A clachan (Irish: clochán, pronounced [kʰl̪ˠoxɑːn] or clachan, pronounced [kʰl̪ˠɑxɘn]; Scottish Gaelic: clachan, [kʰl̪ˠaxan]; Manx: claghan, pronounced [kʰl̪ˠaxan̪]) is a type of small traditional settlement common in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland until the middle of the 20th century. Originally kirktowns,[1][2] today they are usually defined as small villages lacking a church, post office, or other formal building. Their origin is unknown, but it is likely that they are of a very ancient root, most likely dating to medieval times. A true clachan would have been a cluster of small single-storey cottages of farmers and/or fishermen, invariably found on poorer land. They were 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 virtually disappeared.[3] In some cases, they have evolved into holiday villages, or one or two houses have taken over, turning smaller houses into agricultural outhouses. The remains can be seen in many upland and coastal areas. Sometimes they are clustered in a dip in the landscape, to protect from Atlantic winds, other times they 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).[1]
  • a paved road or causeway which in the earliest period were most commonly found leading to or from a church or cell[4]

This should not be confused with the Scottish Gaelic plural of clach which is clachan "stones", a homograph but not a homophone as it is pronounced /kʰl̪ˠaxən/.


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:

  • Clachan, Ontario, Canada

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b MacBain, A. (1911) An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language Stirling Eneas MacKay, 1982 edition by Gairm ISBN 0-901771-68-6
  2. ^ "Clachan". Dictionary of the Scots Language. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  3. ^ D. Lloyd. Irish Times: Temporalities of Modernity, Field Day Books, Dublin, 2008, p. 40-41.
  4. ^ "eDIL". Royal Irish Academy & University of Ulster. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 

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