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Rathmore Chaos

Idly googling the name of my old school I discovered to my delight and slight surprise that a large feature on Europa, the fourth of the four big moons of Jupiter, has been named "Rathmore Chaos". It is about 57 km across, ie the size of County Antrim (appropriately enough, but we'll come to that); here is a picture of it.

I was naturally a bit curious as to how this had come about. As a teenager one of my daydreams was that I would grow up to discover lots and lots of asteroids, and therefore get the right to name them; after exhausting my near family I might consider commemorating my old school; I wondered if one of my fellow alumni had ended up in the sort of job I thought I wanted then, and had managed to sort-of fulfill my ambition?

No, the truth is a little weirder than that. The International Astronomical Union, in its wisdom, has decided that features on Europa are to be named after either i) people and places referenced in the original Europa myth or ii) people and places from Celtic myth or iii) "Celtic" (sic) stone rows and circles. The IAU has a right of course to choose to name planetary features after whatever it likes, and I'm pleased that Irish culture is being celebrated in this way, but I would just remind them that the megalithic monuments in question predate the arrival of the Celts by at least a millennium. (I mean, do we talk of the Hagia Sofia as a Turkish monument?) Celtic knowledge may not be the strong point of the members of the relevant IAU sub-committee; they are a Norwegian, a Russian, a Frenchman, a Kazakh and four Americans (of whom one does have a mildly Celtic name).

The specific derivation for the Rathmore nomenclature is this story by "Ethna Carbery" (Anna MacManus) from In The Celtic Past, published in 1904, two years after she died, based on this appendix to the Voyage of Bran. It's pretty clear that the place referred to as Rathmore in the story is not my old school to the south of Belfast, but this ancient feature, known as "Rathmore Trench". ("Rathmore" just means "big ringfort", An Ráth Mhór, though there is a local legend about a woman called Mor who lived there.)

So, just think of that, those of you who have occasion to visit Antrim Town; once you're off the motorway, just glance over to the right as the dual carriageway comes to an end; that clump of trees has bestowed its name on a far off corner of a frozen world.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 27th, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that information, Nicholas: it warms the heart. I grew up about 3 miles from Rathmore, at Tobergill, on the far side of Donegore hill. My mother (1930-2007) grew up very close to the rath, and went to Rathmore Primary School.

Thanks also for the link to Google Maps, where I found that the lower Six Mile Water valley is now in high resolution - though our farm is still in glorious low-res. (Here be Dragons.)

Dec. 28th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
Cool! As it happens, I passed by there today, though since I haven't been on lj since Christmas Day I hadn't read your post. Next time I'm there I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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