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Clach nan Tàillear

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Clach nan TàillearClach nan Tàillear - 15th July 2009

Clach nan Tàillear is a group of stones by the track to Làirig Dhrù in upper Gleann Dhé opposite the confluence of Allt Coire an t-Saighdeir with the Dé.  The largest of these strangely ribbed stones are certainly large enough for its lee to provide some shelter.

As a place name Clach nan Tàillear – means stone of the tailors.  The legend explaining the derivation of the name tells of the deaths of three tailors who died there – in Gordon (1925) – the author gives the ‘three dells’ version – writing :

Certain tailors, to the number of three or more, one winter long ago wagered that within the twenty-four hours they would dance at the “three dells.”   These dells were the Dell of Abernethy, the Dell of Rothiemurchus, and Dalmore near Braemar.  They danced at Abernethy and at Rothiemurchus, but blizzard of snow overtook them in the Lairig, and they died in the shelter of the stone

– Gordon (1925) (p77) 

If the legend is true the name, and form of the name are correct – it would be a stone associated with more than one tailor.  I’m unconvinced – the legend in its various inconsistent forms is repeated often, but without any evidence.  In Gordon (1948) it’s ‘the hours of a winter day’, and in Watson (1975) it’s ‘one New Year’s Eve’, but I’ve yet to read an account that offers any evidence that any tailors died in the snow or otherwise between Rothiemurchus and Mar. 

I'm sceptical because there are details recorded for other winter deaths in the Cairngorms at least as early as Gaick 1799, and Lairig Laoigh 1805.  So why are there no details about the deaths of these three tailors?  How likely is it that three 18th century tailors were reckless enough to attempt crossing from Rothiemurchus to Mar on a short winter days. 

It’s a great legend, and I love the idea of the name commemorating the deaths of the three tailors, but let me suggest another possible derivation.  The name is always discussed in the context of the accepted legend – I’m suggesting we’ve all assumed the legend is true, assumed the name is derived from the legend, assumed the name must mean stone of the tailors.  But what if those assumptions are wrong?  I’m assuming (now) that Gaelic speech has the same difficulty that English speech has to communicate plurality, and possessiveness.  If I spoke a little sloppily, and you heard me say “tailors stone” – you wouldn’t know if I meant the stone was associated with a single tailor, several tailors, or someone whose name ‘sounded like’ tailor.  In Taylor (1618) – the author refers to travelling from Mar to Bandenoch writing :

Thus having spent certain days in the Brae of Mar, we went to the next county called Badenoch, belonging to the Earl of Enzie 

– Taylor (1618) (p54) 

When I read that, a spark went off in my head – isn’t it just possible that John Taylor travelled to Badenoch through Làirig Dhrù, and just possible the name actually commemorated his passing in the early 17th century?  The earls on both sides of Làirig Dhrù appeared to have made enough fuss over him for that to have happened.