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

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Gaelic and Geography

                                              Language map Gaelic and Scots

Today Gaelic is associated with the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. But from place name evidence we know that it was once spoken across nearly all of Scotland, including the Lowlands. However, from the twelfth century onwards, Scots expanded from the south – east to become the language of the Lowlands.

                                           Highland Lowland map

A key difference between the Lowlands and the Highlands is soil/ land quality. As this map from 1944 shows, most of the Highlands is not suitable for arable farming.

                                          Land type/use map OS 1944

Arable farming requires more labour but can support higher population densities.

                                    Population density map OS 1944.

Although Galloway/ south-west Scotland is part of the Lowlands it includes part of the Southern Uplands. The Southern Uplands are a not suitable for arable farming as the large area of yellow (rough grazing) on this map shows.

Galloway and Carrick (south Ayrshire) were still Gaelic speaking into the sixteenth century, 200 or more years after Gaelic had died out in the rest of the Lowlands.

Did Gaelic survive longer in south-west Scotland because it was a (relatively) remote and mountainous district like the Highlands? I don't think so because, unlike the Highlands, Galloway also has significant areas suitable for arable farming. These were also the areas where most of the people lived.

The evidence for this comes from 1684, that is before the Lowland Clearances of the eighteenth century had affected Galloway. In 1684 Galloway was a 'rebellious province', where Presbyterian Covenanters were engaged in a conflict with the government of Charles II. To help the authorities identify the rebels, all the parish minsters in Wigtownshire plus Minnigaff in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright had to draw up a list of all the people in each parish over the age of 12.

This was done on a farm by farm basis, so we know how many people were living on each farm as well as the numbers of people living in the burghs (towns) of Whithorn, Wigtown and Stranraer.

Wigtownshire, the western part of Galloway, can be divided into three parts- the Rhinns in the west, the Machars in the east and the Moors in the north. The Moors are made up of four of Wigtownshire's 16 parishes- from west to east Inch, New Luce, Kirkcowan and Penninghame.

What I have done is go through the parish lists for these parishes and used eighteenth century maps to locate the farms named. I then divided them into 'upland' and 'lowland' farms and counted the occupants.

Excluding Minnigaff, the total number of people over the age of 12 in Wigtownshire in 1684 was 8538. Of these, 818 lived on upland farms. This was 9.6% of the 1684 population. [See below for breakdown of figures]

Can this roughly 10% / 90% upland/ lowland population divide in 1684 be projected back into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? I believe it can. Although after 1666, when Wigtownshire landowners began taking advantage of an English ban on the import of Irish cattle to sell cattle from Wigtownshire to England, the structure of agriculture in Wigtownshire was still essentially medieval in 1684. Nor were there any other social or economic changes which might have altered the overall balance of population.

The concentration of population in the arable lowlands means that they were critical for the survival of Gaelic in Wigtownshire. Once Scots rather than Gaelic became the everyday language of the arable lowlands, any Gaelic speakers in the thinly populated uplands would have become a minority.

How quickly Gaelic gave way to Scots in the Wigtownshire uplands would depend on how closely integrated the upland and lowland communities were.

                                       Douglas Galloway lands map

What the map shows is that the Douglas lords of Galloway had land in the arable lowlands and pastoral uplands. The map is based on a list of former Douglas lordship lands compiled by the abbot of Dundrennan for James II in 1456. The rental value of each farm is given, taken from now lost Douglas rental rolls. The loss of Douglas lordship records means we don't know exactly how their upland and lowlands estates were managed, but they were managed to generate income from the rents and from the livestock and grain they produced through the integration of lowland and upland resources.

In Wigtownshire, Glenluce abbey's lands took in the uplands of New Luce parish and the lowlands of Old Luce parish. In this case it was the Cistercians of Glenluce abbey who oversaw the integration of upland and lowland zones.

Socially, the upland and lowland areas were linked by ties of kinship and marriage. Significantly, until Glenluce was split in to two parishes in 1646, the parishes of Inch, Glenluce, Kirkcowan and Penninghame all contained a mix of upland and lowland areas.

Likewise in the Stewartry, until the new parish of Carsphairn was created in 1647 out of parts of Kells and Dalry parishes, there were no purely upland parishes in eastern Galloway. Although Minnigaff, Kells and Dalry are all quite mountainous parishes, their churches and main settlements are all located close to the largest patches of good quality land available -beside the Cree with Minnigaff and the Ken for Dalry and Kells.

                                              Galloway land quality

Scots in arable lowlands

In 1684, 40% of the population of Wigtownshire lived in the Machars. Within the Machars, 18% of the population lived in the two burghs of Wigtown and Whithorn. After the fall of the House of Douglas in 1455, Wigtown re-emerged as the main administrative centre for the county, as it had been before Archibald the Grim bought Wigtownshire from the Earl of Wigtown in 1372. Whithorn, with its links to St Ninian, attracted pilgrims from England, Ireland,Spain and France as well as other parts of Scotland.

At Whithorn, the use of Scots is recorded in 1438. At Wigtown, the burgh court records survive from 1513 and are in Scots. The Machars are therefore likely to have been the first district in Wigtownshire where Scots replaced Gaelic as the most commonly used language.

In 1684, 35% of the population of Wigtownshire lived in the Rhinns. This figure includes Stranraer, which became a burgh of barony in 1596 and a royal burgh in 1617. The late date for the foundation of Stranraer may have held back the Gaelic to Scots transition in the Rhinns.

For example in Kirkcolm parish in the Rhinns. Here in 1487 Robert Campbell of Corsewall complained that John Brown, vicar of Kirkcolm “who has for divers years held the said vicarage, does not understand and cannot speak intelligibly the language (ydioma) of the place in which it is situate, to the detriment of souls…”

However, before the development of Stranraer, the non-royal burgh of Innermessan was the chief settlement in the Rhinns. From the records of two lawyers, William Gardner and James Glover, we have some knowledge of Innermessan circa 1600.

Through their good (and gratuitous) offices we meet John Kennedy, armourer, as well as John McWhirk and Martin McCullie, who were more peacefully occupied as shoe-maker and tailor respectively. Corn miller Michael Wallace would obviously be a key member of the community but the occupations of John Cunningham and Niven McGilbar are not known to us. However they were burgesses and so men of consequence since they could engage in a trade or have a shop. This elevated them above William Walker, Norman McNeillie, and John Rollane, who as mere indwellers could do neither.

There is also evidence that Innermessan had a small port.

That the evidence about the names and occupations of some of Innermessan's inhabitants comes from the records of two lawyers helps to explain why Scots rather than Gaelic became the language of Galloway's burghs.

Professor Hector McQueen, who will be one of the speakers at the Gaelic in Galloway conference in September. In 2002 he wrote a very useful paper “LAWS AND LANGUAGES: Some Historical Notes from Scotland”. In it he discusses the shift from Latin and French to Scots in the language of the Scottish legal system during the fourteenth century.

The situation in Galloway is complicated by existence of the Douglas lordship of Galloway 1369 to 1455. Hector McQueen has also written on the traditional 'Laws of Galloway'. These were preserved by the Douglas lords of Galloway, but were replaced by Scots law after 1455. The last vestiges of traditional law in Galloway and Carrick were finally abolished in 1490.

The language of the Douglas administration in Galloway was Scots not Gaelic nor Latin. Unfortunately we don't know very much about how the Galloway burghs developed during the period of Douglas rule. However, the fact that Kirkcudbright became a royal burgh in 1453 and Wigtown in 1457 suggests that both had retained their pre-Douglas importance.

The craft and trades people, merchants and shop-keepers of Immermessam and the other Galloway burghs needed a legal framework to carry on their businesses. They also needed customers. The great Douglas lords and ladies did not need the services provided by Galloway's burghs, nor could their wealth and power be bound by laws. However, after king James II brought Douglas rule in Galloway to an end in 1455, old Galloway families like McDowalls, McCullochs and McLellans competed with the Agnew, Kennedy, Maxwell and Gordon families for power and influence.

The many tower houses which dot the landscape were the products of the post-Douglas era. These many lesser lords patronised the merchants and traders of the burghs, providing them with income which was drawn in turn from the rents and produce of the land. At the same time the Crown retained the many Douglas lands as a valuable source of income.

                        Orchardton tower house, built after 1455

No one family was ever able to dominate Galloway as the Douglases had done. The Crown and pre-Reformation church were the biggest landowners in Galloway. The Diocese of Galloway/ Whithorn lost its link to the Archbishops of York in 1359 and became part of the Scottish church in 1430. It was linked to St Andrews in 1472 and then Glasgow in 1492.

During the later fifteenth century then, the process of integrating Galloway with Scotland, which had begun in 1160 when king Fergus of Galloway was forced into exile at Holyrood abbey, was finally completed.

Although Gaelic was still the language of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Scots was the language of Lowland Scotland, of its legal system and of its Parliament. James IV, who was to die at the battle of Flodden in 1513, was the last kings of Scots known to have spoken Gaelic. [See previous post http://greengalloway.blogspot.com/2018/04/gaelic-harp-players-galloway-and-gigha.html ]

Unlike the Highlands and Islands, there is nothing in the historical record to suggest that the transition from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway was enforced or otherwise part of a deliberate policy of 'cultural genocide'.

Rather the transition was part of a series of regional cultural and linguistic shifts which began in the seventh century when a Brittonic speaking area came under the influence of Old English speakers and the kingdom of Northumbria. After Northumbrian power was disrupted by the Vikings in the ninth century, the region became part of the Irish Sea territories of Dublin based Vikings in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Up until this point, the focus of settlement and political control over the region was on the most fertile areas along the coast and river valleys.

This changed with the arrival of a distinctive ethnic group first noted by Irish chroniclers in the mid-ninth century – the Gall-Ghàidheil or 'Viking-Gaels'. They probably emerged first in Dál Riata- green area on map below.


before moving south and east across the Firth of Clyde and then down towards the Solway Firth. In the twelfth century they became identified with and gave their name to the geographical area still called Galloway. Here their Gaelic speech supplanted Brittonic, Old English and Norse to become the language of first an independent kingdom and then a semi-autonomous lordship.

As discussed previously Galloway and its people ended up on the losing side of a prolonged civil war which overlapped with the wars of Scottish independence.

The death of Edward Balliol in 1365 broke the last, tenuous, link between Galloway and its native rulers. While the Douglas lordship of Galloway established by Archibald the Grim conserved the region's territorial integrity, the Douglas family were Scots speakers.

Significantly, in the 1360s Galloway and its Gaelic kindreds remained a problem province for David II, to the extent that he was willing to gift Galloway to John of Gaunt as part of a peace treaty with England. But by the 1450s, Galloway itself was no longer the problem for James II. Rather his concern was the danger posed by the Douglas family. Galloway was only part of their extensive land holdings.
In the 1360s, something of the distinctive spirit of the Gall-Ghàidheil survived among the McDowalls, McCullochs and McLellans. Their support had been critical for Edward Balliol's ability to maintain a foothold in Scotland. As 'heads of kin' (kenkynnol) the chief family members had able to muster their armed followers to support Balliol as their ancestors had done for Fergus, his sons, grandsons and great-grandson Alan.

But in 1473, the then head of kin of the McDowall family gave up the position in exchange for a cash payment from the Scottish crown.

When Victorian antiquarian Peter McKerlie began compiling his five volume study 'Lands and their Owners in Galloway', he found that very few records of land ownership existed from before 1455. I will look at this in more depth in the next post.

For the present, my speculation is that the heads of kin were involved in the operation of Galloway's traditional system of laws and that this would have been an oral system carried out in Gaelic. Galloway under its Douglas lords was a regality.

As the term indicates, regalities were held with quasi-royal powers, like medieval English palatinates. From the fourteenth century onwards, they were created by grants in liberam regalitatem, which greatly extended normal baronial powers by adding jurisdiction over the four pleas of the crown plus immunity from interference with the regality or its inhabitants by royal officers.

No charter specifically granting the lordship of Galloway in regality exists. But David II’s charter to Archibald Douglas in 1369 stated he was to hold it not only in barony but also as Robert I’s brother Edward Bruce had possessed it (RMS, i, no. 329) – which was no doubt the equivalent of regality. Galloway, moreover, had special laws and liberties, which were recognised on Archibald’s behalf in 1384 (APS, i, 551).

                                                   Regalities map

The end of Douglas rule in 1455 ended Galloway's status as a regality and its 'special laws and liberties' were extinguished by the Scottish parliament in 1490. Presumably, what ever traditional legal status the heads of kin had retained under the Douglas lords of Galloway also ended during this period (see above). The status of Gaelic as the legal language of Galloway would also have been lost, replaced by Scots law and the Scots language.

It is still difficult to get a clear idea of how the shift from Gaelic to Scots occurred in Galloway. Scots developed from the Old English of Northumbria after Northumbrian territory in what is now south-east
was taken over by the Gaelic speaking kingdom of Scotia. If Galloway had still been part of the kingdom of Northumbria, it might have become part of Scotia as well and never become a Gaelic speaking region. Instead, first the Dublin Vikings and then the Gall-Ghàidheil displaced the Northumbrians in what was to become Galloway.

Even then, without Fergus of Galloway, the region could have been absorbed into David I 's Scotland in the early twelfth century. Scots would have then replaced Gaelic much earlier in Galloway, as it did in Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Ayrshire.

In the later thirteenth century, if John Balliol had only become lord of Galloway not king of Scots as well, another opportunity for Galloway to gradually lose its Gaelic distinctiveness would have occurred.

In the fourteenth century, if Edward Balliol had not tried to reclaim his father's throne, David II could have completed his father and uncle's work, settling loyal Scots speaking Bruce supporters in Galloway and dminishing the influence of its Gaelic kindreds.

Finally, without Archibald the Grim's intervention, the lordship of Galloway would not have been re-established and its distinctive laws and customs would not have been preserved for another 120 years.

Of all these, probably the most significant for the survival of Gaelic in Galloway was Fergus' creation of 'Galloway' as a political and geographical entity in the early twelfth century. Once Galloway existed as a coherent, geographically determined region with its mix of coastal, lowland and upland zones, its people were able to develop a distinctive economic and cultural identity within its borders, with the loss of Carrick after 1186 being balanced by the earlier addition of the district between the Urr and the Nith.

Before Fergus' intervention there is no trace of a coherent political/cultural entity in the area. There was a 'kingdom of the Rhinns' linked to the Dublin Vikings which extended into the Machars to include Whithorn, but it did not extend further east or north. Earlier, apart from Whithorn, the region does not appear in records of the kingdom of Northumbria. Even earlier, the relationship -if any- between Galloway and the shadowy British kingdom of Rheged is unclear.

The Gall-Ghàidheil did more than give their name to Galloway, they created and sustained Galloway over the course of 500 years, as thousands of Gaelic place names still testify. In the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, there were still 650 farms with Gaelic names when the Ordnance Survey mapped them in 1850.

Only 30% were in the upland parishes of Minnigaff, Kells, Carsphairn and Dalry. There weren't just more farms in the lowlands. Since most were arable farms, they needed more workers than the livestock farms of the uplands. In medieval Galloway, most Gaelic speakers lived on the arable farms of the lowlands.

In the Stewartry most of the land (soil) with the capacity to support arable farming was with ten miles of either the burgh of Dumfries or the burgh of Kirkcudbright. In Wigtownshire, all of the Machars was within ten miles of the burghs of Wigtown and Whithorn. Most of the Rhinns were within ten miles of Innermessan before it was superseded by Stranraer after 1600.

In the Highlands, the majority of the population lived more than (much more than) ten miles from a burgh. Apart from around Inverness and the Moray Firth, there were only small patches of land suitable for arable farming.

These geographical factors suggest that the survival of Gaelic in Galloway into the fifteenth century was remarkable and suggests that there were other factors at work.

                                          Gaelic 1400 and 1500 map

The most likely change of circumstances affecting the survival of Gaelic in Galloway was the break created by the end of Galloway as a lordship and the loss of its legal status as a regality in 1455. The political and cultural/ linguistic continuity between the kingdom established by Fergus of Galloway and the lordship re-created by Archibald the Grim was lost. Over the next 100 years Gaelic was replaced by Scots first in the lowland districts and then even in the uplands of Galloway.

Tragically, because the culture and traditions of Gaelic Galloway were oral, as the language was lost, so was 600 years of history.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Galloway: Gaelic's Lost Province