Map of Gaelic Placenames – Version 2!

Featuring: AÀA integration, new NLS map layers, community data…

After the good reception to the Common Gaelic Placenames Map, I was been thinking about ways to improve it. The first iteration was based on Ordnance Survey guide that aimed to highlight the most-common Gaelic words used in placenames throughout Scotland. The main feedback was, “but it doesn’t include ____ and I know that’s a Gaelic name!”. This wasn’t the fairest criticism as this map was merely digitising a dataset showing examples of common Gaelic names, but it did show the public’s desire for a more comprehensive offering. Sprinkle in some new maps behind a comprehensive dataset, and v2 was born, focusing on SE Skye as a proof-of-concept:

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New Data

The original map spawned lots of feedback, pointing me towards a number of other datasets, including local maps of Gaelic names and large place name databases. Although all were very interesting, only one had the potential to add a decent amount of new placenames across the whole of Scotland, and that was the Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba database. I’ve also been pointed towards Gaelic placename directories for Berwickshire, Fife, Applecross and other national directories (see ‘Useful Resources’, below).

New Maps

One of the most popular features of the original map was having access to the (free) Historic Maps API from the National Library for Scotland (NLS). This uses a mixture of different maps at different scales and allows you to hunt for the Gaelic placenames on older maps, which were often made with a survey effort we can only dream of today. There’s also been varying trends of Anglicising Gaelic names, so looking at different maps can be helpful in finding a time when the original placename was used.

Version 2 has lots more mapping to explore! The extra historical map layers are provided as a subscription service, but I got in touch with Chris Fleet at the NLS to see if there were any other free historical maps that could be used for such a project. He was more than helpful, and gave me access to a huge range of maps to use. I went through them and chose a selection that would be particularly useful for searching for placenames: 6 from the Ordnance Survey, 2 from Bartholomew and 2 historical map mixes curated by NLS. The result is a map that lets you see many Gaelic placenames and their meanings, with the ability to pore over some amazing and beautiful maps of Scotland at the same time.

Update, 2022: I originally made this map in 2020, but you know, things got in the way before it got published. Since then the NLS maps have moved to a new service: MapTiler and the code has been updated to point to the new mapping, as well as keeping some of the bespoke mapping I was given access to before. The MapTiler service has a free tier and as such allows you to access 7 new historical map layers (as well as the ‘Historical Map API’ layer from before). In total, there are 5 with decent coverage of Scotland, all of which are available above.

Useful Resources

A few resources I’ve found useful along the way:

Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba
Ordnance Survey Gaelic Origins
NLS Historic Maps API and NLS Subscription API & NLS MapTiler.
Fife Placenames Databse
Berwickshire Placenames Database
Scottish Place-Name Society – Resources
Bartholomew Atlas (1912) – Placenames, digitised from: NLS.

Applecross Map

This is an example of a community-led project to seek the history of Gaelic placenames in a specific region – I’m sure there are more, and I’d be very interested to hear about them. This map is really well-researched, with over 1000 placenames just in Applecross, all meticulously researched:

» source

I’ve taken a subset of this data and explored how the historical mapping can be used to help show some context behind the data. As we’re looking at a localised area in this case, I’ve made a combo layer of the most-detailed OS mapping – overlaying the 1:10,560 (patchy coverage, better detail) onto the 6 Inch maps (better coverage, less detail), as well as keeping in the Seventh Series to show the bigger features and supply a better overview of the area:

In the Applecross data, there were also many places that were recorded as “not being on any maps”, “only on Estate maps” and blanks, so I presented these as a second layer, which can be turned on (but are very unlikely to show up on the historical mapping).

Scotland-Wide Gaelic Map?

This was an exercise in highlighting all the known Gaelic placenames from the AÀA database for a small region. The code could easily be re-run for the national scale, but cooperation and coordination with the data holders would be the way forward. I did start that conversation, but Covid got in the way and it fell off my priorities list.

Common Gaelic Placenames Map (v1)

Finally, the first iteration of this map generated a lot of really interesting chat, shared resources and great feedback, which helped inspire this version. You can revisit that below:

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