Place name of the week: Ardnamurchan - Àird nam Murchan

Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of mainland Britain.
Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of mainland Britain.
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This, the most westerly point of mainland Britain, is in Gaelic, Àird nam Murchan ‘the promontory of the seals’.

Although it now denotes the whole peninsula, it originally denoted only the westernmost point where the lighthouse is now. The word murchan is from muir ‘sea’ and ‘dog’ i.e. ‘sea-dog’. This is an epithet for either a seal or an otter.

This name is however mentioned three times in the book Vita Columbae ‘the Life of St Columba’, a book written round 700 AD, but pertaining to events in the sixth century. There the promontory is referred to as Artda Muirchol (with variants). At this time, the name appears to have had a different final element, written here -chol. The meaning of this element is not clear, but might be col ‘sin, wickedness’, perhaps referring to acts of piracy or wrecking. Thus, the name may have originally meant ‘the promontory of the (ship)wrecking’.

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