Taken from
Issue Number 27 Summer 1990


Rev. James Webb

The annals and records of the career and death of King Aidan, as in the case of other Kings of Scots during the dark ages, are obscure, confusing, and sometimes conflicting. The following notes summarize what can reasonably be accepted as authentic history.

He was born about the year 533 A.D., and was the son of King Gabran.

Gabran died in or about the year 559, and was succeeded by his nephew Conal I, who reigned for about fifteen years, and died in the year 574. On his death, there appears to have been a dispute about the succession between his son Duncan and his nephew Aidan. Armed conflict broke out between them and in the fighting Duncan was killed. This left the succession to be settled between Eogenan, the elder son, and Aidan, the younger son of King Gabran. Saint Columba wished the throne to be given to the elder son Eogenan. According to the account given by Adamnan, (Vita' Columbae, Lib. III Cap. 5) Columba was three nights in succession warned by an Angel that he should choose Aidan and inaugurate him as King. Aidan went over to Iona where Columba read over him the words of ordination from the ritual book, the glass, or crystal book of the ordination of Kings, and laid his hand upon him in blessing. This is considered to be the first mention in Christian history of a religious rite for the inauguration of Kings, but, from the fact that a book is mentioned, it may appear that it was an established practice in the Scoto-Irish church, with its appropriate place in the approved Liturgy.

Whatever may have been the circumstances and the justification for the assumption of the crown by Aidan, his reign proved to be the most renowned, and probably the most successful, of all the Kings of Scottish Dalriada, both in peace and in war. In 575 A.D., the year following his accession to power, he, accompanied by Saint Columba, attended an assembly which appears to have been convened to settle differences which had arisen between the two Dalriadic states of Scotland and Ireland, under the presidency of Aed, described as King of Ireland. Columba acted as mediator between the parties at this assembly, the result of which was the recognition of the political independence of each state; the taxes, tribute, and military service of Irish Dalriada to belong to the Scots of Ireland, but with a measure of co-operation and support for each other - by sea and land in time of war. This assembly was the famous Council of Drumceatt in Northern Ireland, near the present town of Llmavady.

The military exploits of Aidan were very numerous, sometimes with his own forces, often in alliance with the Kings of the Picts and Britons. By his time, Dalriada had become christianised, and the Picts and Britons were well on the way to conversion. But also by this time, the pagan Anglo-Saxons had conquered and occupied England, and divided the country into seven less or more independent kingdoms, known as the Heptarchy. The most northern of these, Northumbria, was ruled at this time by King Ethelfrid, a violent opponent of the Christian faith, and bent on extending by military means into what is now Southern Scotland. In somewhat mysterious circumstances, Aidan seems to have made an alliance with the King of the Britons to attack and repel the advance of the Saxons, though it is doubtful if any junction of the Scoto-British forces actually took place. In any case, in or about the year 603 A.D., Aidan, then well over 70 years of age, marched his army South and was met and totally defeated by Ethelfrid at a place called Degastan. The exact location of Degastan is not known, but it appears to have been in what is now the County of Northumberland.

The accepted account of what followed the disaster of Degastan is that given by John of Fordun in his Scotichronicon. It is here given in an English translation of the original Latin text of Fordun.


John of Fordun. Scotichronicon. Lib. III. Cap 38 .
"... King Aidan, after the battle of Degastan, in a state of unbroken grief, was so overcome by his misfortune that, two years after his flight, and being then approaching the age of eighty, he died in Kintyre, and is buried in Kilcheran, where none of his predecessors had been buried; and thereupon Kenneth Cerr, son of Conal took the crown, and he, a year later, or some say three months, died in the year of the Lord 605."
"Then Eugenius Buidhe, or, as he is called by some Eochodius, and by others Aldo, a son of Aidan, succeeded to the kingdom in the year 606, and reigned 16 years."

Doubt has sometimes been cast on the reliability of Fordun in his statement that Aidan was buried in Kintyre, on the ground that he is a late author and quotes no original authority for his assertion. But no one has ever proved him to be wrong, and there appears to be no substantial reason for calling his veracity in question. Fordun, who is known as the Father of Scottish History, and who died between 1380 and 1390 A. D., was one of those mediaeval scribes who went around the great monasteries, colleges, and other seats of learning, examining, reading, collating, and summarizing the manuscripts, annals, and records they found there, and then combined the results of their researches into a connected and continuous narrative. The statement of Fordun that the great King Aidan died in Kintyre and was buried in Kilcheran (now Kilkerran) can reasonably and safely be accepted as veritable history.

A note of caution must be sounded concerning the dating and location of events during the period of the Dark Ages. While there may be little or no doubt about the facts, there is often considerable difficulty about dates and places. In his History of Argyll the late Dr. C. Macdonald, former Director of Education for Argyll, states that Aidan died "about the year 608". This depends on the accuracy of certain Records that he reigned for 34 years from his accession in 574. Also it must be said that "Degastan" has been sited by different authors at various places on both sides of the present Border. The statement of John of Fordun is as reliable as any other, and may reasonably be accepted as correct in the light of present knowledge.

Rosemary Bigwood


(Continued from Issue 26.)

Having exhausted the resources of statutory records, censuses and Old Parish Registers, it is time to assess what other material - in the Scottish Record Office, in regional archives, local libraries or kept privately - might be worth searching for genealogical nuggets. Within the scope of this article it is only possible to point to some of the sources which might be fruitful but having once started on the quest it is surprising how much can be found.

Some documents are difficult to read or in Latin, many records are bulky and unindexed, others are unlikely to yield up much relevant detail and it is therefore always wise to tackle first material which is relatively accessible and likely to produce useful information. Not everyone left a will - but members of all classes may have done so. Cottars, masons, merchants and landowners - all are represented in the lists of testaments registered by the commissary (or church) courts whose responsibility it was to appoint executors and to record wills and inventories in Scotland from the sixteenth century till 1823 when this business was transferred to the sheriff courts. Testaments vary in the amount of information they include. In the case of intestacy, the testament dative only gives an inventory of the moveable estate of the dead person, a note of the executor and lists of debts due to or by the defunct but even this can give a fascinating insight into the life of the family with details of the stocking of a farm or croft or furnishing of a house. If the person died testate, then the will is likely to include the personal bequests to members of the family. Wills of unmarried persons, leaving everything they had to nephews and nieces and other relatives are often a mine of genealogical information. Inventories recorded by the sheriff courts after 1823 are also indexed and include reference to where a testamentary disposition - if any was registered. After 1876, there are annual printed indexes of Confirmations which are quick to search.

For those who may have been disappointed not to find an ancestor's testament in these sources, searches can then be continued in the various registers of deeds - in the Books of Council and Session (which covered the whole of Scotland) or in the Particular Register of Deeds of each Sheriffdom. The royal burghs, too, had the right to keep registers of deeds and as in the other courts, these might include testamentary dispositions, marriage contracts, bonds, leases or other agreements. Patience may however be needed as not all registers of deeds are indexed and some - such as the Books of Council and Session - run to hundreds of volumes.

The registers of baptisms and proclamations were only one of the kinds of records kept by the parish churches. The main purpose of the Kirk Sessions especially in earlier centuries - was to keep godly discipline in the district. Kirk Session minutes have been termed "the greatest untapped source of information about social conditions in Scotland from the sixteenth century" and embraced the whole community - but particularly the ordinary and poorer members of society about whom it is often so difficult to find information. The minutes, however, not only provide a vivid picture of the life of the times but often include much genealogical information. Parishioners were summoned to compear before the session on charges of profaning the sabbath by hairdressing, digging for sand eels, for breaking the peace by swearing or fighting in church, and for lapses in moral discipline in fornication, adultery or irregular marriage. In collecting evidence, relatives were often called to appear. Serious cases were referred to the Presbytery, continuing the most dramatic family sagas.

Among the records kept by the Kirk Session there may also be listings of local inhabitants. - communion rolls, records of lairs and pew rents and testimonials of those who moved into the parish from another. Many Kirk session records are now lodged in the Scottish Record Office; others are in regional archives or still with the church concerned.

Scotland is fortunate in having records of land transfer - registers of sasines - whether by inheritance, purchase or as security for a loan which go back to 1617 and in some areas to 1599. Not everyone, of course, owned land but certainly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a surprising number of "ordinary" people such as joiners, masons or coalminers were involved in land transactions of some kind and often a sasine will mention several generations of a family who have owned a particular piece of land. From 1781 onwards, there are abridgements of all sasines on a county basis and these are indexed by person and for certain periods also by place which makes searching a relatively quick and easy matter. Before 1781 indexing is sporadic though the Argyll Register of Sasines (also embracing Bute and Dumbarton) is indexed from its commencement in 1617. If there is no index, searching has to be done rather laboriously with the aid of minute books. Unfortunately, most of the earlier sasines and some even in the eighteenth century were written in Latin which may present problems. The royal burghs - from 1681 onwards - also had the right to register sasines and these being local records are often mines of information. They have the advantage of being rather simpler in form and written in the vernacular.

Trade and tax returns can sometimes be rewarding sources for the genealogist though patience may be needed to sift through a lot of paper. A number of taxes were levied in the second half of the eighteenth century to increase the revenue of the country. Many of these returns - on houses, windows, servants, watches and shops - are disappointing since it is clear that most people managed to avoid paying. In Campbeltown, for example, only two shops were liable for tax at this time, and only one person was charged under the tax on servants. On the other hand, the tax levied in the 1790's on farm horses can provide a lot of useful information on the farming community including tenant farmers - in any district, giving their names and where they farmed, as well as the numbers of horses they owned. The earlier hearth and poll taxes of the 1690's are unequal in value for the family historian. Not all returns have survived, some only include the names of those who did not pay, and not all list every head of house (for the hearth tax) or individual (for the poll tax). The poll tax records which have survived for Argyllshire for Glassary, Kintyre, Kilfinan and Islay contain few names though the hearth tax records of 1691 for most of Argyllshire - even though only the head of each household is named - give a more complete coverage of the area.

The Customs Letter Books for every Outport (including Campbeltown) in Scotland are extant from 1750 onwards and provide a vivid picture both of tax collection and of tax evasion through smuggling. The customs staff were responsible for the regulation of all coastwise and foreign trade and their quarterly accounts listed every ship by name coming into or leaving a port with details of her cargo, where she had come from or where she was bound, name of her master and of the merchant responsible for the cargo. An analysis of the returns for the port of Campbeltown from 1750 to 1796 showed that there were 294 Campbeltown merchants involved in trade over these years and on comparing the names with those of local merchants taken from a wide range of

other sources, it appeared that this number represented nearly the whole merchant community. From the point of view of the family historian, however, this source material is probably of more interest in providing social background than in finding a lead to earlier generations of a family. Information of genealogical value is more likely to be found in the Customs Cash Vouchers for the herring fishing between 1750 and 1800 in Kintyre boats. These so-called vouchers were in fact the official papers carried by the decked herring "busses" which were given government subsidies and included names of all the crew carried on each boat, their height, colour of hair, age and parish to which each belonged. Unfortunately this mine of information is hard to tap since a fisherman might sign on as crew in one ship for one season, and in another the next and there is no short-cut to reading every set of papers for each ship each year.

Mining for local records can become an interest, an absorbing hobby or a total obsession with finds ranging from lists of gamekeepers or chimney sweeps to members of local societies and names of those claiming poor relief from parochial boards. Town Council Minutes - if they exist - are usually a valuable source of information about local personalities as well as on local life and conditions. The Campbeltown Town Council Minutes are extant from 1700 and contain much of general and genealogical interest. Among the earliest records there are a few odd leaves bound with the minutes giving "a ground draught of Campbeltown, declaring how much every man possesseth of houses and yards." It is undated but almost certainly refers to circa 1674. Many persons appear in the pages of the minutes of any burgh - as office holders, as signatories to petitions or when admitted as guild brother or burgess in a royal burgh. In Edinburgh and Glasgow, details of admissions of burgesses have been printed and in many cases name the father of the burgess.

The sinners of the past are of far more value genealogically than the saints and details gained from court cases though usually tedious to locate may be interesting. If the case reached the Court of Session, the precognition which was the evidence given at the time, makes interesting reading. Precognitions are in Edinburgh in the Scottish Record Office and have been indexed. Unfortunately, however, criminals did not always tell the truth and names of widowed mothers and tales of a destitute youth can rarely be supported by evidence from other sources. Debtors, too, have often left details of their family in diligence records whereby they were dlstrained from disposing of their property before their creditors had been paid.

Genealogy is well known as a disease for which there is no cure and in most cases the more one finds out about the past, the more one wants to discover - but the rewards for a time-consuming occupation are great in uncovering not only the names of past generations but in achieving an understanding of the world in which they lived.


Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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