Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The phrases, the words, the repetition, the coarse blend of English and Irish—it all reads like unrefined poetry, like a timeworn incantation that when fervently chanted, rouses the ghosts of far-removed, long-forgotten places. Beal Feirsde ... The mouth of, or approach to, the sandbank or crossing ... Bealafarsad ... Hurdleford town or the mouth of the pool ... Bela Fearsad ... A town at the mouth of a river ... The Irish maintain an intimate connection with the natural features of their environment, a devotion that engenders a unique charitableness when it comes to place-naming. "They lavished names on the land," writes Kerby A. Miller in Emigrants and Exiles. "Every field, cleft, and hollow had a distinctive appellation which recalled some ancient owner or legendary occurrence." This rich appreciation for nature, this power to give even the most ordinary aspects of the landscape a certain permanence is present in the name of Northern Ireland's capital and most historically important city: Belfast.