"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Dundrennan Village and Abbey Ruins
My last post was on the more famous abbeys found in the Borders of Scotland that were developed at the behest of Kind David I of Scotland. Many were founded by the Cistercians who were an order founded by Robert of Molesme in 1098 at Citeaux Abbey, located south of Dijon, France. Their order was further influenced by St Bernard of Clairvaux. They received the nickname of the White Monks because they wore white robes often covered by a black apron. They founded their abbeys in remote areas and  embraced a lifestyle that reflected the life of St. Bernard which was austere. They encouraged a return to manual labor and were known for their well developed farms reflecting the importance of  field work to the Order.  

Dundrennan Abbey is located south east of Kirkcudbright, in inland from the Solway Firth. The Abbey was founded by King David I when he invited the Cistercian monks from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire to develop an abbey at Dundrennan. The area was perfect for the  austere lifestyle of the monks. If one has been to this part of  Scotland, the area sports rolling hills and many farms inland as well as small fishing villages and an idyllic lifestyle.  The White Monks at Dundrennan were able to live there for almost 400 years before the advent of the Scottish Reformation.  The Abbey's farms were famous for wool, much like their neighboring abbeys; wool that was exported to the Continent that helped to boost the local economy. Historically, Mary Queen of Scots on May 15, 1568 spent her last night on Scottish soil at the Abbey before she sailed from what is now Port Mary, to England where she was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth.

After Scotland's Reformation, the abbey became the church for the locals well into the 1600's. The site became part of the State care and later the stones were sold to the city of Kirkcubrightshire maybe ten miles away. The local community of Dundrennan today (above)  is populated by approx. 230 people. However, the parish of Rerrick is much larger and the parish church is located just a block or so from Dundrennan Abbey. The graveyard at the Abbey still has burials for local familes. 

                                                     Monks rooms/Dundrennan Abbey
The little village is basically 2 blocks long and if you sneeze you will miss it. However, for me it is wonderful place to explore as it is my families stomping ground.  In 1852 my great great grandparents Isabella Mctaggart and William Clarke left this village to come to the US. Isabella was born on a farm (Flathill) just above the church and William was born on a neighboring estate, Barlocco which was estate of Sir Alexander McCartney. My g-g-g-grandmother Mary McCartney (Wm's mother)  may have been his "natural" daughter.  

Other local abbeys include: 

Crossraguel  Abbey  founded in 1244 by the Earl of Carrick.  After taking the monks at Paisley to court, monks came from Paisley Abbey  to run it. The monks were from the Cluniac order of Benedictines and were known as the Black Monks because of the color of the habits not their behavior. The name of the abbey may be derived from a former church that had a cross on the site, the site being named for a "royal cross".  The abbey is set near Maybole in Ayrshire and the area like much of the Southwest of Scotland was subject to the raids by the English including Henry Percy whose army was in the employ of Edward I and attacked the Abbey. There have been reports of manifestations of the former monks who still walk the ruins.

Glenluce Abbey founded in 1190 by the Roland, Lord of Galloway, was a Cistercian Abbey. It is a sister house to Dundrennan whose monks were sent to house Glenluce Abbey.  In 1200
the great Scottish Wizard Michael Scott was to have imprisoned  "the Plague" in the dungeons thus starving it to death. Like other abbeys it housed about 15 monks and many lay brethren. Like many of the abbeys today in the region it is a ruin, however the Chapter House ( from the 1500's) has been preserved in the 1990's to give the visitor an idea of what it was like.  At the Reformation those monks who embraced the new faith were allowed to stay. The site was then turned into a house and late a church manse, until 1933 when it became the property of the State and now Historic Scotland. 

Kilwinning Abbey is located in North Aryshire. There has been a Christian church on the site since the time of St. Columba and St Mungo and was the home to the Culdees of the Celtic Church.  A Benedictine house was built  by Sir Hugo de Morville, Constable of Scotland but others believe Richard de Morville (of the Becket murder fame) was the founder. However Hugo had a stronger claim because the land and security over the 
land was given to him by King David I. Benedictine monks from Kelso came to man the Abbey and quickly the life of the abbey and the surrounding community was flourishing with an income of 20.000 pounds sterling a year.  The Bishop who helped to write the Declaration of Arbroath, Bernard Linton, was buried here at this abbey although he never served here. The thought was because he was part of the same order as those monks at Arborath and because of his link with the Isle of Mann it seemed a likely place for his final resting place. 

Whithorn Priory  was founded by Fergus, Lord of Galloway in the 12th C however there has been an active church here for 16 centuries enduring  three phases of Christianity.  The first on the site was Candida Casa or the White House established by St Ninian who brought Christianity to Scotland about 390's before St Columba. There was also a trading port not far from Whithorn where the locals traded with both the Irish and the Isle of Mann which created a triangle of trade. Clearly this trade shows Scots of the region who were Britons (Welsh Celts) were involved with the Irish long before the Irish (Scoti)  who were later to be the Scots of the Highlanders showing the integration of the Irish language before the later Scots. When St Ninian died the site became a place of pilgrimages. 

In the 700's the area was Norse which added to their influence in language and culture.  But by 1128 the Norse were pushed out by the growing number of influences from the south and the Whithorn was re-established 1128.  This new emergence of Christian influence resulted in a cathedral and priory.  The final state of Christianity was the Scottish Reformation in 1560, which resulted in the lost of a bishopric and the disrepair of the cathedral as a place of workshop of the old faith. Through the 1600 and 1700's the site fell into ruins but in 1822 a new parish church was built on the site of the remaining east side of the cloister.  In 1800's the Marquess of Bute restored the site and excavated to find the original church of St Ninian. The site now houses the an excavation as well as a museum. 


Sweetheart Abbey has a wonderfully romantic story at its origins. The Cistercian Abbey is located south of Dumfries at the edge of the West Marches of the border with England. In 1275 Dervorguilla, the daughter of Alan, Lord of Galloway, founded the abbey in honor of her husband, John Balliol, who founded the Balliol College at Oxford. While she was alive she carried his embalmed heart in a ivory/silver religious casket and when she died in 1290 it was buried with her at Sweetheart Abbey.  As a sister house of Dundrennan the abbey was built with local red sandstone bricks.  In honor of this lady the monks named it Sweetheart Abbey because of the love she had for her husband however the real name is New Abbey.   It is important to remember she is the mother of John Balliol, who was king of Scotland (Edward I's choice) from 1292 to 1286. Like many of the Cistercian Abbeys in Scotland the monks  introduced many new and innovative agricultural skills which developed and later improve the local economy and when they left after the Scottish reformation, the economy was well established for the locals and the landed gentry. 

During the many years of dispute with England, Kind Edward I was known to have stayed there and often this Abbey didn't meet the same ends as other Border Abbeys did when there was war with England.  Some believe he had a special connection to the Abbey but more often it was likely its location which was at the far west of  the West March.  Later it became under the protection of the Archibald "the grim" Douglas, a prominent family surname in this region for  throughout Scottish history.  At the time of the Reformation, the abbey was under the protection of Lord Maxwell who as a Catholic let the Abbot remain.  The Abbot was later imprisoned at Blackness Castle but when released he returned to Sweetheart for his goods which has been publicly burned in Dumfries. He was later exiled to France where he died.  The Abbey became part of the Historic Scotland  in 1928.  The graveyard is also the resting place of the founder of the Bank of England, William Paterson who died in 1719.

The next posting will be a feature on THE HERMITAGE in the Borders.