Robby O’ Maolalaigh of Glasgow Uni has asked me whether we might be able to find anyone who would know the word gill towal ‘horse-leech’ that Mactaggart has in his The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia (1824: 229)? I was wondering if any of the older local informants that Rachel has been talking to regarding field-names might have this still in their vocabulary (given MacT was from Borgue).
He particularly wants to establish if the second part is pronounced as E. towel and whether the word is one or two syllables.
I take it Roibeard’s wondering whether it’s related to Gaelic deal-tholl, as is said in the SND, from deala ‘a leech’ + toll, verb ‘to bore’, noun ‘a hole’. MacTaggart’s spelling towal makes it look like a disyllable, which I suppose raises doubt about Gaelic toll. But ‘gell’ is Gaelic geal, listed by Dwelly as a variant of deala.
MacTaggart’s explanation is gruesome: ‘The horse-leeches … continue sucking so long as they can get a drop of blood, while the life-stream flows out of their nether end, whence the name “Towals”, or tails, leeches at either end.’
Yuk! Reminds me of cleaning our pond a few weeks back, there’s a certain type of worm in there that burrows into ducks etc but will try to do so to Humans, it gets in but dies just under the skin. My son had several of these, you can imagine the mess he was in.
I’m not sure the disyllable is an insurmountable problem, if that’s what it is, the G word toll is pronounced (at least to my ear) as towl.
Robby is finishing his paper relating to his presentation at the CatStrand in 2018 and his enquiry is to do with that, I’m not sure exactly why he wants this pronunciation.
Any old timers down there likely to know the term?