Ainmean-Àite / Place-names


Almost every corner of Scotland has got some evidence of Gaelic in its place-names. Sometimes this is really obvious, other times it’s somewhat more obscure. The Gàidhealtachd – the traditionally Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland – is, as you would expect, rich in Gaelic place-names . These often carry stories and speak of the history of the place, though sometimes their meaning or origin has been lost. Understanding, researching and dissecting them is an ongoing artform and a point of interest for both lay audiences and academics for a long, long time.

For a number of years now an organisation called Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (AÀA; Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland) have been researching these, and working with Scottish Natural Heritage to produce bilingual booklets disseminating place-names of particular locales. Their latest release is Gaelic in the Landscape: Place-names of Colonsay and Oronsay. Previous editions have focused on Islay and Jura, the North-West Highlands, Strath (Isle of Skye), the Rough Bounds of Lochaber and Gaelic + Norse in the landscape. Each of these publications is beautifully illustrated and – crucially – free to download. I’m really looking forward to delving into the Colonsay and Oronsay booklet, not least to remind me of lovely trips there a few years back.



As well as being really interesting to both researchers and the general audience alike, publications such as these, and the work of AÀA, are crucial to increasing awareness of Gaelic. They are accessible, informed and easy to digest, and provide an important route to understanding how our surroundings and language have shaped each other.


Some Colonsay and Oronsay names which have jumped out at me:

Sruthan na h-Ulaidhe – the stream of the treasure

Uragaig – bay with rock-strewn beach (Norse in origin)

Uinneag Eircheil – Hercules’ window

You can find all the booklets on the SNH website here. The AÀA database is ever-increasing in entries and worth spending a few minutes exploring. Siuthadabh – enjoy!

A bookish mood


I’m not sure what other peoples’ habits are like but I find myself wholly in a bookish mood at the moment. My spare time seems to have been occupied solely by reading, thinking about books, talking about books, watching others talk about their books and not a lot else. Usually there is some knitting or music or cooking or general other things thrown in there too but not so much recently.

To that end, two things have happened that brought me a fair amount of happiness:

Firstly: seeing Sarah Moss speak at an RSGS event in Edinburgh. Her book, Names for the Sea, is one of my favourites from recent years. Part memoir and part travel book in it she discusses her experience of living in Iceland for a year. It focuses a lot on the social aspects of her time there,something which I really enjoyed. I’ve never been to Iceland (one day…) and while the heritage and landscape is undoubtedly a huge draw for me, I found it every bit as interesting to hear about daily life and social attitudes. Her talk touched on gender, domesticity, working life and being ‘foreign’ in a new landscape. It was excellent.

Secondly, on a recent trip to London I visited Daunt books for the first time. My friend Rebecca had recommended Daunt years ago on a previous visit but for some reason we never went. It was our last stop before the train home this time and what a way to end a holiday – a beautiful space with just the best, most interesting selection of books I can remember seeing in years. I now maintain that all bookshops should come in Edwardian buildings with spiral stairs, stained glass windows and an abundance of fresh flowers. I couldn’t resist buying something and came away with Miranda July’s book of short stories.




BA3As the pile of job applications keeps growing and as my annual Winter cold takes an ever stronger grip on my sinuses, I thought I’d take a minute or two to round up some things I’ve been enjoying recently. There surely is no soul on this earth who enjoys filling in job applications with or without a cold.

It’s just a few days ’til the launch of Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s always a feast of interesting, challenging and inspiring music and with some of the best horo-gheallaidh you could ask for in the Festival Club. I can’t wait!

BA2I recently read The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson and was reminded of the beautiful and enigmatic works of Angus MacPhee. Some of these are on display in Kildonan Museum in South Uist; I’ve spent a lot of time entirely transfixed by them. The Silent Weaver does justice to the man and his work as well as setting it within the wider context of mental health care in the 20th century.

A winter walk to see in the New Year. We took a trip north, enjoying the snow, trees and frosty landscapes of the uplands around Blair Atholl. I love Perthshire at this time of year. Photos in this post from that walk.BABA4

Yesterday heralded the old new year (interesting article by Angus Peter Campbell in the link) so with that I wish you all bliadhna mhath ùr.

Summer Ending

The Other Walks; Birkerts

The air has changed. Autumn is creeping ever closer. The sun sets not long after 9pm and the rain is starting to make a reappearance, more regularly by the day. The wind is gusty and more determined; the plants all around looking tired and drawn. I arrived on Islay at the tail end of Autumn last year, and with Autumn making her presence felt, I’m reminded that my time here is beginning to draw to a close.

What Are You Looking At; Birkerts

When I’m ignoring the pressing issue of What To Do Next (well underway but really, a daunting task) I like to read. I go through fits and spurts in reading. Either I’ll be utterly addicted, every spare second with my nose in books, devouring every word in front of me, or I’ll be quiet, not reading or trying to and perhaps struggling to manage more than a few paragraphs a day. I’m in the midst of the former at the moment, happily. It does make me feel like something of a recluse, though, rejecting company to instead keep reading.

The Secret Race; Hamilton & Coyle

I live by the mantra my parents set out for me: “money spent on books is never money wasted”. To that end, I frequently don’t have much spare money, but do have an ever-increasing book pile.Doppler; Loe

Images: some books I’ve read and enjoyed recently.

Books unbound

Throughout August, Edinburgh is transformed into a city of endless culture. Multiple festivals run across the month offering every kind of entertainment imaginable. One of these is the Edinburgh International Book Festival. For anyone interested in anything related to books/reading/literature, it is a haven amidst a quite overwhelming number of shows and performers.

Last year the Book Festival started up a series of events called Unbound. These are free evening events where authors appearing otherwise at the festival come along and perform. Last night Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses was performing songs and doing readings from her book Paradoxical Undressing (released last year in the States as Rat Girl). To my shame, I didn’t know much about Hersh or her musical background before going to this event. I’m not sure why – everything about them is exactly to my taste. I dare say had I known about them as a 16 year old my life would have been transformed…

Hersh didn’t speak much really except to read from her book – a few passages followed by two or three songs, followed by another passage, and so on. From the moment she sat down and began to sing, I was transfixed. I don’t always enjoy reading memoirs so I wasn’t sure what to expect of the readings but I liked that it was more stream of consciousness than anything. Perhaps that it was based on diaries she kept contributed to that. But it was her songs that really drew me in. She has a remarkable voice and is an extraordinary guitarist. In one of her readings she described her attitude towards music. Now, I wasn’t taking notes and a horrible head cold means my memory is fried so I can’t really remember the exact words, nor do I have the book as a reference. Regardless, the description was something along the lines of music being so fundamental to her being that it is almost physical – songs create themselves within her and she has to expel them in order to maintain some kind of wellbeing. Her description was much better than that but you (hopefully) get the idea.

I found her to be a totally engrossing performer. When she sang her eyes stared fixedly ahead, only moving to glance briefly at what her hands and guitar were doing. Though she was singing songs composed years ago and lyrics which she will have sang endless times, it sounded to me like she had never sang them before. There was an incredibly freshness to her performance and her description of her music being something almost elemental seemed apt indeed. It felt completely natural, even the sometimes ethereal noises made in place of actual lyrics. I’m looking forward to listening and exploring Throwing Music and reading the book in due course.

I didn’t take any pictures but there are some nice portraits here from the evening.