10 useful Gaelic words you already know

Whilst you’re in Scotland it’s easy to see the Gaelic language woven into everyday life around you and the fascinating culture that stems from it. And particularly if you’re staying in Dornie Croft.  Dornie comes from the Gaelic An Dòrnaidh, the narrow sea channel, and our two cottages have Gaelic names.  One is An Iolaire, the eagle, and the other is An Dòbhran, the otter.

Gaelic dates back centuries, from roughly the 6th century AD, and quickly spread across towns and cities Scotland-wide to later become the mother tongue of the medieval Kingdom of Alba. There are hundreds of Scottish place names that carry origins from the Gaelic language.

Dundee in the east of Scotland, for example, takes its name from the Gaelic Dùn Dè meaning Tay Fort, and as the city sits on the banks of the River Tay, it’s a very fitting name. Similarly, on the shores of Loch Leven in the Highlands, the village of Ballachulish is Baile a’ Chaolais which translates into ‘the village by the narrows’, and this describes the location of Ballachulish perfectly.

VisitScotland have created a great short video which explains more about the language and you can view it here:

To help, for each of the words there’s a link to a dictionary which tells you how to pronounce the word in Gaelic.

  1. Eilean: If you’re in Dornie, then you’ll have heard of or even visited Eilean Donan Castle.  Eilean is the Gaelic for island.
  1. Gleann: Written as Glen in English, this appears in place names all over Scotland.  Gleann means glen or valley.
  1. Inbhir: Written as Inver in English, again this appears in many placenames in Scotland.  Inbhir means the mouth of a river, or estuary as in Inverness – the mouth of the river Ness.
  1. Uisge-beatha: You’ll know this more commonly as whisky, the water of life.  That’s where the word whisky comes from, just like aquavit.  Uisge means water and beatha life.
  1. Loch: You might not have known that this is a Gaelic word, and it is used all over Scotland and means lake.  There are only 3 lakes in Scotland, all the rest are lochs.
  1. Cèilidh: Traditionally, a cèilidh can be just to visit someone or a gathering in a house where people sing, tell stories and play instruments.  Nowadays, it’s used more of a public event with musicians and singers.  Look out for one when you’re visiting as they’re very enjoyable and usually fundraising for a charity.
  1. Cabar: At Highland Games, you’ll see the brawny lads having a go at tossing the caber – a long piece of wood like a telegraph pole.  It means tree-trunk and the same word is used of an antler so you might see it in house names such as Caberfeidh (cabar-fèidh – deer antlers).
  1. Sporan: If you’re at Highland Games and you see somewhere wearing a kilt, they’ll probably also be wearing a sporran.  In Gaelic, the word means a purse so you might say I don’t have any money in my sporran.
  1. Clann: For people interested in their roots, they often look to see if they belong to a Scottish clan.  The word means children or offspring or clan.
  1. Gu leòr: You might have read the book or seen the film “Whisky Galore”.  Galore comes from the Gaelic meaning enough or sufficient.  If you haven’t seen the film, we’d recommend the original version made in 1949 and filmed in Castlebay in Barra.  It’s based on a true story of a ship the Politican which ran aground and is very entertaining.

And by the way, don’t get cù (dog) mixed up with the Scots word for cow – a coo!!