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Dec 13, 2023Liked by Fiona Campbell-Howes

The School of Scottish Studies has a recording of the place name Srath h-Eirinn spoken by one of the last speakers of Gaelic from near Tomatin. This is part of the Gaelic Linguistic Survey.

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Next question, was there then an early incursion of Irish-identifying people up the Great Glen to this inner Moray estuary? I suspect the answer is quite nuanced. The Great Glen has always been a major route from the west to the east, and it perhaps isn’t the divider of east/west Dalriatans/Picts that tends to be regarded today. At the dawn of history we see pretty clear evidence that the Caledones held both ends (and the middle 😊 ) of the Great Glen. And that is also attested by the use of the boar symbol from Inverness down to Dunadd. Yes I know people try to say the boar was stamped there by invading Picts in the 8th/9th centuries, but it fits better within its mythological context as the boar that rakes the great ditches across the land, bringing into the world all sorts of creatures good and bad. And we now have a growing body of early CI symbols that can be dated to prior to the sudden breakdown c. 200 AD, including the dating of Culduthel beside the Knocknagael boar stone. And let’s not forget that Pictland too, or groups that identified as Pictish, held territory in the west, it goes both ways, over many many centuries. OK, I think what I’m trying to say here is that there probably has always been steady movement up and down the Great Glen, people came and went, traded and married, and no doubt self-identified according to prevailing winds, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to find names that look ‘Irish’ at both ends. But in the end, I’d say the naming likely dates from the 3rd-6th centuries?

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Hi Helen, thanks very much for all these thoughts. Yes, I'm pretty sure the population as a whole would have been more mobile and intermixed than people tend to believe: there wasn't a neat corner of 'Picts' over here and 'Scotti/Gaels' over here. And in the Anglophone part of modern Britain we find it hard to wrap our heads around the idea that a) people on this island were likely to have been multilingual in the early medieval period, and b) Irish/Gaelic and Pictish/Brythonic were to some extent mutually intelligible and borrowed words from each other. So much more cultural intermixing and multi-layered identities than has traditionally been believed, and the archaeology (stable isotope analysis, etc.) is bearing this out. I'll reply about possible dating to your other comment :)

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Then there is the matter of time. These river names seem to be different to those mentioned by the classical writers, but then, so many of these ancient names didn’t survive. Still, we have an enormous period of time to play with here, the best part of a millennium before we get good records attesting to most of them. So the question is *when* did this re-naming occur? It seems unlikely to have come with Irish-based missionaries, because this appears to be a concentrated, almost systematic, re-naming of the land (if done by the Irish), and why would new missionaries cover the land with pagan deity names rather than founding-saint dedications? We could say that Eriu was just the name of Ireland, but words have deep meanings, they never stand on their own, and with all the other pagan deities too there is no doubt the early Christians would have been completely aware of the pagan implications of these names. On the other hand, as you seem to imply in your blog, were these names a sort of political statement from Dalriatan groups in the much later centuries? That’s possible, but seems unlikely to me at that period because while they may have been originally based in Dalriata (not precisely Ireland as such), they were trying to claim Pictish legitimacy. (And are there any Dalriatan examples where they named their land for Eriu? ..) So it’s more likely that these names, if done by incoming Irish, were done under pagan auspices, and were much earlier than the 6th-8th century missionaries or later Dalriatan groups.

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Agree - the timing is obscure as we don't have any of these names on record in Moray until the 10th century at the earliest (though the southern 'Strathearn' is on record in the 8th as an area containing Culross, and 'Ath-Fotla' for Atholl is also first recorded in the 8th century). The official consensus - inasmuch as there is one - is that this naming doesn't have to have happened all at the same time, or by the same type of group, or as part of the same (or any) strategy. The use of 'Banba' for Banff and 'Ealg' for Elgin (if that is what they derive from) could well be much later than 'Fotla' for Atholl and 'Eriu' for Strathearn, and based on a very different thought process.

The question about lack of 'Ireland' names in Dál Riata is a very good one. Another good question might be whether these names are endonyms (named by the settlers themselves) or exonyms (named by others to indicate the place where the Gaelic speakers live), or a mixture of both. The modern analogue I keep thinking of is 'Chinatown,' which seems to have an obscure and possibly quite complex genesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown#Names.

I agree, I can't easily imagine early Christian missionaries naming their own foundation 'Ireland', so maybe in the case of Auldearn/Eren we are talking about an exonym... but who knows!

Lastly yes, there is the additional issue of the river names as given by Ptolemy, which seem to be Tuesis for the Spey and Loxa for the Findhorn (not the Lossie). But a lot may have been lost in translation between Ptolemy's sources and his resultant atlas. Guto Rhys explained that really well in a recent Gone Medieval podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/6X3FiHXaIE7KoYqB7pQuUU?si=8cedf34ec69a4662

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Several issues go round in my head. The first is that this area is covered with these ‘Irish’ names, not just the ones Watson noted, Boand, Eriu, Banba, Fal, Elga, but also Ness and Bride for example. And then there are the male names too, for example, Nectan, Toran, Brennan, Brand, although Nectan and Toran could be female too. It’s the Lega concentration of these legendary names in this region Pictland that is peculiar, although they are scattered elsewhere too of course. So what does this mean?

Firstly, I’d have to ask whether these really are ‘Irish’ as such? Just because the Irish managed to retain their stories and words better than other Celtic regions, doesn’t for a minute mean that these names were only Irish, or that the deities themselves were just Irish. It could be that they are just ‘Celtic’, including then Pictish, and that the seemingly Irish forms are what is notable here. Loads of deity names are each recorded all through the Celtic lands, pointing to a mature and complex over-arching world view. But even so, it still leaves us with the question of why the sheer concentration in this region.

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This is all way out of my depth so I'm not sure I have anything to add here! Except that Banba and Ériu, as well as being Celtic deities, are names used specifically to denote the island of Ireland. But as Thomas Clancy notes, they belong in different registers: Ériu would have been in common use, but Banba is much more literary. It's as if someone (David I?) on building one castle at a place already called 'Eren/Éireann' (Auldearn), then decided to name two of the other castles in the chain on the same 'Ireland' theme. More than anything, it reminds me of the way companies name their meeting rooms!

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Everywhere we go in Celtic lands we have the triple mother goddess of the land. Its just in Ireland we are told their names, Eriu, Banba, Fodla. Eriu is used more commonly, because she is the deity who finally agreed that the Milesians could stay in the land. But it's a well-known story, with all 3 of them featuring. So I'm not sure I'd completely agree with the register, although Eriu is more common, they are conceptually the same triple deity. Also I wouldn't think this is an exonym considering the incredible concentration of all the other deity names here as well.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023Liked by Fiona Campbell-Howes

Another strand of thinking you might like to include in your research is the word Feàrna meaning Alder. The River Nairn (called locally the River Nern) used to be called the Water of Nairn which in Gaelic would be Uisge an Fheàrna. To this day the river system of the area is banked by masses of Alder. This usage of Gaelic would also explain the name of Auldearn as Allt Fheàrna. I sense that it might strengthen your arguments above considerably, because, logically, there must have been Gaelic speakers thereabouts to describe the landscape in such a manner.

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Hi Al, thanks very much for your comment. I think there's no doubt that Gaelic was once spoken along the whole of the Moray Firth coast, and that any non-Gaelic names are either remnants of Pictish (or even earlier Celtic words) or later Scots/English names.

I've definitely seen it proposed that the Nairn is named for the alders along its banks and this seems quite likely. I think it's slightly more problematic for Auldearn, as it didn't acquire the 'Auld' part of its name until the 14th century, which is quite late for a new Gaelic coining. Prior to that it was just called 'Eren' or 'Heryn', which might or might not fit with 'Fheàrna' - I don't know enough about how Gaelic place-names evolve to be sure.

The other issue (to my mind) is that the Auldearn burn is so small that it seems unlikely that the settlement would have taken its name from it. It feels to me that the settlement has given its name to the burn, rather than the other way around. But again, I'm definitely no expert!

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Sorry, I should have said - Allt means stream/ burn in Gaelic. Hopefully that helps you to see what I was saying. Thanks for taking the time to write back

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An excellent post, really fascinating! I'm sure you've gone over this, but Clancy suggests a Cenél

Comgaill settlement post-Nechtansmere down around Manaw in his article "Philosopher-King: Nechtan mac Der-Ilei" - obviously farther south than you're looking at here, but perhaps a useful comparison for thinking about place-names and Gaelic-speaking settlement?

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Thanks Trevor for this, glad you liked it! Yes, there's a theory that Cenél Loairn settled in Moray but I don't think it's based on very convincing evidence (see my reply to Alastair below), although I haven't yet studied it properly.

The process/timescale of Gaelicisation in Moray - as elsewhere - is very obscure. I think a lot could be deduced from a proper place-name survey, but a thorough one has never been done. It would be great to have something like Simon Taylor and Gilbert Márkus's Place-Names of Fife for Moray, but that's probably just wishful thinking...

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Jan 11, 2023Liked by Fiona Campbell-Howes

Hi Fiona.

Lots to unpack here……

1) There is still a place called Invererne. See https://www.invererne.co.uk/house It was there in Watson’s day so not sure why he thought the place name was lost

2) Maybe worth noting that all your Earn place names (apart from Auldearn which always seems to be the oddity) are in the watershed of the River Findhorn so could therefore be considered to be a part of a Strath Earn (or even Herenn!)

3) I believe Watson took his lead on the Findhorn valley being New Ireland from W F Skene. Skene posited that Cenel Loarn migrated up the Great Glen to get away from Viking raids whilst Cenel nGabrain migrated across Druim Alban into the other Strath Earn. Not sure that there was ever any evidence of this apart from the Earn/Erin names so that then becomes a circular proposition.

4) I’ve always believed that one of the reasons that MacBethad was accepted as king of Alba was that it was acknowledged that it was the North’s turn to provide a king. That fits the cycle set out by Neil McGuigan and, perhaps, even reinforces his argument

Not really related to this post but have you also considered that Sueno’s Stone could commemorate Máel Coluim mac Domnaill‘s slaying of Cellach (whoever he may have been). Right sort of date.

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Hi Alastair, many thanks for this - yes, there is lots here, and when you look at Watson's wider theory (taking in Banff, Elgin, Boyndie, etc.) it gets even stranger and more unlikely. But I wanted to write this to get all my thinking about it out of my head.

1) Re. Invererne, there is a house of that name (I once went on a Guide camp there!) but it is modern - that estate is called Tannachy/Tannachie on Pont's and Roy's maps, see Pont's map here: https://maps.nls.uk/pont/view/?id=pont08. Pont does have a place on his map, just about where Binsness is now, called 'Erinsfald' (perhaps Erinsford?) but this clearly refers to the river. Watson doesn't name his source for 'Invereren' but I've traced it via Archie Duncan's The Making of the Kingdom to a land grant from William I to Kinloss Abbey (click on the 'Possessions' tab here: https://www.poms.ac.uk/record/factoid/12595/), so it was in existence in the 12th century, though perhaps not on the site of the present house of Invererne.

2) I agree, when you look on the map they are all in the watershed of the Findhorn. That's a much more plausible explanation overall, and as you say, maybe this *is* the Sraith Herenn of CKA.

3) I need to get to grips with this Cenel Loairn theory one day - my understanding (from Woolf's 'Moray Question') is that the main 'evidence' for it is a fabricated genealogy, so I've tended to put it to one side with a plan of coming back to it when I've got a better view of the period as a whole. But Cenel Loairn or not, Gaelic speakers doubtless settled in Moray. Whether they named all of their settlements after Ireland is another matter! Watson saw plenty of other 'New Ireland' names beyond 'earn' but I find his whole theory weird and suspect.

4) Maybe! I don't feel knowledgeable enough to have an opinion on how MacBethad came to be king. Give me another few years and I may do :)

Re. Cellach, also maybe! Nothing is known about that incident apart from what you've said there, so it would be hard to make a compelling case for Sueno's Stone commemorating it.

Thanks again for all these thoughts - I definitely appreciate being challenged on some of this stuff.

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Sorry, I meant to say how much I enjoyed reading your post. It was late at night and I was ordered to go to sleep so had to be brief. If you like I can find the archive reference for the recording. Even if you don't have any Gaelic its still of interest because of the very clear and emphatic way she repeats the name. Mrs Rose of Ruthven, near Tomatin speaking with Fred MacAuley of the Gaelic Linguistic Survey. Anyhow, it's nice just to hear their voices. It's a great bit of work you're doing there with the maps and comparisons with other areas. Something else that might interest you is Peter Schrijver's view of the origins of Irish. I will send a reference if you like. Unfortunately, he doesn't include Pictish in his brief discussion but it is clear that sees Irish essentially as British before a series of sound shifts caused by contact with Latin. Bill Nicolaisen was very definite about the resilience of river names. It looks as if the whole "Gaelic replaced Pictish" thing needs to be brought up to date with understanding of language shift. Alex Woolf seems to be sort of on the right track when he talks about the variation and distribution of corbid species but we are people, not crows. Why avoid the obvious analogy with the current replacement of Scots with English? In part it does include population replacement as English people move in and Scots move out. But it also involves language change as Scots adopt some features of English speech, such as replacing 'r' with a vowel sound. I wonder if the P/Q distinction in Celtic can be compared with rhotacism in English. Anyhow, I don't know much about any of these things but I enjoy reading about them and look forward to seeing more of your work. All the best.

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