Pill – a unique tidal placename

Having been raised with the word Pill, its only recently I began to realise that there was something special or unique about it. In 2022 I decided to research the placename further. The subsquent blog drew feedback from across the SE of Ireland, and the SW of England and Wales.

You can read that 2022 blog here

Now to clarify the word Pill. 

Many accounts accept that it is an imported word to Ireland – almost certainly from the Normans and used very commonly in Waterford and along the banks of the Three Sister Rivers; Barrow, Nore, and Suir, but not as common elsewhere in Ireland. Others have said it is an old Irish word for Pool, but if that’s the case, why is it not more widespread in the country?

As regards the etymology of the word a lot of ideas were shared with me after I publised the blog– some thinking it was Irish, Welsh, or Celtic while many seemed to think it is old English.  Here’s what wiktionary had to say about Pill. And I clipped out the relevant piece here for emphasis – From Middle English *pill, *pyll, from Old English pyll (“a pool, pill”), from Proto-Germanic *pullijaz (“small pool, ditch, creek”), diminutive of Proto-Germanic *pullaz (“pool, stream”), from Proto-Indo-European *bl̥nos (“bog, marsh”). Cognate with Old English pull (“pool, creek”), Scots poll (“slow moving stream, creek, inlet”), Icelandic pollur (“pond, pool, puddle”). More at pool.

This via James Hogg – an interesting reference at the end which I have not tracked down as yet – I can’t accept that there is no connection. For me the best theory to explain it in Ireland is the Norman invasion and the vast number of Bristol merchants that settled and traded with the Three Sisters at that time.

Pills on the Three Sisters – an introduction

The Three Sister Rivers meet at Cheekpoint, Co Waterford. Above Cheekpoint as we journey the Suir to Waterford, the first we meet is the Faithlegg Pill (Or Woodlands Pill – which is on the opposite bank but a much younger placename name), close to Faithlegg Hotel and which some refer to as a stream.  Next, is the Ballycanvan Pill, which is probably more commonly called Jack Meades Pill today.  Above this again we had the Newtown Pill. And less than a mile above this, St Johns River – but some still use the St Johns Pill, Johns Pill or simply the Pill. (I have read it as called St Catherines Pill – related to a previous Abbey of St Catherine on the present courthouse site in Catherine Street) 

William St Bridge close to the mouth of the John’s Pill in Waterford city

Above the city we have of course Pilltown in Co Kilkenny – on the River Pil.    According to the Loganim placename site, this is one of three nationally including one in Co Meath – although I can see no association with this and water on the maps.  The site has two Pill Roads nationally – one is in Carrick On Suir close to Ormond Castle, while the other is in Kilkenny City. 

We also have the River Blackwater that flows from above Kilmacow Co Kilkenny – also referred to in various records as the Black River, the Blackwater Pill, Grannagh Pill, Dunkitt Pill or Kilmacow Pill. Pill Road is found in Kilmacow.

The embankment at Great Island, Wexford leading down to the “corner of the Pill”

And of course there is Pilltown (which is included in the Loganim link above) on the River Barrow. The older maps show a small tidal inlet there, but it seems to be now just an overgrown and marshy area. About a mile above this on the Kilkenny side is the Glenmore Pill. I have been told of several locations on the River Nore that use it too.

Over time I hope to explore this placename and write up accounts of what I can find. Hopefully I can get some assistance with this. Any feedback or help would be appreciated. You can get in touch by email to tidesntales@gmail.com