Thursday, 13 December 2012


Bearna is the Irish word for a gap or chasm, usually a mountain gap or a gap through high land. Often this word appears in placenames and is commonly anglified as Barna. The particular Bearna drawn here is 'Bearna an Choimín' or better known for its English name 'the Gap of Dunloe', near Killarney in Kerry. Bearna are formed because of glacial processes, mostly in Ireland they were formed in the Ice ages. All glaciers originally start high up in the mountains, in hollows or cirque (called 'Com' in Irish) facing north-east where the snow melts slower because of less sunlight. When snow builds up more than it melts the snow ice crystalises from the compression turning the snow hard and blue into what is known as a firn. Once the firn reaches a depth of around 30 metres, gravity forces the ice out of the Com or cirque down to the glen below. Freeze thaw action causes more stones to fall into the glacier giving it teeth in which to tear at the landscape, reshaping it in the process. As long as more snow is added than lost the glacier will continue to edge forward. The Gap of Dunloe was formed in a similar way, when a glacier created in a high up in a Com or Cirque, crept out of its birth and cut its way accross a ridge, deepening it and creating the Bearna.

In some ways placenames, like so many aspects of Irish culture, reflect our history. There are placenames from each culture that have come here, from Viking Old Norse to Norman French to Colonial English.  Placenames even feature heavily in our early mythology for instance a big part of 'Agallamh na Seanórach', a book about the Fianna and St Patrick, is about placenames. There was even a strand of medieval Irish poetry about placenames called 'Dinnshenchas'. So there has been a long  facination in this culture with placenames, either in the naming of it, and so laying claim to it for whatever purpose, to the use of placename as a way of illustrating and enlivening a myth or poem. Perhaps this is what makes placenames so facinating in this country, learning and exploring them often teaches you alot about our culture and history but also can contain great tales, full of  imagination.

1.  Joyce, P. W. The origin and history of Irish names of places. Volume 3, 1920.
2.  Joyce, P. W. The origin and history of Irish names of places. Volume 1, 1920.
4.  Irish Place Names- Deirdre Flanagan & Laurence Flanagan- Gill&MacMillan- 2002
5.  Folclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla - An Irish-English dictionary, being a thesaurus of the words, phrases and idioms of the modern Irish with explanations in English (1904)
6.  An Irish-English dictionary (1832)- J. O'Brien
7.  From Foclóir Gaeilge- Béarla, Niall Ó Donaill
6.  Cork and Kerry Townlands Names in Irish and English- An tOrdú Logainmneacha (Contae Chorcaí seachas ceantair Ghaeltachta) 2012
7.  Planet & People- leaving certificate geography- Sue Honan & Sue Mulholland
8.  The World Book Encyclopedia of Science- The Planet Earth
9.  The Kingfisher Geography Encyclopedia, 2001
10.  The Dorling Kindersley Factopedia, 1995
11.  Reading the Irish Landscape- Frank Mitchell & Michael Ryan, 2003

No comments: