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.