Cladh Hallan

Context
Cladh Hallan refers to a burial ground in the western part of South Uist. There is also a Loch Hallan NF739220 next to the site which presumably contains the same element. According to the OS Name Books (OS1/18/12/39): ‘This name is applied to a burying ground situate about one mile to the S. W. [South West] of Askenish House and about one mile to the N.W [North West] of the Catholic Chapel in Daliburgh. It is supposed to have derived its name from a man of the name of Allan or Hall who has been buried there It is not an ancient place of Sepulture’. This interpretation seems highly unlikely and the second element of this name almost certainly represents Norse influence.

There is considerable archaeological evidence for prehistoric settlement at Cladh Hallan, including ‘an unusually well preserved group of Late Bronze Age to Iron Age roundhouses (c. 1100-200BC)’ (Parker Pearson et. al. 2005, 530). There are also ‘stones of early and late medieval date’ at the burial-ground (Fisher 2001, 108).

Discussion
This site is primarily of interest due to the presence of medieval sculptured stones which indicate Christian activity of a relatively early date. Notably, there is a cross-marked gravemarker which according to Fisher (2001, 163) was ‘presumably imported from Argyll since it is made of chlorite-schist’. However, the place-name associated with the site is difficult to interpret. The first element cladh is straightforward, denoting a burial ground in Gaelic, but the second element hallan is more problematic and considerably more complicated than the OS Name Books account would lead us to believe.

Firstly, although it seems likely that the element has Norse roots, it is not entirely clear what its etymology is or what the name actually refers to. It might be ON hallr ‘a slope, hill’, but due to the lack of early forms or alternative forms, it is difficult to trace the development of this name. There is a Hallin/Hàlainn on Skye next to Halistra which may share the same element, but according to AÀA ‘the current pronunciation does not suggest ON hallr. Halistra is near Hallin […] and may have a similar derivation although the quality of the [l] is different in each case.’ There is also a Hallans in Orkney for which Berit Sandnes (2010, 203) writes: ‘A field in Settiscarth. Some form of ON hallr m or hallan f “slope” appears to be the core of the name’. If this is our element, it could represent an unattested loan word into Gaelic, in which case this name would be a Gaelic coining (G cladh + loanword hallan). Without additional contextual evidence, the most likely interpretation is perhaps a simplex-name with the definite article of ON hallr, giving *Hallinn ‘the slope’. Unfortunately, this does not tell us much about the early Christian nature of this site.

Blaeu's Atlas (1654) - Gill near Frobost

There is a lost *Heillibost which survives in Liana Heillibost NF732225 (ca. 1km from Cladh Hallan), and a Garraheillie NF752219 (ca. 2km from Cladh Hallan) which may contain the same element. According to Peder Gammeltoft (2001, 121): ‘The origin of this name [*Heillibost] is difficult to ascertain. It would be tempting to analyse the specific as ON heilagr, adj., “holy”, but owing to the lack of early records this is impossible to ascertain. Another suggestion might be ON hella, f., “a flat stone or rock”’. In the context of this site, an interpretation with heilagr would be an attractive one, but if Gammeltoft is correct ON hella would be more likely.

Finally, it should also be noted that Blaeu records a Gill close to Frobost (see image) which may indicate a lost cill-name. If it does, we have no way of knowing what the original place-name might have looked like. Could this lost cill refer to a church at Cladh Hallan? Depending on how the orientation of the map is interpreted it is certainly a possibility.

Ultimately, the Norse place-names tell us little of the early Christian presence at Cladh Hallan. It is possible that a church existed here at some point if Blaeu’s map form refers to this site, but we are unable to trace the development and eventual loss of the place-name. It serves as a reminder of the many place-names that are now lost to us; it is mainly through the sculptural evidence that Cladh Hallan can be identified as an early medieval Christian site.

Other Sources
Cladh Hallan, South Uist: ‘There are no remains of the medieval parish church at Cladh Pheadair (NF 7353 2048) but there are stones of early and late medieval date at Cladh Hallan, 1.5km to the N […] A cross-marked gravemarker stands near the E wall, close to a graveslab of late medieval type. The cross-marked stone is an earthfast slab of gneiss, 0.67m in visible height by 0.49m and 0.15m thick. On the E face and to the right of centre there is incised a Latin cross, 0.23m in height and 0.12m in span. The surface is irregular and lichen-stained, but the terminals appear to be rounded and not expanded’ (Fisher 2001, 108).

Other Resources
Canmore ID 108429; 319486