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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Gaelic and Land Use Part One

Gaelic and land use. Part One.

As I have been writing this post, I have realised it covers a huge area-physically and historically. What I have done is stopped halfway through the more detailed section, where I am trying to work out how many people would have lived on the remote upland farms where Gaelic will have lingered longest.

The same information can be used to get idea of the ratio of upland to lowland population distribution, including proximity to the burghs/ towns where we know Scots had become established by 1500. Once I have done this, it will become Part Two of this post.

Thinking about the shift from Gaelic to Scots as the language of Galloway, key questions are when and how did Scots achieve ‘critical mass’? By critical mass I mean a tipping point where the majority of the population had become Scots speakers and Gaelic became the language of a minority.

As I have discussed previously, there is written evidence that Scots rather than Latin was used as the administrative language of the Douglas lordship of Galloway from the 1390s and of the baron court of Whithorn priory by 1438. The Wigtown Burgh Court Book records from 1513 to 1536 show the use of Scots. The Kirkcudbright burgh records only survive from 1576, but are also in Scots. The Stranraer burgh records date from 1588 and again are in Scots.

Ayr became a royal burgh in 1205. The Ayr burgh accounts 1534-1624 . They were transcribed and published in 1936.
Dumfries became a royal burgh in 1186. The local archives have burgh records dating back to 1395.

Burghs were administrative and market centres for surrounding areas. They were also part of the advance of feudalism in Scotland, where land ownership derived from royal charters - for example king David I charter of 1124 which confirmed the ownership of Annandale by the Bruce family. The burghs were the first towns in Scotland. The burghs were places where the Scots language developed and spread from.

Whithorn was an exception, since it had become a town-like industrial and trading centre by the eleventh century with Irish Sea Viking connections. Whithorn had been an important religious centre since the fifth century. Kirkcudbright may have its origins as a Viking era trading centre.

Whithorn’s importance as a religious centre has been the subject of archaeological investigation. This provides an insight into land use in the surrounding area of the Wigtownshire Machars. A significant discovery made at Whithorn was the use of plough pebbles between the sixth and ninth centuries. Plough pebbles are small hard stones used to give wooden ploughs a better cutting edge. The Whithorn plough pebbles were a surprise, since they were 500 years older than previous examples found. [DGNHAS 1990]

Plough pebbles from Yorkshire

When the plough pebbles were in use, the local language would have been Brittonic and then the Old English of the Northumbrian church at Whithorn. Gaelic would have arrived in the Machars when it became part of the Irish Sea Viking world in the tenth century. The Viking-Gaelic Gall-Ghàidheil arrived by a different route, probably originating in Argyll before moving east and south into Ayrshire and then Galloway.

Two place name elements -airigh and eileirg, found locally as arie or airy and elrig or elrick - are both Gaelic and indicate land use. Airigh in Scots Gaelic meant ‘summer pasture’, areas where livestock were grazed on moor and hill land during the summer months. Eileirg means a deer trap, natural features wider at one end than the other which deer could be driven into and then killed.

In Mochrum parish on the west side of the Machars peninsula, on the edge of an area of poorer quality land, the farms of Airylick and Airyolland are adjacent to Eldrig loch, fell and farm. The eileirg would have been on Eldrig Fell which then gave its name to the farm and loch. Further east in Kirkinner parish, Whithorn Priory owned the farms of Meikle and Little Airies.

Map key: blue dots, Priory of Whithorn lands.
Red E -eileirg
Red X - airigh farms
Yellow M - mottes
Purple L- Lordship of Galloway farms.

Previously ruler of Viking Dublin, at the time of his death in 1065, Echmacarch Mac Ragnall was described as ‘king of the Rhinns’. The territory he ruled included Whithorn and the Machars as well as the Rhinns of Galloway.

The people who were to give their name to Galloway were the Gall-Ghàidheil. See Clancy, T.O. (2008) The Gall-Ghàidheil and Galloway. Journal of Scottish Name Studies(2), pp. 19-50.

In 1128, Gilla Aldan was installed as the Bishop of Whithorn, probably at the instigation of Fergus of Galloway. Although Fergus was not described (or even mentioned?) in the Annals of Ulster as king of the Gall-Ghàidheil, his great-grandson Alan was described as such by the Annals at his death in 1234.

The implication being that sometime between 1065 and 1128, the Gall-Ghàidheil became the dominant power in Galloway and Gaelic the dominant language. Under the rule of Fergus and his descendants, for the first time Galloway emerges as a distinct and important kingdom/province, with Whithorn as its religious centre.

The wealth and power of Galloway’s medieval rulers came from the land and the people it supported. The more effectively the land was used, the greater the wealth and power of its rulers. The airigh and eileirg place names, which are found in the Rhinns of Galloway, across the main Galloway uplands, on the slopes of Cairnsmore of Fleet, Screel/Bengairn and Crifell hills as well as the Machars, show how the resources of the poorer quality soils were used.

The use of plough pebbles had ended before the kingdom/lordship of Galloway emerged. However, the link between religion and agricultural improvement was continued with the plantation of abbeys (as well as priories and a nunnery) across Galloway by Fergus and his successors in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Cistercians at Dundrennan, Glenluce and New Abbey (Holm Cultram in Cumberland also had land in Galloway) were the main beneficiaries with the Premonstratensians at Whithorn, Saulseat and Tongland while Lincluden was a Benedictine nunnery.

In parallel with grants of land to the Church, lowland Galloway is dotted with many Norman style mottes (pudding shaped earth mounds) showing where non-religious grants of land were made. Some may have been built by existing, Gaelic speaking, landowners. The others were built for the Scottish or northern English descendants of Normans. For example the motte at Sorbie in the Machars [on map above] was built for the de Vieuxpont family of Westmorland who were related by marriage to the de Morvilles, also from Westmorland. Richard de Morville’s daughter Elena was married to Roland / Lachlann, Fergus of Galloway’s grandson.

The mottes were not part of a ‘Norman conquest’ of Galloway. They can best be seen, along with the abbeys, as an attempt to ‘modernise and improve’ Galloway by its rulers. A key technological development was the introduction of heavy, oxen drawn ploughs. These were made of wood, but used iron rather than pebbles along the cutting edge. [Note: I have tried to find a date for the introduction of these ‘new’ ploughs in Galloway. The nearest I have found is a link between the de Moreville family and ‘plough irons’ at Lauder in south east Scotland circa 1170.]

The new ploughs allowed more land to be cultivated, increasing the amount of oats and barley which could be grown. By increasing the surplus of arable crops produced in the lowland areas, it was possible to support more livestock-cattle, sheep, horses and goats -farmers in the uplands. The distribution of the Lordship of Galloway lands recorded in 1456 show a mix of lowland and upland farms which would have facilitated the integration of arable and livestock farming. The pattern persisted. Writing in the 1680s, Andrew Symson of Kirkinner parish stated that

[Minnigaff village] hath a very considerable market every Saturday, frequented by the moormen of Carrick, Monnygaffe, and other moor places, who buy there great quantities of meal and malt, brought thither out of the parishes of Whitherne, Glaston, Sorbie, Mochrum, Kirkinner &c. [Large Description of Galloway, Edinburgh, 1823]

Did the motte makers settle English or Scots speaking tenants /peasants equipped with new and improved ploughs and teams of oxen around their ’caputs’? The motte near Gelston parish is on the farm of Ingleston (Ingles / Inglis = English). There are Inglestons near mottes in Borgue, New Abbey and Twynholm parishes as well. However, other Ingleston farms in Irongray and Kirkgunzeon parishes are not near mottes, although they are near older (Iron Age) forts. Most Galloway mottes do not have Inglestons near by.

For the central Stewartry I have mapped the mottes and the nearest farms with Gaelic names.

Gaelic farms green * plus mottes 

On arable farms, the need to use a team of six or eight oxen to plough the land led to multiple tenancies, with each tenant owning an ox or having a part share in an ox. Arable farming was labour intensive. To extend the area of arable farming required population growth. Scotland experienced a period of warmer and drier conditions from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. This would have increased crop yields so the people, including children were better fed and more likely to survive childhood. This led to population growth.

With more people available to work the land, the area under arable cultivation could be increased, producing more food and further population growth. By the beginning of the fourteenth century then, Galloway’s arable lowlands would have supported what would have been historically its largest population- and who would have been Gaelic speakers. The upland farms would also have been occupied by Gaelic speakers, but relatively fewer.

Unfortunately, apart from a rental roll for Buittle parish from 1374, there is no detailed information about the population of Galloway until 1684. In that year, as part of attempts to suppress dissident Covenanters, a list of all the inhabitants of Wigtownshire and Minnigaff over the age of 12 was drawn up by parish ministers.

At 741, Minnigaff in the Stewartry had the highest population, but at 140 square miles it was also the largest parish so had a population density of only 5 people (over the age of 12) per square mile. Sorbie parish in the Machars had a population of 437 and an area of 15 square miles, giving it a population density of 29 people (over the age of 12) per square mile.

Kirkcowan parish has an area of 56 square miles and had a population of 491 in 1684, giving 9 people (over the age of 12) per square mile. In the northernmost part of Kirkcowan was the
Barony of Sleudinle. It covered approximately 10 square miles and had 55 inhabitants over the age of 12. It contained the highest hill in Wigtownshire, Craigairie, 1050 feet.

Barony of Sleudinnle

1. Barrnbrake (2)
Rodger McQuaker
Janet Wilson

2. Craigairy (3)
James Stroyen
Mart. McChiney
Janet Milroy

3. Alderickallabrichan (4)
William McCa
Janet McTear
Gilbert McCa
Mart. Heron

3. Highdirry (5)
Tho. Milweyen
Marion McCa
Helen McClemin
Pat McBride
Janet McQuaker

4. Laigdirry (5)
John McLure
Janet McMiken
Marion Walker
Janey Milroy
Tho. McNily

5. Craigmuddy (6)
Robert Mcnily
Janet Kie
James McNily
Katherin McNily
Mart. McNily
Mart. McQuaker

6. Killyalkirk (5)
Gilbert McLaughlen
Gilbert McKibbon
Marion McWilliam
And. McLaughlen
Isobell Blain

7. Dirvannay (4)
James Stroyen
Chirstian McMurry
Alexr. Stroyen
Janet Stroyen

8. Munondowy (3)
George McMurry
Anaple McCa
Janet McMurry

9. Dirvaghly (4)
John McTear
Janet McMurry
Henry Wallace
Marion Wallace

10. Dirnark (3)
John McMurry
Isobell McLaughlen
Gilbert McMurry

11. Aldericknair (6)
Alexander Kie
Janet Mochoule
Janet Heron
John Stroyen
Janet McWilliam
Mart. McCraich

12. Nether Alderick (3)
Gilbert McCraken
Janet Stewart
Robert McCracken

13. Inshanks (2)
Robert McCraken
Janet McKuinn

As Sleudunnull, the Barony of Sleudinle is included in the list of lands forfeited to the Scottish Crown by the Douglas Lordship of Galloway- Exchequer Rolls Vol. VI 1456, page 193 - 'Et de xv li. de firmis terrarum de Sleundunnull.'

Forest of Buchan 

The northernmost part of Minnigaff parish was the Forest of Buchan, covering roughly 40 square miles, containing 11 farms and 46 inhabitants over the age of 12. The Forest of Buchan included the highest hill the south of Scotland, Merrick at 2677 feet. Before 1455, Forest of Buchan belonged to Douglas Lordship of Galloway.

1. Palgouen (6)
John M'Kie in Palgouen
Elizebeth Dunbar, his spouss.
Alexr. McTier there.
John Mcjampse there.
Grisell McClelland there.
John McKie there.

2. Kirkcastle (4)
Michael McTagart in Kirkcastle.
Cathren Gordan, his spouss.
Alexr. M'Goun.
Grisell Wilson, his spouss.

3. Kirriereoch (4)
Gilbert McCutchen in Kirrireoch.
Marron McKie, his spouss.
Pattrick McClelland.
Janet McMillan, his spouss.

4. Kirrimoir (11)
John McGoun in Kirrimoir.
Janet McClamont, his spouss.
Hilling McGoun there.
Rott. Gordon.
Isobell McClamont, his spouss.
John McClamont.
John Jamieson.
Patt McCluire.
Janet Thomson.
Jaen Murray.
Janet Cairnes.

5. Kirriekennan (2)
Gilbert McKie in Kirriekennan.
Jaen McKie, his spouss.

6. Kilkerrock (4)
John Gordan in Kilkerrock.
Jealls Gordan, his spouss.
Margrat Findly there.
Alexr. Gordan there.

7. Stroan (6)
John McMillan in Stroan.
Jaen Heroun, his spouss.
Antony Wilson.
Isobel McGoune.
Androu Gordan.
Cathrain McClurge.

8. Eskeunhan (2)
John McKie in Eskeunhan
Grisel Milroy, his spous

9. Kirauchrie (2)
James Murray in Kirauchrie.
Hilling Gordan, his spouss.

10. Glenheid (2)
James Gordan in Glenheid.
Jaen McMillan, his spouss.

11. Buchan (3)
Thomas Gordan in Buchan.
------ McCutchen, his spouss.
------- McYelvour there.

The map is an attempt to illustrate the greater population density of the mainly arable farming lowlands. Once Scots had become the everyday language of the thousands who lived in the more densely populated parishes, it would have been difficult for Gaelic to survive among the hundreds who lived in the more thinly populated uplands.

The natural lines of communication, river valleys and passes, run north-west to south-east. A community of Gaelic speakers in and around the Barony of Sleudinnle would have been isolated from a similar community in the Forest of Buchan who in turn would have had a difficult journey over the hills to Carsphairn.

I am now slowly going through the Wigtownshire and Minnigaff Parish Lists 1684 parish by parish, looking at the relative distribution of small (1-10 occupants) middle sized (11-20 occupants) and large (21 + occupants) farms.

For the northern parishes containing upland areas the results are:

Inch [50 square miles, 625 persons, 175 = 28% in upland area]
54 small, 16 middle sized, 3 large farms.

Glenluce [98 square miles, 614 persons]
56 small, 19 middle sized, 7 large farms.

Kirkcowan [56 square miles, 491 persons]
62 small, 11 middle sized, 1 large farms.

Penningham [54 square miles, 589 persons]
42 small, 12 middle sized, 6 large farms.

Minnigaff [140 square miles, 741 persons]
72 small, 17 middle sized and no large farms

For comparison:

Glasserton in the Machars [22 square miles, 423 persons]
7 small, 17 middle sized and 4 large farms.

Kirkinner in the Machars [28 square miles, 628 persons]
22 small, 21 middle sized and 6 large farms.

Kirkcolm in the Rhinns [22 square miles, 501 persons]
8 small, 11 middle sized and 4 large farms.

Kirkmaiden in the Rhinns [23 square miles, 621 persons]
15 small, 9 middle sized and 14 large farms.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Footpath saga nearing conclusion?

Proposed Path 2003

Since 2003 I have written many short descriptions of a footpath along the first 2 ½ miles of the disused Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright railway in support of funding applications. I hope this will be the last. When first discussed with my brothers Ian and Kenneth, our idea was to create an ‘all abilities’ path which could be used by families with children in pushchairs, young people and adults with wheelchairs or mobility scooters and people with limited mobility.

Fifteen years on and that initial vision is almost within sight.

Part funding to remove the last 3 (ideally 4) remaining obstacles to access for all abilities along the path has been secured from the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership. The remaining funding can potentially be secured as part of a Dumfries and Galloway Council funding application to Scottish Natural Heritage and from a local charity.

But… to achieve this I need to ask community groups representing families with children in pushchairs and people with limited mobility to write to the Council’s Countryside Development Officer in support of the proposal. The letters can then be used to support the Council’s funding bid, demonstrating that there is community support for  making the path fully accessible and that it will be used by families with children in pushchairs and people with limited mobility.

From past experience, I know that ‘community support’ is judged not by the number of individual members of the community who support a proposal but by the number of community groups and organisations who do so.

My plan is to convert the next part of this post into a PDF when then can be attached to e-mails to relevant community groups and organisations so the e-mails can be kept shorter.

For the long version of this saga see http://greengalloway.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/the-railway-footpath-very-lengthy-saga.html

Maximising  Access to the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Castle Douglas Area. 680 words

1.Background 2003-2018

1.1 In 2003, the Castle Douglas Community Initiative adopted a proposal to use a 1 ½ mile long section of disused railway to provide a traffic-free route to Threave Castle (managed by HES) and NTS Threave estate nature reserve from Castle Douglas.
Public consultation demonstrated wide spread support from 350 individual members of the community as well as community groups and organisations.

1.2 The 2003 plan was to create an ‘Access for All’ route, suitable for families with young children and people with limited mobility, including wheelchair users. Dumfries and Galloway Council Access Officer Gilbert Clark produced an estimated cost for the works of £100 000 to be spread over two years. This was an ambitious target for the Community Initiative to raise since the funding required for previous projects had not exceeded £5000. However, by 28  November 2005, funding of £34 860  had been secured.

1.3 In 2006, Scottish Water began work on a pipeline along part of the proposed route of the path. By taking advantage of the pipeline works, the funding which had been secured was used to create a basic path from Blackpark Road on the edge of Castle Douglas to an existing footpath on NTS Threave Estate. This section was opened in August 2006.

1.4 In 2012 the full route of the 2003 proposal became part of Dumfries and Galloway’s Core Path network as Core Path 155.
In 2013 a fully accessible section of path was constructed between Abercromby Road and Blackpark Road.

1.5 Following flood damage in 2015, in 2016 a section of the 2006 route was restored and upgraded between the Carlingwark Lane canal and the NTS Threave Estate path network. This included replacing a footbridge which had been swept away in the flood. The new bridge was constructed at a higher level to prevent future flood damage.

2.Obstacles to full access to be overcome -April 2018

2.1 At Blackpark Road a metal swing gate is an obstacle for pushchairs, wheelchairs, mobility scooters and bicycles. This gate must be replaced with a two-way self-closing gate. All the other gates on CP155 are of this design.

2.2 Between Blackpark Road and the Carlingwark Lane canal there is a 250m section of  the path which is unsurfaced. It is uneven and very muddy when wet. This section is an obstacle for pushchairs, mobility scooters, wheelchairs and less able walkers. It must be surfaced.

2.3  The tarred access road to Kelton Mains for Threave Castle and Estate cross CP 155 on a bridge. Steps and an unsurfaced path connect CP155 with the access road. These must be replaced with appropriate ramped access and surfaced path.

3. Funding for removing obstacles

3.1 The Castle Douglas Development Forum have secured funding from Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership for up to 40% of the cost of footpath projects in the Castle Douglas area. Removing the obstacles to full access along CP 155 is one of the projects included.

3.2 Dumfries and Galloway Council will be submitting a bid in May to Scottish Natural Heritage’s Improving Public Access fund. If sufficient support can be demonstrated, removing obstacles 2.1 and 2.2 above on CP 155 could be part of the funding bid. Restoring path surfaces and other maintenance works would also be included.

3.3 Replacing the steps at Kelton Mains bridge with a ramp and surfaced path would be funded from the Galloway Glens contribution and/or another local funding source which has recently been identified.

4. Alternative route at Blackpark Road bridge.

4.1 The 2003 proposal avoided having to ascend and descend the (filled in) Blackpark Road bridge by skirting the edge of  the Castle Douglas Golf Course Extension.

4.2 The golf course extension is on the former Castle Douglas Burgh refuse tip. The extension has not been used due to concerns over contamination.

4.3 A 140m section of new path could be constructed to avoid the filled in bridge and the contaminated area formerly used as a rubbish tip. See plan below, based on 1964 OS map.

This is the letter I will be sending to community groups and organisations.

Unfortunately,  letters/ e-mails from individuals do not carry the same weight as support from community groups and organisations, but if  you would like to see the path improved, especially if you can’t use it easily at present, please let Karen Morley know.

Dear ……

Since 2003 I have been involved in a project to create a fully accessible path from Castle Douglas to NTS Threave Estate and Threave Castle. Unfortunately, due to funding constraints, when the path was first made in 2006 it was only suitable for able bodied walkers.

In 2013 and 2016 sections of what is now Core Path 155 were upgraded to a higher standard but some short sections remain  as obstacles for people with limited mobility and families with children in pushchairs.

Castle Douglas Development Forum have been awarded part funding to overcome the obstacles from the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership. Further funding is potentially available from the Improving Public Access fund. This would be secured via Dumfries and Galloway Council.

However, Karen Morley of Dumfries and Galloway Council needs to  show that there is support for the funding bid from people with limited mobility and families with young children who would use the path if it was accessible, especially from groups representing the needs of  members of the community who cannot use the path at present.

I therefore hope that you can write to

Karen Morley
Countryside Development Officer
Militia House
English Street

Or e-mail her at karen.morley@dumgal.gov.uk

in support of the  footpath funding  bid so she can include your letter of support in the Improving Public Access funding application.

Yours sincerely etc

For background and details  please see  attachment  (which will be based on this blog post)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Gaelic harp players Galloway and Gigha

Keith Sanger 'Mapping the Clarsach' 2017

This post is part of the research I am doing for the Gaelic Galloway conference in September. [Tickets still available from https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/488900 ]

I will be discussing the transition from Gaelic to Scots. Although there are  claims that there were still some Gaelic speakers in Galloway and Carrick (south Ayrshire) into the eighteenth, nineteenth or even twentieth centuries, Scots was well established in the region by the end of the sixteenth century.
See http://greengalloway.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/gaelic-women-and-reformation-in-galloway.html

However, I have found that there was a high status family of clarsach /Gaelic harp players on record as having a Galloway connection between 1471 and 1513. This was the McBratney - MacBhreatnaich family. There are still McBratneys living in Whithorn in Galloway [Thanks to Stephen Norris for this information].

I had assumed that by the early sixteenth century Gaelic would have been the language of the  more remote countryside and Scots the language of the towns (burghs) of Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and Whithorn. I now know that the Priory of Whithorn had a clarsach player circa 1500 and that he was probably a member of the MacBhreatnaich family who had played for king James IV.

On 13 May 1503 ‘Makberty the clarsacha’  was paid 5 crowns by James IV treasurer ‘to pass in the Illis’ -that is to visit the Western Isles. [Treasurer’s Accounts of Scotland vol ii, page 369. Other volumes are online but not this one so I haven’t been able to check the reference given by John Bannerman in Kinship, Church and Community, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2016, p.310]

As John Bannerman speculated -see second page below- Lachlan MacBhreatnaich’s visit to the Western Isles in 1503 is likely to have included a visit to his relatives on the isle of Gigha.

What Bannerman does not mention is that the Priory of Whithorn had lands in south Kintyre, providing another connection between Galloway and Gaelic Scotland. Graeme Baird ( discussed below) has suggested the MacBhreatnaich family may have arrived in Gigha from Galloway via the Whithorn lands. From  http://www.kintyremag.co.uk/1999/28/page6.html

Lachlan MacBhreithnaich may also known and  visited a family of Kintyre harpers, the McShannons. They lived on lands adjacent to the Whithorn lands in Kintyre and derived their name locally from the church dedicated to St Sennan at Kilmashenochan. Kilmashenochan was one of the Kintyre lands owned by Whithorn.
From http://www.ralstongenealogy.com/number28kintmag.htm

An earlier family of harpers with a Galloway/ Carrick connection were the McWhirters (originally MacChruiter, from Gaelic cruit, a harp). They can be traced from 1261 when they rented land in Irongray parish in the Stewartry to 1346 when Patrick, son of Michael ‘harper’ of Carrick was granted land in Ayrshire by David II and then to 1385 when the land was sold for 12 cows with their calves. [Keith Sanger ‘Mapping the Clarsach’, 2017
www.wirestrungharp.com/harps/harpers/mapping-the-clarsach.pdf ]

Altogether, the clarsach connected Galloway with the Gaelic world until 9 September 1513 when John Bannerman suggested that Lachlan MacBhreitnaich died along with king James IV and many others.

Although Lachlan vanishes from the historic record after 1513, other members of the MacBreitnach family or the McBratney family do not. A John McBratney was a burgess of Whithorn in 1532 and there were at least seven McBratneys in Wigtownshire in 1684. However, none of the later McBratneys are described as clarsach players. It seems likely that Lachlan MacBhreitnaich died before he could train up his successor in the skills of clarsach playing nor pass on his knowledge of Gaelic.

There would still have been Gaelic speakers in Galloway after 1513, but none had the same high status as the MacBreitnaich clarsach players nor would they have had the same cultural connections to the wider Gaelic world.

McBratney - MacBhreatnaich : Gaelic harp players in Galloway and Gigha.

From place names and personal names we know that Gaelic was the language of Galloway for several hundred years. What we don’t know is very much about the Gaelic culture and society of Galloway. A very important feature of Gaelic society and culture were the ‘learned orders’.
The learned orders provided the professional skills for the rest of their society in the fields of literature, law, music, medicine and some of the specialist crafts such as armourer. They were drawn from hereditary families who were given special status and privilege within Gaelic society. The orders placed great emphasis upon oral transmission and memorisation. ['Calvinism and the Gaidhealtachd in Scotland' in Calvinism in Europe 1540-1620 , Cambridge, 1996]

Looking for any evidence of the Gaelic learned orders in Galloway I found a musical connection in a book Kinship, Church and Community by John Bannerman (Edinburgh, 2016). In a chapter on the clarsach or Gaelic harp, Bannerman revealed a link between the MacBhreatnaich family of traditional Gaelic harpists and Galloway.

Bannerman’s evidence comes from two sources: the Exchequer Rolls and the Treasurer’s Accounts which cover the income and expenditure of the Scottish Crown. The entries are usually short, but by cross-referencing the two sources, John Bannerman was able connect payments made by King James IV to clarsach player Martin MacBhreatnaich, his son John and his grandson Lachlan (aka Roland)  between 1491 and 1513 to a gift of the rental income from the farms of Clutag and Knockan in Kirkinner parish, Wigtownshire. This was first made to Martin by King James III in 1471 and continued until 1513.

It is likely that the MacBhreatnaich family were also employed by the Priory of Whithorn and were related to the MacBhreatnaichs of Gigha who were traditional Gaelic clarsach players.

In Historic Whithorn [Historic Scotland, 2010, p. 34] the same Treasurer’s Accounts used by Bannerman are quoted from, revealing that King James IV made payments to the Prior of Whithorn’s lute and clarsach player in 1503 and 1506/7. These payments were made during the king’s pilgrimages to Whithorn, which he made every year.

The Prior’s clarsach player is not named, but it was probably the Lachlan/ Roland MacBhreatnaich discussed by Bannerman. If Bannerman is correct and Lachlan’s grandfather’s forename was Gille Màrtainn (devotee of St Martin)  this could provide an earlier link to the Priory at Whithorn with its ancient dedication to St Martin of Tours.

Significantly Whithorn had lands in south Kintyre. Writing about the Galbraith Poet-Harpers of Gigha for the Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society in 1995, Graeme Baird suggested that the Galbraiths (the Scots form of MacBhreatnaich) of Gigha may have arrived there via the Whithorn lands in Kintyre.

It has been suggested that the Macbhreatnaighs were originally Galbraith clansmen from the Lennox, settled on Gigha by virtue of the friendship between the Earl of Lennox and Alan MacLean (Ailein nan Sop), the infamous brigand, whose depredations caused havoc on Gigha and resulted in his securing the island for himself at the expense of the incumbent MacNeills. However, it was not until c. 1530 that Alan turned his predatory attentions towards Gigha and, as we have seen, it is more than likely that the MacBhreatnaigh family were already well established on the island prior to that date.
While it would, perhaps, be unwise to completely rule out a Lennox origin, we cannot afford to ignore the presence of a contemporary family, similarly styled and following the same profession, appanaged in the predominantly Gaelic shire of Wigtown. In 1471 Martin McBirtny, chiteriste ('harper') received a royal grant of the fermes of Clontag and Knokane for his services.  These he continued to hold until 1479. The ferme of Knokan was subsequently held by John McBretny, then Roland (Lachlan). The Priory of Whithorn in Galloway held extensive lands in South Kintyre, the intercommunication thus generated might serve to explain the appearance of members of this MacBretny family in a new locale. This explanation may not satisfactorily meet the evidence, but, nevertheless, it does seem likely that these Galwegian harpers to the crown were the parent stock of the Gigha family. 
From  http://www.kintyremag.co.uk/1999/28/page6.html

The Galbraith connection seems to come from Gilchrist Bretnach who married into the family of Alwin or Ailin earl of Lennox (Loch Lomond area). He had two sons, Gillespic Galbrait and Rodarcus Galbrait. They witnessed charters between 1190 and 1200 and Gillespic Galbrait is seen as the founder of the Galbraith family.

The People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1314 [PoMS] database includes a Gilchrist Bretnach as a witness to a Melrose Abbey charter. It is from 1193 and concerns a gift of land in Carrick (Ayrshire) to the abbey. Aed, son of Alwine, earl of Lennox is one of the other witnesses. Duncan, son of Gilbert, son of Fergus of Galloway, was the granter. http://db.poms.ac.uk/record/person/5713/#

The PoMS database includes another, earlier Bretnach. This was Gillecuthbert Bretnach. Some time between 1136 and 1185 he witnessed a charter by Ralph son of Dungal of Nithsdale granting land in Dumfries to St Peter’s Church in York.

The two Bretnach references are not very much to go on, but could indicate Galloway origins for the McBratney - MacBhreatnaich family. An early Galloway origin for the MacBhreatnaich family strengthens Graeme Baird’s suggestion that the Gigha branch came from Galloway rather than the Loch Lomond area.

Keith Sanger has extended the Gigha connection back to the 1440s  and a clarsach player called Giolla Criost Brúilingeach.

Giolla Criost Brúilingeach appears from a completely Gaelic source. Two poems by him addressed to an Irish patron are included in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. In the first poem addressed to Tomaltach Mac Diarmada of Moylurg in Connacht [died 1458], he includes a request for a Cláirseach as payment, while the second poem indicates he received one. The ‘poet’ is described by the writer of the manuscript as ‘Bard in Leymm’ and from that it has been argued that he came from a hereditary family of harpers named Mac an Bhreatnaich (or Galbraith), who were associated with Leim in the island of Gigha which lies just to the west of North Kintyre.
From Mapping the Clarsach in Scotland, 2017

The Book of the Dean of Lismore is a collection of Gaelic poems and songs complied in Perthshire between 1480 and 1551. It includes an unflattering poem about Lachlan MacBhreatnaich- but it is uncertain if this is the Wigtownshire one or a namesake from Gigha.

Although  the Wigtownshire  Lachlan/ Roland MacBhreatnaich probably died at the battle of Flodden in 1513, he was survived by other family members. The Wigtownshire Charters (Edinburgh, 1960, page 210, entry 252) show that John McBretny was a burgess of Whithorn in 1532.

In 1684 the Parish Lists of Wigtownshire and Minnigaff  (Edinburgh, 1916) show 7 McBratneys living in Glasserton, Kirkinner, Minnigaff, Mochrum, Portpatrick and Wigtown parishes.


The McBratney-MacBhreatnaich family provide a musical connection between Galloway, Gaelic Scotland and, possibly, Ireland. The overlapping of the family link with Gigha and the landholdings of Whithorn priory in south Kintyre is fascinating and leads on to further possible connections. For example another family of Kintyre harpers, the McShannons, lived on lands adjacent to the Whithorn lands in Kintyre and derived their name locally from the church dedicated to St Sennan at Kilmashenochan. Kilmashenochan was one of the Kintyre lands owned by Whithorn. [From article by Keith Sanger in The Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society magazine, number 28, 1990 http://www.ralstongenealogy.com/number28kintmag.htm ]

Another family of harpers, the McWhirters (originally MacChruiter, from Gaelic cruit, a harp) can be traced from 1261 when they rented land in Irongray parish in the Stewartry to 1346 when Patrick, son of Michael ‘harper’ of Carrick was granted land in Ayrshire by David II and then to 1385 when the land was sold for 12 cows with their calves. [Keith Sanger ‘Mapping the Clarsach’, 2017
www.wirestrungharp.com/harps/harpers/mapping-the-clarsach.pdf ]

The existence of the McWhirter-MacChruiter family of harpers in Galloway in the thirteenth century strengthens the possibility that the  McBratney-MacBhreatnaich family of harpers could have been associated with the Priory of Whithorn before 1471. Finally, if Gillecuthbert Bretnach can be claimed as an ancestor from 850 years ago, the today’s McBratney family may well be one of the oldest in Galloway.