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Parish of Farr.







Rev. ADA/n Gunn, n. a. John Mackay.

G L A S G O W :


This extensive parish of 267,040 acres is, like ancient Gaul, " divided into three parts " by the rivers Halladale, Strathy, and Naver. In olden times, the bulk of the population lived in these three valleys. In the Orkneyinga Saga TOPOGRAPHY. 147 they are called the "Dales of Catanes." Of easy access from the Orkney islands, we may infer an earlier and a more complete Norse occupation, and the topography bears this theory out. Strath-halladak comes first in order—a beautiful valley, about 14 miles long. Halladale is Norse, helgadale (holy dale). Strath (Gaelic) was prefixed, when the meaning of Norse dale was forgotten. This often happens in place-names. Maenstone in Cornwall is " stone-stone " ; the latter stone being added when the natives forgot the meaning of Cornish maeu-stone. So Gaelic Dal-hall a dale. The first dal is Gaelic, and we can always distinguish the Celtic dal from its cognate Norse dale by its position. In Gaelic, the generic term comes first, thus, Dalmore is Gaelic dal, and mbr large ; but Langdale is Norse dale, long dale, and comes last. Helga may very likely have been a proper name. Forsinard and Forsinain. These are made up of Gaelic and Norse. Fors is N. a waterfall : ard is G. high, and ain G. low, dine (Trom fhaine, comp. offan down, now obsolete,).


"An rum is fhaine tha 'san tir" (The lowest room in the land).

Trantle-mbr and Trantle-beg. N. here is euphonic, and is not heard in Gaelic Trau-dal. The word is Norse. " Trow " is the lower ground through which a river runs, and dale, Norse dalr (trow-dale). We now come to some half-a-dozen Gaelic names lower down the strath, viz :

  • Croick—G. crbg, the hand, from the natural configuration.

  • Dalhalvaig—G. dal, dale, and sealbhag, sorrel.

  • Kealsey—G. caol, caolas, narrow, and i or uidh, stream.

  • Ardachy—G. ard, high, achadh, field.

  • Achumore—G. achadh, field, mbr, big.

  • Cuilfearn—G. Coilk, wood, /earn, alder.

  • Kirkton—G. Baile-na-h-eaglaise, was the most important township on the Halladale. There was a church here in Norse times—doubtless of Culdee origin. Here also was the consecrated burying-ground for the lower parts of the strath, and still used as such. The site of the church may yet be seen.


Golval. G. Gall, stranger, and baile, township. The “strangers " were no doubt Norse. Caithness, where the foreigner came to settle permanently, is Gallaobh to the present day. Achredigill. Norse, with the exception of ach, achadh. This is the first instance of Norse, gill, a ravine, which is very common in Sutherland; as a terminal suffix it occurs as frequently as dale. Sometimes it is apt to be confounded with the oblique case of Gaelic, geal, white. Smigel—the name of a burn higher up the strath, shows the same termination.

Bighouse. Gaelic an Torr, Norse big hus. There are two places of this name on the strath ; and they are interesting as showing the part which the sinking of the accent plays in Gaelic phonetics. In the case of upper Big-house, the first syllable is accented, and with the accent thus sunk upon it, it ceases to be used as a compound word, and appears on the map as Begas. Its origin forgotten, it is used as a Gaelic word. But the lower Bighouse still remains a compound word, and it is never called Bighouse in Gaelic, but an Torr, the heap or fortified place, where of old a castle stood to defend the entrance to the bay.


Before quitting Strath-halladale, it may be mentioned that there are remains of two Pictish towers on opposite sides of the river, half-way up the strath, and also at Cnoc-a?ifhreacadain or watchhill. These, with the fortification at the mouth of the water, were its military defences. From Theiner's Monumenta—a Vatican MS.—we learn that the church of “Haludal " in 1274 contributed 9/4 to the Crusades, and a similar sum in 1275, tms ^me " Helwedale."


We now come to the north coast, where Norse names prevail. Melvich is from N. melr, sand-bank or links, and N. vik, a bay, a creek. Portskerra N., port, harbour, and sker, a skerry. Gaelic sgeir is borrowed from this word, and enters largely into place-names. Baligill, G. baile, township, and N. gill, a ravine. The burn to the east of the village answers Norse gill ideally.


There was a castle on the edge of the cliff here, separated from the mainland by a narrow neck of land; but there are no traditions preserved. Strathy is Gaelic, strath. The termination y is probably Gaelic i, water, stream. This forms the second of the dales opening from the north coast. It is about 12 miles in length; but it was not so densely populated as the valleys of the Halladale and Naver. Its place-names are partly Celtic and partly Norse. Dal-bhaite is the submerged dale, Gaelic baite, drowned, seen in Badenoch.

Rhi-ruadh, Gaelic, red burn. Rhi may be a flowing stream, or a declivity. It is very common in the diminutive form Rhian. It is cognate with Greek reo. Dal-ting, Norse thing, where the parliament met. This word on the map appears as Daltine, and the latter part is easily mistaken for teine, fire. But the phonetics of the Gaelic forbid this derivation. Half-way up the glen, it was the meeting place of the Norse settlers (compare Dingwall for Thing-vollr). Bowset, Norse, bo and settr : "sheiling dwellings." This settr occurs frequently in Lewis as shader. In Sutherland, it takes the forms set and saite.


  • Dalangdale—-Norse Zaw^-dale-langdale.

  • Bra-rathy—G. Braigh-rathie, upper Strathy.

  • An t-Seilach—G. sei/ach, willow.

  • An nair. This is a name given to one of the tributaries of the Strathy river. Its meaning is not quite clear, 'although it has something to do with water. In the native dialect an uair is often used for a sudden storm of wind and rain; also for a water-spout. Allowing for the dipthongisation, the original form should be ur; and ura is Basque for river, water. This is probably a pre-Celtic remnant.

  • Returning again to the coast, and proceeding westwards, we come to Brawl, G. braigh-bhaile. Leadnaguillean, G. Leathad, slope. The last part is difficult, probably a Gaelicised plural of N. gills. This would suit the natural scenery well; at its south end are numerous gills and gullies.

  • Armadale, Norse armr, arm of sea and dale. Pillaoriscaig, is a sea-side hamlet at the back of Armadale. Poll, is G. poll or N. pool, which are cognates. Aoriscaig appears again as Overscaig on Loch Shin. In both places there is a stream and small bay. Aig is a remnant of vik.


We are left thus with aoris or overs to account for; and across means a river mouth in Norse (cp. Arisaig, aros-vik). Kirtomy, in Gaelic Ciurstamaidh, accented on first syllable, Norse Kjors, copse-wood, and Icelandic hwam-r, a little valley. Norse words beginning with h, require a t in Gaelic phonetics. Out of holmr and hor-gr arise such forms as Dun-/ulm and Tbrga-bost.

Swordfy, Norse Svardr and dale, sward, dale. Farr. There is a village of Farr, and Farr Point. The parish took its name from these. Gaelic and Norse claim the word. Norse faer, a ship (Faroe Islands), and Gaelic /aire, watching. Although a of Farr is long in English, the Gaelic is short, far. In ancient MS.S. it is always spelled Far. On the whole a Gaelic derivation is more probable. Crask, G. cross-way. All the Crasks in Sutherland agree in this respect that they denote a short pass leading from one village to another, or from one parish into another.


Bettyhill. A modern name, so called from Countess Elizabeth, who built an inn there. The Gaelic name is Blaran-odhar, the dun field. Achina, G. achadh, and ath a ford. Inver- Naver, G. mouth of the Naver. Strathnaver. If we accept Ptolemy's Nabarus, as indicating the river Naver, the matter is finally settled. In old MS.S. it is sometimes Strath navernia, and often Strathnavern.

The Norsemen took possession of it early, as was likely from its large extent and valuable arable lands, but the old name was probably retained. This, no doubt, is one of the dales of which the Norse poet sings when he tells of the extension of Earl Sigurd's power "over Scotland, Ross, and Moray, Sudrland and the Dales.'1 '' This would be about 980 a.d. ; and as Caithness " dales " were occupied 200 years earlier, the reference must be to the dales of modern Sutherland.


It is not likely that they secured possession without a struggle. On this beautiful strath are several remains of circular towers, and so situated for 24 miles inland, that intelligence could be quickly conveyed by signals from the coast to the interior. But there was no resisting of the foreign invader, and the valley of the Naver records the subjugation of the Celt on its tell-tale topographical face.

Strathnaver Place-names:


  • Achnabourin, G. achadh and buirghean, bvrgs, field of fortifications.

  • Apigill, Norse gill, a deep ravine, is evident. Ap,uncertain.

  • Achcheargarry, G. achadh, field. Kergarry, N. Kjarr, brushwood, and garthr, field.

  • Skelpick, G. sgeilpeach, shelvy, terraces.

  • Rhifail, G. rhi, declivity,^/, an enclosure. Shall, N. shieling.

  • Dalvlna, G. Dal, dale, mine, smooth, Dalmhine.

  • Syre (doubtful), Gaelic Saghair, probably N. settr.

  • Dalharold, N., Harold's dale. Some standing stones are found here which tradition connects with a conflict fought between Harold (Maddadson), and Reginald of the Isles (circa 1198). One of the standing stones is called Clach-anrlgh, the King's stone.

  • Achness, G., the waterfall on the Mallart gives name to the place; achadh-an-eas, field of the cascade.

  • Achool, G. achadh-choille, field of the wood.

  • Grumbeg and grumbmore, sometimes called in Gaelic na grumbaichean, are probably of Gaelic origin. Grum is a variant of drum, a ridge, whence Drumbeg in Assynt. Initial g and d are apt to change places, for the reason that in the aspirated and oblique cases, they are pronounced similarly, dhruim, diruim.

  • Altnaharra, N. and G. alt, burn. Harra, Norse for heights—compare Harris, so called from its hills. We have several such burns in Sutherland, and this derivation suits very well their character.

  • Mudale, N. muir, dale. Bad-an-t-seobhag, G. bad, clump, collection, place, and seobhag, hawk.

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