Raths and Raws
The rath or ringfort is a ubiquitous feature in the Irish landscape – there are thought to be 40,000 plus sites. These circular enclosures were used as embankments surrounding habitations and also to enclose animals etc. They are often hard to photograph on the ground but show up clearly on aerial photography as in the attached example. Being common and associated with human activity they often form part of placenames where the word has a sort of double life.
The Irish word is ráth and it’s pronounced like ‘raaw’ i.e. the ‘th’ is nearly silent. If you listen to rural people who’ve learnt the word aurally, you’ll still hear this way of saying it, even though the person might be English speaking otherwise.
When it came to writing down placenames in the mid 1800s, the word presumably being well known, was largely written down close to the Irish spelling, as ‘rath’. But when pronounced with an English sensibility, this is usually said as ‘rath’ rhyming with ‘path’ or ‘bath’. Sometimes though the Irish pronunciation is preserved, presumably whoever was writing it down just wrote what they heard, so we get names like Raheen, which would be from ráthín, a little rath.
What is of note though are situations where the official written form of the name is spelt ‘rath’, but it’s pronounced in the Irish way by local people who have learnt it when growing up. Rathanna, a small village in Carlow is a good example – it’s still widely said as ‘Ra-hanna’ and I’ve heard the same from some local inhabitants for Rathdrum in Wicklow i.e. Ra(t)-drum, though the English way of saying it is more prevalent here.
I grew up in Rathmines adjacent to Rathgar in Dublin and I don’t recall ever hearing them said as other that Rath as in ‘bath’ but interestingly PW Joyce writing in 1869 in his ‘Irish Names of Places’ says that the local ‘peasants’ of these districts still commonly said Ra-mines, Ra-gar, Ra-farnham & Ra-coole.
So I’m curious if anyone else living in these suburbs of the city has ever heard them said this way, by people who would otherwise be ‘English speakers’.