Gaelic in Galloway -Contraction
Gaelic in Galloway: Part Two- Contraction. Draft 26 January 2012.
The end of Gaelic in Galloway is as obscure as its beginnings. It is likely that the survival of Gaelic was intimately bound up with the survival of a distinct Galwegian identity. The persistence of this Galwegian identity was an enduring source of conflict with Scottish kings from David I to David II. Crucially, it led Galloway’s Gaelic kindreds to support the Balliols against the Bruces in their struggles for the Scottish crown which lasted from 1286 to 1356, when David II prevailed over Edward Balliol. To reduce the power of the Galwegian kindreds, there was a plantation of Scots speakers in Galloway and Scots became the language of administration and law. Consequentially, Gaelic began to lose its social status while Scots became the language of a literate elite. By the early sixteenth century, Gaelic was an endangered language which lacked the resilience to survive the impact of the Reformation. By 1638, when Galloway ssuppoerted the National Covenant, Gaelic had given way to Scots and Galwegian’s had embraced a Scottish identity.
Published in Edinburgh in 1582, George Buchanan’s Rerum Scoticarum Historia contains a brief description of Galloway, noting that ‘It still uses the native [Gaelic] language for the most part’ (‘Ea magna ex parte patrio sermone adhuc utitur’).# William Ferguson comments that this brief statement ‘is a valuable contribution to a standing historical puzzle- namely when did Gaelic cease to be spoken in Galloway?’ and, on the basis of Buchanan’s comment, suggests that Gaelic probably ceased to be spoken in Galloway in the early seventeenth century.# However, if Gaelic was the language of Galloway ‘for the most part‘ in 1582, the corollary is that Scots was the language ‘for the less part’. Yet, as the correspondence of Patrick Vaus of Barnbarroch (died 1597)#shows, Scots was the main language of Galloway by 1582. Furthermore, if Gaelic had survived into the early seventeenth century, the loss of the language would have been within living memory when Andrew Symson began compiling his Large Description of Galloway in 1684.
In 1684 Symson was the Episcopalian minister of Kirkinner parish in Wigtownshire. The stimulus for the Large Description of Galloway came from Sir Robert Sibbald, Scotland’s Geographer Royal. With an ambition similar to Sir John Sinclair’s eighteenth century Statistical Account of Scotland, in 1682 Sibbald published a series of questions which he hoped parish ministers across Scotland would reply to. Symson was one of the few who did so Sibbald’s project was never completed. Symson’s manuscript then lay forgotten in the Advocates Library in Edinburgh until it was discovered by Thomas Maitland who had it published in 1823. The Large Description is a very thorough document, including peculiarities of the Galloway dialect of Scots.
As to the seventh Querie, concerning peculiar customes, &c. I have already given an account of their husbandry, and occasionly also of some other things. I now think fit to ad these following particulars:—
Some of the countrey people, especialy those of the elder sort, do very often omit the letter h after t, as ting for thing; tree for three; tacht for thatch ; wit for with ; fait for faith ; mout for mouth. So also, quite contrary to some north countrey people, (who pronounce v for w, as voe for woe; volves for wolves,) they oftentimes pronounce w for v, as serwant for servant; wery for very ; and so they call the months of February, March, and April, the ware quarter, w for v, from ver. Hence their common proverb, speaking of the stormes in February, Winter never comes till ware comes ; and this is almost to the same purpose with the English saying, When the, days beginne to lengthen, the cold beginnes to strengthen.#
Symson also observed that the spelling and pronunciation of local surnames had diverged from their original ‘Irish’ (Gaelic) forms.
for surnames that, in Galloway, begin with or, or are commonly pronounced, Mal, or Makel, or Mackle, or Mickle (all which severall ways they are oftimes both written and pronounced,) should, as I am informed by an ingenuous man that exactly understands the Irish language, be written Mac-gill, as Mac-gill-mein, M’Gill-roy, M’Gill-raith, names frequent in Galloway, and commonly pronounced Malmein, Malroy, or Mickleroy, or Mickleraith, &c.#
If Gaelic had been the language of the most part of Galloway in 1582 but died out in the early seventeenth century, the extinction of Gaelic would have occurred within the lifetime of Alexander Stewart, who was the first earl of Galloway. Stewart was born circa 1580 and died in 1649. The earl’s grandson was also called Alexander Stewart and was the third earl of Galloway. At times during his ministry, the hostility of his Presbyterian parishioners forced Symson to take refuge with the third earl with whom Symson was on friendly terms.# If Gaelic had become extinct within the lifetime of his grandfather, the third earl would surely have informed Symson of such a significant event.
But if Gaelic had not survived long enough for Andrew Symson to note its recent passing, how and when did the end of Gaelic occur in Galloway? The ‘how’ part of this question is more easily answered than the ‘when’ part. The language which replaced Gaelic in Galloway was Scots. Given the widespread survival of Gaelic place names and surnames in Galloway, it is unlikely that there was a mass-movement of Scots speakers into Galloway. If there was no such mass-movement, then the language shift would have been a gradual process. The most likely scenario is one in which Scots first replaced Gaelic as the language of the upper strata of Galwegian society and then worked its way downwards until even the poorest cottars and crofters became Scots speakers. During this process there would have been a phase of bilingualism where Scots was used in some contexts and Gaelic in others. As the use of Scots came to predominate in the public sphere, the opportunities to use Gaelic would have been reduced to the domestic sphere before Gaelic finally fell out of use altogether.
Turning to the ’when’ part of the question, the most likely period for the shift from Gaelic to Scots as the language of the upper strata of Galwegian society is the later fourteenth century. In 1356 Edward Balliol gave up his claim to the Scottish Crown and in 1357 David II returned to Scotland from captivity in England. As well as bringing to an end the wars of Scottish independence, these events also concluded a civil war which had been fought between the Bruces and Balliols across south-west Scotland since 1286, when David’s grandfather and great-grandfather had raided Dumfries, Buittle, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and (probably) Cruggleton castles. The periodic repetition of such raids and counter-raids over the next seventy years, especially where crops and livestock were destroyed, disrupted everyday life in Galloway. As the fortunes of the Bruces and Balliols ebbed and flowed, so did those of their supporters. In bewildering complexity, lands across Galloway were forfeited, granted, reforfeited and regranted, as Andrew McCulloch has meticulously documented.# However, until David II’s position was secure, the practical impact of these ‘parchment transactions’ on land ownership was limited.
The problem Galloway posed for David II was the persistence of regional loyalties. In 1333, Galloway’s Gaelic kindreds had supported Edward Balliol as their ‘special lord’ rather than as the new king of Scotland.# Thus a descendent of Fergus of Galloway, who had been a source of trouble for David I, became a source of trouble for David II 200 years later. David’s solution was to reduce the power of the Galwegian kindreds by breaking up their land holdings and by planting Scots speaking Bruce loyalists amongst them.# To reinforce this policy, Archibald Douglas was first granted control over the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in 1369 and then allowed (by Robert II who succeeded David II in 1371) to buy the earldom of Wigtown from Thomas Fleming in 1372, thus establishing the Douglas lordship of Galloway.#
These moves by David II and Robert II were politically motivated, designed to subdue a rebellious province. The plantation of Scots speakers in Galloway was not intended make Scots the language of Galloway. However, although native families like the McDowalls, McCullochs and McLellans survived the plantation, their heads of kin became Scots speakers. So while the shift to Scots began during the Douglas lordship, amongst ordinary Galwegians Gaelic survived the end of Douglas power in 1455. The final phase of the language shift to Scots occurred over the next hundred years.
After the collapse of Douglas power, no one family ever possessed such extensive land holdings in Galloway again. Instead, through the process of feu-ferme# there was a gradual fragmentation of land ownership as tenants bought their farms, creating a pattern which survived into the eighteenth century. This pattern was one in which several hundred owner-occupiers (bonnet-lairds) farmed small estates typically consisting of fewer than ten individual farms. Some were farmed directly by the owner-occupier, some by tenants and others ‘in the half-manner’; that is jointly by farm owner and tenant. Within this system, as well as periodic changes of tenancy, individual farms were constantly being bought, sold and mortgaged (wadset). This in turn necessarily involved even the least of the bonnet-lairds in a legal system in which was conducted in Scots (rather than the previous Latin) by the fifteenth century. Indeed, as early as 1438, Scots was the ‘language of record’ of the baron court of Whithorn.
Al that this present letter heris or seis, wit ye us Thomas McIlhauchausy, prior of Quitheren, til haf giffen an inquwist on our baron court of Qwithern of the best and the worthiest thar beand , til Paton McMarty, of the Schapel of Sanct Molinor and the croft lian in our land of Culmalow, theqwilk inqwist sworn fand that the said Paton McMartyn was nerest ayr and lachfull to the said Schapell and croft wyth the pertinens and til haf gus in the comon of Culmalow til aegt som and a neit and hir folowaris and a sow and hir brud and a gus and hir brud. In witnes of the qwilk thing at the inqwest of diverse gentil and sundry otheris thar beand we haf set our sel at qwitthern the xi day of the moneth of Juni the year of our Lord mc ccccmo and acht and thirty yer, before thir witnes- Rolland Kenedy, Eben Galnusson and also Eben McGaryl and mony others.#
The phrase ‘Al that this present letter hearis or seis’ in the above is significant. While reading out the text would have made it comprehensible to illiterate Scots speakers, to any hearers who knew only Gaelic it would have remained incomprehensible until translated. However, since it was not until 1490 that a final break was made with the traditional laws of Galloway and Carrick,# the formal use of Gaelic in matters concerning land use may have persisted at least in some areas through most of the fifteenth century. Although it is possible that written Gaelic was used for legal documents in Galloway and Carrick, none have survived. It is more likely that the formal use of Gaelic was purely verbal, co-existing with the use of written Latin from the twelfth century onwards.
It is also likely that the framework of oral memory which preserved the traditional laws of Galloway and Carrick would have preserved historical and customary knowledge. So long as this body of knowledge was passed from generation to generation, continuity was maintained with the past. Even if there was a language shift to Scots at the upper levels of Galwegian society, continuity with the past could have been preserved through the ‘popular culture’ of the Gaelic speaking majority. However, unlike Latin, Scots did not remain the preserve of an elite. Instead it began to permeate the whole of Galwegian society. A critical factor in the extension of Scots may have been the introduction of written leases (tacks).While most of the population were still Gaelic speakers, tacks would necessarily have been verbal agreements made in Gaelic. But as Scots became the administrative and legal language used in Galloway, tacks written in Scots begin to be found. In the Wigtownshire Charters, there is an early example of one such tack.
1475, April 5 At Edinburgh. Tack (in the vernacular) for a period of 19 years from the date of redemption, by Ochre Makdowle of Logane to Thomas Makelle of Barskeauch, his heirs and assignees, of the 2 ½ merkland called Achagilzan within the lordship of Logane now wadset to the said Thomas by charter and sasine. Witnesses : Mr. Richard Learmonth, parson of ye Hauch, Schir Thomas Fermour vicar of Quhittyngean, Thomas Mondvale, Schir Henry Mondvale chaplain and Robert Marciale N.P. #
Another example of a fifteenth century tack ‘in vernacular’ is dated 9 January 1496/7. It is also for 19 years and concerns lands in the barony of Longcastle and includes the power to remove tenants and cottars.# While the tenants and cottars may still have been Gaelic speakers, this tack shows that decisions directly affecting them were being made in Scots. The next stage in the process would have been the use of Scots to issue instructions on the day to day management of work on the farms. If, as seems likely, the use of Scots by land owners and owner-occupier farmers led to an association between Scots and higher social status, this would have encouraged tenant farmers to adopt the language. This in turn would have familiarised the cottars with the use Scots on an everyday basis.
Once Scots/ Gaelic bilingualism began to spread through the cottar class, an essential feature for the survival of a language - a substantial reserve of monoglot speakers - would have been lost. The shift to bilingualism would have been most pronounced closest to the burghs of Whithorn, Wigtown, Kirkcudbright and (earlier) Dumfries. These areas also had better quality soils and were more suitable to arable farming which was more labour intensive than the pastoral farming of upland Galloway. In 1755, pre-Improvement Galloway had a population of 37 671 which was 3% of the Scottish total. Assuming a similar ratio for 1500, when the population of Scotland is estimated to have been 500 000, the population of Galloway would have been about 15 000. Assuming 2/3 of the population were concentrated in the lowland/ arable areas, then there were only 5000 people living in the more remote pastoral/ upland areas. It is in these upland areas along the border with Ayrshire that Gaelic is most likely to have survived. This assumptions fits with one of the few sources of contemporary evidence for the survival of Gaelic in south-west Scotland- The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy. From this exchange of barbed verse, it can be established that Gaelic was still spoken in Carrick circa 1500 by the poet Walter Kennedy.#
Yet although physically remote from the Scots speaking burghs, there were important connections between upland and lowland areas. While oats and bere (barley) were grown on upland farms, any shortages had to be made up from the surplus produced in the lowlands which was sold through markets as Symson noted.
[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.#
We do not know when Minnigaff’s market was established, but the practical need for moormen to have access to the cereal surplus produced in lowland areas must have been long-standing. During the Douglas lordship of Galloway (and presumably before then as well), the internal management of the lordship would have been responsible for ensuring that the flow of sheep, cattle and horses from their upland farms was not restricted by the starvation of their tenants. But with the breakdown of this feudal system of regional management after 1455, a shift to an economy orientated around the several markets noted by Symson emerged as a replacement. This movement towards a market based economy would have facilitated the spread of Scots/Gaelic bilingualism even amongst the moormen.
This leads on to a final question - Is there a connection between the loss of Gaelic in Galloway and the Reformation? Researching the Galloway Levellers uprising of 1724#, I was struck by a puzzling discontinuity between Galloway’s physical history and its social history. While continuity with the medieval past marked the pre-Improvement landscape of early eighteenth century Galloway, at no point did the Levellers or their supporters invoke memories of this past in support of their actions. The historical horizon of the Levellers did not extend back beyond references to king James VII and II and a quotation from Sir Thomas More in support of their opposition to ‘depopulating enclosures’. This lack of local historical consciousness contrasts with responses to Clearance in the Highlands. For example, Duncan Ban Macintyre composed Oran nam Balgairean (The Song of the Foxes) circa 1790-1804, which was inspired by the Clearances and contains the lines
The customs that were followed
They have perished now in Gaeldom#
In the Highlands, unlike Galloway, the past was still accessible through the continuity provided by Gaelic. A ballad in support of the Galloway Levellers was composed, but it was in Scots and contained no equivalent to the sense of cultural loss expressed by Macintyre in Oran nam Balgairean. With the passing of Gaelic in Galloway several centuries of accumulated folklore, songs, customs and popular history were ‘lost in translation’ and failed to make the transition to the new Scots speaking Galloway.
Significantly, an event occurred in the middle of the sixteenth century which imbued Scots with a powerful resonance. This event was the Scottish Reformation which in Galloway and Carrick occurred when the survival of Gaelic was already in doubt. If local tradition is to be believed, Alexander Gordon of Airds in Kells parish began the Reformation in Galloway.
TILL 1543, the date of Lord Robert Maxwell’s Act, no one throughout the kingdom could read an English or Scottish version of the Scriptures without serious risk. Long before that year, however, the old wood of Airds, in Kirkcudbrightshire, was often rendered vocal by the Word of life, read, in the vulgar tongue, to a secret, sympathizing audience, by Alexander Gordon of Airds, a man of rare excellence, who may be fairly reckoned the pioneer of the Reformation in Galloway and Dumfriesshire. He was the third son of Sir Alexander Gordon of Auchenreach. Having gone across the Border on matters of business, he happened to fall in with some of Wickliffe’s followers; and, becoming attached to one of them, he engaged him to act as tutor in the family. Returning, thoroughly embued with Reformation principles, accompanied by a Wickliffite, and possessing a copy of Wickliffe’s Testament, he became forthwith a zealous missionary of Protestantism.#
Although there are elements of myth surrounding Alexander Gordon (circa 1480-1580), translations of the Bible into English similar to the one Gordon would have read from ‘survive in enormous numbers: some 200 complete copies and many more excerpts and fragments’.# It is therefore possible that with a few years of Walter Kennedy’s death (between 1508 and 1518), the survival of Gaelic even in the Galloway/ Carrick uplands was being challenged by a powerful new social movement- the Reformation.
While Gaelic did not survive the Reformation in Galloway, Roman Catholicism did. Several branches of the Maxwell family, including the Maxwells of Kirkconnel, Munches and Orchardton as well as the earls of Nithsdale, held fast to the old religion. In 1704 there were still 412 Roman Catholics in the eastern Stewartry and lower Nithsdale, the largest group outside the Highlands.# A chapel at Munches was maintained until it was transferred to Dalbeattie at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Given the hostility directed towards Roman Catholicism by both Presbyterians and Episcopalians, this survival for over 250 years was remarkable.
If the Gaelic of Galloway had been similarly supported by a powerful land owning family, could it likewise have survived into the nineteenth century, to be revived as Cornish and Manx have been? Probably not. The survival of Roman Catholicism depended on a network of support which extended beyond Dumfries and Galloway to France and Italy. No similar network of support existed for Gaelic and so it did not survive.
It is difficult to bring this study to a neat conclusion since both the beginnings and the end of Gaelic in Galloway remain elusive. The North Channel may well have provided an early bridge over which Irish Gaelic crossed over in to the Rhinns of Galloway. However it is unlikely that Gaelic had spread very far beyond the Rhinns until the tenth century and the arrival of Gaelic speakers with hybrid Viking/ Gaelic ancestry. The Gall-Ghàidheil, who gave their name to a ‘Galloway’ which embraced most of south-west Scotland, were only one group of these Gaelic speakers. Others arrived from Ireland and, possibly, from the north of England.
Then, during the 200 years which separate the rule of David I and David II the history of Gaelic Galloway became deeply entwined with Scottish history. The wars of Scottish independence were provoked by a dynastic struggle between the Bruce and Balliol families for the Scottish crown. Galloway’s Gaelic kindreds supported the Balliols and so lost power and status when the Bruces finally prevailed in 1356. Control of Galloway then passed to Scots speaking Bruce loyalists, the most significant being the Douglases.
By the time the Douglas lordship of Galloway ended in 1455, Scots had become the administrative and legal language of Galloway. As the status of Gaelic declined, the spread of Scots/ Gaelic bilingualism preceded a shift to Scots as the primary language of lesser land owners, then their tenants and finally the cottars until Gaelic survived only in the areas most remote from the burghs of Whithorn, Wigtown and Kirkcudbright. The final end for Gaelic was probably brought about by the Scottish Reformation and the powerful association of Scots and English with the language of the Bible.
As the events of the seventeenth century were to show, the Reformation penetrated deeply into Galloway, marking a profound break with the region’s religious and cultural past. In particular, the region’s willingness to embrace the millenarian belief that the Scots as a nation had made a special Covenant with God is significant. The thousands who signed the National Covenant of 1638 across Galloway were Scots speakers who identified themselves as members of this Scottish nation. The Galloway of their past had become a foreign country and the Gaelic of their ancestors had become a forgotten language.