The People of Dark Age Drumchapel

After detailing the kings of Strathclyde and the politics of the era, we next examine the life of the common man in this time. Drumchapel was from the earliest of times a farming community, probably stretching back to the Bronze Age. The arrival of the Romans would not have changed the reliance on the land, but instead opened up trade with hungry soldiers. The eventual romanisation of the area led to the establishment of decurions, or landowners, at the time of St. Patrick, whose father was one such decurion.

The relationship between landowner and peasant would form the basis for the development of the Celtic Clan society. The Senchus fer nAlban, an assessment of Dalriada in the seventh century, details this relationship. Each "fiscal house" - the peasant and his family - would be required to pay tribute, a food rent, to the landowner or chief. This system probably applied in Strathclyde and Drumchapel, also elsewhere.

The area of Drumchapel and the Lennox was the oldest surviving example of the fiscal house system, still in use in the thirteenth century due to the almost wholly pastoral nature of the economy. Hence we find tributes - of cheese - being paid to the lairds. Also of note is the payment of a chalder of flour by the Lady of Drumry to the chamberlain in 1328 to secure the freedom of her lands. As late as the seventeenth and eighteenth century rents were still being paid in kind. The two estates of Drumry and Garscadden had their own mains farms, farmland that only disappeared in the 1950s with the building of the housing estate. Today, farmland is still in evidence in Drumchapel, north of the housing estate, running from Castlehill to Cleddans.

In the Dark Ages wealth would have been measured in numbers of cattle. Rustling and feuding would have been commonplace. The unchanging nature of Drumchapel is emphasised, when due to cattle rustling, Rob Roy Macgregor and his men were harried from this parish to Inversnaid, at Loch Lomond, where they fled. The year was 1715.

An analysis of place-names of the area helps understand dark age settlements. We have already mentioned drum righ, the king's ridge. Some place names are obviously derived: Yoker is the Scottish form of the gaelic Eochair meaning river-bank. The area of Castlehill and Chesters are a development of the British Caer for fort or castle, obviously denoting the roman fort. Langfaulds denotes dark age settlements, the long folds are walled earthworks to protect the settlements from attack. Behind these earthworks were also kept the cattle for protection from rustlers and wolves.

I also agree with George Mackay's interpretation of Drumchapel in his Scottish Placenames [Lomond Books, 2000] as the 'ridge of the horse' ; drum chopuill. Obviously the name is gaelic:- drum is 'ridge' and chopuill is horse, usually denoting a mare.

Previously, it was thought that Drumchapel from taken from ' the drum of the chapel' as Robertson recounts in his Drumchapel - short historical sketch. He mentions the two ridges, the western drum righ and eastern drum of the chapel. Here's why that interpertation is invalid:-

The only interpretation that fits is that Drumchapel is an anglisation of drum chopuill meaning the ridge of the horse or mare.

The naming of the ridges after mare and king may have an association with the inauguration of the Strathclyde kings. An inauguration of a medieval Irish king is recorded by the Welsh author Giraldus Cambrensis in his Description of Ireland. Lloyd Laing's Celtic Britain suggests that similar rituals were enacted by other Celtic kingdoms. He describes this Celtic coronation: "... the people gathered together and a white mare was led in. The king elect then entered before the assembly, on hands and knees, and announced he was an animal. He then pretended to copulate with her and she was then slaughtered and cooked. When the stew was ready, he climbed in the cauldron, bathed in the broth, ate the meat and drank what remained of his meaty bath water. After this, he was deemed to be king. The mare symbolised fertility, and by going through the ritual the king elect ensured not only his own regenrative powers, but those of his tribe and his tribe's stock. The rite has its echoes in the 'Corn King' rituals of other societies." The nearby Knapper's Henge reinforces the premise that the Drumchapel region was an area held high in prestige by the ancient Celts.

Garscadden is also from the gaelic. The name comes from two words: Gars comes from the gaelic Gairbhe meaning rough, and Cadden from the welsh Cad or gaelic Cath meaning battle. (Both languages are similar.) Thus Garscadden means 'rough battle'. But what battle? Since we have seen that drum righ is related to the Ard Righ, it follows that neighbouring Garscadden is a battle for the Ard Righ. Thus it seems that the battle site of Duntocher that John Bruce ascribed to King Arthur, should actually be a mile or so southwards in Drumchapel, at the ancient estate of Garscadden. If Drumchapel was a site used for the inauguration of Strathclyde kings this would likely be a 'rough battle' with the British desperate to hold onto their esteemed coronation site. It would also indicate why Nennius recorded four battles in the Lennox; the region holding both the capital Al-Cluith (Dumbarton) and the coronation site (Drumchapel).

The coming of the vikings in the eighth century, would have disrupted this rudimentary and settled pastoral community. The vikings would have re-introduced coinage; not used in Drumchapel since the departure of the Romans. The main and most telling disruption would be however the taking of the peasants as thralls, the viking term for slaves (hence the word enthalled). The impact of the vikings is discussed next.