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MacGwallog? The Case for Gwallog

Doug McCullough

Updated September 2022

Sir Andrew Agnew tells an intriguing story of the McCulloch family origin in his “Hereditary Sheriffs of Galloway.” Sir Andrew mocks the common narrative that the name “McCulloch” derives from “son of the boar.” Rather, he relays the oral tradition the family claims descent from Briton chieftain (G)wallog ap Lleenog. If this were true, the name would originally have been something akin to “mac Gwallog.”

It should come as no surprise that there are many spellings of the name Gwallawg as it is recorded over time and enters into different languages and dialects. I am by no means an expert on the Welsh language, but Gwallawg’s primary chronicler, poet Taliesin, seems to spell the name “Uallauc” which is sometimes rendered “Wallawg.” For this reason, some scholars render his name “(G)uallauc.”

It doesn’t require much imagination to see how the latter name might be recorded as “mac Ulagh” by the end of the 13th century or “Makawllach” in the 14th century. Also, an alternative spelling for “McCulloch” in Dumfries and among clerics was “MacGillhauch.” We can imagine Catholic clerics hearing a name “MacGwallawc” assumed it to refer to a saint, thus rendering the name “MacGillhauch.” Even with the name “MacGillhauch” we see the letter “g” drop out as it later evolves intos “M’Ilhauch” and even “Makkillauch.”

Gwallog ap Lleenog is believed to have been a historic 6th century figure, however his history has been embellished in Welsh ballads and even Arthurian legends. The historic Gwallog appears to be a Briton chieftain in the north of Great Britain.

According to the ballads of Taliesin, Gwallog seems to have been a sometimes ally of King Urien of Rheged. However, Gwallog may have conquered Rheged (in what later became known as Galloway) after the death of King Urien.

The meaning of the name “Gwallog” is not known, and has been the subject of speculation. According to author Carlay Nayland, the first part of the name “Gwallog” appears to include “gwal,” a Brittonic word for “wall.” Hence, the name may mean “man of the wall.” Nayland speculates this may indicate that Gwallog originally lived near Hadrian’s Wall. Gwallog is also nicknamed the “battle horsemen.” Apparent connections to Hadrian’s Wall and horsemanship are particularly intriguing, as discussed below.

Current Y DNA data indicates that descendants of the McCullochs of Galloway are Haplogroup R-BY32010, which indicates Indo-European or Sarmatian ancestry. This haplogroup is distinct from Scotti Gaels, Norse-Gaels, or even Picts. So, how did Sarmatians arrive in Scotland?

In 175 AD, Iazgyes Sarmatians living in or near modern Hungary were conquered by Rome and forced into a military settlement. That settlement required these Sarmatians to provide 8,000 troups to fight on behalf of Rome. Of these, 5,500 we commended to go to Britain. Because of their prowess in horsemanship, these soldiers may have served as auxiliary cavalrymen along Hadrian’s Wall at such places as Chesters Roman Fort. A stone carving of what appears to be a Sarmatian cavalryman has been found at Chester, England. (Independent historian Giuseppe Nicollini also writes that Sarmatian artifacts have been found at Chester’s along Hadrian’s Wall, among various other sites). The most notable Roman fortress that stationed Sarmatians was Ribchester, a cavalry fort and eventual retirement settlement for Sarmatian veterans.

Following the departure of the Romans, we would expect the Sarmatian soldiers to become culturally Briton. The consensus among historians of medieval Galloway is that the McCullochs were a prominent, “native” family who were in the region since time immemorial. The McCullochs appear to be one of the most prominent families in the region. Another prominent family, the MacDowells, appear to have arrived later with the Norse-Gaels. The Gwallog hypothesis would explain how the McCullochs gained prominence in Galloway prior to the arrival of the Norse-Gaels.

Interestingly, the latest Y DNA data indicates that two of the main tested McCulloch lines may not have had a common ancestor until as far back as 895-1195 AD. The earliest records of the McCulloch name (MacUlauth, then MacUlagh) do not occur until 1285 and 1296. This may suggest that the patronym was adopted at a relatively early date. Sir Andrew Agnew points to a Bishop Makwolok (died 733) who is mentioned in the Kalendars of Scottish Saints. According to Sir Andrew, Bishop Makwolok’s career began in Candida Casa, near McCulloch ancestral lands. Thomas Clancy, writing about the early church in North-eastern Scotland, indicates that the name Makwolok likely derived from the name Uallauch or Gwallawg. If nothing else, St. Walloch (aka Bishop Makwolok) of Candida Casa would seem to indicate that the name “Uolloch” or “Gwallawc” was in use as a forename or patronym in Galloway by the late 7th and early 8th centuries.

Does any of this prove Gwallog was either the name-sake of Clan McCulloch or genetically related? Absolutely not. For instance, the name McCulloch could be derived from some other Briton man named “Gwallawc” who was unrelated to either Gwallawc ap Lleenog or Bishop Makwolok. But the oral tradition that Gwallog was the eponymous progenitor of Clan McCulloch is proving hard to debunk.