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Some Place-names

We've been looking at the names of the places we've been visiting during the Festival, and finding it interesting to try to work out what they mean.

We started off with the few place-names we recognise, and tried from these to deduce the meaning of others.

For instance there is Inbhir Nis – Inverness – with the first part meaning 'at the mouth of'. The bh sound is softer than a 'b' on its own.

Inbhir is the equivalent of the old British word aber, as in Aberdeen or Aberdare in Wales, with the meaning of a place at the mouth of a river. Inbhir can be used on its own to mean a creek or river-mouth.

So we can work out where Inbhir Pheofharain is: it's at the mouth of the River Peffer – in other words Dingwall. Further afield there is Inverpeffer in Angus and Inverpaffray in Perth, both formed from rivers of the same namme.

Another Festival visit was to the Cairngorm Railway Base Station. Cairngorm is An Càrn Gorm. Càrn sounds like 'cairn' and we can guess that it means 'mountain'. An means 'the', and it turns out that gorm means 'blue', or bluish-green.

So we see that in Gaelic the adjective comes after the word it describes: 'the mountain blue'. This is why Gaelic place-names have the form 'Loch-something' or 'Glen-somewhere' – the descriptive word always comes afterwards. For instance, from mor meaning 'big', we get Glenmore.

The same name structure comes with Am Blàr Dubh. Dubh means ‘black’, and with am again being a form of ‘the’, we can find out that blàr means ’field’. To work out which place has the name ‘the black field’, we have to think of the area with black soil and a big field where an annual show takes place – the Black Isle Showground and Muir of Ord; and another very enjoyable Festival visit.

We came across the same word blàr in Blàr Chùil Lodair the field of Culloden: the site of the Highlands Astronomical Society's new JSL Observatory.






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