Quinag Wildlife Project – The Place-names of Quinag
History Talks Live, organized by the Centre for History of the University of the Highlands and Islands, included, on 21stJanuary 2021, a fascinating presentation on The Place-names of Assynt by Gemma Smith.
Amongst a large audience in January were several members of the Assynt Field Club. They wondered whether Gemma might be persuaded to prepare an account of the place-names of Quinag as a special contribution to the Quinag Wildlife Project. She agreed to do so, with funding from Coigach and Assynt Living Landscapes Project, and this is the result.
Gemma tells us that she grew up in Leith in the 1980s and 90s, fleeing west to begin her first degree in Film Studies and Art History in 1997, never to return. During her subsequent twenty-year career in hospitality, she worked in some of Glasgow’s best-loved pubs and restaurants, made ice-cream on the Isle of Skye, and as a NTS Work Party chef, catered for birdwatchers on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic [St Kilda].
She started learning Gaelic in 2014 as part of her second degree in Scottish History & Celtic Studies, primarily out of frustration at not being able to read the names on the map. Little did she realise that six years later she would be deep in the realm of onomastics, specializing in the study of Gaelic place-names as a source for the ecological history of her favourite part of the country.
Having become ‘possessed’ by Assynt and the wider area after her first visit in 2015, she was delighted to be able to produce a gazetteer of the place-names of Quinag, a hill on which she camped one blissfully peaceful night in the summer of 2018.
Her current PhD project in the Department of Celtic and Gaelic at the University of Glasgow concerns the sheiling landscapes of north-west Sutherland, challenging modern ‘wilderness’ narratives and repositioning people at the heart of the ecology of the Highlands. She is a keen swimmer, walker, cook and budding lockdown cyclist.