The Gaelic form is not available, as Baile Dhubhaich, St Duthac’s town, has in Gaelic displaced Tain. The existence of another Tain, near the head of Dunnet Bay in Caithness, suggests the name to be Norse, but it is difficult to offer a satisfactory etymology. The guesses of Rev. W. Taylor and others need not be repeated, nor have I arrived at anything certain. In Reg. Mag. Sig., under date 1612, the annual markets of Tain are given as follows:- Midsomer or St John’s, 26 June; S. Barquhani, 4 August; [St Berchan] S. Duthosi, 30 December, 6 March; S. Makharboch, 20 November. The Calendar of Fearn gives only three fairs, on 18 March, 9 August, and 20 December, the last being ‘Makcarmochis day.’ (St Cormac; of Tobar Cormaic in Nigg).
The girth of Tain, marked out by four crosses (Charter of James II., 1457), appears to have been roughly co-extensive with the bounds of the parish. In1616 (Reg. Mag. Sig.) appears ‘the girth croce dividing the common lands of the Burgh of Tayne from Ulladil,’ and Rev. W. Taylor notes clais na comraich, hollow of the girth or sanctuary, on the southern boundary of the parish, towards Scotsburn (of old Ulladale). Crois Caitrion, Catherine’s Cross, to the north of Loch Eye, may have been another girth cross. The revenues of the Collegiate Church of Tain, which dates from 1487, were derived from the lands of Tain, Innerathy, Newmore, Dunskaith, Morynchy, Tallirky, and Cambuscurrt. Of these places, the last five were chaplainries, and the last three were within the girth of Tain.
G. am port mòr, of old Portincoulter.
The Little Ferry is at the mouth of Loch Fleet, between the parishes of Dornoch and Golspie.
Ardjachie; G. àird-achaidh, promontory of the cultivated field.
Talorg, diminutive Talorgan, was a Pictish proper name, from tal, brow, and the root arg, white, seen in argentum, airgiod, Argos. The Gaulish proper name Argiotalus shews the same elements. The name of a Pictish saint Talorgan survives in Kiltarlity, G. Cill-Taraghlain. As a place-name, white brows is, of course, quite appropriate.
G. Bail’ an ianlaith, Birds’ town. The plural form has arisen from the division of Pitnely into two-north and south. The English form is an instructive corruption.
Balcherry; G. Bail’ a’ cheathraimh, town of the quarter(davach), cf. Balcherry, near Invergordon, also Ochto.
G. Bail’ shogartaidh, Priest’s town. The true Gaelic form would be Bail’ an t-sagairt or Baile nan sagart; cf. Pitentagart and Balhaggarty in Aberdeenshire.
G. na fàna (fànoo), from fàn, a gentle slope, or, usually in Scottish topography, a flat, low-laying place, the Scots ‘Laigh.’ Fàn is seen as an adjective in Rob Donn, ‘an rùm a’s fhàine fo ‘n ùir,’ the lowest room beneath the earth, i.e., the grave. The English form is a curious corruption.
Balkeith or Balkil –
G. Baile na coille, town of the wood; keith looks Welsh gwydd, wood, which would make the modern Gaelic Baile na coille a direct translation of an original Pictish Pit-keith. Similarly Dal-keth, which is on a flat-backed ridge, may mean ‘plateau of the wood.’
G. a Phlaid, from Norse flatr, the flat or low land. The plural form is English; cf. Pladday, Flat Isle. Fladay, off Barra, retains the Norse form. Near Plaids is said to have been a court-hill of Paul Mactyre.
The ‘t’ of the modern Gaelic form is, doubtless, developed after ‘s’ (cf. An dràsd for an tràth sa; cùlaist for culais), and from the old forms it may be inferred to be of fairly recent origin. This leaves us with Mòr(a)isidh, where ‘is’ is the reduced form of ‘innis’ haugh, and the rest is termination, the whole meaning Big-haugh.
Croskyth. Pont; now in G. a chroit mhòr, the big croft. The old forms suggest cathair, seat or fort, and either sgàth, dread (cf. Dunskaith in Nigg), or sgèith, hawthorn. The place is close to the ancient Chapel of St Duthus.
Cnoc nan aingeal, or Angels’ Hill –
The small hill, now cut through by the railway, north-east of the old chapel. The road to Inver crosses the cutting by a bridge. Cf. Cnoc nan aingeal at Kirkton of Lochalsh. The name may equally well mean knoll of fires, from G. aingeal, light, fire.
Knockbreck; G. an cnoc breac, the spotted hill.
Cnocanmealbhain; Knoll of the white lump.
Aldie; G. Alltaidh, burn place, from allt, with extension.
Garrick Burn; Muirs and Moss of Garrack, 1690; also Ben Garrick, Beindyarrok 1632, and drochaid Gharaig, Garrick Bridge.
Knockacean; G. cnoc nan ceam, hill of heads, with probable reference to a battle.
Glastullich; Green hillock; locative of tulach.
Blarleath; G. am blàr liath, the gray plain.
Ardival; Height of home-stead
Loch Lapagial; A tiny lochet in the heights, the Gaelic form of which I have failed to verify.
Loch Uanaidh; (O.S.M. Lochan Uaine) ; Loch Owany, Pont; perhaps from uan, lamb, but there is also O. Ir. Uan, foam.
An t-allt clachach; The stony burn.
Beinn na gearran; of O.S.M. should be Binn Garaig, the hill of Tain.
Lairg; ‘The Lairgs of Tain’; G. lairig, a sloping hill, moor.
Kingscauseway; G. cabhsair an righ; but, according to Rev. W. Taylor, rathad an righ; probably the road by which James IV. So often rode to St Duthac’s shrine.
Balnagall; Balnagaw 1560, town of the strangers; scarcely likely to be a reminiscence of the Norseman.
Bogbain; G. am bac bàn, white moss.
Hunting Hill; G. druim na sealg.
G. a mhoraich mhòr, a large, lowlying sandy flat by the sea shore.
Moraich, better mor(mh)oich or mor’oich, is from Ir. Murmagh, sea plain; cf. A mhor’oich, the Gaelic of Lovat; Morvich, Kintail, &c. It is usually applied to a plain by the sea shore, yet we have a moor so called in Badenoch. A sand bank off the coast, accessible only at low tides, is called ‘an aideal,’ from Norse va_ill, ford.
Loch Preas an uisge, Loch na Muic, Loch nan Tunnag, Loch of the Water-bush, Sow Loch, and Duck Loch are small lochs in the Morrich More.
An innis mhòr, big isle, and an innis bheag, small isle, off the coast.
Whiteness; Apparently Norse, white point.
The Gizzen Briggs –
A dangerous sandy bar guarding the entrance to Dornoch Firth. G. drochaid an obh (ow). Taylor, however, gives drochaid an aobh, and says he had also heard drochaid an naomh, with a nasal sound. The local explanation connects with baobh, or baogh, hag, in Easter Ross called ‘a vow,’ and specialised into the meaning of water-sprita, or possibly mermaid; in any case, a malicious spirit. Gizzen Briggs is connected by Taylor with Norse Geyser, a boiling spring, which suits neither the sense nor the phonetics. Brig, for bridge is so utterly foreign to the English of Ross that it is most reasonable toregard it as Norse survival, as also the ‘meikle,’ so common in Easter Ross farm names. The name is, doubtless, the Norse ‘gisnar bryggja,’ leaky bridge. In Easter Ross the term ‘gizzened,’ leaky, is still commonly applied to tubs or barrels that have shrunk in the sun.
Now practically obsolete; in a Retour of 1652 appears as ‘within the liberty of Tain, and having salmon fishings and stells.’ ‘The tradition is that the town of Tain was once built much nearer than it is at present to the mouth of the river, on land that has been in great part swept away by the sea, but that was called in old charters and is sometimes remembered still as Inver-Eathie, or in Gaelic Inbhir-àthai (Taylor). The Gaelic form here given, though it cannot now be verified, is doubtless right, for Eathie Burn in the Black Isle is Allt àthaidh. Evidently àthaidh was also the old name of the Tain river. The word is probably based on àth, a ford.
G. an in’ir(inbhir), the confluence, or mouth of a stream. Rev. W. Taylor says that it appears in old documents as Inverlochslin, which would imply that Lochslin, now drained sent its waters in the direction.
Na h-oitrichean; The mussel scalps, from g. oitir, sea bank.
Calpleasant; A hybrid of comparatively recent origin; cùil, nook. Near it is Fuaran Dlià’idh, St David’s well, the principal source of the Tain water supply.
The Canary; So called, it is said, from a drinking place which existed here.
Queebec; Bridge and Brae, on the Scotsburn road about two miles from Tain; the name arose from the fact that a gentleman who had made money in Quebec settled near. The Gaelic name is Muileann Luaidh, Fulling Mill, and the burn is Allt Luaidh.
Commonty; Once the common lands of the burgh of Tain.
The following names appear to be obsolete:-
The two Thesklaris (on west side of Tain),
Skardy with its mill,
Clerk Island, and
Priest Island, the last three ‘belonging to the Burgh from time immemorial (confirmation of 1612 by King James VI.)
Place Names of Tain Parish
This extract was taken, with the permission of the Trustees, from Prof. W.J. Watson’s – ‘Place Names of Ross and Cromarty’. The most recent edition of this work was published by HIGHLAND HERITAGE BOOKS Tir nan Oran, 8 Culcairn Road, Evanton IV16 9YT
Place Names of Ross and Cromarty p 32 onwards