Place Names of Ross and Cromarty - II Divisions

Attribution: extracted from Blaeu’s Atlas Novus (17th Century)

The Introduction to Prof. Watson's 'Place Names of Ross and Cromarty'


II. Divisions


The ancient district of Ross,(note1) which gives its name to the modern county originally extended from the Stockford on the river Beauly to Tarbat Ness, thus comprising Easter and Mid Ross, together with a slice of Inverness-shire. The name has been explained as from (1) Ir. and Gael. ros, a promontory; (2) Ir. ros, a wood; (3) Welsh rhos, a moor; Breton ros, a knoll, all equally possible phonetically. Ros, a wood does not seem to occur elsewhere in Scottish topography; ros, a promonotory, when it occurs, is used with the article, e.g., an Ros Muileach, the Ross of Mull, but the article never appears with the county name; for these and other reasons a Brythonic or Pictish origin seems most likely. The meaning of “moor” would have been appropriate in times antecedent to regular cultivation.

(note 1) – Probably the earliest mention of Ross occurs in the Life of St Cadroe, ascribed to the 11th century. “The Choerisci” (wandering Celts from Asia Minor, according to the legend) crossed over from Ireland and peopled Iona. Thereafter they coasted along the sea which adjoins Britain, and, through the valley of the River Rosis, entered Rossia (per Rosim amnem, Rossiam invaserunt). The river Rosis, according to Skene, is the Rasay, now called the Blackwater. The legend may be based on the eastward movement of the West Coast Gaels.

The Pictish kingdom was divided into provinces-traditionally seven – ruled by petty kings called Mormaers, who were subject to the head-king. Whether Ross ever possessed a Mormaer of its own does not appear; in the records it goes with Moray.

The first Earl of Ross was Malcolm MacHeth,1 circ.1157, son of Ed, Earl of Moray, and Malcolm, who succeeded his brother Angus slain in rebellion in 1130, appears to have received the Earldom of Ross on his reconciliation to King David I., as part of his ancestral dominions.

The next Earl of Ross is the Count of Holland, of whom nothing is recorded. About 1220 the title was conferred by Alexander II. On Ferchar Mac-in-tagart (son of the priest), surnamed O’Beaolan, who appears to be rightly regarded as the then representative of the lay Abbots of Applecross. The accession of Ferchar was fraught with important consequences, local and national. As lord of the Church lands of Applecross, he was already practically chief of the district from Kintail to Lochbroom, known then as North Argyle; when, in addition, he became Earl Of Ross, he was the leading man in the north. This power, loyally exercised as it was by Ferchar and his descendants, was largely instrumental in establishing the authority of the Scottish Crown in the Highlands at this critical period. Locally he brought the easter and wester divisions together under one strong hand, thus preparing the way for the modern county. Previous Earls were, of course, Earls of Ross only i.e., the district east of the central watershed.

Ergadia Borealis

The western sea-board from Kintail to Lochbroom was, from the beginning of the Scottish Monarchy, known as North Argyle or Ergadia Borealis, a term of which the significance ha been explained above. In 1292 William, Earl of Ross, grandson of Ferchar, got his lands of “Skey, Lodoux, and North Argyle” erected into the Sheriffdom of Skye by King John Balliol. The West Coast continues to appear under the name of North Argyll till the early part of the fifteenth century.


The Sheriffdom of Cromarty, which appears to have been originally connected with the Royal Castle there, appears on record in 1266, when William de Monte Alto was “vicecomes de Crumbauchtyn.” It was of very small extent, apparently not exceeding the bounds of the modern parish of Cromarty, yet under its hereditary Sheriffs always continued separate, and when in 1661 the Sheriffdom of Ross was definitely disjoined from that of Inverness, Cromarty is specifically excepted. The first Earl of Cromarty was Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, grandson of the Tutor of Kintail (an Taoitear Tàileach), who was made Earl in 1703, and obtained the privilege of having his various estates, large and small, throughout Ross erected into the new County of Cromarty, an arrangement extremly inconvenient, and now surviving only in the county name Ross and Cromarty.

The Black Isle. Ardmeanach

The Black Isle, Gael an t-Eilean Dubh, a misnomer which can be easily paralleled, is the name of the peninsula between the firths of Cromarty and Inverness. Peninsulas are frequently miscalled “islands;” the classical instance is Peloponnesus, Pelops’ Isle. The epithet “black” is sensibly explained by the writers of the Old Stat. Acc., from the fact that even in their time four-fifths of it was black moor, uncultivated. Its old official name is Ardmanache or Ardmeanach, meaning the “mid height,” midway, that is to say, between the firths, surviving in the farm of Ardmeanach, near Fortrose. A still older name is Eddirdail, now obsolete, meaning apparently Eadar-da-dhail, between two dales. The Lordship of Ardmanach went with the fortalice of Redcastle, and included all the Black Isle, except the Sheriffdom of Cromarty.


The district from the Averon or Alness River to the burn of Allt na Làthaid, to the east of Dingwall, was called of old Ferindonald, G. Fearainn Dòmhnuill, Donald’s land, a name still in use. It comprises the parishes of Alness and Kiltearn, and is land of the Clan Munro. The Donald in question is the traditional founder of the house of Fowlis, and is supposed to have received this grant of land from Malcolm II. (1005-1034) for services rendered against Danish invaders. Though this account cannot be verified—the origin of the Munros is one of the problems of Clan history—it may be substantially correct. The name Ferindonald is parallel to Dalriada and Ferintosh.


The origin of the division of Ferintosh is explained at p.114. It is expressly excluded from Ross in the Act of Parliament of 1661, and till recent times continued to form part of the county of Nairn.

The "Five Quarters."

The “five quarters” of Ross appear in 1479 in connection with the confiscated estates of John, last Earl of Ross. They are (1) Delney, extending from Tarbat Ness to the Alness River; (2) Balkeny or Balcony, co-extensive with the bounds of Ferindonald as given above; (3) Kynardy or Kinnairdie, including the valley of the Peffrey, and the parts to the south and west of it, viz., Moy, Achilty, Scatwell Meikle, Brahan, Dunglust, Ussie; (4) Kynnellane, modern Kinnellan, which included “Coul, Rogy, cum le Ess, Litill Scathole cum le Ess, Foreste de Rannach, Meyn in Straquhonane, the two Eskatellis, Innermany, Innerquhonray, Kinlochbenquherane;” (5) Fyrnewer ( a name now obsolete), from Fariburn round by the Beauly Firth to Kessock: “the Ferburnys, Auchansawle, Arcoyn, Balbrade, Urra, Kynuculadrum, le Orde, Belblare, Balnagoun, Kynkell, Logyenreith, and the two Kessokis.” Though this is the first appearance of the quarters as a whole, there appear on record the quarter of Petkenney in 1281 and the “maresium of Fernewyr” in 1350, from which it is a fair inference that the other “quarters” also existed long prior to 1479. They were evidently divisions of the Earldom of Ross, each under a “maor,” or land steward, but they may have represented still older tribal divisions, or possibly, the Norse organisation.


The division into parishes must have been roughly contemporary with the organisation of the Bishopric of Ross, circ. 1128. The Bishopric was co-extensive with the Earldom therefore it was only on the accession of Ferchar Mac-in-tagart, circ. 1220, that it came to include the churches of North Argyle. But little change seems to have taken place in the parochial organisation, the chief being the disjunction of Fearn from Tarbat in 1628, the union of Kiltearn and Lemlair, of Kinnettes and Fodderty and of Urray and Gilchrist (date uncertain); of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden in 1662, of Urquhart and Logie Wester circ. 1669, and of Kilmuir Wester and Suddy in 1756, now Knockbain. Glenshiel is a new parish carved out of Kintail. Before the arrangement of 1661, the parish of Kilmorack belonged territorially to Ross, as it still does ecclesiastically. In dealing with parish names, it is important to bear in mind that the name of a parish is regularly taken either from the old parish church, e.g. Kilmuir, or from the spot where the old church stood, e.g. Logie.


The name of Hebrides has arisen from a misreading of Pliny’s Haebudes, which, he says were thirty in number. Ptolemy gives only five Aebùdae. The word must be Pictish, or pre-Pictish; its meaning is quite obscure, but it has been suggested with some probability that its modern representative is Bute, Gael. Bòd. During the Norse occupation they were called by the Gaels Innse-Gall, by the Norse themselves Sudreys, the south isles.

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