Abertay

Abertay FPC LEU C NO535284 1 352 0m

?   Avertie head 1636 x 1652 Gordon MS 46 [Robert Gordon; no sands named to south of estuary mouth]
?   Avirtee head 1636 x 1652 Gordon MS 47 [Robert Gordon; Drumlay Sand to south of estuary mouth]
?   Diverty heade 1642 Gordon MS Fife [James Gordon (son of Robert)]
?   Divertie Head 1654 Blaeu (Gordon) Fife
    Abertay 1703 Adair/Sea-Coast (Tay) [shown to south of estuary mouth, with Drumly on the north (Angus) side]
    Abertay 1775 Ainslie/Fife
    Abertay Sands 1855 OS 6 inch 1st edn

This is a very problematical name. While it is generally considered to be a relatively modern coining, constructed with an antiquarian awareness of the meaning of the place-name element Aber- as ‘river-mouth’, the Gordon MS forms show that the story is more complex than this. Furthermore it has even been suggested that a line in the difficult eleventh-century poem ‘The Prophecy of Berchán’ contains an early form of the name. This poem is cast as a series of prophetic utterances about the kings of Scotland and Ireland, without explicitly mentioning their names. The verse in question refers to the late tenth-century king Constantine son of Culen (Cústantín mac Cuiléin), whose brief reign ended in death in battle in 997 (ES i, 517–19, Hudson 1996, 89; Woolf 2007, 220–2). The most recent editor of the ‘Prophecy’, would restore the underlying text as follows: §176 ‘chomann catha bidh háe / de sruthlinn frisin-abar Tóe’;[194] translating it as: ‘this cattle-pound of battle will be his, at the stream called the Tay’. The different interpretations of these lines well exemplify the textual and semantic problems of this poem. W. F. Skene (Chron. Picts-Scots, 97) has: ‘A ccoman catha be h-e / De Sruthlinn frisi n-abar Toe’, translating: ‘The leader of the hosts was he, Of Sruthlinn which is called Toe’; while A. O. Anderson translates it: ‘He will be in communion of battle, from Stirling to Abertay’, stating in a footnote: ‘The writers of both MSS. thought the place to be Aber-Tay’ (no extant MS being earlier than the eighteenth century) (ES i, 519). Anderson’s own edition of Berchán, on which he based his ES translation, has: ‘a coman catha bidh he / de Sruth-linn frisi anabar Tóe’; in a footnote he states that the final words should be read fri habar, and means ‘[a]pparently “from Stirling to the mouth of the Tay”. Professor Watson suggests: ‘n sruithlinn fris-n-abar Tóe “their meeting in battle will be the stream which is called Tay”?’ (1929, 50). While Anderson would see abar as part of the place-name Abertay, Skene, Watson and Hudson all base their reading on abar as a passive form of OG as-beir ‘says’, meaning ‘is said, is called’.[195]

    In the light (or half-light) of all the above, it can safely be said that the figurative jury is still out regarding the origins of the name.

    The seventeenth-century forms apply to the north-easterly tip of Fife, now known as Tentsmuir Point (q.v., below). The name has survived in OS Pathf. (352) Abertay Sands, a large sand-bank off the north Tentsmuir coast, centred on NO535284. It seems also to have been known as Drumlaw Sand (q.v., below). Its eastern extremity is marked on OS Pathf. as Elbow, presumably for ‘The Elbow’. It is called Elbow Bank on OS 6 inch (1855).

    Abertay is now more widely known as the name of one of Dundee’s two universities. Formerly called the Dundee Institute of Technology, founded in 1888, it became Abertay University in 1994.

This place-name appeared in printed volume 4