Place names - Scott Russell, Strathfarrar
Is anyone else out there intrigued by the local place-names?
I confess I'm smitten. Since first I moved to the glen in '83, the place-names have held a fascination for me, so much so that I've had to learn Gaelic to find out what they mean. They're not all Gaelic, but there's
only a very few which aren't, and this fact alone tells us a bit about the history of the district. I mean, we all know that Gaelic was the main language in this area until relatively recently, so it comes as no
surprise that the names of the places are in that language. But what of Eskadale? This is a Norse name signifying 'ash valley'. From this we learn that the Norse, who also gave us the name Dingwall, came, and
probably settled, as far south as Eskadale. It seems that this is probably as far south as they did settle in this part, at least going by place-name evidence alone. There are plenty of Norse place-names further
north and on the islands.
Another group of settlers who have left their mark in terms of place-names are the Picts. In fact, one of the methods of determining the range of Pictish settlements is to map the occurrence of names containing
the element 'pit' which means 'portion'. The proliferation of the names with this element all down the east coast indicates considerable settlement there, whereas the scarcity of them in the west may indicate either
fewer Pictish settlements or, as is possibly the case, that Gaelic names have superseded them. A local place-name that I would guess to be of Pictish origin is Urchany. But I stress this is only a guess, and
if anyone knows better, please get in touch. I would be happy to be proved wrong in this. A still earlier group of names, either early Celtic or possibly pre-Celtic, is also in evidence in this area, and I would
hazard a guess that Farrar belongs to this group. The great Celtic scholar Professor W.J. Watson identified Farvar with the Gaulish river 'Arar' but failed to come up with a convincing translation.
However, as I have said, the majority of place-names in this area are identifiably Gaelic. This doesn't always make them easy to translate unfortunately, because some have been corrupted over time to the extent
that their meaning is often obscure. We can say with some certainty, for instance, that Kilmorack (G. Cill Mhbraig) translates as 'the church o~ someone-or-other, but opinion is divided as to who the M6rag in
question was. Quoting Prof. Watson again, the church is dedicated to St. Moroc. Teanassie
is another in this category. The first part is easy, the 'tea' being a rendering of the modern Gaelic 'taigh ' (a house or dwelling). When we come to the second part, however, we find it to be a shortened form of the Gaelic ‘fasadh' (shelter or dwelling). To me it seems highly unlikely that the name means the dwelling-dwelling, so I'll settle for the earlier meaning of ‘fasadh ' in place names, which indicated a good level resting-place where a drover might pasture his cattle for the night. That is, until I'm proved wrong.
I'll conclude this rather long-winded introduction to place-names of the locality with one with which we're all familiar - Beauly. That's easy. It comes from the French 'beau lieu' (nice
place). Mary Queen of Scots gave it that name, didn't she? Well, no, actually. The name is French, of course, given to the land surrounding the Priory by the French monks who lived there from about three hundred
years before ever the good Queen set eyes on it - if she ever did. Originally called 'Bellus Locus' (Latin for nice place), the same name given to at least eight houses of the same religious order throughout France
and several in England. The place also, you won't be surprised to hear, has a name in Gaelic. Yes, of course, its up on the new signs on the approach road to the village. Well, again the answer is no. In their zeal
to erect those admittedly impressive signs, the then Highland Regional Council seem to have omitted to ask a Gaelic speaker what the name might be.
For those who are interested, the Gaelic name for Beauly is A 'Mhanachainn (The Monastery or Priory). The name on the signs is a piece of nonsense in any language.
More on the Gaelic Placenames of Kilmorack can be found here