Township: Balephuil

Map Reference: Balephuil 300

Name Type: township

Meaning: The name Baile Phuill may appear straightforward but it remains somewhat enigmatic. The forms Balequhoill and Balifulzie are difficult to reconcile with the head name or modern pronunciation, and could be regarded as scribal errors; Ballefulye is possibly an attempt to represent the palatalised final /l/. The name is certainly unusual, not being found elsewhere in Scotland (SP). Although ScG poll is a common generic among Gaelic names elsewhere in Scotland, as in Airidh a’ Phuill in Lochs, Lewis (SP), in all cases the OS collected a form including the definite article a’. However, ‘the [Tiree] loch was locally called Loch Phuill, and not Loch a’ Phuill as we see on maps [e.g. 1878 OS 6 inch first edition]. On that analogy Baile Phuill is preferable to Bail’ a’ Phuill’ (Ailean Boyd, pers. comm.). The name has often been translated as ScG baile a’ phuill ‘the town of the mud or mire’ (e.g. Brownlie 1995, 82). This is topographically unlikely, and Boyd has argued that, ‘various theories have been put forward as to the derivation of the name, none of which can be regarded with any degree of credence. Where such a poll ‘mire or marsh’ actually was is very much open to speculation, and it is hardly credible that this township should have more poll or mud than any other in Tiree, [or] that it should be named after such a phenomenon’ (Ailean Boyd, pers. comm.).
However, ScG poll (genitive puill) may have had a broader landscape meaning in the past. Dwelly lists, ‘hole, pit; mire, mud, bog; pond, pool; deep, stagnant water; dark and deep part of any stream; wet, miry meadow’. The word derives from EG poll ‘hole, mud’ (MacBain). The ON pollr ‘pool; little round bay or fjord bottom’ (Cox 2002b, 349) may have influenced local usage. Poll is a common specific in Gaelic names on Tiree, occurring thirty seven times. Often the name describes a shoreline depression, as in ScG Am Poll Leathann ‘the broad pool’ in Balevullin; but it can also mean a small marine pool, as in ScG Poll na Cleite Dhuibhe ‘the pool of the black rock’ off Mithealum; or a peat moss, as in ScG Poll na Dùcha ‘pool of Dùcha (a nickname)’ in Milton.
A possible source of this name is the large fresh water loch called today Loch Phuill, rather than Loch Bhaile Phuill. There is a creation myth for this loch involving the Cailleach Bheur, a sinister character who appears in numerous traditions in Ireland and Scotland (Grant 1925, 4). A stone ruin at the lochside is called ScG Tobhta na Cailleich Bheur ‘the ruin of Cailleach Bheur’. In this tradition the Cailleach forgets to replace the stone over her well that then overflows to create the loch. A similar story explains the creation of Loch Awe near Oban. The Rev John Gregorson Campbell collected a rhyme about the Cailleach Bheur on Tiree: ‘Little sharp old wife, tell me your age’ / [The Cailleach replied] ‘I saw the seal-haunted Skerryvore / When it was a mighty power / When they ploughed it, if I’m right / And sharp and juicy was its barley. / I saw the Loch at Balephuil / When it was a little round well / Where my child was drowned / Sitting in its circular chair’ (Campbell 1914, 413). A similar fragment has been collected more recently: ‘Chunnaic mi Loch Phuill mar thobar beag cruinn, agus Sgeir Mhòr nan Ròn fo eòrna breac gorm [I saw Loch Phuill as a small round well, and Skerryvore of the seals covered with dappled green barley]’ (David McClounnan, Balephuil, oral source). Although Loch Phuill is generally shallow, it does contain one deeper pool in the northern part of the loch. This is known today as ScG An Rabhagach ‘weeds growing at the bottom of water’ (Dwelly; William MacLean, Balinoe, 1/1994, oral source). It is possible that this was the ‘deep stagnant water’ after which Baile Phuill was named.
Another possibility is the uncommon Hebridean male personal name Fugl. This is known from a tenth century Iona gravestone, the Orkneyinga Saga, and from a 1257 Manx charter; the evidence shows that it was a high status name (Jennings 1991). The man’s name derives from ON fugl (the older form fogl, genitive plural fugla) ‘bird’ (CV, 177). Fugl is pronounced today, ‘in most Norwegian dialects as /fug:el/; a retained /g/ is to be expected in ON, but on the other hand, it is lost in some words in Orkney Norn. There is a north-south distinction in Old Scandinavian [the language that preceded Old Norse], and there are several examples of ‘southern’ features in Scottish Norse. The /fu:l/ [as in the English ‘fool’] development of fugl or Fugl (personal name) is definitely possible’ (Berit Sandnes, pers. comm.). The Shetland island of Foula is reconstructed from ON Fugla-ey ‘the island of birds’ (Fule, 1654 Blaeu); there is a Fogla Vord in Walls and a Foula Wick in Delting, Shetland (SP). The personal name Fugl has not, however, been identified so far in other place-names (Andrew Jennings, pers. comm.).
A phonologically less likely reconstruction uses the personal name Pòl ‘Paul’, as in Rubha Phòil ‘Paul’s headland’ in Armadale, Skye, or Baile Phóil ‘Paulstown’ near Kilkenny in Ireland. Three other Tiree baile names contain personal names as the specific: Baile Phèadrais, Baile Mhàrtainn and Baile Mhic Eotha. Lochs with personal names are also not uncommon, and include Loch Mhurchaidh on Lewis (Cox 2002b, 328) and Loch Ciaran in Kintyre (SP).
Baile Phuill may also derive from the ScG loan word fadhail fem. ‘extensive beach; hollow in the sand, formed by and retaining water, after the egress of the tide; ford, space between islands when rendered passable on foot through the tide receding’ (Dwelly) < ON vaðill. A later Gaelic construction would produce Baile na Fadhalach but earlier Gaelic names may show gender anomaly. There is a Loch Faodhail on Lismore (SP).

Other Forms: Balefuil - The map MVLA INSVLA in the Atlas of Scotland, Atlas Novus, by Joan Blaeu, 1654. These maps were largely based on work by Timothy Pont who mapped Scotland between 1583 and 1596. NLS, 123.

Balephuill - Tiree Rental 1747.

Balephuill - The Turnbull Map of Tiree 1768 and accompanying survey text.

Ballafuil - Typed List of Inhabitants of Tyree and their Age in September 1779.
Taken from an unknown publication, 1998.201.1

Balephuil - Argyll Estate Instructions, ed. Eric Cregeen, Scottish History Society, 1964

Balephuil is known as Baile nam Bàrd, 'the Village of the Poets'. And little wonder, for there were over thirty villagers who practised the art of versifying in the 19th century - Bailtean is Ath-Ghairmean, Niall M Brownlie, Argyll Publishing, 1995, p86.

The township has connections with the evangelical movement, particularly the Baptist church as a result of which it was also known as 'Baile nan Gràs', the Township of Grace - Prof Donald Meek.

Holy City - SA 1969/165/A1d

"The Loch" was locally called "Loch Phuill" (or more locally as simply "An Loch") and not "Loch a' Phuill" as we see on maps, etc, etc. On that analogy, Baile Phuill is preferable to Bail' a' Phuill. Whatever the original "poll" was is open to much speculation - Ailean Boyd, Baile Phuill, 3/2015


Related Places:

Information:The township’s name seems easier than most - town of the pool, or mud as it is sometimes translated.
What about Loch a’ Phuill then? The oldest map we have dates from 1654. This has Loch Fuil and you do hear some people in the township calling it Loch Phuill rather than the commoner Loch a’ Phuill. This loch has its own legend. On its north shore there is a ruin which Donald MacNeill (Dòmhnall an Tàilleir), who was brought up in the Land, called Tobhta na Cailliche Bheur, the ruined house of the old woman of Beare. This Cailleach appears in legends around Argyll and Ireland as what you might call the witch of the winter. The Tiree story goes that the old woman had a nearby well which she had to cover every night. One night she forgot to do this and the well overflowed and the result was Loch a’ Phuill. And if you go to the display at Cruachan power station you will see exactly the same story about the same Cailleach, a well on Ben Cruachan and the formation of Loch Awe.
David McClounnan, Balephuil, told me this rhyme. Chunnaic mi Loch a' Phuill mar thobar beag cruinn agus Sgeir Mhòr nan Ròn fo eòrna breac gorm [I saw Loch a' Phuill as a small round well and Skerryvore covered with dappled green barley]. And Willie MacLean, Barrapol, told me the loch is generally a shallow one. But there is one area, called An Rabhagach, which he measured at 18 feet with a pole. The Gaelic dictionary Dwelly translates this as “weeds growing at the bottom of water.
Balephuil beach, Tràigh Bhì, and the stream between the loch and the beach, Abhainn Bhì, are thought to take their name from an Irish saint, MoBhì who is said to have founded the monastery at Glasnevin, now part of Dublin, around 500 AD. There is also a church dedicated to him at Kilmovee, County Mayo, Ireland. In the 1960s and 70s the Tiree Baptist Church did their baptisms at the bridge by the modern pump house after damming the flow of water to make the water deeper.
There are two parts to the township. The Sliabh, a word usually used on Tiree for moor land, is actually a row of crofts down the small side road below Reagan’s Golf Ball, as it was sometimes called when it was built. Going back a hundred years, Lachlan MacQuarrie took over the new sheep farm which combined both East and West Hynish. He had come to Tiree as the estate’s ground officer in Heylipol, but the 1871 Census shows him in Hynish as a farmer of 900 acres, and by 1881 he was farming 1200 acres and employing three men and one woman. He cleared the crofters from the west side of the farm and they were relocated around 1870 into a square of new houses, Am Bail’ Ùr, the new town.
Am Bail’ Ùr was also sometimes called Bail’ a' Ghràis, the town of Grace, because of the number of inhabitants who had converted to the Baptist Church. But it was more commonly called Baile nam Bàrd, the town of poets. Dòmhnall Chaluim Bàin, Donald Sinclair, told this story.
Of course at one time this very township that we're in here, they were the wittiest people on the island of Tiree. And there were so many poets among them. There were sixteen poets in Balephuil at one time. But no wonder they were witty when they would sit together at night. A song was composed in five minutes. Aye, you would make your own verse, and I would make a verse and inside five minutes the song was completed. They were all poets. That's why Balephuil over there is called 'the town of the poets', Baile nam Bàrd (see the Tobar an Dualchais website for more).
Towards the sea is An Sràid Ruadh, the red street, set out at the same time as the Bail’ Ùr. At the beach end of this the artist Duncan MacGregor Whyte (1866-1953) from Oban built a studio. He had travelled in Canada and Australia as a young man and when he was on the island in the summer he painted a number of Tiree scenes. He always wore a kilt and was a great enthusiast for Gaelic. One evening he was ceilidhing in Taigh a’ Ghreusaiche, the house of the shoemaker, and whenever someone used an English word he would tell them off. He was telling a story himself containing the phrase “Ghabh i cupa ti” [she took a cup of tea]. Niall Eachainn MacDonald from the Sliabh, said, quick as a flash, “Bu choir dhuit sùgh duilleagan Insinneach ag radh” [you should say the juice of the leaves of India].
A favourite spot for many in the township is a hollow on the east side of Ben Hynish called Glac nan Smeur, the hollow of the berries. Honeysuckle, wild roses and dwarf willows grow in the shelter of the hill. It is the first place in spring on Tiree where you will hear the cuckoo calling. At its foot is a curious square of hawthorn trees, now almost dead from old age. A number of sources say that it was used for preaching at one time, and even St Columba is said to have used it. The factor McLaurin was also said to have had a house there. These ‘trees’ have given rise to the name of the field below them, Pàirc na Coille, the field of the forest.
Tantalisingly, part of the boundary wall between Balemartine and Balephuil next to this is called Gàrradh Shorobaidh, the boundary of Soroby. Who may well have had his monastery at Soroby? St Columba. But that’s enough speculation about Irish saints!
Dr John Holliday.

Various theories have been put forward as to the derivation of the name Baile Phuill, none of which can be regarded with any degree of credence. Where such a poll (genitive puill), or mire or marsh, actually was is very much open to speculation, and it is hardly credible that this township should have more poll or mud than any other in Tiree that it should be named after such a phenomenon! One is tempted to come to the conclusion that Baile Phuill was originally a name from Old Norse which has received a Gaelic complexion which conveniently falls in with the numerous other baile names throughout the western half of the island. Could it be that Baile Phuill, which would appear to be semantically unintelligible, is actually the Old Norse name of the adjacent township of Barrapol with a Gaelic “dressing up”? It is also of note that Balephuil Bay was in former times known as Barrapol Bay. The spelling of Baile Phuilll is preferable to Bail’ a’ Phuill as it tallies with Loch Phuill as it is heard in local pronunciation (not Loch a’ Phuill). Again Loch Phuill does not ring true with Gaelic nomenclature which, all in all, points to a non-Gaelic derivation for the names Baile Phuill and Loch Phuill. Ailean Boyd, 1/2012.

The Gaelic Otherworld, ed Ronald Black, Birlinn, p 42 (and 41):

Fairies Stealing women and Children
The machair (or links) adjoining the hill of Kennavara, the extreme south-west point of Tiree, is after sunset one of the most solitary and weird places conceivable. The hill on its northern side, facing Skerryvore lighthouse twelve miles off, consistes of precipices descending sheer down for upwards of a hundred feet, with frightful chasms where countless sea-birds make their nests, and at the base of which the Atlantic rolls with an incessant noise, which becomes deafening in bad weather. The hill juts into the sea, and the coast, from each side of its inner end, trends away in beaches which – like all the beaches on the island – have after nightfall, from their whiteness and loneliness, a strange and ghostly look.
On the landward side, the level country stretches in a low dark line towards the horizon; little is to be seen, and the stillness is unbroken, save by the sound of the surf rolling on the beach and thundering in the chasms of the hill. It is not, therefore, wonderful that these links should be haunted by the Fairies, or the timid wayfarer there meet the big black Elfin dog prowling among the sand-banks, hear its unearthly baying in the stormy night wind, and in the uncertain light and the squattering of wildfowl, hear in the wintry pools the banshi washing the garments of those soon to die.
Some seventy or eighty years ago the herdsman who had charge of the cattle on this pasture went to a marriage in the neighbouring village of Balephuil (‘Mud-town’), leaving his mother and a young child alone in the house. The night was wild and stormy; there was heavy rain, and every pool and stream was more than ordinarily swollen. His mother sat waiting his return, and two women – whom she knew to be Fairies – came to steal the child.
The stood between the outer and inner doors and were so tall their heads appeared above the partition beam. One was taller than the other. They were accompanied by a dog, and stood one on each side, having a hold of an ear and scratching it. Some say there was a crowd of ‘little people’ behind to assist in taking the child away. For security the woman placed it between herself and the fire, but her precautions were not quite successful. From that night the child was slightly fatuous, ‘a half idiot’ (leth òinseach). The old woman, it is said, had second sight.

Page 45
Kindness To A Neglected Child
The Elves sometimes took care of neglected children. Te her who tendered the Balephuill cattle on Heynish Hill sat down one day on a green eminence (cnoc) in the hill which had the reputation of being tenanted by the Fairies. His son, a young child, was along with him.
He fell asleep, and he awoke the child was away. He roused himself, and vowed aloud that unless his boy was restored he would not leave a stone or clod of the hillock together.
A voice from underground answered that the child was safe at home with its mother, and they (the ‘people’) had taken it lest it should come to harm with the cold.

Page 56
A herdsman at Balephuill, in the west end of Tiree, fell asleep on Cnoc Ghrianal, at the eastern base of Heynish Hill, on a fine summer afternoon. He was awakened by a violent slap on the ear. On rubbing his eyes and looking up, he saw a woman – the most beautiful he had ever seen – in a green dress, with a brooch fastening it at the neck, walking away from him. She went westward and he followed her for some distance, but she vanished, he could not tell how.

Page 71
A strong man named Dugald Campbell was one night, about the end of last century, watching the cattle on the farm of Baile Phuill, in the west of Tiree. (Not 230) A little red cow came among the herd and was attacked by other cows. It fled and they followed. Dugald also set off in pursuit. Sometimes the little red cow seemed near, sometimes far away. At last it entered the face of a rock, and one of the other cows followed and was never again seen. The whole herd would have followed had not Dugald intercepted them.


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Languages : Gaelic