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Duncan in the Book of Deer


The origins of the Book of Deer are uncertain but it is thought to be dated from around the 5th 6th century AD written either in Ireland or Scotland. The part that interests us however is the later 12th century 6 pieces of Scots Gaelic text written in the margins – the oldest known Scots Gaelic text in existence -  during it stay at the Abbey of Deer in the North East of Scotland.  

The Book of Deer of is of significant importance to north east of Scotland as it mentions that the old Abbey for Deer, which was given to Drostan by Columba, who received it from a land-holder called Bede. The next five entries record later grants of land to the monastery, and the sixth concerns the

Folio 5 of the Book of Deer click for larger image

Folio 5 of the Book of Deer

'quenching' or extinguishing (by the landowner) of dues on certain lands received by it. Such writing demonstrates the value attached by Gaelic-speaking clerics to formal Gaelic deeds confirming (c. 1100-50) their land-grants and immunities. The final, Latin deed of David I bestows on the monks of Deer a general immunity from 'all lay service and improper exaction', the latter phrase perhaps explaining their main concern at this time.The bit of Gaelic text that interests us however of this former Pictish kingdom of Buchan is in the margins of folio 5; 

"Robhaid colbain mormáer buchan acus eua ingen garnait abenphústa acus donnachac mac sithig tœsech clenni morgainn edbarta rí día acus rídrostán acus ria columcilli acus rí petar apstal onahulib dolaidib archuit cetri dabach do ni thíssad arardmandaidib alban cucotchenn acus arardchellaib . testibus his brocin et cormac abb turbrúaid et morgunn mac donnchaid acus gilli petair mac donnchaid acus malæchín acus da mac matni acus mathe buchan huli naíaidnaisse in helain."



which interpreted is:

"Colbin, mormaer (Pictish word for Earl) of Buchan, and Eva, daughter of Gartnat, his wedded wife, and Donnachac, son of Sithec, toisech of Clann Morgainn, immolated all the offerings to God and to Drostan and to Columcille and to Peter the Apostle from all the burthens for a share of four davochs of what would come on the chief residences (monasteries) of Alba (Scotland) generally and on chief churches. Testibus his Broccin, and Cormac, Abbot of Turbruaid (Turriff), and Morgunn, son of Donnchad (Duncan), and Gille Petair, son of Donnchad (Duncan), and Malaechin and Matne's two sons, and the nobles of Buchan, all in witness hereof in Elan (Ellon)". 

The act of making this grant took place at Ellon, which was of old the capital of the province and earldom of Buchan in Pictish times, at a meeting of the officials, and "good men" or proprietors of the district. This was doubtless held on the Moothill, a green mound at Ellon on the banks of the River Ythan, where the Earls of Buchan administered justice and took investiture of their great fief.

My thanks to Firths Celtic Scotland for the use of the images and the translation of text.

By John A. Duncan of Sketraw, KCN, FSA Scot.


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