By J. J. KNEEN, M.A.
ACCORDING to Nennius, the wonders of Mann are: " A strand without a sea . . . a ford which is far from the sea and which fills when the tide flows, and decreases when the tide ebbs ; and a stone which moves at night in Glen Cinden, and though it should be cast into the sea, yet at morning's dawn it would be found in the same valley."
Now, I do not pretend that I can produce such marvels as these of Nennius, but if what I do produce are less mystical they are, nevertheless, just as fascinating and romantic.
As the geologist traces in the rocks the history of ages long departed, so may the toponomist through its place-nomenclature make a country yield up the secrets of the past-- tell of the races which have successively inhabited it, and throw a light on their civil and ecclesiastical history, their manners, their customs, and their pastimes.
It is now generally recognized how interdependent are the sciences. Time was when the geologist dabbled in archaeology, the archaeologist in geology, while both dabbled in toponomy. One only had to have a dictionary of the particular language involved and the rest was simple. As a child playing in a field makes a chain of daisies to amuse itself, so the would-be toponomist of a few decades ago strung his words together, without paying due regard to their grammatical relationship. Happily we are improving in these matters, although the place-name fiend is still with us. The study of place-name nomenclature is now generally recognized as a special science, and in some countries, notably in Scandinavia, the State not only recognizes its study, but subsidizes literature and financially assists its publication.
No part of the British Islands has had a more varied and chequered history than Mann. Pre-Celt, Celt, Scandinavian, and Englishman have in turn made the Island their home, and each of them has left a place-name stratum.
I am not going to speak of that period which, for want of a better name, is usually classed pre-Celtic. Perhaps the archaeological term Neolithic would be better. The sporadic place-name examples of this age are difficult to analyse, and, in the light of our present knowledge, the whole subject is too vague to do anything more than simply glance at it in passing. The early Celtic, the Scandinavian, and the late Celtic periods are-to the student of place-names --the most interesting. The lessons taught by the early place-names of Mann are mostly of a grammatical nature, and reveal archaic forms which have long since disappeared in the spoken Manx language. But even from these names a fitful gleam occasion- ally shines forth through a rift in the darkness of a nigh forgotten age.
Let me give you one or two examples of these names. As a grammatical example, Glen Trammon in Lezayre is a good illus- tration. In the ancient abbey-land boundaries of the parish it appears as Glen na droman, where nasalization or eclipsis occurs, caused by the plural genitive. This mutation is identical with that in Welsh called the soft or middle mutation. The name means the " Glen of the Elder or Tramman trees."
As an historical example, let us take another name from the same source. Hath aryg e Gorrnane (Ir. Ath airigh Ui Gormain), " the ford of O'Gorman's hill-pasture." Who was O'Gorman ?
In a charter of Magnus the son of Olaf, king of Mann and the Isles, drawn up at Ramsey in 1257, on the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, we find Gormand the parson as one of the witnesses, and we may reasonably conjecture that this Gormand was the Vicar of Kirk Christ Lezayre at that time, and that he was related in some way to the O'Gorman who held the shieling. Indeed, it is possible that Gormand the parson and O'Gorman were the same man. The Gall-Gaelic name of the shieling was Blakkrarg (now Block Eary), " the black shieling."
Many examples could be adduced where toponomy becomes the handmaid of history. In A.D. 1098 there was an internecine struggle in Mann between the North and South. The northern leader was Ottar and his estate in Lezayre was called Ottaysstadr (Ottar's farm), which is now worn down to Aust. In 1515 we find a descendant on the same estate named Gibbon McOtter, and in 1703 we still find a descendant in the person of John Cottier, and one of the quarterlands of Ottar's estate is still called Ballacottier, the exact Gaelic equivalent of Ottarsstadr. Here we not only have a place-name over eight centuries old, but also the fact recorded that Ottar's descendants occupied the estate for over six centuries, and probably longer, for I have not examined subsequent documents.
The farm names Ballaseyr and Smeale in the parish of Kirk Bride provide us with an interesting example of the co-operation of the antiquary and the toponomist. About two years ago Mr. Kermode examined a tumulus on Smeale farm, which revealed the interesting fact that there had been a ship burial here, the first of its kind to be found on the Island. There was a little church and churchyard not far away, but this great man was laid in solemn majesty in unhallowed ground, and Mr. Kermode very naturally surmised that he had still clung to his pagan faith and worshipped his ancestral gods --Thor and Odin --whilst his neighbours round about him had accepted Christianity. Although his obsequies were not on such a gorgeous scale as those of the ancient Egyptians, his burial nevertheless must have been a magnificent affair. Let us try and visualize it.
His boat was brought to the top of the knoll, and he was borne from his house and laid in his fishing boat --his final resting place -- in which he had spent many a happy hour fishing off the coast of his homestead. With him were placed the implements of his craft, a smith's hammer and tongs ; his implements of war and the chase, spear, axe, and sword; and the implements of his hobby, his fishing gear, to which a sinking-lead bore a mute testimony. His favourite horse and dog had been slaughtered and placed beside him to accompany him to Valhalla, and over all these was raised a mighty cairn so that people in the after days might point to it and say
" There lies the great smith." Such is the antiquarian picture, and we shall now view it in its toponomical setting.
In the churchyard of Kirk Michael there is a cross-slab on which are engraved the following runes: " Mael Brigde son of Aedhagan the Smith erected this cross for his own soul and that of his brother's wife." Mr. Kermode thinks that this Aedhagan may have been the actual smith to whom the Kirk Andreas mausoleum was erected, and, although we cannot prove this, it has a great element of probability. There is one interesting point about this name Aedhagan, however. The pronunciation of Old Irish seems to have differed considerably from that of the modern dialects, notably in the following particulars : --th was a voiceless spirant, like th (eth) in Welsh, or English " thing " ; and dh a voiced spirant like dd (edh) in Welsh, or English " that " ; as proved by the old Norse transcriptions of Irish names. In modern Irish th has become an h sound, and dh is pronounced like a guttural before a broad vowel and y before a slender vowel. The name Aedhagan is a case in point, which shows, whatever the age of the monument may be, that the name itself was borrowed by the Norsemen, and used by the Gall-Gael, prior to the tenth century.
Let us now examine the place-names connected with these estates of Ballaseyr and Smeale.
Firstly, we have Ballaseyr for an older Balley ny seyir, meaning, " the home of the artificers or smiths." Before Mr. Kermode's excavation of this tumulus, although I could see an apparent connec- tion between the name of the estate on which it stood and the surnames of the holders, it was simply a place-name and nothing more. But there was a very puzzling name on the adjoining estate, Smeale, which baffled all my attempts at interpretation. I felt almost certain that it was of Norse extraction, because there was nothing in Gaelic which would explain it. What did it mean ?
As soon as I heard of Mr. Kermode's discovery, the meaning of the name was quite clear. The original form had been Smidaból (Smith's homestead), which through centuries of Gaelic speech had been worn down to Smeale. Thus we find two place-names side by side, one Gaelic and the other Norse, both meaning, " the farm or homestead of the craftsmen or smiths," showing that these two large estates had originally belonged to the one family who, from one succeeding generation to another, had followed the honourable and highly important craft of smithing.
Although we have overwhelming evidence here of the correct interpretation of these place-names, the surnames of the early holders of these lands -all of which have come down to modern times -give us further proof that we have advanced beyond mere conjecture, and are treading on very sure ground.
The descendants of the original artificers or craftsmen-the Seyir, became Mac yn Teyir, now Teare ; and, by translation into English, Goldsmith. Another name of similar meaning also occurs in Smeale. In 1515 we find Patrick Gawe, and his estate is still called Ballaghaue. When engaged on the place-names of Kirk Andreas, I did not see the full significance, as it is unusual to find an occupational name without " mac " being prefixed. Here, then, was a pure trade name, rather than a patronymic. The owner was Patrick the Smith and his estate is now known as Ballaghaue, the Smith's farm. To sum up, we have Mr. Kermode's antiquarian evidence amply backed up by the surnames and place-names of the same neighbourhood. Actually on the same estate of Smeale we find Teare and Gawe, the craftsman or smith; a short distance away we find Goldsmith. Then we have the two place-names Ballaseyr and Smeale, two large estates adjoining, and Ballaghaue, a later and smaller farm within the larger estate of Smeale.
The little church and churchyard about which I have previously spoken is on a little hill opposite to the tumulus where the smith is buried. The hill is called Knock y Doonee, " the Hill of the Church." Doonagh (Ir. Domnach) -comes from the Latin Dominica, meaning, the Lord's Day, or a building dedicated to the Lord. The saint to whom this church was dedicated has fortunately been preserved in the name of the estate on which it stood. It is called Kyrke Asston, i.e. Astonn's church. Easconn was an Irish saint, and this cognomen, meaning impure, was bestowed upon him because he was not baptized until he was forty years old. His real name was Froechan. We thus arrive at a definite conclusion, that the ancient name of this ecclesiastical edifice was Doonagh Asston (Ir. Domhnach Eascoinn), which the Gaelicized Norsemen turned into Kyrke Asston. I might say that the combination sc in Irish invariably becomes st in Manx and Manx names.
In the parish of Kirk Christ Rushen we find another doonagh. The district and ancient hamlet surrounding the church is still called Balley Keeill Paarick, the Homestead of Patrick's church. The farm on which the ancient church stood is known as Cronk y Doonee, the Hill of the Church ; so, as in the Kirk Andreas case, its ancient name must have been Doonagh Pharick. The hill adjoining is now known as the Carnanes but its older Norse name is still preserved in the name of the nearby farm, which is called Kirkill, i.e. Church hill; postulating an older Kirku-fjall ; from the famous church of S. Patrick now passed into oblivion and merely represented by these names, and remembered in legend by the older inhabitants.
Norse names become fearfully mutilated when passed through centuries of Gaelic lips. But this is also true of many Gaelic names, especially when the traditions clinging to the neighbourhood have been lost. It is difficult for the ordinary man in the street to understand how the Gaelic name Ary ny shynnagh (the Hill of the Foxes) became Ronnag (or Ronague), or how the Norse, Vordufjall became Barrule. There are still doubters. I have explained them in my Place-Names and do not intend to discuss them here. Suffice to say, we have plenty of evidence to prove that these interpretations are correct and are agreed to by the most eminent Gaelic and Scandinavian scholars.
Place-names often throw a light on the flora and extinct fauna of a county. Moddey means in Manx a dog or wolf, and we have many place-names containing this word, which must have referred to wolves rather than dogs. These have been extinct in Man so long that they are not even mentioned by historians. The latter, however, mention foxes and other animals now exterminated.
Even our Norse names tell us of the Island's fauna in the twelfth century and earlier. The farm-name Scholaby may mean the foxes' homestead, or take its name from a man of that name. Raclay, Rarick, and Raggatt mean respectively Roe-deer cliff, creek, and path. Eairnerey on the coast of Kirk Christ Rushen means Eagles' eyrie. A rock on the same cliff bears the semi-Manx name Boayrd yn Aigle (the eagles' table). Eagles nested here in recent times.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there were two languages spoken in Man : Norse by the ruling classes, and Gaelic by the lower classes. These eventually fused into one language ; the sub-stratum being Gaelic, the same language as spoken in Ireland, and a third super-stratum being Norse. This bilinguality is reflected in our place-names, and we often find two names, one Gaelic and the other Norse, beside each other. Kentraugh and Strandhall in the South adjoin each other; both mean shore-end, the former being Gaelic and the latter Norse. In the West we have a hill bearing the Norse name, Sartfell (black hill) ; whilst the farm nestling at its foot is called Cronk Doo, which is the Gaelic equivalent. Later, when Manx and English were spoken alongside each other, such cases as Ballacashtal and Castletown, Purt Noo Moirrey and Port S. Mary, and many similar cases were common; which clearly illustrated the bilinguality of the twelfth century.
In the course of time the Norse which was spoken in Man became largely influenced bv the Gaelic of the lower classes, and this gives us another series of place-names where the elements are reversed and the Norse names put in the Gaelic way. This was first noticed by Prof. Ekwall, Ph.D., of Lund, Sweden, who, when examining the place-names of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire, found that certain Scandinavian place-names had departed from the grammatical rules of their own language and followed those of Gaelic. Thus Snarabeck became Bee-Snari (Snari's brook) and so on.
Before corresponding with Prof. Ekwall, I had found some examples of this nature in Manx place-names which I could not account for. Thus Billown (By-Lodinn), Lodinn's farm, according to Scandinavian rules should be Lownby, and Begoade (By-Godi), priests' farm, should be Goadby, and so on.
Another interesting feature of place-names is the great wealth of obsolete personal names which they reveal. Occasionally one comes across a few of these surnames in documents, but in the majority of cases the families who owned these lands have totally disappeared, leaving not a single trace of their former existence, except the name of the farm, a nebulous relic of an earlier population. One may assume that in the majority of cases this has been caused by the failure of the male line, and in a few cases their descendants may be traced through the parochial registers. The greater part of them, however, have been obsolete too long to trace them in MS. material.
We have two farms called Balladoole, one in Kirk Arbory and the other in Kirk Christ Lezayre. This contains the ancient Irish surname Dubgall, meaning " dark stranger " ; which was applied by the Irish to the Danes. This family was descended from Somerled (Somhairle), thane of Argyll, who was slain in 1165. One of Somerled's sons bore this name, and he was King of Mann for a short period, according to the Chronicle of Mann and the Isles. It is almost certain that Balladoole in Kirk Arbory was in the possession of either a descendant or a relative of Somerled's son. When one examines Somerled's connection with the Island, his marriage to King Reginald of Mann's sister, and various phases of Hebridean and Scottish history, one can visualize, dimly flitting in the back- ground of Manx history, these descendants of Somerled with various other representatives of the nobility of the Hebrides, Galloway, and Argyll. The Isle of Man was used as an asylum or place of refuge by these lords and princes, and undoubtedly this was the reason that Robert the Bruce paid us a little attention a little over a century later, as he wanted thoroughly to crush the power of some of his enemies who had taken refuge in Mann.
Mac Dubhgall became softened to Mac Doole in the Isle of Man, and later, through a well-known phonetic law, Mac Coole. We also find this surname on one of our Runic crosses.
I could adduce other instances where our place-names have preserved the names of some great historical personages of the past, but I must pass on.
Most of our place-names which depicted pagan customs and religion have been superimposed by Christian ones, and our Island is very rich in this latter type of name. Keeill in Ballakilley, " Church homestead " ; Cabbal in Cabbal Pharick, " Patrick's Chapel"; A bb in Rheynn abb, "abbots' division"; A spick in Ballaspet, " Bishop's homestead " ; Bwoaillee yn taggyrt and Bwoaillee yn chleree, respectively, " priest's " and " clerk's fold." The names of long-forgotten Irish saints and many shadows of pre-Reformation days are contained in these names. Cronk y chooyl, " the hill of the procession," where the little church has disappeared, but a vague memory of its site and legend retained by the old people. Here was seen at times a bright, shining, beautiful lady, who was a possible reflection of the saint to whom the little church was dedicated, perhaps the Blessed Virgin.
The pretty name Cronk Asbyrt, " the hill of Vespers," speaks for itself. Near here, there was another little church, now disappeared ; and one can visualize evening prayers on this little hill on a calm summer evening, while the golden dome of the sun sank below the edge of the world, hushing all things to rest.
Faaigh ny hoalan, " the green or flat of the wafers," shows us where the wheat-not a common cereal in Mann in bygone days -was grown, from which the wafers for the Holy Eucharist were made.
Ballatersyn, " the homestead of the cross or crozier," occurs several times. This was freehold land, the tenant having the safe custody of the crozier of the saint to whom the neighbouring church was dedicated.
Holy wells are found everywhere; these are usually dedicated to the same saint to whom the nearby church is dedicated. Occasion- ally there does not appear to have been a church, but simply the well, which was generally used for religious purposes. Some are healing wells, the waters being used to cure all kinds of diseases. Undoubtedly the rites and ceremonies connected with these wells date back to pagan times, and many of our old churches and churchyards are on pagan sites.
Primitive roads and tracks are often revealed by place-names. We find sometimes old names containing the elements bayr, raad, bollagh, etc., all meaning a road or track, and from which we have been able to rediscover tracks and ancient roads long disused and almost obliterated by the accumulated vegetation of centuries.
Every place-name is a. complete word-picture, and it tells its own story to those who would listen. When I glance through the vocabulary of elements in my own work the number of such words is so great that it becomes a difficult task to select examples. And what can be said of Mann can be said of any other country in the world.
Some names tell us of customs long since disappeared. Cronk yn arrey, " the hill of the watch or look out," perpetuated a custom common in Scandinavian times, as evidenced by the Norse Wardfell, later Barrule, having the same meaning; and such a custom probably existed in early Celtic times. All able-bodied men had to take their turn by day and night in watching the coast for likely enemies, and failure to comply with this law was met with stern retribution, and often death.
The prefix easy is common, as in Arystein, " Stein's eary." This was a pasture among the hills --called in Scotland a shieling ---where the farmer brought his flocks and herds during the summer, and stayed there until the cold winds of Autumn drove him back again to his more sheltered home in the vale below.
Toay (Ir. tuar), " a bleaching green," as in Glion y toar, " the glen of the bleaching-green," was a green bank beside a river, where the clothes were spread to dry and bleach in the sun after they had been washed in the river.
The cereals grown for food --ayroo, " corn " ; corker, " oats " ; ooarn, " barley " ; shoggle, " rye " are fairly widely distributed. Curnaght, " wheat," is rarely if ever found, a significant fact which speaks for itself.
Animals slaughtered for food and the various kinds of fish found off our coasts and in our streams are all represented in our place- names.
Now, up to the present, I have mainly spoken of our Gaelic place-names, and what is true of these is also true of our Scandinavian place-names. Of course, we must remember that these latter are older than the Gaelic stratum. The Gaelic ballet', " homestead," is here replaced by by, bol and stadr, as in Sulby, Baldwin, for an older Bol-dalr; and Leodest, for an older Ljotsstadr, Ljotr's farm. Such names indicate permanent settlement, and those indicating natural features are also plentiful-a, " a river " ; berg, " a cliff " ; bong, " a small round hill " ; dalr, " a dale or glen " ; et', " an island " ; fjall, " a mountain " ; vik, " a creek or bay " ; and so on.
Norse place-names, indicating vegetation used for food, are not very plentiful when compared with the Gaelic ones of the same type. We have a very good example in Ramsey, from Rams-a, " garlic river " ; and we have further verification of its meaning in the Gaelic name of the stream, which is called Strooan ny crane, " the stream of the garlic." This is the name of the little stream which, for the greater part of its course, is the boundary between the two northern parishes of Kirk Christ Lezayre and Kirk Maughold. Here we have another case of that bilinguality of which I have already spoken. Since the Gaelic name was formed, craue has become obsolete in the Manx language and the English garlic, in the form garleyd, substituted. But garlic is not considered a luxury in these decadent days, as it was in the twelfth century, at least in the Isle of Man, and many of the inhabitants of that charming place object to their town being connected with such an evil-smelling herb. But, surely, this is one of the most historical place-names in the Isle of Man. Imagine these men coming from the bleak north- lands and finding a herb which is scarce in their bleak country growing wild and profusely on the banks of a stream, what is more natural than that they should immediately call it Ramsa, " garlic river" ? Whether the Norse name or the Gaelic is the older it is impossible to say, for it is possible that the Gaels had a sneaking regard for this delectable herb also ; who can say ?
Many of these names have legends connected with them, and the sooner such names are collected the less likelihood there is of their being lost. Here we have a tragedy, there a comedy ; perhaps of no great historical value, but nevertheless worthy of preservation. Creg ny neen, " the rock of the girls," is valueless without the legend connected therewith. This was a tidal rock before Port Erin breakwater was built, and the old people relate how two girls were caught on this rock by the tide, and that their bodies were found next morning, side by side, with their tresses tied together, so that even in death they should not be parted. That is a tragedy !
Giau ny moayrd, " the cave of the tables," and Giau ny seyir, " the cave of the carpenters," were tenanted by fairy carpenters, and when the fishermen sailed past they could hear the fairies busily hammering, engaged in making furniture, and their chips and shavings could be seen floating about the mouths of the caves. Was that not evidence enough ?
Giau ny spyrrd, " the cave of the spirits." Here the spirits had control of the weather, and the fishermen made votive offerings to them, usually by casting a bottle of rum into the cave, which would be rather an expensive proceeding in these days. These stories are in a lighter vein. The fishermen claimed that these offerings ensured a spell of fine weather during the fishing season. Was this custom a relic of the times when our pagan ancestors made offerings to Manannan (W. Manawyddan) --the god of winds, storms, and headlands-to ensure freedom from storms and tempests during their voyages ?
Lhiack ny wirragh, " the stone of the assemblies," at the Mull Circle, carries us back to a time when our history had not been committed to writing; and even to this day vague and shadowy tales are told by the old people of the assemblies which may be seen here at midnight.
Some names would be quite untranslatable were not the legends connected with them still remembered by the old people. These had been passed from mouth to mouth through many a generation. Of such a type is Creg Inneen y Dane, " the rock of the Dane's daughter." I was fortunate in picking up this nigh-forgotten legend from an old fisherman who is now no more. The younger generation had corrupted the name into Creg y nirry ding, and even on the O.S. map it appears as Purt ny Ding. These names have no meanings whatever. It seems that a Danish ship was wrecked here and all were lost except the captain's daughter, who was saved from this rock. I could never have translated such a queer rock-name as Skinner- bitalion if an old fisherman had not remembered the legend. He said the old name of the rock was Skinner, and a ship named the Lion being wrecked thereon, it was said that Skinner bet (i.e. beat) the Lion: hence this peculiar name.
Surely the name Ballastroke is not lacking in humour when we find that John Cubon the Drummer was the owner in 1703.
There is one snare that the student of place-names must always guard himself against, and that is folk-etymology. This is common
in every country. The popular derivation of Baldwin -called Boayldin in Manx-is Boayl dooin, " the place for us," which is what the Danes are supposed to have exclaimed when, on reaching the hill overlooking the Vale of Baldwin, the beautiful verdant scene
suddenly burst on their view. How these Danes fresh from Denmark could speak Gaelic needs some explanation, which is not usually forthcoming.
Cregneash has actually been distorted from its former pronunciation and spelling to make it suit a popular theory, that it is the Gaelic Creg yn cash, " the rock of rest " ; whilst it is really a Scandi- navian name, the older spelling being Croknes, i.e. " Kraki's ness."
Another Norse name, Skibrick, meaning " Ship ridge," from its resemblance to a ship's keel upside down, has, with the aid of the map-makers, blossomed forth as Sky Bright ; and Scacafell, "wooded fell," has been glorified into Sky Hill. This is popular etymology gone mad.
Sometimes it is the fate of the toponomist to be caught napping himself, and I, in common with other labourers in the same field, must plead guilty.
There is a little hill in Kirk Marown written on the Ordnance Survey map, Cronk ny muc-aillyn, which is good Manx for " the hill of the sows." A friend, however, pointed out to me that the holder four centuries ago was named Mac Aleyn, and that the name was probably Cronk Mac Aleyn, " Mac Allen's hill." What could be more natural than to accept such a feasible derivation, but, alas ! not only were the map-makers wrong, but we were all wrong. A later MS. revealed the fact that the old name was Knock ny moughlane, " the hill of the old dyke." We went to the place to examine it, and sure enough there was the old dyke crossing the top of the hill. Such cases show how careful the place-name research worker must be if the result of his labours is to be of any benefit to the community.
I am told that there are not many working in this particular field in Wales. This is regrettable, for every moment is precious and valuable names are being lost every day. Perhaps they are not being lost to the same extent as they are in Mann, where the language is fast hastening to decay ; but the continual movement of the population is bound, in time, to have its effect upon these names, in causing their corruption and total loss.
I can assure you that toponomy is one of the most interesting and fascinating branches of archaeology, and amply repays anyone who takes it up for a hobby.
In vain I have searched for works on Welsh place-names, but they are not to be found. Therefore, I do hope that you Welshmen will get busy and lag no longer behind the other countries of Europe. There is danger in delay, for you are losing one of the most glorious heritages of the past.
| Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The
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