Township: Balemartine,Balinoe

Map Reference: Balinoe 71

Name Type: sub-township

Meaning: ON saurr ‘waterlogged ground’, ‘mud, local names Saurar, Saur-bær, especially the latter is frequent in Iceland of sour soil, swampy tracts’ (CV, 515). The land of this settlement, which included today’s Balemartine, stretched to the foot of Beinn Haoidhnis and includes ground that was marshy before the drainage schemes of the late eighteenth century as well as a large expanse of machair. Nicolaisen has proposed Soroby, Tiree, as a name in ON bú or býr ‘farmstead or village’ (Nicolaisen 1976, 101). (For other Hebridean examples of names in býr/bær see Grant, in Gammeltoft et al., 2005, 137.)
‘ON saur-bær ‘mud or swamp village’...was a common name-type applied to any farm with poor soil or adverse conditions’ (Grant, in Gammeltoft et al., 2005, 129). While a Tiree farmer might regard marshy land as inferior, in Iceland this was precisely the prestigious ground targeted by the first settlers in Iceland, where wetlands were the main source of nutritious winter fodder for cattle. ‘In Landnámabók, which is a record of the early Norse settlements in Iceland, we read of a certain Steinolfr who built a homestead there and called it Saurbœ ‘because it was very swampy there’’ (Marwick 1947, 33). ‘As wetlands of this sort are also the type of area least likely to be covered in woods, it is reasonable to assume that it was precisely in these conditions that the earliest farms were established’ (Vésteinsson 1998, 8).
This farm may have been on, or near to, a Columban monastery site. ‘In the case of the Icelandic instances, Guðmundsson has postulated that there may be a connection between *saur-bœr names and sacred heathen sites’ (Grant, in Gammeltoft et al., 2005, 129).
Sòrabaidh was superseded as a township name by ScG Baile Mhàrtainn ‘the town of Martin’, or Balemartine, which appears for the first time on the 1654 Blaeu map as Balmartin, and ScG Am Baile Nodha ‘the new township’ (Balinoe). Its historic dominance of the area, however, is shown by the naming of the beach Tràigh Shòrobaidh rather than Tràigh Hilibol.
There is a Soroba near Oban, a Soriby on Mull, and many examples in Galloway, the Isle of Man and northern England; Saurbu is a common name in Norway (NG); and Saurbær occurs fifteen times as a farm name in Iceland (SAM).

Other Forms: Soirby - 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.

Soribie - 1679, ICA Bundle 472/194.

“The Parish church in the isle is called Soroby.” Martin Martin, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, 1703, p270

Sòrabaidh - John Fletcher, Balemartine, 6/2013.

Related Places:


Local Form:

Languages : Norse

Informants: Blaeu 1654

Informant 2: Martin Martin

Informant 3: multiple