Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Iff, Yff in Breton Place Names

The yew is an amazing tree. It can grow to heights of 20+ metres, its trunks can measure more than 2m in diameter and the trees can live for 400 years or more.
Estry Yew, Normandy
The Estry Yew in Normandy (above) is estimated to 1,600 years old and the Llangernyw Yew in Clwyd, Wales (below) is about 1,500 years old.
Llangernyw Yew, Clwyd (Wales)
The yew tree has a special significance for Celtic communities. In ancient times tribal leaders would take poison from the yew tree rather than surrender.
The yew tree also has  powerful spiritual connotations. Churches have often been built around yew trees on ancient sacred sites.
The yew tree below, in Normandy, has actually got a chapel built into it!
Brittany has its fair share of ancient and sacred yews. In Breton 'yew/yews' is ivinen/ivin and in French it is if (cf. Welsh: ywen/yw in Llangernyw). Another source is the Gaulish: ivos.
The name can be found in Brittany place names such as: Les Iffs, Saint-Brieuc-des-Iffs, Kernivinen ('yew village' '), Kerivin ('farm/village of yews'),Rosnivinen ('yew hill'), Livinot (with the French article l'), Inguinel/An Ignel (from Old Breton: An Iviniel, 'the yews'), Yvignac and Iffniac (these last two have the classic Gaulish ending).

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