Naming the harbour

Waterford harbour, hasn't always be known as such.  Historically there have been several names, some of them very colourful and descriptive. Of course many others must be lost to us in the pre-history of the nation.

Patrick Power in his History of Waterford, City & County[i] tells us that an early Gaelic name associated with the harbour was Loch-dá-Chaoích, which he translates as either the lake of the two blind (ones), or perhaps, breasts.  I favour the Lake of the Two Breasts.  It suggests, as Power explains, a seafarers view of the harbour from out to sea, and the custom (still employed by fishermen) of taking marks from the land to give a position.  The “Breasts” in this case would have been Tory Hill and Sliabh Coiltia.
Sliabh Coiltia from the Hurthill, looking upriver
At some point I’ve read that the harbour was also known as Cuan-na-dTri-Uisce.  The harbour of the three waters or rivers.  I can’t locate the reference to this.  Too fond of reading, and showing my lack of historical/academic training I’m afraid (poor note taker!)*.  Another was Cuan-na-Greinne, the harbour of the Sun.  This however I did manage to trace.  It, or rather a version of it is located in Rylands work[ii]. Cuan-na-Grioth is the name he associates it with, dating it to the pagan times and offering a very interesting story of locals proceeding to Tory Hill to worship the sun (pp109-111).  I find that a fascinating concept and love the connection to the Power's thoughts above.
an old postcard of the meeting of the three sisters
These geographical descriptions of course also inform the Irish language version of the name, Port Lairge. Port (Loch or lake to some) Lairge (tigh).  Again some interesting perspectives, some claiming it to be the port of a chap named Lairge, including some speculations on our national loganim site. Most online sources say it’s a descriptive term of the shape of river and land at the city and its similarity to a persons thigh.

With the coming of the Norse men we again see a change and it brings us to the modern English name, Waterford derived from Vadrefjordr.  For the Vikings when they arrived recognised in the harbour a refuge or haven from storms (Vedr = weather) and (fiord = haven).  According to Arnoldus Hille[iii] when the Normans arrived the adopted the Norse name as it was closer to their own tongue than the Gaelic, but it became corrupted in the translation, Vadre becoming Water and Fjorde becomes ford. 

Weather haven becomes Waterford haven in the Norman times then and I'm not sure at what point we loose the haven but it was still in use when William Petty oversaw the mapping of the area for the Down Survey following the Cromwellian invasion.
Down Survey map 1655/56
sourced from Niall Byrne's Book The Irish Crusade
For online version see the link above
I'm sorry to have lost the Haven.  But of course it's worth reminding ourselves that it might never have been known as it is now at all. Named for the city and its dynamic port, had the intentions of Marshall and his competing project of the port of New Ross bested Waterford, the harbour may have been named for its shipping rival.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
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[i] Power.P.C. History of Waterford City & County.  1990. Mercier Press. Dublin
[ii] Ryland. R.H. The History Topography and Antiquities of the County & City of Waterford.  1982 Wellbrook Press.  Kilkenny
[iii] Hille. A.  The Making of Waterford.  Decies #5.  1977.  Accessed from Waterford Library Service.
* Following publication Frank Murphy, a great assistance to me on many levels, passed along the following reference for the name. Collectanea de rebus hibernicis: Volume 5 1 January 1790 "Cumar na tri uisce, the much water of the three rivers, a place so called at the meeting of the rivers rivers Suir, Noir, and Barrow"

Comments

  1. Loved this Andrew. My sister lives in Sweden and often comes across Norse words around us here in County Waterford. As in Colbeck St. along the old route of the river which she describes as the Swedish word for marsh.....

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    Replies
    1. Hi Catherine, I've often wondered what a benefit it would be if I had a grasp of such a language in the context of words and phrases associated with the fishery. Thanks for passing that along

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