Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Natural Mysteries of the Land

When the Scots took over Angus from the Picts in the ninth century they found a province filled with strange things which could not easily be explained.  The anonymous Irish scribe who compiled his version of the Historia Brittonum enumerated the wonders of the land, and among them was Glen Ailbe in Angus, where a mysterious shouting was heard resounding in the hills every Monday night.  Nobody knew what made the noise, but it could only have been the fairy people who lived in the mountains and fields.  That terrifying sound may have long ago ceased to resonate, but another place where strange sounds are still sometimes heard is Lunan Bay, one of a number of British beaches where the sand is supposed to 'sing' on occasion. Whether this has a plausible geological cause is yet to be determined.  But even silence can sometime be sinister and there are certain place which have - and may always have had - a bad reputation for reasons forgotten or never known.  The mountain named Mayer, which rears above Glen Doll, is a frequent target for hill walkers because of its immensity.  But some people have reported feeling very uncomfortable there.  One woman walker stated that nothing would ever compel her to walk alone on that mountain.

    Place-names showing the presence of the Fair Folk are as elusive as the race itself.  True, there is an Elf Hillock in Glen Clova, but it is a very modest mound.  One gets the feeling that most of the supernatural traffic in ancient times by-passed Angus altogether.  The first major north-south glen to the west of the county is Glen Shee, the glen of the fairies.  People in Strathmore used to believe that fairy men sometimes abducted human babies and conducted them to their caverns beneath the Sidlaw Hills.  One theory says that the first element in the name Sidlaw is sidh, 'fairy', but more prosaic souls may prefer to believe that the element stands for 'seat' (the second part of the name is the Old English law, 'hill').

    Supernatural beings, fairies and other, infested the conspicuous hills until recent times.  Perhaps the most impressive otherworldly hills are the White and Brown Caterthuns, north of Brechin, each crowned with a massive native hill fort.  The stronghold on the Brown Caterthun was the successor of that on the White Caterthun, and was likely constructed after Agricola's Roman legions withdrew in the first century.  Locals believed that a witch carried the stones used to build the Caterthuns.  But her apron string broke as she flew through the air and one stone landed in a field, becoming a standing stone.  People in Menmuir parish said that the fairies inhabited a huge cave under the Caterthuns.  Early in the 19th century a couple from Tigerton had a baby which sadly began to waste away. Gossips at first insisted that the mother had bewitched her child, then other wisdom prevailed.  It became obvious that the afflicted bairn was a changeling; the mortal boy having been stolen by the Caterthun fairies.  To test whether the child was in fact fairy or human, he was held over a whin fire. If he had been of fairy stock he would have flown at once to his native realm under the hills.  But the baby merely screamed as he received a slight burn, proving his mortality.

    A well on the west side of the White Caterthun was rumoured to contain a kettle filled with (fairy?) gold.  Another kettle, brim full of silver, lay somewhere on the Hill of Wirran, to the north.  This latter treasure has been fleetingly glimpsed from a distance, but nobody has found it yet.  The eventual finder may be unluckier than he or she reckons, for they will be magically transported to another dimension and be forced to toil until Doomsday.  At the end of the world the person will be consigned to eternal lamentation.  Cairns near the top of the Hill of Wirran mark the graves of suicides, buried here so their spirits would not haunt the habitations of humans.  The last unfortunates to be buried here were a man and a woman, who died between 1750 and 1780.
    Another hill with an eerie reputation was Turin Hill, near Forfar.  Turin's fortified summit encampment enclosed a massive seven and a half acres.  It features in an old Angus curse:

                                       Deil ride to Turin on ye
                                       for a lade o sclates!

    Here, Satan was credited with carrying the materials for the ancient fort.

    Another witch, who was flying over Carmyllie, carelessly dropped her burden.  This was the famous Cauld Stane o Carmyllie, which marks the boundary between the parishes of Carmyllie and Rescobie.  Also known as the Girdle Stane, it may be the 'Grey Stone' mentioned in records about 1280.  Its odd name comes from the fact that it sued to revolve three times every morning at cock crow to welcome the heat of the rising sun.  A folklorist might be tempted to conjecture that this is a distorted memory of a time when people once danced around the stone in a pagan rite.

    Carmyllie, like the Caterthuns, was a notorious hot spot for weird traditions.  An ill remembered tale speaks of a castle which entirely sank into the ground.  Carmyllie Hill had its own crock of gold, sometimes seen but never grasped.  In 1838, a 'fairy hillock' was excavated on the hill.  A huge, two ton boulder was unearthed, along with some metal rings.  The under side of the stone had an imprint on it shaped like a foot mark, which locals took as conclusive proof that the Good Folk revelled nightly on the hill.  Since then, many  'foot prints' have been found in quarries north of the hill and seem, sadly, entirely natural formations.

    Other ancient remains were also treated with supestitious dread.  A shot cist grave was accidentally uncovered by peat cutters at Arsallary in Glen Esk.  They quickly repaired it, for they knew they would never cut another peat if the grave was desecrated.  Souterrains - also called earth houses or weems - were stone lines underground passages built by the Picts in the early centuries A.D. They may have been used as storehouses, or as places of refuge, but they were later abandoned.  The Gaelic newcomers to the county linked them with the otherworld.  Many of the fifty or so souterrains in Angus are clustered at a number of sites.  Airlie has traces of seven of them, six of them around Barns of Airlie. Once there was a croft at Barns which was terribly plagued by fairies.  Every morning the housewife found that the ashes from the fire had vanished during the night.  One day, as she was making oatcakes on the grate, one of them fell into the fire.  The cake did not burn, it disappeared.  The terrified woman ran out of the house and told her neighbours.  They quickly tore down the haunted cottage and found that the hearthstone was actually the roofing slab of a souterrain.  Lifting up this slab, they found below an enormous pile of shes and a number of mouldy oatcakes - but no fairies.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Last Wolf and Wildcats

Some time in the late 17th century, the last wolf in Angus stravaiged through Glen Lethnot, devouring many sheep there.  One evening a servant girl was sent by her master to sift a melder of corn at Glascarry Mill.  The task was so exhausting that, on her return journey, she lay down on a grassy bank and fell fast asleep.  Next morning she woke to find a huge, shaggy wolf sleeping beside her.  Worse still, it lay on a fold of her clothing, preventing her from getting up.  But she carefully managed to extricate herself, leaving her dress behind, and ran to raise the warning at the nearest farmhouse.  A crowd accompanied her back to where the wold had been, but all they found was the abandoned dress, ripped to shreds.  The party scoured the glen and finally located the wolf on the Hill of Wirren.  There was a fierce struggle and the beast was eventually slain by one Robert of Nathro, who later married the young maid.

    Places-names in  upland Angus show there was once a sizeable wolf population in the wild places.  There is a hill named Wolf Craig in Glen Lee and a Wolf Hill near Loch Brandy, and there is also a burn called Wolf Grain.  Meanwhile the deserted fishing village of Usan, south of Montrose, was called Wolfishavyn in 1512 and Howlshavin in 1496.

    While wolves may have gone, that other ferocious - if sadly endangered - creature the Wild Cat -still clings on in the remote nooks and corries of upland Angus.  I had a strange encounter with these animals while camping out in a bivvy bag one summer night twenty odd years ago. Sleeping on a high saddle of land between two hills above Glen Prosen, I was woken  by a strange sound which sounded like a cross between a steam powered machine and a highly displeased animal.  More disconcertingly, the sound seemed to circle me in the darkness, coming nearer and nearer.  That was the end of sleep for that night.  When dawn starting inching upwards, I eventually saw two crouching beasts in the middle distance and recognised them as Wild Casts, who seemed to be watching me intently, wondering what I was doing in the middle of their territory.  I had a disposable camera with me and took a flash picture of the pair.  The animal furthest behind ran off immediately, but the other one waited a menacing thirty seconds before it bounded away after the other, down an impossibly steep slope.  Sadly, I lost the camera before I had the chance to develop the picture.

    In 1817 a deer-stalker named Charles Duncan was travelling through Glen Doll when he spotted a Wild Cat and decided to shoot it.  As he crept closer, he lost his footing and his prey sprang away.  Dazed, Duncan looked up and was astonished to see that his surroundings had utterly changed.  Instead of an expanse of heather, he found himself in an overgrown kirkyard.  He was even more surprised to see an open coffin lying on the ground.  It contained a corpse which the stalker recognised as an older version of himself.  An inscription on the adjacent coffin lid stated his name, age and date of his death:  21st September, 1848, aged eighty-three.  The horrified Duncan swiftly ran away and afterwards avoided the place.  It hardly needs to be added that Charles Duncan died on the very day which his vision decreed.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Angus Cannibal

The chink in the Sidlaws known as the Glack of Newtyle is the main route from Dundee to western Strathmore and it was haunted for centuries by robbers and brigands.  The most terrifying of these outlaws lived in the early 15th century and his story was re-told (or quite possibly invented) by James Grant in his novel The Yellow Frigate (1855).  Grant  told the story of a strange creature named Ewain Gavelrigg who lived in a turf-walled cottage at Uach-dar Tir, now Auchtertire, west of Newtyle.  Ewain was more monster than man, for his occupation was to waylay solitary travellers in the Glack, kill them, then drink their blood and consume their flesh.  The few men who escaped and found refuge in the castles of Baille Craig or Dudhope in Dundee said that their attacker was a huge man with a great mace. He was dressed in homespun grey, his head was covered by a forest of hair, and he could brain a mountain bull with a single blow.
    The country became so alarmed that none would dare cross the Sidlaws except as part of a large armed party.  Two men, on separate occasions, swore that they had slain the ogre.  A Dundonian arrow maker said he had slit its throat, and a Banff sword maker said he had stabbed it in the chest.  But the attacks continued, so the two men were dismissed as liars.  The situation became so serious that Sir James Scrymgeour of Dudhope, constable of Dundee, declared that he would deal with it personally.  On the evening of the feat of St John the Evangalist, 1440, he donned his armour and set out with Sir John Drummond.

    When they reached the Glack, the Constable blew his horn and shouted, ‘Ewain Gavelrigg - man or fiend - come out!’  The ogre appeared on the path before them and smashed Scrymgeour’s horse with his mace, dashing its brains into his face.  As the Constable fell, Ewain laughed happily and dragged him by the throat into the thick pine woods.

    Drummond had been behind Scymgeour and had not been spotted by the fiend.  He followed quietly to a clearing where Gavelrigg was about to kill the Constable.  Sir John galloped at the monster and transfixed him with his lance.  Ewain expired with a horrible piercing cry just as dawn arrived.  The two men carefully examined the body and found the wounds which the arrow maker and the sword maker had afflicted.  Soon two wild looking women approached, the wife and daughter of Gavelrigg, and asked to take him away for burial.  Scrygeour assented, but first he hacked off the hand which had grabbed his throat and later he nailed it to the West Port of Dundee as a warning to miscreants.
    The north-west road was considered safe again, but soon more travellers went missing.  Large pools of blood were seen in the Glack.  Ewain Gavelrigg had apparently returned from the dead. King James I’s governor, Sir Alexander Livingstone of Callendar, proclaimed a crusade against the fiend.  The hut at Auchtertyre was demolished, and a huge amount of human remains was found in a vault.  A patrol tracked Ewain to a narrow valley where he slew eight men and three horses before he was captured, bound beneath a horse’s belly, and transported to Dundee.  Ewain Gavelrigg, his wife, daughter, and infant son were burned to death at the Market Cross.  In the novel the tale is remembered by the evil Hew Borthwick, supposedly saved from the flames by a priest.

    Grant based his story on an intriguing passage from Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie’s Historie and Cronikles of Scotland (c. 1578):

                                 Thair was and briggant tane with his hail familie, quho
                                 hauntet ane place in Angus.  This michievous man had an
                                 execrable faschion to tak all young men, and children aither,
                                 he could steal away quietlie, or tak away without knawledge,
                                 and eat thame, and they younger they war, esteemed them
                                 more tender and delicious.  For the quhilk caus and
                                 dampnable abuse, he, with his wayff and bairnis, were all
                                 burnt, except ane young wench of ane year old, wha was
                                 saiffed , and broucht to Dundie, quhair show was broucht vp and
                                 fostered, and quhan shoe cam to ane vomanes yeires, shoe cam
                                 to ane vomanes yeires, shoe was condemned and burnt quick
                                 for that cryme.  It is said, that when shoe was coming to the place
                                 of execution, their gathered and hudge multitud of people, and
                                 speciallie  of vomen, cursing her that shoe was so unhappie to
                                 commit so damnable didis.  To whom she turned about with ane
                                 ireful countenance, saying, Quhairfoir chyd yea me so as if I had
                                 committed an vnworthie act?  Give me credence and trow me, if
                                 yea had experience of eating men and vomenis flesch, ye wold think
                                 it so delitious that ye wold nevir forbeare it againe.  So, bot ony sign
                                 of repentance, this vnhappie traitour died in the sight of the people.

    The legend seems obviously similar to the better know Ayrshire cannibal clan of Sawney Bean, though in fact Pitscottie’s tale was set down long before the abominable Bean made it into print.  Pitscottie does not mention the setting as being in the west Sidlaws.  Popular tradition placed the cannibal at Denfind, Monikie, several miles to the east, popularly called Fiend’s Den, which obviously appears to be a folk etymology.  Syrymgeour did have a known connection to the Glack of Newtyle, having killed the Laird of Fetterangus here in revenge for raiding his lands.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Ogilvy-Lindsay Feud. Beardie!

One of the most famous ghosts of Glamis Castle does not belong there at all, though he was a famous character in Angus and beyond during his lifetime in the 15th century.  Earl Beardie (nicknamed after his beard) was also known as the Tiger Earl (because of his ferocity), and his given name was Alexander Lindsay, the 4th Earl of Crawford.  He was chief of the house of the ‘lichtsome Lindsays’, who were one of the most powerful kin groups in Angus, until their decline in the 17th century.  The chief opponents of the Lindsays were the Ogilvy family and the feud between the two kindreds rumbled on for over a century.

    One tale dates the rivalry to the early 14th century, when Lindsay of Finavon Castle invited local lairds to compete in an archery competition.  Twenty-four competitors lined up on the castle lawn, watched by their ladies sitting beneath the shade of a chestnut tree.  After many feats of skill, David Ogilvy, squire of Lord Ogilvy of Inverquharity Castle,  laded his arrow in a bulls-eye already hit by Lindsay’s man.  Lord Ogilvy then shot a falcon on the wing, an act which Lord Lindsay was too drunk to replicate.  The contestants then moved inside the castle.  Ogilvy recklessly accused Lindsay of being jealous of his ability, so Lindsay  set a more difficult challenge.  Each man was to shoot an arrow through  the twelve candle sconces fitted to the wall and hit a falcon held by a servant at the far end of the hall.  Lindsay loosed his arrow and killed his own henchman.  Ogilvy’s shot struck the bird.  Lindsay furiously challenged Ogilvy to a duel on Kelpie’s Haugh.  The combat was long and fierce, but finally Lindsay gained the advantage.  But, just as he was about to deliver the mortal blow, Lindsay dropped dead.

    This story is probably a literary fiction from the 19th century.  The real root of the feud was the wild temperament and greed of Alexander Lindsay, Master of Crawford, son of David, the 3rd Earl of Crawford and his wife Marion Ogilvy.  Sir Walter Ogilvy of Carcary and Lintrathen had been granted the lands and castle of Bolshan (in Kinnell parish) by Arbroath Abbey, around 1422.  He was mad a baillie of the abbey at the same time.  When this knight died in 1440, the office and possessions passed to Sir Walter Ogilvie of Airlie.  The Master of Crawford purchased another office from the abbey, becoming Justiciar, but he was removed from the position after embezzling large sums of money.  Sir Alexander Ogilvy, 2nd baron of Inverquharity, was appointed Justiciar in Lindsay’s place.

    Soon the vengeful Lindsays were raiding Ogilvy lands in Kinnell and stealing their cattle.  Sir John Ogilvy retaliated and the conflict escalated,  One minor skirmish occurred at Leys, south of Kinnell, with the Lindsays coming off best, as this old rhyme remembers:
                                                      At the Loan o the Leys the play began,
                                                      an the Lindsays o’er the Ogilvys ran.

    One of the Ogilvy troops in this fray was a giant man with the old Angus name of Irons.  Despite his strength, Irons was slain and his giant boot and spur were hung up in the Ogilvy aisle of Kinnell church.  Above this aisle was written this legend:
                                                     While girse grows green and water runs clear,
                                                     let nane but Ogilvys lie here.

     After the aisle collapsed in 1766, the common folk of the parish were allowed to be buried here.
   The Ogilvys and Lindsays met several times to try to resolve their differences, but to no avail.  They agreed to meet each other in combat  at Arbroath Abbey on 24th January, 1446.  Unfortunately the Master of Crawford did not inform his father, the Earl, about the forthcoming battle and the horrified Earl only found out a few hours before.  A manuscript of the Hamilton family, who fought alongside the Lindsays, takes up the tale:

                                                    The Erle of Crawfourd, being then at Dundee, posted in all
                                                    haste to Aberbrothock, and came there just as both parties
                                                    [were] ready to begin the fight...designing by calmness to
                                                    take up the quarrel [he] went too forwardly to demand a
                                                    parlie with Alexander Ogilbie for his sons.  But before he
                                                    could either be known or heard, he was encountered by a
                                                    commone soulder, who thrust him in the mouth with a
                                                    speir which lair him upon the ground...

     While the mortally wounded Earl was carried back to Finavon Castle, the Lindsays furiously attacked the Ogilvys.  Five hundred of the latter were slain, against a hundred Lindsays.  Among the Ogilvy allies to escape was Sir John Seton, brother-in-law of Sir John Ogilvy.  He had been travelling north to claim the inheritance which would make him the first Earl of Huntly.  He had stayed the night at Bolshan Castle and the code of hospitality obliged him to fight for his hosts until the last meal he had received from them had been digested.  Among the Ogilvy allies in the fray were Oliphants, Gordons and Forbes.  It seems there may be a resonance of the bloody battle remaining.  Forbes Inglis, in his book Phantoms & Fairies, Tales of the Supernatural in Angus and Dundee (2010), mentions visitors to the Abbot's House in Arbroath Abbey have sometimes been unsettled by an uncanny atmosphere.

    Sir Alexander Ogilvy of Inverquharity was wounded in the fight.  The Lindsays took him to Finavon, not as a prisoner, but because it was feared that he would not survive the longer journey to his own home. He was tended by his cousin, Marion Ogilvy, Crawford’s wife.  Crawford himself suffered appalling agony before he died, exactly a year after he and the Earl of Douglas had raided ‘St Andrew’s Lands’ in Fife, a deed which caused him to be excommunicated.  Some people believed that his fate was the result of the curse of Bishop Kennedy of St Andrews.  His body lay unburied for four days until the excommunication was lifted.

    Crawford’s death seems to have driven Marion Ogilvy insane, for she removed the pillow from her husband’s death bed and used it to smother the helpless Sir Alexander Ogilvy.  The Lindsays made a gleeful rhyme about the murder, playing on the words Ogilvy and Ugly:

                                                      Ugly you lived, and Ugly you died,
                                                      and now in an Ugly place you lie.

     Inverquharity’s own brother, Thomas Ogilvy,  betrayed the family by fighting on the Lindsay side at Arbroath, and he was later rewarded by gaining the lands of Cortachy and Glen Clova.

     After the battle and the death of his father, Alexander Lindsay, now 4th Earl of Crawford, continued to rage against his enemies.  For ‘a gret tyme [he] held the Ogilbys at great subjecciounn, and tuke thair gudis, and destroyit their placis’.  One of his main targets was the recently completed castle of Inverquharity.

    Crawford allied himself with the Douglas family and became a major player in the rebellion against King James II which arose when the king killed the 8th Earl of Douglas.  At 11 a.m. on Ascension Day, 18th May, 1452, Crawford’s army met the king’s forces under the Earl of Huntly at the Battle of Brechin.  Huntly won the day, helped by a large defection from his enemy, led by one Collace, or Sir John Collessie, of Balnamoon, apparently disenchanted by not receiving a grant of the lands of Fern from Crawford.

    After the bitter defeat, Earl Beardie fled back to his home of Finavon Castle , called for a cup of wine, and declared that, rather than having been defeated, ‘he wud be content to hing seven years in hell by the breers ‘ his e’en [eyelashes].’  Huntly had planned to follow Crawford, but was forced to flee north when the Earl of Moray invaded his own lands.  Crawford took the opportunity of his absence to burn down Kinnaird Castle, home of Huntly’s ally, Walter Carnegie.

    A legend says Beardie was warned of defeat years before when his wife encountered a strange old minstrel wandering by the Lemno Burn.  Hearing mention her husband, she brought him home and the Earl ordered him to speak.  When the old man predicted the murder of Douglas the defeat at Brechin, Crawford hanged the minstrel from an iron hook hung high on Finavon’s eastern wall.

    King James II was furious with Crawford after the defeat and swore he would make the highest stone of Finavon its lowest.  But Crawford courageously approached the monarch and begged mercy for his family and vassals, though none for himself.  The king forgave him and Beardie received him, bare foot and in sack cloth, on the Renet Green before Finavon.  The king entered the castle, climbed to the keep, and dislodged the highest stone, and so fulfilled his promise.  Crawford entertained the king for three days at the castle.

    It was long believed by the Lindsays that they had lost the day at Brechin for the same reason that the Ogilvys were defeated at Arbroath:  their uniform contained that deadly fairy colour, green.  The family later swore:
                                                     A Lindsay in green
                                                     should never be seen.

    But, strangely enough, the Lindsay tartan, as it is known today, does contain green.

    A story says that Beardie fled to Spain after his defeat and battled against the Moors.  He brought back a Spanish chestnut tree which he planted in the courtyard of Finavon.  It was called Earl Beardie’s Tree, or the Covin [Company] Tree, because nobles gathered beneath it to drink  before they went hunting.  The chestnut was the largest in Scotland and Earl Beardie was fiercely proud of it.

    One day a messenger from Lindsay of Careston stood under the tree while he waited for an answer.  Being bored, he cut a walking stick from a branch of the tree.  Crawford had the boy strung up from the chestnut.

    ‘The ghost of this luckless person,’  Andrew Jervise wrote in The Land of the Lindsays (2nd edition, 1886), ‘still wanders between Finhaven and Cariston, and is the constant attendant of benighted travellers, by some of whom he is described as a lad of about sixteen years of age, without bonnet or shoes, as is known as Jock Barefoot.  His freaks are curious and withal inofensive, and on reaching a certain burn on the road he vanishes in a blaze of fire.’

    Jock seems originally to have been an elemental or nature sprite, A rhyme gives him the character of a tree spirit:

                                                       Earl Beardie ne’er will dee
                                                       nor poor Jock Barefoot be set free,
                                                       as lang’s there grows a chestnut tree.

     The Covin Tree is said to have withered and died after Jock’s execution.  Actually the tree was killed by the sever winter of 1740 and later toppled during a storm.  A Mr Skene of Careston Castle made a table out of the timber.

     Six months after receiving the king at Finavon, the Tiger Earl ‘tuik the hot fever’ and died there.  His body was buried in the family crypt at Greyfriars, Dundee.  He has gained a certain niche celebrity in supernatural circles by regularly appearing as one of the star attraction ghosts who haunt Glamis Castle (of which more later...)

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Who exactly is this Angus person anyway?

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer about who the ‘original’ Angus was, or even if the area was named after an actual person .  Although the county of Angus went through a period of identity crisis for several centuries, when it appallingly called itself ‘Forfarshire’, common sense won through in the end and Angus became Angus again (some time around 1928).  Even now, when we are lumbered with districts instead of bona fide counties, Angus is still Angus, more of less (don’t get me started on those parishes we have somehow lost to Perthshire - come back Kettins, all is forgiven!) 

    But who is Angus actually named after (if anyone):  a person, a tribe, a god?  The conservative and accepted theory says that the region was named after one of those semi-legendary ‘sons’ of the king of Erc, the Gaelic invader who seized the western seaboard of Scotland.  The three sons gave their names to the three dynastic tribes of the new kingdom.  But the tribe of Angus, whose heartland was Islay, was the least numerous and therefore least powerful of the kin groups.  What is the chance that they were able to  travel east into Pictland and carve out a territory in one of the most fertile parts of the country?  Yet the River Isla, bounding the west of the county, is possibly cognate with the island Islay, named possibly after a god.

    A legend set down in writing in the 12th century and contained in the geographical tract De Situ Albanie says that the kingdom was ancient divided between seven brothers, and the principal region was Angus with the Mearns.  The story is a variant of an origin legend found in Ireland which named and explained the original seven Pictish regions after the sons of a mythical monarch named Cruidne, or Cruithne (meaning ‘Pict’) who reigned for a hundred  years.  One of the sons was named Circinn, which is understood to have comprised the later region of Angus and the Mearns.  Significantly, as in the legend naming Angus, this tale confirms the prominence of Circinn.  The latter ‘son’ is marked out by being described as ‘warlike’.  So, at least most authorities believe that Circinn became Angus and Mearns, though it is unclear whether the place-name Angus existed before the Gaelic take over of Pictland in the 9th century, or some time later.  The first mention of a region named Angus comes in the death notice of the man who ruled it.  In 938 it was noted that the mormaer, or ‘great steward’, of Angus had died.  This ruler, Dubucan son of Indrechtach had died one year after the Battle of Brunanburgh, a major Scottish defeat by the English.  It might not be stretching supposition too far to imagine this Dubucan, a ruler or sub king, succumbed to wounds that he had sustained supporting his king in a national battle the year before.

    Back to the actual name of Angus, and another  possibility is that the place was named after the Pictish king Angus mac Fergus, the first of two rulers to have that name.  Angus is also styled Onuist map Urguist (supposedly the original Pictish form) or Ă“engus mac Fergusso.  Angus is thought to have come to power after a bloody four-way civil war in the early eighth century and was, as his name suggests, possibly of Irish descent.  Irish sources speak of a kin-group named the Eoganacht settling in the plain of Circinn, e.g. Strathmore.  After dealing with his Pictish opponents, Angus (who must have been middle aged by then) turned his attention to quelling the other nations who inhabited the space now known as Scotland.  In the early 8th century it was far from clear which kingdom would come out of top and dominate the others.  While the Northumbrian English had been prevented from permanent colonisation of Pictland after the battle of Nechtansmere in 685, they were still a potent force which controlled the formerly British Lothian territory.  The Irish Dal Riata realm’s fortunes shrunk and contracted, according to fortune and chance, and the enigmatic British kingdom centred on Dumbarton rock, stubbornly survived in astonishing fashion for centuries after its kindred territories in northern England and the borders fell like ninepins in the early medieval era, in the face of Anglo Saxon aggression.

    The bare annalistic records show that Angus was the most aggressive and successful northern warlord of his era.  Following his quelling of internal opponents, Angus and his kin fought against the Dal Riata.  He forced them to hand over a leader named Talorcan in 734, and this man was drowned, probably in a ritual fashion, as was an Irish ruler of Atholl five years later.  Angus ruthlessly targeted the Gaelic realm in Argyll, causing it to totter on the brink of collapse for many years.  He then fought against the Strathclyde Britons, allied at times with the northern English, and when he died (in 761), his reign was characterised as bloody from beginning to end.

    Perhaps some might want to believe that this Angus left his name of the region of his possible origin.  Others might shudder and prefer to believe the gentler fable that the county really takes its name from the Gaelic god of love.