Cill Amhlaidh

Context
The site of Cill Amlaidh is located between Loch Bì and the north-western coast of South Uist (with the coastline pictured above). On the OS 6-inch map it is listed as a disused burial ground, but the lack of archaeological evidence for the church has led archaeologists to believe that the remains may be ‘buried beneath the modern houses at Kilauley’ (Parker Pearson, Sharples & Symonds 2004, 158).

The OS Name Books (OS1/18/10/84) provide an interesting example of local folklore relating to this site, stating that: ‘This name applies to a Burying place in the district of Kilaulay and [is] Supposed to be the burying place of a Danish Princess of the name of Alua or Oloff which was caught in a storm and blown to Uist’. Although this is highly unlikely, and the name almost certainly refers to St Olaf, King of Norway, it is an intriguing example of local users of the name engaging with a recognisably Norse name and re-interpreting it.

Discussion
Although there is a slight possibility that this site is dedicated to Amhlaibh Cúaran, king of Dublin (see Amhlaidh), it is more likely that it is dedicated to St Olaf, King of Norway 1016-30. This provides firmer dating grounds than many other hagiotoponyms and representing one of the few specifically Scandinavian cults in the Hebrides (Abrams 2007, 177). The saint in question having died in 1030, all dedications to him must have been coined after this date. Thus, the site may represent an early dedication to Olaf in the 11th century, but it could also reflect the ambitions of the Norwegian church during the 12th century following the incorporation of the see of Sodor (which included the Hebrides) into the archiepiscopal see of Nidaros (Rekdal 2003-4, 257, but also see Amhlaidh). This does not necessarily mean that the site itself cannot be earlier since re-dedications are possible. The early map forms (albeit post-medieval) consistently list this site as dedicated to St Olaf. The lack of archaeological evidence for Cill Amhlaidh also makes it difficult to provide further contextual evidence for this site. Raven (2005, 162-3) has proposed that the proximity of Cill Amhlaidh to Àird Choinnich may indicate the latter having taken over from the former. However, this is problematic since both names are recorded by Blaeu as separate church sites (also see Àird Choinnich and Amhlaidh).

Discussing this site in the context of the spread of the cult of St Olaf places it firmly with the North Atlantic, Scandinavian sphere of influence during the Middle Ages. Such dedications may indicate that the Hebrides ‘were more integrated into the into the Christianity of the Irish Sea’ in comparison with more localised, independent cults in the Northern Isles during the Norse period (Abrams 2007, 178). Power’s (1990, 20) statement that it may be that ‘the Norse in the Hebrides had mingled more fully with their neighbours [than Orkney and Shetland], and had more readily adopted Christianity and the visitation of local shrines’ further highlights the dedication to St Olaf, a Scandinavian saint, as unusual.

Other Sources
OS Name Books (OS1/18/10/84): ‘Meaning obscure
This name applies to a Burying place in the district of Kilaulay and [is] Supposed to be the burying place of a Danish Princess of the name of Alua or Oloff which was caught in a storm and blown to Uist it is now (Disused)’

Other Resources
Canmore ID 9904
Saints in Scottish Place-Names (DoSH) ‘Olaf, King of Norway’