The islands of Loch Lomond – what their Gaelic names reveal

Loch Lomond NNR

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Jane Petrie, the blog editor writes:

We were fascinated to read Roddy MacLean’s excellent article on the Gaelic origins of the names of the islands on Loch Lomond in https://scotlandsnature.blog/

This is a condensed version but the full article is thoroughly worth a read.

  • Inchcailloch – Innis Cailleach ‘island of nuns’ named for the nunney established by St Kentigern (8th century)

Two other islands bear religious references –

  • Inchmurrin (Innis Mearain), named for St Mirren (who has strong connections to Paisley)
  • Inchtavannach (Innis Taigh a’ Mhanaich) ‘the island of the monastery’, which is connected to St Kessock.

Among the meanings of the widespread Gaelic place-name element innis (pronounced IN-ish) are ‘island’, ‘riverine meadow’ or ‘clearing in a forest’. It is usually anglicised inch or insh as in Inchinnan, Inchmarnoch, Inshes and Loch Insh. Its likely original meaning of ‘island in water’ is no longer active in the language, having been superceded by the Norse-derived eilean. Island names with innis are therefore very old.

Four islands derive their names from their shapes or profiles.

  • Inchcruin is Innis Chruinn ‘round island’, named for a peninsula on its eastern side, Clairinch is Clàr-Innis ‘flat island’
  • Torrinch is Tòrr-Innis, named for a high rock on its south-western end and Inchfad is Innis Fhada ‘long island’.

The names of three islands have links to nature –

  • Inchlonaig (Innis Lònaig) ‘island of the small bog’, Bucinch (Boc-Innis) ‘island of billy goats’ and Creinch (Craobh-Innis) ‘tree island’.
  • Inchmoan (Innis Mòna) ‘peat island’ reminds us that this was a source of fuel for the people of Luss in olden times
  • Inchconnachan is thought to be mean ‘isle of the Colquhouns’

There are a few small islands on the loch which do not bear innis in the name, and it is thought these were coined in more recent times – but they are all of Gaelic origin.

They are:

  • Ceardach (A’ Cheàrdach) ‘the smithy’, where metalworking took place at one time,
  • Island I Vow, a strange anglicisation of Eilean a’ Bhùth ‘island of the booth
  • Ellanderroch (Eilean Darach) ‘oak island’
  • Fraoch Island (Fraoch Eilean) named for fraoch (heather)
  • Tarbet Isle (Eilean an Tairbeirt), named for the nearby tairbeart or ‘portage place’ where boats could be hauled overland to Loch Lomond from Loch Long. (The meaning of ‘tarbert’ explains why there are so many ‘Tarberts’ and ‘Tarbets’ all over Scotland!)

It’s amazing how the Gaelic names reveal the very close relationship people once had to places – most of the names refer to people, purposes or  are highly descriptive and specific of appearance or refer to the nature found there.  To non Gaelic speakers pronouncing some of these wonderful names can be tricky – here’s a useful site from our friends at LLTNP with mp3 sound files to help pronunciation and to look up specific words, the LearnGaelic dictionary.

But don’t just sit in reading about the names – get out to Loch Lomond and visit to see for yourself!

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