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Although the Villages were primarily fishing communities, and held themselves to a large degree apart from the farming ones, there were of course overlaps. The women would carry fish to the countryside and bring back eggs, vegetables and other foodstuffs, or firewood and tourcans, and some village folk worked on the local farms either all year round or seasonally, e.g. tatie-lifting. Some of the words I have collected reflect this activity, and also the fact that family vegetable gardens were important for a more varied diet.

Go to the tuath – the countryside. Tuath (too-a) is a loaded word in Gaelic. It covered the land itself, but also the people living and working on the land, the ones who made it what it was. This is reflected in the motto chosen for the Highland Land League, who campaigned for land reform in the 1880s: Is Treasa tuath na tighearna – the (lands)people are mightier than the lord. Although mainly representing crofters, this movement was quite strong in Easter Ross, a high-level champion of Highland tenants’ rights being Thomas Nichol of Resolis and Dingwall.

A key crop, in fields and garden, was the buntàta (boon-taa-ta), potato. Usually shortened to buntàt’, which is probably a step on the way to the Scots word taties, pronounced with a long A, as in sgadan is buntàt’, herring and taties. A favourite childhood meal of ours was salt herring and taties, as we were allowed to eat it with our fingers because of the bones, and always a mug of milk on the side because of the salt.
A dreel was clais (clash), a furrow, ditch, hollow. We still see this word today living on in the local place name Clashnamuaich, clais nam maigheach – ditch of the hares.
The flower on the potato plant was barra-guc, local pron. barra-kook.

After the potato harvest was over came the “laachoo”, làmhachadh – handling. This was the word for the lifting by hand, after the fields had been harvested and harrowed, of the remains of the potato crop – a kind of gleaning. By the time of our parents this was probably more a historical word than still something that was done. The poorer people would be the ones who took part. But the word has also been given to me as one that continued in use for the regular lifting of taties.
A “cappan” was a sort of fork for lifting taties in the garden, possibly from cupan, anything curved or cuplike, or from Scots coup/cope – overturn, spill. Can anyone tell me if that is the same as a hawk?
And one more tatie word: “runnach” – dry bracken to cover taties. raineach / roineach – bracken.
And once you had your taties, you of course needed a plocan, a wooden chapper, to mash them!
The turnip too was a staple: snèap (snape), as was the onion, “eenyan”- uinnean, or Scots ingan.

Another word that came up a few times is “mawchoo”, manure. This is the local pronunciation of mathachadh – improving (math = good), and in a farming context manuring to improve the soil. As one of my sources said, “ If there was a whiff of ordure in the air, the diagnosis was, ‘They are putting mawchoo on the fields’. Mawchoo was also dug into the gardens of the village.”

Iochal – a load, was another farm-related word, probably a Gaelicisation of yoke. I remember a packed lunch being called a “half-yocheen” by my uncle who worked on a farm. i.e. the break halfway between re-yoking the horses.

In the garden the beairt (byarst, byarsht) was used for a garden frame for laying seeds (line and sticks) . It was also the word for a square frame round which a handline was wound. In Gaelic it refers generally to equipment or tackle, or a contraption, or frame. Beairt-iasgaich – fishing tackle; beairt-fhighe – a loom.
Another useful item was the corran, or sickle. Some people told me the Scots word heuk (related to hook) was used instead.

Of course animals were kept too, including pigs fattened on scraps for selling on. It’s probably muc, a pig, in the name Balmuchybaile nam muc – the pig settlement/farm.  “Coolan”, cuilean – puppy, whelp, cub, was used of the young of the pig, referring to the sow and her coolans. My source here says: “Presumably should be ‘cuilean muice’ (pig whelp), but maybe many young animals were referred to like that. Strangely, I don’t remember anything but puppy for a young dog.” Does anyone else remember anything about the names used locally for young animals, or indeed any other animals, like goat or cow?

Hens were also kept – I remember having to feed my grannie’s ones, kept down at the sea end of the garden, where nothing else would grow. The cockerel was “callach”- coileach, and young hen or chicken was “ayrack”, èireag. Eggs were “oo-yan” – uighean. I don’t remember the hens themselves being called cearcan, just hens, but I vaguely recall hearing taigh-chearc for henhouse. I also recall the hens being described as “goggling”, which I took then to mean the way they looked at you (especially the rooster), but in fact I realise now it must have been from Gaelic gogail, clucking or cackling.

I hope this wee trip down the collective memory lane (thanks, as ever, to all my sources!) might have sparked some more Gaelic or local words used in the Villages in living memory. And as ever, all additional memories gratefully received! Mòran taing!

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s words for seabirds that I’ve been given most of in this category, but there are some animals and other bits and pieces too.  (Not fish – we did them earlier in the series.) As ever, please get in touch via the Hall if you think of any more – on this or any subject. Mòran taing!

Eòin – Birds

Fuillack, foolack – a seagull.  Faoileag, pron. approx. fuil-ak

scraicheach – tern.    Sgreuchach (pron. sgraych-ach), screeching, and sgreuchag  – a generic term for a screeching or hooting bird, esp. jay, nightjar, owl, gull.  From sgreuch – to screech, hoot.

glooter – young gull.  Probably from sgliùthach (sgloo-(h)ach) – Seaboard Gaelic often seems to lose an initial S  – a young gull. Also meaning a fish rejected for poor quality, leading to the use of it as an insult.

corragan-creach, corra-creach – heron.  corra-ghritheach  (corra-ghree-ach).  corra = old word for point < beak

skarav, scarrow – cormorant.  sgarbh (sgarav).

sgarbhach (sgaravach) – abounding in cormorants, hence our rock Skaravak.

feadag – wee bird on seashore, plover.  feadag (fettack) – a whistle, flute; a plover

Beathaichean – animals

gimmach –lobster.  Giomach (gimmach)

porshtin, porstan – small crab   G. portan, partan (porstan, parstan) – (green) shore crab. From port, pron. porst, with -an, a diminutive ending: “a wee port creature”.

spoag – claw of lobster or crab.  spòg (spawg)

crasgag – starfish

gullichan, gullican, gullach – earwig.  Gòbhlachan (go-lach-an) – anything forked, esp. earwigs, from gòbhlach – forked

gyar – hare .  geàrr (gyar)

luch – mouse.

tollifeenach – woodworm. “Full of the tollifeenachs.” From toll, a hole , and fìneag (fee-nack), a cheesemite.  (One of my favourite words! 😉)

mowan– a bear. Only used in the phrase referring to something big and frightening, “like a big mowan”, or referring to someone in an uncomplimentary way, “as fat as a mowan”.   From mathan  (ma-han / math-am / maw-an)

mada-rohi – fox.   madadh-ruadh (matta-ruagh) red fox. From madadh – any wild animal of the dog family.  Madadh-allaidh – a wolf (“wild dog”).

Lusan – plants

tourcans or dourcans – pinecones. Durcan (doork-an)- cone

crottal or crochal – the bit where the kelp was attached to the rocks, edible when peeled. From  crotal, a generic name for the varieties of lichen, especially those used in dyeing

runnach – bracken.  Raineach or roineach (ran-yach/ ronn-yach).

sherkan – sticky burr plant.  Searcan  (sherkan) -burdock

guaran, gurachans – “sticky willies” – burr or burr-bush (large sticky burrs you threw at each other). Possibly from glòdhran (glaw-ran) , a clinging/sricky object such as a burr, or maybe related to giùran (gyoo-ran)- hogweed, or from guirean (gooran) – pimple, spot, scab, swelling – either as they looked like these, or caused them? Any better ideas?

Milseag Ubhail is Arain

Tha an tionndadh nas aotruime seo den mhilseag aran-is-ìm freagarrach do latha fuar geamhraidh, is i cho blàth is sàsachail. Tha an reasabaidh seo feumail cuideachd ma bhios aran air fhàgail agad.

Gritheidean (6 – 8 pòrsanan)

8 ùbhlan milis

3 roilichean seana, air neo ciabatta neo baguette

4 spàin-bhùird siùcair (is donn as fheàrr)

Spìosan measgaichte / caineal / dinnsear / clòbhan bleithte, a rèir do mhiann

600 ml bainne

4 uighean

Geàrr na roilichean no an t-aran ann an ciùbaichean. Rùsg na h-ùbhlan, thoir air falbh na cuairsgeanan, agus geàrr ann am pìosan beaga iadsan cuideachd.

Measgaich aran is ùbhlan, cur ris spìosan gu do riar, agus cuir a h-uile rud ann an soitheach-àmhainn a th’ air a shuathadh le glè bheag de dh’ìm.

Buail na h-uighean le forca, cuir am bainne agus an siùcair riutha, agus dòirt iad thairis air an aran ‘s na h-ùbhlan. Brùth sìos iad gu socair, gum am bi gach pìos air a bhogadh. Leig leis seasamh fad mu 10 mionaidean.

Bruich san àmhainn e aig 160 C fad mu aon uair a thìde, gus an tig dath òr-dhonn air, agus bi an t-ughagan tiugh. Tha an ùine an crochadh air doimhneachd an t-soithich, mar sin thoir sùil air nas tràithe. Còmhdaich am mullach le foidhle ma bhios e a’ fàs ro dhonn.

Gabh e teth le iogart Greugach, uachdar singilte, reòiteag no sabhs faoineig.

Apple Bread Pudding

This lighter variation on the classic bread and butter pudding is a warming and filling pudding for a winter’s day.  It’s good for using up leftover bread. 

Ingredients for 6 – 8 helpings

8 eating apples

3 stale bread rolls, OR equivalent amount of ciabatta or baguette

4 tbsp sugar, pref. brown

mixed spice / cinnamon / ginger / ground cloves as preferred

600 ml milk

4 eggs

Cut the rolls or bread into small cubes. Peel, core and cube the apples.

Mix bread and apples, add spice to taste, and put in a lightly greased oven-proof dish.

Beat the eggs, milk and sugar together and pour over the bread and apples, pressing these down slightly so they all absorb the liquid. Leave for about 10 mins.

Bake in the oven at 160 C for about an hour, or until top is golden brown and custard has just set – the time will depend on the depth of the dish, so check earlier.  Cover the top with foil if getting too brown.

Serve hot with Greek yoghurt, single cream, ice-cream or custard.

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr, everyone! (Better late than never…)

This month I’ve compiled lists of words collected so far which are connected to food and drink, and to the body and ailments. (No cause and effect relation intended!) Any more on these topics gratefully received, along with anything else domestic – the home, house, garden, clothing etc.

Mòran taing to all informants as usual.

sgadan is buntàt’, fresh herring in oatmeal

Food, drink

Strupag – a cup of tea and usually a scone or something with it  (srùbag, sdroobag)

Marag – pudding , but only black or while pudding, not a dessert 

Snatach, snàdag – a drink at New Year or in celebration. let’s have a wee snàdag  (snàthdag, snaa-tag – a nip)

Myshaks, meissachs, màishacks – sweets, cakes, fancy foods, wee treats (prob. from maiseach, my-shack – lovely)

Too keen on the màiseachs – too fat

Sleeshuck – fried slice of mashed tatie (sliseag, slee-shack – a slice)

Spartag – a ball of mashed tatie

Sgadan is buntàt’ – herring and taties

Smoosheen – eating sth juicy. Smoosheen away at sth  (smùiseach, smoo-shach – juice, smuisich, smoo-sheech – suck juice from)

Aran kork – oatcake  (aran coirce, literally bread of oats)

Snehp – turnip  (sneap, snape) – related to neep.

Grekatan – tiny little anything esp. taties, fish, person (poss. from grìog -tiny particle; grìogag – bead, pebble)

Eenyan – onion (sometimes Scots ingan, as in Ingan Johnnie – a Breton onion-seller who came round annually on his bike selling strings of onions, in my childhood; Gaelic uinnean – ooy-nyan) More about Ingan Johnnies here:

Body, ailments

Toochan – a dry cough. I’ve got the toochan, a touch of the toochan. (tùchan – hoarseness)

Foo-shun, I’ve no foo-shun, energy. (poss. from old Gaelic fuis, foosh – active, thrifty)

Fyown – feeble, lacking in energy (we’ve met this one before, prob. from fann, fown – weak, or feann, fyown – diminishing, weakening)

Aikin – It’s no but an aikin – trouble, problem. (èiginn, eh-keen, distress, emergency)

Aikinack – aching, in distress. I’m no but aikinack.  (èiginneach, eh-keen-yach – in distress)

Nyah-lach – peely-wally. Awful nyahlach-looking. (neulach, nee-a-lach – cloudy, pale, ghostly)

Maynach – middling. Och, I’m no but maynach. (In answer to How are you? Associated by myself and various others with elderly ladies wanting a bit of sympathy!)  (meadhanach, mayanach – middling)

Troo-ow – ill, poorly. He’s pretty troo-ow. (truagh, troo-ugh – wretched)

Cra-ow – describing someone with multiple ailments, generally poorly. (poss. shortened from crannda, crown-ta – frail, decrepit)

Shiatic – I’m bad with the shiatic – meaning rheumatism, but clearly from sciatica, pronounced in a Gaelic way (siatag – shee-at-uk)

I’ve got jayruns / geeruns in my fingers – icy tingling  (poss. from deigh, jay – ice)

Bucags in your hair – nits, lice (source of shame). (poss. from bùc, boochk – a bulge > bùcag – a little bulge; or from bògas – a bug)

scràb – scratch; if itchy you’d be scràb-ing.  (sgrab –scratch)

Speilac – splinter  (spealg, spellac), which you might get in your

Creenie – wee finger  – Scots, from Gaelic crìon – diminutive.

Tawin – backside (tòn – tawn).

Boug – belly  (baghan – approx. buggan – pot belly)

quite a few snatachs!

This month I’ve picked out a batch of Seaboard words connected to the shore, boats and fishing. (Thanks as usual to all the many contributors!) The vast majority are from Gaelic, as usual, even though local pronunciation often varies from that given in dictionaries. I haven’t been able to track down the roots of one or two, so any help with these would be appreciated. And I’m no expert on technical terms for boat parts etc, despite the best efforts of Bruce and Hugh, so please excuse (and correct) any inaccuracies! Please send any further contributions on this or any other subject to me, or just hand them in to the Hall.

Before I forget, I have also left in the Hall office a reference copy of a new booklet just published by Seòsamh Watson, the Irish professor who conducted interviews and research on Gaelic in the Villages over several years, especially with Bell Ann and Dolly. The booklet is called Boats, Bibles and Boyans, and is a collection of some of Seòsamh’s articles on the Seaboard, especially Gaelic-related. (Mìle taing to him for sending that on.)  Do ask there if you’re interested in seeing it.  A few people have their own copies, so would maybe lend them out. I don’t think the book is commercially available just now.


Cladach – coastline, shore

-mara – of the sea, of the tide (muir = sea), e.g. eun-mara – seabird; làn-mara – full/high tide; muc-mhara – a whale (sea pig!); maighdeann-mhara – mermaid.

Taigh na Mara – Sea House; Sùil na Mara – Eye of the Sea / gateway to the sea

Stralyach  =stràilleach – pile of seaweed on the shore  (pron. straw-lyach)

tungle – local pronunciation of Eng. /Scots Tangle, large edible seaweed with thick stalk and strap-like fronds

a porsht – a wee landing place. Gaelic: port, pron. porsht, a port or landing-place

gannach meen = gainmheach mìn, fine sand (pron. ganyach meen)

There’s a big suik on today – a big swell. Scots souk = suck, Gaelic sùghadh (soo-ugh)– a sucking, swell, the motion of the sea

Maighstir-cala – harbourmaster

Boat parts

Kennacracken /  Ceann a’ chrataich – seat end support in boat (top end of curved beam running up inside side of boat under seat)  G: ceann – head, top, end; cratach – back or side of a person.

Mash-crosh / mais-crois – footboard when rowing. G: maide-crois. maide – wood, stick, beam; crois – crutch or cross (match-eh-crosh)

Thaft – seat across coble (  G. tobhta, pron. approx.. tofta, Eng./Scots Taft or thaft = thwart, rower’s bench)

Jalup – pin for the oars.   G: dealg – pin, wire, skewer (pron. jalluk)

Rollack – rowlock.  G: rolag

Tallip – rowlock   G: talb – protuberance; rowlock (pron. tallup)


Pockan-mor = pocan-mara – the sea-bag, a cloth bag with the fisherman’s food for the trip.

Croick – a stand for a creel.  Croich; gallows, cross

Dreichie – a small boat-anchor  (no origin found)

Cleep /cleap / clape = Gaelic: clip (pron. cleep) – a hand-hook or gaffe for bringing in larger fish, lobsters or even a net.

Clye / clie – a creel, lobster-pot. Local pronunciation of Gaelic cliabh (clee-av)

Boicho the line – baiting . G: biathadh, pron. bee-ach-ugh or bee-ach-oo.

Raku the line– redd, clean, disentangle.   Possibly from G: ràcadh – raking; or racadh, a variant of sracadh – ripping, cutting apart; or even rèitich – redding

Plàtach – rush mat for placing the line on while baiting etc. G: plàt – woven material from rushes or straw

Bothan, pron. bo-an or bo-han, a shed or bothy, e.g. for storing nets or for smoking fish.

Strachail, strachu – a jerk or tug, e.g. when a fish was on the line, or a pull or rip in a jumper or net. Probably from Gaelic: streachail – lacerate; sracadh – tear (pron. sdrach-ugh/oo)

Kaip /caib / ceap – spade for digging lug.  G: caibe – spade, mattock

Biarst / bearst – a square frame round which a handline was wound.  G: beairt, pron. byarsht – generally equipment or tackle, or a contraption, frame. Beairt-iasgaich – fishing tackle; beairt-fhighe – a loom.

Scountack / scountag – a (short?) fishing line. “Baiting the scountag”, “I’m going to put out the scountag”. No definite origin found so far but a very common Seaboard word.  Possible connections to Gaelic sgann – membrane (skown); or busgainte – baited (boos-kantch-eh)

Did you catch anything? Nothing but the gorst! (i.e. no fish at all).  G: gort, pron. gorsht – famine.

Gaelic phrases in Seaboard English

I’ve been looking at the Seaboard use of individual Gaelic words when speaking English in different contexts up to now – fishing, describing people, and there are plenty more of these to come. But there are also a lot of complete Gaelic phrases and expressions that have been used within living memory, and even today – conversational exchanges, exclamations, commands etc.  Quite a number of Seaboard folk have contributed to this particular list, some anonymously – mòran taing, as usual!

I’ll write the Gaelic first in this case, then the meaning, and then the Seaboard pronunciations I’ve been given or heard myself, which are often compressed, and clearly local variations.

Questions and answers

Ciamar a tha thu? How are you? Kimmer a ha oo?

Ciamar a tha sibh? How are you? (polite or plural form) Kimmer a ha shoo/shio?

Tha gu math – fine.  Ha gih ma

Tha gu brèagha – great, lovely. Ha gih bree-a

Chan eil ach meadhanach – only middling.  Han yell ach may-nach

Tha mi sgìth – I’m tired.  Ha mi skee

Tha mi marbh – I’m dead (e.g. exhausted after lifting taties) Ha mi mar-oo

Tha mi fann – I’m feeling feeble.  Ha mi fyoun

Tha creath-fuachd orm – I’m shivering with the cold (“There’s a shiver of cold on me”)  Ha creh-foo-achk orrum..

Cò tha ann? Who’s there? (“Who’s in it?”)   Co ha oun?

Am beil thu staigh? Are you in/inside? Am bil oo sty? (Said when a fisherman was knocking on the window of a crew-mate’s house in the morning, to make sure he was up)

Càite bheil X? Where’s X? Caatcha vil X?

Dè an uair a th’ ann?  What’s the time? (“What’s the hour that’s in it?”) Jay an oo-ar a houn?

Gu dè tha siud? What’s that? Kih-day a shoot?

Chan eil fhios agams’.  I don’t know. (“There’s no knowledge at me.”) Han yell iss a-mus.

Exclamations and commands

O Thighearn’! Oh Lord, Good God, Oh my God – seen as very strong, rather blasphemous.  O hi-urn!

Thighearn’ fhèin! Even stronger – Oh Lord yourself!  Hi-urn hayn!

O Thì! Oh dear! (literally Oh Jesus, but for some reason not as frowned upon as O Thighearn’).  O hi!

Mo thruaghan mise! Woe is me!  Mo roo-an meesh!

Smaoinich! Just think! Imagine! Smih-neech

Coimhead air a sin!  Look at that!  Ket er a sheen!

An seall thu air/e! Will you look at it/him/that!  (An) sholl oo a!

Greas ort! Get a move on! (“Hurry on you!”)  Gress orsht!

Dèan suidhe! Sit down, take a seat! Jen soo-ie

Cuir stad air! Stop that! Coor stat er!  (My grandfather would say that to misbehaving children)

Cuir dheth e ! Turn it off!  Coor yeh eh!  (My mother remembered a neighbour would shout it when the prized new radio, played in a house with several deaf people, was too loud for him)

Bi sàmhach! Be quiet!  Bi so-ach!  (very local pronunciation, instead of the more common saa-vach). “Dòmhnull Sàmhach” was an imaginary figure who came to send children to sleep, and here that was pronounced Dole So-ach.

Dùin an doras!  Shut the door!  Usually said without the “an” – Dooon doras!  Or one informant told me they remembered “Doon the doras!”

Fosgail an doras! Open the door! Again, usually said without the “an”. Fuskal doras!

Other Gaelic expressions

Ithidh an t-acras rud sam bith – hunger will eat anything, if you’re hungry you’ll not be choosy. Eek a dacaris root sa bi

Gu dearbh! Indeed!  Goo jerra!

Tha mi loisgt’.  I’m burnt, I’ve burnt myself.  Ha mi looshk.

Tha i coma co-dhiù. She’s easy going, couldn’t care less.  Ha i co-ma co-yoo.

Mas fhìor!  allegedly, “Aye right!” (expressing scepticism). Ma-sheer.  Also used as an adjective meaning superficial, not genuine: That’s all masheer! (just showing off),  or even fake:  That’s masheer jewellery.

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! Happy New Year!  Blionna va oor!

Baile a‘ Chnuic. Hilton (“Town of the hill”). Balla-chrink

Seannduaig . Shandwick.  Shoun-dwik

Baile an Todhair. Balintore.  Bal an Dore (with Gaelic initial D, almost a TH)

And as usual, if you have any more, or variations on these listed, please get in touch, e.g. via the Hall. All gratefully received!

A’ bruidhinn mu dhaoine / Talking about people

My maternal grandparents
Link to pictures of Seaboard folk from our Seaboard History site.

I’ve amassed a huge number of words describing people, or used to address people. Many of them came up again and again, from sources old and young, including ones I collected over the years from those no longer with us. That shows that the words and expressions clearly were, and in some cases still are, well-used.  As ever, many thanks to all who have helped with this. Keep them coming!

The “Seaboard words” are given as spelled / pronounced to me or written down by contributors, so usually are roughly phonetic – locals should recognise them. The Gaelic words are given in brackets, their approximate pronunciation in italics.   In Gaelic, and in the Seaboard words that come from Gaelic, the first syllable is always stressed (and on the Seaboard often lengthened) e.g. spàgach, splay-footed = SPAA-cach.

1.The young

Bumalair – a big male child, careering around; a very big baby. What a bumalair! Also someone who messes up a job. (bumalair – bungler, oaf)

A wee eeshan – a naughty child (fairly mild, humorous word). (isean – a young bird, a wee child, esp. a naughty one)

A wee trooster – a mischief, a rascal (stronger word). (trustair – usually a very negative word used for adults – a dirty brute, filthy fellow, but clearly not as strong here)

Sproot – a rascal (maybe related to sprùis – an imp, pron. sprooosh)

Ploachack – a plump little girl or baby, admiringly. (possibly from pluiceach -a plump, chubby-cheeked person; ploiceag– a plump-cheeked woman; pluic = cheek)

Pochan, pockan – small cute person (pocan – small chubby lad; short fellow, pron. poch-can)

2.The old

Bodach, bottach, an old bottach – old man, old granda  (bodach – old man)

Bo-ba – granda (not an “official” Gaelic word, but a common familiar term in at least Shandwick and Balintore)

Cailleach – an old wifie

3.Characteristics, physical features

Spacack, spagach – splay-footed  (casan spàgach – splay feet)

Kervac – left-handed (from cearragach – left-handed, pron. kyarragach; cearrag, a left-hander)

Doikan – a small person (maybe connected to tòican – a small swelling, bump?)


Jeechallach – diligent, hard-working (dicheallach – diligent)

Spatchal – smart (spaideil – smart, pron. spatchal)

spatchack – posh (probably a variant of spaideil)

Ji-shall (pron. JA-ee-shal)  – good, posh (probably from deiseil – ready, prepared; deiseal – sunwise, southward, lucky, prosperous: both pron. jay-shal)

5.Less complimentary (a long section!)

He’s no yolach … he’s not handy at what he’s doing; clueless  (eòlach – knowledgeable)  

Poor gilouris!  Poor soul!  (diolaoiris – object of charity (word recorded in Wick area); related to more common expression dìol-deirce – poor soul, wretch). Interestingly, one contributor’s father applied this term to a gallus youth.

Luspitan – weak, underfed individual (luspardan – dwarf; puny man)

I’m no voting for them – they’re no but greishers – very derogatory term. Probably comes from greis, a spell of time, a while – perhaps in the sense of time-servers, or fly- by-nights? There is also a word greiseachd – enticement, solicitation, so maybe greishers were persuasive speakers with nothing behind it?  I think I’ll adopt this as my new term for politicians…

I’m in luperique – clothes or hands in a mess, e.g. if you spilled something on yourself or someone else. (Probably from (s)lupraich – slurping, wallowing, splashing, or possibly(s)luidearachd, slovenliness . The Seaboard sometimes dropped that initial S in words. (Probably because in some grammatical contexts in Gaelic, the S is changed to SH and not pronounced.)

Emmitchach -foolish (amaideach – foolish, pron. amajach)

Gorach – daft  (gòrach – foolish)

Him, he hasn’t moochoo! He has no sense. (mothachadh –perception, awareness. Pron. mo-a-chugh or mo-a-choo)

In or on the artan – on your high horse, angry. (àrdan – arrogance, haughtiness; height, prominence)

Prawshal– stuck-up  ( pròiseil – proud, pron. praw-shal)

Hanyel e gleek – he’s no wise (chan eil e glic)

Putting on the sglo – sweet-talking, buttering up. (sgleò – sheen, misting over; idle speech, verbiage.)

Beeallach – two-faced, untrustworthy  (beul=mouth > beulach -smooth-talking, plausible, pron. bee-a-lach)

Glacker – person speaking foolishly (glacaire – a blusterer)

Awshach – a foolish woman  (òinseach – female fool)  – heard in Inver

Keolar – peculiar (ceòlar – peculiar, eccentric)

Glaikit – daft . (Old Scots, probably related to Gaelic gloic – a fool, gloiceach – foolish)


Maytal – dear, pet  (m’ eudail – my dear, pron. may-tal)

Brogach, a term of endearment for a wee boy  (brogach – a sturdy lad)

Moolie – pet, darling (to a child)  (m’ ulaidh – my treasure)

Ma geul – my love (mo ghaol)


If I lift my drochnadar… – if I lose my temper, look out! (droch nàdar – bad temper)

Fyown – feeble, feeling flat, dispirited, faint. (fann – weak, faint, pron. fown, or feann, shortening, diminishing, pron. fyown)

Rohpach – feeling ropach – rough (ropach – in poor condition, scruffy, pron. roppach; ròpach – tangled, untidy, pron. roh-pach)

Brohnach – sad (brònach)

In a stoorsht – in a huff, in a fit of pique (stuirt – huffiness, pron. stoorsht)

Have a boos on you – sulk, pout (bus -pout, pron. booss)

Boossoch – grumpy (busach)

Seaboard fish

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who has given me their Seaboard words and phrases since my appeal last month. The response has been amazing, especially at the Fisherfolk Festival dinner, and while I was on duty in the Fishing Store.  There are far too many names to mention everyone, and lots of words came in anonymously, or I didn’t get everyone’s names, but the longest lists (so far!) came from Hugh Skinner, Anne Barclay, Jean Mackenzie, and (to my delight) the table of young people at the dinner: Tore, Jamie,Peter, Stina, Julie, Keith.  So special thanks to them, and hope that will urge others to come up with more! 😊

It will take me quite a while to sort them all out, try to figure out the Gaelic spellings and look them up in my various sources, and record them more systematically. I’ll also combine them with my own memories and copious notes taken from my late mother Hansy and Katie Ross and others over the years.  But I thought I should get a few into this Fisherfolk Festival edition of the Seaboard News, so here’s a selection of fish for you!

Do get back to me if you have other local words and phrases (on any subject), past or present, and of course to comment on this batch, or add to it. Hand in anything to the Hall for me (spelling it just as you would say it).

Further selections to follow in the future.

Everyone’s favourite fish name – the mourcan (Gaelic murcan, pron. moorcan), a lumpfish or lumpsucker. The female mourcan (“even uglier”!) seems to have been called a paddle. This word was also used in Fife, according to the Scots Dictionary, so presumably a Scots term, not Gaelic.

The juntack or jintack – all agreed it’s a spiny fish that lurks in the sand in the shallows (Don’t step on any jintacks! my mother used to warn us), but various suggestions for what it is in English, incl. angler-fish, monkfish and weever fish. From Gaelic dionntag (pron. juntack), meaning both stinging nettle and lesser weever, but it may be used differently here.

Sellack – tiddler, very small shoreline fish. Probably from sgiolag, sgiollag – pron. skiollak, skullag – small fish, minnow, also sand-eel.

Sooyan – saithe   (saoidhean, 2 – 3 year old saithe)

Pelaig, paillac – porpoise  (peileag, pron. pay-lak – porpoise)

Porstan – small crab   G. portan, partan pron. porstan, parstan – (green) shore crab. From port, pron. porst, with -an, a diminutive ending: “a wee port creature”.

Spog / spawg – crab claw. G. spòg – claw. A small claw was a spògan.

Plashack – “a good fluke with spots”; plaice.   No Gaelic word like that found for any flat fish, though I know the word well myself for a plaice. Plaiseadh (pron plash-ugh) = splashing – maybe it splashed about if disturbed?  OR it’s a Gaelicisation of the word plaice, with a diminutive ending (-ag) – “a plaicie”.

Gealach –  “a bad fluke”. Again, not found in this context. Gealach (gyallach) = anything white or whitish (geal=white), but also the moon.  Were they pale / spotless, moonlike, or did they turn that way when caught? There is a word gealag (gyallak), found in my 1828 dictionary, meaning a white trout or salmon trout, but that’s not the same thing.

Leopach – flounder (Hilton and Balintore, not Shandwick?) – leòbag , lyoh-pak – any flat fish, esp. flounder or sole

Garvie – sprat, small herring.  G. garbhag pron. garra-vak – small herring (also plaice, spotted flounder, but seemingly not in the Villages)

Sannel – sand-eel (Scots)

Trollachan, troilleachan – squid (Bruce), or catfish, anglerfish (others)  Gaelic stròilleachan, squid – we must have lost the S locally.  My mother said her impression of it as a child was that it was an unspecified sea-creature you didn’t want to meet – the fishermen weren’t keen on it.  Maybe no sales or use for squid back then?

Eskan, aiskeen – conger eel  G. easgann, pron. eskan or ayskan – eel

Gimmach –lobster  G. giomach – pron. gimmach

“Coo-ee-chack” – whiting G. cuiteag

Cat-a-chreig – catfish  (literally “rock cat”)

Kerapan – basking shark.  G. cearban (kyer-a-pan) or carban (kar-a-pan)

Strangely enough, no words for salmon, herring or haddock came up (though I didn’t ask specifically, as so many words were coming in). The most common Gaelic for those is bradan, sgadan and adag.  Any of these familiar? Or alternatives? I recall sgadan from my childhood. Haddock, as far as I recall, was just haddie. Salmon was just “a fish” – never named.  “Have you got a bittie fish for me?” Superstition? Diplomacy?

The salmon fishing was canerack: “When you starting the canerack?” G. càinearachd, pron. kaan-er-ochk, from càinear, a salmon-fisher – seems to be a Ross-shire word (also W. Ross). Cainreach pron. kaneroch, is a small trout, but the words for trout and salmon are often interchanged regionally.

I’ll leave you with one of my main sources, Dwelly’s dictionary (1911), on the sooyan:


-ein, -an, sm The coalfish, saithe (pollachius virens). Named according to its age as follows:—1st year, Sìol or sìolagan.2nd year, Cudaig, cudainn or saoidhean.3rd year, Smalag, cuideanach or saoidhean.4th year, Saoidhean or piocach.5th year, Saoidhean-dubh or saoidhean-mór.6th year, Ucsa or ugsa. [1st year, Cudaig; 2nd year, Smalag; 3rd year, Saoidhean; 4th year, Saoidhean-mór; after 4th year, Ucas — Lewis, (DMy)]. Bu mhath a’ chudaig far nach faighte an saoidhean, the cuddy is good when no saithe can be got. The young saithe is called cuddy in some parts of Scotland and podly in others. It is sillock in Shetland. Raasay people are nicknamed “na saoitheanan.”

Fàilte chridheil oirbh uile!  A very warm welcome to you all!

Fritilean Ceann-nathrach / Snake’s head fritillary

Bha e riamh na iongnadh dhomh mar a chruthaicheas nàdar lus ball-breacte mar chlàr-tàileisg – chan eil mi eòlach air fear sam bith ach an fhritilean cheann-nathrach. Chunnaic mi a’ chiad uair e ann an dath-uisge le Charles Rennie Mackinosh , agus is esan aon de na lusan as roghnaiche leam o sin a-mach. Cheannaich mi poit bheag dhiubh trì bliadhna air ais agus chuir mi ann an tuba sa ghàrradh iad. Bho ach còig no sìa cinn, dh’fhàs iad (gun chùram sònraichte) gu 17 san eadar-àm, cuid dhiubh air an sìolachadh ann am badan eile.

Rinn mi beagan rannsachaidh. Leis gun robh mi a’ creidsinn gur e lus ainneamh deòranta a bh’ ann, chuir e iongnadh orm faighinn a-mach gur e diùlnach faichean-feòir Bhreatainn a bh’ ann. Bhiodh e ri fhaicinn fad is farsaing gu sònraichte ann an Sasainn a deas, m.e. ri taobh an Thames, agus rachadh a reic le clann ann an sràidean Lunnainn.

Sgaoilidh an lus tro a shìol, mura bi an fhaiche air a buain aig àm blàthachaidh, agus tro a mheacanan. ‘S fheàrr leis talamh tais. Le trìall nan dòighean-tuathanasachd traidiseanta agus treabhadh nan seann fhaichean, rud a mhilleas na meacanan, tha e air fàs fada nas ainneimhe. Gu fortanach tha làraichean ann a-nis ann an Sasainn a deas, fo dhìon Urras an Fhiadh-bheatha, ann an tearmannan nàdair ionadail, m.e Clattinger Farm agus North Meadow Cricklade, agus bha caraid agam an sin a chuir dealbhan thugam.

Bha mi a’ smaoineachadh cuideachd nach biodh lus mar sin freagarrach dhan aimsir againne cho fada gu tuath, taobh a-muigh a’ ghàrraidh co-dhiù, ach bha mi fada ceàrr a-rithist. Tha e na fhlùr oifigeil de mhòr-roinn Uppland, anns an t-Suain, agus fàsaidh e gu soirbheachail taobh a-muigh Uppsala air Faiche an Rìgh, far an d’fhuair e ainm Suaineach, kungsängslilja.  Mar sin tha mi beò an dòchas gun urrainn dhaibh a bhith air an stèidheachadh, latha air choireigin, ann an Ros an Ear torrach againn cuideachd.  Nach eil ùidh sam bith aig tuathanaich no buidhnean coimhearsnachd ann am faiche-fheòir thraidiseanta?


It has always fascinated me how nature can produce a checked plant – the snake’s head fritillary is the only one I have come across.  I first saw it in a reproduction of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh water-colour, and it has been a favourite ever since. 3 years ago I bought a small pot of it and planted it in a tub in my garden. From 5 or 6 heads, it has now (without special care) grown to 17, several seeded into other tubs.

I did a wee bit of research into it.  Having always thought of it as a rare, exotic plant, I was surprised to find it was for centuries a stalwart of British hay-meadows. It was particularly widespread in southern England, for example by the Thames, and would be sold by children in the streets of London.

The plants spreads via its seeds, if the meadow is left unmown in the flowering period, and its bulbs. It prefers damp ground. With the demise of traditional farming methods and the ploughing up of the old meadows, which destroys the bulbs, it has become much rarer. Fortunately some sites in southern England are now protected by the Wildlife Trust in local nature reserves, e.g. Clattinger Farm, and North Meadow Cricklade, and a friend of mine who has been there has sent me photos.

I had also thought it would not be suited to our northern climate, outside a garden anyway, but I was far wrong again. I learnt that it is actually the national flower of the province Uppland in Sweden, and grows successfully on the King’s Meadow outside Uppsala, hence its Swedish name kungsängslilja :  So I live in hope that it can maybe one day also be established in our fertile Easter Ross – any farmers or community groups interested in a traditional hay meadow?

Dealbhan fhaichean (1,3) le ©JDatchens, le tàing, an fheadhainn eile leam fhìn / meadow photos (1,3) by  ©JDatchens, with thanks, otherwise my own