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Cumbric Galloway

According to Alistair Livingstone: “The earliest recoverable language layer in southern Scotland is not Gaelic but a language related to modern Welsh. And variously described as Brittonic, Cumbric or Old Welsh. This language was spoken from at least 500 BC into the 12th and 13th centuries. It can be traced through place name evidence and gave rise to its own literature in the 6th century – of which the epic poem y Gododdin is the earliest example.”

He continues:

“In Galloway there is place name evidence for Gaelic. However, this was not Scottish Gaelic. It was a form of Gaelic which now survives as Manx Gaelic, which exists only as a revived language. This form of Gaelic was introduced by the Hiberno-Norse Gall-Gaels (foreign Gaels) in the 10th / 11th centuries. It did not reach Galloway from Gaelic speaking Scotland.

Significantly, the Gall-Gael arrived as a ruling elite, replacing the Northumbrians as ruling elite in the lower-lying more fertile areas. The shift from Old Welsh to Galloway Gaelic has not been studied. It is likely that a detailed study of Galloway’s Gaelic place names would show a ‘Gaelicisation’ of Old Welsh originals.”

Descendants of the McCullochs (supporters of the claim to the Scots throne of John Balliol rather than Robert the Bruce) may find the following from Alistair Livingston of particular interest:

“Finally, any suggestion that the existence of Gaelic in Galloway supports the claim that Gaelic was once the national language of Scotland runs counter to the historical fact that up until the death of Alan of Galloway in 1234, its was an independent kingdom. After the death of Alan, the ‘Community of Galloway ‘ chose Thomas, the illegitimate son of Alan, as their ruler ‘to preserve the kingdom’ rather than see it divided between Alan’s three legitimate daughters (or rather their husbands). Scots king Alexander II responded by invading Galloway and defeating an alliance of Manx, Irish and Galwegian forces. The fact that there was Manx and Irish support for Thomas of Galloway against a Scottish invasion reinforces the links suggested between the ‘Gall-Gael of Galloway and their Manx and Irish Gaelic speaking neighbours. If Alexander II can still be considered a Scottish Gaelic king, then Scottish Gaelic influence in Galloway was external and enforced as late as 1235.”

Livingston was not writing about McCulloch political allegiances. But Livingston’s description of the history of Cumbric and Gaelic languages in Galloway give an enlightening context to McCulloch affiliations.

During the lifetime of Alan of Galloway, the McCullochs likely supported an independent Galloway. After his demise, once it looked inevitable that Galloway would become part of Scotland, Galwegians like the McCullochs likely backed the Balliol claims to the Scots throne due to his marriage to Lady Devorguilla and ties to Galloway.

More works from Alistair Livingston can be accessed here.