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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Galloway- Scotland's third periphery

Photograph- Kilnair from Lochinvar, near Dalry, Galloway.

Kilnair is from the Gaelic cuil an air which means 'the corner of the ploughing'. The site therefore dates back at least to the twelfth century. There is a tack (lease) of the farm from 1669 which shows that cattle and sheep were kept, and that ewes milk cheese was made. The tack also says that a horse was kept for ploughing the arable land where oats and bere (a type of barley) were grown. At Kilnair today there is the remains of a early nineteenth century shepherd's cottage which was abandoned in the 1950s. There are also traces of the arable fields, now under grass.

Kilnair is just one example of how the connections between natural and cultural heritage in Galloway are at risk of being forgotten through depopulation.

In the background to my letter about the Kingdom of Galloway National Park [ full text below] are a couple of articles recently published by Bella Caledonia. Common to both are the themes of colonialism and post-colonialism. .

Anti-Gaelic sentiment has its roots in a deep seated fear within Scottish and British society of the outsider Gael; the picture painted by John of Fordun and others from the medieval period onwards of bloodthirsty barbarians who perform bestiality and are without law or civility. These ideas are tied into the growth of the exclusively Anglo-Saxon speaking community in Scotland juxtaposing itself with the earlier, long established Gaelic one. This can be seen as an example of what is known in post colonial theory quite simply as ’othering’ and most cultures endemic to their landscape worldwide now fighting for survival have had to endure this same phenomenon.
Source : http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/12/05/english-roadsigns-a-waste-of-public-money/

Where do ideas of being ‘indigenous’ fit into a country like Scotland, former partner in crime in the British Empire? This is a question I have been asking myself for quite some time, as a local food activist, Gàidhlig speaker and believer in self-determination. I hope to show that this is something that is worth considering as part of a nascent international movement. The story however must start with colonialism. The shadow cast in these islands by colonialism is a long one. The Romans arrived in Britain over 2000 years ago and since then we have a history full of more invasions, settlement and turf-wars than you can shake a stick at. Currently we are experiencing the incessant erosion of rights that is the hallmark of neoliberalism, aided and abetted by a Westminster government rife with cronyism. All of these examples can be interpreted as the result of a world-view based on domination and imperialism – a paradigm with which increasingly fewer of us identify.

Source  : http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/11/30/land-food-and-intergenerational-resilience/

The idea that there are two Scotlands - a Lowland Scotland which has lost its connection with the land and its history, and  a Highland Scotland which has not - is often taken for granted. It maps onto a division between Gaelic speaking Scotland and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ [Scots] speaking Scotland which had emerged by the end of the Middle Ages. This division was then intensified by the later processes of urbanisation and industrialisation which transformed Lowland Scotland while Highland Scotland was being devastated by the Clearances.

Galloway does not fit into this narrative. It remained a Gaelic speaking region after the rest of Lowland Scotland had become Scots speaking. It did not undergo an industrial revolution and remains a rural rather than urban region. Galloway was not part of the original Gaelic kingdom of Alba (Scotland) and only became part of Scotland through conquest. As late as the seventeenth century it was still viewed as a rebellious province by the Edinburgh based governments of Charles II and James VII / II.

Records of landownership before the break up of the Lordship of Galloway in 1455 are sketchy but become more comprehensive after that date. These show that the families of Galloway’s leading Gaelic kindreds- the McDowalls, McCullochs and McLellans- and the leading families of Scots speakers planted in Galloway- Dunbars, Gordons, Maxwells and Stewarts - consistently married each other, creating a distinct pattern of landownership in Galloway which lasted until the later nineteenth century.

Between 1755 and 1851 the population grew from 37 671 to 86 510 and then began to decline until it reached 54 785 in 1971 and has been roughly stable at around 54 000 for the past 40 years. This has been achieved mainly by the numbers of older people retiring into the region matching the number of young people leaving. However, as life-expectancy has increased, the overall trend is towards a reduction in the numbers of younger people and an increase in the numbers of elderly people which is not sustainable.

The problem is that the pool of working age people is slowly contracting. Young people who go on to further and higher education rarely return to work here. Jobs requiring professional qualifications have to be filled by attracting recruits from outside the region. At the same time, with the lowest wages in Scotland, moving out of the region is an attractive option for young people who do not go on to higher or further education.

The  absence of industrial development in the nineteenth century meant that there was little to attract incomers to the region. The impact of the Irish famine forced many Irish people to move to Scotland via the short sea crossing to Wigtownshire,  but out of the 207 307 Irish born residents of Scotland in 1851, only 7160  had stayed in the county, making up 16.5% of its population. However, any children born to Irish parents  in Wigtownshire would have been counted as ’Scots’ in the 1851 census.

If Galloway could be moved north-west of Glasgow, its history as a once independent kingdom and culture as a rural, once Gaelic speaking,  region would be better known and recognised as part of ’Highland Scotland ’. But as a remote and peripheral part of Lowland Scotland, Galloway’s distinctiveness is easily overlooked.

Last year, or even since its discovery in 2014, I hoped that the national and international media interest in the Galloway Vikinmg Hoard and the campaign to give it a new home in the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery would raise the profile of Galloway and help to highlight its distinctiveness. But once the decision to allocate the Hoard to the National Museum in Edinburgh was confirmed  the Galloway connection was swiftly forgotten.

I was bitterly disappointed by the decision. Neither Edinburgh nor the National Museum languish in obscurity. The impact of having the Galloway Hoard on display in Edinburgh will therefore be minimal. If the Hoard had been allocated to Kirkcudbright, the resulting media attention could have provided valuable ‘leverage’ for efforts to make Galloway more visible. I wrote a post for Bella Caledonia on the possibilities last year.

In the Bella post I was looking at Dumfries and Galloway as an ‘unimagined’ community. The most ambitious proposal for the Galloway National Park would push its boundaries out into South Ayrshire (historic Carrick), East Ayrshire (historic King’s Kyle) and parts of Nithsdale (excluding Dumfries). This would give it an area roughly equal to the 2400 square miles of Dumfries and Galloway.

By excluding Ayr (population 47 000) and Dumfries (population 33 000) the largest towns in the National Park would be Stranraer (population 10 000)  and Girvan ( population 6700) giving the Park a distinctly rural demographic.

But what difference would National Park status make? Visibility is the most important difference. It would make the rural southwest of Scotland visible to potential visitors/ tourists, to national level institutions including government and to the people who live here.

It will be interesting to see what reaction a new six part BBC Scotland tv series on the Galloway Forest will have. Will it make Galloway more visible? If it does, then that would support the bid for the ‘Kingdom of Galloway’ to achieve National Park status.

The Galloway Forest takes in the most remote and ‘wildest’ parts of Galloway in a triangle between Lochs Trool, Dee and Doon. In this area there are few trees- large parts were found impossible to plant due to the rocky terrain, steep hills which rise up to over 2500 feet and deep peat bogs. Surrounding  the wild heart of the forest are dense plantations which produce 600 000 tonnes of timber each year. The forest is not ancient, most of the plantations only date back to the 1960s and 70s.

This illustrates one of the difficulties which will have to be overcome by the Galloway National Park campaign. If the idea of a  national park is to preserve areas of ‘natural beauty’, of wild lands minimally affected by human development, then Galloway fails the ideal. Even if the idea can be extended to include ‘traditional’ land use, it still won’t work.

This is a landscape which has been worked and reworked by countless generations over thousands of years. The languages and cultures of the people who have lived here have changed and changed again. The only continuity has been the need for Galloway’s people to make a living from the land - from the soil but also in some places, the minerals and rocks (mining and quarrying) which lie beneath the soil.

For most of Galloway’s history, it required a combination of human and animal labour to extract value from the land. Only since the 1950s has the mechanisation of farming and then forestry changed this pattern, leading to a technological ‘clearance’ of people from the land. This is where things get complicated.

As usually understood, the Highlands (and Islands) / Lowland divide overlaps with the Gaelic/ non-Gaelic divide, a Jacobite/ non-Jacobite one, the Clearances/ no Clearances divide and a rural Scotland/ urban Scotland divide. These overlaps feed in to a popular perception of  the landscape and traditional culture of ‘the Highlands’  as representing, as being, the ‘essence’ of Scotland.

The Highlands are important political region in Scotland and deserve to be treated separately, since they are so untypical. They have for hundreds of years been an object of concern on account of their romantic and tragic history which has included such events as the Jacobite rebellions of the eighteenth century and the Highland Clearances. Many symbolic aspects of Scottish nationality are derived from Highland, rather than Lowland, culture. Tartans, kilts, clans, bagpipes and country dancing are now built into the Scottish image... much of the sympathy for the Highlands is based on the feeling that if its ways of life were to perish, Scottish nationality itself would be in danger. This accounts for public expenditure to prop up the Highland economy. The Borders are to some extent a second Scottish periphery.  [However] the area is closer to population centres than the Highlands and there is no crofting economy. The Gaelic culture is absent, so that cultural cleavages with the rest of Scotland are much less marked.

Source : James Kellas The Scottish Political System (1973).

If ‘the Borders’ are a second Scottish periphery then Galloway, which has no border with England so is not part of ‘the Borders’, must be a third periphery, one so obscure that most Scots are not even conscious of its existence. National Park status would overcome Galloway’s obscurity. But to  achieve National Park status will require national/institutional recognition of Galloway’s existence as a region of outstanding national natural and culture heritage importance.

As the Galloway Viking Hoard saga illustrated, claims made for Galloway’s distinctive cultural heritage importance are very difficult to sustain against institutional indifference. At national/ institutional level, Galloway just isn’t a very significant region. It is of minimal importance to the Scottish economy, has no major population centres and its history is not part of Scotland’s national story. To pick up a point from the Kellas quote above if Galloway’s ‘ways of life’ were to perish, their extinction would pose no danger to Scottish nationality.

Depressing? Or realistic? Last year the Galloway Viking Hoard campaign did manage to develop a good head of steam, but it was not enough to overcome the institutional bias which weighted the allocation decision making process in favour of the National Museum in Edinburgh.

Potentially the campaign  for National Park status build up a similar head of steam. But unless there is careful and critical analysis of what the institutional obstacles to National park status are, matched by a strategy to overcome those obstacles then the end result will be the same.

Finally here is my letter on the Galloway National Park proposal.

I have been reading the Galloway National Park Association’s discussion paper with great interest. Tucked away on page 37 is the suggestion that ‘The Kingdom of Galloway’ as a subtitle for a Galloway National Park would ‘encompass the physical and cultural unity of the area’. I agree.

To be recognised as a national park, an area has to be of ‘outstanding national importance because of its natural heritage or because of its combination of natural and cultural heritage.’ In Galloway, only the Merrick/ Rhinns of Kells area is classified as ‘wild land’ by Scottish Natural Heritage. On the quality of our natural heritage alone this is not enough to gain national park status.

But when cultural heritage is included, then a claim of outstanding national importance can be made. The Galloway National Park is proposed to include Carrick (South Ayrshire|). This was part of the independent Kingdom of Galloway until 1185, when Fergus of Galloway’s grandson Duncan (Donnchadh) was made Earl of Carrick. Fergus’ other grandson Roland (Lachlann) became Lord of  Galloway.

A hundred years later, the rulers of Carrick and Galloway became rivals for the Scottish Crown. The struggle between Bruces and Balliols lasted until 1356 when King Edward Balliol gave up his claim to the Scottish throne. Even then King David Bruce struggled to impose his will on Galloway. Archibald ‘the Grim’ Douglas took advantage of the situation and made himself the new Lord of Galloway. It was not until the surrender of Threave castle to King James II in 1455 that the Lordship and former Kingdom of Galloway was finally broken up into the Shire of Wigtown and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

But as the economic reports included in the Galloway National Park discussion paper show, what was once a powerful kingdom is today a region in terminal decline. National park status could make a difference in two ways. Firstly, as a planning authority fully aware of the particular needs of the region, a process of ‘pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps’ could begin. Secondly, national park status would be a huge boost to the national and international ‘visibility’ of Galloway as an ancient kingdom.

 For example, if Galloway had been a national park, the depressing saga of the Galloway Viking Hoard could have had different outcome. The ‘Gall’ of Galloway means ‘Viking‘, from the Gaelic speaking Vikings who gave Galloway their name 1100 years ago. The case for returning the Hoard to its home in Rìoghachd Ghall-Ghàidhealaibh (the Kingdom of Galloway in Gaelic) would have been indisputable.

However, as the Galloway Viking Hoard saga showed, to restore the ancient Kingdom of Galloway as a National Park will be an immensely difficult struggle. But then, without the struggles and conflicts of the past, the existence of Galloway itself would have been forgotten long ago.


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