Sabhal Mòr Ostaig - Isle of Skye


(Image copyright: Sabhal Mòr Ostaig) 

Scottish Place-Name Society
Comann Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba


Saturday 2 May 2020
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Sleat, Isle of Skye, IV44 8RQ


In light of the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, the difficult decision has been made to cancel the Society’s annual Spring Day Conference and AGM at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye, on Saturday 2 May 2020. We apologise for the inconvenience this will cause and thank you for your understanding and continued support. 


 The details below are preserved for information purposes only – please note that none of the events will go ahead. 


0930-1000     Registration

1000-1030     Eilidh Scammell: Farm names and the survival of the Gaelic landscape in Kirkcolm Parish, Rhinns of Galloway

1030-1100     Sofia Evemalm-Graham: The place-names of Howmore, South Uist

1100-1130     Coffee

1120-1200     Denis Rixson: Some place-names from Knoydart to Moidart

1200-1230     Nevis Hulme: Ordnance Survey Name Books in place-name research

1230-1300     Christine Cain: Sabhal Mòr Library’s Special Collections: the Gaelic book as cultural history

1300-1400     Lunch

1400-1430     AGM

1430-1500     Gordon Cameron: Triangulation pointers: microtoponyms, real lives and tall tales

1500-1530     Alasdair Whyte: Fictional and non-fictional place-names in the writings of Iain MacCormaig

1530-1550     Leonie Mhari and Elinor Scarth: To where it may concern?

1550               Tea

On Sunday morning, a walk to Armadale Castle will be led by Eilidh Scammell & Simon Taylor. Please bring suitable footwear. Please indicate whether or not you would like to participate.

A limited amount of accommodation is available at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and can be booked by referencing the conference and either phoning 01471 888 000 or e-mailing A list of B&Bs etc. is available on the SPNS website or by emailing

Directions: Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is 2km north of Armadale, Skye. Ferries to Armadale are run by Calmac, and trains to Mallaig by Scotrail, both of whose websites have full details. Cars can use the ferry, or cross to Skye by the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.


“Limited camping facilities are available at SMO free of charge to delegates. For more information, please email”


Christine Cain: ‘Sabhal Mòr Library’s Special Collections: the Gaelic book as cultural history’

This talk will explore the socio-historic context of Gaelic publishing and the way that Gaelic books, like placenames, can track the migration of people, their language and culture.

Gordon Cameron: ‘Triangulation pointers: microtoponyms, real lives and tall tales’

This paper examines microtoponyms in Applecross, Wester Ross, and how they allow us to triangulate localised remnants of beul-aithris, cultural practices in the spatial and memorialised landscape, and the people for whom the places are named. Such socio-onomastic consideration takes on greater resonance in the face of accelerating demographic changes and altered cultural perceptions; the link between the Gaelic-speaking older generation and their environment fractures with increasing rapidity while the non-Gaelic speaking/non Gaelic-competent younger generation is either losing such a close connection with sea- and land-based occupations and pastimes, or never experienced it.

This paper considers how the continuity of toponymic knowledge reinforces culturally associative imperatives and decodes the fraying genealogical threads of the local community’s past generations, all but forgotten except through the natural features which enable a dwindling population to remember them. We can date the origin of some these names with great accuracy, linked as they are to still extant traditions. These names contextualise key elements of our cultural and infrastructural architecture as new residents and new voices rename locations according to their own experiences and associations.

Sofia Evemalm-Graham: ‘The place-names of Howmore, South Uist’

Howmore in South Uist is known for its importance as a centre for Christian learning and its links with Clan Ranald in the late medieval period. However, the archaeological evidence provides little and often contradictory information regarding its earlier history. This paper aims to address this by exploring the development of the name Howmore and other place-names of significance in the surrounding area. Importantly, these place-names reveal a landscape which was used and settled by Norse-speakers, some of which have a long and complex transmission process. I will therefore focus on the period of Viking settlement. For instance, Loch Druidibeag (NF789380) appears to contain a loan-name with Old Norse borg ‘fort, small dome-shaped hill’, but it is now semantically opaque. Unlike other key-sites in Uist, such as Cille Donnain, the Norse dimension at Howmore has not been considered alongside the evidence for early Christian activity and this will be discussed in the paper. I will also argue that the area surrounding Howmore was one of importance to the Scandinavian settlers and that one of the sites here may have been used as an assembly site during the Viking Age.

Nevis Hulme: ‘Ordnance Survey Name Books in place-name research’

The speaker will reveal how the name books, compiled in the 1800s to inform the Ordnance Survey First Edition mapping, have added to his knowledge of place-names thereby generating further topics for research into residents and local history. He will highlight the need for a careful approach to avoid a variety of potential pitfalls. Despite drawing largely on the Gaelic place-names of Gairloch Parish in the Northwest Highlands, he will show that the use of these books has applications throughout Scotland.

Leonie Mhari and Elinor Scarth: ‘To where it may concern?’

In this 15 minute live spoken word performance Leonie Mhari and Elinor Scarth unpack an overlapping narrative sequence by unfolding a conceptual landscape. The ongoing explorative work began by investigating through fieldwork and documentation the landscapes of Arma/idale, those of Scotland and those of Australia. In this work visual and spoken word narratives have been collected, created and entangled with the aim of interrogating the conflicting and combined narratives which shape environments and form landscapes that are understood as more than physical manifestations.
The work engages with collective aspects of weathering in the actants of the compounded notion of landscapes as they have been exported around the World. Beginning with the documentation or sampling of the ‘Scottish landscape’ through the Armadales of Skye and West Lothian to the recorded experience of Armidale, New South Wales, this continuing project investigates the ways in which people project their own understanding of ‘landscape’ on to environments that they come into contact with. The superimposition in the work seeks to highlight the way that a landscape is simultaneously both a perception and a projection. Diverging perspectives collide and are juxtaposed within the physical landscape which is staged by the performance.

Denis Rixson: ‘Some place-names from Knoydart to Moidart’

The area of the mainland facing Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was part of what was known as Na Garbh Chrìochan (The Rough Bounds). It was an area so remote and untouched it was referred to in the eighteenth century as ‘The Highlands of the Highlands’. But it wasn’t remote to the Norse who came here by sea. Why else do we find Norse ‘habitative’ names like Meoble and Arnaboll and Langal? And what do we make of the cluster of Coire nan Gall names? And where were Nostre and Fertacorrie? And why Fertacorrie and not Corrie Ferta? And did Norse hólmr (islet) undergo some peculiar transmogrifications hereabouts? Many questions … some answers!

Eilidh Scammell: ‘Farm names and the survival of the Gaelic landscape in Kirkcolm Parish, Rhinns of Galloway’

The Rhinns of Galloway has a landscape littered with Gaelic place-names, many of which are applied to farms. The boundaries of some of these farms have remained unchanged for many centuries, whilst the crofts have now mostly been absorbed by neighbouring farms, but not entirely forgotten. This talk takes a look at the farm and croft names (along with the odd field name) of Gaelic origin in the parish of Kirkcolm in the northern tip of the Rhinns of Galloway.

Alasdair Whyte: ‘Fictional and non-fictional place-names in the writings of Iain MacCormaig’

The literary works of Iain MacCormaig (John MacCormick) include the first novel ever published in Scottish Gaelic: Dùn-Àluinn, no an t-Oighre ’na Dhìobarach (Paisley: Alexander Gardner, 1912). Firstly, this paper will emphasise the importance of local Gaelic forms of non-fictional place-names in Mull, Iona and surrounding islands in MacCormaig’s writings to local toponomastic research. Secondly, the paper will focus on fictional place-names in a selection of MacCormaig’s novels, short stories and plays in exploring the relationship between his fictional and non-fictional place-names and place-name elements therein.


Agenda for the Annual General Meeting to be held on Saturday 2 May 2020

from 1400–1430 at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye

(Non-members are welcome to attend, but cannot speak or vote at the AGM)

  1. Welcome and apologies
  1. Minutes of the 2019 AGM (available on SPNS website)
  1. Matters arising
  1. Convener’s report
  1. Treasurer’s report
  1. Newsletter Editor’s report
  1. Future conferences
  1. Elections for committee posts
  1. AOCB