Township: Caolas,Milton

Map Reference: Milton 300

Name Type: sub-township

Meaning: Mill town

There is no indication that this is an old name, or anything but a Scots coinage. The name was not mapped by Turnbull or by the first Ordnance Survey. Milton is not mentioned in the estate Instructions 1771-1805 (Cregeen 1964). Angus MacLean said it was a name given to the area by the factor in the mid-nineteenth century. Milton is one of the commonest place-names in Scotland (SP).

Much less likely is a Norse coinage from ON mylna (genitive mylnu) ‘mill’ (CV, 440) and ON tún ‘yard, enclosed field’ (see Borrowston in Lewis, Oftedal 2009, 20), ‘farmhouse with its building’ (CV, 644). There is a Milton in Sandwick, Shetland, which could be a Norse or Scots coinage (SP); Mile occurs four times in Norway, with compounds as in Myllevatn (NG); there are no farm names in Iceland supporting this reconstruction (SAM).

Other Forms: Millton - OS. Not included in ONB, dated 1878.

Related Places:

Information:Milton, mill-town, is a relatively new name. The name is not listed in the original Ordnance Survey of the island in 1878. It is said to have been coined by a factor in the 19th century, and can lay a reasonable claim to being the oldest English name on the island, along with The Land, a group of cottars’ houses in Barrapol.
The small mill itself, with a horizontal wheel (the so-called Norse mill), was on a stream down at the shore, east of the harbour. The first miller we know of is in 1788, an Allan MacDonald from Sorisdale on Coll. In 1804 the Duke asked the factor to pull down the “old miln in the farm of Coelis...very hurtful to themselves by the waste of grain.” He wanted to boost his new mill in Cornaigmore. If this threat was carried out, the mill must have been re-built because the last full grinding season was in 1886. It gradually fell into disrepair. Ailig Ghilleasbuig a’ Mhuineir, Captain Alec MacDonald, wrote the beautiful song Madainn Diardaoin: There’s a mill and winnowing house with nothing left of them but rubble / The nettles are growing around every heap and brae / From the loch which is empty all that can be heard is running water / From that stream which used to make the quern stone go round. When Captain MacDonald retired around 1935 he built the big house in Milton using much of the stone from the mill. One mill stone was left as a bridge over the stream.
Near the mill is the harbour of the fort, Acarsaid an Dùin, or as the 1768 Turnbull map has it, Downkifil Harbour. The fort, of course, is the Iron Age broch, Dùn Mòr a’ Chaolais. Angus MacLean, The Coolins, remembers an earlier generation referring to this as Dùn Cìteal or Cìofal. This older name, possibly Kifal, is one of a handful of pre-Celtic names on Tiree and probably comes from the Iron Age itself –one of the earliest names on Tiree. Angus’ grandfather would say, “Why do they call it Dùn Mòr a’ Chaolais? Most of it’s in Ruaig!” That’s because the boundary wall, which goes over it, was only built in the 1780s.
At the bottom of the Dùn is Fang nan Ìleach, the fank of the Islaymen, which may refer to bodies washed ashore here. In 1809 Neil MacLean, Lachlan MacDonald and Neil MacDonald were drowned on the offshore rocks called Na Suacain on their way back from Islay, but this may not be related. At Port nan Spàinneach, inlet of the Spaniards, in front of Johnny Johnston’s house, there are the graves of four or five Spanish sailors.
Now to the monks. In the field to the south of Coll View is a hillock called An Anaid. This is an old name for a church, generally taken to be one built in the time of St Columba, before the Viking invasion. On the rocks opposite are Creag and Cubaid a' Mhanaich, the rock and pulpit of the monk. On the field wall at the Milton turn-off a Celtic cross carved into a rock was found recently. And what do we have on the brow of the hill? A house called Crois, the cross, with a graveyard, Cladh na Croise, behind. The last funeral there was around 1900.
These names are evidence that there was a Columban monastery in the area between 500 and 800 AD, and are one of the best examples on Tiree of the usefulness of place names in keeping alive some of our traditions. Truly, stories in an island landscape!
The Rev Hector Cameron wrote in his guidebook to Tiree: Opposite the burial ground [at Croish] there are two large stones embedded in the soil, and between these the cross is said to have stood. There is a tradition that if ever the larger of these stones be removed a hurricane will sweep the island with devastating violence. This stone is Clach na Gaoithe, another example of the way Christian and ‘pagan’ traditions have been woven together. The famous folklorist, John Francis Campbell, wrote in 1871: Coming back from the [Gunna] sound the Minister [John Gregorson Campbell], who had driven the Coll Minister to the ferry, overtook me and told me of a stone which is good for raising a storm. A woman told him that she tried the spell for her brother who was a smuggler and chased by a revenue cruiser. According to the Instructions she dug up the stone with the tongs and turned the side … but there was not a breath of wind." This stone is now under the tarmac of the road and we are safe for the time being!
Dr John Holliday


"Air cheilidh 'm Milton" - Na Baird Thirisdeach, ed. Rev Hector Cameron, An Comunn Thirisdeach, 1932, p262, by John MacLean, Caolas, who died in 1895.

An English name given by the factor in the 1850s - AMcL.

Possibly the first English place name on Tiree - JH.

Local Form:

Languages : English

Informants: multiple

Informant 2: OS