Derivation of Place Names: Farland Head

Recently we have been exploring our Nordic past (see this post) as expressed in the place names of the Portencross area.

We know that, prior to his mysterious death and beheading at the Battle of Renfrew (1164), we were part of the territory of Somerled mac Gillebride, the Norse-Gaelic King of Mann and Lord of the Isles. Gaelic or middle Irish for Somerled can be expressed as Somairle, Somhairle, or Somhairlidh and in old Norse   as Sumarliði. From his name we derive the area of Summerlea which is to the South of Ardneil and the Haef Weg.

The Haef Weg is the old Norse name meaning “Way to the Sea”. In Skaldic poetry (a hybrid language of old Norse and Gaelic, used by the Bards of Iceland, Ireland, Wales and the west of Scotland) it sometimes can mean “The Way to the Boats” (though more usually this is “Floata Weg”). The remaining sign of this ancient track is our Half Way Street and Happy Hills (Haef Weg Hills). Our ancient “Haef Weg” appears on many old maps, and originally stretched from modern day Portencross, along Portencross Road, up and over Corsehill to join with Halfway Street, down our Main Street, over Bridgend, up Law Brae, through where Law Castle now stands to join the Old Dalry Road that stretched round the side of Law Hill and through the Blackshaw estate. The Haef Weg would ultimately lead to Glasgow, the Royal Burgh of Renfrew or Dunfermline Abbey – it is beyond my remit to study the land beyond our borders to discover which. This path would have been used pre Somerled and the Skaldic name would seem to indicate a date around the 9th and 10th centuries.

It is entirely possible that the Haef Weg has actually been there much longer, e.g. since the Bronze Age, since we are aware of the Auldhill Fort, but this is a discussion of another article.

The Hunterston Brooch was made around 700AD but had viking runes added to it some 200 years later. It was found to the side of the Haef Weg just below Farland Head. This archaeological find also fits with the proposition that many of the place names around Portencross have Norse-Gaelic origins.

the name Ardneil also betrays early roots. Nowadays we think of Ardneil as the beach, whereas in fact Ardneil was a medieval agricultural settlement to the north of the Haef Weg, below Farland Head. In early medieval times Ardneil

ardneil farm

was the town of the Hunters from where we derive Hunterston. Ard is old Gaelic meaning headland and in this case means the Headland of Niall. The name Niall refers to the Irish Ui Niéll dynasty that started with King Niall  Noígíallach known as Niall of the Nine Hostages. This is likely to simply mean that the headland belonged to one of the Irish Gaels in the extended dynastic rule of the Ui Niéll, in the same way as we believe Ardrossan to mean the headland of the de Ross family.

So we have a lot of evidence in this area pointing to the Gaelic Norse of the 9th-12th Centuries.

We turn now to Farland Head to the east of Portencross Castle and the North of the Haef Weg. Farland is the shortened version of the old Scots “Farthing Land” meaning a portion of land that might attract rent of a farthing. If your name is MacFarland then it is entirely possible that your ancestor was a tenant on a farthing piece of land.

However, this hides another older derivation. After Somerled came the Norman / Anglo Saxon invasion of the west coast. This led to a division of lands as determined by the feudal landholder (the King owned all lands but gave the land rights out to the great families) according to the rent they might achieve. This gave such names as we can see dotted all over the West such as Merklands, Pennylands, and Farthinglands. This Scots currency derived from the Viking where an ounce of silver would be split into eighteen or twenty silver pennies. The original Viking Norse rent equivalent to a quarter of a silver penny was a fjording which became the Gaelic feóirling and through to our farthing. Farland is therefore derived originally from the “fjording land”.

Curiously, the Firth (of Clyde) is also derived from the Norse “Fjord”.

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