Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Galloway Picts Project update

This is the latest (9 June 2012) post from the Galloway Picts Project - it is looking more and more like a royal site.

The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Summer Excursion 2012 today included a visit to GUARD Archaeology’s Office and Finds Laboratory in Glasgow. Hot from the dig, the finds from Trusty’s Hill, excavated through the Galloway Picts Project (which was partly funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland), were laid out for the Fellows of the Society to see. Dr Ewan Campbell, from the University of Glasgow’s Archaeology Department (and one of the academic referees for the Galloway Picts Project), was on hand to explain to the eleven visiting Fellows the significance of the artefacts and how these demonstrate that Trusty’s Hill was a royal site within early medieval Scotland. Thank you Ewan.

Finnian, Ninian and Whithorn

Just found this interesting paper by Pamela o'Neil.

It concerns the complicated actual and lingusitic relationships between Whithorn/ Candida Casa and Finnian/ Ninian.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Archaeology, history and ethnography of Galloway

View across Fleet Valley from Trusty's Hill 31 May 2012


What was the population of Galloway 1500 years ago? One of the most interesting sources I have found  is the 1684 Parish Lists for Wigtownshire and Minnigaff (the information is online and the book can eb downloaded). For some of the parishes, the lists are given for each farm , so it is possible to establish that upland farms in Minnigaff  were worked by one or two families while some of the larger lowland farms were occupied by up to ten families. The lowland farms needed more people to work them because they were arable farms growing oats and barley and needed more people to work the oxen  drawn wooden ploughs and for planting and harvesting. The cattle, sheep and horses (and some goats) of the upland farms  needed fewer people to manage them and the farms only had small patches of arable land.

It is possible- using the 1456 Exchequer Rolls for example - to trace this basic division back 200 years. From very sketchy charter evidence,  the pattern can be followed  back another 300 years to the mid- twelfth century. Back beyond then, there are no written records to go on so we have to rely on archaeology and a little bit of place name evidence - for example the Gaelic airigh place name element which indicates places where cattle were pastured in the summer.

The archaeology reveals many cattle bones and  several quern (grinding) stones, plough pebbles (at Whithorn) and a  simple plough at Milton loch (Urr) crannog. In the Carlingwark Cauldron there were scythe  blades and sickles. As well as the crannogs, there are hill and coastal forts,  roundhouses and ‘homesteads’ concentrated in the lowland zones along the coast and up the river valleys. I am not sure how much forest there was 1500 years ago, probably quite a lot. There would also have been a lot more bog and marsh since wetland areas were only drained in the later eighteenth/ early nineteenth century. Between woods and wetlands, the amount of land on which crops could be grown would have been limited.

This would have been a limiting factor on population growth.  Cereal crops can be stored to provide a surplus against years of bad harvests. But without enough people, the scope of arable farming would have been constrained, making it more difficult to accumulate surpluses through extending the amount of arable land. Increasing the numbers of cattle would create the problem of feeding them through the winter. In the seventeenth century the problem of overstocking farms was managed by the use of ‘soums’ - each farm had a fixed number of soums, calculated as the area of pasture needed to keep different types of livestock. [Along the lines of 1 soum = 1 horse = 2 cows = 6 sheep.]

By the end of the seventeenth century, the population of Galloway was around 30 000. But by then, even if there were still areas of wetland to be drained, there was very little forest left and some of the farms had been in existence for at least 500 years. Sypland near Kirkcudbright (now Meikle and Little Sypland which are about 1 mile apart) is mentioned in a charter from  circa 1200 as being one of the farms Fergus of Galloway gifted to Holyrood abbey in 1160.

Thinking about earlier settlement patterns, the possibility is of  them being dotted around in places where cereal crops could be grown  surrounded by a larger area of wood pasture where the cattle were grazed. It would have been difficult to extend this pattern into the upland zone due to its unsuitability for cereal production. How many people does this imply? A few thousand. Perhaps 4000 to 6000 in Galloway?  [I found a figure of 10 000 for Dal Riata  and 80/100 000 for Pictland while trying to work this out in  L. R. Laing, The Archaeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland, c. AD 400-1200 ].

If here were only such a few people, then cultural/political/ religious/ linguistic changes would have occurred more easily. For example, if Irish missionaries were active in the sixth century, leading to conversion of the ruling elite, Gaelic could have spread quite quickly through such a small population. On the other hand, if there was significant Northumbrian settlement in the eighth  century then Old English should have become the dominant language. That it does not seem to have done suggests Northumbrian influence was more limited.

Thinking about Trusty’s Hill- I wonder what did the landscape look like then? Where were their fields, what crops did they grow, where did the graze their cattle? Did they have horses, ancestors of the ‘Galloway ponies’? How many people lived there, and for how long? What language(s) did they speak? Whose name is recorded in the ogham inscription? What happened after the fort was set on fire and its stones vitrified?

I am reading and re-reading  background sources and archaeology reports, trying to gain a fuller understanding  of the period. It is difficult though. I have researched seventeenth and eighteenth century Galloway for my Galloway Levellers M.Phil dissertation. I have also made  similar study of medieval Galloway, focused on the rise and fall of Gaelic. But that is history, requiring a close reading of contemporary materials added to a knowledge of the landscape as it is and partially as it was. It is also possible to trace the histories of individuals, find where they lives, find their graves. This is different, it is - since lacking written sources- prehistory. To move beyond the artefacts, the pieces of bone, the fragments of pottery and metal, the outlines of tumbled walls - leads to speculations. This is a very different pattern of the past.

Even in the scorching heat of late May, even with the sun blazing down on the hill, the past exposed beneath the turf seemed shadowy, a dusty darkness in the depths of time, illuminated only here and there, the sun striking a fragment of fired clay, an encrusted piece of iron, enigmatic markings on a rock, a puddle of muddy water in a rock cut well. The seemingly solid dissolving into air.

There is a risk here of straying into philosophical speculations about the possibility of knowledge. If it is possible to recognise the limits of knowledge about the past, does that mean it is also possible to recognise the limits of knowledge about the present? I am thinking of the University of Edinburgh European Ethnological Research Centre’s Dumfries and Galloway Ethnological Stuyd  project.

The ethnological study will have far more ‘data-points’ from which to build its understandings from,  but will it be  able to reveal a less shadowy image of  the contemporary culture of Dumfries and Galloway compared to the culture of sixth and seventh century Dumfries and Galloway?

Monday, June 04, 2012

Significance of Trusty's Hill

On Friday 25 May my sister-in-law Kay drove me across to Gatehouse of Fleet on  scorching hot day so I could visit the Galloway Picts Project archaeological dig on Trusty’s Hill. My son Alistair had been working as a volunteer digger at the site and had been reporting (and photographing) the finds made. As I write there is still another week to go of the dig, with the expectation of more finds as the Galloway Picts Project  progresses beyond  the levels reached by Charles Thomas’ dig in 1960. [Update- 1 June now- dig nearly finished, visited again yesterday]

This means that it is too early to draw any conclusions from the dig, so instead I am thinking about the wider context - what do we know about Galloway in the 300 years between the end of direct Roman influence  and the period of Northumbrian influence?

The simple answer is - not very much. There is no history (written sources) which can be attached to Galloway in this period. This means we have to rely on archaeology - which provides a detailed picture for a few sites but does not always help to illuminate the bigger picture. So we know quite a bit about Whithorn, the Mote of Mark and Ardwall Island, but not very much about what was going on between these sites.

A critical question with relevance for the later history of Galloway concerns the social structure of the region in this period : was Galloway a region made up of many small social units, or had it begun to evolve towards a unified kingdom? At  the beginning of twelfth century, ‘Galloway’ described a large territory which included Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and Nithsdale as well as present day Galloway. By the end of the twelfth century, only Wigtownshire and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright were left as ‘Galloway’, and  survived as a lordship  until 1455.  But did Fergus of Galloway forge this territorial unit (which included Carrick in Ayrshire) in the early twelfth century  - or was ‘lesser Galloway’ already a distinct  territory within ‘greater Galloway’?

The survival of Fergus’ kingdom as a distinctive territory may indicate that it was already a cohesive unit. But  if it was - when and how did it become so? One possible origin is in the period when the Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill were important regional centres. If, as seems to be the case from the finds uncovered at Trusty’s Hill so far plus the existence of the Pictish carvings there, Trusty’s Hill was a high status site, then the possibility of a Brittonic kingdom of Galloway is strengthened.

The origins of this development may lie in the different relationships between the Selgovae of Dumfriesshire and the Novantae of Galloway and the Roman Empire. Allan Wilson has made several detailed studies of these relationships in the DGNHAS Transactions.  From these studies it would appear that the Novantae were more ‘Roman-friendly’ than the Selgovae. The Romans may have cultivated the Novantae for military/ political reasons and thus set in motion the consolidation of their territory under a ‘king’. However, the proximity of the Roman fort and marching camps at Glenlochar to the Carlingwark loch/ Kelton/ Threave area [associated with the Torrs Pony Cap and Carlingwark Cauldron] suggests that this inland area was the most important regional centre in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright then. (With a settlement near loch Ryan as the main centre in Wigtownshire.)

In the post-Roman period, the centres of power seem to have shifted - with the Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill in the Stewartry and Whithorn in Wigtownshire becoming the new centres of power. Trusty’s Hill and the Mote of Mark are coastal locations and Whithorn had a coastal link via the Isle of Whithorn. There may also have been a trading centre at the head of Luce Bay. Although the loch Ryan settlement was on the coast, it does not seem to have benefited from access to the sea.

It remains to be seen how much  the evidence  from Trusty’s Hill will change our understanding of Galloway’s history. Could it also change our understanding of Scotland’s history? If a connection to Pictland can be established, it might. It may also have an impact on the historical roots of Scottish identity.

One of the foundations of Scotland’s historical identity is the fusion of Gaelic Dal-Riata with Pictland to create Alba. The expansion of Alba south of the Forth led to the incorporation into Scotland of territory which had been Northumbrian. This in turn - a process associated with the rule of David I- began a language change from Gaelic to Scots as the main language of Scotland. The next step in the formation of Scotland was the gradual incorporation of greater Galloway into mainland Scotland. The part of greater Galloway which resisted incorporation for longest was the lesser Galloway ruled by Fergus of Galloway and his descendents.

Since the independence of  Fergus’ kingdom lasted only for his lifetime, the absorption of lesser Galloway into Scotland is treated as a minor event in Scottish history.  But if a distinct territory of  ‘Galloway’ existed in the sixth and seventh centuries as a kingdom/ cohesive entity… could it have survived through the era of Northumbrian influence and its decline to re-emerge as Fergus’ kingdom? Which make Galloway’s eventual inclusion within Scotland a more significant event. Rather than the forty or fifty years of Fergus’ kingdom, ‘Galloway’ may have survived for 1000 years ( from 400 to 1455) as a distinct region/polity.

Could Gaelic have played a role? What if Gaelic had started to become the main language of Galloway in the sixth and seventh centuries - perhaps (as Charles Thomas suggested from the evidence of his excavations at Ardwall island) through Irish religious influence/ conversion.

Too many questions. Can I boil them down to a few?

1. Novantae and the Romans - did contact with the Roman Empire encourage a shift from diffused to more centralised  power-  leading to something like a ‘kingdom of the Novantae’ ? Period  80 to 400.

2. After the Romans- Whithorn, Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill all reveal links through trade with Mediterranean/ post- Roman Gaul. Were these three separate ‘high status’ centres, or part of a developing kingdom/ unified region? How do the Pictish carvings at Trusty’s Hill fit in? Period 400- 700.

3. Irish links - was Ardwall Island an Irish Christian site? Were there  other similar sites, represented by kil (later kirk) sites with Irish saints names? Could Gaelic have spread via these sites? Period  450- 700 and possibly later.

4. Northumbrians- when did they reach Galloway? Were the destruction of Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill connected to Northumbrian take- over? Apart from Whithorn,  was there Northumbrian settlement (e.g. Daphne Brooke)? Did the Northumbrian’s conserve or destroy possible unity of Galloway? Period 650- 850.

5. Vikings and Gall-ghaidheil - was there any direct Viking settlement in Galloway, or was it indirect via Dublin- e.g. Echmacarch mac Ragnall as ‘king of the Rhinns/ Machars’? Were there already Gaelic speakers in Galloway before the Gall-ghaidheil?  How coherent/ unified was Galloway at the end of the Northumbrian era? Period  850- 1100.

6. Fergus of Galloway - was  Fergus  the ‘father of the nation’ who fused a fragmented district into a unified region? Or did he revive an already centuries old kingdom of Galloway? Period 1110- 1365.

7 Archibald the  Grim-  if Archibald the Grim was able to attract the support  of the Galwegian kindreds by offering  to restore the lordship of Galloway, does this imply the existence of a ’Galloway’ as an idea? So that the kindreds were loyal to the land rather than the ‘house of Fergus’? So the lordship (or kingship) of Galloway was elective rather than hereditary? Period 1365-1455.

 None of these are questions which can be definitely answered. They are, however, interesting to ask.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Osprey update- thee may be eggs

Karl Munday of NTS Threave has just told me that the NTS Dumfries and Galloway Ranger service now have their own blog

This is the latest (31 May 2012) Update


Down at the opsrey nest there seems to be some positive signs. The opsreys appear to be showing behaviour indicative of incubation of an egg. The opsreys have been seen to be constantly sitting on the nest, which hopefully means we have some eggs in there. Luckily within a month or two we will see some little opsrey faces poking their beaks out of the nest.