Airson ainmean-àite le ‘dubh’ a thuigsinn, ʼs dòcha gum feumar coimhead air slighe na grèine / To interpret place-names with the descriptor ‘dubh’ you may need to look at the path of the sun …
Soilleireachadh ‘dubhair’ air mapaichean
Is e seo àm math dhen bhliadhna airson sùil gheur a thoirt air ainmean-àite anns a bheil dubh oir gu tric bidh an tuairisgeul stèidhichte air dubhar a th’ air adhbharachadh le cnuic is beanntan, agus a’ ghrian a’ gabhail slighe ìosal anns an iarmailt. Cha bhi dubh a’ nochdadh ann an co-cheangal ris an fhacal srath oir tha a leithid ro fhosgailte do sholas an latha. Air an làimh eile, tha iomadh eisimpleir de ghlinn air a bheil gleann dubh, oir gu tric bidh beanntan àrda air gach taobh de ghleann. Tha eisimpleir fìor mhath ann am Bràghad Albann, far a bheil An Gleann Dubh a’ coinneachadh ri Gleann Dochard air a cheann a tuath – àird às nach tig solas na grèine sa gheamhradh. Air gach àird eile, tha beanntan drùidhteach a’ cuairteachadh a’ ghlinne, ga fhàgail ann an dubhar no dorchadas.
Tha dubh gu tric co-cheangailte ri cliathaichean beinne. ʼS e eisimpleir mhath An Leitir Dhubh (tha grunnan dhiubh ann) a tha mar as trice a’ coimhead a dh’ionnsaigh na h-àird a tuath agus a gheibh glè bheag de sholas na grèine sa gheamhradh. Tha eisimpleirean ann cuideachd de leathaidean dubha a fhuair an ainmean air an aon adhbhar.
Tha iomadh eisimpleir ann de choireachan air a bheil An Coire Dubh agus tha iad mar as trice le creagan no beanntan gu deas orra. Ge-tà, chan eil e buileach cho soilleir carson as e dubh a th’ air cuid de chnuic no beanntan. ʼS dòcha gu bheilear a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul air dath creige, lusan no mòine a cheart cho math ri solas na grèine, agus ʼs e a bhiodh math nan dèanadh cuideigin sgrùdadh mionaideach air ainmean-àite mar Càrn Dubh, Beinn Dubh, Meall Dubh agus Stob Dubh (mar a nochdas iad gun alt air mapaichean an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais).Tha ciall an ainm A’ Chreag Dhubh follaiseach gu leòr mas ann air bearradh a tha e a-mach, ach faodaidh beanntan air a bheil a leithid de dh’ainm a bhith gun bhearradh, ach le leathad rudeigin creagach nach eil air an taobh a deas. Corra uair, chaidh ainm mar seo a thionndadh gu Creag Dhu (ainm club sreap stèidhichte ann an Glaschu) no Craig Dhu, agus tha eisimpleir dheth sin ann an Siorrachd Àir a Deas ann an seann Ghàidhealtachd Charraig is Ghall-Ghàidhealaibh.
Tha am buadhair dubh ri fhaicinn gu tric an cois a’ chladaich cuideachd. Tha na ficheadan de ghoban no àirdean air a bheil An Rubha Dubh. ʼS iongantach mura h-eil iad ainmichte airson a bhith creagach no fraochach, gun a bhith feurach, crotalach no feamainneach – oir bhiodh na trì mu dheireadh a’ tarraing a’ bhuadhair bàn no buidhe don ainm. ʼS iomadh eilean air a bheil An t-Eilean Dubh cuideachd, agus air adhbharan ceudna.
Ach ʼs dòcha gu bheil aon ainm-àite anns a bheil dubh a’ seasamh a-mach bhon chòrr, co-dhiù a rèir cho fillte is cho tarraingeach ʼs a tha e. Ann an ceàrnaidh iomallach dhen Mhonadh Liath, don earra-dheas air Loch Nis, tha Sìthean Dubh na Cloiche Bàine. Tha an t-ainm fillte ga dhiofarachadh bhon t-Sìthean Dubh a tha pìos beag gu tuath air, agus tha sin air eadar-dhealachadh air a dhath bhon t-Sìthean Odhar agusbhon t-Sìthean Liath a tha le chèile faisg air làimh. Tha na sìthichean – mar a tha na dathan – mar phàirt mhòr de dh’ainmean-tìre na Gàidhealtachd!
Dubh-lochain ann an Teàrmann Nàdair Fors na h-Àirde ann an Dùthaich nam Boglaichean. Tha an t-uisge dubh dorch air sàillibh stuthan a thig às a’ mhòine. / Dubh-lochans at Forsinard Flows National Nature Reserve living up to their name in winter. The water in this peaty landscape is stained dark with tannins. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot
Shedding light on toponymic ‘darkness’
This is a great time of year for analysing toponyms (place-names) that contain the adjective dubh [pronounced ‘DOO’] in Scotland’s Gaelic landscape. This is because the word often means ‘dark’ in landscape terms, rather than its primary meaning of ‘black’, and the low sun path in winter can often reveal places that remain in shadow for much of the time and which have therefore attracted the descriptor. There are virtually no examples of the use of dubh with the generic srath ‘wide valley, strath’ whereas gleann dubh, ‘dark glen’ is a relatively common toponym – gleann representing a steeper-sided ‘glen’, often located directly under high hills. A classic example is the Gleann Dubh south-west of Killin (Stirlingshire). It opens into Glen Dochart in the north – a direction from which the sun never shines in the winter months – but is surrounded at all other compass points by a ring of great hills which leave it in shade for long periods.
Shaded hillsides often carry the descriptor dubh, a good example being leitir ‘above-water slope’ which is a feminine noun and therefore causes the adjective to lenite, giving us Leitir Dhubh [pron. ‘lay-tchir GHOO’]. These are generally north-facing slopes which see little direct sunshine in winter and can often experience considerable shade even in the brighter months. There are also examples of north-facing slopes called Leathad Dubh ‘dark slope’ – leathad being a masculine noun.
The effect of shade can also be seen in the pairing of contrasting descriptors with fionn, bàn or occasionally geal ‘fair, light, white’ being employed as a comparison with an adjacent place-name qualified by dubh. In Wester Ross the Fionn Loch ‘fair loch’ and Dubh Loch ‘dark loch’ are connected and therefore share the same water. The contrast is not in the water quality but in the amount of shade, with the Fionn Loch being in relatively open country, whereas the Dubh Loch is tucked under the great steep hills of A’ Mhaighdeann and Creag an Dubh Loch. The reversal of the normal word order, with the specific preceding the generic is not uncommon with some colour descriptors, and is also in evidence at the northern end of Loch Lomond where the Geal Loch ‘white loch’ and Dubh Lochan ‘small dark loch’ are differentiated by the former being open to the south, with the latter being surrounded by hills on the east, south and west.
However, with many water bodies, it is necessary to examine both the topography and water quality to be sure of the reason for dubh being employed, as many examples occur in peaty Highland areas where the water is darkened by tannins and, in the case of many dubh-lochans, are formed entirely within a peat-clad landscape. Many environmentalists use the term dubh-lochan in English for these water bodies which are characteristic of Scotland’s famous Flow Country (Dùthaich nam Boglaichean), now being forwarded for possible World Heritage nomination. As well as dozens of water bodies called Loch(an) Dubh or Dubh-loch(an), there are many burns called Allt Dubh or its diminutive Alltan Dubh and even some rivers called Abhainn D(h)ubh. The upper part of the River Forth in Stirlingshire is known in Gaelic as the Abhainn Dubh. Other water generics are also found linked to dubh. A fine double example is to be found east of Strathnairn near Inverness, where the Caochan Dubh ‘dark, hidden streamlet’ carries tannin-stained waters off the peatlands of Càrn na h-Easgainn into the Uisge Dubh ‘dark stream’ (literally ‘dark water’).
There are many examples of corries called Coire Dubh and, like glens and slopes, these tend to be north-facing and often shaded. However, hills with dubh are not so readily interpreted. The darkness here might be a reference to rock type, vegetation or peat cover as much as sunlight, and it would be good to see a rigorous analysis made of common hill or mountain toponyms such as Càrn Dubh, Beinn Dubh, Meall Dubh and Stob Dubh. Rocky crags called Creag Dhubh [pron. krake GHOO] often have an obviously shaded side, but the name can also apply to a hill which is accessible on all sides, but whose rockiest side does not face south. These names have occasionally been anglicised to Creag Dhu – the name of a famous Glasgow-based climbing club – or even Craig Dhu, an example of which is to be found in South Ayrshire, in the old Gàidhealtachd of Carrick and Galloway.
The descriptor dubh is also extremely common in coastal areas. There are, for example, dozens of points or promontories known as Rubha Dubh. These are likely to be rocky or heathery, and not grassy or overly clad with lichens or seaweed (which might attract the descriptor bàn ‘fair’ or buidhe ‘yellow’). Many islands off the west coast are called Eilean Dubh, probably for similar reasons.
But perhaps one dubh toponym stands out from the others in terms of its complexity and attractiveness. In the depths of the Monadh Liath, south-east of Loch Ness, lies Sìthean Dubh na Cloiche Bàine ‘the dark fairy hill of the white stone’. The reason for the name’s complexity is that it has to be differentiated from another Sìthean Dubh just a short distance to the north, which in turn is distinguished from a nearby Sìthean Odhar ‘dun-coloured fairy hill’ and Sìthean Liath ‘grey fairy hill’. The Little People – like colours – are a big part of our landscape!
Bha am blog seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.
This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.