A clachan (Irish: clochán [ˈkl̪ˠɔxaːnˠ] or clachan [ˈkl̪ˠaxənˠ]; Scottish Gaelic: clachan [ˈkʰl̪ˠaxan]; Manx: claghan [ˈkʰlaxan]) is a small settlement or hamlet on the island of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland.[1] Though many were originally kirktowns,[2][3] today they are often thought of as small villages lacking a church, post office, or other formal building. It is likely that many date to medieval times or earlier – a cluster of small single-storey cottages of farmers and/or fishermen, invariably found on poorer land. They were often related to the rundale system of farming.

According to David Lloyd, the Great Famine in Ireland (1845–49) caused such disruption to the social system that the clachans there virtually disappeared;[4] many in the Scottish Highlands were victims of the Clearances. In some cases, they have evolved into holiday villages, or one or two houses have taken over, turning smaller houses into agricultural outhouses. Remains can be seen in many upland and coastal areas. Some are clustered in a dip in the landscape, to protect from Atlantic winds, but others stretch haphazardly along main roads.


The word is composed of two elements, clach/cloch meaning "stone" and the masculine diminutive suffix -an/-án. It originally denoted one of two things:

  • a monastic stone-cell (clochán).[2]
  • a paved road or causeway which in the earliest period were most commonly found leading to or from a church or cell[5]

This should not be confused with the Scottish Gaelic plural of clach which is clachan "stones", a homonym.


In Ireland:

In the meaning of "causeway", the most prominent example in Irish is the Giant's Causeway, known in Irish as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach.

In Scotland, clachans can be found in Argyll and Bute, Highland Perthshire and in the Highland Council region but also elsewhere, for example:

In Canada:


  1. ^ The Scots Dialect Dictionary, compiled by Alexander Warrack, 1911, p 85 (reprinted, with an introduction by Betty Kirkpatrick, by Tantallon Books, 1988)
  2. ^ a b MacBain, A. (1911) An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language Stirling Eneas MacKay, 1982 edition by Gairm ISBN 0-901771-68-6
  3. ^ "Clachan". Dictionary of the Scots Language. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 2011-10-24.
  4. ^ D. Lloyd. Irish Times: Temporalities of Modernity, Field Day Books, Dublin, 2008, p. 40-41.
  5. ^ "eDIL". Royal Irish Academy & University of Ulster. Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2012.

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