In early Irish society dogs were considered noble creatures possessing aspiring qualities like intelligence, loyalty, companionship, guardianship, speed and agility, the very human qualities imperative for survival in all early societies especially for warriors. Heroes in both real life and mythology were given names with “dog” or more specifically “hound” in the title like Cú Chulainn, Con Cétchathach etc. The evidence of reverence of our ancestors had for these creatures is abundant in surnames and sometimes in place names like Connacht, Connemara, Conaghrea. Glenamaddy, Limivaddy etc. However, most of the place names ultimately derive from personal names.
Con, (the genitive form of Cú) depending on the context in which it is
found can translate directly as wolf/dog/hound but its original sense
would be more akin to hero, great warrior or tribal leader. Con is
sometimes anglicised with an extra ‘n’ e.g. Conn.
names which begin with Cú (a hound) were originally all prefixed with
Mac with apparently one exception, which took the O’, namely,
Cú-cheanann, which gave rise to the surname O Conceanainn, anglicised
'Concannon,' and sometimes even 'Cannon possibly meaning ‘fairheadded
Sometimes Con means wolf as in Conalty which
comes from O’Conallta meaning wild wolf. The Irish for wolf hound is
Faolchú Faol- cú - wild hound. Other names for a wolf include mac tire
and madra alla/allta (wild dog).
Madra is the word for dog in
modern Irish and is found in the surnames Madden, MacAvaddy, Madigan
from O’Madaihín and Mac a' Mhadaidh. This form is found in place names
too like Limavaddy (Leim an mhadaidh) literally “the dog's leap”.
Glenamaddy from Gleann na Madadh" Gleann meaning valley and madhadh
from madra meaning dog. This would suggest that the name means "Valley
of the Dogs".
Some other examples of names with ‘con’; Conboy
from Conbhuidhe meaning yellow (haired) hound/hero. Conneely from Mac
Conghalile, the gal element means valour thus valorous hero. Connolly
has the same meaning but it derives from the Munster O’Conghalile.
Conway (Mac Con-bhuadha, sometimes also for Mac Con-mhaighe) Conmee, or
Conmey (Mac Con-Midhe - hound of Meath), Confrey (Mac Confraoich –
hound of the heather), Conroy (Mac Con-raoi- warrior king).
Some names have retained the Mac and suppressed the Con; but have put in
a syllable 'na,' which does not occur in the original Irish form such
as Macnamee (for MacConMidhe –hound of meath), Macnamara (for Mac
Con-mara - Cú-mara - sea-hound). It is also found with the words swapped
around as in Murchú often anglicised as Murphy which also translates a
hound of the Sea. MacCon - Mac Mhíolchon meaning hunting dog.
Image: Fionn Mac Cumhaill accompanied by his two hounds, Bran and
Sceolan located near Newbridge, Co. Kildare at Exit 12 of M7 motorway.