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South Light Article Gaelic in Galloway

South Light Article Gaelic in Galloway

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Published by Alistair Livingston
History of Gaelic in Galloway, south-west Scotland.
History of Gaelic in Galloway, south-west Scotland.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Alistair Livingston on May 16, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Gaelic in GallowayAt the end of the eighteenth century there were 297 823 Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Bythe beginning of the twenty first century there were only 58 552. Concern over thedecline of Gaelic persuaded the Scottish Parliament to pass the Gaelic Language(Scotland) Act in 2005 and to establish Bord na Gaidhlig in 2006. Bord na Gaidhlig’s priority is to increase the number of Gaelic speakers across Scotland, not just in thelanguage’s traditional heartlands in the Highlands and Islands. As part of this nation-wideremit, in November 2010 Bord na Gaidhlig contributed funding of £45 000 to Dumfriesand Galloway’s Community Learning and Development Service to support adult Gaeliclearning in the region. Anndra Wilson was subsequently appointed as GaelicDevelopment Worker for Dumfries and Galloway.For anyone with an interest in the history of and culture of Dumfries and Galloway, thisis fascinating development. At the beginning of the twelfth century, Gaelic was spokenacross almost the whole of Scotland. However, during the reign of King David I (1124-1153), the shift from Gaelic to Scots as the main language of Scotland began. While his predecessors had been based in Alba -Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde boundary-David’s power-base was in south-east Scotland. South-east Scotland had been part of theAnglian kingdom of Northumbria and the Old English speech of this region evolved intothe language we now call Scots. As David and his successors expanded this ‘new’kingdom of the Scots north and west, so the gradual decline of Gaelic began.By the end of the fourteenth century most of the population of southern Scotland werespeaking Scots, with Gaelic surviving only in Galloway, south Ayrshire and Nithsdale. Inthese areas, Gaelic was to persist for another 200 years. This survival of Gaelic isreflected in the thousands of Gaelic place names still found in the south-west.Why did Gaelic survive in south-west Scotland ? The answer lies in the region’sdistinctive history. When King David I granted Annandale to Robert de Brus in 1124,
large parts of south-west Scotland had yet to become part of David’s kingdom. Nithsdale,Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Wigtownshire and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright lay within avaguely defined region called Galloway. This region took its name from the Gall-Ghàidheil, the ‘foreign Gaels’. The Gall-Ghàidheil spoke Gaelic, but their culture had been strongly influenced by the Vikings or the ‘Gall’ as the Irish called them. In 1124,what is now called Galloway was only a small part of this larger Galloway and was ruledas an independent kingdom by Fergus ‘of Galloway‘. By 1160, Fergus’ rule was over andhis kingdom, along with the rest of Galloway had been absorbed into the kingdom of Scotland- at least in theory. In practice, the situation was more complex.Although the king of Scots was their feudal superior, Fergus’ descendants continued torule Galloway as if it was an independent kingdom. Even after they settled ‘Norman’(mainly Cumbrian) knights in Galloway, the real power of Galloway’s lords flowed fromthe loyalty of the region’s Gaelic kindreds or clans. The last lord of Galloway to rely onthis support was Edward Balliol. Edward’s father was King John Balliol whosegrandfather was Alan of Galloway (died 1234), the great-grandson of Fergus of Galloway. Between 1332 and 1356, Edward Balliol claimed the Scottish throne, but for most of his reign Balliol had to depend on Edward III of England for support. Balliolcould rely on Scottish support in Galloway, but such support drew on the traditionalloyalty of Galloway’s Gaelic clans to Balliol as their ‘special lord’ rather his claim to beking of Scots.In 1356, Edward Balliol had lost even this support and his last toe-holds on Scottish soil -Buittle Castle and Hestan Island- and had to renounce his claim to the Scottish throne.This still left English troops in control of many castles across the south of Scotland. KingDavid II gave Archibald the Grim the task of recovering these castles. Archibald was theillegitimate son of James Douglas, Robert Bruce’s most loyal supporter. In 1369, David IIgranted Archibald control of the lands ‘between the Nith and Cree’ to which Archibaldsoon added Wigtownshire, making him Lord of Galloway.To control Galloway, Archibald had Threave Castle built and it was from Threave that the
Douglas Lordship of Galloway was administered for the next eighty years. For nearly 500years, Gaelic had been the dominant language in Galloway but now the region was ruled by Scots speakers and the social status of Gaelic began to decline. After the fall of theDouglases in 1455, King James II took direct control of Galloway, denying any chance of a Gaelic revival.From the poetry of Walter Kennedy who lived in south Ayrshire, we know that Gaelicwas still spoken in the Carrick district at the beginning of the sixteenth century. On theother hand, entries in the Wigtown Burgh Court Book shows that Scots was alreadyestablished in the Machars by 1512. This suggests that Scots became the language of themore populous and prosperous lowland parishes of Galloway while Gaelic survived inthe more isolated and less populous upland parishes, gradually fading away during thesixteenth century. The final disappearance of Gaelic in Galloway is likely to have beenhastened by the Scottish Reformation. The Reformation became deeply rooted inGalloway and was propagated by Scots speaking ministers preaching from Englishtranslations of the Bible. By the seventeenth century, when the Covenanters andConventiclers found refuge in the upland parishes, Scots was the language they spoke andEnglish the language of their defiant declarations. If Gaelic had survived in Galloway,then Andrew Sympson would have recorded this fact in his
 Large Description of Galloway
which he composed in 1682. Sympson notes distinctive features of the localScots dialect, but makes no mention of the survival or even recent disappearance of Gaelic.And yet, despite the disappearance of the language, Galloway remains a region named,created and shaped by Gaelic speakers. It was the Gall-Ghàidheil who gave the region itsname and it was the Gaelic speaking people of Galloway who provided Fergus and hisdescendants down to Edward Balliol with their military power. Without their continuedloyalty, only historians would recognise ‘Galloway’ as the name of a region.Tracing the history of Gaelic Galloway is difficult due to the lack of written sources.There are a very few charters from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but these were

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