Gaelic Word of the Week – East Lothian – Lodainn an Ear


Each week publish our Gaelic Word of the Week podcast which you can listen to at the link above. Here on the blog we add some extra facts, figures and photos for Gaelic learners who want to learn a little about the language and about the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. This week we continue looking at the Parliamentary constituencies and regions, this week with East Lothian – Lodainn an Ear.

This week we continue with the our series on Scottish Parliament constituency names with a trip to East Lothain – Lodainn an Ear. 

Gaelic place-names are thinner on the ground in this area than they are in other parts of Scotland – Alba – but there are still more than enough for us to look at!  

Map of some Gaelic names in East Lothian published with permission of Ainmean-àite na h-Alba. NB – this is a map of the East Lothian council area with which the constituency is not identical.

People who regularly travel by train may well recognise the name of Drem station where the line to North Berwick – Bearaig a Tuath – splits from the east coast main line which goes on to such places as Newcastle – An Caisteal Nuadh, and London – Lunnainn

Did you know that Drem is a Gaelic name? It comes from the word Druim which means ridge or backbone. It also features in the name Drum in Kinrosshire, Drumnadrochit – Druim na Drochaid in Invernesshire (meaning “the ridge of the bridge”) and Taigh an Droma – Tyndrum in the Stirling council area which means “the house on the ridge”.   

Another Gaelic name is Gullane – A’ Ghualainn – meaning shoulder. If you look at the town on the map, the coastline certainly has a shoulderline shape!  

The Bass Rock, East Lothian – Lodainn an Ear

East Lothian – Lodainn an Ear – is famous for many things including castles – caistealan.  As it says on the boundary signs, it was also the birthplace of Scotland’s flag – bratach. In Gaelic the saltire, or St Andrews cross is called Crann na h-Alba. Crann means mast, cross, plough or beam and was also a word for tree in the past. This has led to the strange coincidence that the biblical word for olive tree – crann ola – is the same as the modern Gaelic for oil rig!  

Those who have studied history may know that an important battle was fought in Prestonpans during the 1745 Jacobite uprising – the Battle of Prestonpans or Battle of Gladsmuir which is known in Gaelic as Blàr Sliabh a’ Chlamhain (The battle of the buzzard’s slope). If you visit the site of the battle, you will see that the signs are bilingual, in recognition that many of the soldiers were Highlanders.  

Regular listeners will recognise the word “dùn” meaning fort and this is the basis of the name Dunbar – Dùn Bàrr– Barr’s fort. Another major town with a Gaelic name is Cockenzie – Cùil Choinnich – Coinneach’s neuk. Like many names and placenames, this would have once been pronounced more like the Gaelic but had a Z sound inserted where people mistook the old Scots letter yough which made a Y sound with the letter Z – the same thing that has changed MacCoinnich to MacKenzie, Menzies (“mingus”) to Menzies and Leanaidh to Lenzie! 

As well as towns with Gaelic names and English names, some of the settlements in East Lothian – Lodainn an Ear – have Brithonnic names such as Tranent and Pentaitland – from the old brythonnic language similar to Welsh which was once spoken in southern Scotland – Alba.  

This week’s Gaelic WoW was written by Alasdair MacCaluim, Gaelic Development Officer, who has a lifelong ambition to set foot on the Bass Rock!