Today’s name for the town records but one stage in its history, for the Gaelic speaking Manx know the place as Purt ny h-Inshey – Harbour of the Island. Here ‘Island’ refers to St Patrick’s Isle, the rocky islet at the river mouth. This inspired a Norse version from the invading Vikings-Holm = Island. (cf. Stockholm=Stake Island). Thus the settlement which grew up on the opposite river bank came to be known as ‘Holmtown’, which, in spite of over three hundred years of English rule, remained in use until quite late in the 17th century.
However, the name given to the Castle by the English rulers was ‘Peel’. This could have been from a defensive fence or paling, but more probably from the keep at the castle’s main entrance, a type of building known as a ‘peel tower’. Such defensive towers are widespread in the Scottish/English border country. Thus the castle was know as ‘the peel’. In a similar way to the Norse name, the settlement became ‘Peeltown’, until about 1860. By the time of the 1883 establishment of the Island’s local councils, the Commissioners, the name ‘Peel’ referred to the town, not to the castle. In fact, today’s name of the fortification on St Patrick’s Isle – Peel Castle is a repetitive doublet.
An inhabitant of the town can be referred to as a ‘Peelite’, or somewhat disparagingly as Gobbag=dogfish, in Manx Gaelic. However, most inhabitants take pride in being so called.