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More Irish Names Derived from "Horse"

McGough and McGeough are derived from the Gaelic name Mac Eochaidh or Mag Eochadha. The stem of that name is thought to be eoch or each, Irish words for "horse." The different forms of Eochaidh and Eochadha, and many surnames with origins closer to the origins of McGough, are discussed in my page: Origin of the Surname McGough. This page collects additional material on Irish words for "horse," and names derived from them.

Irish children In Ireland used icky ocky horses gocky — icky ochy out as a counting rhyme to determine who was it in tag, to settle marble-trading disputes, and for other equally important purposes. American children used eeny meeny miny moe (followed, in a modern version, by catch a tiger by his toe, if he hollers let him go, eeny meeny miney moe). (In a version I grew up with in the 1930s, Rudyard Kipling used the spelling Eenee, Meenee, Mainee, Mo! — in A Counting-Out Song in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides (1923).)

Gordon Macleod sent me this email on July 5, 2013:

Dear Hugh,

Reading your excellent page on Irish horse names immediately lit up little light bulbs in my head. The first to do with an old rhyme I knew as a boy growing up in Ireland, the second to do with my surname Macleod. The rhyme was used to select someone for various tasks/games etc, as in the rhyme eeny meeny miney mo, it went something like this:

iche oche horses gachy,
iche oche out.

Well that's how I spelled it — I'm not sure why. I've also seen it spelled as: Icky ocky horses gocky, which gives a much better idea as to the pronunciation. I always thought it was just a nonsense rhyme until I read your page. Perhaps its original meaning was to encourage children to use the English word instead of the Irish. 

Regarding my surname; I'm descended from the Macleod's of Raasay and Lewis, often called the Siol Torcall in Gaelic (seed of Torcall). Much less known however, is the name Siol na Laire or Larach, meaning the seed of the mare. Furthermore, the old people used to say that if you dreamt of a horse (more specifically a grey or white mare) you were sure to meet a Macleod — the horse was their totem, just as the cat was for the Chatten confederation of clans. This association was often mocked by rival clans and the Macleods were said to eat nothing buts oats (largely true at one time). Once, a mischievous lot in Skye cut off the head, tail and legs of a dead horse and set it afloat on a boat to Raasay, where, when found, it was consumed by the locals who thought it a cow, the nickname laire mairt or cow mare was long after given to Raasay folk. 

Anyway, I've long suspected this tradition was a possible clue to the origins of the Macleods, that perhaps the name was originally something like Mac Gille Eochaidh. I thought the pronunciation of the d was a problem but maybe not — I think, in Scottish Gaelic, Macleod is pronounced something akin to Macloge. Then when I saw the McCloys mentioned on your page I remembered the oldest record of the name Macleod is written as McCloyd. Thanks to your sterling efforts, I'm more convinced than ever that I maybe on to something.

Kind regards--Gordon M. Macleod.

A Gaelic Dictionary, In Two Parts: I. Gaelic And English.—II. English And Gaelic, by Robert Archibald Armstrong (London 1825), defines, at page 340, lair or larach as "a mare," and defines, at page 344, larach as "a filly." In a subsequent email, Gordon Macleod made clear that he did not intend to imply that the Gaelic word for mare may be part of the origin of Macleod:

The Macleods have long celebrated a Norse origin but in recent years that connection was proved to come from a female line, that's why I started to investigate a possible Gaelic origin for the name Leod. ... rather than thinking Macleod derives from the word Laire or Larach, I believe (as in the case of McCloy) that Macleod was originally derived from a name like Mac Giolla Eochaid, Macilleochaid, Mac Gille Eochaid etc. I think that over time it was contracted, as in the case of the surame Maclean from Mac Gille Eathain. ...

P.S. I wonder if many of these horse named families are descended from the Epidii tribe who anciently flourished on the West coast of Scotland in the region later called Dal Riada.

The postscript led me to The Horsemen by Michelle Ziegler, a small part of which I quote:

If you look at the map above, there is a tribe named the Epidii in the western isles of Scotland. This tribe as been a bit enigmatic because the name has never appeared on any maps or referred to in any writings after Ptolomy’s survey during the Flavian era. The name Epidii has as its root epos, meaning horse. As it stands it appears to be in the Brythonic language. I’ve always thought that it was strange that the men of Kintyre and the western isles would be known as horsemen, considering that this is unlikely to be good horse country. ...

In Gaelic, the word “reti and later riata, normally denotes a riding horse” (Fraser, p. 148).* This is significant because Reti is the root word of Dalriada. (Dal Reti -> Dal Riata -> Dalriada) So Dalriada/Dal Riata reflects the name of the Roman era Epidii.  As Fraser showed in an earlier paper, the progenitor of the 6th-7th century royal family of Dalraida was known as Domangart Reti. (Aedan mac Gabran mac Domangart Reti) ...

*James Earle Fraser (2009) From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795. Edinburgh University Press.

 Table of Contents 


Names with Eoch (Horse)

Hugh O'Connor of Australia comments on his website about Irish names that stem from the Gaelic word for horse:

farmer on horse

"But the mention above of the inclusion of or con, eoch or each, and collach in personal names brings me to another trend. After the arrival of the Fir Bolg we start to get names such as Eochaidh, which is one of those names with eoch (horse) in it.

"One distinguishing trait of the Celts as shown in the archaeological record is that they introduced ironworking and horsemanship to Europe, as evidenced by finds in burials of horse bones and trappings, chariots and iron weapons. Most likely it was the Celts’ ability to shoe horses with iron, or to make durable but light, therefore fast, chariot wheels by applying a light rim of iron to the wheel, that made it practicable to use horses as mounts and speedy chariot drawers, which, together with their iron weapons, gave the Celts an advantage in military technology over their opponents, who at first would have been on foot and armed with weapons of soft copper or bronze, at best. And so it was that the economy and the territory-holding capabilities of the Celts were based on horses and ironworking.

"It is not surprising, therefore, that there are so many names with 'horse' in them—Eochaidh is one of the earliest recorded, and it literally means horseman. It is pronounced yok-ey—guess where jockey comes from?" Irish and Celtic names Explained, an essay on the Swim-Two-Birds website © Hugh O'Connor, Australia, 1998.

Personal Names Based on "Eoch" or "Each"

Eochaid. In The Ancient Origins of the Scots, Part I, 5.6 Scotic Settlement and the Horse "Goddess," David F. Dale writes:

"From the ancient legends of the dark ages many Irish and Scottish kings are called Eochaid and, like the name of the Epidii, it is a name which is connected to the word 'horse'. It derives probably from a phrase which means a 'descendant of the horse' ie Eoch-aidh—In Scottish gaelic the word Eachdraidh means history, this may also derive from Each [a form of Eoch] tro (a)idh - since each means horse and tro through then the aidh (or idh) may mean some form of genealogical connection eg a reference to origins. When applied to an individual Eochaid probably indicates that the subject was from the family of the 'Horse'—in genealogical terms, a descendant of the horse. Therefore the ceremony that Giraldus witnessed was probably symbolic of a King's 'rebirth' from the horse, representing the right of the king to rule as a descendant of the Horse Goddess. Other names of early kings also include Eochy ('horse') and Eachdach ('of the people of the horse') which would confirm that the ancient Celtic kings would have to have been viewed as descendants of the horse goddess, in order to be given their rule. This reference to the horse must surely indicate that the tribe of the Epidi (the 'family of the horse 'perhaps) mentioned by Ptolemy is indeed the first evidence that Irish/Scots settlement can be dated to a period before the end of the 2nd century AD."

Saint Eachaidh. Peadar Livingstone says that a Saint Eachaidh had a church in the townland of Drumard near Clones in county Monaghan and that:

"He is remembered in the name of Lacky Bridge, a derivative of Bealaghkilleaghan or Beal Atha Cille Eachaidh and in the surname Mac Giolla Eachaidh, McCloghy, or McCloy." The Monaghan Story, pages 26 and 27, citing "S.O.D. 'Three notes on medieval Clones' CR [Clogher Record] (1960–'61) 8." See also the entry under the name Lee at pages 599 and 600 where Livingstone suggests that Lee is an anglicization of Mac Giolla Eachaidh. "The McCloy family used to be common in this area and took their name from the Clones saint, St. Eachaidh. As McCloy as a surname has virtually disappeared in the area and as Lee is relatively common, it may be that today's Lees are the Mac Giolla Eachaid of former years."

Achaius is a Latin form of Eochaidh. Celtic Male Names of Scotland translates Achaius as "friend of horses." The same dictionary translates the surname Ahearn (Aherin, Hearn) as "lord of the horses."

The Irish female first name Eachna (AK-na) is from the Old Irish ech—"horse." "Early legend has a Connacht princess named Eachna who was one of the loveliest and cleverest women in the world. Echna."

Eachthighearna, anglicized as Echtigern and meaning "lord of the horses," is said to be the origin of the surnames O'Hearn and Ahern. "Ahearne - only Irish name spelled with the first letter of the alphabet. Originally Ó hEachtighearna, meaning 'lord of the horse.' Also, Aheron, and changed in the 18th C. by emigrants to Canada, the USA, and Australia to Herne, Hearne, Heron." See also Ahern, Aherne, Ahearn, ó hEachthigheirn in www.Irish Surnames. Maceachern is also said to come from Eachthighearna:.

"G. Eachann, MG. Eachuinn, Eachduinn, gen. (1467 MS.). The Irish is Eachdonn (year 1092), from prehistoric Eqo-donno-s, 'horse lord' like Eachthighearna (Maceachern), with different termination. The phonetics are against Macvurich's spelling Eachdhuin which is for Each-duine, 'horse-man,' as explanation (Macbain). Achyne mac Nele attested the bounds of the Grange of Kirewynni and the lands of Culwen, 1289 (Holm Cultram, page 88), and Aychyn Carlichsoun witnessed an obligation by Alexander of the Isles, 1439 (Cawdor, page 16). Echdoun Mac Gille eoin is witness to a contract and mutual bond in 1560 (HP., IV, page 216). Eachann is generally Englished 'Hector' although there is no connection between the names beyond a slight similarity in sound in the first syllable of each. Echine c. 1695." Septs of Clan MacLean: MacEachan/ Clanachan.

Echluath is listed in Irish Names by Kate Monk (now removed from the internet) as an old Irish byname meaning "fast-horse." (In her surname section, under Mc she lists McGeogh and McGeough, but not McGough. Under G, she lists Gough, Goffe, Goff, and McGough, and says they all stem from O'Cuaghain.)

The name of Eremon (Irish Kings #1), the first Milesian king of Ireland, has been interpreted as meaning "of the Horses." The River Liffey was supposedly named after Eremon's horse. Some sources also use "Eochaidh" to describe this king.

Ghearrain means the month of the horse.

Kaighan, or Kaighin, a Manx name, "contracted from Mac Eachain, 'Eachan's son.' The name Eachan means horseman or 'knight.' 'Don of Eachan.' The surname Kaighan may possibly be the same name originally, as Keigeen, as a contraction of Mac Taidhgin or Mac Aedhagain (see Keigeen), or even from Mac Cahain (see Cain). It is remarkable that Kaighan is confined to the north of the Island [i.e., the Isle of Man], and Keigeen to the south, the former being of much earlier occurrence than the latter." See: Septs of Clan MacLean: MacEachan/ Clanachan. For a good discussion and several references, see: A one name study of Kaighin, Kaighen, Kaighan, Keighin and Kaighn; the Manx derivatives of the Celtic surname MacEachan by Greg Kaighin, which is part of his Kaighin Family Genealogy website.

"Malachi comes from maol eachai, the bald horseman. My mother was born Fox, which was Englished from Sionnach, and is believed to originate only as late as in the 12th century; but the family name could actually come from earlier Celtic days - as Seaneach, meaning old horse ... "Irish and Celtic names Explained, an essay on the Swim-Two-Birds website © Hugh O'Connor, Australia, 1998.

Margh (Mahr) is the Cornish word for "horse", and the name of the King of Cornwall in the tale of Tristan and Isolde.

Marcan - (MOR-kawn). Old Irish=marc "horse" + dim. -an. Marcan mac Cennetig was the brother of High King Brian Boru and abbot of Killaloe. Saint Marcan of Clonenagh's Feast day—October 21. From: Traditional Irish Names.

Markam is an anglicized form of the Irish O'Marcachain, meaning a rider or horseman.

Marrec - (Mahr-ek) is a Breton name from the Old Breton word for horseman or knight. (Celtic Male Names of Brittany).

Marrek (Mahr-ek) is the Cornish word for "horseman."

Philip came into Irish as Pilib or Filib, but in some places (in Ulster) it was is Greek: phil-ippos, "Horse-lover."

"Strachan (Scots): habitation name from a place in the parish of Banchory, near Kincardine, which is first recorded in 1153 in the form Strateyhan, and perhaps gets its name from Gael. srath valley + eachain, gen. case of eachan for (dim. of each horse; cf. Keogh). Vars: Strahan; Straughan (Northumb.); Strain (N Ireland). Research Notes on the Strawn Surname under the heading "Origins of the Strawn Surname."

"Strawn is a variation of the Scottish place name Strachan, derived from the place so-named in the parish of Banchory, near Kincardine, which was first recorded as Strateyhan in 1153. It is comprised of the Gaelic elements srath=valley + each=foal, where 'each' is a diminutive form of the Gaelic 'eachain'=horse." Research Notes on the Strawn Surname under the heading "Origins of the Strawn Surname."

A Rite of Bealtainne, created by Ian Corrigan, includes an offering to "Eochaid the Stallion" as a "king under the hill" of the Sidhe clans, the underground people.


Edward MacLysaght has this to say about the surname McGovern:

"The MacGoverns are better known in history as Magauran. Both forms are phonetic approximations of the Irish Mag Shamhradhain, since MH is pronounced V in some places and W in others. The G of Govern thus comes from the last letter of the prefix Mag, which is used before vowels and aspirates instead of the usual Mac. The eponymous ancestor was Samhradhan, who lived circa 1100 at the time surnames came into being. This man was descended from Eocgadh (fl. eighth century) whence the territory of the MacGoverns or Magaurans was called Teallach Eochaidh - now Tullyhaw - in north-west Cavan. There is a village called Ballymagauran in that area. The leading families of the sept were allied by marriage to the Maguires, O'Rourkes and other powerful families of that part of Ireland and are frequently mentioned in the Annals during the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. Ballymagauran in Tullyhaw was burned by Maguire in 1481 for an allegedly dishonourable act by the Magauran of the day. 'The Book of the Magaurans' is one of the famous old Gaelic manuscripts. Though the form Magauran is still used to some extent, MacGovern is much more numerous nowadays. It is chiefly found in its original habitat, north Cavan, and the adjacent counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh." Quoted from the McGovern section of the McCabe clan website.

The Mag Samhradains, Magaurans or McGoverns are said by the authorities to be descended from the stock of Eochaidh Muighmheadoin, Irish Kings #124; namely from Brian, the oldest of Eochaid's five sons. See The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid in The McGoverns by James E. McGovern, page 77, on Clan McGovern Network.

Go to Eolas NA hEireann, click on Irish Names, and look for McGovern under M to find this family history:

"MacGovern is the phonetic anglicisation of Mag Shamhradhain, from a diminutive of samhradh, 'summer'. The name is closely linked with the original homeland where it first arose; in the traditional genealogies, Shamhradhan, the eleventh-century individual from whom the surname comes, was himself descended from Eochaidh, one of the O'Rourkes, who lived in the eighth century. His name was given to the area of Co Cavan where the MacGoverns held sway, the barony of Tullyhaw (Teallach Eochaidh), in the northwest of the County. The particular centres of their power were Bawnaboy, Lissanover, and Ballymagauran. This last includes an earlier anglicisation of Mag Shamhradhain, 'Magauran' or 'MacGowran', now much less common than MacGovern. From Cavan, the name has now spread throughout Connacht and Ulster, and is particularly numerous in the adjoining counties of Fermanagh and Leitrim."

The Book of Magauran, in 14th century vellum, is mainly a collection of poems by different authors addressed to the rulers of the Sept Mac Samhradhan (McGovern), and is the earliest example of such Irish family books now in existence. See pages 20 to 22 of The McGoverns by James E. McGovern on Clan McGovern Network. Aedan Mac Gabhran, who ruled the Dal Riada in Scotland from 574 to 608, is said by The Magauran Book to have been from one of the three septs of McGoverns. See my page on Scots Kings #7, page 29. The Book of Magauran documents many Dalriada connections between Aedani Mac Gabhran and the Tullyhaw McGoverns. See page 31 of The McGoverns. This site contains an English translation of The Book of Magauran. See also Geography of Magh Slecht.

McCloghy, McCloy

In The Monaghan Story, Peadar Livingstone says at page 26 and 27:

"St. Eachaidh's church was in the townland of Drumard, near Clones. He is remembered in the name of Lacky Bridge, a derivative of Bealaghkilleaghan or Beal Atha Cille Eachaidh and in the surname Mac Giolla Eachaidh, McCloghy, or McCloy."


The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History, by George F. Black, Ph.D., tells us:

"Eachan. G. Eachann, MG. Eachuinn, Eachduinn, gen. (1467 MS.). The Irish is Eachdonn (year 1092), from prehistoric Eqo-donno-s, 'horse lord' like Eachthighearna (Maceachern), with different termination. The phonetics are against Macvurich's spelling Eachdhuin which is for Each-duine, 'horse-man,' as explanation (Macbain)." Quoted on The Clan MacLean Genealogy Data Base.

According to the website Traditional Irish Names: Eachan = "horseman."


Heffernan, MacEachern
Much of the following has been extracted from The Heffernan's and Their Times by Patrick Heffernan M.D., Published by James Clarke & Co., Ltd.:

"Much controversy has centred round the origin and meaning of the name 'Ifearnan'", and at present there are several irreconcilable theories in the matter. The first, the oldest, and that most generally held, is that 'Ifearnan' is a later Irish pronunciation and phonetic spelling of the old Gaelic 'Eichthighearnan' (pronounced 'Eachcheernan') which, in its turn, is 'Eichthighearn', with honorific suffix (suffix of endearment) 'an' added. Now 'Eichthighern'" (Eachcheern) is ordinarily anglicised 'Ahearn', a name which is still very common in Cork and other parts of Southern Ireland, and if this theory is correct 'Heffernan' is simply an honorific form of 'Ahearn', the anglicised form of 'Eichthighern', meaning, literally, 'horse-lord' ('eich', a horse, 'thighearna', lord). ...

"Furthermore, the name persisted in the west of Scotland as 'Mac Eachern', 'MacEchan' and 'MacKern', and the derivation was there well recognised and understood. ...

"At this stage, one naturally enquires who or what were those chieronaces or Gaelic 'horselords'? Were they professional horse-breeders, horse-tamers, horse-breakers, roughriders; or horse-thieves, whom the ancient Irish, in their grand eloquence, glorified with the name of 'horse-lords'? Or were they Gaelic mounted knights, equites or caballeros? De Blacam has pointed out that names of this character were common in Old Irish, and that the relation of the great Gaelic lords with the 'horse-taming Acheans' of Homer, the fair-haired race of Celtic invaders from the head of the Adriatic: the 'Master-race' of Greece who conquered the Pelagians or old Greeks, as the Gaels did the Danaan, Cruitime and Muscraighe in Ireland, is manifest in the stress that is laid on horse mastership and the like in early Irish names. ... " The Name "O'Hiffernan".

"The tribal name [McEachain] is still represented in the ancient territory of Dalaraidhe by the place named Ivahagh, in County Down, the Gaelic name of which is Uibb Eachach, pronounced Ivahagh, but now contracted to Ivagh. There are many more places in this area that contain the Gaelic tribal word or name EACH which is record in English as AUGH. However, each case where the word is used in a place name must be judged on its own merits as to meaning, for it would not be quite correct to imply that the word Each has the same significance in all instances for it is governed by its prefix or suffix. Eachain in itself is in reality a tribal designation, which is derived from the middle Gaelic name Eachuinn and anciently Eqo-donno-s, meaning the Horse Lord, or more properly translated, the Lord or Chief of the Horse Tribe; the horse, in Gaelic Each, being the totem of their tribe." The McCaughans of Scotland and Ireland by John Alexander McCaughan of Ballyverdagh.

"My guess on MacEachern is a slightly Anglicized version of Mac Eachain, a Scottish Patronymic name from the Gaelic given name Eachan, which means 'each horse.'" The Etymology of Last Names.

McEachern—"The Scottish surname is of patronymic origin, being one of those names derived from the father. In this case, the name is an anglicized form of the Gaelic name "MacEach-thighearna" denoting a "son of Each-tighearna". The literal meaning of this Gaelic personal name is "horse-lord". The name goes back to Old Irish, where it appears as "Ech-tigern". This custom of naming appears to have commenced in the Middle Ages when it became the practice for the son to take their surnames from the Christian names of their fathers."


Irish Names tells us:

"Aherne—Aherne is an anglicisation of O Eachthianna, from Eachthiarna, meaning lord of horses and is also found in the variants Heran and Hearne. Eachthiarna was a relatively common personal name in Gaelic society, borne by, for instance a brother of Brian Boru. The surname originated, in fact, in the sept or tribe of Brian, the Dal gCais, and has always been strongly associated with their homeland in Co Clare. The family territory was in the southeast of the county, around Sixmilebridge, up to the end of the Middle Ages, when they migrated south and east, to counties Cork, Limerick and Waterford. To this day, Ahernes are most numerous in counties Cork and Waterford."

Cafferty, McCaffrey, Cafferky
The Caffertys website tells us:
"The name [Cafferty] is of ancient Irish origin. It stems from the Gaelic MacEachmharcaigh or MacEacmarcais, each, meaning a steed or horse, and marcach, meaning a rider. MacCafferty means son of the horse rider. It is a surname of Co. Donegal and Co. Derry. The name is also found in Co. Mayo, but often under the anglicized form of MacCaffry. The local pronunciation is sometimes O Ceararcais. The family is probably a branch of the O'Dohertys, among whom Eacmarcac was a personal name."

See also (Mac) Caffrey. The McCaffreys descend from Gafraigh, a son of Donn Carrach, the first Maguire King of Fermanagh. Jim's two Irish Surnames.

Here is an Internet posting on Mayo on the Move of February 20, 2005, by Tony Cafferkey:

"As far as I know, 'Cafferkey' (or 'Cafferky,' 'Cafferty,' etc.) is an Irish name which phonetically stems from the Irish name 'Eamarcaig,' which translates to: Ea (Steed) Marcaig (Rider or Jockey)— 'Steedrider.' The Cafferkeys are believed to have been displaced from County Donegal to Erris, County Mayo, in 1654 by Oliver Cromwell who ordered the Irish 'to hell or to Connaught.'"


Irish Ancestors lists Steed households in Ireland who are listed in Griffith's Valuation (the Primary Valuation property survey of 1848-64), including 15 in county Antrim (plus 2 Steid families) and 12 in county Galway. Griffith's Valuation lists 6 Steed families in Belaclare (near Tuam), county Galway: Bridget Steed of Ardrumkilla; Patrick Steed of Ballaghbaun; Patrick Steed of Caherhugh; Thaddeus Steed of Glennafosha; Thomas Steed of Ballaghbaun; and Timothy Steed of Ardrumkilla. (There was a Bridget Lawless in Ardrumkilla, and two entries for Patrick McGagh, one in Ballydotia West, and one in Pollaturk or Newgarden.)

Here is part of an email of July 12, 2005, from Ed Steed of St. Louis:

"Thanks so much for your interesting pages about names from Each, Auch, Caball, etc. Because my own surname is English for horse, I always assumed that at some point in history our Irish ancestors actually went from England or Scotland. My GGGrandfather married Mary Collins at St. Colmans RC Church in Belclare in 1838 and emigrated the following year. He was the son of John Steed and his mother's maiden name was Lawless. That is as far back as I got.

"During my genealogical research, I found that McLysaght said that there was an Irish derivation for the name—it was a shortened version of O'hEachdhubhain—descended from the dark or black horse. I later found that Each dhub was a black horse ridden by the mythical Dullaghan, sort of a grim reaper and that many early families identified with various legends having to do with horses. This raised my hopes that my Steed ancestors were really Irish and not beneficiaries of the Plantation.

"I have been in contact with members of the Steed (Steede) family of Galway but they are as foggy about the origin as I am."

Here is a quotation from Irish Fey Folk:

"Dullaghan Variants: dullaghan, far dorocha, Crom Dubh

"The dullahan is one of the most spectacular creatures in the Irish fairy realm and one which is particularly active in the more remote parts of counties Sligo and Down.

"Around midnight on certain Irish festivals or feast days, this wild and black-robed horseman may be observed riding a dark and snorting steed across the countryside. ...

"Dullahans are headless. Although the dullahan has no head upon its shoulders, he carries it with him, either on the saddle-brow of his horse or upraised in his right hand. The head is the colour and texture of stale dough or mouldy cheese, and quite smooth. A hideous, idiotic grin splits the face from ear to ear, and the eyes, which are small and black, dart about like malignant flies. The entire head glows with the phosphorescence of decaying matter and the creature may use it as a lantern to guide its way along the darkened laneways of the Irish countryside. Wherever the dullahan stops, a mortal dies. ...

"The dullahan is usually mounted on a black steed, which thunders through the night. He uses a human spine as a whip. The horse sends out sparks and flames from its nostrils as it charges forth. In some parts of the country, such as County Tyrone, the dullahan drives a black coach known as the coach-a-bower (from the Irish coiste bodhar, meaning 'deaf or silent coach'). This is drawn by six black horses, and travels so fast that the friction created by its movement often sets on fire the bushes along the sides of the road. All gates fly open to let rider and coach through, no matter how firmly they are locked, so no one is truly safe from the attentions of this fairy."

The feminine name Echna means steed. Irish First Names of the 21st Century.


Here is an entry from Family Chronicle - Surname Origin List, S-Z (which has been discontinued as a website).

"Steadman (British). (O) 'Farm man' or 'groom/cavalryman (from steed man).'

Eoin an Eich Ghil mac Cionaodha

Here is an entry by François la Flamme from Name Precedents: Gaelic (Irish, Manx, Scottish on the website of The Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.:

"Submitted as Ean Echbán MacCináeda, the submitter requested authenticity for '1200-1600 Scotland or Ireland (Gaelic)' and allowed any changes. The form Ean is documented only as part of the byname M'Ean in Scots. As such, it is not evidence for the use of Ean as a given name in either Scots or Gaelic, since Scots bynames are derived from phonetic renderings of Gaelic patronymic bynames, which use genitive forms that can differ significantly in spelling and pronounciation from nominative forms. Since the submitter gave his intended meaning as 'John, owner of a white horse, son of Cinaed', we have changed the given name to the standard Early Modern Gaelic (post-1200) form Eoin. Echbán was documented as a hypothetical descriptive byname meaning 'of the white horse', based on the early period descriptive byname Echluath which meant 'fast horse'. Echbán uses pre-1200 orthography which is not appropriate for the submitter's desired time period. There is actually a byname that means 'of the white horse/steed'. The Annals of the Four Masters, vol. 2 list Tadhg an Eich Ghil mac Cathail mic Concobhair in entry M1014.21 (for the year 1014). The translation of this article gives the meaning of this name as 'Tadhg of the White Steed, son of Cathal, son of Conchobhar'. Since The Annals of the Four Masters were written in 1632-1636, much of their orthography dates from that time period. Given this information and since the form an Eich Ghil seems to follow post-1200 orthography rules, this form of the byname is appropriate for his desired time period. We were not able to find an example of a byname meaning 'of the white horse' later than 1097, when Tadhg is last mentioned (he was killed in 1030). Cináeda is a pre-1200 genitive spelling of the name Cináed. In post-1200 orthography, the nominative form of this name became Cionaodh and the genitive spelling became Cionaodha or Cionaoith. As he wanted this name to be a literal byname meaning 'son of Cinaed' rather than 'a member of the MacCináeda family', we have separated the particle mac from the patronym and made the "m" lowercase-to follow conventions used to indicate a literal byname. [Eoin an Eich Ghil mac Cionaodha, 11/01, A-Trimaris]"

The same entry may be found lon the Internet under "draft of name precedents from the tenure of Master François la Flamme" (Last Revised: 25 May 2003. Period Covered: 08/01 -- 03/02)

Place Names Based on "Eoch" or "Each"

Before the name of Aghnamullen was bestowed upon the civil parish in county Monaghan, the area was called the Eoghanach, which was anglicised as the Owenagh. See McGough Origins in Ireland— Random Ramblings, Rumblings, and Ruminations under The Eoghanach or Owenagh. Eoghanach is a word based on "eoch," a horse. In his book The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places (6th edition 1891), P. W. Joyce gives the traditional interpretation of Aghnamullen as "field of the mills." In a separate part of his book, however, Joyce provides us a discussion of Irish place names based on horse that gives some support to considering whether the Augh in Aughnamullen might possibly have come from horse:

"The horse. We have several Irish words for a horse, the most common of which are each and capall. Each [agh] is found in several families of languages; the old Irish form is ech; and it is the same word as the Sansc. acva, Gr. hippos (Eol. ikkos), Lat. equus, and old Saxon ehu. Each is very often found in the beginning of names, contrary to the usual Irish order, and in this case it generally takes the modern form of augh. At A.D. 598, the Four Masters mention Aughris Head in the north of Sligo, west of Sligo Bay, as the scene of a battle, and they call it Each-ros, the ros or peninsula of horses; there is another place of the same name, west of Ballymote, same County; and a little promontory north-west from Clifden in Galway is called Aughrus, which is the same name. Aughinish and Aughnish are the names of several places in different parts of the country, and are anglicized from Each-inis (Four Mast.), horse island. They must have been so called because they were favourite horse pastures, like 'The Squince,' and Horse Island, near Glandore, 'which produces a wonderful sort of herbage that recovers and fattens diseased horses to admiration.' (Smith, Hist. or Cork, I. 271).

"In the end of names it commonly forms the postfix -agh; as in Russagh in Westmeath, which the Four Masters write Ros-each, the wood of horses; Bellananagh in Cavan, Bel-atha-na-neach, the ford-mouth of the horses; Cloonagh and Clonagh, horse meadow. Sometime it is the genitive singular, as in Kinneigh near Iniskeen in Cork, ceann-ech (Four Mast.), the head or hill of the horse; the same name as Kineigh in Kerry, Kineagh near Kilcullen in Kildare, and Kinnea in Cavan and Donegal.

Some Irish place names are based on another Gaelic work for horse, capall. For example, the origin of the name of Drummanagapple, a townland in Fermanagh, is "Dromainn na gCapall," or "little ridge of the horses." Place Names in the Exhibition from County Fermanagh on the website of the Ulster Place-Names Society. I have made no effort to collect place names based on capall, but for a few more examples, see the section below on Other Gaelic Words for Horse.

Between 1150 and 1200, a group of Mhigh Eothachs or Mag Eochys (McGoughs/McGeoughs) moved from the territory of the Mughdhorna area in what is now county Monaghan to an area on the south slopes of the Mountains of Mourne. See Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea— Ballymageogh and Slievemageogh in County Down in this website. They gave their name to the townland of Ballymageogh. Apparently they brought their horses with them. On the eastern edge of the narrow waist of the hour-glass-shape townland of Ballymageogh is Aughrim Hill, which means the ridge of the horse or horse-ridge. Aughrim Hill is in the townland of Aughrim in county Down. The name of the hill and the townland are discussed together in Place-Names of Northern Ireland, Volume Three, County Down III, The Mournes, by Michael B. O Mainnin and published by the Department of Celtic, Queens University Belfast:

"This townland [Aughrim] derives from Irish Eachdhroin, a compound of each 'horse' and droim 'ridge', with reference to the topographical feature now know as Aughrim Hill. It may be translated 'horse-shaped ridge' or, as seems more likely, 'ridge of the horses'. The -dh- is omitted in modern Irish orthography and it is now silent." (page 20).

The same book, at page 104, interprets the townland name of Ardaghy as Ard Eachadha, "Eochaid's height." The alternative, Ard Achaidh "height of the field" was considered and rejected. Ardaghy is in the parish of Kilcoo, county Down. See "Ardaghy" in Place Names of County Down by Joyce Gibson.


Aughinish in county Clare and county Donegal comes from the Irish each inis, which means 'horse island.' These places were probably named after favourite horse pastures. Irish Place Names.


"Aughrim, a village on the main Galway - Dublin road near Ballinasloe; the name means 'the horse's back', from the shape of one of the low ridges that are a feature of the local landscape." Ireland Midwest Online—County Galway—Aughrim.

"Aughrim (Galway and Wicklow) Eachroim, 'horse ridge' The Galway Aughrim was the scene of the battle of 12 July 1691, which [lost] the Jacobite War and was a turning point in Irish history." Towns of the sash.

"Aughrim—Each Druim—The hill side of the horse." The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost—Appendix VII, County of Clare: Irish local names explained.

Each Druim is the name by which Aughrim in Galway is located on maps of Ireland in the middle ages: "Aughrim, county Galway, Name on map: Each Dhruim. Source: Irish Authorities. Modern Irish name: Eachro. Type: Celtic religious foundation, also manor or village. Meaning: "eachra `horse' droim `ridge'." Mapping Ireland in the Middle Ages.


The origin of the name of Duneight, a townland in county Down, is "Dún Echdach," or "Eochaidh's dún." See Place-Names in the Exhibition from County Down on the website of the Ulster Place-Names Society. Dun means black.


The origin of the name of Donaghanie, a townland in county Tyrone, is " Domhnach an Eich." "church of the horse. " See Place-Names in the Exhibition from County Tyrone on the website of the Ulster Place-Names Society.


The origin of the name of Lemnagh, a townland in county Antrim, is "Léim an Eich," "horse leap." Place-Names in the Exhibition from County Antrim on the website of the Ulster Place-Names Society.


Leamanach in county Clare) comes from Léim an Eich, 'leap of the horse.' See: Equestrian Irish Place Names.

Tuaghy or Toaghy

The territory of the Ui Echdach of the Airthir in county Armagh was called Toaghy or Tuaghy. The Airthir were part of the Mughdhorna. In Historical Maps of Ireland by Michael Swift (Chartwell Books 1999), at page 49, there is a map of Ulster produced before the death of Queen Elizabeth. Swift dates the map 1602–03. West by southwest of the "Ardmaghe Metropolis" (city of Armagh) is a territory marked Toaghi. The northwest boundary of Toaghi is the "Blackwater stream," and the map shows a tributary of the Blackwater flowing north out of the center part of Toaghi and entering the Blackwater. This must by the Tynan River that flows into the Blackwater just south of the town of Caledon, which is across the river in county Tyrone. The Blackwater River forms the boundary between the counties of Armagh to the east and Tyrone to the west. The southeastern boundary of Toaghi on the old map is the "Kalan stream," modernly called the Callan river. Lough Muckno and the Owenagh are to the south. The scale of the map is one inch to 7 miles, and Lough Muckno is about an inch south by south east. The territory called the Owenagh is a little over an inch to the south by southwest. See my page The Eoghanach and The Owenagh River in County Monaghan.

The Tynan river flows along the eastern edge of Tynan Abbey (H759 423 on sheet 28B of the 1:50 000 map of the Discovery Series of the Ordnance Survey Ireland), which is the historic district of Toaghy. Tynan Abbey is 12 kilometers west by southwest of the city of Armagh, 5 kilometers southwest of the village of Killylea, 4 kilometers north by northeast of Middletown, and less than 5 kilometers west of the town of Glasslough in county Monaghan. Toaghy encompasses the parish of Tynan in Armagh on the border with county Tyrone, and the parish of Derrynoose to the immediate east of Tynan. (In 1625, the parish of Derrynoose was given the alias Tuaghy; page 313 of the Kay Muhr article cited in the third paragraph below.)

Here is an excerpt from an article "The Drumconwell Ogham and its Implications" by R. B. Warner of the Ulster Museum, Belfast, under the subhead The Name Conmáel:

"West of Drumconwell an extensive area went by the name of Toaghy, possibly from Tuath Echdach (Glancy 1954, 98). The Ui Echdach were a ruling sept of Airthir (and after the 11th century a tribe in their own right).

A larger quotation from this article will be found on my page Colla da Chrioch, First King of Oriel. The excerpt of the article on the web contains a map showing the relative positions of Drumconwell, Armagh, and Navan. The Drumconwell Ogham Stone stood in the town-land of Drumconwell, 3 miles south of Armagh near to Lisnadill Church, on the ancient route way to Armagh and Navan. The stone is now in the Robinson Library in Armagh. Drumconwell is on the sheet 28B map referred to above at H872 407, 5 kilometers south of the city of Armagh and 12 kilometers east by southeast of Tynan Abbey.

In Territories People, and Place Names in County Armagh, which is chapter 10 of Armagh: History & Society, edited by A. J. Hughes and William Nolan (Geography Publications, 2001), Kay Muhr, at pages 209 and 210, gives this background on the geographical name Tuaghy:

"The family of Breasal's brother, Eochaid or Eochu was the Armagh family of Ui Ech[d]ach, one branch of whom produced the Clann Sinaigh, 'Sinach's children', hereditary abbots of Armagh in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The family of Ui Eachach are mentioned in the last Ulster Cycle story called the 'Battle of Aenach Macha'. More importantly, the now obsolete district name Tuaghy, Tuath Eachach 'Eochu's people', for what was mainly the archbishop's territory south of Armagh, seems to have been derived from this Eochu of Airthir. [A footnote cites map 30 of Armagh in the 1609 Barony maps of the Escheated Counties of Ulster (alias The Irish Historical Atlas of Bodley Survey) published by Henry James, OS southampton 1860, and refers to an entry in Annals of Ulster for 933 A.D. to Conmal Ri Tuath Achaidh.*]

"In the 'Battle of Aenach Macha' the river Blackwater is called Sruth Sein-Echach 'Old Eochu's stream'. Of course the river flows into Ulster's inland sea, Lough Neagh, which was Loch nEchach 'Eochu's lake'. According to the Irish origin-legend, Lough Neagh was named from an Eochu who was an ancient king of all Ulster, and who forgot to send back immediately a magic horse he had borrowed. In return he was drowned by the first eruption of the waters, though he continued to exist beneath the lake. The events recounted are clearly mythological, and significantly the name Eochu contains the word ech 'horse'. However, this does not mean the story is irrelevant to Ui Echach ancestry. The name Eochu was important in several Ulster genealogies, and the status of the name Eochu can probably be linked with the earlier myths. It was born by the Dagdae, the chief god of the Irish pagan pantheon whose name means 'the good god' (< dag + dia). Horses are significant not only in the origin legend of Lough Neagh, but also in Geraldus Cambrensis' story of the inauguration ritual of an Ulster king. Another Ui Eachach family in Co. Down gave rise to the barony name Iveagh, from the dative Uibh Eachach."

*Here is the section of the Annals of Ulster referred to in the footnote above—from the Corpus of Electronic Texts published by the University College Cork:

"U933.1. Fergal son of Domnall son of Aed and Sicfrith son of Uathmarán, i.e. the son of Domnall's daughter, inflicted a rout on Muirchertach son of Niall and on Conaing in Mag Uatha, where fell Maelgarb, king of Derlas, and Conmal, king of Tuath Achaidh, and two hundred others."

Eochaidh's Lake
Lough Neagh in county Antrim, the largest lake in Ireland, derives its name from Loch nEathac, "Eochaid's Lake," as described in the preceding section. Eochaid (Eochaidh) was a legendary king of Munster who was said to have drowned in the lough when it suddenly flooded in the 1st century AD. A Dictionary of Irish Place Names by Adrian Room (rev. ed. 1994), page 96. The Meaning of Ulster Place Names published in Martin Sloan's Aspects of Ulster says that Lough Neagh = Loch nEathach = Eochaid's lake. Place Names in Tochmarc Etaine (The Wooing of Etain) compiled by R. T. Gault refers to "Loch n-Echach, now Lake Neagh," citing (in note 18) Joyce, Irish Names of Places, page 176–77. The lake is referred to in the Annals of the Four Master (M895.8, M943.7) as Loch Eathach.
"Neagh, Lough, Ulster. Name on Map: Loch nEchach. Source: Book of Leinster. Modern Irish Name: Loch nEathach. Type: Lough. Meaning: "loch 'lake' of Eochaid". In legend he was a king of Munster in the first century AD who drowned in the lough." The Irish Language page on the website of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales Decorative historical and genealogical maps.

"In the year 90 a sacred spring which had been sacrilegiously neglected overflowed its bounds and formed the great water of Lough Neagh. Eochaid and all his family were overwhelmed and drowned, except his two sons, Conang and Curman, and his daughter Liban." Encyclopedia of the Celts under Liban.

Ballymackeogh and Keoghville

In MacLysaght's commentary on the name MacKeogh, he mentions the place names Ballymackeogh in county Tipperary and Keoghville in the parish of Taghmaconnell in county Roscommon. See MacEochadha also Became McKeogh.


"Strachan (Scots): habitation name from a place in the parish of Banchory, near Kincardine, which is first recorded in 1153 in the form Strateyhan, and perhaps gets its name from Gael. srath valley + eachain, gen. case of eachan for (dim. of each horse; cf. Keogh). Vars: Strahan; Straughan (Northumb.); Strain (N Ireland)."

Eachleim (Aghleam) on the Mullet Peninsula in Mayo:
"EACHLÉIM (AGHLEAM) From the gaelic Each (horse) and Léim (jump), folklore has it that a horse leapt from the western end of the townland to the east, and the land between was thus named. Ten miles south west of Belmullet, close to the unspoilt beaches of Mullagh Rua and Elly, this vibrant Gaeltacht area is steeped in tradition and culture."

Aghnamullen—A Modest Proposal

The names of the civil parish of Aghnamullen, and the Catholic parishes of Aughnamullen East and West in county Monaghan, are generally said to come from Achadh na Muileann, and mean "field of the mills." For example, in an article on Parish Names and Boundaries that was published in Landscapes of South Ulster—A Parish Atlas of the Diocese of Clogher by Patrick J. Duffy, Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher, says:
"Aughnamullen (Achadh na Muillean) as a parish appears for the first time in 1530. The division into east and west took place toward the end of the 18th century and the dividing line was the old coach road between Carrickmacross and Clones." (page 4).

Evelyn P. Shirley, at page 346 of his The History of County Monaghan, says that Aghnamullen was anciently written as Aghywollen and Achnemollend. Could the Aghy in Aghywollen be a form of the Gaelic word for horse, or of the name Eachaidh? A Gaelic Dictionary is no help with wollen. The letter W, and the letters J, K, Q, V, X, Y,and Z, are not found in Gaelic. Aghywollen may have been Aghymollen. Could this by Aghymullan, the small hills or high ground of the horses? In the 1659 census of county Monaghan, which is appendix III of Shirley's book, the name of the parish is spelled Aghanamullan. (page 557–8). In the List of Popish Recusants Convicted at the General Sessions Held in Monaghan in 1657, which is appendix II to Shirley's book (page 550), the name is spelled Aghemullen. If we pick and choose from these permutations, we can get Augh-na-mullan—the hillocks of the horses.

Shirley, in his History of County Monaghan, says that Aghnamullen comes from ath na muillean, which he translates as ford of the mills. (Page 488). Shirley had a propensity for translating Agh as Ath, a ford. For example, the townland of Aghnamallah is on the northern boundary of the parish of Kilmore and Drumsnat, about 6 kilometers west by northwest of the town of Monaghan, on highway N54. Evelyn P. Shirley, at page 647 of his History of County Monaghan, published a table (page 467) that places the townland of Aghnamullah in the parish of Drumsnat and gives the townland the Irish name of ath na mallac, which is translated as "Ford of the Curses." (The Gaelic word for a curse is mallachd according to MacBain's Gaelic Dictionary. The northern form is mollachd.)

Could the origin of Aghymollen, the corrected version of the ancient spelling Aghywollen, be something other than achadh na muilean, something closer to the ancient spelling given by the Gaelic dictionary, like eachros mullean, then aughy mullean, where mullan is the Gaelic word for a small hill or summit? MacFarlane's Dictionary - Section 9 defines: "mullach nm. g.v. -aich; pl. -aichean, top, summit, upper end." Multiple summits would be mullaichean. The Gaelic Dictionary—Faclair tells us that mullach, -aich, -ean means the top or summit. The plural form is given as mullean. Could Aghymollen, mean something like high ground of the horses?

The name Eochaidh is sometimes written as Aghy or Ahagh. For example, the Annals of the Four Masters, M547.2, report that the King of Ulidia, Eochaidh, son of Connla, son of Caelbhadh, son of Crunn Badhrai, died. John O'Donovan notes that the Annals of Ulster more correctly place this death in 552. and quotes the Annals of Clonmacnoise: "A.D. 550. Ahagh Mac Conlay, King of Ulster, of whom Ivehagh is called." Eochaidh becomes Ahagh. A grant of land to Aghy MacMahon is treated as a grant of land to Eochaidh MacMahon by Peadar Livingstone, but as a grant of land to Ardgal MacMahon by Evelyn Phillips Shirley. See Which Eochaidh—A MacMahon Connection under Origins of the Surname McGough. The names Aghy and Achaius are forms of Eochaidh according to the website Irish/Irish Gaelic Male Names. One website interprets Aghy as "friend of horses."

Agh or Augh are forms of each, a Gaelic word for horse. In Irish place names, the Gaelic each (horse) has often become augh. A look at the "Index Locurum" to O'Donovan's annotated version of the Annals of the Four Masters gives some examples: Eachros, the "Headland or Promontory of the Horses," now Aughris, a townland in the north of the parish of Templeboy, barony of Tireragh, county of Sligo. (O'Donovan's note to year 598). Eachdhruim is now Aughrim, a village in county Galway. (O'Donovan's note to year 737.) Eacharadh-Lobrain became Augher in the barony of Deece, barony of Meath. (O'Donovan's note to year 1163.) The place name Aughrim in Ulster came from the ancient name Eachroim and means horse-ridge.

The townland of Ballyaghagan in county Antrim is translated into English as Eochagan's townland by Placenames and Their Meanings on ni-online. Ardoyne, an area of north Belfast, is defined as Eoghan's heights. Portglennoe is defined as Fortress of the meadow of Eoghan.

Acadh (Old Gaelic achad, Old Irish ached) means "field" and muileann (Old Irish mulenn) means "a mill. " (Muillean means "a truss (of hay or straw)".) Achadh na Muillean can reasonably be translated as "field of the mills." But could the origin of the Aughnamullen actually be something like Augh na Mulla/en, where Augh means "horse" and Mulla/en means "small hills" or "hillocks"? Aughnamullen would then mean something like "drumlins of the horses." A drumlin, of course, is a small rounded hill. Almost all articles on county Monaghan discuss the numerous "little hills" or "drumlins." Evelyn Philip Shirley dedicates his monumental work, The History of County Monaghan: "To the noble and gentle men of Monaghan, . . the country of the little hills."

"The whole landscape is dominated by drumlins, long oval mounds that give the lowland corridor a highly complicated drainage pattern." Encyclopaedia Britannica Article on Monaghan.

"The County's [Monaghan's] countryside is covered with small hills called drumlins, which are piles of rock and soil that were carried along and then dropped by glaciers in the Ice Age."

"[Monaghan's] rolling hilly landscape and myriad of lakes indicate that it is part of the drumlin belt in Ireland, a swath of small steep-sided hills that were formed during the Ice Age (1,700,000 - 13,000 years ago). The Irish Ice Age was not a period of continuous ice; there were numerous periods of warming up and cooling down. At times, general ice sheets covered most of the land, and these depressed the land underneath with their weight. Glaciers deposited unsorted debris - boulder clay. Breaks in the ice allowed this material to gather, and it was subsequently moulded into ovoid masses - drumlins - in the direction of the ice flow. These drumlins give rise today to the 'basket of eggs' terrain so evident in Monaghan today. Bones of woolly mammoth, giant Irish deer, spotted hyena, Norwegian lemming, red deer, reindeer, brown bear, arctic fox, mountain hare dating back to the Drumlin Phase of the Ice Age (34,000 - 26,000 years ago) have been found, suggesting that the country experienced a continental climate at the time." Local Ireland on Monaghan.
There is a townland of Mullagh-Monaghan on the west side of the town of Monaghan that Shirley's table translates as "summit of the little hills." The townland to the west of that, Mullaghadun, is translated as "hill of the fort." In the parish of Ballybay is the townland of Mullan that Shirley's table (under Tullycorbet on page 486) translates as "a little hill." At the Ford of the Birches—The History of Ballybay, it's People and Vicinity, by James H. and Peadar Murnane, shows that the official name in Irish in Liostai Logainmneacha Muineachan, prepared by the Placenames Branch, is An Mullan, which means "the little summit" or a hillock. (Page 26).

A listing of the Origins of Irish Place Names, formerly on the web, lists the only meaning of agh as "field." The same dictionary defines mullagh as a "summit" and mullen as a "hill." Ath is a "ford."

Epona—or Macha—The Celtic Horse Goddess

"The horse was highly important in the Celtic world and was frequently an attribute of deities such as the Celtic, Welsh and Irish war gods, and especially of the Gaulish Epona, the Divine Horse, introduced into Britain and later adopted by the Romans." From the entry on Horse in the Encyclopaedia of the Celts.

From Epona, the horse goddess, came the tribal name of the Epidii in Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, the horse goddess was also known as Macha. In 297 A.D., Ptolemy identified the Epidii (horse people) in western Scotland. The Epidii and the peninsula of Epidium were identified on Ptolemy's map.

"Epona. Depictions of mounted women or charioteers are found on Iron Age coins and may also represent horse-related Goddesses, in addition, representation of women and horses as linked continues in the vernacular traditions in the stories of Rhiannon and Macha. Epona, whose name is derived from the Celtic word for horse, is the Goddess of horses and horse breeding. As mares were often used as working animals on farms, some writers have speculated that Epona has aspects of fertility of the land and the domestic cult. Her worship became very widespread -- there are over 300 representations and inscriptions found bearing her name. She was adopted by cavalry soldiers throughout the Roman world, perhaps because she was a deity who offered protection both for the soldier and the horse! She was the only Celtic deity whose festival was celebrated in Rome itself, on December 18." What We Don't Know About the Ancient Celts by Rowan Fairgrove, where there is much more about Celtic horses and Epona.

"Epona # 628: Queen of Horses and Fruitfulness. Epona in Celtic inscriptions from Gaul, and Rhiannon in Welsh legend. She is the goddess of horses (the name 'Epona' derives from the Celtic word for 'Horse'), and therefore of great power in a horse-based culture such as that of the Celts. In Romano-Celtic images she is associated with corn, fruits and serpents, and as Mare-Goddess she would have been concerned with forces of fertility and nourishment." Encyclopaedia of the Celts.

"The goddess Epona, whose name, meaning 'Divine Horse' or 'Horse Goddess,' epitomizes the religious dimension of this relationship, was a pan-Celtic deity, and her cult was adopted by the Roman cavalry and spread throughout much of Europe, even to Rome itself. She has insular analogues in the Welsh Rhiannon and in the Irish Édaín Echraidhe (echraidhe, 'horse riding') and Macha, who outran the fastest steeds." Encyclopaedia Britannica, Celtic religion, Zoomorphic deities.

Epos: "The label q-Celtic stems from the differences between this early Celtic tongue and the latter formed p-Celtic. The differences between the two Celtic branches are simple in theoretical form. Take for example the word ekvos in Indo-European, meaning horse. In q-Celtic this was rendered as equos while in p-Celtic it became epos, the q sound being replaced with a p sound." The Six Celtic Languages.

"There has been some speculation that because Macha is connected to horses, that she is instead a solar deity. To get a grasp of this we must start with an rather pan-Celtic overview. A good source for this is the book The Horse In Celtic Culture, which is edited by Sioned Davies and Nerys Ann Jones. The section titled 'The Symbolic Horse in Pagan Europe'. In this section it tells of two expressions of the horse. The first is feminine and has the horse firmly footed on the ground. This would be typical to Epona, Macha and others. The other expression is what this source refers to as the 'celestial warrior', and who is masculine. Artifacts demonstrating this are found all across Celtic and ex-Celtic lands. Coming back again to Gaelic sources, it was common for the horse to act as icons for deities. (13) The Old Irish word for horse is 'ech', which is also the stem from which we get Eochaidh. Eochaidh is a proper name attached to none other than Daghdha (14). Nor is He alone, because many other deities also have names attached to them showing that their icons were horses. Another example being Lugh himself. Perhaps we can see in ancient Welsh law that the besides their gender, the differences between the horse deities was their colors (15). This may even be intimated by the defining of color in regards to Irish mounts, including the Grey Macha who pulled the chariot of Conchobar." Macha by Clannada na Gadelica Academia Gadelica.

The Horse Goddess by Morgan Llywelyn, a novel of Epona, has received good reviews.

King Eochy—Two Horse's Ears

Kings in the pedigree of Niall of the Nine Hostages include Eochy Buadach, Eochy "of the Long Hair (Ardrigh)," Eochy II (Ardrigh), and Eochu Mugmedon (King of Tara). Niall was killed at the river Loire in France by an arrow from the bow of another Eochaidh who had been banished as the King of Leinster and had plans to be the High King of Ireland. The story of Eochy, the king with big ears, is worth repeating:

"'Eochy' of the Long Hair" (Ardrigh). Eochy only had his hair cut once a year, and the man who did it was chosen by lot and killed afterwards. The reason for this was that he had big ears, as long as a horses, and he did not want his deformity known. Once though, the lot fell upon the only son of a poor widow who convinced the King not to kill her son. He had to swear upon the Wind and the Sun that he would tell no person. But the secret was so intense upon the man that he became intensely sick and near death. A wise Druid was called to heal the man and he said 'It is the secret that is killing him, and he will never be well until he reveals it.' So the Druid instructed the man to tell the secret to a Willow tree. The man told the tree the secret and felt as a new man. Later a Harpist named Craftiny broke his old harp and he built a new one out of the Willow tree. At a performance at the kings hall, these words came out of the Harp, 'Two horse's ears hath Eochy of the Long Hair'. And with the secret known no man was ever put to death on account of the Kings misery."

The same story is told of Labra the Mariner, or Labhraidh Loingseach, who is Irish Kings #70 on my web page. He was also known as Maon, son of Ailill. Labra married Moriath and reigned over Ireland for ten years. Chapter IV The Early Milesian Kings from Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by Thomas Rolleston, published as part of the Celtic Folklore website.
"Of Labra the Mariner, after his accession, a curious tale is told. He was accustomed, it is said, to have his hair cropped but once a year, and the man to do this was chosen by lot, and was immediately afterwards put to death. The reason of this was that, like King Midas in the similar Greek myth, he had long ears like those of a horse, and he would not have this deformity known. Once it fell, however, that the person chosen to crop his hair was the only son of a poor widow, by whose tears and entreaties the king was prevailed upon to let him live, on condition that he swore by the Wind and Sun to tell no man what he might see. The oath was taken, and the young man returned to his mother. But by-and-by the secret so preyed on his mind that he fell into a sore sickness, and was near to death, when a wise Druid was called in to heal him 'It is the secret that is killing him,' said the Druid, 'and he will never be well till he reveals it. Let him therefore go along the high-road till he come to a place where four roads meet. Let him there turn to the right, and the first tree he shall meet on the road, let him tell his secret to that, and he shall be rid of it, and recover.' So the youth did; and the first tree was a willow. He laid his lips close to the bark, whispered his secret to it, and went home, light-hearted as of old. But it chanced that shortly after this the harper Craftiny broke his harp and needed a new one, and as luck would have it the first suitable tree he came to was the willow that had the king's secret. He cut it down, made his harp from it, and performed that night as usual in the king's hall; when, to the amazement of all, as soon as the harper touched the strings the assembled guests heard them chime the words, 'Two horse's ears hath Labra the Mariner.' The king then, seeing that the secret was out, plucked off his hood and showed himself plainly; nor was any man put to death again on account of this mystery. We have seen that the compelling power of Craftiny's music had formerly cured Labra's dumbness. The sense of something magical in music, as though supernatural powers spoke through it, is of constant recurrence in Irish legend."

Other Gaelic Words for Horse

"Each Uisge (ech-ooshkya) or Aughisky (agh-iski). This, the Highland Water-Horse, is perhaps the fiercest and most dangerous of all water-horses, although the Cabyll Ushtey runs it close. It differs from the Kelpie in haunting the sea and lochs, while the Kelpie belongs to running water. It seems also to transform itself more readily. Its most usual form is that of a sleek and handsome horse, which almost offers itself to be ridden, but if anyone is so rash as to mount it, he is carried at headlong speed into the lake and devoured." (Encyclopedia of the Celts.)

"Capall, the other word for a horse, is the same as Gr. kaballes, Lat. caballus, and Rus. kobyla. It is pretty common in the end of names in the form of capple, or with the article, -nagappul or -nagapple, as in Gortnagappul in Cork and Kerry, the field of the horses; Pollacappul and Poulacappul, the hole of the horse.

"Larach [lawragh] signifies a mare, and it is found pretty often forming a part of names. Cloonlara, the mare's meadow, is the name of a village in Clare, and half a dozen townlands in Connaught and Munster; Gortnalaragh, the field of the mares." (volume 1, pages 474–5).

Marcach or marchach is a Gaelic word meaning horseman. John O'Hart, in Irish Pedigrees; or, The Origin and Stem of The Irish Nation (Limited American Edition in Two Volumes—1923), Volume I, page 536, says that the Gaelic name O'Marcaigh means son of a horseman (marcah) and is anglicized as Markey, Horseman, Knight, MacKnight, Rider, Riding, Ryding, etc. The Gramadach Lexicon—Section 2 says that 'marcach' is a noun with simple translation: 'rider'. Gender: The plural is marcaigh, the genitive singular is marcaigh, and the genitive plural, marcach. The Faclair Gàidhlig - Beurla Gaelic - English Dictionary defines marchach as a rider or horseman.
"Markham is an English place name from the so-named place in Nottinghamshire derived from Old English mearc = boundary + hám = homestead. Occasionally, it is derived among the Irish as an Anglicized form of Ó Marcacháin, which means "descendant of Marcach " whose name meant 'knight, horseman.'"

Eachmarcach was used as a name for a horse. Mac Eachmharcaigh, the origin of the surname Cafferty, "translates to 'son of Eachmharcach', the Irish for 'Horse-rider'. The name once exclusive to Ulster can now occasionally be found in Mayo. It is believed the name originated in Donegal where the family is traced to being a branch of the O''Donnells." Surnames & Heraldry— Mac Cafferty Surname Group. See the section on Cafferty, McCaffrey, Cafferky above.

"Kelly is Cealleach which can be from knower of horses; gealleach is the moon and comes from bright steed (of the heavens)." Swim-Two-Birds Essay—Irish and Celtic Names Explained.

Malachi comes from maol eachai, the bald horseman. Swim-Two-Birds Essay—Irish and Celtic Names Explained.

March—(MAHRX) is from the Welsh march, "horse." Name of King Mark in the Welsh version of the Tristan saga, in which he is known as March ap Meirchion (Horse, Son of Horses). The horse was a symbol of kingship in Celtic culture. Mark. See Celtic Male Names of Wales.

Marshall has been defined as an occupational name meaning 'horse servant' (French or English/Norman). See: Surnames, And Surnames-as-First-Names. "Marshall: originally cared for the lord's horses, and acted as an early vet and farrier. Later on, the term evolved to describe an official in a noble's household in charge of the military affairs. It's an English Occupational name, either way." The Etymology of Last Names.

Hippos. Philip is based on the Greek name Philippos, which means "friend of horses", composed of the elements philos "friend" and hippos "horse". "Philips: a surname of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Guernsey (Channel Islands) from the baptismal name Philip, Latin Philippue from the Greek—horse-lover, after the aposte, common in England in the Middle Ages and the origin of many surnames such as Philip(s), Phelps, Philpott, Phippard, In Ireland in modern times Phillips has to some extent superseded (Mac) Philbin, MacPhilbin - little Philip." Community of Colliers (Newfoundland). "Phillips/Philips: Philip was an extremely popular name in medieval times -- Philip was one of the apostles, and four French kings were named Philip from the 11th to the 13th century. The name -- which means 'lover of horses' -- came into England from France at the time of the conquest. Philips is patronymic (named after the father Philip, whose sons would be referred to as Philip's sons). The common Welsh and English version of the surname is spelled with two l's, giving the descendants the surname Phillips. Phillips is a variation of the English, French, Dutch/Flemish, and Danish/Norwegian Patronymic name Phillip/Philip from the Greek name Philippos and elements philein = to love + hippos = horse. Its popularity seems to have been due to medieval stories about Alexander the Great, whose father was Philip of Macedon. Variations are Philipp, Phillip, Philp, Phelp, Phalp (English); Philippe, Phelip, Felip, Phelit, Philip, Phalip (French); Filip (Flemish/Dutch). There are numerous other diminutive, patronymic, and cognitive forms." The Etymology of Last Names.

Colter. An English male given name, meaning horse herdsman, a variant of colt: young horse; frisky. Baby Names Starting with the Letter C. According to Woulfe, the Irish surnames Colter and Coulter are derived from Ó Coltaráin, who were seated in Down (parish of Ballycolter). See Irish Ancestors and Coulter, ó Coltaráin, ó Coltair. " See Ancient Uladh—Kingdom of Ulster (part of Ireland's History in Maps) for a reference to "O'Coltarain (Coleton, Coulter??, chief of Dal Cuirb, in the barony of Castlereagh ; O'Hart)"

"Dobbin" as a typical name for a work horse. There is a small possibility that the English surname Dobyn or Dobbyn or the Irish surname Dobbins has the same origin. See: The Dobyns Family in England. Irish Ancestors lists 86 Dobbyn households in Ireland at the time of Griffith's Valuation (26 in county Waterford, 10 in county Down); 159 Dobbin families (28 in county Antrim, plus 23 in Belfast City; 22 in county Armagh); and 17 Dobbins families (6 in county Louth). This source says: "Dobb was pet form of Robert.MIF."

The Horse in Celtic Culture

In her essay on The Society and Culture of the Celts—Focusing on Ireland, Kathryn L. Pierce says:

"The Celts were a people who originated in central Europe from Indo-European stock and became a distinct people in the Iron Age. They are distinct from their predecessor peoples, archaeologically named the Urnfield cultures, principally in their use of iron, their art style, the role of the horse in their lives, and the social stratification of their society. ...

"Celtic horses were smaller than todays animals and were raised and trained as draft animals, for riding into battle, and as chariot horses. Chariots were an important part of Celtic warfare, a method which was very effective against the Romans. Warrior and driver were a strong team. The driver would bring the chariot to the point of battle, at which the warrior would leap from the chariot and engage the enemy. The driver would then wheel off to one side, ready to come sweeping in to retrieve the warrior when needed."
In Who Were the "Celts" ?, it is said:
"The use of the horse and the wagon or war chariot, for example, are seen as typical manifestations both of "Celtic" culture and of Indo-Europeanism, evinced by the ubiquity of related vocabulary in the recorded languages ... "

See also The Sacred Celtic Horse. A worthwhile site, with no direct discussion of Ireland, is Celtic Phalerae & Fittings: The Art of the Horseman. This is part of a great website on Celtic Art & Cultures on the website of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sioned Davies and Nerys Ann Jones are editors of The Horse in Celtic Culture: Medieval Welsh Perspectives. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997. [I. Festschriften, Proceedings, and Collected Essays; XIV. Folklore, Mythology, and Popular Culture, Wales]. At pages 43 to 63 is an article by Patricia Kelly: "The Earliest Words for 'Horse' in the Celtic Languages." Patricia Kelly has also published The Word-Field 'horse' in Irish. A Study in the Semantics and Etymology of the Irish Lexicon. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft, 1984. [VI.A. Irish Language]. See also Fragments of Irish Medieval Treatises on Horses by Brian Ó Cuív, Celtica 17 (1985), 113-122. [VI.B. Irish Literature; XII.A. History, Ireland]. See also: Sayers, William. Conventional Descriptions of the Horse in the Ulster Cycle. Études Celtiques 30 (1994), 233-249. [VI.B. Irish Literature].

For a good Irish equestrian website, go to


The Horse in Irish Military History

A Military History of Ireland, edited by Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery (Cambridge University Press 1996), includes many details of the use of horses in Irish wars. Mounted combatants became distinctive elements of the large armies fielded in the 12th century. (See pages 63 and following.) In the text, at page 64, Marie Therese Flanagan, in here essay Irish and Anglo-Norman warfare in twelfth-century Ireland, says that horse soldiers were called marcshluag. In footnote 31 at page 467, she sets out many of the terms used for military horses in the Book of Rights:

each don rod — steeds of the road (book 1, page 87)

eich luatha fora ling — swift horses to mount (book 1, page 847)

eich luatha re lecon — horses that are fast away (book 1, page 1454)

gabra glantreasa — horses for racing (book 1, page 1303)

eich bus truin re togroim — horses for keen pursuit (book 1, page1197)

gabra gnath-shluagaid — horses used to hosting (book 1, page 1283)

eochu marc-shluaig — cavalry horses (book 1, page 1000)

gabra marc-shluaig — cavalry horses (book 1, page 1044)

gabra tar glasmuir — horses from over the sea (book 1, page 445)

eich tar cricha — horses from abroad (book 1, page 1016)

eich a longaib lana — horses brought in well-laden ships (book 1, page 1459)

eich a hAlbain — horses from Scotland (book 1, page 1434)

each frangcach — French horse (book 1, page 1935)



Kelpies are mythical creatures that originated in Scotland. One of three forms they can take, known as Eochaidh, is part man and part horse.

"Kelpies can be good or evil, evasive or mischievous. Kelpies prefer the company of men to their own kind. One reason being that, unlike other shape shifters a Kelpie may only mate with a human. Kelpies find that they are the defenders of the water and have taken a proactive approach to caring for their domain. unfortunately because of this restriction on mating, and their long period of hiding, the Kelpie have dwindled significantly in numbers, they now number less than 200. ...

"The Kelpie has only three forms, they are not able to do any partial metamorphisms. ...

Eochaidh (horseman) : Consists of the torso & arms of a man, and the head & legs of a horse. This is the strongest of the forms, but also the most unnerving. It is almost always black in appearance, standing upright. When in combat, they attack using their great strength, attacking with claw, hoof, and teeth."

More Irish Names Derived from "Horse"
Updated July 7, 2013  
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