A Gaelic Tour of Skye

The place names in Skye have deep meaning and a connection to Scotland’s history. We explore the language behind the island landmarks and the place itself.

ISLE OF SKYE

Gaelic: Eilean a Cheo

Eilean is the Gaelic word for island. The Isle of Skye has its origins in the Norse word for clouds (‘sky’) with the suffix ‘ye’ meaning ‘island’ – literally ‘Island of Clouds’. The Gaelic name for Skye ‘Eilean a Cheo’ translates as ‘Misty Isle’.

DUNVEGAN

Gaelic: Dùn Bheagain

You may notice several place names in Scotland which include the Gaelic dùn meaning ‘fort’. Dunvegan is just one example. Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the MacLeods, has a long history that predates the distinctive stone keep, built in the 14th Century. The second part of the name either refers to the Norse chieftain Began, or derives from the Gaelic word ‘bheagain’ meaning ‘few’, making Dunvegan The Fort of the Few.

PORTREE

Gaelic: Port-an-Righ

The main town on the Isle of Skye was previously called Kiltaraglen from the Gaelic word ‘Cill’ meaning ‘church’. The lyrical name means ‘the church at the foot of the glen’. The village was renamed in the 16th Century following a royal visit from King James V. With the king’s boat berthed in the harbour, Kiltaraglen became Port-an-Righ, the King’s Port!

KYLEAKIN

Gaelic: Caol Àcain

For many visitors to the island, Kyleakin is the first village they reach after the bridge. The place name dates back to the 13th Century. Meaning ‘Straits of Hakkon’, the name Kyleakin is thought to derive from the Gaelic word for a narrow strait of water (‘caol’) coupled with a reference to King Haakon IV of Norway, whose fleet moored there prior to the Battle of Largs in 1263.