Main Sections
Blog Categories

Brither Clip Gut

A Suggested Origin Of Name


Brither Clip Gut is the name applied to a small rocky islet to the East of Onchan Harbour and below Majestic View. The earliest known record of the name appears to be the 1869 Ordnance Survey.

J.J. Kneen in his Manx Place Names states that the meaning of Brither Clip is obscure and suggests that the name may commemorate a shipwreck at the spot. There is a tradition, or folk memory, of a Dutch vessel being wrecked there and Kneen may have come across this during his research.

A.W. Moore in his Place Names in chapter VII headed "English Names", page 315, rather surprisingly included this name amongst those he considered to be "..purely fanciful and of recent origin..." such as Bailie Gullet, Brither Clip Gut, Farm Hill etc.”

Taking the three elements of the name in reverse order, GUT is a borrowed English word signifying a narrow strait or channel of water. The rock is separated from the coastline by such a narrow channel of water except at low tide.

The word CLIP is less straightforward. On the possibility that Brither Clip might be a corruption of the name of a Dutch vessel, the writer contacted the Scheepvaartmuseum, (maritime museum), in Amsterdam to see whether a Dutch name which might be so corrupted came to mind. Their letter of 3rd November 1993 offered the following -

  "Clip is in Dutch (if written with a k, klip) steep rock. The word "Brit" is in Dutch a small piece, splinter or fragment".

Brit(her) Clip might thus mean "a small piece of rock" but it seemed unlikely that the name would have its origin in the Dutch language. They confirmed my query that the type of sailing ship known as a "clipper" had a Dutch equivalent of "klipper" and thus the slight possibility remained that Clip might indicate the type of vessel reputed to be lost at this site.

Whilst walking on the coast road near the former Howstrake Camp, the writer was struck by the similarities of the features of the rock, apparently unnamed, just off the coast a little to the North of the former sealion pens on Clay Head, and of those of Brither Clip Gut. This, in turn, brought to mind the rock known as the Clett further to the North on Clay Head. All have a common factor in being just off a rocky coastline from which they are separated by a narrow channel. There is also a certain similarity in the words Clett  and  Clip.

Returning to Kneen's Place Names, the following references were noted. In the Parish of Rushen is Clet y Bowe Veg - the isolated rock of the little tidal rock. Kneen states that Clet derives from the Norse  Klettr  meaning a rock and continues that Cregeen, in his dictionary, says that "..a Clett is a rock in the sea near a larger one..". Kneen lists a further Clet on the coastline of the Parish of Santon. More significantly, he records the Cletts off Maughold Head, marked on the 1870 Ordnance Survey map as The Clytts but which Kneen states were known locally as The Cleps. The name refers to two pointed rocks and the modern 1:25,000 map shows them as  The Cletts, situated near Gob ny Strona on the South side of Maughold Head. He gives the origins as deriving "..either from Scand. Klettr or Kleppr both meaning a rock..". A further Clett, marked on the 1:25,000 map, is Clett Aldrick, about half a mile North of the Calf Sound towards Port Erin.

The writer suggests that CLIP is a variant of CLEP or CLET and signifies an isolated rock. Perhaps surprisingly, we have come full circle and are back to the Dutch word KLIP which means  "..a steep rock..". It was then found that the word "rock" in modern Norwegian is Klippe, and in Danish, Klippa.

It would seem unlikely that, as the name Brither Clip Gut is already a hybrid of Old Norse and English, it could be further hybridised by the introduction of a third language. And so it was assumed that the word Brither must also be of Norse origin.

"Early English and Norse Studies", Brown and Foote, Methuen, 1963, page 143, gives the Faroese word Brattur meaning steep.

In 1996 the writer visited Iceland and the Faroes. In each place he asked local tour guides if they could suggest a word which might sound similar to Brither. On several occasions the Icelandic word Breida or Breidi, meaning broad or wide, was suggested and it appeared that Brither Clip might be from the Icelandic Breidi Klettur.

The Rev. R.L. Thomson, of Ballabeg, Arbory, an authority on both the Manx and Scandinavian languages, was unable to give support to either Brattur or Breida but tentatively suggested "..that Brither represents the Norse genitive plural Broadra, 'of the brothers' , possibly a reference to the cliff on one side and the rock, pillar of rock?, on the other side of the narrow passage, or where brothers had perished in some accident, or were otherwise associated with the place, i.e. Brothers' Rock passage". Rev. Thomson added that " doubt I shall be found to be quite wrong when we have the earlier forms, [of the name], if any exist. Meanwhile this should be treated as a possibility only..".

In 1999, Volume 4 of Professor George Broderick’s “Placenames of the Isle of Man” was published. This includes the following –

BRITHER CLIP GUT.   As [Professor] Marstrander notes (NTS/VI 172) the element “gut” is borrowed from the English with the meaning “small creek”, and that the first two elements represent Norwegian  “BRODRA KLEPPARNER”,  “brother cliffs”, i.e. that the small bay has taken its name from two characteristic rocks. He adds that BRODRA, “brother” and SYSTRA, “sister”, are used in Norway to describe such rocks.

Broderick suggests that this explanation ties in with the geography of the site.

(Marstrander’s notes, to which Broderick refers, are mentioned in the Journal of the Manx Museum, Vol VII, 1970, No. 86, page 139, where footnote 2 includes – “C.J.S. Marstrander, ‘Det Norske Landnam pa Man’, Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap VI (Oslo 1932), pp. 40 – 386, referred to in the following notes as Marstrander 1, and ‘Remarks on the Place-Names of the Isle of Man’, N.T.S. VII (Oslo 1934) pp. 287 –334 referred to as Marstrander 2 ” )

It is now clear that this name, which always appears on maps as Brither Clip Gut, refers to two distinct topographical features, the rock itself, and the narrow channel of water behind it.

Returning to the folk memory of a shipwreck at Brither Clip, it should be noted that during the time before the Revestment Act of 1765, continental vessels brought their goods legally into the Island for later illegal shipment into the United Kingdom. Amongst these ships from European countries there were many from Holland, including The Young Theodor, The Maria, Peace, Caesar and the Vrede which traded on a regular basis with Douglas. It is known that some of the ships which visited the Island came to grief on its rocky coast and the folk memory of a Dutch vessel being wrecked on Onchan Head is not in the least improbable.