Township: Greenhill

Map Reference: Greenhill 300

Name Type: township

Meaning: See Grianal in Longships on the Sand.

Other Forms: Grinok - 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.

Grianall - Tiree Rental 1747.

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

Grianal and Grinal - List of Inhabitants of Tiree 1776

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

The older pronunciation is very characteristically GreenHILL, with the emphasis on the GENERIC, rather than the expected GREENhill, which the Norse and Scots etymologies would suggest. This is a Gaelic emphasis pattern. Hear, for example, Donald MacLean talking (in English) to Eric Cregeen on Tobar an Dualchais SA1976.135

Related Places:

Information:Broken up into crofts December 1912 - SSS Index file C.

Extract from ‘Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition V. Argyllshire Series’ Collected from Oral Sources by the Late Rev. John Gregorson Campbell, Minister of Tiree, Selected from the Author’s MS. Remains, and Edited by Jessie Wallace and Duncan MacIssac, with Introducation by Alfred Nutt. (London; David Nutt, 1895)

The Browns of Tiree

The Browns of Tiree at the present day are called Brunaich, sing. Brunach, evidently a word not of a native origin, and likely and adaption of the English Brown. Brown as the name of a colour is an English word but not Gaelic, the Gaelic for it being donn, hence as a clan name many affirm that the Brown of the present day is a corruption or modification of Bruthainn certainly the older name, and till very recently, the name given to sept or portion of the Browns. There are also many who maintain the oldest form of all is Mac –’ill-duinn.

Other explanations are also put forward in behalf of the origin of the name, but none of them are satisfactorily conclusive. The following story of how the Browns came first to Tiree is a tradition as like to be true as any other. It was heard from a native of the island, well acquainted with the traditions of his countrymen.

The wife of MacLean of Dowart was a daughter of the Lord of the Isles Her father on visiting her at Aros has found her destitute of table-linen, and on her being spoken to on the subject, she said that there was no place on the estate where lint could be grown. Her father then gave her the island of Tiree as a good flax-growing country, then she might not be open to that reproach any longer. In this way the island of Tiree remained in the possession of the Dowart family till the forfeiture of the clan towards the end of the seventeenth century. The MacLeans seem to have ruled the island with a rod of iron. There is still shewn the hillock called the Bank of the Gallows (Bac na Croiche), where the man who came in last with his rent at collection time was hanged. A party of strong men called ‘MacLean’s attributes’ (buaidheanan Mhic-’illeathain) but more correctly oppressors and bullies, were kept in the island to overawe the people.

This wife of Dowart, with her galley and men, was at Croig in Mull, awaiting for a passage across to Tiree. When teh men were getting the galley in order, a big strong man was observed making his way to the boat, His appearance was that of a beggar, with tattered and patched garments (lùirichean). He quietly asked to be allowed a passage with them. The master of the boat gruffly refused, saying, that they would not allow one like him to be in the same boat with their mistress, but the beggar said that his being there would make no difference, and asked the favour of getting a passage from her. She gave him permission and he seated himself at the end of the boat furthest from her to avoid giving trouble to her. The day was becoming boisterous; it was not long till the master said that the wind was becoming to high, and the day unlikely. A heavy sea was shipped wetting the Lady of Dowart, and the beggar said to the master, “Can you do better?” The beggar replied “It would not be difficult for me to do better than that at any rate. Show me the direction where you wish to go,” and on it being shewn to him he added “I think you may go on that you will make land.”

“What do you know?” the other said, “it is none of your business to speak here.”

The Lady then spoke, and said to the beggar, “Will you take the boat there if you get the command of it?” He said he would, and she gave orders to let him have the command. He sat at the helm and told them to shorten sail, and make everything taut, and now, the boat did not take in a thimbleful of water. They made for Tiree, and the place come to was the lower part of Hynish, at the furthest extremity of the island. The first place of shelter which the beggar saw, he let the boat in there. The little cove is still known as the Port of the Galley (Port-na-Birlinn) on the south side of Barradhu where the present dwellings belonging to the Skerryvore Lighthouse are. The company landed safely, and on parting the Lady of Dowart told the beggar man to come to see her at Island House, where the residence of the Dowart family was at that time, and which is still the proprietory residence of the island. The name Island House is derived from its present site having been formerly surrounded by the water of the fresh water lake near it. It communicated with the rest of the island by means of a draw-bridge, but there being now no necessity for this safeguard the space between the house and the shore has been filled up, and the moated grange has become like ordinary dwelling houses. The stranger wandered about for some time, and then went to the Island House and was kindly received. After a day or two, he thought it would be better to get a house for himself, and the Lady of Dowart said that she would give him any place that he himself would fix upon. Apparently the island was not much tenanted then, and according to the custom of the time, he got a horse with a pack-saddle on, and on the ridge of the saddle (cairb na srathach), he put the upper and lower stones of a quern (bràthainn), one on each side of the horse, secured by a straw or sea-bent rope, and wherever the rope broke it was lucky to build the house there. The beggar-man’s quern fell at Sunny Spot (Grianal), now better known as Greenhill. He built a bothy there, and a woman came to keep house for him. By her he had a son, whom he would not acknowledge. When the child was able to take care of itself she went again to him with it that she might be free. He still refused to receive the child and told her to avoid him. She then thought as she had heard from him before where he came from, that she would go with her son to his relatives in Ireland. When she arrived there the child’s grandfather received her very kindly. She stayed with him till her son had grown to manhood (gus an robh e ’na làn duine). As she was about to return the grand-father said to his grandson, “Which do you now prefer, to follow your mother, or stay with me?” The lad said he would rather follow his mother, and risk his fortune along with her. They came back to Tiree again, and the son would give no rest till they went to see his father. When they reached the bothy the mother said “you will surely receive your son to-day though you would not acknowledge him before.” But he would not any more than at first. His son then took hold of him, and putting his knee on his breast, said, “before you rise from there you will own me as your son, and my mother as your married wife.” He did this and was set free. They then lived together and built a house, and houses, and increased in stock of cattle. One wild evening in spring, when they were folding the cattle, they observed a stout looking man of mean appearance coming from Kilkenneth, still a township in that part of the island, and making straight for the house.

“I never saw a bigger man than that beggar,” said the son.

“He is big,” the father said, “I well know what man it is; he is coming after me, and I will lose my life this night, I killed his brother, but it was not my fault, for if I had not killed him, he would have killed me.”

“Perhaps you will not lose your life to-night yet,” said the son, “be kind to him, and when he has warmed himself, ask him to go out with us to kill a cow, for the night is cold.”

The stranger came in and was made welcome. The old man then said since there was a stranger, and the night chill, they better take a cow and kill it. They went out and brought in the cow. The young-man said to the stranger, “Which would you rather, take the axe, or hold the cow’s horn.?” (Co dhiu b’ fhearr leis an tuath ne’n adharc). The stranger chose to hold the horn, and blow by which the beast was felled was so sudden and unexpected that the stranger fell with it. The youth immediately fell upon him and kept him down, saying, “You will only have what you can do for yourself, till you tell why you came here to-night (Cha bhi agad ach na bheir thu g’a chionns gus an aidich thu ’de thug so an nochd thu). He told word for word how he came to avenge his brother’s death. (Dh’ innis e facal air an fhacal mar thainig e thoirt mach èirig a bràthair).

“You will not leave this alive” said the young man, “until you promise not to molest my father while you remain in the country.” The stranger vowed, if released he would not offend anyone. He was allowed to remain and they passed the night cheerfully and peacefully (gu sona sàmhach). The stranger returned the way he came. The father and son then settled together, and are said according to tradition, to have been the first Browns in Tiree.

Another version of the story is, that the first settler in Greenhill was a Campbell, and that he was the maker of those underground dwellings (tighean falaich) which still exist on that farm; curious habitations, which are unlike any building now in use, and worthy of closer examination by antiquarians. It is said that there are buildings with similar entrances exposed by sand blowing and covered with a great depth of earth in Tra-vi at the distance of two miles or more further south.

There is a precipice on the west side of Kenavara hill called Mac-a-Bhriuthainn’s leap (Leum Mhic-a-bhriuthainn) which one of this sept of Browns is said to have jumped across backwards, and which no one has since jumped either backwards or forwards. The one who took the jump is said to have been chased by a wild ox, which pushed him over the hill, and if he had not been a man of steady eye and limb, the fall would have ended in sure destruction. The place where he leapt was a ledge in the face of a precipice where the slightest over-balance or weakness, would have precipitated him several hundred feet into a dangerous and deep sea. No trained tight-rope dancer ever required more sureness of eye or limb than must have been brought into action in this leap.

In the top of the same hill (Kenavara) there is a well, Briuthainn’s Well (Tobar Mhic-a-Bhriuthainn), which is said to have its name from the first who came to the island having, in his wanderings, subsisted on its water and wild water-cress

Local Form:

Languages : Norse

Informants: Donald MacLean talking to Eric Cregeen on SA1976.135