Township: Barrapol,Ceann a’ Bharra

Map Reference: Kenavara 300

Name Type: sub-township

Meaning: This is likely to be a Norse name. The specific may be ON kinn (genitive kinnar) ‘cheek’ (CV, 338; see Keengalee, Marwick 1947, 59). ‘Kinn ‘the cheek, steep slope’ mostly used of tracts of coast, e.g. Kina heljar [Keenahellia] on Fetlar, Shetland’ (Jakobsen 1936, 65).
There is a Kinabols on Islay (Gammeltoft 2001, 129; Macniven 2015, 164 and 219), a Keenabonus in Sandwick, Shetland, and Keen is common in dialect names there (SP); Kinnar- is a common specific in Norway, as in Kinnardalen (NG); Kinnarstaðir is an Icelandic farm name (SAM).
The generic is likely to be OI varða ‘a beacon; in Iceland varða is the popular name of stone cairns erected on high points on mountains and waste places, to ‘warn’ the wayfarer as to the course of the way...frequently in local names, Vörðu- fell’ (CV, 679 and Jakobsen 1936, 113).
‘Varði is rather common in the Northern Isles. It is not just a cairn, but a beacon, which would have been located on tops of hills and seen from a wide area.’ (Berit Sandnes, pers. comm.) Varði means watchtower. Heaps of stones, ruins of ancient watchtowers have been found on all these ward-hills, which are invariably high and conspicuous, always in sight of each other. They have been used for signalling purposes; the signals were large kindled fires.’ (Jakobsen 1897, 81)
‘Throughout Scandinavia beacons on such vantage points were used to raise the alarm...In seventeenth century Shetland every vord/wart was visible from another designated hilltop, and a local law ordained that a supply of peat was always present on each wart; alerted to an attack, islanders repaired to the location where the first beacon had been lit...Such operations did not necessitate permanent structures’ (Tait 2012, 75). Some Shetland warts had rudimentary shelters nearby and this may be the purpose of a circular structure on the summit of Ben Feall, Coll (NM146548).
‘There used to be warning fires on all the hills of Tiree, for example at ScG Dùn Mòr a’ Chaolais ‘the big fort of Caolas’. Iain Glas was keeping watch on ScG Sìthean Beinn Ghot ‘the rounded hill of Ben Gott’ one night, but he was tired and fell asleep. When he awoke at dawn he saw a boat coming into Scarinish harbour.’ See Appendix 18.c.4
The summit is close to the most secure Iron Age roundhouse on the island, Dùn nan Gall. Beveridge speculated, ‘the Duns as a rule stand in a continuous chain, each within view of the next...If any such communication existed, it was possibly by means of fire – showing smoke by days or flame by night. This method is the traditionary one, while it also appeals to the sense of the probable’ (Beveridge 1903, 170). Excavation just outside the Vaul broch found a thick hearth deposit, which was interpreted as a beacon fire site. This ‘had been extensively used, and equally obviously had ceased to be used at one stage’ (MacKie 1974, 56).
In addition, meids, or marks for the fishing grounds around the island, are still used. One distant ground to the west of Kenavara is now known as The Overfalls. Its marks were a part of the Kenavara cliff face known as ScG Beum a’ Chlaidheimh ‘the wound of the sword’ with a man-made cairn on the summit of Beinn Haoidhnis known as ScG Tùr an t-Saighdeir ‘the tower of the soldier’. The summit of Kenavara may have been used as a meid by Norse-speaking fishermen (see the nearby *Horbhas). ‘Intervocalically, ON -ð- is replaced by hiatus, for example in ScG fadhail.’ (Cox 2007b, 68)
Varða is common as a generic in Carloway with seven examples, such as Tangabhair (Cox 2002b, 271); there is a Varragil in Uist, an Airidh Varrinish in South Uist, and a Varaquoy on Rousay (SP); there are fourteen Wart names and one Warth in Shetland (SP); Varden is recorded as a farm name in OR; and Hávarðarkot is a farm name in Iceland (SAM).
If this is a Norse name, it has been gaelicised.
It could, however, be a Gaelic name. One possibility, which ignores the earliest written form, is ScG ceann ‘headland’ with ScG masc. bàrr, genitive barra ‘height or hill’ (Dwelly). The 1974 edition of OS records the form ScG Ceann a’ Mhara ‘the headland of the sea’ with the less usual masculine form of ScG muir ‘sea’. This fits in with the earliest known written form, but ‘the headland of the sea’ is, on the face of it, an unlikely name.
A final possibility is that this could be a hybrid Gaelic-Norse loan word, with ScG Ceann ‘headland’ and ON varði > ScG bharra (Richard Cox, pers. comm., and c.f. the ScG/ON *Buaile-varða > ScG Buailebhair, Cox 2002b, 195). However, this happens rarely in other contexts. ‘The common view in Finnish contact onomastics [is]: mixed names formed in two languages can normally be ruled out’ (Sandnes 2010a, 20).
The summit was known as Ben Skarbarigh (see Sgaraborgh in Gazetteer) but is now simply known as ScG Am Mullach Mòr ‘the big hilltop’.

Other Forms: Kenmarre, 1541 ER xvii, 648: a settlement worth 3.5 merklands
Kennewar, 1638 RMS ix, 828
Kennavar, 1674 HP vol. 1, 289 (Johnston 1991, 95)
Kenvar and Ben Kenvar, 1768 Turnbull
Benchinivarrh Hill, 1775 MacKenzie, West Side of the Island of Mull with the Islands of Tiri and Coll, EMS.s.654
Kenovar, 1794 Tiree Rental, Cregeen 1964, 38
Kinavar, 1801 Cregeen 1964, 60
Ceann-a-bharra, 1878 OS 6inch 1st edition
Ceann a’ Mhara, 1974 OS 1:10,000

Related Places:

Information:Here’s a problem. People give names to a place. For the 10 000 years we have been walking Tiree we have named rocks, pools and streams. These place names allow us to tell other people what happened where. And the more important an area is to us, the more names it carries. So how come the wildest corner of the island - the place we go to get away from it all, and stare out across the heaving Atlantic - has more place names, and more old place names, than anywhere else on Tiree?
There are 130 place names on Kenavara, particularly around the western cliffs. Many of these names are from Viking times, so it’s clear that these inaccessible rocks have been important to humans for at least a thousand years. And a rich deposit of worked flints at its base shows that the area was used for nine thousand years before that.
Of course the promontory provided a large area of hill grazing, and the shepherds of Barrapol and Middleton had a trying time rescuing sheep stuck on its western rock ledges. David McClounnan and Willie MacLean both told me of using a rope to rescue ewes stuck in Poll Dubh nan Caoraich, the black pool of the sheep, half way down one of the rock faces.
And there are some important fishing points at the base of the cliffs - although I don’t know if there is anyone alive today who could take you safely down to them. Carraig nan Gillean, the fishing rock of the boys, is named after three lads who were drowned there by a freak wave.
But I have another theory: birds. On the towering cliffs of Suduroy in the Faroes, islanders used to be lowered on ropes to collect eggs, and the guillemots and gannets which nest there. And these rock faces are covered with over a hundred place names. “Poles were hammered into the ground and the fowler was fastened to the rope by a special saddle-formed seat. One or two men would give out the rope while a man placed at the very edge of the cliff observed the descent, giving orders to the rope man…The eggs were placed in sheep hide bag.” Birds were also caught. “The average catch was estimated at 55 000 guillemots a year.”
Sloc mhic Fhionnlaigh, the crevice of the son of Finlay, is a huge fissure in the cliff face. If you lie carefully at the top you get a dizzying view of the seabirds wheeling in front of you. [Warning: cliffs can seriously damage your health. Don’t do this on your own]. A ledge on the rocks there is called Uirigh nam Bròg, the shelf of the shoes. Willie MacLean told me that this was where climbers would take off their boots before tackling the cliffs.
A more recent name for Sloc mhic Fhionnlaigh is Sloc mhic Stìoraidh, the crevice of the son of ‘Steery’. Some boys were hunting for eggs here around 1890, including Hector, Archie and Neil Lamont from Balemartine, whose father had the nickname Stìoraidh. One of the boys slipped and fell two hundred feet down the vertical cliff, but miraculously landed on a bed of seaweed and survived. The other boys ran to get help and Iain Campbell, Barrapol, Annie Brown’s father, returned with them to the cliffs with some rope. The boy was stuck to his waist but they managed to haul him to safety.
And here’s another problem. How should we spell Kenavara? Ceann a’ Mhara, the headland of the sea? Ceann a’ Bhara? There has been surprisingly little agreement over the years, which is why the Kenavara version is still widely used: at least you can see how it should be pronounced. The Old Statistical Account of 1791 describes it as the “hill of Ceanmharra.” The original Ordnance Survey recorded Ceann-a-Bharra (with “meaning undecided”) but then the first OS map in the 1870s gave it as Ceann a’ Mhara. The first part is easy: Ceann, a headland. But the Gaelic word for sea, muir, is usually feminine and so this last meaning would usually give Ceann na Mara. And calling an important promontory ‘Headland of the Sea’ doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Kenavara, as a name for the whole headland is probably relatively recent. The Vikings called it Kirk-nis, church promontory, because of St Patrick’s chapel, and the hill used to be called Ben Skarabrig, the hill of the fort of the cormorants.
The clue, I think, is in a small group of houses nestling in the Barrapol sand dunes, recorded in 1716 as Kenavarr, and in a Rental of 1747 as Kenvar. It surely is no coincidence that the neighbouring township is Barrapol. ‘Barapole and Kenovar’ were rented together in one tack until 1800 when it was subdivided into 15 crofts. Kenovar here must mean the ‘boundary (another meaning of the word ceann) of Barrapol’. And the meaning of Barrapol? It’s a Norse name: barra-, a grave mound, and –bolstadr, a farm. That is why I use the form Ceann a’ Bharra.
Dr John Holliday

As you walk towards Tràigh Bhì, Balephuil beach, from Barrapol you pass a row of stones in a hollow between the giant sand dunes. This is all that is left of the settlement of Kenvar. One of these ruins is Taigh a’ Chìobair, the house of the shepherd, also known as Taigh Iain Mhoireasdain, the house of Iain Morrison. John Gregorson Campbell was the minister on Tiree from 1861 to 1891. His passion was collecting traditional stories about the island, one of which is about this ruin.

Some seventy or eighty years ago the herdsman who had charge of the cattle on this pasture [Ceann a’ Bharra] went to a marriage in the neighbouring village of Balephuil, 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 [it is easy to picture the scene this winter!] His mother sat waiting his return, and two women – whom she knew to be Fairies –came to steal the child. They 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 [the child] 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).

At the Ceann a’ Bharra end of Balephuil beach is Port a’ Charbhanaich, the inlet of the bream. Hector Kennedy, Heylipol, told this story in 1957. The first Kennedy that came to Tiree, it was at Kenavara, in a boat. He was pursued by a cutter from Ireland, himself and Stefan [who we met in Kilkenneth – pay attention!] They landed at Port a’ Charbhanaich. He married and his descendants are in the island still. Leading down to this inlet is the track Am Bealach Dubh, the black pass, where crofters took their carts collecting tangles.

At the end of Am Bealach Dubh is a stream and beyond this is a concrete slab, the site of Taigh Alison, Alison’s house. At the base of the rocks nearby you can also still see clearly the well Tobar Alison, Alison’s well. Henry Young Alison taught at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1930s and 40s and personally built the small staircase that leads to the balcony of the Mackintosh library in the Art School. He came to Tiree every summer and built two huts – one in Sandaig and another here under Ceann a’ Bharra. He was often to be found fishing in his canoe, as well as painting and turning out for island’s Home Guard. This was despite having lost the sight of one eye while a POW in the First World War. Inside the hut there was a row of cups hanging by the sink, and it became a game for some of the local boys to rock the hut backwards and forwards to try to dislodge them. To deter them Alison made a green figure and placed it on the rocks nearby, letting it be known that the place was haunted by the ‘Green Woman’.
The most famous landmark on Ceann a’ Bharra is Teampall Phàraig or St Patrick’s Chapel. This small medieval church was built on the site of what is called an eremitic monastery, from the Greek word for wilderness, eremos. This monastery dates from the time of St Columba, around 700 AD. In this remote spot there are four or five platforms where monks lived in punishing conditions in stone cells, seeking by their isolation to be closer to God. It is said to have been built on the spot where Iona first comes into view past the headland of West Hynish.
The place still has a magical atmosphere and it was once also believed to be the home of fairies. Donald MacArthur, Dòmhnall an t-Slèibh, Balephuil, was one who was said to have been held captive there. John MacLean, the Balemartine bard, wrote this verse about the site. ‘An Teampall Phàraig chualas farum / Ruidhleadh, aighear agus ceòl / Sìthichean a seinn na pioba / Le toil-intinn thu bhi beò. A sound can be heard at St Patrick's Temple / Reels, joy and music / Fairies playing the pipes / You will live pleasurably.
Another of Campbell’s stories illustrates this. Two children, a brother and sister, went on a moonlight winter’s night to Kenavara Hill to look after a snare they had set for little birds, in a hollow near a stream. The ground was covered with snow, and when the two had descended into the hollow, they heard most beautiful music coming from underground, close to where they were standing. In the extremity of terror both fled. The boy went fastest, and never looked behind him. The girl was at first encumbered by her father’s big shoes, which she had put on for the occasion, but, throwing them off, she reached home with a panting heart not long after her brother. The story was told by her when an old woman. She never forgot the fright the Fairy music gave her in childhood.
Legend has it that St Patrick brought bracken to Tiree in the pockets of his clothes. Near the chapel is Dabhach Phàraig, the vat of St Patrick. Donald Sinclair, West Hynish, told this story. It is a well, and the water must be coming from the rock. It is big, three feet in each dimension at its opening and it's as round as a water pipe. It is filled with stones today after a lamb drowned in it. But if you took the stones out and baled it dry, it would fill up again as full as ever. I heard a story from the time of my grandfather, whatever illness you had, if you went to Dabhach Phàraig and tasted the water there in the name of the Lord, you would be cured.

Dr John Holliday

Beyond the chapel is the corner of the headland which is now called Rinn Chircnis. This name comes from another Gaelic word for promontory, rinn, and the Norse name for promontory, nis, of the church, kirk – two promontories in two languages in one name! Beyond this is a shingly beach surrounded by steep slopes, Am Fang Dubh, the black cattle pen. In the middle of this there is the ruin of a small hut said to have been used by fishermen from the east end of the island.

I have passed on the health warning that cliffs are bad for your health. Another height named after a tragedy is Sloc MhicCnìthaluim, the crack of the son of Crìalum: the name goes back at least as far as the Turnbull map of 1768 where it appears as VickCrelim. David McClounnan told me this fissure in the cliffs was named after an old shepherd from Kilmoluaig. His daughter brought him lunch as usual in a wooden bowl, but he was never seen again and it was believed he had died as he climbed down the cliffs collecting eggs.

The cliffs and panoramic views make Ceann a’ Bharra a good place to defend, and three Iron Age forts were built here. One is at the far end on a separate rock, almost an island, called variously Eilean na Bò Mòire, island of the big cow, Eilean nam Bà, island of the cows, or Eilean nam Bàthadh, island of the drowning. On the cliffs, and only accessible by a narrow ledge, is Dùn nan Gall, fort of the strangers, while below it on a pinnacle of rock at the shore is Dùn an Eilein Dhuibh, fort of the black island.
And then there are the caves. We all like a good cave and Ceann a’ Bharra has three. The least known and the furthest away is Uamh a’ Mhèirlich, the cave of the thief. David McClounnan had this story about it. Four men were playing cards in a house in The Land, Barrapol, one night and Colin MacDonald (Cailean Fhearchair, “a small chap. He could fit in a crack!”) from the Bail’ Ùr asked if anyone knew where Uamh a’ Mhèirlich was. No one else did so he offered to show them the next day. It is hidden at the base of Uinneagan Beum a’ Chlaidheimh [literally the windows of the stroke of the sword], a large gash down the side of Kenavara at a part called An Dòrnach. In front of the cave there is a jumble of stones “as though they’ve been blasted.” You have to crawl to get in. Inside, the cave is “the size of Saddam Hussein’s cell,” and they found a stone like a square table and three clay cups. “Do you believe me now?” asked Colin.
Below Dùn nan Gall are two more caves and I haven’t quite worked out which stories and which names go with which. Uamh a’ Ruith, or Uamh an Fhir Dhuibh, the cave of the black man or devil, is at the base of an inaccessible cliff. Hector Cameron’s guide book states “there is no access to it except by means of a rope” which looks pretty accurate to me!

An Uamh Mhòr, the big cave, is at the end of Druim nan Uan, ridge of the lambs, and can be reached if you are careful at low tide when the rocks are dry. It has a number of other names: Uamh an Fhuamaire, the cave of the giant, Uamh nan Calman, cave of the doves, or Uamh an Òir, the cave of gold. Niall Brownlie writes in his book Bailtean is Ath-Ghairmean: North of the fort is the Uamh Mhòr, a huge opening that penetrates far into the hill. In my young days it was often referred to as Uamh an Òir, and oral tradition maintains that it traverses the entire island. As a boy I heard my mother relate how a piper, accompanied by a dog, set out to traverse the Great Cave but was never seen again. When a neighbour went to the mouth of the cave in search of him, he found only the dog, still alive - but hairless from nose to tail. "Without three hands - two for the pipes and one for the sword - no human will ever traverse the Cave of Gold, my mother would say most emphatically. Some versions of the story have the dog coming out at Dùn Mòr a’ Chaolais above Milton and the sound of the pipes being heard at Druim na h-Uamha, the ridge of the cave in Scarinish.

This cave was also known as Uaimh Dhiarmaid, the cave of Diarmad, the ancient Irish hero. Just inside the entrance to the cave is a rock platform called Leabaidh Nighean Rìgh Lochlainn, the bed of the daughter of the king of Norway. This probably relates to a 10th century Irish traditional story about Cú Chulainn and Derbforgaill. We met this connection before in Balephetrish, where the old name for the Ringing Stone was Coire Fionn mac Chumhaill after the Irish Fenian hero, and it shows the influence of the Irish Gaels on Tiree.

Finally, across the middle of Ceann a’ Bharra lie the remains of a dyke known as Obair-là Chlann Mhurchaidh, the day’s work of the family of Murdoch, a Campbell who lived in Kenvar. Niall Brownlie again. According to the story, Clann Mhurchaidh acquired some land in this area of Kenavara, and of a morning they set out to build a stone dyke around it. When twilight came they set off home, leaving their implements behind. When they returned in the morning the dyke had been completed by the fairies.


Extracts from 'The Gaelic Otherworld' by John Gregorson Campbell, Edited with commentary by Ronald Black, (Edinburgh; Birlinn, 2005) p41-2:
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, consists 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.
They 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 (see Taigh a' Chiobair, Ceann a' Bharra).

p56:
The places in Tiree where cailleacha sìth (Fairy hags) were seen were at streams and pools of water on Druim Buidhe (‘the Yellow Back’), and the links of Kennavara, and the bend of the hill (lùbadh na beinne) at Baile Pheudrais. They have long since disappeared, the islanders having become too busy to attend to them. (Footnote 193)
Footnote 193: Niall M. Brownlie points out to me that Cnoc Ghrianal, properly Cnoc Ghrianail (Gaelic cnoc ‘hillock’, Norse groene ‘green’ and vollr field’), is very close to a flat grassy area which may be the site of a chapel dedicated to St Mo-Bhì. ‘The Yellow Ridge,’ an Druim Bhuidhe nowadays, is a stretch of desolate moorland on the west side of the Cornaig road, see note 941.

p73:
Two children, a brother and sister, went on a moonlight winter’s night to Kennavara Hill to look after a snare they had set for little birds in a hollow near a stream. The ground was covered with snow, and when the two had descended into the hollow, they heard most beautiful music coming from underground, close to where they were standing. In the extremity of terror both fled.
The boy went fastest, and never looked behind him. The girl was at first encumbered by her father’s big shoes, which she had put on for the occasion, but, throwing them off, she reached home with a panting heart not long after her brother. The story was told by her when an old woman. She had never forgot the fright the Fairy music gave her in childhood.

p75:
A man, coming across the links near Kenavara Hill in Tiree, came upon a large black dog resting on the side of a sandbank. On observing it he turned aside and took another road home. Next day he recovered courage and went to examine the spot. He found on the sand the marks of a dog’s paw as large as the spread of his palm. He followed these huge footmarks till he lost them on the plain. The dog had taken no notice of him, and he felt assured from its size it could be no earthly hound.

p180:
A witch who left home every night was followed by her husband, who wondered what she could be about. She became a cat, and went in the name of the devil to sea in a sieve with seven other cats. The husband upset the sieve by naming the Trinity, and the witches were drowned. So the Skye story runs. (Footnote 616) In the Sound of Mull the witches went on boards the sieve ‘against the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,’ and the husband upset the concern by putting his foot on board in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
In Tiree the unfortunate women were passing Kennavara Hill in eggshells on their way to Ireland when the husband of one of them, seeing the fleet, wished them God-speed. Instantly the eggshells sank, and the women were drowned.

p263:
In 1870 a ship struck on a sunken rock in the passages between the Skerryvore lighthouse and Tiree, and sprang a leak. The shore was made for at once, but when within 150 yards of it the ship sank.
The crew betook themselves to the rigging and were ultimately rescued; but the skipper, in trying to swim ashore, was caught by the current that sweeps round Kennavara Hill, and drowned. The crying heard in Kennavara Hill four years previous was deemed to have portended this event (see Taigh Alasdair Neill Oig, Balephuil).


Local Form:

Languages : Norse, Gaelic

Informants: OS