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Silsean ~ Shileshawn

Silsean ~ Shileshawn

We’re always happy to hear from people who have information on local placenames and/or who spot errors on our maps. The one topic that I receive most correspondence on is Silsean (and Moanbane). This is based on the first edition of our Wicklow Mountains West map where we placed the text Shileshawn on the NE end of the twin topped hill called Moanvayn or Moanbane. What upset people was that the current OSI Sheet 56 have the name Silsean on the SW end and that EastWest Mapping had the names ‘the wrong way around’.

Now the name Silsean was only added to OSI map prints in the mid 1990s. The name did not appear on the Wicklow One Inch or Six Inch maps nor on the first edition of Sheet 56 in 1989 – see photo. What happened is that OSI asked the public for suggestions as to how to improve their maps and I can only assume that this name Silsean was supplied in this context. The name was in use by hillwalkers (I heard it used for one of the tops in the 1970s) who presumably picked it up from Liam Price’s ‘Placenames of County Wicklow’. What was lost in translation is that Price recorded that he heard it as a name for the northern part of the hill.

In the course of preparing the second edition of our Wicklow Mountains West map in 2014, I went through the written record again and visited local farmers on various sides of the hill. As a result, I am quite happy to conclude that Silsean, locally pronounced Shile-shawn is a name applied to part of the northern side of the mountain close by or contiguous with the place known as the Shiney Flags. Note that ‘Shile’ rhymes with ’tile’. This is a shallow steep valley down which runs drainage from the bogs above. There are granite slabs here and the water glistens as it flows down across these slabs. P.W.Joyce, the nineteenth century scholar lists a form of this name, Sileshaun or Soillseán –  a stream, meaning shining or lightsome from the Irish root, Solas for light. It is not the name for either top of this hill.

In the side of the wee Shiney Flags glen can also be found rock outcrops with natural holes or caves in them. These are known to have been used as hideouts by some of the rebels in the 1798 rebellion. See Wicklow Mountains West by EastWest Mapping for location of above names.