Scots names to the fore along the east Antrim coast
Visitors to the Gobbins Clifftop Path this summer will be able to read more about the strong Scots links in the area which are often expressed through placenames, writes David Hume.
While many of our local placenames are Irish in origin, there is a mix among them of Norman, Scots, English and even Norse names.
Skernaghan Point and Ballylumford in Islandmagee are good examples of names left by the Vikings, for instance.
The word sker in Old Norse referred to a reef of rocks and Skernaghan at Islandmagee has a dangerous reef running out from the shore, hence the name. Ballylumford is said to be the barren area at the mouth of the ford or fjord.
Irish names also abound, not least Bally, which means the place of and others such as alt meaning height, or tober signifying a well.
Given the large numbers of Scots settlers in the area, however, it is no surprise that so many Ulster Scots placenames can be found on the east coast from Carrick to Larne.
Sometimes these are very visible, as in Carrickfergus, where there is the Scotch Quarter and Boneybefore. Tongue Loanen at Kilroot is another good example; a loanen or loaney meaning a laneway.
On the inland road past the Tongue Loanen to Ballycarry there is the Cassie, which has no roadsign to identify it and is located close to an area named Twibridge by 17th century English settlers.
A Cassie was a roadway but could also be a lane to fields or an area at the back of a farmyard.
The one at Bellahill is interesting, as it was part of the old drover routes, through which cattle were herded to the coast and off to the markets in Scotland. Places such as Port Davey and Portmuck were the local ends of the drover routes.
Near the end of the drover road in Islandmagee was a clachan named Caleery Toun. Caleery is a word for someone who is giddy or a bit scatty or silly. Caleery Toun in Islandmagee supposedly got its name because it was a place where the locals liked to party: this possibly because it had an ‘inn’ or shebeen of some sort.
Not everyone appears to have been giddy there, however, for Caleery Toun once had a school, sitting in a row of thatched cottages near Sally Kane’s Loanin.
Many Ulster Scots placenames are often very localised and descriptive of the local landscape.
Probably the best-known and most prevalent of them is that word Sheugh, which you will hear mentioned in many country areas. A sheugh is a narrow, open drain or ditch. The water which settles in a sheugh has little or no flow in it, hence the very descriptive term that an idle person is “as lazy as sheugh water.”
There are plenty of other Ulster Scots names in the landscape, among them burn, and brae.
There is Lady Brae at Ballycarry, Gobbins Brae in Islandmagee, Red Brae at Carrick, Raw Brae at Whitehead, and Casement’s and Whitla’s braes in Larne - the name brae referring to a small hill.
A burn refers to a small stream. There is a Misty Burn at Glenwherry and lots of ‘burnsides’ around too. The Muttonburn Stream at Ballycarry has effectively been named twice when the English is added to the end.
Another Ulster Scots word is isle – which is used to describe an island but not one surrounded by water. Isle was used by Ulster Scots to refer to a raised area of arable, green or wooded land in an expanse of bog. The Irish word for green is glas and there is a nice combination of Irish and Ullans or Ulster Scots in Isle of Glass near Carrickfergus.
Another example of the use of isle is Isle of Muck, which appears on old Ordnance Survey maps in Islandmagee. This has led to confusion over Muck Isle, which is off the coast: the maps show Isle of Muck well inland from the coast, but on the road to Portmuck and Muck Island. When you look at the landscape where Isle of Muck was designated in the 1830s, you can still see today that there is a low lying area around, which led to the use of the word isle.
Muck is derived from the Irish word for pig and it may relate not to pigs at all but to porpoise, which can be seen off the island and which were referred to as sea pigs in both Irish and Scots Gaelic.
Another place name in Islandmagee which relates to a creature is Tod’s Rodden, near the Gobbins.
A rodden was an unpaved pathway and often a route that cattle or nocturnal animals used. The name survives in Larne with The Roddens. The word is also Irish, highlighting that languages often borrow from each other. But one version in Islandmagee is very definitely Ulster Scots – Tod’s Rodden on the east coast near the Gobbins was named after a path used by a fox. The name Tod is used by Scottish poets such as Robert Burns and James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, and in Islandmagee the story of Tod’s Rodden was told in the 19th century. The rodden was a pad used by the fox, which raided the farms around for chickens. The rodden led along the top of the cliff to a small cave over the edge, reached by the fox swinging down the branch of a bush. On one occasion this led to hounds chasing the fox being dashed onto the rocks below, when the fox swung into the lair.
Sadly for the fox, a local farmer named McKeen found out the secret and cut the branch, which ultimately meant the end of Tod the next time it went to evade pursuit, but the name Tod’s Rodden has survived to remind us of the incident and the cunning of Tod!
Click here to read: March completion for £30k Ulster-Scots signs at The Gobbins
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.