Place-names (1)

Place-names (1)

The vocabulary of the Manx language has been enriched in no small degree with words bequeathed to it by the seafarers from the Northlands. A very familiar coast name termination is WICK, which occurs no less than thirty times around the coast. A VIK means a creek or bay, as in Soderick, Garwick, Fleshwick and Perwick, all named on account of the creeks being frequented by the Norsemen who were called Vikings or Wiking as the Norsemen pronounced it.

Ramsay was called in ‘The Chronicle’, RAMSA, from the Norwegian HRAMNS-Á meaning ‘the Raven’s river.’ This river is the boundary between Lezayre and Maughold. Ramsey Bay was to the Norsemen the most important landing place for when the tide was in the longships could run far inland up the Sulby river. Next to Ramsay came Peel Bay on account of the importance of St. Patrick’s Isle fortress: HOLM-TÚN as it was called (later Anglicised as Holm Town).

The most used bay, however, was what is now called Derbyhaven. Its oldest name was Comsary from the Gaelic CAMUS NY REE, ‘the Bay of the Kings.’ When the Norsemen came they called it ROGNALD’S VAGR or ‘Reginald’s Bay.’ It is undoubtedly the memory of King Reginald (1187-1228) that is preserved in the present Ronaldsway. He dwelt at Castle Rushen and probably built the old chapel which afterwards became the Academy.

When the Derbys became Lords of Man, the port became present day Derbyhaven. Thus we have three distinct names bearing the impress of royalty: the Gaelic CAMUS NY REE ‘the Royal bay,’ the Norse ROGNALD’S VAGR, ‘King Reginald’s Bay’; and Derby Haven after the Earls of Derby. Why was Derby Haven a royal port? In Norse times there was a tarbert across the narrow neck of Langness providing access to the inner and safe waters of Castletown Bay as the entrance to the latter was dangerous (as it is today); while on the other hand Derbyhaven is one of our most natural harbours. A tarbert means a narrow isthmus where the flat-bottomed galleys of the Norsemen could easily be dragged over and launched on the other side, and rowed then in safety to the Castle of Rushen. Guarding the southern entrance to Derbyhaven is the little island of INIS MICHEL, St. Michael’s Isle, now called Fort Island after the fort built there by the 7th Earl of Derby about 1640, but near by is the site of a much earlier fortress. The name of the peninsula, LANGNESS, is Norse, and means ‘long nose.’

Our Norse place-names often illustrate a wealth of past history. The ancestral family farm of our Norse ancestors with its place of worship, often raised on a Celtic site and the saint’s name duly preserved, reflects as in a mirror an old-world society with its various strata of aristocrats, freemen and thralls – a society which with its admixture of Celtic blood has become the basis of our nation.


(source: Island Heritage by William Cubbon; photo is ‘Out to Plunder’ by Kellebass http://bit.ly/1i02qnL)

Bernadette Weyde

Bernadette Weyde

I'm a web designer, amateur historian and keen gardener and I enjoy bringing Manx history, folklore and poetry to a modern audience.


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