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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gaelic to Scots in Galloway draft

 This is a first draft of my contribution  to the Gaelic Galloway Conference 8 Septmber 2018 on the transition from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway. Over the next few weeks it will be revised to fit my 30 minute time slot and to take account of counter-arguments to my proposal that even before 1560 the south-west of Scotland was no longer solidly Gaelic speaking as Gaelic poet, scholar and teacher William Neill stated in 1983. 

Researching the Lowland Clearances / Galloway Levellers ten years ago I was shocked to realise how completely the historic (12th century to early 18th century) local landscape had been erased between 1760 and 1800. In the Highlands, many of the ruins of townships evicted during the Clearances remain as silent witnesses. In the Galloway lowlands, nothing survives of the cottars' (rural workers) crofts since the stones they were built of were used to create enclosures around the land they had been driven from.

In the Highlands, the fierce invective of Gaelic poets helped to keep the memory of what had been lost through Clearance alive. In Galloway only one ballad, composed in Scots, commemorates the Galloway Levellers resistance to Clearance in 1724.

But even this act of defiance masks a deeper tragedy. For more than half a millennium, Gaelic was the language of Galloway until it was displaced by Scots. Researching this change, I expected to discover that some traces of Galloway's Gaelic heritage had survived in folk memory, if only as myth and legend. I found that nothing had survived. The loss of Gaelic led to an erasure of Galloway's cultural heritage as complete as the erasure of Galloway's physical heritage.

In Galloway, the past really is another country.

In 1972, I had the opportunity to learn Gaelic at Castle Douglas High School. The class was taught by William Neill who was a teacher at the school as well as being a Gaelic poet and scholar. Mr Neill, as I still think of him, had been born in Prestwick in 1922. As a teenager he would visit the harbour at Ayr where he was fascinated to hear Gaelic being spoken by fishermen from the Western Isles and set out to learn their language.

Although I failed to learn very much Gaelic from William Neill, I recall him telling us that Gaelic was still spoken in Galloway in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. In article he wrote for the Galloway News in 1983 about Gaelic farm names

he said " Before 1560, the whole of the south-west was solidly Gaelic speaking according to modern scholarship.”  1560 is a date associated with the Reformation in Scotland suggesting that William Neill saw the Reformation as bringing about the transition from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway. This afternoon I will argue that the Reformation marked the end of the transition from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway not its beginning

The Galloway News article shows Mr Neill standing in front of the sign for Drumskelly, one of several farms with Gaelic names in Crossmichael parish. Before 1560, the farms in Crossmichael parish belonged to Lincluden collegiate church.

A rental roll for Lincluden in 1557 lists the farms owned and their tenants. Among the farms listed are Hillowton and Gerranton, both near Castle Douglas. Michael Hillow was a tenant of Hillowtown and John and Ninane Garrane were tenants in Gerranton. Chapmanton is also listed, but there were no Chapmans living there. Along with Blackpark, these are all Scots farm names which show that in Crossmichael parish at least, the people had ceased to be solidly Gaelic speaking sometime before 1560.

image Lincluden rental roll

In neighbouring Kelton parish a list of farms compiled in 1456 includes two farms with Scots names- Carlingwark and Whitepark. However, the same list shows that next to Whitepark but in Buittle parish were the farms of Cuil and Corra, both Gaelic farm names. In 1324 king Robert I granted Buittle to James Douglas and the charter describes the boundaries of Buittle. Torrs in Kelton is mentioned but not Whitepark nor Cuil and Corra which were then still part of a large farm now called Breoch.

Image Cuil corra map

Cuil and Corra are still not included as separate farms in a Buittle rental roll from 1375 so must have been formed and given their Gaelic names sometime between then and 1456. Carlingwark and Whitepark will have been given their Scots names in this same period. They were part of the arable grange lands attached to Threave castle which constructed for Archibald the Grim after he gained control of eastern Galloway in 1369 and bought western Galloway from Thomas Fleming, earl of Wigtown for £500 in 1372.

Archibald, like his father James Douglas, was a Bruce loyalist. His task was to rein in the Gaelic kindreds of Galloway who had supported Edward Balliol against Robert the Bruce's son king David II. Archibald's success is shown on his seal where two 'wild men of Galloway' are support his coat of arms.

Image archibald seal

What did Douglas rule mean for the leading Gaelic families of Galloway?

For Sir John McCulloch of Mochrum parish it meant losing his lands to a Scot from Midlothian. At Lincluden in September 1414, McCulloch resigned his lands to Archibald, 4th earl of Douglas, lord of Galloway and Annandale and son of Archibald the Grim.

In October 1414, Archibald directed Uhtred McDowall, sheriff of Wigtown to transfer McCulloch's lands to William Hay of Locharwart, which is in Midlothian. Hay had been appointed sheriff of Peebles by Archibald in 1407.

But in 1418, Hay complained to Archibald that he 'could nocht gett payt his mailis ' due to the 'etting', which means the grazing of cattle or horses on growing crops of grass or grain' of his lands which as a result were 'skaithit', that is harmed. Archibald responded by instructing Robert Crichton of Sanquhar and his 'fellow Mcgyewe' , who were his officers on the west side of the Cree to 'distress' those responsible until they fully amended their fault. John McCulloch is the person most likely to be responsible for the etting and so would have been 'distressed' by Archibald's officers.

Image douglas record

Evidence that Gaelic survived the period of Douglas rule comes from two sources. From 1487 there is a complaint that John Brown, the Scots speaking vicar of Kirkcolm 'does not understand and cannot speak intelligibly the language (that is Gaelic) of the place in which it is situate, to the detriment of souls…'

The second source is research by John Bannerman and others which revealed the existence of at least three generation of clarsach players in Wigtownshire between 1471 and 1513. The last of these was Roland or Lachlann McBratney who played for king James IV and may also have been employed by the prior of Whithorn. In one of the royal treasurer's accounts of payments to Lachlann, he is described as an Irish, that is Gaelic, harper. In another from 1503, he was paid 5 crowns for a journey to 'the isles'.

Image whithorn kintyre gigha

Significantly, another branch of his family were renowned harpists living on Gigha and Bannerman speculates that Lachlann is likely to have visited them. It has even been suggested that the Gigha branch of the family originally came from Galloway via the Priory of Whithorn's lands in south Kintyre. Unfortunately, although Gigha was part of a cultural network which linked Gaelic Scotland and Ireland in the fifteenth century, Galloway does not seem to have been included in the network.

One explanation for this may be that by the later fifteenth century Gaelic Galloway was becoming more Scottish.

A major influence on the shift from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway were the burghs of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and Whithorn. In the far west there was also Innermessan until it was supplanted by Stranraer in the seventeenth century.

Part of the burghs' importance are their locations. Kirkcudbright lies at the southern end of a broad strip of good quality farm land roughly 8 miles wide by 30 miles long, stretching from the Fleet to the Nith at Dumfries and taking in the flood plains of the Dee and the Urr. A narrower strip of good quality land runs along the coast from Kirkcudbright to the Nith estuary and up to Dumfries.

In 1755, even before the towns of Gatehouse, Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie had been established, 70% of the population of the Stewartry lived in this lowland area which was predominantly an arable farming district.

Map image

In 1684 parish lists of all the inhabitants of Wigtownshire and Minnigaff over the age of 12 were compiled. The lists give the number of occupants of over 650 farms as well as the burghs and the village of Minnigaff.

Even for the overwhelmingly upland, highland even, parish of Minnigaff, 54% of the population lived in Minnigaff village and farms on the fertile carse land beside the Cree.

In Wigtownshire, only 10% of the population lived in farms on poorer quality land, spread across the upper parts of Inch, New Luce, Kirkcowan and Penninghame parishes.

40% of the Wigtownshire population lived in the Machars parishes of Mochrun, Glasserton, Kirkinner, Sorbie, Wigtown and Whithorn. Although only 7% of the total Wigtownshire population lived in the burghs of Wigtown and Whithorn, they formed 19% of the population of the Machars.

Map image

The Wigtown Burgh Court books survive for the years 1513 to 1534. They are written in Scots and have been analysed by linguist Joanna Kopakzyk who concluded that the language used was typical of the Scots written and spoken across Lowland Scotland in the sixteenth century. She also noted that ‘the Burgh Court Book has no passages written in Gaelic or translated into or from Gaelic. There is no mention of interpreters needed for trials or for documents, therefore one may infer that Scots was a well established means of communication, at least at the administrative level in the burgh.’

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If Scots was already well established in Wigtown by 1513, how far did that influence extend? In his recent book on place names in the the Moors and Machars of Wigtownshire, John McQueen showed that farms recorded in Penninghame parish as the Scots Meikle and Little Elrik in 1506 were then recorded as the Gaelic Heilrikmore and Neilrikbeg in 1507. He commented that this suggests that Gaelic as well as Scots was probably spoken in the area at this time.

The farms are 9 miles north west of Wigtown. If Gaelic was still spoken in upper Penninghame in 1507, it must have been in retreat since their Gaelic names were not used again and it is as Meikle and Little Eldrig that the farms became known.

Eldrig map

Significantly, a circle with a radius of 9 miles centred on Wigtown takes in most of the Machars as well as the more fertile parts of Penninghame and Kirkcowan. When the burgh of Whithorn and is immediate area is included, this means that by the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Scots language was well established in the Machars.

On the other hand, we know that the population of Kirkcolm parish in the Rhinns was still Gaelic speaking in 1487. In 1684, the Rhinns, excluding Inch parish, accounted for 29% of Wigtownshire's population. Although the burgh of Innermessan was in Inch, it would not have been as large in 1500 as Stranraer was in 1684, when Stranraer already had a population greater than Whithorn's.

As a small burgh, Innermessan's linguistic influence was limited and did not extend very far into the Rhinns. However, an indication that the market economy was expanding comes from 1495 when the village of Ballinclach, now Glenluce, became a burgh of barony with a weekly market.

Map image innermessan glenluce

In the Stewartry, the size and importance of Dumfries is likely to have made Scots the dominant language west of the Urr for some time before 1500. Much closer in size to Wigtown than Dumfries, Kirkcudbright's Scots footprint would have covered an area between the Fleet and the Urr and stretched up to the edge of the Glenkens. As a consequence of the combined influence of Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, in 1500 up to 70% of the population of the Stewartry were potentially Scots speakers.

If the balance between Gaelic and Scots use had begun to shift in favour of Scots between 1455 and 1500, what happened over the next 60 years? Written evidence for the use of Scots increases since more legal documents and letters survive. For example, in the protocol book of Herbert Anderson, dated 23 May 1541 Alexander Gordon of Ardis, now Airds, in the Glenkens made a declaration in Scots concerning the disposal of the estate of the deceased Ninian Glendinning of Parton.

Protcal book image

Perhaps, as a non-native family, the Gordons of the Glenkens had never been Gaelic speakers, but the family of Thomas McDowall of Glenluce certainly were. In 1556, Thomas represented his grandmother Janet McDowall at the Baron Court of Glenluce where she was accused of passing on her tenancy of Sinniness farm to another person without permission. The case lasted several days and the record of the proceedings shows it was conducted in Scots. While Janet McDowall could have grown up in a Gaelic speaking household, her grandson was a fluent Scots speaker able to hold his own in the baron court and even managed to get the case transferred to Edinburgh. Yet as the grandson of a tenant farmer, he was of low social status.

Sinniness image

Could Thomas McDowall have spoken Gaelic as well as Scots? Quite possibly he did. However, the Scots language in Galloway was soon to get a powerful ally- the Reformed Church.

Alexander Gordon of Airds is reputed to have pioneered the Refomation Galloway in the 1530s when he secretly read from an English translation of the bible to his family and his tenants in Airds wood. However, this was an essentially private affair, very different from the national Reformation which began in 1560.

airds of kells image

The Reformation in Scotland was deeply influenced by Calvinism. Robert Kingdon has described Calvinism as

a serious attempt to control human behaviour in all its variety. It meant that the church had a responsibility not only to present true Christian doctrine but also to shape true Christian behaviour. And this responsibility, Calvinists believed, could not be left to individuals or to governments. It had to be assumed, to as great a degree as possible, by the church… which became a remarkably intrusive institution, penetrating every aspect of life.

In other words, the new Calvinist faith was about much more than simply requiring the faithful to attend church on Sunday. It also sought to extend its influence into the home, to shape and influence family life. Men, women and children were all expected to have an understanding of the Christian faith and to be able to demonstrate that understanding by reciting the key principles of the Reformed religion.

Image john knox

If the expansion of Scots had pushed Gaelic from the public sphere into the private sphere of home and family in remoter areas, then the effect of the Reformation was the intrusion of Scots and bible English into even these last refuges of the language. Since this intrusion was driven by powerful religious beliefs, it had the ability to overwhelm what was already a language in retreat.

What happened next is very interesting. Across Galloway and the wider south-west, the new religion put down very strong roots. So strong were those roots that despite the best efforts of successive Stuart kings backed up by periods of violent suppression in the seventeenth century, the new religion endured. As a political, that is anti-Jacobite, movement it was still influential in 1715 and was drawn on by the Galloway Levellers in their uprising of 1724.

It is possible that the ideological fervour of Calvinism allowed it to become a substitute for the traditional culture and identity which Galloway had lost. Gaelic had been an essential part of Galloway's culture for centuries and had survived the political dissolution of the lordship of Galloway. Over generations, Gaelic had become embodied in the landscape. The Gaelic names of farms, rivers and hills inextricably entangled the region's natural heritage with its cultural heritage.

Neither the Scots language nor a Scottish identity provided an adequate replacement for what had been the overlapping identities of language, land and people. At a critical point, when Gaelic Galloway was fading away but before Scots Galloway was fully established, the Calvinists were able to step in with their vision of a Godly Galloway.

Tragically, the Reformers revolutionary aspirations make 1560 something of a Year Zero. By the seventeenth century, the people of Galloway had become more familiar with biblical history than their own. Even if some parts of Galloway's traditional Gaelic lore had been preserved in Scots, the indifference - even hostility- of the new faith to such superstitious folk tales would have hindered their transmission.

Image national covenant

The complete erasure of Galloway's Gaelic history from popular consciousness is starkly revealed by Andrew Symson's 'Large Description of Galloway' which he began compiling in 1684. While the Large Description is packed full of contemporary information about seventeenth century Galloway, the 1000 years which separate St Ninian from the murder of Thomas McLellan of Bombie by 'the Black Douglas' in 1453 are a blank.

It was left to William McKenzie to recover the past with his 'History of Galloway' printed and published by John Nicholson in Kirkcudbright in 1841. By then, the process of agricultural improvement- the Lowland Clearances- had swept away the medieval fermtouns, the cottars and their crofts - even the fields of rig and furrow that had been cultivated for centuries were obliterated.

Image gerranton today

The totality of the physical erasure of Galloway's past was brought home to me when I began researching the Galloway Levellers and discovered that no traces of the Galloway landscape that they knew have survived. Researching the transition from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway I have found a similar cultural erasure of Galloway's Gaelic past.

Of course, just as specialists in data recovery can retrieve and restore information apparently erased from a computer's hard drive, so the expert knowledge of historians has recovered most of what Galloway's people had forgotten of our past. But sadly, even tragically, little of this knowledge has passed over into popular awareness.

However, rather then end on a downbeat note I will attempt some optimism. There is a campaign to make Galloway a national park. A key element of the campaign focusses on the cultural heritage of the 'Kingdom of Galloway'- which of course was a Gaelic speaking kingdom.

Image nat park