We are delighted to announce that the keynote speakers at ISAS 2015 will be:
Professor Jane Roberts,
University of London
‘Loss, Replacement and Some Old English Words that Died Out’
[Abstract to be added]
Professor Thomas Clancy,
University of Glasgow
Ayrshire is a large county in south-west Scotland, formed as such in the early 13th century, and comprising three historic regions, Carrick, Kyle and Cunningham. Virtually nothing is known, historically, about this region in the early middle ages. One annal reference suggests Northumbrian expansion into Kyle c.750, but it is an entry bracketted by silence. The possibility that the vision of Dryhthelm described by Bede as occurring in Cuneningan took place in Cunningham has long been noted, but has been supported by little other evidence. Some putative references to the area in early Welsh poetry mainly confirm what we might have guessed anyway: that the region was linguistically and culturally Brittonic at the earliest period of the post-Roman era. In the 12th century Ayrshire becomes suddenly knowable, owing to it being a region strongly caught up in the settlement of ‘Anglo-Norman’ retainers of the Scottish kings. The earliest charters from the region, from the 12th and 13th centuries, allow us for the first time to appreciate its linguistic and cultural complexity: we find names deriving from Brittonic, Old English, Old Norse, Gaelic, Middle English/Older Scots, and indeed Old French. This mix is confirmed by modern survey.
This paper aims to explore in particular the stratum of this toponymic history pertaining to Old English. It has long been recognised that there are some place-names which might be assigned to Old English in Ayrshire (Prestwick, Fenwick, Turnberry, Maybole). Recent work has expanded the number of such names, and also pointed to the way in which contextualisation of their appearance allows us to appreciate these not simply as stranded fossilised toponyms, but as registering the importance of Anglo-Saxon settlements in the medieval social structure of the area. This may also be supported by reference to saints’ cults, particularly those of Cuthbert and Oswald, who are found in hagiotoponyms and dedications in key places (Turnberry, Maybole, Prestwick). All this makes a period of Anglo-Saxon (i.e., Northumbrian) overlordship and settlement in the area in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries very plausible—some detail may be put on this by examining the prevalence or otherwise of major places with Brittonic names in different regions within Ayrshire in 12th and 13th century charters. Understanding all this is easier if we pan back to view this region as part of a large portion of south-west Scotland capable of being described as in ‘Gall-Gaídil’ in the 12th century, that is part of a region Gaelic in speech and Scandinavian in orientation. This was the fate of the region between 870 and 1100.
The paper will finish by briefly considering the problems inherent in securely separating Old English from names in Older Scots, perspectives on which affect our sense of just how ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Ayrshire was in the early middle ages.