gaelic place names

The Place-Names of the Parish of Ardchattan
need to add the grid references to key locations to help navigate around the area

Ardchattan Parish Archive held a public event as part of their All Our Stories project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Brigadier John MacFarlane, a well respected local historian and native Gaelic speaker was invited to come to share with us some insight into the meanings of the place names around the Parish of Ardchattan.
This was a very interesting evening, and we transcribed each of the places as we moved around the maps.
This material was then collated and corrected by John, ably assisted by Mhairi Livingstone, and the following document was produced.
Our grateful thanks to each of them
Also added places names from Duncan Ban MacIntyre book
and Scotlandsplaces - OS details for the first map

Gaelic place names of Ardchattan.
The Parish of Ardchattan is almost entirely surrounded by water. It is bounded by Loch Creran to the north, Loch Linnhe to the west, Loch Etive to the south and east and the mountains of Glen Etive and Glencoe to the north-east.
The place-names in this beautiful part of Argyll have evolved over the centuries, with some being found in records from the 13th century. Many pre-date that and are connected to the early Christian saints who spread out from Columba’s Iona. The legends of Ossianic heroes are well represented and the occasional latinisation of prehistoric forts. Predominantly, however, the place-names reflect the physical features of the landscape and the occupations carried out there.
When the Jacobite Rising of 1745 ended disastrously at Culloden the following year, the British Government was determined, never again, to allow ‘insurrection’ in the Highlands. Major-General William Roy, with others, was charged with the task of mapping the Highlands to enable troops and ordnance to move about more easily. This resulted in a detailed military map, which paved the way for the Ordnance Survey maps we are familiar with today.
The 1st Edition maps appeared in 1856 and, since then, have been regularly updated and expanded. Even as recently as the 1960s, the OS was run by ex-military officers and, certainly in the early days, they got their information on local place-names largely from lairds and others from the ‘ruling classes’ who were often detached from the parish and did not always know the colloquial name and its derivation. Be that as it may, the place-names of Ardchattan are descriptive, informative and offer us a strong link with our past. Some are Norse but most come from Gaelic.

Starting at the Priory and working along Loch Etive clockwise, the old names and their possible meanings are:

The parish itself is named after St. Catan or Cattan ~ (little cat) who was one of Columba’s early acolytes ~ Àrd or Àird signifies high place or height of
Baile Bhaodain
The township of St Baodán, including the remains of a church, burial ground and healing well. ‘The name Baodán occurs in Baile Bhaodáin- Baodán’s Stead in Ardchattan and in Suidhe Baodáin-Baodán’s seat in Gleann Salach, near Ardchattan.’ This saint has often been confused with Modan, who should actually be Aodhán! M’Aodhán means ‘my Aodhán’ and he appears around Glendaruel and also Rosneath. 1 (p 123)
Could either be ionmhainn-‘beloved place’ or from ‘na h-ìnean’ -the finger nails. It was very common to name geographical features after parts of the body-e.g. head, nose, shoulder etc. 2 ( p 71) Local family tradition suggests "anvil from the shape of tops fields when looked down from the hill above, the boundary fences match this" .. ALSO - "Green - as a anglicised version of the Gaelic word uaine, which means green - the fields are noticably green in the early spring
High field from Àrd or Àird = high and achadh = field
Clach Dhubh
Black Rock from Clach = rock and Dubh = black
An Acarsaid
An anchorage = a gaelicised word with norse origins (akkeri-an anchor and setr-a holding) 2 ( p 221)
Field of the cattle from achadh = field and ba-cattle
Lag an Laoigh
The hollow of the calf from lag = a hollow or depression in the landscape and laogh = a calf. In old maps there is also shown a Lag an Tairbh : - the hollow of the bull.
Tigh an t’sìomain
house or inn where twisted rope was made of straw, hay or heather. The allt an t’sìomain—the burn where there was rope twisting, flows in to Loch Etive at this point : from Tigh or taigh = house or inn and sìoman = a rope of twisted straw or heather. According to local pronunciation and family folklore in the MacCallum family in Taynuilt and Ardchattan, the original name was Tigh an Tiombain ( a timbrel, timpani or tabret). When Tighnambarr in Taynuilt was built, an old woman said to the family in an attempt to explain their sudden wealth : Tha mi faicinn gu bheil fortan tailleir Taigh an Tiombain a tighinn am follais ( I see the fortune made by the tailor at Taigh an Tiombain is finally coming to the surface). The tailor was evidently an Ardchattan MacCallum and a relative of the builders of Tighnambarr.
tree field (from achadh na craoibhe-field of the tree 2 or field of the trembling = presumably from the spongy moss = (crith-trembling or shaking). In the 1st Ordnance Survey map of 1856, it mentions the Moss of Achnacree as superceding the earlier name of the Plains of Lora. //The Scotlandsplaces transcription includes CRAOBH BHEAG : An oak tree growing in a rough piece of ground a short distance east of Achnacreebeag. It is from this tree that the farm derives its name.

Sig. [Signification] Little tree// 4.

field of the cairns (achadh-field and nan càrn-of the cairns)
Lochan nan Ràth
Wee loch of the ràth-mounds or forts, cairns or enclosures. There are many cairns surrounding this lochan and Iron Age enclosures are also marked on the map) 5 Ràth can also refer to a cleared swathe of land.
Lochan na Beithe
Wee loch of the birch trees (Beithe-birch tree.)
possibly from (Sruth a’)choin gheal = meaning ‘cascade of the white dog’, referring to the turbulence at the Falls or from coingheal meaning whirlpools or meeting of waters. 2 ( p 59, 115 )
Loch Etive
derivation is vague and controversial. Dwelly gives three options for the root of the word: eite- an unhusked ear of corn / eit- cattle / eitigh-fierce, angry, stormy or ugly. 3 ( p 393).

Watson- deduces that it derives from Éitig or Éiteag meaning ‘the foul hag’. The lady who owned this ugly name was ‘really the goddess of the loch and river, and if we ask why she was so called, we have only to know the stormy and dangerous nature of the loch.’ ‘She is still well known as Éiteag, a diminutive form of ‘the little horrid one’ and her traditional haunt is placed in Gleann Salach foul glen, above Inveresregan.’ 1 ( p 46)
Watson also records ‘a man of my acquaintance declared that he knew a man who had met her in Glen Salach-after a funeral’ 1 (p 426)
Gillies- gives
éite and éiteadh- a stretching or extending.
éitich-fierce or gloomy.
éiteag-a white pebble.
ét or étibh- the old name for cattle (Glen Etive being where Buachaille-Éite mòr and beag stand as herdsmen over cattle by the banks of the river.
Gillies asserts that loch names usually come from the name of the river rather than the other way round. 2 ( p 68) *
This is seen by many as a fanciful definition. There is also academic speculation that the name is of pre-Celtic origin and is a ‘linguistic fossil’

leideag - a flat piece of ground beside the sea or Leth-ad-ag - half/side of a district or valley. 2 ( p 69)

Between Loch Etive and Ardmucknish Bay lies the Moss Road. Places named along its length, starting from Loch Etive, are:-

-white cairn from càrn-cairn or pile of stones and bàn-white.
yellow field from dail-field or meadow and b(h)uidhe-yellow (adjectives, if their noun is feminine, aspirate-i.e. add an ‘h’ after the initial consonant and this changes the sound usually to ‘v’).
Creag Mhòr
the big rock or crag from creag-rock or crag and mòr-big or important.
Craobh Bial na Buaidh
The tree of the mouth of virtue/victory or tree of the water of virtue/victory.—from craobh beul na buaidh or craobh bial na buaidh (bial being a now obsolete word for ‘water’). 3 (p 92) (Bial is also the local dialect pronunciation for beul=mouth and is found north of Loch Etive in particular.)
Tobar Bial na Buaidh
as above but with tobar replacing craobh - from tobar-a well.
Sgorr Nighean Eoghainn
-the steep or sharp rock of Ewan’s daughter.
Beinn Lora
- Lora’s hill. ‘Lora’ and ‘Selma’ both appear in MacPherson’s Ossian -a 18th century cycle of epic poems claimed by James MacPherson to have been sourced and translated by him from the original Irish. These found favour with the literati throughout Europe and thus became ‘authentic’. Many authorities since then, however, have disputed his claims. Whatever the truth of the matter, he has left us a legacy of legend, reflected frequently in place-names in Ardchattan and Argyll as a whole.
On Beinn Lora are many fascinating names.
Feur Lochan
though hard to identify nowadays, has given its name to a burn and settlement on Loch Creran. It refers to the vegetation growing in the lochan, feur meaning grass or herbage.
Lochan nan Ron
one meaning is ‘lochan of the seals’ but, given its distance from the sea, is unlikely. More probable is Lochan nan Roghainn -the ‘lochan of wishes or choices’. (Could have been a sacrificial loch)
Uamh na Caillich
cave of the old woman (with healing powers) or witch.
Creag an Eig
- notched crag
Allt na Dathaidh
-burn where dyeing was carried out (burn of the dyeing) (more correctly-Allt an Dathaidh)
Cill Choluim Chille
- remains of a cell or monastic settlement dedicated to Columba. Nearby is an old burial ground, suggesting that the church was nearby.
there is reference to Craigneuk being the name given to Dun Bhaile an righ by Cromwell's men when they were in the area sacking Ardchattan priory
- Dùn bhaile an righ(e)-the fort of the king’s township. This could also have a more prosaic meaning as ‘the fort on the slope where there is a township’ as righe means a slope, as in ‘bealach an righe’, leading out of Oban on the A85.
Ceum dhun righ
-path of the fort of the king.
Dun MhicUisneachan
(Fort of the sons of Uisneach)- has a fascinating provenance. It stands on the mound between Dun na Mara and Port Selma and features in both recorded history and legend. The site was constructed over many centuries beginning in the Iron Age.

Many legends have grown up round this prominent, natural fortification. Its name in Gaelic relates to the Fingalian legend of Deirdre and the sons of Uisneach, references to whom can be found scattered over the area around Loch Etive. It has been identified variously as ‘the palace of a long race of kings, the Halls of Selma where Fingal lived and the capital of Queen Hynde’-all elements in the Ossianic tales reputedly translated by James MacPherson.
Below it, to the north east of Dun na Mara, lay an ancient Celtic settlement. Alexander Carmichael, the Lismore-born author of Carmina Gadelica, the 19th century definitive work on west highland folklore, claims it to be George Buchanan’s Beregonium, an ancient Scottish capital whose name is a latinisation of the Gaelic Barr nan Ghobhann or ridge of the smiths. This is referred to by RCAHMS who state that:
‘The Pictish city of Beregonium is said to have been situated between Dun MacSniachan, which is the local dialect pronunciation of Uisneachan and Dun Bhaile an Righe. A street, said to have been 10 feet wide and paved, running between the two hills was called ‘sraid a’ Mhargaidh (Market Street). Another, known as ‘Sraid Mine’ (meal street?), is said to have run from the NW end of New Selma, close past the steadings of Kiel Crofts. Two portions of footpaths, a little NE of the crofts,and a cart track are considered to be on the course of Sraid Mine.
The RCAHMS states that the spurious name ‘Beregonium’, a mis-reading of Ptolemy’s ‘Rerigonium’ –a Roman settlement in Galloway-was mistakenly applied by Hector Boece in his ‘Scotorum Historiae.’’ (5) Name-book 1871 Ref. NM9035 3810

from am beinn eadar dà loch-the hill between two lochs- which is corrupted to the present-day ‘meadar loch’
Innis is an old Gaelic word for ‘meadow’ or ‘piece of open ground’. In Gaelic, Ard-muc-innis would mean height where there is open ground where there are wild pigs. In Roy’s map it is identified as a particular place near Lochnell Castle.
Kiel or Keil
refers to the lands of the Columban church or monastic settlement connected to it. (referred to in old maps as being opposite Craigneuk and also a well with connection to Columba at Dalrannoch)
Traigh lìomh or lì-the smooth strand or sandy beach.
Ard bhatan
possibly height of the sticks? (not a convincing definition)
An Sailean
the sea water inlet otherwise known as Loch Nell.
Loch Nell
loch nan eala-Loch of the swans.
Ceann an-t’sailean-head of the sea-water loch.
place of the mill. ‘Barr’ can also refer to an enclosure or quickset fence or a small ridge.
High place of the echoing cave, or the peninsula or from raineach-bracken? (The meaning of this placename depends much on how it is pronounced locally. If it is a long ‘a’, the first meaning is possible=the hill of roaring or loud weeping. If it is a short ‘a’ then it could mean ‘the height where there is bracken.’
Druim na h-Àth
Ridge of the corn-drying kiln.
misty or dewy field or possibly connected to …
Barr Cruinn
the rounded top.
Creag Slochdach
rock of the depression or dip.
Barr Mòr
the big or high hill.
Port an Duin
port of the Dùn or fort.
Leaba Fhalaich
‘ bed of hiding’. There were many of these in North Argyll -regarded as safe dens or hiding places to sleep, usually caves.
Garbh Àrd
the rough height
Rubha Garbh-àird
promontory of the rough height.
cold field. In earlier maps, this referred to the whole area round the head of Camas Nathais. (4. Maps of 1898-1904)
Camas Nathais
rounded bay of Naoise (Deirdre’s lover) or bay of good growth (Camus an fhàis) ( 2 p. 67 )
New township (Bail’ Ùr)
Fionn Àrd
the white or light-coloured height.
Cnoc na h’airghe
hillock of the shieling or transhumance ( taking of livestock to higher pastures for the summer)
Port a bhuiltin
possibly from mult-a wether.
Dùn Bachlach
the fort that was bushy or curled (like hair)—presumably referring to its location. (Called Dunvarlich in Roy’s map)
Sàilean ruadh
the reddish sea inlet or bay.
Eilean Riabhach
brindled or drab island.
Port an Fhraoich
port where there was heather around.
Sàilean sligeanach
sea inlet or bay of little shells.
Sgeir liath
grey-coloured sea rock.
Cnoc na smùidein
Hillock of the smoke ( possibly a hill used for signal fires)
Bàrr loisgte
the burnt hill ( possibly connected with muir-burning)
Druim na coille
the wooded ridge.
Rubha na blàr bòidheach
point of the beautiful field. (Correctly, Rubha am blàir bòidheach). It may also have connections with a white-browed cow or horse.
sean bhaile - the old township.
Cnoc reamhar
the fat or rotund hillock.
Bran phuirt
port of the husks of corn or the rooks/ravens or Bran, Fingal’s dog or Bràigh a phuirt (vastly corrupted name and open to interpretation)
ceann loch-head of the loch.
Càrn Bàn
white cairn.
Àrd an teine-hill of fire (again, signal beacons set in a chain up the west coast, to warn of invasion or danger).
An Doirlinn
an isthmus or specifically a neck of shore which the tide leaves dry at ebb. ( 2-p.15 )
Poll nan Ron-pool of the seal.
a norse name meaning gravelly island .
Sgeir caillich
sea rock of the old woman, witch or nun.
An Sithean
the fairy hill. (from which the general area of Shian is named.
Balure of Shian
new town near the fairy hill.
narrow path over a bog or stepping stones over a river.
field of the marsh.
hurdle gate on to hill pasture.
field of the spring or well.
Creagan Dubh
black rocks.
Cùl-càrn –Cùil means a quiet nook (Cùil a’ Chàirn-the quiet nook where there is a cairn ). The local pronunciation is Cuil Charrain (short ‘a’). Difficult to find an explanation but may refer to carran-corn spurrey (spergula arvensis). (There is a cairn at Culcharron cut by the old railway track from which a cup-marked stone is preserved in the Corran Halls in Oban.)
Sgurr mòr
the big rock.
from feur lochan, the weedy or green lochan.
An Tulach
small, green hillock.
Allt Garraich
possibly the chuckling burn.
Dubh Leitir-possibly dark hillside
Slochd an luaidhe
pit for fulling cloth or lead mine.
Achadh a’ chadha –field of the path. (2 p. 66 ) (possibly not reliable) ( Depending on whether the ‘a’ is long or short, it could be achadh a chàtha=winnowing field or achadh a catha=field of the skirmish or battle. Cadha could also refer to a narrow pass or ravine at the foot of a slope. Another possibility is a corruption of Achadh nan Gall-the field of the non-speakers of Gaelic i.e. Norsemen)
the rough headland.
Field of bracken.
Rubha riabhach
brindled or drab promontory.
Cnoc reamhar
rotund hillock of great circumference.

: Cnoc an Fhurain : hillock of the spring?

Tobar Choluim-chille
Columba’s Well.
Rubha dearg
red headland.
Am Bàrr calltuinn-the hazel-clad hill. (locally in Gaelic it was known as Bàrr a’ challtuin, hence the old pronunciation of ‘Barracaldine’)
Gleann dubh
the black glen.

: Abhainn Teithil : the warm burn. (There is no satisfactory explanation for this name. It is one of two in North Argyll, the other rising on Beinn Bhalgairean to the south of Dalmally. The Teatle Water flows west to empty into the north-east end of Loch Awe, 2 miles south of Kilchurn Castle. It is tempting to see it as teith thuil-warm flood, but probably it is more complex than that.

Rubha Teithil
the headland near where the Abhainn Teithil discharges into the sea.
Rubh’an tigh-shaluinn
headland of the salt house.
rocky place.
the Loch is named after the river, but derivation unknown. (2. P 247 )
Dail a ‘chaolais -field at the narrows.
ridge of the pigs.
Coire Circe
Corrie of the hens (possibly ptarmigan).
from Tòrr a ‘Bhocain—hill of the bogie or evil spirit or possibly little buck. (2 p. 67)
Loch Baile Mhic Chailean
loch of the township of Colin’s son, Colin being a common name in Campbell country. (Mac Cailean Mòr- the hereditary name of the chief of the clan Campbell)
achadh an reidhthir - field of the level ground.
Gleann Salach
foul glen (regarded as the home of the evil hag, Eiteag) or possibly a corruption of saile-willow tree or possibly saileach – abounding in willows. (given as Glen Sallachan in Roy’s map of 1747)

At the head of Glen Etive are many, superb, iconic mountains - admired and revered alike by climbers, artist, photographers and passers-by. The most famous of these is:

Buachaille Eite Mòr
the big herdsman or shepherd of the Etive, which, together with the slightly lower Buachaille Eite Beag, act as sentinels over the entrance to the glen.
Stob Coire Altruim
Point of the corrie of rearing or nourishing - presumably referring to deer.
Stob na Bròige
Peak of the shoe (derivation unclear, possibly its shape)
Eas an Fhir Mhòir
Waterfall of the giant or big/great man
Field of the waterfall
possibly Inbhir (an) Fhaolinn-mouth of the river of the white gull.
the mouth of the river where there are cairns.
Tom nan Uan
the rounded hillock of the lambs.
ridge of the hollow or crevice-druim na còise. It may also be a short form for druim na cois (na mara) -the ridge near the sea.
possibly the shoulder of the holly trees.
Meall a’Bhuiridh
hill of the roaring (noise of rutting stags in October or that of bulls)
Meall nan Tarbh
hill of the bulls.
Coire nan Tullaich
corrie of the hillocks.
Meall nan Gobhar
hill of the goats.
Meall a’Chreamha
hill of the gentians
Allt nan Gaoirean
burn of the murmuring noise or of the goats.
Lochan na Fois
lochan of rest or tranquillity.
Bealach na h-innsaig
pass at the small piece of arable ground.
An Grianan
the sunny place, possibly connected with the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows who was said to have a ‘sunny bower’ in Glen Etive.
Beinn Trilleachan
hill of the sandpiper, oystercatcher or turnstone. This is an unlikely derivation despite its closeness to Loch Etive. The mountain contains the Trilleachan Slabs-beloved of ‘friction climbers’-so the name may refer to Trì Leacan-three slabs as a geographical feature.
anglicised from Barr-top of ridge.
meadow or field.
Creagan Maol
bald rocks.
from goirtean-a small enclosure.
Aird an Eilean
height above the island (Eilean Uisneachan—a reference to the legend of Deirdre and the sons of Uisneach)
a very old settlement, possibly deriving from cadail lios the garden or orchard where Deirdre’s bower was reputed to be.
Camas na Cùirte
Bay of the court or palace -again, a possible reference to the legend of Deirdre.
Sgeir Lag Chaon
possibly sgeir an lag chaoin-skerry of the gentle hollow.
Rubh’ Aird an Droighinn
promontory of the heights of the blackthorn trees.
Eilean nam Meann
island of the kids.
Beinn Duirinnis
mountain of the deer island (derivation Norse-dyr-deer)
Bun Abha - mouth of the river Awe.
Ceann na creige — head or top of the rocks.
blàr- crithinn -field of the aspen trees or small field (crion-small)
the river of the dear little waterfalls.

The majority of these place-name derivations come from Brigadier John MacFarlane of Taynuilt.

Other sources are:
1. The Celtic Place-names of Scotland W.J. Watson 1993 Birlinn
2. The Place-Names of Argyll H. Cameron Gillies 1906 London
3. Gaelic-English Dictionary E. Dwelly 1994 Gairm
4. National Library of Scotland Maps
5. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of

Mhairi Ross, Dail Ghrianach, Benderloch. June 2013

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