The psychic toll of placenames

This Celtic Christian culture of retreat originated in the Ireland of the fifth and sixth centuries. Begun by St Patrick in the 430s, and inspired by the desert saints of the preceding centuries, the practice of retreat spread to what are now western Scotland and coastal Wales: a centrifugal motion, carrying men to the brinks of Europe and beyond… We can surmise that the monks moved outwards because they wished to leave behind inhabited land: land in which every feature was named. Almost all Celtic placenames are commemorative: the bardic schools, as late as the seventeenth century, taught the history of places through their names, so that the landscape became a theatre of memory, continually reminding its inhabitants of attachment and belonging.

— Robert MacFarlane