13 January 2010
ainniseachd ‘needy person’. The first element is ain for aodhan ‘fire’; so the ‘poor starving wretch’ is a hunter.
airgead or airgiod ‘riches, silver’ originally deer, cattle, meat, spoils of the chase. The etymology may be àr ‘hunt, slaughter’ and gead ‘haunch’.
àis ‘wisdom’, àis na mnà sìthe ‘the wisdom of the fairy woman’.
aisir ‘defile (deer trap)’.
aisith ‘strife, contention, hunting’.
aodann ‘face, forehead’; aodhan ‘fire’; in place-names as Edin, which probably indicates a former beacon-site on a prominent rock, as at Edinburgh, Edinample, Edinchip.
aodh ‘fire’, punned with English yew, ewe, Hugh.
aodhan ‘fire’, found as Ewen, John, Jan, etc and punned with eun ‘bird’.
àr ‘battle, slaughter, hunting, field of battle, deer forest’.
àrd ‘height, eminence’, a beacon site.
art ‘flesh, limb, joint’; a hero name Art for àrd ‘height, eminence’.
as ‘to kindle a fire’.
athair ‘father; air’, for AG. aodh-air ‘beacon site’, giving àr ‘battle, slaughter, hunting, field of battle, deer forest’. G. aodh ‘fire’.
bacadh ‘hindrance, deer trap’
bainne ‘milk’ also ‘fire, light’: literally ‘white stuff’; a ‘fire’ word. Related to bonnach ‘bread’, boinich ‘vow’, buain ‘to cut down’. Punned as ponair ‘beans’. [So where did I get ‘progeny’?]
bàir ‘battle, strife, hunting’.
bairinn ‘firebrand’. A BRN ‘fire’ word, also found as brann ‘firebrand, woman’. Comparable with Brian. cf also bran-ghaire ‘corpse left in the open air’ (gàire ‘laughing’) ie, a corpse ready for burning.
bairnich, ‘belonging to the deer-drive’, as bàir ‘battle, strife, hunting’, bairinn ‘firebrand’.
ball ‘rope’ for balla ‘fence, wall, animal pen’.
ban-righinn ‘queen’. The first element is probably archaic ban ‘fire’ rather than ‘woman’.
bean ‘Lady, woman, wife’.
beinn-sheilge ‘hunting mountain’. It seems probable that in Perthshire and Argyll, at least, a beinn was specifically a mountain massif reserved as a deer forest. This applies to Bengulapin in Glenshee, where Diarmaid killed the giant boar; Ben-y-Gloe, the range of peaks at the heart of the Atholl deer forest; Ben Cruachan in Argyll; Ben More in Glendochart; Ben Ledi next to Craig na Cailleach, north of Callander; and another Beinn Ghuilbin or Beinn Bheithir in Duror, where a dragon nested in the Coire Liath above Ballachulish (JMD 1910, 96-7). The first element be is an archaic ‘fire’ root and beinn might mean ‘fire-place’. Such mountains typically have bare rocky summits, the result of frequent burning.
beir ‘take hold, bear, produce, get out of sight with, give’ may be found in place of bàir ‘battle, strife, hunting’. beir ‘give’ and domh ‘to me’ occur in every line of A’ Chas-Ghoirt and are the crucial elements in the petition.
beul ‘mouth’ is the opening of a deer trap; cf. buail ‘to strike’.
bhuarach ‘fetter’, in AG. a form of snare.
bo ‘cow, fawn’. Like the cognates cow and sow, a very old generic term for a hunted animal, so can be equated with deer.
boineid ‘bonnet’. The archaic word is connected with boinich ‘vow’ but Boineid is a landscape term and appears to be attached to beacon sites. The root in that case is ban ‘white, bright’. Modern versions include bonnach ‘bread, cake’, bainne ‘milk’ and ponair ‘beans’. See also bonnach.
bonnach ‘bread, cake’, lit. ‘fired’, from bàn ‘white, bright (fire)’. Bannocks are a frequent element in folk-tales and folk-lore, often divided and given as a gift. In such a context the bannock is a symbol for AG. bonnach ‘fire’ which can also be divided and shared. G. bannag is ‘New Year gift’. A great hunt was held at New Year, by which we should probably understand the Winter Solstice, not the Spring Equinox, and the gift was presumably fresh meat. If a bannag is found in an incantation it is more likely to mean fire as the gift of the goddess. (It was no easy matter to achieve a blaze on top of a Scottish mountain in midwinter.) A bannag was also the ball used in shinty, perhaps because it flew in the air like a beacon signal. See also boinich ‘vow’, boneid (a landscape term), and bainne ‘milk’ which all appear in an AG context.
broc ‘deer’. Often found as breac ‘dappled’.
bronn ‘bestowing, dividing, granting’, an epithet of the Cailleach. G. bronnag has come to mean ‘a poor, sorrowful, lamenting female’ and as such is the Little Washer, one of her imaginary modern forms. Even before the idea of bestowing, this is a ‘fire’ word, like E. burn, and may refer to the management of tribal hunting lands by fire. Thus am bron binn is ‘beacon mountain’, or ‘fire mountain’.
brùite ‘bruised, broken. cf. bruid ‘captivity’, bruid ‘stab’, O.Ir bruth ‘heat, glowing metal’.
buaileadh ‘assault’ from buail ‘strike, beat’, in the context, to stun or wound deer.
buain ‘to cut down’, now used for harvesting grain.
buarach ‘fetter (snare)’.
cailleach, Cailleach ‘deer goddess, protective spirit, hunting beacon’. It is the last meaning that is used in place-names.
càirich ‘to mend’ for carraid ‘conflict, strife, hunting’.
caise ‘wrinkle, fold, privy parts of a female’. A symbolic deer trap. See cas.
caman ‘curved club used in shinty or golf’. As used by hunters to propel stones or pieces of cut wood when driving deer or other animals.
camul ‘the cable used in a tug-of-war’, a pun on ‘gathering ground’.
caoir ‘blaze, stream of sparks, a fiery flame, great haste’, punned on caora ‘sheep’ and caora ‘rowan berry’.
caol ‘narrow place, deer trap’, AG. ‘vagina’.
caolan ‘the slenderest thing in the body’ (RCM 1901, 99).
capuill, E. chapel for co-pu-ilidh ‘gathering fire place’. The chapel was originally a small stone (fire-proof) building, peripheral to the main beacon, for storing materials for the fire, hence the dubious religious status and odd locations of many surviving sites. Their secular origin did not prevent them from being used for burial or even adopted into Christian use.
càrdan ‘wood cards’, a pun on cèard‘expert’, later ‘smith’, i.e., a skilled person who worked with fire. Originally a hunter.
càraid ‘pair, couple’. caraidheach ‘wrestling, disputing (hunting). carach ‘cunning, sly, tricky; whirling, circling, winding’ describes hunters. The link with càraid is no doubt the pincer action by which deer were driven into a V-shaped trap.
carraid ‘conflict, strife, riot (hunt)’.
cas ‘approach, wreathe, twist, bend, climb (hunt)’. These are activities of hunters driving deer. Chas iad oirre ‘they closed upon her’. Cognate with E. chase and punned on cas ‘foot, leg’ and càise ‘cheese’. See also cas-gort ‘slaughter’. See also caise.
casan, the Parallel Roads in Glenroy, which were believed locally to have been made by a great king for the purpose of leading deer into ‘an impassable recess’ (A Survey of the Province of Moray, 1798, 255) G. cas is a hunting trap.
cas-gort, as casgairt ‘slaughtering, butchering; triumph, rejoicing’. Gort is an enclosure, also ‘ivy’. See cas.
cath ‘hunt’, regularly found as E. cat.
cathcrios (Táin Bó Cúalnge, 2244) ‘battle-girdle’, perhaps a lassoo.
cean ‘deer trap, AG. vagina’, cognate with E. cunt ‘vagina’.
ceann ‘deer ambush’.
cearc ‘hen’ - explain.
cèard ‘smith, expert, one who works with fire (hunter, hunt-master)’.
chat ‘cat’, for cath ‘hunt’.
cìr ‘comb’, pun on céir ‘wax (fuel)’.
ciste ‘deer ambush, trap’.
ciste na ban-righinn ‘the chest of the Queen’ a poetic name for a deer ambush. The Chest of Dee was a famous ambush site, and shows signs of use by hunters already in the Mesolithic.
clach-faobhair now ‘whet-stone’, but literally ‘hunter’s stone’; cf. . faobh ‘spoil, booty, carcase, conquest, dead men’s clothes (ie, skins or hides)’; faobhair or famhair ‘giant, champion’. It was probably a flint used to strike sparks.
cliabh ‘straight-jacket’, AG. ‘deer trap’. Harrow is strictly cliath.
cochull ‘hood, cloak’, as Lat. cucullus ‘hood, cowl’, cuculus ‘term of reproach, cuckoo’. Any term of reproach in such circumstances probably once applied to a hunter. See also gochd.
coig ‘deer’. See gochd.
coill ‘wood’ for cùil ‘stone nook, deer trap’, as Fr. cul ‘vagina’.
coltar ‘ploughshare’ for cùiltear ‘skulker’, a hunter lying in ambush or stalking deer. The same root gives G. cul ‘end, goal (in shinty), custody’, AG. ‘vagina’.
chapuill *co-pu-ilidh ‘gathering fire place’. In place-names as Chapel.
corr ‘heron’, a pun on caoir ‘blaze of fire’ or carraid ‘conflict, strife, hunting’.
cruitean: an aspen is called critheann because it trembles and sparkles ‘like a fire’; cf. crithear ‘spark of fire’; cruth ‘phantom, hunter’. See also crup.
crup or grub ‘claw’, AG. ‘deer trap’. A powerful source of puns and images. As E. grab, E. griffon, G. cruibh ‘cat’. G. gruthan ‘curds’ is a a pun on AG. grubhan ‘hunters’. The Cruithin or Picts were ‘hunters’. ‘John of Groats’ at the extreme north-east corner of Scotland is G. Aodhan nan Gruthan ‘the light of the hunters’. The beacon evidently served to announce deer-hunts in Caithness to the Orcadians, who still crossed the Pentland or Pictland or Hunters’ Firth to hunt in Caithness in the Norwegian period. Orkneyinga Saga, Chapter CVI: ‘Every summer the Earls were wont to go over to Caithness, and up into the forests to hunt deer’. A great deal of traffic for other purposes is also noted in the Saga between Orkney and Caithness and there is no need to doubt that this was true in the Pictish period and earlier. See also cruth.
cruth ‘phantom’ and crudha ‘horse-shoe’ are both found in folk-tales (eg ‘Rashiecoat’ and several stories of witches). The shape of a horse-show is like a deer trap and a phantom is a fire, or smoke from a bonfire, or cremation. G. cruith ‘harp’ had a bent or hooked frame, like a horse-shoe. See also fidhleir.
cruth ‘phantom, hunter’.
cu ‘dog’ ‘he who gathers’, so a hunter.
cuach ‘cup (trap)’.
cuid ‘food, lodging, sustenance; share, part; private parts’ (as in E. cod-piece).
cuidhe ‘pen, enclosure’.
cuidheall ‘wheel’, probably a fire-drill. Punned as ‘distaff’.
cùil ‘stone nook, deer trap’, as Fr. cul ‘vagina’.
cuir gen. of car; in AG. terms likely to be caoir ‘firebrand’.
da meur ‘two prongs’, describes a deer or aurochs; cf. damh ‘stag’ and damhra ‘wild beast’.
damh ‘ox, stag’. The name was probably correctly applied to an aurochs bull since it means ‘equipped with two sharp horns’.
dòid ‘tooth’, cognate with E. tooth. The modern meaning ‘croft or pendicle’ refers to the regular appearance of a series of small rectangular fields.
dorus ‘door’, but also the opening to a trap or corrall closed by a hurdle or wicket-door.
dubh ‘black’, a very common pun on AG. ‘deer’, probably cognate with damh ‘two-pronged’.
dubh ‘deer’. A form of damh. Both mean ‘equipped with two horns’.
dubhan ‘hook’ for AG. dubhan ‘deer’ ‘the caught one’.
Dughal for dubh ‘deer’ and gal ‘smoke, vapour, gale, puff, blast or flame of straw; kindred; warfare; slaughter; valour.’ Dougal is an ancestral ‘clan’ name in Balquhidder and Lochtayside, Perthshire and in Craigneish and elsewhere in Argyll.
duine ‘man’ but specifically one who entrapped (du) animals.
each ‘horse, brute’, probably ‘stag’, but see also eich.
eala ‘swan’: PUN?
easan ‘waterfall’, a pun on ess ‘death’.
eich ‘horse’, for éigh ‘proclaim, sound, summons’; éich-còmhraig ‘war-cry, hunting-cry’. The each mara ‘sea-horse’, a pun for ‘gathering summons’ and similar fishy motifs, appears on several of the carved stones of Dark Age Scotland.
eun, eoin ‘bird’, a very common pun for aodhan or aìn ‘fire’, also found as Iain, Ewen and John, and as uan ‘lamb’.
eòrna for feòrnean ‘pile’.
faobhraicheadh ‘edged, sharp, keen, nimble’.
fein ‘self’ for Fein ‘hunting band’. ‘Myself’ is a well-known character in fairy stories.
feoil ‘flesh’, also perhaps ‘fire’, as E. fuel.
fiacaill ‘tooth’, a pun on fachail ‘strife, dispute (hunt), or faicill ‘caution, guard, watchfulness’, or fiadh-cùil ‘deer-trap’. Fionn put his thumb under a divinatory tooth; in other words, he had the wisdom of the hunt. Likewise, in a garbled fragment, Fionn once met a warrior called Fiacail who gave him a javelin and told him to sit between the hills known as the Paps of Anu the following November; in other words, a hunting beacon was lit there in November. See also grab.
fidhleir ‘fiddler’, AG. ‘deer-hunter’. Fiddler is a fairly common land-scape term; Carn an Fhidhleir (Carn Ealar) marks the spot where Atholl, Mar and Badenoch meet (NN 9084). Fiddler’s Green is a version of Tir nan Og, or the Land of Plenty. The pun on G. eala ‘swan’ belongs here.
fireach ‘top of a hill’, i.e., a beacon site. An F-R ‘fire’ word.
fitheach ‘raven’, a pun on fiadh ‘deer’. But fiach ‘wrath’ may be a name for a hunter.
fòill ‘pursuit, chase’; fòlach ‘blood-shed, hunting’.
fraoch ‘heather’, a pun on fraoch ‘hunting-frenzy, fury’ (the war-cry of Clan Donald), and friogh ‘sharp, keen, piercing, stabbing’.
fuin ‘to bake, to knead’, for fuin ‘cow’, an AG word for a deer.
gabh ‘spear, hook, gaff’, hence ‘deer’.
gabhail ‘spoil, booty, conquest; seizure, capture’. The word occurs in gabhail-cine, E. gavel-kind, a type of land-tenure which appears to mean ‘hunting lands of the kindred’. According to Dwelly it is ‘a tenure now only recognised in Kent, by which the owner at fifteen can sell the estate or devise it by will. The estate cannot escheat, and on an intestacy the lands descend from the father to all the sons in equal portions.’ This appears to be a somewhat muddled version of a way of managing communally-owned tribal lands. It also suggests they once spoke Gaelic in Kent.
gaoth ‘wind’, also ‘dart, arrow’, often used figuratively for a beacon signal; also ‘theft (hunting)’.
gaothair ‘the swift one, as fast as the wind, greyhound’ but also a signal from a beacon. An gàth ‘ivy’.
geàrradh ‘to cut, cut down’; perhaps literal but cf. gearait ‘virgin (the Maiden); warrior (a hunter)’ and geàrr ‘weir for catching fish’, so probably also ‘an artificial barrier for catching deer’.
gig: ‘deer’; cf gochd, cochul.
gille ‘servant, young hunter’
gionach, from gian ‘to blaze, beam; bright, radiant, resplendent’.
giucain: see giùgach
giùgach ‘starving; cringing, drooping’, perhaps used by a hunter in humble supplication. AG. ‘hunter’. See gochd.
glac ‘seize, catch; hollow, valley, defile’, AG. ‘deer trap’.
glas ‘bright, reflective, AG. fire’.
glen, a modern spelling of glun ‘trap’.
glum for glun ‘trap’
glun ‘trap’, applied also to the knee. Cognate with G. gleann ‘valley’
gobair ‘goat’, in AG. terms ‘deer’.
gobha ‘smith’, a common pun for AG. gobhar ‘deer’. Also for gabh, gobhainn.
gobhainn ‘smith’, a common pun for ‘deer’. The root is gabh ‘to take’, which gives gabhann ‘taken, caught, like a prisoner’; gàbhadh-bheil AG. ‘hunting fire’, for which Dwelly gives ‘Druidical ordeal by fire (?)’; gabhe-dubh ‘storm riders’, a ghostly troop of deer hunters seen in the mist or rain; gabhail ‘spoil, booty, conquest, seizure, capture; kindling’; gabhar ‘hawk, hunter’, gabhar or gobhar ‘goat, deer’ (a Neolithic re-use of an existing word); gamhainn ‘yearling deer (also applied to cows, calves, bullocks, etc), gobhal ‘fork’ and E. gaff, goblin.
gochd AG. ‘deer’. This very archaic word is found in AG texts, in folk-tales and in place-names as coc, cog, coig, goc, gog, gig, E. cock, etc. G. geug ‘young superfine female, nymph’ is fairly diagnostic of a hind and G. gigean ‘dwarf’ is probably a hunter. Gochd aspirated to ochd by way of *fochd, which is found as fiadh ‘deer’. Gog(o) is a primitive reduplication of the gathering element Co or Go. G. gogadh ‘nodding the head’ was presumably a silent signal used by hunters. G. gogar ‘light’ was probably a hunting beacon and the cock in folk-tales is probably a pun. All supernatural elements had to disappear before cock-crow, and deer drives began at dawn. There is also an AG. pun on ciochd ‘breast’ found in many folk-tales, where the fairy changeling is never tired of being suckled. Gog and Magog were giants or beacons. Was ‘Cuckoo!’ used as a signal by hunters? It is still used as a way of attracting attention. The code name of the cuckoo was ian glas a chéitein (GH 1911, 225), in AG. ‘bright fire of spring’ or, in pedestrian Gaelic ‘grey bird of May-time’. See also cochul, coig.
gogan ‘deer’. gogan ime ‘herd of deer’ is said to mean ‘butter-keg’. see gog ‘deer’ and ioma.
gogan: see gochd.
gort ‘enclosure’, punned with gort ‘ivy’.
grab ‘tooth’, as E. grab. AG. ‘deer trap’.
gregh ‘dog, hound’.
gréige literally ‘Greece’, but always for greigh ‘flock, herd of deer’. The many references to Greece and the Greeks and the occasional reference to Alexander in heroic Gaelic poetry rest on this pun.
gréine ‘sun’, but also ‘herd-fire’ or ‘hunting beacon’: greigh ‘herd’ + locative ending.
griom ‘war, battle, AG. hunting’, the origin of the various Grimsdykes, Grimspounds and Grahams.
gual ‘coal, charcoal’; glowing peats were carried to light fires.
Iain ‘John’, for aodhan ‘fire, beacon, beacon-site’, also aìn ‘fire’.
iall ‘leather thong’, also ‘herd, drove’.
iarraidh ‘bequest, petition’
iasg ‘fish, a common pun for AG. iasg ‘hunting’; cf. Ger. jacht, E. chase.
igh ‘tallow; light’
im ‘butter’, a pun on iom ‘encircling’, ioma ‘herd’.
innseadh ‘report, intelligence, sign, AG. beacon signal, any other kind of signal’.
io ‘hunt’, found in many compounds, is probably cognate with G. aodh ‘fire’.
iom ‘around, encircling’. Punned as im ‘butter’.
ioma ‘herd’, lit. ‘many, much, numerous’, punned as im ‘butter’, which is the gathering of the fatty elements of milk. Sithean glac an ime (NG 6030) ‘outlook point of the deer trap of the herd’ is on Scalpay, next to An Doire Loisgte ‘deer forest of the fire’.
iomain ‘urge, drive slowly, as cattle’, with AG. io ‘hunt’ (as G. aodh ‘fire’).
iomradh ‘fame, report, mention’, for ionradh ‘plundering, laying waste, AG. hunting’.
ionraich ‘just, faithful, honest’, for ionradh ‘plundering, laying waste, AG. hunting’.
isi for ith ‘tallow, fat’.
iteag or iteig ‘feather’ for itheadh ‘eating’; ith ‘fat, tallow (used for lights)’and iteag ‘fast as a (fledged) arrow’, a type of metaphor often used for beacon signals.
ith ‘to eat; fat, tallow’, both as food and as a source of light.
lach ‘fire’, as luch.
conlach ‘straw’, a pun on AG. conlach ‘gathering fire’. Witches rode on straws.
làdar, also ladran ‘thief, robber’; ladar-miot ‘scrimmage, Fr. melée’, lit. ‘hunt-meet’ as many words of similar import.
ladhar ‘prong, fork’, AG. ‘trap’; used as a sexual pun (RCM 1901, 99).
leantuinn ‘pursuing, chasing, hunting’, used literally. Leanmhuinn ‘kindred, clanship, following’ were those who hunted under a common chief. In place-name terms Lomond, Leven and as a surname Lamont.
leathraiche, probably c.w. liath ‘light, grey, smoke’.
leig ‘to slip dogs to the chase; to fire; to let go’.
lèod ‘cutting, slaughter, hunting’.
liath ‘grey’, an archaic ‘light’ word which appears to mean ‘smoke’.
lìon ‘gin, snare’, ‘fill, replenish, satiate’.
loichead ‘lamp, light, torch’.
lòn ‘bread’, for lon ‘beacon’, or bonnach ‘beacon site’.
lon, ‘rawhide rope used by cragsmen on St Kilda’.
luch ‘mouse’, ‘prisoner’ so a captured animal; also a pun on AG. luch ‘light’.
mac, mhic ‘hunting band’. G. mac ‘son’ was any young man who hunted as one of an organised band under a leader. Mac Garranich, Mac Glasich ’s Mac Uthich ‘Men of the Garry, the Glass and the Ewe’, J Logan 1848, 181. were three local hunting bands or clans. Mac has the same sense of ‘hunting band’ in place-names: Beinn Mac Duibh ‘the mountain of the hunting band of the deer’.
magh, mac ‘hunting plain’. See mac.
màm ‘gap, pass through mountains (deer trap)’ or ‘battle (hunt)’.
maol ‘bald, tonsured; a bare-topped, much-burned mountain top used as a beacon site’.
mar, mir ‘hunt’. A very widespread root (cf Mars the god of war) but not common in Gaelic.
mart ‘cow’, also ‘any animal killed for winter provisions’, usually around Martinmas (11 November).
mathair ‘mother’, a title of the Lady.
meadhon ‘middle, mustering ground, meeting-place, hunt-meet’.
meann ‘kid, fawn, deer in general’.
meur ‘prong, antler’, related to AG. mor ‘to hunt’. Perhaps also ‘crotch’.
mic, mhic as mac ‘son, hunter’
mill ‘gathering, round-up, hunt’. G. mill ‘to lay waste (to hunt)’, milidh ‘soldier, hero’, E. mill, military. See also moll.
mine ‘meal’ is a pun on meann ‘young roe (deer)’. The favoured north side of Loch Rannoch was the Slios min while the south side, the Black Wood, was the Slios garbh. This may refer to cattle pasture (min) opposed to deer forest (garbh).
Minneachan is a well-known character in a cumulative tale. The name is related to meann ‘young roe’ and min ‘smooth’ but is also ‘smooth place’, probably pastureland where young animals were kept.
moll ‘mill, gathering’, as E. mill about.
mor ‘big, great’, as AG. mar or mor ‘to hunt, to gather together’.
muc ‘pig’; sometimes (e.g. in place-names) for mac or magh.
muir, gen. mara ‘sea’, for AG. mar ‘hunt, gathering’; cf. mur ‘enclosed place (deer trap’).
mullachan ‘top, summit’, probably a beacon site within the deer forest.
nighean ‘young girl, ie, the Maiden’.
ochd ‘eight’ a pun for uchd ‘side of a hill; breast; AG. beacon site’. A link between ‘eight’ and ‘fire’ is also found in the eight-sided house built for the eight sons of John O Groats, in Gaelic, Taigh Jan Crot Callow’. This gives us taigh ‘house’, aodhan ‘fire, light’, cruth ‘phantom, AG. hunter’ and càil ‘assembly’ as in cailleach ‘AG. hunting beacon’: ‘the house of the light of the hunt meet’.
òige, as òg ‘young’ but also ‘hunter’, as oig ‘champion’ and òglach ‘lad, youth, soldier, hero’. AG. lach ‘fire’.
oir ‘border, edge, deer forest’, also ‘furze, whins’ used in fire-lighting.
òrd ‘death, slaughter’.
pàisdean ‘children’, see piseach.
peasair ‘peas’, a pun on piseach ‘increase, good fortune, blessing, progeny’.
piseach ‘good fortune, blessing, progeny’. Frequent in supplicatory prayers, hence piseag ‘witchcraft, divination’. Found as pàisdean ‘children’, piseag ‘kitten’, peasair ‘peas’, etc.
piseag ‘kitten’, a pun on piseag ‘witchcraft, divination’, or piseach ‘increase, good fortune, blessing, progeny’.
pocan ‘small bag or pouch’, such as a hunter carried; no doubt also the scrotum.
ponair ‘beans’, perhaps for boinich ‘vow’.
pronnta for bronn ‘bestow, gift’; but see bronn.
rap or rab ‘to hunt’, as G. rabair ‘wrangler, AHL hunter’, E. robber, Lat. raptor ‘robber, plunderer’.
righ ‘king’, originally ‘hunt-master, chief, ruler’.
roimh ‘land, soil’ but cf. roinn ‘share, portion’.
ruaigheadh ‘chasing, hunting’.
rubadh for rabhadh ‘alarm, hue and cry’; raobhachd ‘gluttony, excess’, rabh ‘warn, guard; reub ‘tear, rend, pull asunder’. See rap above.
sabhal ‘barn’, for sàbhail ‘protect, defend, save’.
sean ‘old’, AG. ‘gathering, rounding up’. A divergent form of comh.
seipinn for ceapan ‘snares, traps’, also ‘rallying point in a hunt’.
seonadh ‘augury, sorcery; charm’; seona-saobha ‘charm’.
sgian ‘knife’, perhaps used literally but perhaps for sgeun ‘chasing in fear’ or sgein ‘hiding place’. cf. . also E. shine, sheen which suggests a ‘fire’ pun.
sgriobadh ‘scraping’, for sgriobadh ‘laying waste’, ie, hunting successfully, used literally.
slat ‘penis’, for slaid ‘booty, theft, robbery, munificent gift’. There are many related ‘hunting’ words: slaidear ‘robber, thief’; slaightear ‘rogue, rascal, knave’; slaodag ‘slut, slovenly woman’ (in this context the Cailleach); slaod ‘raft, float, sledge, trailing burden; murder, slaughter’; E. slaughter; Sc. slaister ‘make a mess’.
slat ‘rod, penis’, for slad ‘carnage, slaughter, plunder’.
snamh ‘swim’. Used literally of swimming deer, probably referring to migrating reindeer which in some places swim across rivers and estuaries during their annual migrations.
snath ‘string, thong’, taken to mean a spun thread, probably once used by hunters to immobilise game, or to descend crags.
sliabh ‘a mountain of the first magnitude, extended heath’ is ‘hunting forest’ in an AG context.
sop ‘wisp’. A wisp of dried grass was also used to make a short, sharp blaze as a signal or set alight to start a bigger fire. G.saobh ‘to turn aside’ appears to be cognate.
sorcha ‘light’, opposed to dorcha ‘darkness’, perhaps not as positive and negative forces but as elements of equal value, like white and black chess-men or intervals in a light signal.
spòg ‘to seize with talons’; spoga ‘deer trap’.
staigh ‘within’: see stochd a staigh.
stic ‘blemish, fault, defect’.
stob ‘stake, stab, thrust’.
stoc ‘trunk, root, stump; post, pillar; horn, trumpet; family, race; wealth, store, cattle’.
stochd a staigh understood to mean ‘foot within’ in a children’s game. The actions of the game (a kind of Hokey-Pokey) are probably inspired by the phrase which probably means ‘stock of deer within the ambush’. G. ’staigh occurs also in a line of the shinty dialogues: Cha robh e fein na chuid mhac a stigh, taken to mean: ‘Neither himself nor any of his sons were in’, literally ‘in the house’. G. stoc ‘trumpet, horn’ suggests a gathering summons. G. staigh, taigh or tigh ‘house’ may be yet another AHL word for a deer trap or animal pen, cognate with E. sty. Ir. stéig ‘bleak place’ is suggestive of a hunting forest, and G. stig ‘sneaking fellow’ and stìgear ‘mean abject skulking fellow’ are both suggestive of derogatory epithets for hunters.
sugh, subh or suibh ‘berries’; sùgh ‘berry, meat broth, sap’. The word sugh provides a very archaic pun on su ‘to gather’ and eibh ‘fire’, and derives from the fact that berries are small, bright, round and red like a fire. Apple for éibheall ‘flame’ is another ‘fire’ word used as the name of a fruit and as a regular pun. The pun between sùgh ‘meat broth, sap’ and E. suck is common in fairy tales. Fairies were always keen to get suck or ‘sap’ from the wife; in other words, hunters were always keen to get fire or sustenance from the Lady. G. sogh ‘greyhound’ and sogh ‘pleasure, delight, joy, mirth, prosperity’ also relate to hunting. [Lith. uoga ‘berry’] also c.w. ‘egg, G. ugh’.
sùil ‘eye, beacon’.
taigh ‘house’: see stochd a staigh.
taigh ‘house’: see stochd a staigh.
tuadh, tuagh ‘axe’. May be used literally but also as a pun on tuath ‘people’ (tu together + aodh ‘fire).
uan ‘lamb’, a pun on aodhan ‘fire’. Sheep were protected by fire and European ‘sheep’ names reflect this.
uibh, uibhar ‘yew’, a pun on éibh ‘fire, signal’, found as éibhleag ‘little fire’. G. éigh was a signal given by shouting (‘a far cry’), i.e., a war-cry.
uileann ‘elbow, corner, angle’, ie, a V-shaped deer trap or iolairig.
uisge ‘water’. Used literally but also a pun on AG. *iasg ‘hunt’. A second pun on G. iasg ‘fish’ underlies a lot of folklore and symbolism. On another level the Cornish piskie ‘fish person’ has nothing to do with fish but is also a type of hunting fairy.
ur ‘fire’, oir ‘border, boundaries’, AG. ‘hunting grounds’. AG. or, ur ‘to hunt’. Uthar as aodh-ar ‘fire place, beacon site’ is linked; see also athair ‘beacon site’.
ursainn ‘army in battle order’, a muster of hunters armed with spears. As E. urchin. G. gràineag ‘hedgehog’ has the same meaning; AG. grainne ‘bonfire, gathering fire’.
Once the principle of archaic survival is accepted, we can recover a great many archaic words from the Gaelic place-names in Highland deer forests. They not only provide us with an extensive lexicon but also with information about the activities of early hunters. The value of these names rests on the fact that they served a practical purpose which was determined by the landscape. Since the landscape has not changed, this original purpose can to some extent be reconstructed. It is enough to realise that the language is not modern Gaelic but archaic Gaelic for a vista of beacon sites, signal posts, muster sites, deer traps, deer drops and similar features to come immediately into focus. It is beyond the scope of the present work to go very far into this topic but a few relevant names are included in discussion. It is in fact possible to investigate this old landscape with the help of the glossary provided at the end of this book, a Gaelic dictionary, a good map, and a little imagination. Some of the more common place-name elements are listed below with hypothetical AG meanings in brackets.
achlais ‘enclosed place, (deer ambush)’. G. achlais ‘arm-pit’, AG. ‘enclosure like an arm-pit, deer trap’. Probably G. ach ‘skirmish, (hunt)’ and clais ‘pit, ditch’.
aodhan, aodh or àin ‘fire’, see also eoin. It is found also as eun ‘bird, uan ‘lamb’ and as Ewen, John, etc.
bàn ‘white’, AG. ‘fire, light, beacon site’ is related to OE bann ‘summons’. The White Lady or Baintighearna who presided over the deer forests was probably a beacon.
bealach ‘mountain gorge, narrow pass, (deer trap)’ is related to G. baladh ‘fighting, (hunting)’, bal ‘Lord, sun, (beacon fire)’, beall ‘fire, glowing embers’, beoll ‘glowing fire’, beollag ‘bright little fire’.
beinn: G. beinn, ‘mountain’. Many Scottish Bens, notably Ben y Glo (Atholl) are not sharp peaks (G. beann ‘corner, horn, top, peak’) but high ranges exploited as deer forests.
blàr ‘field, (field of a beacon)’. As E. blare ‘to make a loud noise, as with a trumpet’, ie, to send a summons, and the aspirate flare.
buidhe ‘fire, blaze’. Invariably given its modern sense ‘yellow’. Tom Buidhe ‘knoll of the blaze’.
buth, both (pron ‘baw’): ‘hut, temporary building, shelter’.
cailleach ‘hag, protective spirit of deer forest, (hunting beacon)’. In tales the Cailleach is a fearful black-faced hag (cf Kali) but on the landscape this word means ‘beacon’.
caoir ‘firebrand, brief fierce blaze of fire’. Common puns are G. caor ‘the berries of the rowan’ (used for kindling) and G. caor ‘sheep’.
cath ‘battle, (hunt)’. Appears sometimes as ‘cat’.
ceann ‘head, (deer trap)’, in place-names as Ken. A deer-trap was open-ended like a head to a body. Canmore is not ‘big head’ but ‘great deer trap’, a hunting honorific.
cearcall ‘hoop, ring, circumference, (deer trap)’. G. céir ‘wax, (light, torch)’ + cùil ‘trap’, so a ring of hunters trapping deer in a circle of lighted torches or by fire generally. Other related words with hunting origins are E. circle, church, kirk.
cill ‘cell, church, burying-ground’, cùl ‘back, hind-part, (enclosed place, deer trap)’ and cúil ‘nook, corner, burial ground, cattle-pen’ are all stone nooks used as animal traps or pens. An Irish keel was a pre-Christian graveyard, generally circular, used for burials of unbaptised children, suicides, and strangers.
coinneachadh ‘meeting, assembly, (muster of hunters)’. coinneamh ‘meeting, assembly’. Sometimes taken to be cainneach ‘merchant’.
corp ‘body, carcass, (venison)’. Hunts were organised so that deer could be killed conveniently near home or near transport. A name such as Corpach on Loch Linnhe suggests that venison was off-loaded there to be ferried down Loch Linnhe.
cruach ‘pile, heap; (round-up, pile of dead game)’. The various Cruachans were deer forests.
dail ‘small fertile patch beside a river, (used as a campsite by hunters)’.
doire ‘oak wood, (hunting forest)’. Beinn Dòrain was the prime hunting forest in the wild area between north-west Perthshire and Argyll.
domh, damh ‘stag, bull’, lit. ‘two-horned’. Linked to G. domhach ‘savage’, Dòmhnach ‘Sunday, (assembly for a hunt)’; G. domhan ‘world, (tribal territory, hunting ground)’, Righ an Domhain ‘King of the World, (lord of the local deer forest, hunt-master)’. The world was once restricted to the deer forest.
monadh, mont ‘high ground, (hunting ground)’, as Fr. monde ‘world’.
drochaid ‘bridge, (hurdle)’. Hurdles were presumably used to bridge rivers but were also used by hunters to direct driven game, to close deer traps and to carry venison.
dubh ‘black, (stag)’, as dabh ‘stag’, literally ‘two-horned’.
eòin, as àine, aodhan ‘heat, light, fire’. Punned as G. eun ‘bird’ and uan ‘lamb’ and found as the personal names Aed, Hugh, Ewen, Ivan, John, Jonas, etc.
faire ‘watch, guard, watch-hill’. The origin of ‘fairies’.
faolain ‘(beacon?)’. G. feallan ‘felon, traitor’ was probably a hunter who stole deer from the goddess.
fionn ‘white, resplendent, bright, (fire)’. G. fionn-chu is ‘grey-hound, hunting hound’ not ‘white dog’. G. fionnadh ‘flaying, skinning an animal, fur’. A fionn-sgeul, ‘fable, romance’ was once concerned with beacon lore.
fuar ‘cold, stinging, (fire)’. ‘Cold’ is seldom if ever appropriate as a place-name element. Fuar might also be fuaran ‘spring’.
gal ‘smoke, steam, blast or flame of straw; kindred; warfare; slaughter; valour’. The Gauls and Gaels were tribes controlled by a beacon system. See also geal, gual.
gar ‘accommodation, enclosure’, gàradh, ‘wall, dyke, mound, garden-wall’; in place-names as Garry, Garth.
geal ‘white, bright, radiant, (beacon)’, as gal ‘flame’, also ‘kindred, warfare, slaughter, valour’. See also gal, gual.
glas ‘grey, pale, wan, sallow, (signal fire, light)’; ‘to lock, to fetter, to fasten’. From the same root as gal, geal, gual. E. glass is bright, shiny, and reflecting. Glasadh na Féill Micheil ‘the eve of Michaelmas’, marked by a bonfire.
griosaich ‘burning embers, (beacon), hot battle (hunt)’. Creag a’ Ghreusaiche (3) is ‘rock of the slaughter’, punned as ‘shoemaker’s rock’. G. greusaiche ‘shoemaker’ is a common and uncomplimentary pun for a hunter.
grianan ‘sunny spot; summer-house; peak of mountain; arched walk on a hill commanding an extensive prospect.’ The last appears to be a mistranslation of a beacon site or outlook post in a deer-park. It is older than G. grian ‘sun’ which was seen as a huge bonfire. Tom a’ Ghrianain in Glencoe is also known as Signal Rock.
gual ‘coal, (fire, beacon site)’. cf gal.
iolaire or elrig ‘deer ‘V-shaped deer trap or ambush, into which deer were driven and shot with arrows when they came out.’ Punned as G. iolair ‘eagle’.
laogh ‘young deer, calf’.
leac ‘slab of stone, (flat stone used as beacon stance)’. In a landscape well-supplied with stone slabs, a leac appears to have been a specific slab on which a beacon fire was lit.
liath ‘grey, pale, (smoke)’. Commonly attached to places where signals were sent.
longairt, longphort, luncart etc. ‘deer trap’. Found in placenames as Luncart, Lumphart, Lockhart, Longford, Longfirth, etc. The first element is lock ‘to shut securely’ and the second means ‘enclosure’. cf G. frith ‘deer park’.
mac or magh ‘field of battle, (hunting preserve)’. G. mac in place-names in deer forests and in many Ogam inscriptions is probably AG. mach or magh ‘deer forest’. G. mac ‘son’ came to be used for a member of a hunting band. Beinn Macduibh is ‘the mountain of the deer forest’ (magh + dubh).
maoilean, meall ‘bald hill, (hunting place)’. A meall was a bald or bare summit where signal fires could be lit or a beacon set up without setting fire to the rest of the forest. It was probably bald because it had been burned so often. The ML root is also found in G. milleadh ‘spoiling, laying waste’, Latin miles ‘soldier (hunter)’, E. mill ‘rob or steal’.
mar ‘(to hunt, to gather together)’. An archaic and very widespread word, often punned G. muir, gen. mara ‘sea’ which means ‘much water gathered together’. Braemar, Cromar.
mart ‘cow or steer fattened for killing, any animal destined for slaughter’. Martin is probably *mart-tuin ‘enclosure or trap where animals are killed’. G. mar can be deduced from G. marag ‘blood pudding’ and marbhadh ‘killing, slaughtering’. There is a Gaelic oath mar fhéin ‘by the light of the hunt’.
meadhon ‘middle, centre, (meeting place, muster place for hunters)’. Ben Meadhon is generally used for a mountain central to a deer forest where hunters mustered. cf E. meet, moot, Lith. medunesis ‘season when bees gather honey’, Lith. medzioti ‘to hunt’, G. meadhail ‘company’.
meall: see maoilean. G. meall ‘to entice’, meallach ‘fat, rich’ and maol ‘bald’ are related.
meirle ‘theft, (hunting)’.
neimheas, nemet ‘holy ground, sanctuary, (deer forest)’, referring to the restricted and controlled nature of the local deer forest.
oig ‘champion, (hunter)’. Also òg ‘youth, young man’ and òglach ‘soldier, young hero (hunter)’.
or, ur ‘border, brink; gold, (deer forest)’.
poll ‘hole, pit, pool’. In some cases such as Aberfoyle probably beall ‘fire’.
port ‘gate, door, fort, garrison, common food, (entrance to a deer trap closed with fire)’. Cognate with ford, W. fordd ‘road’, fort, firth, frith ‘deer park’.
rùm ‘place, space, (tribal hunting grounds)’.
sean ‘old, of olden times, (to do with gathering, rounding-up, hunting)’.
seilg ‘hunt, chase; venison’. The Selgovae of the first century AD were hunters but the silkie of northern legend was probably a seal.
sine ‘old ones, elders, (hunt leaders, wise men)’. See sean.
sìth ‘peace, rest from war, truce; hill, mount; fairy, (hunter)’. Peace was enforced in a deer park to avoid private feuds interfering with the main business.
soilleir ‘bright, shining, luminous, (beacon)’. G. sùil ‘eye (of a beacon, etc), look, loop-hole, expectation.’ ‘Eye’ symbolism is widespread and is connected with watching for a signal, hence, keeping watch, hence having a protective function.
tàillear ‘one who carves (meat)’. The tailor who appears in folk tales and on the map did not originally work with cloth but with meat. As French tailler ‘to hew, to carve’.
tionail ‘assembly, multitude, convocation, (muster of hunters)’.
tòir ‘pursuit, chase, hunt’.
tor ‘beacon site, beacon hill’.
tul ‘fire, hearth, hillock’.
ulaidh ‘pack-saddle, treasure, (venison)’.
ur ‘border, brink; fire, (hunting forest; hunting beacon)’. A battle in old hunting language is invariably a hunt.