Township: Vaul

Map Reference: Vaul 300

Name Type: township

Meaning: Bhalla has previously been derived as a simplex name in ON fjall 'mountain'. However, the simplex ON fjall ‘hill’ would be expected to yield ScG *fealla, with bhal appearing only in a name-final position, as in Heaval on Barra (Richard Cox, pers. comm.). Tràigh Feall at the west end of Coll is likely to derive from fjall (Johnston 1991, 117).
Another suggestion (Henderson 1910, 193) is ON hváll 'dome-shaped hill; and in local names of farms lying under such hills, as Hváll in Saurbær in the west' (CV, 298). There are no other simplex examples in Iceland, although it is quite common as a specific, for example Hvalnes (SAM); Hval is common in southeastern (but not southwestern) Norway (NG). There are no nearby hills.
This convincingly derives from ON v?llr (plural vellir, dative plural v?llum) ‘field ... frequently in local names, Völlr and Vellir’ (CV, 721), probably here in the plural form. This would then make it part of a contrasting pair with Bhaoill, from ON v?llr in the singular 'field', 1 km to the east, presumably making no secret of its larger cultivated extent. Beveridge also offered this reconstruction (Beveridge 1903, 76). The three Norwegian examples of Valle and one of Valler on NS are derived in this way. Initial /v/ and /w/ often alternate, and there has also been a vowel shift from e > a, partly due to the quality of the /ll/ as L (see section 17.4.2.2).
There are five examples of the place-name Valla in Shetland (SP); Valla, Valle and Velle are all common in Norway (NG); Valle in Norway is derived from vellir (NS); Vellir in Svarfaðardalur, Iceland, was an early major estate (Vésteinsson 1998, 10), and Vellir occurs nine times in total as a farm name in Iceland (SAM).

Other Forms: Wall, 1541 ER xvii, 647
Wall, 1542 ER xvii, 532
Vaul, 1561 Col.de Reb.Alba, 3 (Johnston 1991, 80)
Vaule, 1628 Sasine, vol. 2 no. 235 (Johnston 1991, 80)
Wall, 1654 Blaeu (Pont)
Vaul, 1686 SRO E60/7/3, 6 (Johnston 1991, 80)
Vaall, 1716 MacLean-Bristol 1998
Vaull, 1768 Turnbull
Vaal, 1775 MacKenzie, West Side of the Island of Mull with the Islands of Tiri and Coll, EMS.s.654
Vaull, 1794 Tiree Rental, Cregeen 1964, 35-9
Vaul, 1878 OS 6inch 1st edition
Bhalla, modern Gaelic spelling

Related Places:

Information:There are 134 place, croft and house names in Vaul. It’s not the largest township in the island, but there are some fascinating names – and one or two mysteries!
Today we write Vaul, or Bhalla in Gaelic. In 1590 it was written as Wall, in 1716 as Vaal and it has been said that it comes from the Old Norse of the Vikings meaning cliffs. Many of us will know the ‘Braes of Vaul’ from the song often sung by Mairi MacArthur - Fàgail Bràigh Bhalla. Vaul is famous for its two Iron Age brochs, Dùn Mòr Bhalla and Dùn Beag Bhalla. The path to the larger fort is beautifully called An Gleann Dorcha, the dark glen. Vaul is also known for its golf course. One the old holes was on the top of a precipitous sand dune nicknamed ‘Mount Ararat’, a very difficult green to get on to as Ronnie MacLean, Silversands, remembers! Some of the machair between Vaul and Salum was badly eroded in the last century and was called ‘The Sahara’.
Separating Vaul and Salum is Mìthealum, another Viking name meaning, simply enough, middle island. Mìthealum an Fheòir is the grassy, inner part and half way out is Eilean nan Cloinne where Mary MacKinnon, Seaside, told Duncan Grant women would put their children when they waded out to collect tangle. Just to the east of Mìthealum is a big rock called Sgeir Bòdhab by Lachie MacLean (Lachainn Sheumais) – I’ve no idea what it means but it’s a great name!
On the inner part of Mìthealum you can still see the shape of a building through the grass. This is where the mystery begins! Lachainn Sheumais called this Taigh Shearmonachadh, the house of the sermons and Bobby MacLean, who lived yards away, told me there used to be church on Mìthealum. In two of the biographies of St Brendan of Clonfert (The Navigator) the saint founds a church called Bledach in ‘the district called Heth’ or in ‘terra Ethica’ – both of these are old names for Tiree in the old Irish records. And if we walk past Seaside towards the broch, what do we have? A rocky hillock called Creag a' Briundainn by the late Dorothy MacKinnon and Mary MacKinnon, Seaside – the rock of Brendan. Just north of this again is Glac nan Salm, the hollow of the psalms. I know it’s speculation and some scholars say St Brendan never came to Tiree at all, but...
Just down from Seaside is a little gully on the shore called Sloc nan Coin, the gully of the dogs. There are lots of these around the shore of Tiree and they are usually named after the old practice of disposing of unwanted puppies by throwing them in a sack into the sea - ‘going to the Navy’ as it was sometimes called. Up on the hill behind Vaul on the skyline is Cnoc Sgitheag. I don’t know what it means, but it is a Neolithic burial cairn. You can see their characteristic pointed outlines opposite An Talla and on the road to Ruaig. And I can’t leave Vaul without mentioning two other magnificent Viking names - Cnoc Hùineisdeir up towards the sliabh and Cnoc Òinegeir where Tommy and Peggy MacKinnon have built their house.
There’s so much information in these old names – it’s just a question of working out what they all mean!
Dr John Holliday

The Gaelic Otherworld, ed Ronald Black, p 191:

Near Vaul in Tiree, a man riding home at night with his son (a young boy) seated behind him was met by a number of cats. The boy had his hands clasped round his father, and the man, pressing them to his sides to make surer of the boy's hold, urged his horse to its speed. The cats sprang, and, fastening on the boy, literally devoured him. When the man reached home with his horse at full gallop, he had only the boy's arms left.

Local Form:

Languages : Norse