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’.
For research notes see our database.