place-name, derived from Old Norse Bu meaning ‘farm’ or ‘dwelling’.

Although the Gaelic explanation of Ballynester as Baile an Aistire or ‘the townland of the doorkeeper’ is certainly more plausible than O’Donovan’s ‘Nester’s townland’, the Old Norse word nestr meaning ‘provisions’ is perhaps also worthy of consideration. Rosemount, the townland, contains the demesne land of Rosemount or Greyabbey House, has been the seat of the Montgomery family since the 1630s (when it was first named ‘Montrose’).

Other place-names around Greyabbey mentioned in the recent Place-Names study, include a few other local names which are not Gaelic in origin. ‘Haw Hill’, for example, is incorrectly identified in the survey as being named from the Scots word ‘haw’ for hawthorn, when it is in fact from another Scots word — ‘Ha’, or ‘Haw’ meaning Hall or Big House.

Elsewhere in the vicinity of the village, we have ‘Blackwood’s Plantin’ — a wooded area originally on the Clandeboy estate (the family name of the Clandeboys was Blackwood during the late 1700s). The woods of the Rosemount estate are simply called ‘the plantin’, and a wooded area beside Mid Isle at the lough shore is ‘Skillen’s Plantin’.

Several islands in Strangford Lough lie off Greyabbey and are included in Greyabbey Parish. These include Mid Isle, South Isle, Chapel Isle, The Chanderies, Boretree Island, Boretree Rock, Gabbock Isle, Hare Isle, Peggy’s Isle, Pig Isle, Turley Rock and Whaup Rock. The English meaning of many of these are self-evident, and several have Scots meanings such as whaup (‘curlew’), gabboch (‘dog-fish’) or channerie (gravelly). Some of these Scots words are in turn derived from Norse, and in Strangford might even be Norse or Viking survials. The ‘-ey’ ending found in so many Strangford island names (such as Turley Rock) may well signal the Norse ‘ey’ meaning ‘island’ as in sker-ey (skerries — ‘rock islands’) and plad-ey (pladdys — ‘flat/plate islands’).

Boretree Island is locally believed to be named after the ‘bore tree’ (Scots for elder tree) but it was suggested in 1925 by D E Lowry that this was in fact a corruption of the Norse Bortr-ey ‘distant or far away Isles’. The ‘Boretrees’ are the furthest islands up into Strangford from a Viking (ie sea-based) point of view.

South Isle is connected to Mid Isle, and Mid Isle to the mainland by natural shingle causeways called the ‘Roans’. The origin of this Ulster Scots word is obscure, but may indicate the back-to-back ‘row-ends’, that is the high tide beach marks of seaweed called ‘rows’ in Scots (perhaps from the ‘rolls’ of seaweed marking this point).

There are, in addition, numerous local names given to less obvious features around the shore and countryside around Greyabbey. When all these place-names are added to the lengthy list of local field names published for the same district in Ullans 1, an enormous wealth of Ulster-Scots place-names can be gleaned from a relatively small area. Surely then, the same wealth of unrecorded Ulster-Scots place-names must exist throughout the Ulster countryside.

Elsbeth Barnes, Will McAvoy, Philip Robinson



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