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Calbost Place Names
Calbost Place Names
by Angus "Ease" Macleod, Calbost.
Place names are, in the main, a record of the distant past; very often they speak of a history that is lost to the present generation. It is therefore very important that local traditions are noted before we lose innumerable tokens of our early history altogether. Probably the earliest source of our place names derive from the Picts but the largest source is Scandinavian and then there is Gael as well as folklore etc.
"Bealach-na-Imrich" is a geographical feature at the west boundary of crofts 3 & 4 Calbost where there is a gap in the hills or high ground to the west of Calbost known as the "Mola". There was a gate on the village boundary wall and a footpath leading through the gap or pass in the high ground through which the people moved the cattle in and out from the inbye land to the common grazings. "Bealach" means a valley or pass and "Imrich" means removals or changing residence.
Obviously this geographical feature was named after an event that was considered important enough at the time to commemorate it by naming this place after it. That might have been in the distant past, one thousand or even two thousand years ago, but the name is still on the lips of the local population, but the reason for the name is lost to posterity.
We are not aware of any tradition relating to this place name and it is too late to enquire locally. We neglected to ask the earlier generations and there are numerous other place names in Lewis that we are losing, along with their story which is yet another aspect of our valuable heritage we are inclined to neglect.
"Balla-Phail" is the name applied to the area round about the village boundary wall of croft 12 Calbost. "Balla" is the Gaelic word for the village and that might indicate that Balla-Phail might have been a small community rather than on e dwelling house. However there is no local tradition to indicate that anyone by the name of Macphail ever lived in or near Calbost, and therefore it is fairly obvious that the story of Balla-Phail goes back beyond written records.
We were agreeably surprised to find, "Airidh-Mhic-Phail" marked on an old map probably dated about 1760 that came into our possession recently. There is a small square on the map on the moor south of the boundary wall of croft 12 Calbost which probably indicates the site of "Airidh-mhie-Phail". While the map might be dated 1760 that does not give us any indication of when Mr Macphail was there, only that his name is associated with the area, and might have been associated with it long before 1760 as indeed it is still associated with Mr Macphail on the lips of the people some 250 years after the date of the map.
A section of the map referred to RHP 82899 forms part of the Gillanders of Highfield Collection (GD427) on loan of the Scottish records office and we are indebted to Mrs Anna Hall Mackenzie/ Gillanders of Muir of Ord, for permission to use this section of map.
It is of interest that while the cartographer of this map refers to sheils, sheilings or "Airdh" belong to this or that Tack, there is little evidence of the dwelling houses of the ordinary people. Could it be that these sheils were indeed the ordinary residences of the people "Balla" and not summer sheilings as was known to later generations.
Other interesting features of this map is the place name "Tom na Banriagh" - the queen's knoll on the main road south of Garyvard. Who was the queen? Note the spelling of "Gearsbhaird" and the various villages . Whole boundaries seem to be substantial as they are to this day. It is a pity that the church on St Colm's island is not shown.
"Mol-na-Brathairean" is another interesting geographical feature that may be seen on the enclosed Gillanders of Highfield map. This pebbly beach is on the Calbost/Marvig common grazing boundary half way between Calbost and Marvig. It gets its name from the fact that the bodies of two brothers were washed ashore there and buried just above the shore line.
The two graves are side by side and they are marked by four ordinary stones, two at their head and two at their feet. There is no local tradition to indicate the circumstances in which the brothers met their death or whether they were local or not. It is however of interest to note that it is said that they were brothers and unless they were identical twins, there must have been some knowledge of who they were.
The place name, "Mol-na-Brathairean" on this map dates the incident as sometime before the middle of the 18th century, but that could have been sometime before 1760 and one of the questions that arise is whether this pebbly beach was ever known by some other name.
It is also if interest to note that the map shows a clearing marked at "Mol na Brathairean" in the same way as the other settlements in the area, but on a smaller scale. That reminds us that there is evidence of evolution in the form of lazy beds in the area and there is no local tradition of who was cultivating the land there or when, or if there were people resident there at any time.
Could it be that sea-roving adventurers in the distant past were attracted by pebbly beaches on which they could haul up their boats and settle down and cultivate the land and engage in fishing for their livelihood? There is also evidence of cultivation at "Mol a Gho" where the Calbost boats are hauled up on the beach, and at "Mol an Eich" on the Calbost common grazing on the shores of Loch Odhairn (Gravir). Incidentally, "Mol an Eich" apparently got its name from a large natural rock resembling the head of a horse, that projects out from the brow of hill overlooking the sea on the east side of "Mol an Eich".
"Cnoc a Bhuanna". "Cnoc" is the Gaelic word for hillock and "Cnoc a Bhuanna" is a low hill in the middle of Calbost within croft no. 4, where the last dwelling house for that croft was built about 1908. The house is now de-roofed.
There is no reliable information or local tradition for the origin of this place name, but the implication is that a "Buanna" or at least someone referred to as a "Buanna" was living there sometime in the distant past.
A "Buanna" was a warrior who was picked to be a member of the bodyguard of the Lord of the Isles. The body guard was to keep close to him and protect his person. It was customery for these "Buanna's" to be quartered out on the people wherever they happened to be - billetted like soldiers.
In retirement many of the Buanna's wanted to continue the life they were use to, living off the people, which was a form of begging, and to ensure that they were accepted they developed the art of telling stories and showing tricks and amuse the people as jesters.
In due course the name "Buanna" came to mean a mocking sort of person who did not want to work and who lived at the expense of the community on the best he could obtain. In Lochs in our young days the word "Buanna" was used to describe a well built young lad with undertones of idleness.
He was a person after whom this small hill in Calbost is called, a warrior of the bodyguard of the lord of the Isles or just an idler. The facts are lost in the mists of time and the indications ate that there may have been people living in Calbost before the present occupation.
"Cnoc-a-runnsan" and "Loch-a-runnsan". The following local folk tale story is related here, word for word in Gaelic as told to us by an elderly local friend in order to illustrate how "Cnoc-a-runnsan" and "Loch-a-runnsan" got their names. This story is usually related under the title, "Loch-airidh-na-L'aon-oidhch" and there is more than one version of it. Note should be taken of the number of Gaelic place names mentioned in this short folklore story. Could it be that stories like this one was used by former generations to identify and perpetuate place names?
Loch Airidh na L-aon Oidhch
Ann an aite iomallach, uaigneach eadar "Loch beg nan aoidheanan" agus "Sgorna-Donnachadh" tha da lochan faisg air a cheile ris an can iad "Loch-airidh-Aonghais-Ruaidh" agus "Loch airidh na L-aon Oidhch" ach an dobhran donn fhein chan lil moran gan Tadhal an dingh.
Bi e coltach gu robh o chionn fhada au t-shaoghail daoine fuireach an laris agus air da thaobh Lach Thorasdaidh. Thag fear de'n mhuinntir sin airidh ri taobh an Loch so agus thug e mach a dhithis nigheau gu coinhead as deidh a chruidh, "agus gnothaichean na L'airidh". Nuair leha am bothan deasal thug e fein a chasan leis dhachaidh a fagail a L'uile nith an urra ris na Caileagan.
An oidhche sin fein bha iad air a dhol a steach do'n Airidh as deidh an easan a nigheadh san loch, nuair a chula iad gnoe beag aig au dorus."Co th'aig an dorus?" ars t-l dhucbh."Tha neach eolach""Agus ma's neach eolach sibh carson nach eil sibh a tighian a steach?"Dh'fhosgail iad an dorus agus to nochd ach cailleach bheag doigheal. Thuirt I gu robh l 'na rum dol sios gu ruige Cromor ach gu robh l nise tailleadh is annoch agus dh'iarr I sgath na h'oidhche air na nigheanan. F'hnair I sin le furan.Ghabh iad le cheile greum suioearach agus an nair thainig ain dol a'laighe, ars a chailleach."Ach caite au caidil cailleachag an nochd""caidhilidh cailleachag anns a'chul" Ars an t-e bu shine de na nigheanagan."Ithidh cul cailleachag ach chan ith cailleaihag cul", ars aut-sheanna-bhan."Caidilidh cailleachag aig a' chord""Ithidh bord cailleachag ach chan ith Cailleach bord"
"Caidilidh cailleachag anns a mheadhon"
"Cordaidh meadhon is cailleachag"Sin mar bha chaidh na nigheannan mu thamh agus a'chailleach catorra, air a bhobhstair fhraoich agus cluasagan cannach an t-shleibhe.Is e a nighean bu shine bha ris a chord. Dhuisg I an deidh meadhon oidhch is dh'fhairich I fuil bheath a peathar agus fionnadh na beiste fo lainnh. Thuig I gu math mar bha cusean agus shnag I mach air a corra-birdha, gun fhios do'n chaillich a bha nis air tionndadh na h'each-uisge. Thug I orra dhachaidh gu Torasdaidh, tarsainn na mointich, bas a peathar, agus eagal an eich-uisge, ga leirreadh.Ain briseadh an latha air taobh thall Loch a mhuidhe, thug I suil thar a guailne 's chunnaic I an Uile-Chiast as a deidh. Dheibh I ard a claiginn airson cobhair. Is e meall-na-cibhe a theires ris an aite sin gus an latha n'duigh.Thachair gu robh dithis fhear oga air an cois air slios thorasdaidh aig an am us chuala iad sgread na h'ighne. Leum iad anns a bhad air da chapall is a mach a thug iad le'n daga air an leis.Bha an t-each-uisge tighinn, uidhe air n'uighe, an toir our a'chaileig. Rug e oirre far am bheil clann rathad Chronoir an dingh. Tha blar beag fravich an sin agus se "Blar na Fala" an t-aimm tha air. Sin far na mharbh a bhiast I fir thorasdaidh ain fradhare.A steach thug an t-each-uisge taobh "Loch-nan-Eilean", tarsainn air na Creaganan os fo Chonn, "Cnoc-na-Ba-Riabhaich", s gu ruige, "Lon Ban". Bha na fir air a shail a nis ach ghreimich l air a Chruthach air ceann nan achannan. Sios cluas "chreig speireigh" thearn e "Leathad-au-Loch". Bha e direach a leum a steach do "loch-a-Ghruagaich" nuair a thar fear Thorasdaidh air an earabal a ghearadh dheth leis an daga.Is se runnsan a theireadh daoine re earball 's na laithean bha sud agus is e "Loch-an-Runnsan" an seann ainn Ch'air a loch air am Beil, "Loch-a-ghruagaich", an duig. Tha e soilleir carson.Chan fhacas a chailleach riamh an deidh sin, ni matha chuir meach riamh seachd oidhe lile ann's an airidh ainmeil Cha sud.
P.S. My knowledgeable informant pointed out that the correct name for that Loch which is situated beside the main road, half way between Calbost and Marvig is "Loch-a-Ghrvagaich" not Loch-na-Gruagaich. "Gruagach", masculine means Kelpie or water horse, where as "Gruagach" feminine means maiden. He pointed out that there was a tradition that the water never falls in the loch, however dry the summer is. He also confessed that the story made such an impression on him as a boy that to this day he cannot convince himself to stay at his borders after sunset however the trout are biting.
In another version of the folk tale it was at "Cnoc-a-runnsan" that the beast's tail was cut off. "Cnoc-a-runnsan" is the small hill on which the dwelling house of croft 1 stands (Tigh-Boidy) - the first house as you approach from the Marvig direction not far from "Loch-a-gruagach".