Ail-, Al-

Place-name element:Ail-, Al-
Dwelly Dictionary [1]:Gaelic ail-, al- ‘rock, stone’

Sir Herbert Maxwell [2] identifies the use and origins of the place-name element in Galloway as follows  –

‘I have not recognised fail (foil), a cliff, which gives names to places in the south of Ireland, in our topography. In the north of Ireland it passes into ail (oil), and, though not now a living word in Scottish Gaelic, has at least been in use at some former time in Galloway, as is shown by the names of some hills in that district : Alhang (2,200 feet), Alwhat (1937 feet) — ail chat (haat), cliff of the wild cat ; and Alwhillan — ail chuilean, cliff of the whelps, or chuilhain, of the holly.’

Alhang and Alwhat

Map 1 | Alhang and  Alwhat, New Cumnock (By Permission of National Library of Scotland)

Alhang and Alwhannie

Map 2| Alhang and Allwhannie (By Permission of National Library of Scotland)

On first impression, neither Alhang or Alwhat are appear cliff-like in form. The drop over the boundary is much steeper and it is on the lower slopes of Alhang where Allwhillan is found, yet still little evidence of cliff-like features, other than being steep.

However the description of both hills in the Ordnance Survey Name Books of Kirkcudbrightshire  refers to their surfaces as comprising ‘rocky pastures‘, no doubt the source of the stones that were used to mark out the county boundary. This is in keeping with the ‘Dwelly Dictionary’ [1] entries ail-, alrock, stone’.

N.B. Maxwell, in his later work “The Place-names of Galloway”, drops the reference to cliffs and simply refers to both Alhang and Allwhat as hills [3].


[1] Edward Dwelly | Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary (1902-1912)
[2] Sir Herbert Maxwell | Scottish land-names; their origin and meaning (1894)
[3] Sir Herbert Maxwell | The Place-Names of Galloway (1930/ (Reprint 2001))

By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1 | OS Map 1:25,000 maps of Great Britain (1937-1961)
Map 2 | OS Map Six-inch (1892-1960)

Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books Vol. 4 (1848-51) | Alhang
Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books Vol. 5 (1848-51) | Alhang
Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books Vol. 4 (1848-51) | Alwhat
Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books Vol. 5 (1848-51) | Alwhat