Clan Galbraith: Part 4 – Viking Britons (again)

Viking Longship
It’s been three years since my last blogpost on the origins of Clan Galbraith. Back in 2011, in the third installment of the series, I considered the possibility that the name of the clan (Gaelic: Gall Breathnach, ‘Foreign Briton’) might derive from ancestors who were ‘Viking Britons’. The reasoning behind this theory was based on the fact that Gaelic speakers in early medieval Scotland and Ireland usually applied the term Gall (‘Foreigner’) to people of Viking stock. I speculated that the original ‘Foreign Britons’ whose descendants emerged as the Galbraiths of the Lennox in the twelfth century were associated with the kingdom of Strathclyde, perhaps as warriors of Scandinavian stock who served the kings of the Britons as mercenaries. By way of analogy, I pointed to theories about the mysterious Gall-Gáidhil (‘Foreign Gaels’ –> ‘Viking Gaels’) of the ninth to eleventh centuries. The Gall-Gáidhil are generally regarded as Gaelic-speakers from Ireland or the Hebrides who adopted a ‘Viking’ lifestyle of sea-roving and raiding. Why they chose to behave in this way is uncertain: it may have been due to Scandinavian ancestry or to prolonged contact with Vikings. Three years ago, I wondered if the forefathers of Clan Galbraith were members of a similar group among the Britons of Strathclyde, perhaps arriving originally as Vikings but eventually assimilating by intermarriage until they became Britons themselves. They would, I proposed, have adopted the Cumbric language of their hosts, eventually switching to Gaelic after the Scottish conquest of Strathclyde in the eleventh century. All of this seemed to fit with the Galbraiths’ ancestral connection with the Lennox – the land between Loch Lomond and the River Clyde – and with their self-identification as Breatanuich (Gaelic: ‘The Britons’) and Clann-a-Breatannuich (‘Children of the Britons’).

Strathclyde Lennox Map

Loch Lomond and the western part of the Lennox. The red dot indicates the island of Inchgalbraith, ancient stronghold of the Galbraiths.

I described my theory as ‘new’ but acknowledged that it might not be. At the time, I knew of only one similar train of thought, which I had found in William Watson’s History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland of 1926. Watson saw a possible analogy between Gall-Gáidhil and Gall Breathnach when he wrote that ‘the name Galbraith goes to show, as has been noted, that there were ‘foreign Britons’ as well as ‘foreign Gael’.’ It occurred to me that Watson and myself were probably not the only people to wonder if these two enigmatic names might have similar origins. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that other references were out there. I figured that if historians were in broad agreement that the Gall-Gáidhil were ‘Gaels who behaved like Vikings’, then surely some must have speculated that the Gall Breathnach were people of similar sort, i.e. a group of Britons who displayed Viking traits.

Fast forward to January 2014 and I found myself re-reading a bunch of old journal articles as research material for my latest book Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age. One of these was a landmark study in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society in 1960. Its author, P.A. Wilson, demonstrated beyond doubt that the term ‘Cumbria’ was used in early medieval times as an alternative name for the kingdom of Strathclyde. In one section, he also discussed the origin of the territorial name ‘Galloway’:
‘The form from which the medieval and modern territorial name derives was the name of a people, the Gall-gael, the foreigners, no doubt preponderantly Norsemen, who were Gaelic-speakers (having supposedly acquired that speech from Ireland). The survival of the personal name Galbraith suggests that there were also British speakers who were recognised as in some sense ‘foreign’; perhaps they were natives who had adopted the mode of life, and even the religion, of the foreigners.’

It is clear that Wilson was musing on the possibility that the Galbraith forefathers were not Vikings who assimilated with Britons – as I suggested in my blogpost – but native Britons who behaved like Vikings. Unfortunately, he left the matter there and didn’t pursue it any further. I do, however, think his idea is worth considering. In fact, I’m tempted to prefer it to my own. Back in 2011, my thoughts were influenced by the supposedly Scandinavian character of the five hogback tombstones at Govan – the most impressive examples of sculptural art from the kingdom of Strathclyde. Three years later, I’ve realised that these monuments might have little or no connection with Scandinavian culture. In other words, their presence in the last kingdom of the North Britons does not necessarily imply an influx of Viking settlers. If the Govan hogbacks did not mark Viking graves, then there is no need to envisage a distinct Scandinavian community in the heartland of Strathclyde. This also removes the need to identify the Gall Breathnach as people of Scandinavian ancestry. They may have been, as Wilson suggested, a group of native Britons who embraced the Viking lifestyle. One plausible scenario is that they were members of the Strathclyde nobility who simply chose to increase their wealth by piracy, perhaps plying the seaways in dragon-prowed longships. Another possibility was mooted to me in an email from Barry McCain who has been studying the ancestry of his own clan. Barry suggested that the Gall Breathnach could have been a group of Cumbric-speakers among the predominantly Gaelic-speaking Gall-Gáidhil. Whatever the true origin of the name Galbraith, the idea of ‘Viking Britons’ prowling the Firth of Clyde in the ninth to eleventh centuries – whether as part of the Gall-Gáidhil or as an independent group of raiders – seems far from outlandish.

Govan Hogback

One of the hogbacks at Govan Old Parish Church.

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Notes & references

My 2011 blogpost: Clan Galbraith: Part 3 – Viking Britons?

William J. Watson, The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1926). The Galbraith reference is in a footnote on page 174.

Wilson, P.A., ‘On the use of the terms Strathclyde and Cumbria’ Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. 2nd series, vol.66 (1960), 57-92. The Galbraith reference is on page 91.

Barry McCain runs the McCain Clan Blog and the website of the Mid-Argyll Kingship Group. His genealogical research looks at historical documents alongside DNA data.

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This post is part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde series:

Kingdom of Strathclyde

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51 comments on “Clan Galbraith: Part 4 – Viking Britons (again)

  1. Peter says:

    ” Who are you?” “We call ourselves the Foreign Britons” Yeah right. It seems to me inherently unlikely that members of a clan or sect would call themselves “Foreign Britons”. However if the answer was – ” The Fighting Britons”, now that has a bit of a ring to it, and I would suggest much more plausible. The word “Gal” in Old Irish signifies Fighter or Warrior, it goes back a long way, the words Gaul and Galatia are cognate (as admittedly is Gall – A foreigner) and it survives in modern Irish as Galata – valorous. In the present instance it could perhaps be a carry over from Brittonic itself, ie in use by the Galbraiths before they adopted Gaelic speech.

  2. Great stuff, Tim. Far from outlandish, indeed.

    Peter, I suspect you haven’t read Tim’s Part 3′, which clarifies a few things you raise. The term is an external one used and applied by neighbors. I also think you may be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If ‘gal’ was indeed a “carry over from Brittonic in use by the Galbraiths before they adopted Gaelic speech”, then it would it not be strange that they chose to identify themselves as Britons – in Irish (Bretnach) – despite not having adopted it yet?

    The long term survival of original meaning behind OI gal: ‘seething heat, mental excitement, rage, warlike ardour, fury, valour’ is one thing, but it cannot be seriously considered above the many many attested usages of middle Irish ‘Gall’, meaning ‘Gaul,’Scandinavian Invader, Northman, Foreigner, Hebredean, Norman’, especially when you compare how it is used as a prefix to designate a foreign/norse identity within the relevant period, eg:

    gallda: foreign; (Norse/English), foreign connotations or ways
    gallit: imported foreign treasure
    gaillsech: foreign woman
    gallbaile: foreign house/stead
    gallbélre: foreign speech
    gallbiall: foreign (Norse) axe
    gallbrat: foreign booty/loot
    gallcét: old Scandinavian long hundred
    gallgruitne: Norse Curds
    galliath:Foreign/Norse territory
    gall góidel: a person of norse and Irish blood/identity/ethnicity

    In other words, Gall Breathnach either meant ‘Foreign Britons not from Britain’ (A bit clumsy?) or it means ‘Norse Britons’, or perhaps more likely ‘”Britons with Norse connotations or ways”.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for this, Terry. I was going to follow up Old Irish gal but your reply to Peter has saved me the bother. The list of words prefixed by Gall is fascinating – I wasn’t aware that the term was used so widely. I’ll stick with it as the first element of Galbraith.

    • dearieme says:

      ‘Foreign Britons not from Britain’: that could mean Bretons, but the point is presumably irrelevant here.

      • Presumably 😉

        Probably because early medieval Bretons called themselves ‘Letau’… cf. ‘Letha’, in Old Irish and ‘Litau’ in Old Welsh.

        • Tim says:

          One alternative, suggested by Dauvit Broun in a magisterial article ten years ago, is that the Gaelic term Bretnach (‘Briton’), when borne as an epithet or nickname by someone in medieval Scotland, might have denoted a connection with Wales. If this was the case – and it is only a theory – we would need to consider the possibility that the Galbraith progenitor Gilchrist Bretnach may have had Welsh rather than Cumbrian (i.e. Strathclyder) ancestry. I’m not swayed by this idea but, in the interest of balance, I included it in the first blogpost of this series.

          The article in question is: Dauvit Broun, ‘The Welsh identity of the kingdom of Strathclyde, c.900-c.1200′ Innes Review 55 (2004), 111-80 [at pp. 121-2]

          • Great stuff. Thanks. I’m fascinated by the whole medieval Cumbria/British/Welsh identity equation. I don’t know enough about it, though. One of the many things on the list to read up on.

        • dearieme says:

          Aye, but what did everyone else call them?

  3. jimthemorr says:

    Very interesting, Tim – more to think about!

    I started sea kayaking 10 years ago and Loch Lomond is my main training (and recreation) area – I can be in the water an hour from leaving home.

    The southern half of the loch is like nowhere else – especially because of the islands. There are 8 bigger ones, three permanently inhabited – one has a hotel and another a farm and there is endless scope for different trips. Four of these form a group off Luss and tiny Inchgalbraith guards the southern entrance to the waters between them. The ruin of the medieval castle more or less occupies the whole of the island.

    The middle of the loch could have been accessed by boats dragged across from Loch long, but it would have been a fair effort to get them there. Much easier to come up the River Leven from Dumbarton, but that would depend on who was in charge at the mouth of the river.

    The islands and much of the land surrounding the southern part of the loch is reasonably fertile. It would presumably have been under the control of the Brits for much of the 1st millennium, but the Picts and the Meatae weren’t far away to the east and north and later the Dalriatans might have pushed in from the west. There would probably have been scope for an aggressive water-based people to carve a niche for themselves.

    • Tim says:

      Kayaking sounds like a great way to explore Loch Lomond, Jim. I’ve visited Luss a number of times but only been on the water once, and that was last year when we had a day trip from Govan with the ‘Something Is Missing’ project team. As we passed Inchgalbraith I had my camera ready but, unfortunately, a gremlin got in the works and the images didn’t turn out too well. If things had gone better, a photograph of the island would have appeared in this blogpost.

      Interesting that you mentioned boats being dragged over from Loch Long. The isthmus between the two lochs is marked at its eastern end by Tarbet which gets its name from a Gaelic term meaning ‘carry across’. The various Tarbets, Tarbats and Tarberts in Scotland seem to mark ancient portage-routes where boats were hauled over narrow strips of land to get from one loch to another.

  4. Wm Gilbreath says:

    Thank you Tim for another stirring Blog re Galbraiths, and its progenitor Gilchrist Bretnach (fl 1135-1195), a lovely mix of tongues. I suggest the given name was added later; very popular in the 12th century, most families had one, Including Earl Lennox, into which Bretnach married. I do not think the complete name ‘Gille’st Bretnach’ was documented until the Melrose charter in 1193. [Watson dates it at 1180]. The charter was for the lands Carrick, Galloway. Did Bretnach have an interest there (from King Fergus) or was he just roped in to witness?
    I still (since my earlier blog-backs) do not think proper attention is paid to Hugo Le Briton of the generation before Bretnach. If name frequency is meaningful, Brit, Britone, were rare—are they the remnants of the Strathclyde Kingdom? We have from Galloway in ancient and modern times By Peter Handyside MacKerlie ‘Somewhat after 1138 “David, King of Scotland, to the barons, ministers, and to all his faithful clergy and laity of his whole kingdom, greeting; witnesses included Uchtred, son of Fergus; and Hugo Briton. In another charter to the same abbey, with no date, but prior to 1153, the witnesses are: Willo Cumi (William Comyn) Chancellor, Hugo de Morevilla (Hugh de Morville); fgus de Galweia (Fergus of Galloway); Hug britone (Hugh Briton); Walto fil Alani (Walter, son of Alan, the progenitor of the Stewarts); Alwino MacArchil (Alwin, son of Archil); Ead filio dunegal (Eadulph, son of Dunegal); Duvenald fre suo (Dovenald, his brother); Apud-Cadihou. As ordered by prestige, Hugh comes out well here and a dozen other charters.
    I would like to introduce results coming in from SNPs in the past month. Several descendants of the Galbraith Chiefs have been tested—with good certainty back to Chief Andrew (b. 1450) and the possibility that it continues to Bretnach—there were two instances where the early Chiefs did not have male sons and the process had to move back to cousins and a change in location. In examining 215 males of Haplogroup R-U160, the Galbraiths, whatever they were called, have existed as isolated ‘novel variants’ since at least c460 AD. At the moment this does not mean much geographically. The DNA had traveled by some means and route since ‘Adam’. It probably means the line got down to one individual. It is not unusual in an enclave, over a couple centuries, to have a single dominant DNA, resulting in many lines. It makes a Viking past less likely, as they are largely Haplogroup I-M233. We do have many Galbraiths of Ireland with this DNA. It might rule out a connection to King Fergus.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for this info, Bill. I’m thinking Gilchrist Bretnach might be just a witness to the Carrick charter, with no landholding in the area. Not sure what to make of Hugo le Briton but I’m tempted to see him as someone with an ancestral link to the Strathclyde nobility. The sons of Dunegal are also interesting – it has been suggested that their father was descended from a line of Cumbrian (British) lords in Nithsdale.

      The Galbraith DNA data seems to deny Scandinavian ancestry while allowing the possibility of native British ancestry – if I’m reading it correctly. As you know from past conversations, my non-scientific brain struggles a bit with this stuff.

      • grdtobin says:

        Fwiw, the Counts of Maine (in France) were often “Hugh”; although the name first achieved fame among the Capetian rulers of Paris, the rulers of Maine had Breton marital connections.

  5. Tim says:

    Having had a few days to think about this series of blogposts I’m now mulling over where it should go next. I feel it’s reached the point where I can advance a firm proposition, a theory that I’ll probably stick with until a better one comes along. The proposition is basically this:

    The surname Galbraith means ‘Viking Briton’ and was originally a nickname bestowed on members of the Strathclyde warrior-nobility who adopted a sea-raiding lifestyle in the 10th/11th centuries AD.

    At the moment, I don’t see any significant objection to it. Nevertheless, alternatives will always be available, so I’ll welcome comment or criticism from anyone with an interest in this topic.

    A fifth installment in the series is a distinct possibility, especially if new information – such as more of the genetic data mentioned by Bill Gilbreath – comes to light in the near future.

  6. Wm Gilbreath says:

    Tim: Some more thoughts (conjectures) after reading again your Blog and the comments. I had never considered that the pre-galbraiths were Viking like pirates plying the Clyde; and then I looked at your map. Recall that an early characterization of Galbraith, “There is an old Gaelic saying about them:
    Bhreatannch o’n Talla Dheig, Ualisle shliochd Albann do shloinn.
    Galbraith of the Red Hall, Noblest of Alban’s race, thy pedigree.
    from I.M.M McPhail’s Lennox Lore.
    The Red Hall being Dumbarton Rock, the south side. Recall that Bretnach married the Earl Lennox daughter, and we know those Lords, controlled the Rock until Maldowen the Third Earl, was forced to yield it to the King (Alexander?) c 1250.
    And, again your map:
    Inch-Galbraith (noted by Pont in 1585 as Gabrachths yl [isle] na[med] Chastel]) in Loch Lomond was originally Elan-na-Gaul; island of the Gaul, according to Wm Fraser in his Chiefs of the Colquhoun.

    • Tim says:

      This is certainly more food for thought. If the Galbraith forebears had a genuine connection with Dumbarton it might indeed add to the sea-raider theory. On the other hand, the Campbells also claimed an ancestral link with the Red Hall, which makes me wonder if the hall and its tower were used as symbols for Dumbarton Castle as a whole, especially by poets attached to clans who tried to claim ownership of the castle via real or invented traditions of ancient possession.

      The name Elan-na-Gaul is interesting. I’ve made a note to look at it more closely, I’m tempted to see it as ‘Isle of the Foreigners’ (‘Viking island’) but this might be jumping the gun.

  7. Offworlder says:

    Hi Tim, – have enjoyed your blog on the Galbraiths – only reading it for the first time today (20 Feb 2015).
    I live in Perth, Western Australia – not Perth, Scotland.

    In 2008, at the age of 56, I found out who my father was – and subsequently connected (a whole blog in itself) to some living first cousins, (over in eastern Australia) one of whom had undertaken some genealogical study and came up with a family tree that includes a great grandmother Mary Ann Galbraith – daughter of a Henry Galbraith, born 1803.

    So I am interested in this name – always wanted Welsh and Scottish ancestry – don’t ask me why!

    1st question:
    From looking at your blog, would I be correct in assuming that there is only ONE line called Galbraith that has its beginnings in Scotland? (And, therefore, that it is no where else used to describe a different line of human genealogy?)
    If that is correct, then I can truly claim at least some Scottish heritage 🙂
    If Galbraith is really an ‘artificial construct’ of ‘recent’ manufacture, then it seems to make it easier to pin down the name and the line of descendants – more so than, say, Harris or Miller or Thomson or Bannister.

    [My wife’s grandfather was a ‘NOBLE’, born in Scotland – a sept, I think, to the MacIntosh clan – so she can easily claim Scottish heritage.]

    Generally, it is amazing how names can change, be changed, etc – so as to make it hard to get much direct ‘lineage’ at all. For instance, I was adopted and became a THORN, but have birth certificate which lists me as a GIBSON (my mum’s surname) – however, she wasn’t married to my father, who was a HARDY.
    But even then, my great great grandfather was Daniel HARDY – (born in 1797; married a Sarah JONES, in Shropshire) was also a casual son, of a Mary nee HARDY – on the marriage certificate to his third wife, gave the naMe of his father as WILLIAM ADAMS!! So this line of HARDY’s are really ADAM’S’s 🙂 🙂 [Now if JONES was only a WELSH surname from that period, I could even claim Welsh heritage 🙂 ]

    ANYWAY, I have really enjoyed reading your blog and seeing the questions raised as to who, what, when, where & why. Keep it up – I admire your tenacity in such matters of unearthing ‘history’. 🙂

    Gregg Thorn

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for reading, Gregg. The story of your own ‘lineage’ is a good illustration of how an individual person’s kinship and identity can be far from simple or straightforward. It’s a kind of microcosm of a broader picture of complex affiliations and identities that I frequently imagine for early medieval Scotland, where an individual’s ‘ethnicity’ and allegiance were probably based on all kinds of factors rather than being a simple matter of calling oneself a Pict or a Scot or a Briton.

      In response to your question, it is my understanding that the surname Galbraith and its variant forms derive from a single aristocratic kindred who held land in the Lennox in the 12th/13th centuries. The other medieval Galbraiths, such as those in Forfarshire (now Angus) appear to be branches from the Lennox line. On that basis, I would say you can lay claim to some Scottish ancestry – which is certainly more than I can say for myself. My surname Clarkson is associated in Scotland with Clan Chattan but, unlike Galbraith, it is a fairly common name deriving from an occupation (clericus or clerk) and my own patrilineal ancestors seem to be 100% English all the way back to medieval times. Luckily on the maternal side I have a few pints of Irish blood to add a Celtic flavour to the mix 😉

      • Offworlder says:

        Thanks again, Tim!

        I forgot to add another conundrum to the matter of investigating family or clan genealogical history – my wife’s great Grandy’s were Bohunovski’s and Freckenhauser’s – and those names got anglicised during WW1 to become “Bonnie” and “Franklin” respectively – just to muddy the trail ever so slightly. 🙂
        Anyway, I think one day I’ll go get myself a nice winter blazer made from the clan tartan. I do so like the blues and greens. 🙂

  8. James Creel says:

    This a great blog and I really hope it continues. Best to all.
    jhc Clade S 8368

  9. G. Galbraith Harper, Jr. says:

    Incredible reading… thank you so much for your writings. Anxious to read – Part 5 of your series. I’m 55 years old and great grandfather, James Galbraith always told me similar stories as a young boy of this great ancient name. He immigrated to the US in the late 19th century through Donegal. My father & my son (Clayton Robert Galbraith Harper) also carry this name proudly.

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad you’ve found this blog series useful. I’ve recently got back to the much-delayed Part 5 and, with luck, I’ll get it finished for September upload.

      • Thank you Tim… much appreciated and anticipated! I’m more than impressed how you can master the complexity of this age and society, albeit my partiality to my Scotish ancestory. The Galbraith name has been understood to be carried as long as possible within my family. Such in, Galbraith being my grandmother’s maiden name, now my eldest son’s and my middle name. The Harper’s were septs of Clan Buchanan. Funny how life moves in such a ciircular fashion. I’m not sure my grandmother & grandfather knew how close their ancestors had lived from one another… or maybe they did… ha! In any case, looking forward to Part 5. Cheers!

    • Heather Galbraith says:

      Hi G. Galbraith Harper
      My name is Heather and last year I found out I am a Galbraith, your name is great interest to me being that my Fathers name is Galbraith and his mothers was Idabelle Harper. This could just be a coincidence but I am curious. This is not the avenue for this but I ran across this post while researching my new found family.

  10. grdtobin says:

    Viking Britons may be even more interesting than that. Several fjords of Norway have concentrations of – wait for it – exclusively British Y-DNA. So some male Britons settled in the fjords in such numbers that they replaced any male native population.

    Possible causes: (1) Britons were captured by Viking raids and taken to work in the fjords for the Norse. They then either (a) rebelled, and killed their slave-masters, or (b) were so popular with the local women that they thoroughly out-populated the Norse men; in either case they took over. (2) Britons may have voluntarily joined visiting Vikings and sailed with them, settling on vacant shores in Norway. (3) Britons may have invaded Norway.

    Britons and Vikings cooperating in raids is well-attested. In the mid to late 800s both the Bretons and the Franks hired Vikings to join them in raiding each other.

    It would be amusing indeed if Rollo had male-line British ancestry, so William the Conqueror were genetically a Briton.

  11. mcdoc says:

    Well, Tim, this is a very interesting series of posts.

    A perusal of the FTDNA Galbraith Project Y-DNA/surname results show a couple of things. First, like many surnames, Galbraith is carried by multiple lineages. The most predominant is the Germanic lineage R1b-U106>Z159, common in the Low Countries and the Scottish Lowlands (Anglians, and later Flemish settlers?). The next most predominant lineage is R1b-U152, common around the Alps, associated perhaps with Hallstatt and later La Tène cultural expansion, and thus some of the Gauls, including the Belgae, as well as the Cimbri of Denmark. A close third is I-M223, who were Vikings and Normans. There’s a sprinkling of some miscellaneous Old Europe lineages. The rest of the lineages are a smattering of various R1b-L21 Insular Celtic lineages, several tracing back to Argyll and the Isles, where they in fact might have been Gall Breathnach.

    Which brings me to my personal interest. I am trying to determine from where in Scotland my patrilineal ancestors came. My genealogical research gives me continuous documentation my McMichael ancestors until it hits a brick wall at 1776 in America. I have undertaken Y-DNA testing to help. This has provided matches to McMichaels living in the Causeway Coast and Glens district of Northern Ireland. Their records only go back to about 1730, again with no indication of where in Scotland they came from. There were a fair number of McMichaels on the 1685 Hearth Tax Rolls mainly in Counties Antrim and Londonderry.

    Casting a wider Y-DNA net, I have looked at matches outside of my surname as clues. More distantly, my lineage branched from Caldwells of Ayrshire and Renfrewshire 1,500-1,400 years before present. Within the genealogical timeframe this has given a collection of surnames: Richardson, Pollock, Loafman/Loughman, Milling, Taylor, Connors, Kelly and McCune. These matches have not been particularly helpful as the genealogical information associated with these particular individuals does not go back even to the UK.

    However there is a cohort of Mackenzie/MacKenzie/McKenzie that are related to my lineage with an estimated divergence (TMRCA) of 600-800 years ago. These families trace back to Achiltibuie, Ullapool and Kintail, Kyle in the historical county of Ross and Cromarty. This was interesting, but seemed a little inexplicable.

    Then I was going through the Hearth Tax Records for Argyll and Buteshire from 1694
    and found these entries:


    Neill McKenzie — 1
    Archibald McIllvichell — 1

    I take McIllvichell to be an English transliteration of the Gaelic Mac ‘ille Mhìcheil.

    This co-occurrence is very circumstantial, but I take it as being at least worthy of a little further investigation.

    Achnasaull/e appears to be a fairly common place name in the Hearth Tax Records for Argyll and Buteshire, with variants appearing 3-5 times depending on whether one includes Achnasauill/Achnasaille.

    Many of the place names on the same page (pg 79) or adjacent pages I cannot locate on a modern map. However, those that I can seem to be mainly located in the present-day Oban, Lorne and Lismore, as well as Mid-Argyll, and even Bute.

    I think the most likely candidate is Auchnasaul (as spelt on modern OS map)
    The Smithy Auchnasaul
    PA34 4RH
    which is southwest of Kilninver (which is south of Oban on the A816), on the road to the island of Seil, B844. In what to my eye would be the parish of Kilninver and Kilmelford, and quite near the boundary of the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan. My understanding is that there was a branch of MacKenzies in Appin (i.e. north of Oban) in the 18th century. The Port Appin area is one of the reputed origins of McMichaels, but before now I did not have a reasonable evidentiary/genetic anchor to this area. It appears that by the 1841 census virtually the all the Mac ‘ille Mhìcheils in Argyll anglicized to Carmichael.
    Less likely is a place about 2 km north of present-day
    Isle of Mull
    PA73 6LU

    or, what seems less likely in the Highland Council Area, given the
    Spean Bridge
    PH34 4EJ

    Perhaps it is a different place altogether.

    In any case, what are likely Cumbrian lineages doing in Argyll and Ross and Cromarty?

    They certainly could have been slaves. I also have wondered whether there could have been a Cumbric diaspora after the sack of Alt Clut, and another diaspora after the conquest of Strathclyde, where Cumbrians sought, and even found greener pastures in the Highlands. Perhaps the Highlands would be a natural choice for bilingual, seafaring Cumbrians, who stood to lose big under a conquest by the Gaelic-speaking Scottish elite.

    The MacKenzie Clan DNA Project shows even broader diversity of lineages than the Galbraith Project. A large swath of of lineages are as expected Nordic I2 and R1a, then there’s a broad array of R1b-L21 Insular Celtic lineages, of which my cousins are R1b-M269>? Grp E. There’s even a respectable cohort of M222 Niall of the Nine Hostage lineage common in the Northern Ireland and southwest Scotland, who trace back to Loch Broom, near Ullapool. Perhaps Ullapool was a base of operations of Vikings, Gall-Gáidhil and Gall Breathnach. I imagine that one would have never found “a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” 🙂

    Brian McMichael
    Columbus, Ohio, USA

  12. mcdoc says:

    So, I made a perusal of the FTDNA Wales Cymru DNA Project
    the FTDNA Bretagne/Brittany Y-DNA Project
    the FTDNA Scotland and the Flemish People Y-DNA Project
    the FTDNA R1b-U106 Y-DNA Haplogroup
    the FTDNA R-U152 and Subclades Research Project

    No eurekas! A very few matches, but nothing that I saw that suggests a clear, and particular origin outside of the Galbraiths in Scotland.

    I-M223 Y-Haplogroup Project
    Some other cousins in the Galbraiths’ haplogroup include origins in Fuerstenau, Prussia, Shipley Yorkshire West, and Sussex, England. So, likely Anglo-Saxons, rather than Norsemen, or Flemmings.

    So, for these R-U106, R-U152, and I-M223 Galbraith lineages, I would say there’s a likely founder effect of a foreigner, maybe even an enemy or slave, establishing himself among the Britons.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Brian for these two comments and the accompanying genetic data. Sorry for this much-delayed response. I think your suggestion of one or more diasporas of Clyde Britons in the wake of political upheavals (such as those in 870 and circa 200 years later) provides a plausible explanation. Slavery of individuals or entire families is another and could have scattered them (and their descendants) a long way from Clydesdale.

      Likewise it seems feasible that the Galbraiths and other high-status kindreds could have been established by incomers who were not Britons. Assimilation and acculturation to the native culture would probably have been swift. In any case, the old idea that the various peoples of early medieval Britain were mono-ethnic “nations” is rightly seen as obsolete and the DNA evidence seems to kick it further into the long grass. I’ve always imagined 9th-11th century Strathclyde as a melting-pot where people of different cultural origins settled and mingled, the majority eventually becoming Cumbric-speakers and identifying as Britons. Gaelic personal names might not have been have been confined to the royal family (e.g. Artgal and Malcolm) but could have been in use lower down the social hierarchy, perhaps in some cases because of a family’s ancestral connections with lands to the west and north-west.

    • grdtobin says:

      There’s ancient DNA evidence that the Anglo-Saxons were originally low-rank servants of British families.

  13. Lisa C. says:

    I love your articles and am looking forward to part 5 of the Galbraiths. Just a thought; Gabrain seems kind of close to Galbraith-do you think that there could be a link? Just wondering, as it does sound similar. The arms with the bears’ heads (Arthur) and the Andrew Breeze’s theory on Arthur’s seat being at Dumbarton has me intrigued. Of course, the arms could have been created in the time of the 5th chief, Arthur…

    • Tim says:

      Hello Lisa. My apologies for replying so late. To answer your first question – I’m not sure about a possible connection between Galbraith and Gabrain. The names do indeed look similar but my limited experience of Gaelic makes me think that this might be a coincidence. Your question has made me realise that I don’t know what the name Gabran/Gabrain actually means or even if it’s Gaelic in origin (as opposed to having been borrowed into Gaelic from another language, e.g. Pictish). My less-than-expert guess is that the original form of this name didn’t contain the Gal- prefix of Galbraith.

      The bears’ heads are certainly a puzzle. It’s tempting to think of ‘arth’ and the possibility of an Arthur link somewhere along the line. I am inclined to support the idea of Arthur’s legend beginning in the Clyde valley (even if there was no historical Arthur) and it then seems feasible that local elites would try to associate themselves with it. Alternatively, the bears might have been chosen by the Galbraiths as symbols of strength and power.

      • Lisa Crichton says:

        Hi Tim,

        No worries! Thank you for your reply. This is definitely a mystery. I too, believe that the Arthur legend started in the Clyde Valley. Thanks for all of your insights; they certainly provide food for thought!

      • Lisa Crichton says:

        The Welsh meaning of the word Braith is freckled or speckled; you may be onto something here,Tim. Personally, I think that they were the Welsh Bretons that were already there before the Gaels arrived. I am always open to new discoveries, and it’s a fascinating subject for me. Freckled makes sense in our family, lol!

        • Tim says:

          Thinking about braith–>freckled as a possible alternative to braith–>Briton is an interesting exercise, Lisa. If, as some scholars have suggested, the term Gal-Gaidhil–>Galloway originated not in Gaelic but in Welsh or Cumbric (i.e., Welsh ‘Galwyddel’ would then be the origin of Gal-Gaidhil, not vice-versa) then we have the possibility that Gal-braith might also be Welsh/Cumbric not Gaelic and that it means ‘Freckled Viking’ rather than ‘Viking Briton’.

          • grdtobin says:

            The 12th and 13th century lords of Galloway were descended from Earl Gospatric of Northumbria, whose ancestors were royalty from Cumbria, Scotland and Wessex.
            Alan, Lord of Galloway, one of King John’s better advisers, may have been named after Alan Rufus, the Breton commander at Hastings who was a kinsman of both Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror and exceptionally considerate of the locals, Cumbrian, Angle, Danish and Saxon.

            • Tim says:

              Interesting. I didn’t know anything about Alan Rufus until I saw your blog. Enjoyed reading your study of his appearance on the Bayeux Tapestry.

  14. Bob Hay. says:

    Culcreuch near Fintry. An outlying castle of the Galbraiths (now a hotel) and possibly older than the one on Innisgalbraith.

    • Tim says:

      A useful link, Bob. I seem to recall seeing Culcreuch being used for present-day gatherings of the Galbraiths on a clan website.

  15. alistairliv says:

    Tim- I have found a MacBhreatnaich (but not Galbraith) link to Galloway (Wigtownshire). I have read through the Galbraith posts but haven’t spotted a MacBhreatnaich/ Galloway link. Now McBratney, there are still a few family members living in the Whithorn area.

    Alex McBratney from Whithorn is now professor of soil science at the University of Sydney. I am in touch with him and he was unaware of the aspects of his family history I have found. Between 1471 and 1513 they were clarsach players to Scottish kings. The may also be the origin of the Gigha MacBhreatnaich family via a priory of Whithorn link.

    See this blog post for fuller account.

  16. Tim says:

    Thanks for this, Alistair. The McBratneys are a new name to me, but clearly of interest to Galbraith history. Nor was I aware of Galbraiths on Gigha until I saw them mentioned in your blogpost.

    • Audrey Gilbreath says:

      There is a lovely book called “The Way It Was, A history of Gigha”, and in it she explores the island and the legends. Lore had it as 1/2 of the island was inhabited by giants and the other half by “magical” Galbraiths. It also talks about the Galbraiths there being famous bards. Also I stumbled onto this other site today, and I found the theory of King Arthur interesting.
      It stated “”The Galbraiths were an ancient family of the Lennox. Their name is Gaelic for ‘Lowland Briton’. The article from I.M.M McPhail’s Lennox Lore on Old Lennox Families comments:
      “There is an old Gaelic saying about them:
      Bhreatannach o’n Talla Dheig, Ualisle shliochd Albann do shloinn.
      Galbraith of the Red Hall, Noblest of Alban’s race, thy pedigree.
      The Red Hall was said to be at Dumbarton Castle Rock ‘on the south side thereof’. The prevalence of the name Arthur in the family in the early records and the bears’ heads on their coat-of-arms both testify, if not their descent from a Briton, Arthur, at least to their belief in such a descent.” Thus this also lends weight to the theory that King Arthur was Scottish and had a base at Dumbarton; the bear being a frequent epithet for King Arthur. As already mentioned Garscadden is probably the site of one of King Arthur’s battles. “” Note that the Galbraith also occupied Garscadden Estates in the 15th century. Your series is quite fascinating, thank you for all that you show us. Audrey Gilbreath

      • Tim says:

        Thank you for your interest in this blog series, Audrey. I’m glad you sent the Drumchapel link as it reminds me that I should really get around to writing a blogpost about the “Red Hall” of Dumbarton. The Galbraith bears are another possible topic for a post. Even if they aren’t connected with Arthur (via Welsh arth which I assume meant ‘bear’ in Cumbric as well) they might represent an early emblem of the family from the time of the Strathclyde kingdom ….unless they were simply chosen as a later (post-1100) heraldic device to signify strength and power.

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