Colonsay and Oronsay bilingual place-names booklet published
A NEW guide to Colonsay and Oronsay’s Gaelic place-names was launched at the Colonsay Book Festival Fringe.
The bilingual booklet, Gaelic in the Landscape: Place-names of Colonsay and Oronsay, ‘celebrates the specific cultural and natural heritage of some of Colonsay and Oronsay’s lesser-known names’.
Place-name researchers Mary Carmichael, Christine Johnston and Scott Weatherstone, with support from Dr Jacob King and Eilidh Scammell of Ain- mean-Àite na h-Alba (AÀA), collected information and associated stories on more than 130 place-names from members of the community. Many have never appeared in print before.
The book explains: ‘The linguistic mix of place-names in Colonsay and Oronsay is typical of islands in the Inner Hebrides. The names of the larger islands and promontories tend to be Norse in origin, while the majority of the names relating to agriculture and natural features are in Gaelic. In recent times several English names have been introduced, either denoting new features, such as roads and houses, or as translations of existing names.’
For example, ‘Comharra nam Muirsgeanan’ – the marker of the razor fish ( plural) – stands on Tràigh Orasa, now known commonly as Oronsay Bay. When the rock is exposed, the tide is far enough out to successfully gather razor fish. ‘Eilean nan Giomach’ – the island of the lobsters – is aptly named as lobsters can still be found there.
‘In 1822 a ship called The Waterloo, which had sailed out of Cumbria heading for America, was wrecked off Eilean nan Ròn, the island of the seals. Everyone was saved except the captain. The ship’s cargo was china and to this day porcelain can still be found from time to time on the beach. Eilean nan Corp – the island of the corpses – in Kilchattan (at Am Port Mòr) relates to where a boat was wrecked; presumably bodies were found on the island.’
The booklet, co-ordinated by AÀA and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), was funded by the national Gaelic language and culture research network Soillse.
Eleanor MacDonald of SNH said: ‘In understanding the meaning behind place-names we have an opportunity to interpret the landscape differently.
‘These place-names generally offer a uniquely Scottish, and Highland, perspective of the link between the land and the communities who lived there for generations. We are thrilled to launch this new bilingual publication, the sixth title in our Gaelic in the Landscape series, which captures the local placename knowledge passed down through generations.’
Eilidh Scammell of AÀA added: ‘The preservation of Scotland’s Gaelic place-names is very much at the heart of AÀA and we are delighted to have been a part of this project, which we hope will secure their future in Colonsay and Oronsay’s landscape, and help future generations understand the connections between the language and the land.’