NewsScottish Toponymy in Transition: Progressing County Surveys.
Tobar an Dualchais
Westray place-names study now on-line
Peter McNiven's PhD thesis now online
In the Beginning was the Name
Cultural Contacts Fund
Gaelic place-names research continues with support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig
From 'Scottish Place-Name News' No. 35 (Autumn 2013) two articles about Iona
New Publications (Spring 2013)
The Journal of Scottish Name Studies
SCOTTISH TOPONYMY IN TRANSITION: PROGRESSING COUNTY SURVEYS OF THE PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND
Scottish Toponymy in Transition (STIT) is an AHRC-funded research project at the University of Glasgow, running from May 2011 to June 2014. The aim is to advance the long-term goal of surveying all of Scotland’s place-names, by publishing survey volumes for three historical counties and initiating research on two others. STIT continues the momentum of Simon Taylor’s The Place-Names of Fife, produced during the course of a previous AHRC-funded project (Gaelic in Medieval Scotland: The Onomastic Evidence, 2006–2010), and aims to establish a firm foundation for future surveys. The team comprises Thomas Clancy (Principal Investigator), Carole Hough (Co-Investigator), Simon Taylor (Chief Researcher), Peter McNiven (Research Associate) and Eila Williamson (Research Associate). There is also a PhD student, Leonie Dunlop, whose role is vital not only in contributing to the research itself, but in ensuring that the project does indeed lay a foundation for the future by bringing new young scholars into the discipline.
The project will produce two full county surveys, for the historical counties of Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire. Both are small in terms of geographical area, but have complex administrative and parish histories. These surveys will include a full toponymic analysis of all place-names on the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 (Explorer) maps, and of all obsolete settlement names recorded before 1560. The research methods are those developed for The Place-Names of Fife, and the volumes will be produced to the same high standard.
During the first year of the project, work on Kinross-shire has reached an advanced stage, with name collection and analysis completed for four of the five parishes (Cleish, Kinross, Orwell and Portmoak). Fossoway too is in draft, but remains to be finished. Alongside this, preliminary work has been carried out on Clackmannanshire, including the laying out of head-names and grid references, collection of data from early printed sources, and transcription of Ordnance Survey Name Book entries. The Name Books are among our key sources, and we are working with the National Records of Scotland to make them available for both toponymic and genealogical research.
The other three counties will not be fully surveyed during the course of the project, but will be progressed to different stages. Building on his PhD thesis on the Gaelic settlement-names of Menteith (now under Stirling Council, but historically part of Perthshire), Peter McNiven will complete a survey of Menteith, intended as the first step towards a survey of the whole of Perthshire. Research on Cunninghame initiated by Thomas Clancy will similarly point ahead to a future survey of Ayrshire. Leonie Dunlop has begun work on north-east Berwickshire, focusing particularly on the charters of Coldingham preserved in Durham cathedral. Her PhD thesis has the working title “Breaking old and new ground: an analysis of Anglo-Saxon lexis in the assertion and redistribution of land in four Berwickshire parishes”. The parishes in question are Abbey St Bathans, Bunkle and Preston, Cockburnspath and Coldingham, providing a mix of coastal and inland names. In another part of the same county, Carole Hough and Eila Williamson are undertaking a pilot study of four parishes along the border with England: Coldstream, Hutton, Ladykirk and Mordington.
So much for the toponymy; what about the transition? Each of the study areas presents a different mix of linguistic strata, alongside transition of various kinds. In Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire, the early Brittonic language is generally taken to move from British to Pictish (a view that may be challenged by the current research), and there is also transition between areas where Gaelic survived as a living language later than in others. In Menteith, Peter McNiven has identified the late fifteenth century as the transitional period when Gaelic began to be superseded by Scots for naming purposes. The toponymy of Cunninghame is predominantly Scots, but here too there is a Gaelic core, as well as names from British, Old English and Old Norse.
Berwickshire reflects yet another type of transition. Bordering on northern England and historically forming part of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, its place-names have more in common linguistically with those of England than with those of other parts of Scotland. However, since the English Place-Name Survey (EPNS) stops short at the present-day border with Scotland, traditional scholarship has treated the border counties with the Scottish rather than the English onomasticon. Recent years have seen a paradigm shift towards treating the toponymicon of southern Scotland and northern England as a continuum (see e.g. Hough 2003, 2009; Scott 2004, 2008), and now that the survey for County Durham is in progress, and Diana Whaley has been appointed as EPNS editor for Northumberland, there is a real opportunity for comparative analysis and collaboration. With names from Old English as well as from Cumbrian and Gaelic, Berwickshire raises questions not only about the diachronic transition from Old English to Older Scots, but also about the synchronic transition from Middle English to Middle Scots, and from Modern English to Modern Scots.
It will be clear from the above that STIT is an exciting and challenging project requiring a wide range of expertise. We are most grateful for the active involvement and support of our Academic Advisory Board, comprising Dauvit Broun (University of Glasgow), Peder Gammeltoft (University of Copenhagen), Kay Muhr (Ulster Place-Name Society, Belfast), Kevin Murray (University College, Cork) and David Parsons (Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth). We are also fortunate to be able to draw on our Knowledge Exchange Liaison Group (KELG), comprising two members of the Academic Advisory Board (Dauvit Broun and Kay Muhr) alongside others based within the study areas themselves. They are Janet Carolan (Dollar Museum), Rob Close (Ayrshire Federation of Historical Societies), Mark Hall (Perth Museums and Art Gallery), Susan Mills (Clackmannanshire Council Museums and Heritage Service), David Munro (Kinross Museum) and David Strachan (Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust).
Knowledge Exchange is, indeed, a key aspect of the project. In order to progress the academic research, it is crucial to have input from local informants. And in order to disseminate that research, it is equally crucial to establish and to maintain links with local history societies, museums and other interested parties. We have a strong commitment to activities such as exhibitions, seminars and talks to local organisations, and we are in contact with – amongst others – Education Scotland, the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership and the Ochils Landscape Partnership. Events that SPNS members were invited to attend included the BBC’s Great British Story roadshow in Glasgow on Saturday 9 June, where both STIT and SPNS were represented, and a place-name walk from Tillicoultry to Alva on Tuesday 19 June and Saturday 23 June organised by STIT as part of the Ochils Festival.
Further information on the project is available at: http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/celtic/projects/stit.
(Based on the talk given by Carole Hough, University of Glasgow, at the Oban Conference)
Hough, Carole (2003), ‘Larkhall in Lanarkshire and related place-names’, Notes and Queries 50, 1–3.
Hough, Carole (2009), ‘“Find the lady”: the term lady in English and Scottish place-names’, in Names in Multi-Lingual, Multi-Cultural and Multi-Ethnic Contact: Proceedings of the 23rd International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, August 17–22, 2008, York University, Toronto, Canada, ed. Wolfgang Ahrens, Sheila Embleton and André Lapierre with the assistance of Grant Smith and Maria Figueredo (Toronto: York University), 511–18.
McNiven, Peter Edward (2011), Gaelic Place-Names and the Social History of Gaelic Speakers in Medieval Menteith. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
Scott, Margaret (2004), ‘Uses of Scottish place-names as evidence in historical dictionaries’, in New Perspectives on English Historical Linguistics: Selected Papers from 12 ICEHL, Glasgow, 21–26 August 2002 Vol. 2: Lexis and Transmission, ed. Christian J. Kay, Carole Hough and Irené Wotherspoon (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins), 213–24.
Scott, Maggie (2008), ‘Unsung etymologies: lexical and onomastic evidence for the influence of Scots on English’, in Yesterday’s Words: Contemporary, Current and Future Lexicography, ed. Marijke Mooijaart and Marijke van der Wal (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars), 187–98.
Taylor, Simon, with Gilbert Márkus (2006– ), The Place-Names of Fife, 4 vols of 5 so far published (Donington: Shaun Tyas).
Watts, Victor (2007), The Place-Names of County Durham Part One. Stockton Ward, EPNS 83 (Nottingham: English Place-Name Society).
Onomastics.org : Dr Peder Gammeltoft, known for his work on Scandinavian place-names in the British Isles has created this website which seeks to show how one can publish onomastic data on the internet, in the form of search engines and mapped/geo-referenced data. Dr Gammeltoft writes:
Website for inspiration and debate
After having advocated a digital future for name research, I have now decided to ‘put my money where my mouth is’. Thus, I have created this website showing the various types of online – and often free – resources one may use in order to display onomastic data online on the internet. The name of the website is: www.onomastics.org. It is divided into a number of sections, the most important of which are ‘Search Engines’ and ‘Geo-Coded Data’. The former explores how it is possible to upload various kinds of name data and display it on the internet by means of a search engine. The latter, on the other hand, explores how it is possible to upload and display geo-coded data on online maps – and in some cases also with search facilities.
Several online resources are tried out and briefly explained for each example. Most of the examples have a clear Danish or Scandinavian focus – this is owing to the fact that much of my work effort has been concentrated on Denmark and the Nordic onomastic cooperation the last couple of years.
For those of you who are interested Danish place-names, there is also a link under ‘Search Engines’ where a search engine provides access to the electronic version of the Place-Names of Denmark (Danmarks Stednavne). It is a very preliminary and unfinished search engine: http://danmarksstednavne.navneforskning.ku.dk/. The search engine comprises all 25 volumes of the series Place-names of Denmark with head form, historical forms as well as an interpretation in many cases. For the third of the country not yet covered by this series, we have supplied the search engine with head form and historical forms. A geo-referenced version will appear in June (on another site).
Tobar an Dualchais ('Kist o Riches') website contains over 24,000 oral recordings in Scots and Gaelic recorded in Scotland and further afield, from the 1930s onwards. Items include stories, songs, music, poetry and information about place-names.
Guy Puzey has pointed us to the late Thomas Huser's dissertation on Westray place-names:
Huser, Thomas Marcus (2008): Fra 'Færevåg' til 'Pier of Wall'?
This is in Norwegian, but a detailed English summary is provided on pp. 110-116 of the second volume (first PDF link on the web page). There is also a good write-up here:
McNiven, Peter Edward (2011) Gaelic place-names and the social history of Gaelic speakers in medieval Menteith. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
In the Beginning was the Name: Selected Essays by Prof. W.F.H. Nicolaisen
click here for details and order form
Nicolaisen: a partial index to In the Beginning was the Name
Cultural Contacts Fund
The proceedings of a conference held in Shetland in April 2003 by the Nordic Cooperative Committee for Onomastic Research (NORNA), the Scottish Place-Name Society (SPNS) and the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland (SNSBI) were published as:
Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Region: The Evidence of Names, edited by Peder Gammeltoft, Carole Hough and Doreen Waugh (Lerwick, 2005; ISBN 0-9551838-0-4)
The volume is available at £10.00 per copy, plus £2.50 postage and packing (UK only). Please send a cheque payable to SCOTTISH PLACE-NAME SOCIETY to:
Professor Carole Hough, English Language, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
Profits from the sale of the volume are used to fund grants of up to £125 to enable students of onomastics to attend conferences. The grants are administered by a small steering committee representing the three societies. Students who wish to apply should contact the convener of the committee at the above address, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications should be made at least two months before the conference is scheduled to take place, and should include the following information:
• Student’s name, contact details, institution and degree programme
• Name and contact details of Supervisor or Director of Studies
• Conference title, organising body, date and location
• Title of paper or poster to be presented
• Approximate costs (travel, registration, accommodation etc.)
A decision will normally be made within six weeks.
Gaelic place-names research continues with support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig
Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba ~ Gaelic Place-names of Scotland, the national advisory board for researching Gaelic forms of place-names in Scotland is delighted to announce that its work will continue to be funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig over 2011 and 2012. Highland and Argyll and Bute Councils will also continue their contributions to the project.
AÀA evolved from the Gaelic Names Liaison Committee in 2006 to meet the growing demand for Gaelic place-name research. Since then the project has researched over 3,200 Gaelic place-names throughout Scotland including names for trunk roads, settlements, core paths networks for the Highland Council and the Forestry Commission, SNH’s National Nature Reserves, ScotRail’s stations, bus and ferry depots, street names in Inverness, Fort William and Glasgow and the Gaelic names for Scotland’s electoral constituencies. Alongside on-going work for clients and partners, AÀA is also preparing a book on the Gaelic place-names of Islay and Jura in partnership with SNH, with funding from SOILLSE and Iomairt Ghàidhlig Ìle agus Diùra. The publication is due out later this year.
AÀA’s research is being uploaded to the National Gazetteer of Gaelic Place-names, a free online database available on www.ainmean-aite.org. There are over 1,000 entries at present, with links to digital maps and sound files to aid pronunciation. With funding secured for another year, AÀA can confirm that they will continue to expand and develop this invaluable resource for Scotland’s cultural and linguistic heritage.
Chair of AÀA, Donald Morris welcomed the continuing support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the other partners of AÀA adding that he was delighted to be able to welcome new clients to the organisation each year. "Place-names are of great importance to Scotland and demonstrate the value of Gaelic to the nation. It can only be good that more Gaelic is made available to all and the high standard of work is testament to the exceptional team we have."
Head of Gaelic Usage at Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Daibhaidh Boag said: “Bòrd na Gàidhlig works in partnership with a wide range of public bodies across the spectrum of Scottish life in implementing their Gaelic language plans. The service which AÀA provides to these bodies plays a vital part in ensuring that the visibility of Gaelic, through signage in particular, is increasing in communities and routes across Scotland. Over and above this, we know that there is significant interest amongst the wider public in finding out more about the Gaelic forms of the places in their locality and further afield. We are delighted with the success of the project to date and look forward to growing the service in the years to come, assisting in our efforts to re-vitalise Gaelic.”
(Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba is responsible for researching and recommending the correct and appropriate Gaelic forms of place-names for maps, signage and general use. The project, which employs two full-time staff, is run by a partnership of organisations including Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Argyll and Bute Council, Highland Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Comunn na Gàidhlig, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, Ordnance Survey, Scottish Natural Heritage, the University of the Highlands and Islands, the Scottish Place-Name Society and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. )
For more information please contact:
(Dr.) Michelle Cotter, Project Manager
Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba
Fàs, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Isle of Skye
+44 (0) 1471 888 120
+44 (0) 7511 541 687
Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba ~ Gaelic Place-names of Scotland is delighted to announce the launch of the National Gazetteer of Gaelic Place-names.
Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba, the national advisory partnership to research and establish Gaelic place-names has been developing the National Gazetteer of Gaelic Place-names since 2000. This Gazetteer is referred to in the National Plan for Gaelic (date) and to date there has been a growing demand for accurate and reliable information about Gaelic place-names.
The National Gazetteer is a database freely available to the public. It will provide a single source of authoritative information on Gaelic forms of place-names, including the research by which names have been determined, links to bibliographical information and a six figure grid reference which links to a map to locate each name. At present there are 1,000 entries covering places throughout Scotland. Work will continue to add further research and sound files to assist with pronunciation, and to expand the number of entries.
AÀA is proud to announce that the Gazetteer is now available at www.ainmean-aite.org. It is hoped that this database will be an invaluable educational tool and a treasure trove for Scotland’s historical, environmental and linguistic heritage. AÀA is very grateful for the support, advice and funding from Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Highland Council, Argyll and Bute Council and all of our partners, associates and clients in making this possible.
John Reid: Material for a place-name survey of East Stirlingshire download now available (zipped .doc file 1.7MB. Covers the parishes of Airth AIH, Denny DNY, Dunipace DPC, Falkirk FAL, Grangemouth GRM including Bothkennar BKX, Kilsyth KSY, Larbet
The Shetland ForWirds web site is now online. The Shetland ForWirds group promotes and celebrates Shetland dialect.
Scottish Place-Name Society Autumn Conference, Saturday 2nd November, Stirling.
44th Symposium of NORNA: Call for papers. Scandinavian Names and Naming in the Medieval North Atlantic Area
NEW PUBLICATION ANNOUNCEMENT
The Historical Thesaurus of English project at the University of Glasgow presents the vocabulary of English from Old English to the present arranged in semantic categories. It will be published in two volumes as the Historical Thesaurus of the OED by Oxford University Press on October 22, 2009. Further details (including a special introductory price) are available at http://www.oup.com/online/ht/
Two articles about Iona:
Hebridean Place-Names and Monastic Identity in the Vita Sancti ColumbaeThe Vita Sancti Columbae (VSC), composed c. 700 AD by Adomnán (c.628-704), ninth abbot of Iona, is exceptionally important for the study of early medieval place-names in Western Scotland. There are over 200 specific place-name references in the Vita, and the Hebridean island-names and island place-names make up nearly half of the toponyms recorded. The research presented in this paper introduced a different approach: place-names were analysed alongside textual content, thus revealing more information about the the author, his audiences and their perspective of the place-names at the time of the text’s composition.
The island-names and related place-names discussed in the paper are listed below (references are to Adomnán, Vita Sancti Columbae, ed. & trans. A. O. & M. O. Anderson, Adomnán’s Life of Columba, Oxford, 1991):
Iona’s immediate sphere of influence in the Inner Hebrides. This map illustrates the most frequently mentioned island-names in VSC in comparison with Iona. The times an island-name is specifically recorded in VSC are given on the island in red. Most of the island-names in VSC were located within a 40 km (25 mile) radius of Iona.
Ioua Insula (Iona): recorded forty-one times, and forms the setting for the majority of the chapters, even where not mentioned by name.
i.30 ‘hill that at a little distance overlooks this monastery’ (Cnoc Mór)
ii.44, iii.16 colliculo angelorum (probably Cnoc an t-Sithein)
ii.4 munitio magna (Dun Í)
iii.23 monticellum monasterio supereminentem (Cnoc nan Càrnan)
i.37 Cuul Eilne (Gleann Cùil Bhùirg or Bol Leithne)
i.37, ii.28, iii.16, iii.23 occidentalem Iouae insulae campulum (Machair)
Ethica insula/terra (Tiree)
i.19 Aethicum pilagus (the sea between Iona and Tiree)
i.36 Artchain (unidentified, monastery of St Findcháin)
ii.15 Campus Lunge (Columban monastery, probably located near Soroby)
Minores insulae (Treshnish Isles)
Malea insula (Mull)
ii.13 Delcros (possibly on the Ross of Mull)
Colosus insula (Coll)
Egea insula (Eigg)
Scia insula (Skye)
i.33 dobur Artbranni (possibly in the region of Bracadale)
Ilea insula (Islay)
Oídech/terrulae Aíthche (possibly Texa)
Rechru (Rathlin Island)
i.5 Coire Breccain (whirlpool, modern Sloc na Mara)
Elena insula (unidentified)
Longa insula (unidentified)
Sainea insula (unidentified)
Ommon insula (unidentified)
Hinba insula (likely identified with Colonsay, Oronsay or both)
iii.23 Muirbolc már
The Strand between Colonsay and Oronsay, identified as a strong candidate for Adamnán’s Muirbolc Már,
seen from Dùn Cholla on Colonsay (and, below, from Oronsay looking towards Colonsay).
Hinba is the second most widely attested island-name. After extensive research, I have concluded that Hinba is likely to be identified with Colonsay, and perhaps both Colonsay and Oronsay. The place-name Muirbolc már ‘great sea-bag’ is comparable with other muirbolc place-names (e.g. Kentra Bay, Adomnán’s muirbolc paradise, and Murlough Bay, Co. Down, both characterised as being nearly empty of water when the tide is out, exposing sands). Muirbolc már should be identified with The Strand. Furthermore, if we compare the frequency with which Adomnán records the island-names it becomes apparent that the most frequently attested are within a 25 mile (40 km) radius of Iona.
The Hebridean island-names provide the opportunity to examine how Adomnán and the Iona community perceived their maritime landscape. The prominence of Iona in the Vita cannot be underestimated, and it is clear that Adomnán was describing events from an Iona perspective. The most frequently attested island-names were within a relatively short distance of Iona and were visible to and from Iona. Columban daughter-houses were also located on Hinba and Ethica. If the proposed locations of the early foundations on these islands are correct, then they would have faced Iona, and this may have been symbolic. The sites on Ethica and Hinba served important functions in the regimented structure of monastic life: they were foundations for monks and penitents (i.30, ii.39, i.21), and Hinba was also a place for anchorites (iii.23). Anchorites held a high status in early Irish ecclesiastical society. In the Hibernensis the anchorite is depicted as leading a contemplative existence, often confined to cells. In order to lead such a life, anchorites had to be maintained and supported, and therefore anchorites were associated with a larger community. It would also have been crucial for the abbot of Iona to visit the penitential sites, which may explain their close relation on neighbouring islands. These sites were distinct and separated from the mother-church by open waters, and this is significant. From the Vita it is clear that penitents were not allowed to carry out their sentence on Iona. In one instance (i.22) a penitent who had committed a terrible sin was not allowed to ‘set foot’ upon Iona, but had to wait for Columba on Mull. The saint did not wish for the sinner to profane the holy ground of Iona. This explains the location of penitential foundations on nearby islands: they had to be close enough to Iona for support and spiritual guidance, but separate to preserve the sanctity of Iona.
Adomnán’s anticipated audiences certainly conditioned his use of place-names. His primary audience was the familia Columbae, and the Columban brethren in the Hebrides would have been familiar with these island places. One purpose of the Vita is the recording of the social memory inherited by those who identified themselves with the familia Columbae. The Vita is not only a product of this community but it is a biography of it, and the place-names were integral to this biography and would have continued to be significant.
Within the narrative there are many lessons and moral codes intended to promote veneration to St Columba that Adomnán’s primary audience could interpret in association with their local landscape. In iii.8, for example, Columba repels a hoard of demons wishing to assail Iona into Ethica, but spared his monastery at Campus Lunge. This demonstrates that the saint guarded his foundations from spiritual and physical harm. The sacredness of Iona is also highlighted in i.22 mentioned above. This episode implies that Columba could foretell the immoral actions of others, and this could have been guidance for the brethren not to sin, especially on Iona. ‘Place’ is often an integral aspect of Columba’s prophecies. This element of the saint’s character makes him a powerful patron, in that he could foretell an event and provide his followers with the ‘place’ where the danger lay and where his prophecy would be fulfilled (cf. i.19). Columba also assisted senior clerics outside of the familia Columbae when they were traveling in the Hebrides (i.4, i.5), implying that Columba could protect saints who were his equals. The saint also had the power to punish sinners, and some prophecies associated with divine retribution are fulfilled on island-sites (ii.23, ii.24, i.36).
Adomnán also consciously promotes Columba’s ecclesiastical foundations: this is reflected through the inclusion of personal names of contemporary holy men who were also church founders, and a general absence of place-names associated with them. Place-names in hagiography can often have political connotations. Columba travelled to Skye with his monks in two chapters (i.33 and ii.26), which might imply that he was travelling with an entourage to found churches, or simply ministering to the local population. The context of i.33 provides a Christian origin-legend for the name Dobur Artbranani and Columba’s association with a cairn. Similarly, in iii.16 the origin of Colliculo Angelorum is attributed to a miracle associated with St Columba. Adomnán provides the Columban origin of these names, and naming features in the landscape is a way in which people remember and relate to sites within their environment.
Biblical exegesis is another place-name interpretation. Many of the Iona place-names associated with the saint are hills where Columba would retreat to meditate or converse with angels. These habits of the saint are Biblical connections, particularly to Exodus, where Moses goes atop Mount Sinai to receive instructions from God. The analogy between Scripture and the landscapes of Iona and Hinba in particular indicate that Adomnán attempted to interweave Biblical parallels into these landscapes through places associated with the saint. This technique would have strengthened early Christian identity to specific places.
The Vita Sancti Columbae provides many insights into the interpretations of island-names and place-names in the early medieval period. When closely analysed, we are able to picture the relationship between these islands and the early Columban community. Through examining the names in context we are also able to ascertain how members of the familia Columbae in the Hebrides related to their environment. The legends and history of their patron saint was an integral part of their history, and this shared history provided them with a unified monastic identity. The island-names demonstrate the importance of Iona and Columban houses in the Hebrides to the familia Columbae, and how this monastic family built and interwove a living tradition into their island-landscape, one based on the life and miracles of St Columba.
Dr Kelly Kilpatrick (including photos)
(The Tiree Place-name Project website is now live here)
Eilean Ì nan sìthean uaine
‘Eilean Ì nan sìthean uaine,‘Iona of the green hills, the bards will forever sing in its praise’: the first lines of a song by John Campbell, born in 1905 by the grassy western shore of Iona. Johnnie Chailein – as he was known – was the last of the old-style local bards in these parts, taking his place in a line of poets and songmakers reaching back to the monks of the Columban familia.
bidh na bàird gu bràth a’ luaidh air’.
Carried in this lineage were two key things: the Gaelic language, spoken daily on this island from the time of Colmcille up to, and well into, the 20th century; and the land and sea, from which islanders in any age have had to survive – whether monk or pilgrim, craftsman or farmer. And stored in this landscape are place-names – given at one time or another to every hill and hollow, rock and gully. The naming of a place is tied fast to the life and culture of its inhabitants; and so these names, too, are monuments – an enduring record, not merely on maps, but held in the collective memory. On Iona they also demonstrate a line of continuity from the Early Christian church, through the Benedectine period and into the modern crofting community.
The traveller to Iona today steps ashore at a small bay called Port Ronain. But to the right lies an even smaller bay which, however, recalls a big and illustrious past: Port Adomnan, named for the 9th Abbot of Iona, himself also a saint and a great scholar whose Life of Columba allows us vivid glimpses of early monastic life in these islands. And this spot has a second name, Port a’ Chroisein, the bay of the little cross. A man named John MacInnes told folklorist Alexander Carmichael that his father, when a boy in the 1760s, saw a sculpted cross at the head of that bay – Adomnan’s Cross, a beacon of artistic splendour to welcome the pilgrim and lift the spirit.
From the ferry leaving Iona: Port Ronain is immediately right of the slipway, with Cnoc Mòr behind. (Photo WP)
The Sound of Iona, looking from Cnoc Mòr towards Mull. (Photo Kelly Kilpatrick)To the left of the modern slipway is Port nam Mairtear – the bay of those martyred for their faith or, perhaps, as local guide Alexander Ritchie believed, a place whose name derived from the Old Irish word martra or relics. For it was very likely from there that the precious relics of Colmcille were put on board a vessel, to be taken away for safekeeping – to rest, in time, in Kells and in Dunkeld. Those gone before echo down the ages at Port nam Mairtear; Iona’s War Memorial stands here, for good reason. Long ago, bodies brought for burial – whether West Highland nobility or islanders who had died far from home – were landed at this bay, to be laid first on the little mound called the Eala and then carried along the cobbled pathway that began here and ends at the Abbey – Straid nam Marbh, the street of the dead.
Clan Chiefs came to Iona in life too, nine of them famously summonsed in 1609 by the Bishop of the Isles. On this sacred isle they had to swear an oath assenting to the Statutes of Iona, an event that would in time weaken the close link between a chief and his people and critically undermine the use of the Gaelic language among his descendants. Local tradition claims that they gathered, with their retinues, on Iomair nan Achd, the ridge of the Acts – an otherwise odd name in an agricultural landscape – and what a ceilidh that may have been. Ironically, given the later repercussions, this makeshift camp lay just north of the Abbey, in full view of what had been a brilliant centre of Gaelic art and learning.
And out across the landscape stories from a myriad generations intertwine. A 7th century bard wrote of Colmcille and his men ‘blown in boats over brine’ to reach Iona where, finally, they scraped ashore on its south-west tip, at Port a’ Churaich, the Port of the Coracle. Walk up from that pebbly bay and you can pick out signs of much later life too: the green patch of Gàradh Eachainn Òig, an enclosure once cultivated by ‘young Hector’; or, sunk in the heather, the stone foundations of Taigh Iain MacIlleathain. Here, in 1746, John Maclean lay in hiding as a lad ran to warn him that redcoat soldiers were on their way. He had piloted a ship to Barra, with arms and money for the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.
From those southern hills – full of cattle folds, caves and shielings, many with a name and tale attached – you come down to the sandy turf of the Machair. Adomnan called this ‘the little western plain’ where Colmcille came to bless the brethren in the fields not long before he died. Just above the shoreline is Lòn nam Manach – meadow of the monks – and tucked in behind Dùn Bhuirg is Goirtean Beag, little cornfield, still a patchwork of rig and furrow. The Dun’s name tells us that it was the stronghold of an Iron Age community some 500 years before the first monks arrived.
The Machair was, and is, a place for play as well as for labour. Cnoc na Maoile Buidhe remained significant for one islander, remembering a scene from his boyhood half a century before. This hillock marked the northern goalposts for the last, epic, shinty match held on New Year’s Day in 1881. Everyone was there; they tussled fiercely for hours; it was a draw! Another part of our shared culture, for did shinty not come to Scotland with Colmcille himself?
And at the Machair gate is the most famous of Johnnie Chailein’s ‘green hills’ – Sìthean Mòr, the big fairy mound, where music of the wee folk might be heard and the unwary enticed inside to dance, so the tale goes, for a whole year. Here too, on the feast day of St Michael, the islanders used to race their horses sunwise around the hill, in a joyful ritual of dedication. And for Adomnan it was colliculus angelorum, the Angels’ Knoll, where Colmcille was seen conversing with the citizens of heaven. A serene spot, witness to both mirth and miracle.
We cannot forget water, vital to island life, whether to drink or upon which to sail. In the north-west lies Tobar na Gaoithe Tuath, the well of the north wind; local folk kept this deep rock pool clear of weed and, when needed, would recite a chant over it to bring seafarers a favourable wind. Not far away is Lòn a’ phoit dhuibh, the meadow of the black pot, indicating another kind of water, the water of life – a whisky-still was said to be sunk there, hidden from the eyes of the excisemen. And, between the Abbey and the seashore, listen for the gurgling of Tobar a’ Cheathain. Who Ceathan was we do not know, but this well of spring water named after him was prized by earlier generations. An old rhyme said, of those in poor health or near to death: ’S cha mho dh’ iarr e ri òl, ach uisge mòr a Cheathain – nor did he wish to drink anything, but the good water of Ceathan.
As the tides ebb and flow, so do the people of Iona. The early monks, and the medieval craftsmen, bequeathed the riches of their prayers, poems, manuscripts and marvellous stone carving. These illuminate Iona down to this day.
Others left only their name, Croit Eachern for example. This is a plot of ground inside the former monastery vallum, where the Iona Community’s shop stands today. A family of MacEacherns lived here, herding cattle for the neighbouring crofters. But, when the potato crop failed in the 1840s bringing hardship and sickness, they took ship for Canada and never returned.
Another, recalled simply as Seamas MacPhàdraig (James son of Peter), sent home a song. From the West Indies he wrote in verse of a longing to set foot again at Port Ronain on Iona, and of the ripples white as gulls on the surface of Loch Staonaig. But he was too far away, beyond the setting sun: Tha mi seo ann an Demerara, Fada thall air cùl na grèine.
So, we return to the poets. For the great Argyll bard, Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, Iona was ionad naomha, a saintly place – beloved by many for the light of faith kindled there by Colmcille and his successors. For Johnnie Chailein, the island was special in other ways too, not least for itself. His song Eilean Ì has one verse consisting almost entirely of place-names, the landmarks he knew as a boy:
Ceann na Creige, Uamh Spùtach, Stac an Aonaich is Druim Dhùghaill,
Tha na Habhann air a chùlaibh, Faradh os an cionn gan dìon.
And he ends by bidding farewell to the place of his childhood, and asking simply: Who would not love Iona?
Soraidh bhuam gu tìr mo gràdhsa, Far an robh mi òg nam phàisde
Saoghal buan do na tha’n tàmh innt’, Cò nach tugadh gràdh do dh’ Ì ?
E. Mairi MacArthur (written for the occasion of the visit to Iona by the Irish President, Michael D Higgins, on 20 July 2013)
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Compiled by Simon Taylor, with a little help from his friends. For more extensive bibliographies of name-studies in Britain and Ireland, and, less comprehensively, other parts of northern Europe, see the bibliographic sections in the relevant issues of Nomina, the journal of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland: most recently ‘Bibliography for 2009’, compiled by Carole Hough, (Nomina 33 (2010), 193–208). The material in the Nomina Bibliographies is set out thematically, and includes reviews which have appeared in the given year. There is also now an onomastic bibliography for Scotland 2006-2009 in Journal of Scottish Name Studies (JSNS) 4, 173-86; for 2010 in JSNS 5, 183-8; and for 2011 in JSNS 6, 97-9 (compiled by Simon Taylor). The following bibliography also includes all the articles in the latest JSNS 6 (2012). (Available free on line.)
Ahlqvist, Anders, 2012, ‘Three Otago Place-Names of Celtic (?) Origin’, Australian Celtic Journal 10, 85–105 [notes on the derivation of Balclutha, Dunedin and Mavora Lakes, New Zealand, with important new insights into the derivation of Edinburgh].
Baldwin, John, and Drummond, Peter, 2011, Pentland Place-Names: An introductory guide (The Friends of the Pentlands, Edinburgh).
Crook, Alice, 2012, ‘Personal Names in 18th- Century Scotland: a case study of the parish of Beith (North Ayrshire)’, JSNS 6, 1-10.
Fraser, Kenneth, 2012, ‘What’s in a name?’, Clyde Steamers: magazine of the Clyde River Steamer Club 48, Summer 2012, 18–22.
Hammond, Matthew H., 2012, ‘The Use of the Name Scot in the Central Middle Ages. Part 2: Scot as a surname, north of the Firth of Forth’, JSNS 6, 11-50.
Hough, Carole, 2012, ‘Celts in Scandinavian Scotland and Anglo-Saxon England: Placenames and language contact reconsidered’, in Language Contact and Development around the North Sea, ed. Merja Stenroos, Martti Mäkinen and Inge Særheim (John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam).
McNiven, Peter, 2012, ‘Place-names and the medieval church in Menteith’ (Part 1), History Scotland 12, No. 6 (Nov/Dec), 36-43.
McNiven, Peter, 2013, ‘Place-names of Menteith’ (Part 2), History Scotland 13, No. 1 (Jan/Feb), 36-41.
Macquarrie, Alan, with Rachel Butter (and contributions from Simon Taylor and Gilbert Márkus), 2012, Legends of Scottish Saints: Readings,
Hymns and Prayers for the Commemorations of Scottish Saints in the Aberdeen Breviary (Dublin) [includes the makings of a Dictionary of Scottish Saints by Rachel Butter].
Márkus, Gilbert, 2012, Place-Names of Bute (Donington).
Márkus, Gilbert, 2012a, ‘From Goill to Gall- Ghàidheil: place-names and Scandinavian settlement in Bute’, in Historic Bute: Land and People, ed. Anna Ritchie (Society of Northern Studies, Edinburgh).
Martin, Angus, 2013, Kintyre Places and Place- Names (The Grimsay Press, Kilkerran).
Nurminen, Terhi, 2012, ‘Hill-Terms and the Place-Names of Northumberland and County Durham’, unpublished PhD, University of Newcastle.
Parker, Michael, 2012, ‘An Eighth-century Reference to the Monastery at Hoddom’, JSNS 6, 51-80.
Taylor, Simon, 2012, ‘Alba: Scottish Place- Names’, in Logainmneacha: Place-Names, ed. Marion Gunn, advisory ed. An tAthair Pádraig Ó Cuill, Ian Mac Consaidín (proceedings of Comhdháil Cheilteach/Celtic Congress, Sligo 2009), 2-44 (Dublin) [also contains chapters on the place-names of Brittany (Jean-Yves Le Moing), Wales (Hywel Wyn Owen), Ireland (Art Ó Maolfabhail), Cornwall (Craig Weatherhill) and Isle of Man (George Broderick), as well as a Common Celtic Glossary of Place-Names by Jean-Yves Le Moing, in consultation with S. Taylor and A. Ó Maolfabhail, and reports on workshops held at the Congress]
Taylor, Simon, 2012, ‘Bibliography of Scottish Name Studies for 2011’, Journal of Scottish Name Studies, 97-9.
Taylor, Simon, with Gilbert Márkus, 2012, The Place-Names of Fife Vol. 5 (Discussion, Glossaries and Edited Texts, with Addenda and Corrigenda of Volumes 1-4) (Donington) [volume 5 of a five-volume series].
Eighth-century Reference to the Monastery at Hoddom
Gilbert Márkus Stephen T. Driscoll, Jane
Geddes and Mark A. Hall, Pictish Progress: New Studies on
Northern Britain in the Early Middle Ages
Thomas Owen Clancy John MacQueen,
Place-Names in the Rhinns of Galloway and Luce Valley and
Place-Names of the Wigtownshire Moors and Machars
of Scottish Name Studies for 2011
Contributions to future issues should be forwarded in paper and electronic (WORD or .rtf) formats to the publisher, Clann Tuirc, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the above address; see Notes for Contributers online at www.clanntuirc.co.uk/JSNS/notes_for_contributers.html , also available from the publisher.