Cnoc Bharr

Context
This name refers to a small hill located on the island of Ceann Iar, part of Na h-Eileanan Monach, west of Uist. The OS Name Books (OS1/18/8/7) describe it as follows: ‘This name signifies “the top of the hillock” and applies to a prominent Knoll situated near the east end of the Island of Ceann Iar’.

Discussion
The scant information available for this name raises several questions that cannot be easily answered. Firstly, there is a possibility that the specific element is not a saint’s name, but rather, as suggested by the OS Name Books, contains G bàrr ‘top’. However, if it does (as seems likely) contain a dedication to a saint, who is the saint in question? Also, what might the context for this type of name be? Topographical place-names are notoriously difficult to contextualise since they often represent minor features and rarely have an abundance of early forms, as is the case here. The religious dimension of Na h-Eileanan Monach from a relatively early date might support the interpretation of the second element in Cnoc Bharr as a saint’s name rather than the etymology suggested by the OS Name Books.

Assuming that the name is in fact a hagiotoponym, identifying the saint in question becomes more problematic. A number of non-specific saints can be found in Scotland with varying degrees of certainty belonging to a group with reflexes in ‘Findbarr, Beirrfind, Bairre, Uinniau, Finnén etc’ (see DoSH ‘saints’). Perhaps the most likely candidate here is Bairre mac Amairgin of Cork who is also the saint commemorated in Cille Bharra, located on the island of Barraigh – a Norse coining which also contains the same saint’s name. It is noteworthy that in various reflexes of this saint, which are possibly of the same origin, he is portrayed as the teacher of Columba (MacQuarrie and Butter 2012, 361). Considering the links between Na h-Eileanan Monach and Iona, such a dedication would be highly appropriate.

Other Resources
Saints in Scottish Place-Names (DoSH)‘Cnoc Bharr, North Uist (Monach Islands)’