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Places of Interest about Girvan
Some Carrick Place-Names


THE fact that nearly all our place-names are Celtic, shows that Gaelic was at one time the language spoken in Carrick. Some of these names have altered little in the course of years, but some of them have been changed so much that we can only now guess at their meaning , just as some coins have their impression sharp and clear, while others have grown smooth and illegible. Most attempts at etymology are mere probabilities; while in many cases, even a probable guess can hardly be made. In these latter cases, the coin has been worn so smooth through constant use that the original impression has become undecipherable. Still, in many cases, the meaning of the name is clear enough to those who have a knowledge of Gaelic.

Our Celtic forefathers had a happy knack of giving appropriate names to places. Some, for instance, are named from the nature of the ground, as Blair, a plain; Clauchrie, a stony place; Genoch, a sandy place; Curragh, a bog; Mini, a marsh; Craig, a rock.

Some, again, were named from the trees found on them, as Dunure, fort of the Yew; Culzean, place of the holly; Beoch, place of birches; Craigskeoch, rock of the hawthorn; Minunchion, place of the ash; Pinwherry, hill of the copse; Auchenairnie, field of the sloebush; Drum/aim, ridge of the alder; Drumranie, ridge of the fern; Drumdarroch, ridge of the oak; Daljarroch, dale of the oak; Shalloch, place of the willow.

Some were named from the wild animals that used to frequent them, as Knockshinnoch, hill of the fox; Lochmoddy, loch of the wolf: Brockloch, loch of the badger; Todey glen, glen of the fox; Dinnymuch, fort of the swine; Mochrum, ridge of the swine; Dalquhat, dale of the wild cat; Pen-whapple, hill of the horse; Craigengower, rock of the goat.

Some received their names from the persons who owned them, as Ballochneil, Neil's pass; Kilhenzie, Kenneth's church; Auchencleerie, field of the clergyman; Balsaggart, house of the priest; Cloncaird, gipsy's meadow; Knockcrocher, hill of the hangman ; Drumullin, ridge of the mill. Ton, at the end of a place-name means town, and indicates it to be the property of the person whose name precedes it; as Lyons/on, Loveston, Smiths ton, &c. These names, therefore, should not be spelled with the final e.

Colour, occasionally, had something to do with the name, as Blairbowie, yellow plain ; Craigfin, fair hill; Craigdow, black hill, Knockdon, brown hill; Glenower, grey glen; Culroy, red corner.

Many places were named after the churches built on them, and these were named after the saints to whom they were dedicated. In this way we have Kirkoswald, Kirkmichael, Kirk Dominae or Dotninick, Coltnonell, Kirkcudbright Innertig (former name of Ballantrae), Kildonan, Kilkerran (Church of St. Kieran), Kilantringan (Church of St. Ninian), Killochan (perhaps Church of St. Chon). Hence, too, such names as Monkwood, Hallow Chapel, Lady Cross, &c.

We have at least five different words meaning a height. Ben or Pin; hence Pinmore (big height), Letterpin (slope of the height), Pinbain (white height), and the Beinn or Byne hill. Knock; hence Knockdolian (mocking hill, and known as the false Craig), Knockgerran (hill of the rough stream), Knockdow (black hill), &c. Ard; hence Ardstinchar, Ardmillan (height of the mill), Ar dwell (height of the stranger). Barr; hence Barr, Bardrochit (height of the bridge), Barrhill (height of the wood). Tor; hence Tormichell (height of St. Michael), &c.

Dun, again, in Gaelic means a round hill, which in ancient times was usually surmounted by a fort. Hence Dounan means a little round hill; Dinvin, the fair fort; Kildoon, the church by the round hill, &c.

Of our Carrick streams, the Girvan (the rough river) rises within a few miles of the Doon (the black river) and is the Garonne of Scotland. The Stinchar (Staing, & pool) means abounding in pools, and its tributaries are the Duisk, the black water, the Muck (from Muc, a pig), the Tig (perhaps from Tigh, a house), the Asset, the Cross-water, and the Gregg (perhaps from Craig, a rock).

Lag means a hollow, and Laggan a little hollow. Hence such names as Laggan, Balig (house in the hollow), Laggan w/iilly (woody hollow). Gart means a field; hence Dan-gart (the field of the round hill). Macher means a little field; hence Pinmacher (the little field on the hill). Drum means a ridge; hence Drumbeg (the little ridge), and Drumore (the big ridge).

Mains means the farm attached to the Mansion house, and Grange was the place where rent and tithes paid in grain were deposited.

In these modern days it is becoming common to give English names to places, as Woodland, Park, Trees, Ford-house, and this is proper enough. I confess, however, to having a partiality to Scotch names, such as Kirklands, Clachanton, Brackeny Brae, Broom Knowes, Burncrooks, Lochs pouts, White faulds, not to speak of the quaint flavour of such as the Whelk, Cosy Glen, or the Splash Mill. At the same time, it must be admitted that neither Scotch nor English names have the antique grandeur of the old Celtic, which called hills Cairns or Baings (a bing), a sea rock a Skellig (hence Craig Skelly\ a saugh hill Barsalloch, and a town by the shore Ballantrae!

For information regarding the foregoing etymologies, I am much indebted to Dr Ronald Currie of Skelmorlie, and Sir Herbert Maxwell's elaborate volume entitled Studies in the Topography of Galloway.


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