Whats in a name

Different explanations for the origin of the village name, Quin, circulate to this day. Whether or not it is possible to determine the correct origin, we do not know, because no exhaustive research appears to have been conducted. We rely entirely on speculation. We can, however, discount some of the interpretations.

The Quince tree origin (see OPW signage at entrance to Friary).

This is the easiest to refute as this tree is not native, does not grow in any natural setting in Ireland and is unlikely to withstand the conditions prevalent here. It is native to western Asia. It also assumes an English language derivation for the name Quin.

The 5 roads origin (see Quin Tidy Towns website)

The name Quin is an anglicised and abbreviated translation of Cuinche. Records of this Irish name for the area date back to the eleventh century. Records for different versions of the English name start to emerge much later (Quinkey, Quinhy, Quinchy, Quint) and settle on Quin in the seventeenth century. This explanation also relies on a Latin word quinque meaning five, widely used in English, as the origin for the name of an old Irish village.

When the original Cuinche was in use by the predominantly Gaelic people, there was one road in and one road out of Quin. This explanation for the origin would only make sense if five roads existed when the name first emerged.

There are six roads in and out of Quin today. Newline road was built around the time of the famine, the road to Kilkishen was built in the mid 1700’s. The existing road to Ennis only went as far as Quinville House, later extended to provide more direct access to Ennis.

The Arbutus Tree origin (John O’Donovan, PW Joyce)

John O’Donovan was the first to speculate on the link between Cuinche and Caithne (arbutus) based on the similarity of words and the existence of a townland north of Clooney called Derrycahney (wood of the Arbutus). He did not stay in Quin when visiting but undertook research while staying in Tulla and Sixmilebridge into Quin Abbey and Maigh Adhair. We know from his letters to colleagues whoprovided support to his fieldwork, that no research was carried out by him into the origin of the name[1]. He was held in such reverence by fellow antiquarians from the R.I.A. that he was later unquestionably quoted, particularly by PW Joyce.This was carried on to the point where locals were quoted by later antiquarians to have said they even remembered the arbutus wood growing here. Was this the merely telling the gentleman what the gentleman wants to hear?

Due to its soil-type requirements and minimum winter temperatures, it is now accepted that the arbutus (unedo L) is unlikely to have grown here and likewise to have any association with the Quin village name[2].

Other associations

Quin has other associations or phonetic similarities in the Irish language such as chuin (a hollow), O’Choinn/Ua Chuinn (Quinn family name), caoin/caein (beautiful), caoin (smooth), Con/Conn (male first name),Uí Choinn (of Con)cúinne (a nook). The name of a local fort Cahercine is translated to Cathair Choinn (Fort of Con)[3]. Quin Street in Limerick City is translated to Sráid Uí Chuinn.

There is a version of Táin Bó Cúailnge (author unknown) which includes the following reference to a place or mountain called Cuinche:

Cú Chulainn did not kill anyone between the Saili Imdoirchi in the district of Conaille until they reached Cúailnge. Cú Chulainn was then on the mountain Cuinche. He threatened that wherever he saw Medb he would cast a stone at her head. This was not easy for him, for Medb travelled surrounded by half the army and with a screen of shields over her head.

The Death of Lócha

A handmaid of Medb’s called Lócha went with a great company of women to fetch water. Cú Chulainn thought that she was Medb. He threw a stone at her from Cuinche and killed her on her plain. Hence comes the place-name Réid Lócha in Cúailnge.”

Index cards used by The Placenames Branch (Logainmeacha) to determine the authoritive names of towns and villages for An Post (Oifig an Phoist)[4]

Conclusion

Having set out to refute the 3 most widely used explanation for the origin of the village name, can we shine any lights on the true origin? Given the confusion caused to date arising from other speculations, it would be wrong to add another. We can only hope that the professional and academic research will sometime in the future delve sufficiently to present a more plausible explanation. This will require focus on the name Cuinche and not Quin.

The strategic location of this crossing point for penetrating Thomond, or its situation at the heart of the MacConMara clan, are more likely to have influenced the name rather than the variations referred to above.

[1]The Antiquities of County Clare (Ordnance Survey Letters) John O’Donovan & Eugene Curry P.396-399

[2]British & Irish Botany 3(4): 385-418, 2021, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington; also Trees in Early Ireland by Fergus Kelly p.48

[3]From Gaillimh to Galway (The Anglicisation of Irish Place Names) Tom Burnell p. 390

[4]Logainm.ie