British Isles - Western Isles
Western Isles
Gaelic language and placenames.
A very brief note on the history of Gaelic in the Western Isles and some comments about placenames.

Gaelic in the Western Isles
Gaelic, belonging to one of the two Celtic language groups in Britain, was introduced to the Western Isles from Ireland. Later Norse occupation with the use of Norn modified the language locally. Gaelic has always been widely spoken in the Outer Hebrides and Western Islands Council has been actively encouraging Gaelic use, the most obvious evidence of this to the visitor being in road signs, where Gaelic is now used for place names.

The BBC has a Gaelic for beginners website, which includes sound clips. MacBain's online Gaelic dictionary with its good search facility may be of interest to anyone wanting to chase some words (but be warned, Gaelic like the other Celtic languages mutates frequently). It is also helpful as it relates Gaelic words to other languages, such as Welsh or Manx.

Place names are often of Norse origin, but were later Gaelicised. People who know Wales will see similarities between Gaelic and Welsh place name elements. For instance Gaelic/Welsh/English examples include beag/bach/small, mòr/mawr/large, tràigh/traeth/beach, deas/de/south, innis/ynys/island, abhainn/afon/river.

The Ordnance Survey website has a glossary of Gaelic origins of place names in Britain (also available as PDF download). The OS site on British place names covers other origins too.

Examples of Gaelic/Anglicised place names in the Western Isles
In writing text for this site a style decision had to be taken whether to use Gaelic (more use to current visitors) or Anglicised placenames (more easily recognised from past hearing). In the end Anglicised forms have been used in these text pages, but Gaelic often used in picture captions with the Anglicised form in brackets where appropriate and space allowed.

Some examples of Gaelic place names and their Anglicised versions are on the next page.

More information
There are a number of worthwhile web sites shown on our external links page.



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