Ainmean-Àite / Place-names

4e2d5a89442b4629b4b4b979d166c803

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

book-cover

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!

Dunadd

P1120422Dunadd or Dùn Ad, the fort of the river Add. Standing clear among the surrounding landscape, this little hill holds a place of great significance: it was the royal centre of the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada, way back when Scotland wasn’t even really Scotland at all. The fortified hilltop has a well (now dry), clear ramparts still visible, and right at the top a footprint said to have been used in the inaugration of kings. It’s easy to get carried away with the romance of the place – I absolutely did.

P1120151

P1120169

P1120163

P1120167  P1120159

P1120156

P1120152  P1080584

P1120160

If the shoe fits… So mine did, and I proclaimed my place as Queen of Scotland as my first cuckoo of the year sang its merry heart out. But I’m a republican and there’s no place for a Queen of Scotland these days. So downwards we went, relishing the view over this remarkable landscape. What a perfect start to a wonderful weekend in Kilmartin Glen – more to follow.

P1120173

Further reading on Dunadd, with actual facts and things: From Historic Scotland & The University of Glasgow.

Barra birthday

DSC00741

If you happen to find yourself in Barra on your birthday, as I did recently, I recommend a trip to Kisimul Castle. The plan was originally to climb Rueval, but the rain came in, as did the mist. So, to Kisimul we went instead.

DSC00727

DSC00751

DSC00761

I was surprised by how little interpretation there was throughout the castle. Historic Scotland are not known for their lack of information panels – often quite the reverse. It’s nice being able to visit an historic site and to discover details in your own time, but equally having almost nothing to tell you about the place seems a bit sparse.

DSC00765

DSC00773

DSC00771

It’s a great wee castle. It’s currently being looked after by Historic Scotland, though belongs to the MacNeil family. It is, and was, the seat of the clan MacNeil and still holds a draw for MacNeils around the world. I don’t place much importance on what little remains of the clan system today but it’s easy to see why people would want to travel a distance to visit here.

DSC00779

DSC00781

There’s fantastic history to see at Kisimul, even more enticing by the fact that the early records were lost in a fire, so we know relatively little today. This is despite the castle’s stature and important place within the Medieval period.

If you’re in need of scran when you’re in Castlebay, Cafe Kisimul is delicious. Even better if you’re not paying. Hooray! http://www.cafekisimul.co.uk

DSC00782

Canalside – Edinburgh

Leamington Wharf

Leamington Wharf

As I write this, I’m occupying a small space in the canalside area of Edinburgh. The canalside is within the city centre, occupying a space within the neighbouring areas of Fountainbridge, Polwarth, Viewforth and Tollcross. The canal offers a space within the city that is quiet, green and community-driven.

I’ve been living in this area for a few years now and have seen radical changes in my surrounding landscape. Abandoned and derelict brewery buildings have been demolished to make way for shiny new student accommodation;  a new school is in the early stage of being built; a community garden has been opened in a former wasteland. Community-led initiatives are in place to hopefully stop mass office space being built and left empty like in so many other areas of the city, and instead develop some projects which will be of social and cultural value for the area.

panels

New heritage panels

While this area of Edinburgh has lots of individual neighbourhoods, the canal itself acts as a cohesive entity between them all. People from all the surrounding areas feel a sense of ownership over this place, contributing to community events and using as a fundamental part of their everyday lives. I really hope this continues as the area is further regenerated.

shawl detail

Shawl detail from illustration on the textile panel

It’s a pleasure to have been a resident here for the past few years, and while I’m largely living and working away from the area at the moment, I take great joy in when I am able to return for a visit. One such visit earlier this summer coincided with the annual canal festival: a day of music, local producer and business stalls, boat trips, raft races and many, many dogs.

market garden panel

I saw these interpretive panels for the first time at the festival having been told about them by my partner, and assured that I’d like them. He was right – I do. There have been semi-regular exhibits along this stretch of cladding for a while now, usually contributed by local school or community groups. The RCAHMS and Lost Edinburgh sites have good records of how the canal once looked (with this area near the basin looking particularly different now from how it did a generation ago) but there is scant information about the historic industry available along the canal itself. These panels are a great step, then, in making some of that rich history available to locals and visitors passing through.

beer

The panels are nicely presented – clear, concise, beautifully illustrated and well-used subtle colour to differentiate pockets of information. They are exclusively visual, though. It’d be great to see more of this kind of work employed as the area continues to redevelop and grow, hopefully with some audio or hands-on elements to engage different audiences.

I’ve not long left in Edinburgh before flitting again, but it’s an exciting prospect to come back and see more changes next time I’m here. For some photos of just further along the canal, see the gorgeous blog at Reform Lane here.

viewforth bridge