Pages about Scotland A Simple Guide to Gaelic


Gaelic is the ancient, complex and subtle language of the Celts. This page gives a guide to the pronunciation and meaning of many of the place names that you will come across in your travels around Scotland and the rest of my site. The informathion was gathered from a couple of books (I do not speak Gaelic myself). It does not pretend to teach you how to speak Gaelic but may stop locals rolling about with laughter as you mangle names. As examples of the complexity of Gaelic, look at the definitive article ('the'). In the nominative case ('the hill'), it may be an, am or an t- (masculine); a', an or an t- (feminine); na or na h- (plural). In the genitive case ('of the hill'), it may be a', an, an t-; na, na h-; and nan, nam respectively. Nouns and adjectives also change spelling and pronunciation in the genitive:
·  buirich ('roaring' or 'bellowing') becomes Meall a'Bhuiridh - 'hill of roaring',
·  Coire Odhar Beag, 'the small dun-coloured hill' becomes Sron a'Choire Odhair-bhig, 'the spur of the small dun-coloured corrie'.

Add to this the confusion of the many attempts of the English to convert Gaelic into something they can pronounce and local usage of both spelling and pronunciation.

For books about Gaelic, have a look at:
Scottish Gaelic-English/English-Scottish Gaelic Dictionary
Colloquial Scottish Gaelic: The Complete Course for Beginners
Gaelic-English/English-Gaelic Dictionary


Generally stress in Gaelic falls on the first syllable of the word, eg. doras (dor'us) a door.

ó a long sound as in 'tone'
ò a short sound as in 'job'
é as in 'say'
è as in 'get'
à as in 'car'
a as in 'cat' but also often sounds like 'uh', eg. aran (ar'un) bread
i as in 'with'
ì long sound as in 'need'
u as in 'but'
ù long sound as in 'food'
mh/bh/db these consonants are normally pronounced as an English 'v' sound, especially when at the end of a word, eg. làmh (lav) hand; gabh (gav) take
mh when this appears in the middle of a word, is often pronounced as an English 'w', eg. Samhain (Sa-oo-win)
dh like a muffled 'g', eg. dhomh (gove), as if you are breathing out at the same time
gh like a 'y' sound
fh normally silent
ch as in 'loch' (a gutteral k)
c this is always hard like a 'k'
d when followed by either 'e' or 'i' is pronounced almost like a 'j', eg. deich (jech) ten; dearg (jarrig) red
l when followed by either 'e' or 'i' is pronounced as in the word 'million', eg. leabhar (lyo-ur) a book
s when followed by either 'e' or 'i' is pronounced as 'sh', eg. sìnnsear (shin-shur) ancestor
t followed by 'e' or 'i' is pronounced as in the word 'catch', eg. teth (cheh) hot; tìr (cheer) land, country
Place Names

The table below shows some of the place name components that are seen commonly on maps. Anglicised forms are shown in brackets ( ) where applicable.

Gaelic Meaning Example
ach, achadh (auch) field Beinn Achaladair - 'hill of the field of hard water '
allt burn, stream Crom Allt - a burn next to the village of Tyndrum
aonach ridge or moor Aonach Eagach - 'the notched ridge'
ard, aird height or promontory Cruach Ardrain - 'stack of the height or high part'
baile (bal or ball) hamlet, homestead Balmaha on the West Highland Way
ban fair, white Stob Ban - 'white peak'
beag (beg) little Aonach Beag - 'little hill'
bealach pass
beinn (ben) mountain Beinn Ime - 'butter mountain'
beithe birch
bidean pinnacle Bidean nam Bian - 'pinnacle of the mountains'
binnean peaked mountain Binnein Mor - 'big peaked mountain'
bo cow
breac (breck) speckled
buachaille herdsman Buachaille Etive Mor - 'the great herdsman of Etive'
buidhe yellow
buirich roaring or bellowing
cailleach nun, old woman
caisteal castle An Caisteal - 'the castle'
caol, caolas (kyle) narrow, strait, firth, kyle
caorann rowan tree
carn heap of stones (cairn), round rocky hill Stob Coire a'Chairn - 'peak of the coire of the cairn'
carraig rock
ceann (kin) head, headland Kinlochleven - a town at the head of Loch Leven
clach stone
clachan hamlet
cnap hillock
coille wood, forest
coinneach moss Cone Hill - corrupted form of coinneach from the surrounding moors
coire (corrie) a round hollow in the mountainside, cirque, sea-gulf, whirlpool Coire Bà - viewed as the West Highland Way crosses Rannoch Moor
creag (craig) crag, rock, cliff Beinn Dubhchraig - 'black-rock hill'
crom crooked Crom Allt - a burn next to the village of Tyndrum
cruach heap, stack, bold hill Cruach Ardrain - 'stack of the height or high part'
cuil nook, recess
cul back, hill-back
damh ox, stag
darach oak
dearg red Carn Mor Dearg - 'red peak'
dobhran (dorain) otter
doire (derry) grove Derrydaroch - 'the oak grove' (a farm in Glen Falloch at the head of Loch Lomond)
druim (drum) the back, a ridge Tyndrum - 'the house of the ridge'
dubh black Beinn Dubhchraig - 'black-rock hill'
dun (dum) fortress, castle, heap, mound
each horse
eag notch
eas waterfall
eilean island
eun bird
fada long
fionn white, holy
fitheach raven
fuaran well, spring
gabhar goat Stob Ghabhar - 'goat peak'
garbh rough Stob Garbh - 'rough hill'
geal white
giubhas fir
glas grey, green Beinglass Falls at the head of Loch Lomond
gleann narrow valley, glen
gorm green, blue Cairn Gorm - 'blue hill'
guala, gualainn shoulder of a hill
ime butter Beinn Ime - 'butter mountain'
inbhir (inver) confluence
inis an island or a meadow by a river or a resting place for cattle
iolair eagle
iubhar yew Sgor an Iubhair - 'peak of the yew'
lagan little hollow
larig a pass
laoigh (lui) calf Ben Lui - 'calf hill'
leac (leck) flat stone, slab
leacach stony slope
leathad slope, brae
leitir (letter) slope, side of a hill
loch, lochan lake, small lake Loch Lomond - one of Scotland's larger lakes
mam large, round or gently rising hill; a pass Mam Carraigh - a ridge travelled across between Bridge of Orchy and Inveroran on the West Highland Way
maol bare top Maol Chinn-dearg - 'bald red hill'
mhanach monk Beinn Mhanach - 'monk hill'
mheadhoin (vane) middle Beinn Mheadhoin - 'middle hill'
meall a round hill Meall Dearg - 'red hill'
mor large, great Ben More - 'big hill'
muileann mill
mullach top, summit Mullach nan Coirean - 'summit of the coires'
nead (nid) nest
nevis venomous or stormy Ben Nevis - 'venomous or stormy mountain'
odhar (our) dun-coloured Stob a'Choire Odhair - 'peak of the dun-coloured corrie'
righ king Dalrigh - 'the king's field', the site of one of Robert the Bruce's lost battles near Tyndrum
ros promontory, wood
ruadh red, brown
ruighe slope, run for cattle or shieling
sgorr, sgurr rocky peak Sgor Gaibhre - 'goat's peak'
sron nose, point or spur
stob point Stob Ban - 'white peak'
stuc pea
suidhe seat, level shelf on a hillside
tairbeart (tarbet) portage, isthmus Tarbet - a village on Loch Long next to a gap in the hills to Loch Lomond
tigh house Tigh-na-sleabhaich - 'the house by the gullied slope' (ruins on the old military road between Kinlochleven and Fort William)
tulach knoll, hillock
uisge water, river
vorlich bay Ben Vorlich - 'hill of the bay'

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