Danish Prince or Irish Saint?

Killearnan, Black Isle – an old church, cross-shaped, a graveyard, few old stone slabs, a mausoleum, and one unanswered question: Where does the name of the graveyard come from?

The first part of the composite noun is easy to determine: Kill is the Gaelic cil meaning “church”. The opinions differ on the second part of the name. Who was Earnan, the church was named after?

Most sources cite each other and eventually the New Statistical account of Scotland that “the origin of the name is uncertain. Tradition makes the burying-ground, which gives its name to the parish, to have been the burying-ground of Irenan, a Danish prince who fell in battle on the northern confines of the parish, where cairn Irenan still exists.”

This is indeed a very likely scenario, many places, especially along the coast, have been assumed to carry the names of Danish princes or princesses: Loch Pooltiel, Isle of Skye or Craigmony at Loch Ness to name but two.

The second theory is supported by Nigel Tranter, author of numerous books about Scottish history. He believes the name to derive from St Earnan, one of the twelve monks that followed St Columba from Ireland to Scotland in 563: “…men whose names are familiar to us all in Scotland through the churches which they founded – Brendan’s Kilbrennan or Kilbrandon; Earnan’s Kilearnan…”. Tranter adds a few more names which makes the theory compelling.

There is a third theory as to where the name of the graveyard comes from and that relies on linguistic evidence. Whatson claims it is Cill-iùrnain, there is also a Càrn-iùrnain in this parish… Iturnan is, of course, the name of the saint who founded the cil or to whom it was dedicated.” And while Earnan, St. Columba’s nephew, is not likely considering Gaelic phonetics, Iturnan is. This Iturnan according to at least two sources, died among the Picts in 665, not long after the arrival of the missionaries.

Killearnan in the Black Isle is a beautiful graveyard, no matter who it is dedicated to, a saint from Ireland or a prince from Denmark.

Liked the read? There’s more here...

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon. 

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. 

Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

Sources and further reading:

Nigel Tranter: The Story of Scotland

William John Watson: Place Names of Ross and Cromarty, Franklin Classics, 2018

The new statistical account of Scotland, Volume 1



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