Some earrann-names in Balmaclellan

Gilbert Márkus writes:

A little pleasure today at the National Records of Scotland (formerly the National Archives of Scotland) where  I examined and transcribed a charter of 1408 by which Archibald Douglas, lord of Galloway, granted to Alexander Gordon some lands in the barony of Balmaclellan (RH6/219, reproduced here by kind permission of the National Records of Scotland).

One of the interesting features of the charter is the list of place-names involved: ‘Schyirmirs, le Park, de Contrefe, Erne Canny, Ern Macnelly, Ern Mac Cathy­ et Ern Macgilqwhynny’.

The first of these is clearly modern Shirmers (NX656742), which is probably scír-(ge)mǣre ‘the shire-boundary’.  The ‘shire’, as suggested by Daphne Brooke some time ago, was probably a territory carved out by Northumbrian speakers of Old English in an area which had formerly been Northern Brittonic (N.Br.), that is speaking the language ancestral to Welsh.  The ge-mǣre or ‘boundary’ would be the Dullarg Burn which flows close to Shirmers farm, and is still the boundary between Parton to the south and Balmaclellan to the north.   The name Parton of course is English, while Balmaclellan is Gaelic.  But Balmaclellan used to be called Trevercarcou, which is a N.Br. place-name.

Le Park, ‘the park or enclosed land’, is the land now represented by Low Park (about 1.5 km north of Shirmers) and Highpark (about 1.2 km further north again).  Clearly Le Park was a larger estate which was later subdivided between High and Low parts.

Contrefe is a bit problematic.  The name, clearly a N.Br. one containing *trev  ‘farm’, does not survive today.  Daphne Brooke thought it might be the same place as Troquhain, in the northern part of Balmaclellan parish, but that is by no means certain.

The remainder of the names granted to Alexander Gordon all begin with Ern.  This is Gaelic earrann ‘a share, portion or division (of land)’.  It’s not a very common place-name element in Scotland, there is quite a cluster of them down here in the Glenkens.  We’ll look at that cluster again at more length in the next blog, but for the present we will discuss only those in our 1408 charter.

Erne Canny is what is now Ironmacanny (NX662756).  It was a significant farm, valued at 3 marks of Old Extent in 1512 (RMS ii no. 3772).  The second element Canny (later –macanny) is presumably a personal name, and I would suggest that the name might be Cainnech (later Coinneach, the origin of Scots Kenneth).  It is possible that Erne Canny is simply a mistake for a supposed *Erne Mac Canny, or is it an echo of the owner of the farm who gave it his name, and also gave his name to his sons, the meic Cainneich who themselves continued to farm here and who in turn gave it their name as Ironmacanny (in modern Gaelic earrann mac Coinnich, ‘division of the sons of Cainnech’)?


Another possibility for the personal name may be explained as ‘son of Cano’.  A person of this name is known to have been in Galloway in the thirteenth century: Cane Macgillolane witnessed a charter in 1273 concerning the lands of Loch Kindar and of Kirkpatrick Durham, the latter lying immediately to the east of Balmaclellan parish (RRS vi no. 235).  And it is surely significant that his surname (or is it a patronymic?), MacGillolane, is the same as that contained in the name Balmaclellan.  Furthermore, a lost charter of David II (1329 x 1371) referred to Gilbertus McGillolane who was chief of his kindred (capitaneo de total parentela sua) which were known as Clenconnan, i.e. Clann Canonn (RMS i, App. 2, no. 912, A & B).  Erne Canny in 1408 may therefore be ‘the divsion of Cano (MacGillolane)’.

Ern Macnelly is the name of a settlement that no longer exists.  But it is the place that became Armanillie, shown in 1853 (OS 6 inch map) as a small farm, two buildings in ruins, one still roofed, and a corn kiln nearby.  It was at NX655773.  This also contains a personal name.   It may be the name MacNeillie, of which Black says, ‘A Galloway surname. Probably from Ir. Mac an Fhileadh or Mac an Fhilidh, ‘son of the poet,’ file, a name almost peculiar to N.E. Ulster …. now often shortened to NEIL in Galloway’ (1946, 550).

Ern mac Cathy also contains a personal name.  Unfortunately we have no idea where this place is, and this is the only occurrence that I can find of the place-name.  The farm probably still existed after 1408, but its name had changed – perhaps because the family after whom it was named no longer held it, and so the name was no longer seen as appropriate.   MacCathay is according to Black ‘an old Galloway surname’, and he reports Gilbert Makcathy living on the River Cree in 1481 (Black 1954, 466).

Ern Macgilqwhynny is another place-name that appears only in this charter, and again it contains a personal name.  In more modern orthography the name would be MacGilleWinnin ‘son of the servant/devotee of [Saint] Uinnian’.  The saint here is one whose medieval cult was centred on Galloway, his name taking the guise of Winnin, Winning, Gunzion, Vinianus, Uninniaus and so on.  It may even be that he is the original saint whose misunderstood name underlies the later cult of St Ninian of Whithorn.  This would fit with the fact that the earliest known occurrence of the name is that of ‘Bran filio Macgillegunni’ (Bran son of  Macgillewinnin, using a more Brythonic spelling of the name) who was part of the entourage of the bishop of Whithorn in 1167 x 1186 (Holyrood Charters no. 25).

So we have four names in one charter using the term earrann, all of them with a specific element relating to a family.  That might explain why only two of the names have survived.  If a farm is named after a person or a family, when that person or family no longer hold the farm there is good reason to change its name.

There are more things to say about these earrann-names, and I will explore them further in a forthcoming blog.