Tarbert: what’s in a name?

Did you ever arrange to meet someone at Tarbert in Scotland, and find there’s more than one? In this extract we take a look at the Gaelic origins of the town’s name, and find the locations of some of the towns.

In Scots or Irish Gaelic, ‘an tairbeart’ translates to ‘the isthmus’ in English today but it derives from ‘tar’, across and ‘ber’ to carry. So seeking the origins of a modern-day ‘Tarbert’, it’s a place where boats were carried over a narrow strip of land, known as ‘portage’.

West Loch Tarbert, Argyll and Bute Photo: Alistair Randall
West Loch Tarbert, Argyll and Bute Photo: Alistair Randall

Sailors in the west of Scotland may find many examples as they make passage along the coast and amongst the Western Isles:

Tarbert, Argyll & Bute at the northern end of the Kintyre peninsula
Tarbert, Outer Hebrides, ferry port on the Isle of Harris
Loch Tarbert, Jura, west coast of the island of Jura
West Loch Tarbert, inlet between North and South Harris
East Loch Tarbert also by Harris in the Outer Hebrides
West Loch Tarbert, Argyll & Bute
East Loch Tarbert, Argyll & Bute
Glen Tarbert, between Loch Linnhe and Loch Sunart
Tarbert Hill, above West Kilbride
Tarbert Bay, on the Isle of Canna
Loch Tarbert, on the Isle of Jura
East Tarbert Bay and West Tarbert Bay on the Isle of Gigha