Nationality and kinship

I’m reading Norman Davies’ wonderful book – Vanished Kingdoms; the history of half-forgotten Europe. It’s fascinating, well-written, and I’m learning so much, not least about the early history of Scotland.

In pre-Roman and Roman times, a number of tribal territories existed – the Damnonii, Selgoviae, Votadini, Novantae, Caledonii (Picti) etc (these are the Latinised names). One of the largest was based in the Clyde Estuary, and its fort was at Dumbarton Rock (Dun Breatainn). ‘Alt Clud’, or the Kingdom of the Rock,  was a large area ruled by successive kings, whose names have come down to us. This was before there was a Scotland or an England. In the east, the Votadini (whose Celtic name is Gododdin) had their main fort at Dun Eidin (Edinburgh), and other settlements in East Lothian and the Borders. North of the Humber was the kingdom of Bryneich (Bernicia).  After the period of Roman rule the Angles landed in the area now called Northumberland and forced a wedge across the country, forever dividing the Old North and its kingdoms from the rest of the Isles.

The peoples of the Old North spoke a language from the P-Gaelic or Brythonic roots derived from Old Welsh, and similar to Welsh, Cornish and Breton. The Scotti, Irish raiders and settlers, brought with them the Q-Gaelic, or Goidelic, when they settled in Argyle and the West Coast, together with the name which was later applied to the whole of Scotland. This language became today’s Gaelic. The Germanic language of the Angles gave rise to Lowland Scots, while their relatives, the Saxons, brought the other Germanic language Inglis (or English) to the lands to the south.

I know I have the DNA marker S245 in my Y-chromosomes, which puts me in the Pretani genetic group, one of the earliest groups to settle in the West of Scotland. I know also that my family is from Buchan, the heartland of the Picts, although I don’t have the Pictish gene markers, and nor do I have the Irish marker (S222) of the Scotti. So somehow, in the post-Roman conflicts and alliances between Old North, Angles, Scots, Vikings and Picts, my ancestors moved North-East. Looking at the maps, I can see the possible routes they may have taken. They’re quite widespread; I’ve seen their headstones in the cemeteries of Longside, Lonmay, Strichen, the Newburgh, Foveran and Crimond. I’m reluctant to see the surname-based clan connection which puts the family in Clan Gunn. That’s in Caithness, and I don’t buy that, although I’m happy to wear the tartan on occasion.

So when I’m asked to state my nationality on forms, I do hesitate, because it’s complicated.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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9 Responses to Nationality and kinship

  1. J.M.Brown says:

    Yes, Colin a revealing subject and one I’m only beginning to understand. What a shook up bag of DNA we Scots are. I’m reading: ‘Highlanders.’ A history of the Gaels by John Macleod at the moment, which gives an unromantic picture of the movement of people in this country right up to the present. With all the fiction removed it’s reads as a grim tale of sell outs and double dealing almost from the start. JIm Brown

  2. sunnydunny says:

    We are indeed a complex mixture. I couldn’t afford the mitochondrial DNA analysis (the Y-chromosome one was a special offer), so I don’t know my origins on my mother’s side, but I know her line includes Fife, Angus and Inverness-shire, so it’s reasonable to assume it’s more mixed.

  3. Judy Taylor says:

    Davies’ book is on my Christmas list this year – you’re just whetting my appetite! Ancestrally I think I’m pretty much Pictish (Fife, Angus, Lowland Perthshire) – a fact I once explained at great length to a person from Essex who was trying to tell me I had failed in my duty by not learning Gaelic. (I’d like to learn Gaelic, because I’d like to read the poetry in the original, but it’s not my main or even second ancestral tongue.) Poor guy, he got more than he bargained for – this was back in the day when my Uni stuff was still fresh in my mind, and I gave him great chunks of place-name evidence and nearly bored him to sleep.

  4. sunnydunny says:

    I’m exactly the same with Gaelic. I love the sound of it, but I’m obliged to rely on translations.

  5. Ross Wilson says:

    Mackay Brown’s early poem Doctor (from Orcadians: Seven Impromptus) has a funny take on all this
    “A curious hotch-potch, these people,
    Proud of their purity of race.
    Purity? . . .
    First the aboriginies
    that howked Skara Brae from the sand.
    Then the Picts . . .”
    Celts, Vikings, “the off-scourings of Scotland, the lowest sleaziest pimps from Lothian and the Mearns,” etc . . etc . . . down through the centuries!

    I’m quite laidback about my nationality and don’t take it that seriously. It happens to be where I’m from so, naturally, I’ve a lot of affection for the place (as well as a raised eyebrow on certain things!) I remember reading (when I was about 10!) that the Wilson’s came out of the Gunn clan in Caithness (Wilson: son of Will?) and that would have appealed to the Wallace loving romantic in wee me (Braveheart was ten years too late!) I was reminded of that about a year ago when I picked up George Gunn’s poetry, for I remembered a George Gunn as some kind of hero in the Gunn clan a few hunder years back, and there’s George the poet writing out of Caithness today! I understand Colin’s reluctance to see the connection in that surname-based clan stuff though, not that I know much about it, but my own source would have reeked of haggis served in a spurn to tourists!

    I’d like to read that book though, sounds fasciniting. I know next to nothing about DNA and how all that works. I also like the sound of the book Jim’s reading: the ‘grim tale of sell-outs’ is, I imagine, closer to the truth. I’m not sure how I’d react to Judith’s Essex friend though! Failed in your duty! Someone spoke to me in “Scots” last year and I didn’t have a clue what he was saying. Mind you, a lot of people struggle to understand what I’m saying half the time, but my “Scots” isn’t out of a book. Next time someone asks me about my nationality, Ah might jist tell thum Ah’m North British in ma broadist Fife!

  6. Heard him talking about this book on R4 the other morning and thought I must buy it. I never know what nationality I am either, although for different reasons – and Davies has written well and movingly about Poland – another ‘lost’ huge Kingdom.

  7. sunnydunny says:

    Ross: Will and Wilson are said to be septs of Clan Gunn, but I’ve never seen any evidence of a connection, and no evidence for my family ever being in Helmsdale or Strath Halladale. It’s a Norse (Viking) clan, beginning with Gunnar, one of the Orkney Jarls, being expelled and coming to Caithness with his family and followers, and I don’t have any Viking markers in my DNA. I see Zen connections with Neil Gunn, but that’s an intellectual thing. It would be nice to think you and I are related, but I can’t see it. My Fife granny was a Wood, as were her brothers, bakers in Dunfermline and Leven, and before that the family was in the linen trade – weavers, flax dressers and the like.

    Catherine: Norman is very good on ‘Litva’, and the huge extent of the Lithuanian-Polish kingdom/duchy. I was in Lithuania a few years ago, and I’ve become fascinated by its history. And when I was Librarian at the Botanics I had a connection with the botanical Librarian at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, but I’ve not yet visited Poland. It’s on my list!

  8. Nat Hall says:

    Norman Davies is a formidable writer of History. From the same author came The Isles, a History, that connects a heritage shared with the (European) continent – from this Celtic world through the Viking Age, Norse, Dane and Norman… And Angevin tradition through to the Treaty of the Union..
    Fabulous account, highly recommended.

  9. sunnydunny says:

    Thanks Nat. I was thinking about getting The Isles, and you’ve convinced me. I’ve still to finish the new book (I’m at Borussia), and I’ve also got the new Tom Devine to finish as well. It’s all history at the moment.

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