Gaelic Place-Names: ‘dùn’ and ‘caisteal’

The Gaelic word dùn (pronounced doon) means ‘fort, castle, fortified hill’. It is found in place-names including Dundonald ‘Donald’s fort’ in Ayrshire, Dunbeg ‘small fort’ near Oban on the west coast of Scotland, An Dun Mhor ‘the big fort’ on the island of Arran, Dunduff ‘black fort’ in Ayrshire and Dun an Ruigh Ruadh ‘fort […]

Gaelic Place-Names: Viking Influence on the Gaelic Place-Names of the Hebrides

The Viking raids around the Scottish coast began in the closing years of the eighth century, with devastating attacks on Iona Abbey and the Isle of Skye. These ‘vikings’ were Norwegian adventurers who sailed to the Hebrides via Shetland and Orkney in search of wealth, and later, land, as the raiding gradually gave way to […]

Gaelic Place-Names: Bird names

The Gaelic word for a bird is eun. It occurs in place-names such as Meall nan Eun ‘mountain of the birds’ in Argyllshire, Suidhe nan Eun ‘seat of the birds’ on the Isle of Skye, Beinn an Eòin ‘mountain of the birds’ near Torridon and Loch nan Eun ‘loch of the birds’, a name found near Lochnagar in the Grampians, and also near Applecross […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Inbhir’

The Gaelic word inbhir means ‘a confluence of waters’ or ‘the mouth of a watercourse’. It is therefore most commonly found in conjunction with the name of a river or stream, with examples including Inverary ‘mouth of the river Aray‘ in Argyll, Inverurie ‘mouth of the river Urie‘ near Aberdeen, Inverkeithing ‘mouth of the Keithing burn’ in Fife, Inveresk ‘mouth of the river Esk‘ near Edinburgh and Inverewe ‘mouth of […]

Gaelic Place-Names: Words meaning ‘green’

Speakers of the Gaelic language divide the colour spectrum differently to English speakers, and as such there is no single word equivalent to ‘green’. Instead, the colour green is represented by three distinct terms, uaine, gorm and glas. The word uaine (pronounced oo-in-ya) is used to refer to a bright, vivid green colour, and although this is the most commonly-used term for […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Uamh’

The Gaelic word uamh or uaimh (pronounced oo-av) means ‘a cave’. It occurs in place-names such as Uamh an Uisge ‘cave of the water’ in Sutherland, Uamh an Ard Achadh ‘cave of the high pasture’ on the Isle of Skye, Uaimh Chrom‘curved cave’ south of Oban, Uamh Ròn ‘seal cave’ in Caithness, Uamh an Òir ‘cave of gold’ in Wester Ross and Uamh nan Gabhar ‘cave of the goats’ on the […]

Gaelic Place-Names: Occupational Terms

Not all place-name elements describe the landscape in which they are found. Some of them describe instead the occupants of the landscape and their various roles within their respective communities. For example, the Gaelic word gobha means ‘a smith, a blacksmith’, and is found in many place-names across Scotland, including Ballygown ‘smith’s farm’ on the islands of Arran and […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Gleann’ and ‘Srath’

The Gaelic words gleann and srath both mean ‘a valley’. These names are commonly Anglicised as glen and strath respectively. Whilst gleann usually refers to deep, narrow valleys, srath is reserved for wide and shallow valleys. Many of these valleys take their names from the rivers that run through them. Glen Affric, Glen Dee, Glendevon, Glenluce and Glen Truim as well as Strathaven, Strathclyde, Strathnaver, Strathpeffer and Strathspey all contain river names as their second element. Other names containing gleann or srath are named for […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Craobh’ and ‘Crann’

Gaelic craobh (pronounced kroov) means ‘tree’, and derives from Old Irish cráeb, cróeb. It is found in names including Eilean nan Croabh ‘tree island’ (Inverness-shire), Cnoc nan Croabh ‘tree hill’ (Kintyre), Leac nan Craobh ‘tree ledge’ (on the Isle of Skye), Aird na Craoibhe ‘promontory of the tree’ (on North Uist), Torr na Craoibhe ‘hill of the tree’ (Sutherland) and Airigh na Craoibhe ‘shieling of the tree’ (on the Isle of Lewis). […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Eilean’ and ‘Innis’

There are two primary words in Gaelic which mean island: eilean and innis. Eilean is more common than innis in everyday speech in Gaelic, although both are found in place-names. Examples of names in eilean include Eilean Donan‘St Donnán’s isle’, near Kyle of Lochalsh, Eilean Tigh ‘house isle’, off the coast of Raasay, Eilean nan Ròn ‘isle of the seals’, in Sutherland, and Na h-Eileanan Siar which is the Gaelic name […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Gall’

The Gaelic place-name gall means ‘stranger, foreigner’, and occurs in Scottish place-names including Achingall ‘field of the strangers’ (East Lothian), Rubha nan Gall ‘point of the strangers’ (Mull), Cnoc nan Gall ‘hill of the strangers’ (Colonsay), Allt nan Gall ‘stream of the strangers’ (Sutherland), Inchgall ‘isle of the strangers’ (Fife), Barr nan Gall ‘summit of the strangers’ (Argyllshire) and Camusnagaul ‘bay of the strangers’ (Wester Ross). In many cases, the strangers […]

Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Cill’

Gaelic cill (pronounced keel) originally meant ‘cell, church’ from Old Irish cell, (ultimately from Latin cella) and now usually means ‘chapel, churchyard’ in modern Gaelic. It is found in a large number of place-names, whose widespread distribution reflects the spread of the both Gaelic language and Celtic Christianity across Scotland. It is frequently used in combination with the name of […]

Gaelic Place Names: ‘Bodach’

The Gaelic word bodach (pronounced bot-ach) can mean ‘old man’ and also ‘spectre, ghost’. It occurs in a variety of place-names across the Scottish Isles including Loch nam bodach ‘loch of the old man/spectre’ on Lewis, Carraig nam bodach ‘rock of the old man/spectre’ on Mull, Sloc nam bodach ‘hollow of the old man/spectre’ on the Isle of Colonsay, Leanag nam Bodach ‘the little meadow of […]

Gaelic Place Names: ‘Gille’

The Gaelic word gille (pronounced geel-yuh) meaning ‘boy, lad’ is ultimately from Old Irish gilla. It occurs in place-names such as Altgillie Burn ‘burn of the boy’ in Angus, Allt Gille Ghagaich ‘burn of the stuttering boy’ on the Isle of Arran and Loch a’ Ghille Reamhra ‘loch of the fat boy’ on the Isle of Rum, but otherwise can be rather an elusive toponymic […]

Gaelic Place Names: ‘Sìth’ and ‘Sìthean’

The Gaelic word sìth or sìdh (pronounced shee) can mean ‘fairy’ and ‘hill’ and in Scottish place-names is usually considered to denote a ‘fairy hill’. It probably derives from the ellipsis of the Irish phrase aos sídhe ‘people of peace’. According to medieval Irish sources such as the twelfth-century Book of Leinster, the aos sídhe were an ancient supernatural race who dwelt beneath the surface […]

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