Saturday, 22 August 2015

Martin's Stone and the Nine Maidens (and a Dragon too)

Martin's Stone stands alone in a field one mile north of the village of Bridgefoot (previously known as Kirkton of Strathmartine), itself now on the northern fringes of the village of Dundee.  Over a dozen Pictish symbol stones were erected in this vicinity, marking it as a place of some importance in the Early Medieval period.  But none of the other stones can boast of a legend like the one attached to Martin's Stone.

   The faded carvings on Martin's Stone include a cross, two horsemen, an unknown animal, and a symbol known as a z-rod, which some people see as a broken spear representing dead ancestors.  Entwined within this particular symbol is a serpent, which may be responsible to starting the story attached to this stone.
   A long time ago a man lived with his nine daughter at Pitempton Farm to the south-west of Strathmartine.  One evening the farmer sent his eldest daughter (though some people say it was his youngest) to fetch a pitcher of water from a well.  When she failed to return he sent the next eldest, then the others in turn, until it was growing dark and all nine sisters were missing.  Their anxious father grabbed his fish spear and ran to the well.  There he saw a huge, blood smeared dragon (or two intertwined snakes) resting after having devoured his daughters.  He ran off and gathered several hundred neighbours to kill the monster.
   The avengers were led by Martin the blacksmith, the lover of one of the girls.  Quickly they came to the well (though one version insists that Martin delayed for a ritual period of nine days) and the creature fled north-west to Baldragon Moss, where it was 'draiglet' (soaked).  Then the people drove the dragon north to Strathmartine and surrounded it.  Martin, urged on by cried of 'Strike, Martin', clubbed the mighty worm.  The dying creature managed to crawl away to the spot where the stone now stands.  It was again surrounded and finally slain by the young hero.  Its dying words were:

                                                I was tempted at Pitempton,
                                                draiglet at Baldragon,
                                                stricken at Strike-Martin,
                                                and killed at Martin's Stone.

   The story appears to be a colourful explanation of local place-names.  One local minister, however, dourly declared that the Nine Maidens had been eaten for the horrible crime of dancing on a Sunday.  The fateful well was on the south side of the Dichty Burn, opposite the kirkyard, and commemorated as the Nine Maidens' Well.
   Some 16th century writers mention what is seemingly earlier traditions concerning a St Donald (or Donevaldus) of Glen Ogilvy, which is a few miles to the north over the Sidlaw Hills (in the parish of Glamis).  Donald is alleged to have lived in this glen in the 8th century, along with his nine daughters.  After the missionary Donald died, the sisters became hermits until a Pictish king named Garnard invited them to retire to Abernethy. One tale said they lived here in a hollow oak.  But they were granted a chapel, an oratory and some land, and were visited by Eugenius VII, King of the Scots.

    John Bellenden's translation of the Angus-born historian Hector Boece's Chronicles of Scotland gives a mention of this saintly clan, but perversely states there were seven sister and not nine.  The Victorian historian Andrew Jervise states that these Nine Maidens were remembered in the Nine Maidens' Well near the old doocot in the grounds of Glamis Castle, where there was also an adjacent chapel bearing their name. It is interesting that the cult of the Nine Maidens survived for centuries at Glamis, since the records of the kirk session record a 17th century attempt to prevent pilgrims travelling from Glamis to view the holy oak tree at Abernethy where the sisters resided.
    Sadly, we only appear to have information about several of the sisters' names.  The eldest was called Mazota (also known as St Maik or Mayota) and the second sister Fyncana (or St Fink); it is unclear whether the third named sister, Findoca, is a distinct person.  The legend is severely muddled in various recensions of Boece's work, and it has to be admitted that Hector himself is not the most reliable of sources.  Abernethy was an important early Christian Pictish site and was apparently dedicated to the Irish St Briget or St Bride.  The 16th century Breviary of Aberdeen states that Brigit came across the Irish Sea with nine virgins to Abernethy, and that one of them was named St Mayoc (who is commemorated at Dalmaik in Aberdeenshire).  But, whether Irish or Pictish, the daughters of St Donald are as fictitious as the sisters consumed by the dragon.  The real Nine Maidens were pagan goddesses, who can be found in the 14th century Welsh poem Preiddeu Annwn, 'The Spoils of Annwn', wherein King Arthur journeys to the otherworld  to retrieve a cauldron which could bring dead warriors back to life.  Tellingly, the magical vessel was stirred into power by familiar beings:  'From the breath of nine maidens it was kindled'.  The Glen Ogilvy stories look like an attempt to sanitise the overtly pagan legend of Strathmartine.  The latter church was of course dedicated to St Martin. 
   In the Highlands the Nine Maidens remained the faithful companions of the saint-goddess Bride.  One tale of Bride and her consort Angus is probably Pictish rather than Gaelic in origin and it closely parallels the Maidens' story at Strathmartine. It is also strongly connected to the ritual Celtic calendar.  St Martin's Day, 11th November, is otherwise Samain, beginning of the Celtic year.  On this day Bride was imprisoned under Ben Nevis by the Cailleach, the hag who symbolised the power of winter overcoming summer.  The hero Angus freed Bride on St Bride's Day, 1st February, known as Imbolc.  The Cailleach was finally slain fifty-one days later, on 25th March, named Lady Day or Auld Wives' Day.  Finally, after another fifty-one days, summer was ushered in on Old Beltane, 25th March.
   In the Strathmartine version, the Christian St Martin replaces Angus, and the Dragon is the Cailleach, force of destruction and darkness.  Pertinently, when Bride emerged at Imbolc she was in the form of a Serpent Queen, not regaining her true form until the Cailelach died.  The whole cycle is a rationalisation of the descent into winter and a celebration of spring's rebirth.

   Nine Maidens' and Nine Wells are scattered throughout Scotland.  At St Bride's Well in Sanquhar, Dumfries-shire, girls came each May Day and presented nine smooth white stones as an offering to the 'saint'.  In Angus, the best known survival of 'Ninewells' as a place-name is the large hospital in the west of Dundee, named after an area close to the Tay.  There was another Nine Wells at Cortachy and another on the hill above the old kirk of Finavon (where the long vanished old kirk was also dedicated to the Maidens).  In some places north of Angus there are wispy traditions of the Nine Maidens being devoured either by a bear or a boar. 

   Confirmation that the Nine Maidens came to be venerated as water deities comes from Glen Esk, where the best loved piper in the Angus glens lived.  One evening he was playing his pipes near the Dalbrack Bridge when nine green-robed fairies sailed down the River North Esk in a boat.  They stepped onto the bank and touched the piper on his shoulder with a wand, compelling him to go with them.  The boat sailed thrice around the pool called Pontskinnen Pot, then vanished upstream forever, with the piper still playing.  His tune is still sometimes heard distantly on summer evenings here.

   As for the dragon, could it be featured in disguise in a strange incident at St Vigeans, near Arbroath, as related in the Old Statistical Account (1793)?  The village kirk was unused between 1669 and 1736 because no suitably qualified minister could be found.  But when a minister was eventually installed and, as communion was about to be re-introduced, the parishioners succumbed to mass hysteria.  A minister related:

A tradition has long prevailed here, that the water-kelpy... carried the stones for building the church; that the foundation of it was supported on large bars of iron; and that under the fabric there was a large lake of great depth.  As the...sacrament had been so long delayed, the people brought themselves to believe, that the first time the ordinance should be dispensed, the church would sink  and...people would be carried down and drowned in the lake...On the day the sacrament was administered, some hundreds of parishioners sat on an eminence about 100 yards distant from the church, expecting the dreaded catastrophe.

   It was also believed that the kelpie had prophesied that the minister who dared to give communion would commit suicide.  (One minister at the turn of the century did take his own life.)
   But the church service took place and nothing happened.  The 12th century kirk was built on the site of an extremely ancient church on top of a man-made mound.  Reconstruction in 1871 revealed many fragments of Pictish stones, now housed in St Vigeans Museum.  The kirk was certainly regarded as uncanny.  Satan was said to have personally constructed it, moaning as he worked:

                                          Sair back and sair banes,
                                          carrying the kirk o' St Vigeans' stanes.

   Surely the original builder was not the Devil or a kelpie, but a dragon.  The pagan beast forced to carry the weight of the Christian Church is a prefect example of how folklore sometimes transmitted ancient information through the centuries. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Great Montrose

Without doubt, the greatest military genius to have his origins in Angus was James Graham, fifth Earl and later first Marquis of Montrose.  Runner up to Montrose in this rather short list of candidates must be his distant kinsman, James Graham, Viscount Dundee, born later in the 17th century.  Both men were staunch supporters of the monarchy and both also had to resort to turning the Highlands against their native Lowlands.  Each man displayed greatness on the battlefield and their campaigns changed the entire nation, yet neither career was sufficient to save the faltering fortunes of the Stuarts in the long term.  The unforgiving political climate of their age led them to violent and undeserving deaths.  It was partly the manner of their death which kept them alive in legend.
   The birth of James Graham had been long anticipated within his family.  His mother, Lady Margaret Ruthven, had given birth to five daughters, but finally the male heir was born in October 1612 in the family seat of Old Montrose, near the coastal town.  But the delay in his arrival imbued his mother with ongoing concern about his wellbeing and she resorted to consulting an old Angus spaewife to ask about her son's future.  The witch worryingly informed her that the boy would one day give trouble to the whole of Scotland, which turned out to be true enough.  Young James soon gave his parents consternation when, as a toddler, he consumed a live toad.  This apparently family legend is perhaps a folkloric echo of a tale told about Montrose's fiery lieutenant, Alasdair Macdonald, whose nurse allegedly found him eating a toad.  When his grandfather was told about this outrage he exclaimed, 'Give it to him and let the one devil eat the other!'
   At seventeen Graham married a local noblewoman, Magdalene, the youngest daughter of David Carnegie of Kinnaird Castle (Carnegie was created the first Earl of Southesk in 1633).  Magdalene had previously been engaged to Lord James Ogilvy (afterwards the second Earl of Airlie), who became a future ally of Montrose.   This original match was broken off because of an unfortunate superstitious incident when young Ogilvy was riding to Kinnaird to formally propose to his lady.  When his horse came to a roaring burn, his horse refused to cross this running water, so Ogilvy interpreted this as an omen that his journey was ill founded and turned his steed immediately back home.  Poor Magdalene was naturally distraught at this rejection, but her father promised to find her a better husband that Ogilvy, and so Montrose came into the matrimonial picture. 
   Montrose was a staunch Presbyterian who supported the National Covenant in 1638.  His closest ally in his home county of Angus was John Lyon, second Earl of Kinghorne:

                                   God bless Montrose our General,
                                   the stout Earl of Kinghorne,
                                   that we may long live and rejoice,
                                   that ever they were borne.

   But Covenanters were soon cursing Montrose when he changed sides and became a Royalist, a volte-face which was the result of deeply considered meditations rather than a vault sponsored by political expediency.  Readers interested in his career should consult the biography written about him by John Buchan (Montrose,  published in 1928), which,  despite its age and the author's Tory viewpoint, still makes enthralling reading.  The most vivid characterisation  of the great marquis in folklore comes after his Highlanders plundered Aberdeen in 1644.  He immediately became a bogeyman to the city's children, a monster 'wha has iron teeth wi a nail in his nose, an into his wallet wee laddies he throws...'

   Montrose was defeated at Philipaugh in 1659 and was betrayed by Neil Macleod of Assynt for £25,000.  Macleod became infamous for being the only Highlander in history ever to sell a supplicant for gold.  On the long journey south from Sutherland, Montrose was tied up with bandages and led on a garron pony.  A herald walked before the procession, proclaiming, 'Here comes James Graham, a traitor to his country.'  When the sorry cavalcade reached his home territory in May 1650, Montrose was allowed to call at Kinnaird Castle on the 16th of that month and say farewell to his two youngest children.  That night Montrose slept at the Grange of Monifieth, home of the Durham family.  The lady of the house, Jean Auchterlonie, plied his guards with  strong ale and brandy.  When they fell asleep she disguised Montrose in some of her own clothes.  He crept out of the house, but one of the more sober soldiers raised the alarm.  James was found hiding in one of the great yew trees in the garden.  Lady Auchterlonie stated that she was 'heartily sorry [her plan] had not taken effect according to her wished desire'.  The authorities made a feeble attempt to prosecute her, but she was never brought to trial.
    Montrose was hanged in Edinburgh on the 21st May 1650.  Such was his reputation that even the hangman wept.  The crowd which had come to jeer sobbed as he said his final words:  'God have mercy on this afflicted land.'

Friday, 7 August 2015

St Drostan and Other Early Saints

There may be no agreed patron saint of Angus as such, but there are some candidates among the Dark Age clerics who are known to have arrived here.  Chief among them may be St Drostan son of Cosgrach.  Despite having a conspicuously Pictish name, the 16th century Aberdeen Breviary makes him a product of the royal family of the Scots who studied under his uncle St Columba in Ireland.  He became an abbot in that country then crossed the sea to seek a spiritual life of solitude in deserted places.  He built his kirk in Glenesk and lived as a hermit  there.  It may have been here that he restored the sight of a man named Simon. Drostan moved away from the area, but his memory lingered in this Angus glen.  Tarfside village was for a long time named after him as Droustie.  There was also a Droustie Well nearby and a Droustie Meadow.  The old foundation of Lochlee parish was called the Kirk of Droustie.  His cult spread out of the glen and eastwards into the Mearns where, at Newdosk, he had a church and a well dedicated to him in Piper’s Shade.  This well was famous for its curative powers, but jealous local healers tried to poison it.  Followers of the saint were outraged and slew the healers, burying them in a rather pagan fashion around the holy spring.  St Drostan himself went northwards and found fame as the founder of the Abbey of Deer in Aberdeenshire., miraculously extorting the land for the monastery from the local mormaer, who at first refused the grant until his son fell mortally ill and he gave in to the cleric, whereupon his son was cured.
   Three supposed disciples of Drostan - Colm, Medan and Fergus - were also honoured in Angus.  St Fergus we have encountered as the first known inhabitant of Glamis (albeit in a secluded cave). He was another peripatetic Irishman, who lived in Strathgeath, Caithness and Glamis before founding his holy tabenacle at Glamis.   His mortal remains were removed (stolen?) from his rightful resting place here and removed westwards to Scone Abbey.  St Colm was the patron of Cortachy and Clova and also gave his name further east to a well and a mountain near Tarfside.  Medan’s cult links with Airlie appear to be ancient and could even pre-date Christianity.  Until 1859, when it was demolished by a farmer, there was a prehistoric burial mound here named St Madden’s Knowe.  An old document, dated 5th June 1477 (called ‘The Instrument of Sessyn of the Bell’) relates that the ‘Bell of St Madden’ was resigned by its hereditary keeper, Michael David the curate, to the landowner, Sir John Ogilvy of Airlie and Lintrathen.  Ogilvy gave this sacred and symbolic object, obviously a sacred Celtic object, to his wife Margaret, along wit its ‘pertinents, fruits and revenues’ for her life use.  These pertinents includes a house near Lintrathen where David had been the tenant.  In what may have been an immemorial ritual, Margaret was presented with earth and stone, symbols of feudal resignation.  Then she was locked in the house for a time to contemplate her responsibilities as keeper of the sacred object.  Medan was the patron of Kingoldrum parish (between Lintrathen and Kirriemuir), whose church was given to Arbroath Abbey in the 12th century.  Medan may be a different character from the more famous saint of a similar name who is commemorated in Galloway, though quite possibly identical with the patron of Airlie, St Modan.

    According to the Rev, William Wilson in Airlie, A Parish History (1917), the bell was mistakenly and tragically sold for one penny at a furniture sale at the Kirkton of Airlie in the early 19th century. The artefact was broken up for scrap before anyone realised what it was.  Andrew Jervise in Epitaphs & Inscriptions from burial grounds & old buildings in the north-east of Scotland (volume I, 1875, p. 289) reports that an old man had informed him twenty years previously that, some years before that, an old lady had passed away at Burnside of Airlie and among her things was 'an auld rusty thing like a flaggon, that fouk ca'd Maidie's Bell'.  The item was sold along with a lot of household rubbish.

   Many saints’ bells, with their attendant significance which entailed spiritual and temporal power, inevitably fell into the hands of powerful families.  St Fillan’s Bell, owned eventually by the Lindsay Earls of Crawford, was kept by the Durays of Duray-hill, dempsters of the Laird of Edzell.  The Guthries of Guthrie Castle kept an 8th century bell, which later was given to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.  Medan’s Bell was accidentally lost in the 19th century.  The bell belonging to the Lindsays was  also later lost.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Dundee’s Name and Early Irish Settlers

 Those with no romance in their souls assert that the place-name Dundee comes from a Gaelic original meaning something like ‘excellent hill’, which is plausible enough and might even be true.  A more romantic explanation if given in some sources, connecting the city’s name with the prince who elevated it to the status of a burgh.  David, the Earl of Huntingdon and brother of King William the Lion is supposed to have participated in the Third Crusade of 1189-92.  He was shipwrecked off Egypt, but was saved by a slaver and sold on to a rich Venetian.  Luckily for him, an English merchant recognised Earl David and he was set free.  But journeying back to Scotland, his ship nearly sunk during a ferocious gale in the North Sea.  So David got down on his knees and prayed to the Virgin Mary to save him, promising to build a kirk in her honour in the place where he came to land.  As the clouds momentarily parted he caught a glimpse of a hill and told the crew to steer towards it the mount. The hill was of course Dundee Law and the ship landed nearby on the north shore of the River Tay.  In thanksgiving, David named the place Deidonum, the ‘Hill, or Gift, of God’.  He later built his promised church, which came to be known as the Kirk in the Field, where his daughter Margaret married Alan, Lord of Galloway, in 1209.  The whole legend has the same flavour of the tale attached to King Alexander I, who was case ashore on Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth and founded a religious house there.

   But another theory connects Dundee’s name with the Old Irish word daig, which was both a noun meaning fire and a personal name.  The summit of Dundee Law had a vitrified fort, with timber walls deliberately  fused together with fire, and so Dun Daig, the ‘fort of fire’, seems an appropriate explanation of the place-name.  One legendary figure named Daig  was the son of an Irish exile named Corc who came to Angus perhaps in the 4th century.  Corc himself was the son of King Lughaidh, King of Munster,  who banished him to Alba.  In this foreign land, Corc almost perished in a blizzard, but he was saved by the bard of the local Pictish king.  The bard also noticed a magical message written on Corcc’s shield at the behest of his father.  The message directed the king of Pictland to kill Corc.  But the poet changed the words to request the king to give Corc every assistance he could and even give his daughter to the Irish immigrant, which is exactly what happened.  Prince Corcc remained in Pictland until he had seven sons and an immense fortune.  Apart from his son Daig he had another who  founded the Eoganacht kin-group of Circinn, and was possibly the ancestor of the Pictish king Angus mac Fergus.

   So, we have three versions of the origin of the name of Dundee, and as non can be definitively proven to be correct, you can choose which one you prefer.  I know which one I believe.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bad Lairds Part Four - Trouble Among The Lindsays

In the days before television, if you were strong and evil minded, what did you do to pass the time?  The favoured hobby for some among the 'cultivated' classes long ago seemed to be making an unlawful nuisance of themselves among their neighbours and even their own nearest and dearest, thieving and harassing and even murdering people if they wanted to. So much for breeding. Some of the landed gentry were as wide and reckless as the urban poor in places like Dundee, but fate gave them a larger arena to operate in.
   For centuries the Lindsay family competed, on and off, with the Ogilvys for the dubious honour of being the most powerful families in Angus.  Their family feud was not continuous, but simmered continuously and sometimes erupted in incidents of horrible violence.  But the Lindsays of Angus were not averse to periods of apparently inexplicable internecine violence.  They might be characterised as the original Wild Bunch, and if they were not fighting the Ogilvys they had to brawl among themselves.

   The fifth Earl of Crawford, David Lindsay, who was also Lord of Brechin and Navar, capped all his inherited honours by being made first Duke of Montrose.  But this title was stripped away from him because of his troublesome son, Alexander (styled Lord Lindsay), wo led a 'wild and ungovernable life', fighting with his father and broter.  He seized a castle from his mother in the Wood of Dalbog, near Edzell, and used it as a base to terrorise the district.  He also overran Lindsay lands in Ruthven and Meigle, stealing the rents.  The earl appealed to Parliament against him, but this proved futile.  On 16th September 1489, Lord Lindsay was smothered in his bed at Inverquiech Castle, near Alyth, by his wife and his brother John.
   David Lindsay, the eighth earl, had his own lawless son, also named Alexander, who was nicknamed the Wicked Master.  In 1526 Crawford asked for protection from his son at the High Court of Justiciary in Dundee and Alexander was bound over to keep the peace.  In 1531 the Master was actually sentenced to death, but he was reprieved on condition that he and his descendants were forever excluded from the earldom.  Alexander was compensated with the barony of Glenesk.  The Wicked Master met his end in what must have been a tragi-comic incident in Dundee,  In July 1542 he was 'stickit by a soutar [stabbed by a cobbler]...for taking a stoup of drink from him'.  David Lindsay of Edzell Castle became the ninth earl.
   The Wicked Master's son David was fostered by his aunt, wife of the fourth Lord Ogilvy of Airlie.  Airlie seized Finavon in the boy's name, though he returned it under pain of treason. Young David Lindsay was eventually adopted as Crawford's heir on condition that he would reign his claims if he harmed the earl or stole his rents.  In 1546 young David married Margaret, daughter of Cardinal Beaton and Marion Ogilvy.  The Cardinal made him sign another bond, promising to leave Crawford in peace.  His bad temperament was obviously inherited.  This may have given rise to the story that Beaton tried to end the Ogilvy-Lindsay feud.  When they refused to stop fighting, the cleric cursed both kindred, saying that henceforth every Ogilvy would be madder than his mother and every Lindsay poorer than his father.  The curse did not  prevent David Lindsay joining another Ogilvy attack on Finavon Castle, though in 1588 he succeeded as the tenth Earl of Crawford.

   Another unfortunate Lindsay nobleman was the 17th century lord Spynie, whose residence was at Kinblethmont near Arbroath.  The Lindsay-Ogilvy was flared up again in his time and his house was ransacked by the enemy, but he ultiately came to grief because of violence among his kin.  Sir Walter Lindsay of Balgavies, a son of the ninth Earl of Crawford, was murdered by his cousin (and fellow Catholic intriguer) David, Master of Crawford.  The laird of Edzell's son was soon after David's blood.  On 5th June 1607, Spynie was walking in Edinburgh High Street after dinner when he witnessed a brawl between young Edzell and David's men.  He tried to break it up, but he was stabbed and died a few days later.  Edzell himself had dealt the blow.  He fled to remote Auchmull, then to Invermark Castle, Glenesk, leading his father to face Lord Spynie's family.  Lord Edzell and five servants had also been wounded in the fray.  In 1616 the murderer paid the second Lord Spynie compensation of 8000 merks and the lands of Garlobank. A common man who committed the same crime in that age would have been hanged double quick.