Originally published in the Scotsman on 2 July 2016
This rock was an important strategic site in late antiquity and it is perhaps no surprise that it was mentioned for the first time as early as 658 AD: as Alo Cluathe, and for several hundred years thereafter, with variations in spelling. In modern Gaelic this would be Ail Chluaidh ‘the rock of the Clyde’. Ail is a now-extinct Gaelic word meaning a ‘rock’ or ‘cliff’; it appears in several other place-names, such as Alloway and Alloa, both likely relating to the same feature: Ail-mhagh ‘rock plain’. It also appears in the Gaelic word mac-talla or mac-alla ‘echo’, literally ‘the son of the cliff’.
In modern Gaelic the name is not so well known, although in Perthshire a proverb was recorded: cho bodhar ri Creig Chluaidh ‘as deaf as Dumbarton Rock’, a variant on the better-known version: cho bodhar ri cloich ‘as deaf as a stone’.
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