Township: Unknown Township

Map Reference:

Name Type: fort

Meaning: This important fortification name on the west coast of Scotland looms out of the historical mists and then quickly vanishes. A name without a place, it has provoked intense debate. It is obviously a Scandinavian place-name in ON borg 'fort' (see section 12.1.1).
In 1343, King David II granted the royal castle of Iselborgh to John (MacDonald) of Islay. In 1493, Hector MacLean of Duart was 'hereditable keeper of the following castles ... Isleborg, the locality of which is uncertain' (Gregory 1836, 69). Duncan argued that 'Isleborg has never been satisfactorily identified, but certainly lay, with Cairnburgmore, in the Treshnish group ... In RMS ii, 2264 the Treshnish group is listed as Kernaborg, Isleborg, Floda and Lunga. 'Isle-' may be the Gaelic iosal 'low', but this does not help identify the castle' (Duncan and Brown 1956, 208). The Royal Commission agreed: 'The identity of the castle of Isleborgh (also called Isleborg and Hystylburch) has been the subject of considerable discussion, but since early charters generally couple it with Cairnburgh and other islands in the Treshnish group, there appear to be good grounds for accepting the view that is an early name for Cairn na Burgh Beg 'the cairn of the little castle'. The first element of the name is probably the Gaelic ìosal 'low' in reference to the fact that this island rises to a lesser height than its neighbour Cairn na Burgh More 'the cairn of the big castle.' (RCAHMS Argyll vol. 3 1980, 189)
However, the antiquarian Erskine Beveridge argued in 1903 that 'after much consideration, the present writer inclines to the belief that the Isleborg of ancient Scottish charters is more probably to be identified with the island-fort formerly existing in Loch an Eilein [on Tiree]' (Beveridge 1903, 112).
Munro also came to the conclusion that Tiree could have been the location of Isleborg:
One of the puzzling place-names of the Hebrides is Isleborg ... Two earlier references associate it with Cairnburgmore in the Treshnish Islands and Dunchonnel in the Garvellachs, and the 1390 charter (in a 1495 confirmation) gives a curious mixture of lands and offices ... I do not think this is sufficient evidence that Isleborg 'certainly' lay in the Treshnish group, as Kernaborg undoubtedly does; why should there be two castles there? ... If therefore we have to look beyond the Treshnish group, why not in Mull, or even in neighbouring Coll or Tiree? (Munro 1973, 9)
A long causeway to the north suggests that this was the site of a causewayed broch. Fordun listed Tiree in the late fourteenth century: ‘Insula Tyree, qua turris est fortissima [The Isle of Tiree, where there is a very strong tower].’ (Skene 1871, 43) In 1654, Blaeu noted, using information from Pont surveys done between 1583 and 1614, that 'on [Tiree] is a fresh-water loch [now known as ScG Loch an Eilein 'the loch of the island'], and in that an old castle' (Blaeu text 1654). In the same century, John Fraser reported: 'In one [loch] is a small Illand on which standith ane ruinous tour surrounded with ane trintch of stone and earth.' (Macfarlane 1907, 218) The castle was besieged and over-run in 1679 by the Earl Of Argyll. By the end of the seventeenth century, Martin Martin witnessed its end, presumably hastened by that conflict: 'There is a fresh-water lake in the middle of the isle, on the east side of which there is an old castle, now in ruins.' (Martin 1994 (1695), 296) Today there are no physical remains of Castel Loch Hyrbol. The island of Loch an Eilein was joined to the neighbouring fields with a causeway and the Campbells completely re-built the site as the chamberlain's house and office in 1748 (Holliday 2016 and 2018).

The islet in Loch an Eilein is the kind of strategic location that might be expected to have had a Norse name in ON borg 'fort'. If the name Isleborg is to be identified with the fort on Loch an Eilein, a possible specific is ON íla 'well or spring' (Sandnes 2010a, 111), 'ON íla fem. 'a source', ?la-water (Nm.) 'a lake'' (Jakobsen 1936, 64).
There is a Hila and two examples of Hilan in Norway (NG); there is an Eilaster in Uig, Lewis (SP), an Ellibister in Orkney (Sandnes 2010a); there is a chambered cairn (Canmore ID 785) at Isleburgh in Sullom, Shetland; there is an Ila in Oslo derived from íla 'well' (NS); Ileby is recorded as a farm name in OR; while Illa- is a common specific among settlement names in the Faroe Islands (KO). See Hilibol.

Other Forms:

Related Places:

Possibly the original stronghold on the site of Island House - JH.

Local Form:

Languages : Norse, Obscure

Informants: Coll and Tiree, Erskine Beveridge, Birlinn, 2004, p112.