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greengalloway

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.



B = burgh with population. Red + individual farms with number of inhabitants. Black boxes show Sleudinnel and Forest of Buchan. 

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.













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