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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vikings in Galloway

Norse settlements -from wikipedia

Just been re-reading 'Vikings of the Irish Sea' by David Griffiths [The History Press, 2010]. It is a very good and detailed study, but a bit vague on Galloway. The problem is there isn't much evidence of Vikings apart from a couple of possible Viking graves and a scatter of possible Viking place names - which the map above is based on. The map is also a bit confusing since Echmacarch mac Ragnail [died 1064] is known to have been a Viking ruler of Dublin and  the Rhinns of Galloway, so the map does not show the full extent of Viking  Galloway.

There is also a linguistic problem, which the next map (also from wikipedia) illustrates.

A group of Vikings who settled in Kintyre/ Argyle became Gaelic speakers, known as the Gall-ghaidheil. They then moved east and south and gave their name to a 'Greater Galloway' which stretched from Strathgryfe down to the Solway Firth. They may also have moved across the Solway into Cumbria. 

Unlike the Dublin Vikings who settled/took territory along the coast, these 'Viking Gaels' expanded their territory overland and became more deeply rooted in the lands they occupied -as the thousands of Gaelic place names they created reveal. This contrasts with the far fewer Norse place names left by the Dublin Vikings.

Before the Vikings, Galloway and Ayrshire had been part of Northumbrian territory. The next map, based on Daphen Brooke's research, shows the distribution of Northumbrian settlements/ place names in Galloway and Carrick.

Unfortunately the above map is not quite right- some of the place names Brooke idenified as Northumbrian either were not or are shown in the wrong place. Brooke though Burned Island in Loch Ken was Northumbrian, but the place name (Irisbutil) was actually in Buittle parish ten miles south.

The next map shows settlement patterns as they were before the Northumbrians, when Galloway was a Brittonic speaking region. This map also shows land/ soil quality - the green and purple brown areas are the better quality land.  The T is Trusty's Hill which is now believed to have been a royal centre between the fifth and seventh centuries. The black squares are Roman forts.

The last map (below)  shows the distribution of Norman-style mottes in the  Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. It is also overlayed on a soil quality map. Dark brown and green are better quality (suitable for cereal/ arable farming), light brown is good grazing land and yellow the poor quality rough grazing land. 

Although the motte builders were (mainly) of Norman descent- settled in Britain for 100 years, they were in Galloway at the invitation of its native lords, not as invaders. 

What these maps show is that, apart from the Gall-ghaidheil, settlement pattens reflect land quality. Most of the people who have lived in Galloway have always lived in the more fertile lowland areas.  The Gall-ghaidheil, however, based on the spread of Gaelic settlements (farms with Gaelic names) in the upland areas were different. They seem to have been able to exploit poorer quality land, probably as summer pasture for cattle. The distribution of the Gaelic place name element airigh which was adopted by from Gaelic by Vikings  may indicate such settlements. [It is also found in Cumbria and the Isle of Man]. During the winter, the same cattle had to be kept on lowland farms and there are also many lowland farms with Gaelic names. 

It is possible that the success of Fergus of Galloway's kingdom (and the later lordship of Galloway was derived from the expansion of farming and settlement into the upland areas, increasing the economic wealth of the region. Fergus then brought in the Cistercians (at Dundrennan) who farmed sheep and pigs. But extensive livestock farming would have created pressure on arable land. The distribution of mottes may therefore indicate areas where more intensive arable farming was introduced using more 'modern' techniques - oxen-drawn, iron-tipped wooden ploughs for example- which the Norman incomers and their English (?) tenants were familiar with. 


Blogger Unknown said...

Great article. The extremely scant information available on my own surname points its origins to probably the Wigton area, which seems to be covered by the shaded portion on your map indicating Viking settlement. The name is Gaelic, Mehaffey, MacHaffie, stemming from MacKilhaffy, originating in the district with the land of Kellechaffe, where stands Craigcaffie tower.
I wonder if they were of primarily Gallgael or British origin? That the tower was built and occupied by Neilsons much later indicates that the MacHaffies were disenfranchised because they supported John Balliol instead of Robert Bruce in Scotlands war against England, and that the MacHaffies saw themselves more as a kindred of Galloway than of Scottish identity. I sorely wish there was more good history of Galloway and your site is a breath of fresh air.

9:49 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting stuff. I am fascinated by the Vikings and I'm intrigued to discover the full extent of the Viking settlement. There are three settlements near my hometown Dumfries called Torthorwald, Tinwald and Mouswald that suggests a Norse origin. My surname Trotter originates from the Berwickshire coast my ancestors were border reivers and my mother's family are from the Rhinns of Galloway. Good article thanks

11:20 am  

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