Township: Hough

Map Reference: Hough 9

Name Type: well

Meaning: Tobar (nan) Naoi Beò - well of the nine lives

Other Forms: Tobar an Naoinear Beò - Duncan MacPhee, Scarinish, 10/1995

Tobar Naoi Beò - Alasdair MacDonald, Druimasadh, Balevullin, 11/1993

Related Places:

Information:This well kept nine sailors, who had been wrecked on the Hough skerries, alive - Alasdair MacDonald, Druimasadh, Balevullin, 11/1993.

He was told by Tèarlach Chaluim (Brown, Balephuil) - and Donald Iain Kennnedy, West Hynish has the same story - that an Irish ship was dismasted in a storm out in the Atlantic. She also lost her rudder and was washed up on the shores of Hough. Nine sailors made it to shore alive and the first water they tasted was water from this well. John Fletcher, Balemartine, 8/2009.

Extracts from 'The Gaelic Otherworld' by John Gregorson Campbell, Edited with commentary by Ronald Black, (Edinburgh; Birlinn, 2005), page 229:
"At the back of Hough Hill in Tiree there is a well called Tobar nan Naoi Beò (‘the Well of the Nine Living’) which in a season of great scarcity supported a widow and her eight children without any nourishment but itself and shellfish. Hence its name."

Footnote 803: Cf. CG2, p. 286: Niall M. Brownlie, who has not seen the well but gives the same tradition (1995, p. 52), has confirmed the name personally to me; thus also MacDougall and Cameron n.d, p. 96 - The well enjoys, or enjoyed, a spectacular location at the north-western extremity not only of Tiree, but of Argyll as a whole, looking out over Hough Bay to the open Atlantic. It is not clear to me whether it is to be identified as the well of the old township on the west side of Beinn Hough, which was choked following a sandstorm in the spring of the year of Waterloo, resulting in the removal of people to Kilmoluag (Cregeen 1998, p. 20).
Its name deserves to be considered in the contents of the sanctity in which the number nine was allegedy held in Tiree (see pp. lxxxvi, 207 and 655) and of novenary dedications elsewhere. The latter have been exlplored by Mackinlay (1905-06) and myself (Macilledhuibh 27.7.90), and in much greater detail by Stuart McHardy (2003); for the significance of the number nine in Gaelic tradition generally see CG2, pp. 332-34. I found a series of wells, altars chapels and fairs in Angus, east Perthshire and Aberdeenshire bearing names like the Nine Maidean Well, the Chapel of the Seven Maidens, Ninemadinchapell and the Nine Virgins Day, along with a story representing these women as daughters of a seventh – or eighth-century saint called Donald. Feeling that their cult smacked of river-worship, I concluded that it had become localised at the main junctions of the Tay.
McHardy throws his net much wider, pointing to various locations called Ninewells and claiming for the cult a deciation to St Fyndoca at Innishail in Loch Awe; he discusses islands of women, the magic use of nine (such as at the ninth wave), and stories about nine drawing attention to major figures like Apollo, Arthur, Brigid and Odin who dominate or oversee such groups. He does not mention Tobar nan Naoi Beò (or Tiree), but it fits his model of novenary sites on mountain-tops and islands, associated with Arthur, Brigid, and oak-tress – MacArthurs are prominent in Tiree, there was a Kilbride at Lag nan Cruachan in Cornaigmore just two miles east, and only the oak-tree is lacking (though tghe presence of peat in Tiree until the nineteenth century shows that this may not always have been the case).
I know of no other novenary dedications in Gaelic. The island and fair of the Nine Virgins at Kenmore were simply Eilean nam Bannoamh (now Prory Island) and Fèill nam Bannaomh, ‘the Isle/Fair of the Female Saints.’ We may therefore ask why Tobar nam Naoi Beò is called. Is it because of the widow and her eight children remained alive when most of the island’s population had died? Is it because they were survivors of a shipwreck? Or is it because they live forever as saints in heaven?

150 yards south of Loch Earblaig - Alasdair MacDonald, Druimasadh, Balevullin, 11/1993.

Near the old kelp shed at Dùn Haingis - Alasdair Sinclair, Greenhill, 12/1993.

Under Loch Earblaig - Sandy MacKinnon, Kilkenneth.

Local Form:

Languages : Gaelic

Informants: Alasdair MacDonald, Druimasadh, Balevullin, 11/1993

Informant 2: Duncan MacPhee, Scarinish, 10/1995