Origin of the name Glenshee

Two origin stories of Glenshee are presented below. One is from the First Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799), and the other is from the website of the Glenshee Tourist Association, which presumably takes its information from the book Glenshee: the Glen of the Fairies (2000) by Antony MacKenzie Smith.

Statistical Account

‘In tracing the origin of the name of Glenshee, the following conjecture is offered. It appears to have been the practice among the Druids, to hold aflizes (?) in the most convenient part of the country, to decide differences and administer justice. The persons who exercised this office were called Sith-dhaoine, or Sithichean, peace-makers. A round hill, at the head of the glen, called Sith-dhun, the hill of peace, may have been one of the places for holding these courts of justice; and hence the whole glen may have got its name. Another conjecture is, that Sith dhun may have been the place of concluding and ratifying a peace, between two contending tribes or clans.’

Glen of the Fairies

‘Glenshee is a magical place with a rich history, and for a thousand years has been Scotland’s hidden route north to the Highlands. Lying in the extreme north-east corner of Perthshire, Glenshee takes its name from the Gaelic word shith, signifying ‘fairies’. Until the old tongue died out in the late 1800’s the inhabitants were known as Sithichean a’ Ghlinnshith – ‘The Elves of Glenshee’. The Glen’s ancient meeting place behind the kirk was called Dun Shith (Hill of the Fairies) and is still dominated by a standing stone from the Bronze age. The Coire Shith or Fairy Burn, plunges down the side of Ben Gulabin, the mountain commanding the head of Glenshee and adds still more weight to the glens fairy past. In the 1820’s there existed at the Spittal of Glenshee, a Chapel of Ease many centuries old. When the church was to be re-built some distance further down the glen, the workman woke each morning to find the foundations dispersed and tools scattered. After several unsuccessful attempts and much discussion with the locals, it was decided not to antagonise the fairies further and to build the new church where it had always been! It is said the fairies soon decide whether visitors are welcome or not, and that those accepted will continue to return to the glen for the rest of their lives.’

Verdict

The differences between both passages seem to hinge upon their interpretation of the Gaelic word Sith or Shith (both pronouced ‘Shee’). Both passages refer to the ancient meeting place on the hill called Sith-dhun or Dun Shith. However, the first version believes this was called the Hill of Peace, whereas the second calls it the Hill of the Fairies. The interpretation from the Statistical Account seems a lot more plausible, but legends – about fairies, for example – can be just as powerful as real world events when it comes to the naming of places.

This page was added by Sally Gingell on 27/01/2014.

Comments about this page

  • “Aflizes” should read “assizes”. In old typed script the double ”s” was shown by a double “f”. Assizes is a word still in current usage regarding the settlement or judgement of law suits.

    By Colin Liddell (20/09/2014)

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