gallow’s hill

Sometimes clues to the past lie within the place names. That is especially true for Scotland where the Gaels were very descriptive in their naming of landscape as well as man-made places. A map often tells you many things about a place before you even visit.

It is down to the proper translation though, to get a true insight into the history of the place. But sometimes, there is room for error, even when it comes to graveyards.

Take Tomnacross for example.

The graveyard that surrounds the church lies on a small hill and on that hill another terraced hillock rises with a single tree in its middle. A strange and seemingly man-made structure and very unusual within a churchyard. All the more obvious because of the red foliage.

What is this? What does it signify? Is there somebody buried underneath that mound?

A 19th century source translates Tomnacross from Gaelic as meaning hillock of the cross and points out that it had always been a holy spot because in the vicinity six places of Druidical worship had been found.

Tomnacross is a place of ancient worship and long forgotten Gods? Right round the corner from the famous Belladrum festival?

Sounds plausible but is it true?

Another translation, and this time the correct one, points out that Tom-na-Cross is derived from the Gaelic tom na croiche and croiche does not mean cross but gallows.

What is still clearly visible in Tomnacross graveyard is the old gallow’s hill, a place of death and not of ancient worship.

Quite chilling to come across such a site in a peaceful place like this.

By the time the church was built and the graveyard established, the gallows were long gone. Their memories remain, for those who know what to look for. The hanged criminals would have been buried somewhere else. Their last view would have been this or what this view looked like at a time long gone.

sources and further reading:

Lachlan Shaw and  James Frederick Skinner Gordon: The history of the Province of Moray : comprising the counties of Elgin and Nairn, the greater part of the County of Inverness and a portion of the County of Banff, all called the Province of Moray before there was a division into counties. 1882

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