Paulgorra Field: Saintly apparition or conservation corner? What is in a field name?

One of the things I love about heritage is how layered it is. Our understanding, appreciation and knowledge of things and places can change over generations as things are forgotten, remembered and sometimes reinvented.

On the farm where I grew up there is a field called Paulgorra. It was bought by my grandfather in the 1950s. When asked what the name meant, he clearly didn’t know so, true to his character, he made a story up which my father grew up with before handing it down to me. It goes like this:

Thinning turnips was a labour intensive job, requiring a large workforce who were on their knees making their way along the drills of young turnips. One day, one of the workmen looked up from his work to see a vision of Saint Paul walking across the field and exclaimed “Paul, begorrah!” Thereafter, the field was known as Paulgorra.

It was years later, with an interest in the Irish language and in place names, that I began to wonder about the real origin of the name. It was clearly Irish in origin and the only Irish field name on the farm – not a surprising situation in south Kildare. The answer came by chance in an article in the Irish Times (which I regret not keeping and now cannot find!) which explained this field name as originating in the tradition of leaving a corner or other part of a field unmown for the hare. The Irish name is actually ‘pol na ngiorria’ (or something similar!) which means ‘hole/hollow of the hares’.

It is interesting that an Irish name survived surrounded by names like ‘the high field’, ‘the fox cover’, ‘the mill park’, ‘the bullock park’ and so on, even though its meaning had been forgotten – particularly as it was probably the name of a smaller field that is now part of a very large field owing to changes in farming practice in the last century.

As for the hares, they are still occasionally spotted on the farm, though more often one might spot foxes, badgers or rabbits. (And if anyone is wondering, the next generation have been told both stories about the field name but the family folklore comes first!)

Paulgorra field
Sharon Greene
Paulgorra Field

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