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Munro Etymology

Munro Etymology


Postby LewisDavie » Fri Aug 07, 2020 8:16 pm

Perhaps a discussion about this exists somewhere, but Google has disappointed me!

As I've started my Munro bagging adventure, I've become really interested in the history and folklore of the places I visit - what little I can dig up, anyway. It does seem that not much information is readily available about the hills aside from some of the more 'technical' aspects.

I'm going to be walking up Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ tomorrow. The former means 'the green gray hillocks'... okay, perhaps a more descriptive name than anything... but the latter, Carn an Righ, translates to 'the rocky hill of the king' and that leaves me with so many questions! Which king? When did this name appear? Why this hill in particular? Was there a significance?

I suppose some of this stuff might be losts to the mists of time. After all, we barely even know what Scotland's religious beliefs were like pre-Christianity. We've cobbled together a bit from Pictish stones and folklore from similar cultures, but most of it is an educated guess, from what I gather.

Anyway, if you happen to know the origins of any of the names of the Munros (and other Scottish peaks!), I would love to hear the tale. I think learning about the history of this land makes you appreciate the hikes all the more.

Best wishes,
- Lewis D.
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby prog99 » Fri Aug 07, 2020 8:47 pm

In that case this book should be right up your street.
https://www.smc.org.uk/publications/other/scottish-hill-names
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby iain_atkinson_1986 » Fri Aug 07, 2020 9:43 pm

A new edition of The Gaelic Landscape by John Murray has just been published. Worth a glance though it's not purely to do with hills. It's worth picking up some Gaelic too if you've time. Hill and place names do seem to make a lot more sense once you've got some basic Gaelic under your belt.
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby Essan » Fri Aug 07, 2020 9:54 pm

There's a possibility that Carn an Righ may originally have been Carn an Ruighe - hill of the shieling. A number of kings are know to have hunted in the area, from Malcolm Canmore to James IV but there appears to be no reason why any of them should have been remembered in a hill name.

Also worth noting that many hill names were those given to the original OS surveyors by locals at the time, who may not always have been quite serious ;)

A couple more books worth reading:

Scottish Hill Names by Peter Drummond
Scotland's Mountains Before the Mountaineers by Ian Mitchell
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby LewisDavie » Fri Aug 07, 2020 11:14 pm

These are great recommendations, thanks all! And a very interesting take on Carn an Righ, Essan.
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby Lightfoot2017 » Sat Aug 08, 2020 7:37 am

Would agree with Iain_Atkinson... it's worth brushing up even a wee bit on Gaelic, just to grasp the fundamentals.

Even knowing what 30-40 of the most frequently used words mean can give you a degree of insight into the landscape and the types of hills you can expect.

Words like stob, stuc, sgurr all suggest particular shapes or form of hills. Also, hill colours (dearg = red for example) are simple but effective clues for describing the landscape.
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby Sgurr » Sat Aug 08, 2020 7:07 pm

You might like to read "Scotland's Mountains Before the Mountaineers" by Ian Mitchell which investigates who might possibly have climbed them before people doing it for fun, and why. Military uses come into it, as of course map-making. All very informative and well researched. Some of them named the mountains too.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scotlands-Mountains-Before-Mountaineers-Mitchell/dp/1908373296/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Mountains+before+the+Mountaineers&qid=1596909928&sr=8-1
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby ChrisButch » Sun Aug 09, 2020 9:00 am

There's a practical reason,also, for getting your head round some of the Gaelic basics. If you mentally apply anglicised pronunciation to the hill names when reading them off a map, any discussion of what you've done or are intending to do with a local or another hillwalker can be mightily confusing. There are plenty of newcomers baffled by pub talk of Coire an t-Sneachda, just as there are plenty in the know who are only too keen in the pub to do the baffling. The authentic audio clips attached to hill descriptions on this site are an excellent help, as are the pronunciation guides in the Murray and Drummond books already mentioned. One other suggestion:

https://cuhwc.org.uk/page/unofficial-guide-pronouncing-gaelic

which is written from a hillwalker's perspective.
And of course if ever needing to convey your location in an emergency, it could be vital.
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby Sgurr » Sun Aug 09, 2020 5:56 pm

ChrisButch wrote:. One other suggestion:

https://cuhwc.org.uk/page/unofficial-guide-pronouncing-gaelic

which is written from a hillwalker's perspective.
And of course if ever needing to convey your location in an emergency, it could be vital.


Hills are very big compared to grid references, which you do not need to give in Gaelic.
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby NickyRannoch » Tue Aug 11, 2020 1:37 pm

There's so much competing data to work with it can be really difficult to get accurate translations from what is on the OS. You really need to go back and look at ethnological research from the 18th to mid 20 century (or read a book by someone who has).

First of all OS mapmakers couldn't just take a translation from anyone. They had to be educated men - a minister or teacher, so the thoughts of the shepherd whose family had been there 400 years didn't come into it.

If we look at Càrn an Rìgh, well Rìgh can mean a Lord as well as a king so it could be referring to a Lord of Atholl or Marr (I can't remember where it sits).

Given the preponderance of Ruighean place names and sites in the area I'm actually quite persuaded that it's a mistranslation of Ruighe.

Sometimes knowledge of the genitive case can be helpful and sometimes it's a false friend as in places like Perthshire nobody bothered with the genitive case. In Perthshire and Aberdeenshire the Gaelic was quite distinct from island Gaelic and shared some elements with Irish e.g. eclipsis of verbs Am fear in modern Scots Gaelic would be Am bhfear pronounced am vear.

In some of the last recordings of Deeside Gaelic we hear them calling Càrn an Fhidhleir - Càrn Veeler.

It's also helpful to the local context so I have seen a very weel kent Skye Gael translating Coire nan Giomach in Rannoch as Coire of the Lobster- which is true - but you don't get much lobster in Rannoch. It refers to Rannoch barracks and the redcoat soldiers stationed there. Lobster was a local nickname for redcoat soldiers.

I don't agree with everything John Murray says but his books are still well worth a read. Tìr is Teanga is a BBC Alba series on the origins of Scottish nicknames and is currently available on iPlayer. Watson's Celtic Place names of Scotland doesn't focus overly on mountains but is basically the bible of placename origin in Scotland and well worth a read.

An Litir Bheag and Litir do Luchd-Ionnsachaidh on www.learngaelic.scot have loads of stories on place names in Scotland but there are thousands of them and you need to do a bit of digging. You can search by topic though
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Re: Munro Etymology

Postby LewisDavie » Tue Aug 11, 2020 1:48 pm

That's fascinating, Nicky - what an excellent breakdown of the various ways a name can be formed, and of the history.

You've all given me some seriously great sources. I think, on top of a few shopping sprees, that I'm going to have to start learning Gaelic! Not sure if other non-speakers feel the same way but whenever I hear it, I always feel like I should be able to understand what they're saying, because Scottish accents fit it well.
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