The Monymusk Reliquary, Plate 11 from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.
The Monymusk Reliquary, Plate 11 from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.

BRECBANNOCH. Between the years 1204 and 1211, King William the Lion granted to the monks of Arbroath “custodiam de Brechbennoche,” and “cum predicta Brachbennoche terram de Forglint datam Deo et sancto Columbe et le Brachbennache,” on the tenure “faciendo inde servicium quod michi in exercitu debetur de terra ilia cum predicta Brachbennache.” This grant is recited in the charter of Arbroath, passed by the same king in 1211-1214; and substantially repeated in a confirmation by King Alexander II. in 1214-1218. In 1314 the convent grants to Malcolm of Monimusk “totam terram nostram de Forglen que pertinet ad Bracbennach cum omnibus pertinenciis suis una cum jure patronatus ecclesie ejusdem terre.  . . . Dictus vero Malcolmus et heredes sui facient in exercitu domini Regis nomine nostro servicium pro dicta terra quod pertinet ad Bracbennach quociens opus fuerit.” From the Monimusks the lands of Forglen, with the custody of the Bracbennach, passed by inheritance to the Urrys and the Frasers, in the latter of which families they were found in 1388. In 1411 they were surrendered to the convent, and about 1420 they were conferred on Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum. In 1847 [sic; perhaps 1478?] they had passed to his grandson, who held them of the abbot and convent by service of ward and relief, “ferendi vexillum de Brekbennach in exercitu Regis,” and the payment of the annual rent of 40 shillings. In 1481 Alexander Irvine did homage for these lands and purtenances to the abbot, who “dixit et constituit ut tenentes regalitatis dicti monasterii de Aberbrothoc ubicumque existentes cum dicto Alexandro ad exercitum domini nostri Regis sub le Brecbennoch videlicet sub vexillo dictorum abbatis et conventus meabunt et equitabunt cum requisiti fuerint per dictum dominum abbatem et conventum dicti monasterii et suos successores pro defensione Regis et regni.” In 1483 Alexander Irvine had a charter of the lands of Forgone, the the advowson of the church “faciendo in exercitu domini nostri Regis servicium de le Brekbannach debitum et consuetum.” And lastly, in 1494 it was found that Alexander Irvine was the lawful heir of Alexander Irvine of Drum, his father, in the lands of Forglen, with the advowson of the church, held as above. From these notices we learn that this reliquary was a banner, and held so sacred in the beginning of the thirteenth century that it was named in the dedication clause of the earliest charter. Also, that it was coupled with St. Columba’s name, not because the abbey of Arbroath was under his invocation, for it was under that of St. Thomas of Canterbury; nor because he was patron saint of the parish, for St. Adamnan was reputed to be so; but, as we may conceive, because this banner was in some way connected with St. Columba s history, either by use or blessing. Possibly it was like the Vexillum Sancti Cuthberti, so fatal to the Scots at Neville’s Cross.

Ther did appeare to Johne Fossour, the Prior of the Abbey at Durham, a vision commanding him to take the holie Corporax Cloth, which was within the corporax, wherewith Saint Cuthbert did cover the chalice, when he used to say masse, and to put the same hole relique, like unto a Banner, upon a spare point.

The name Brecbannach seems to be formed from breac beannaighthe, “maculosum benedictum,” and denoted something like the bratacha breac-mergeada, pallia maculatorum vexillorum, which were carried in the battle of Magh Rath. The Brecbannach probably served a double purpose, being, like the Banner of Cuthbert, “shewed and carried in the abbey on festivall and principall daies,” and also “presented and carried to any battle, as occasion should serve.” Whence King William obtained the reliquary is not stated. Probably it had been kept in the parish of Forglen by the hereditary tenants of the church lands. Between 1172 and 1180 the king granted to the Canons of Holyrood the rights, tithes, and obventions of four churches in Cantyre, which had previously been enjoyed by the abbey of Hy; and his grant of this reliquary, with its appurtenances, to Arbroath, may have been a transfer of a like nature.

— Dr. William Reeves in the Introduction to his translation of St. Adomnán’s Life of Saint Columba, 1874.


Foundation of the Monastery of Deer

Folio 3 of the Book of Deer (Leabhar Dhèir) contains a continuation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew and a Scottish Gaelic account of the foundation of the Monastery of Deer by SS. Columba and Drostan.

Colum Cille & Drostán mac Cosgreg a dalta tángator a hÍ mar ro falseg Dia doib gonic’ Abbordoboir, & Bede cruthnec robo mormær Buchan ar a ginn; & ess é ro thidnaig doib in gathraig-sain in saere go bráith ó mormaer & ó thosec. Tángator as a athle-sen in cathraig ele, & do-raten ri Colum Cille sí, iar fa llán do rath Dé. Acus do-rodloeg ar in mormær .i. Bede go-ndas tabrad dó, & ní tharat. Acus ro gab mac dó galar, iar n-ére na glérec, & robo marb act mad bec. Iar sen do-chuid in mormaer d’attac na glérec go ndéndaes ernacde lesin mac go ndísad slánte dó; & do-rat i n-edbairt doib ua Cloic in Tiprat gonice Chloic Pette Mec-Garnait. Do-rónsat i n-ernacde, & tánic slá dó. Iar sen do-rat Collum Cille do Drostán in chadraig-sen, & ro-s benact, & fo-rácaib in mbréther, ge bé tísad ris, ná bad blienec buadacc. Tángator déara Drostán ar scarthain fri Collum Cille. Ro laboir Colum Cille, ‘Bed Déar a anim ó shunn imacc.’

Columba and Drostán son of Coscrach, his disciple, came from Iona, as God guided them, to Aberdour; and Bede the Pict was mormaer of Buchan on their arrival; and it is he who bestowed on them that monastery, in freedom till Doomsday from mormaer and toísech. They came after that to the other monastery, and it pleased Columba, for it was full of the grace of God. And he begged the mormaer, that is, Bede, that he should give it to them, and he did not. And a son of his took a sickness, after the clerics had been refused, and was all but dead. Thereupon the mormaer went to beseech the clerics that they should make a prayer on behalf of the boy, that health might come to him; and he gave to them land as a grant from Cloch in Tiprat as far as Cloch Peitte Meic-Garnait. They made the prayer, and health came to him. Thereupon Columba gave Drostán that monastery, and blessed it, and left the curse that whoever should go against it should not be full of years or of success. Drostán’s tears [déra] came as he was parting from Columba. Columba said, ‘Let Deer be its name from this on.’

Book of Deer.

A Door is Opened

Watercolour copy of a (now destroyed) fresco painting of St. Ninian in St. Congan's Church, Turriff, Aberdeenshire; reproduced in The Book Of Deer (ed. by John Stuart for the Spalding Club), Edinburgh, 1869.
Watercolour copy of a (now destroyed) fresco painting of St. Ninian in St. Congan’s Church, Turriff, Aberdeenshire; reproduced in The Book Of Deer (ed. by John Stuart for the Spalding Club), Edinburgh, 1869.

Meanwhile the most blessed man, grieved that the devil, who had been driven out of the region beside the ocean, had found for himself a dwelling place in a corner of the island in the hearts of the Picts, girded himself as a strong wrestler to overthrow his kingdom, and put on, moreover, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the breast-plate of charity, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Equipped with such arms and surrounded by a company of his holy brethren, as by a heavenly host, he invaded the empire of the strong man armed, to rescue from his power innumerable vessels of captivity. Wherefore going to the Southern Picts,among whom the error of the Gentiles still prevailed, compelling them to venerate and worship idols deaf and dumb, he preached the truth of the Gospel and the purity of the Christian Faith, the Lord working with him and confirming his word with signs following. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the oppressed of the devil are delivered. A door is opened for the Word of God; by the grace of the Holy Spirit faith is received, error abandoned, temples cast down, and churches built. To the font of the saving laver, rich and poor, young men and maidens, old and young, and mothers with their children hasten, and renouncing Satan with all his works and pomps, are joined to the body of the believers by faith, confession, and the sacraments. They give thanks to the most merciful God, that in the isles which are afar off he had revealed His name, sending to them a preacher of the truth, a lamp of salvation, and calling them His people which were not His people, and them beloved which were not beloved, and them as having obtained mercy which had not obtained mercy. Then the holy bishop began to ordain presbyters, to consecrate bishops, to distribute the other dignities of the ecclesiastical orders, and to divide the whole land into parishes with fixed bounds. Finally, having confirmed, in faith and good works, his children whom he had begotten in Christ, and having set in order all things which seemed to be necessary to the honour of God and for the salvation of souls, he bade farewell to the brethren, and returned to his own church, where in great tranquillity of soul, he spent a life perfect in all sanctity and glorious in miracles.

Vita Sancti Niniani, vi.

Arms of Dómhnall Íle at Reid Harlaw

Arms of Donald, Lord of the Isles on the Harlaw Monument, north of Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Arms of Donald, Lord of the Isles on the Harlaw Monument, north of Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
A chlanna cuinn, cuimhnichidh
Cruas an am na h’iorghuil
Gu arinneach gu arronntach,
Gu arch, gu allonnta’
*  *  *  *  *  *
Gu gruamach, gu grinnail,
Gu grainail, gu gaisgail,
Gu gleusda, gu geinnail,
Gu gasda, gu guineach,
Gu galghaircach, gu griongalach,
Gu griosnamhach, gu gairlamhach,
Gu glansgathach, gu geurlannach, &c.
Race of Conn, be hardihood
Remembered in the day of strife,–
Repeatedly thrusting confidently,
Strongly, nobly–
*  *  *  *  *  *
Sternly, elegantly,
Terribly, heroically,
Eagerly, in a wedge-like column
Gallantly, keenly,
Causing lamentations, ardently,
Inveterately, with sounding blows,
Lopping off limbs, with keen swords.

— Excerpt of poem by Lachlan Mac Mhuireach, Bard to Donald of the Isles, to inspire his troops before the Battle of Harlaw (1411).

Killed Them A’ but Ane

Esslemont Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Ruin of Esslemont Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Johnny arose on a May mornin’
Gone for water tae wash his hands
He hae loused tae me his twa gray dogs
That lie bound in iron bands

When Johnny’s mother, she heard o’ this
Her hands for dule she wrang
Cryin’, “Johnny, for yer venison
Tae the green woods dinna ye gang”

Aye, but Johnny hae taen his good benbow
His arrows one by one
Aye, and he’s awa tae the green wood gaen
Tae dae the dun deer doon

Oh Johnny, he shot, and the dun deer lapp’t
He wounded her in the side
Aye, between the water and the wood
The gray dogs laid their pride

It’s by there cam’ a silly auld man
Wi’ an ill that John he might dee
And he’s awa’ doon tae Esslemont
Well, the King’s seven foresters tae see

It’s up and spake the first forester
He was heid ane amang them a’
“Can this be Johnny O’ Braidislee?
Untae him we will draw”

An’ the first shot that the foresters, they fired
They wounded John in the knee
An’ the second shot that the foresters, they fired
Well, his hairt’s blood blint his e’e

But he’s leaned his back against an oak
An’ his foot against a stane
Oh and he hae fired on the seven foresters
An’ he’s killed them a’ but ane

Aye, he hae broke fower o’ this man’s ribs
His airm and his collar bain
Oh and he has sent him on a horse
For tae carry the tidings hame

Johnny’s good benbow, it lies broke
His twa gray dogs, they lie deid
And his body, it lies doon in Monymusk
And his huntin’ days are daen
His huntin’ days are daen

— Johnny O’ Braidislee (Jock O’ Braidislee) as arranged by Old Blind Dogs.

Mysterious Scottish Petrospheres

Carved Stone Balls are petrospheres, usually round and rarely oval. They have from 3 to 160 (but usually six) protruding knobs on the surface. Their size is fairly uniform at around 2.75 inches or 7 cm across, they date from the late Neolithic to possibly as late as the Iron Age, and are mainly found in Scotland, but also elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. They range from having no ornamentation (apart from the knobs) to extensive and highly varied engraved patterns. A wide range of theories have been produced to explain their use or significance, without any one gaining very wide acceptance.

An example from Towie in Aberdeenshire, dated from 3200–2500 BC.
An example from the farm of Golspie Towers, found in 1933.
A Carved Stone Ball with low profile knobs.
Three examples from Scotland; now in the British Museum.

Nearly all have been found in north-east Scotland, the majority in Aberdeenshire, the fertile land lying to the east of the Grampian Mountains. A similar distribution to that of Pictish symbols led to the early suggestion that Carved Stone Balls are Pictish artefacts. The core distribution also reflects that of the Recumbent stone circles. As objects they are very easy to transport and a few have been found on Iona, Skye, Harris, Uist, Lewis, Arran, Hawick, Wigtownshire and fifteen from Orkney. Outside Scotland examples have been found in Ireland at Ballymena, and in England at Durham, Cumbria, Lowick and Bridlington. The larger (90mm diameter) balls are all from Aberdeenshire, bar one from Newburgh in Fife.

Book of Deer: Folio 5 Recto

Folio 5 recto from the Book of Deer; the text of the Gospel of St. Matthew from 1:18 through 1:21. Note the Chi Rho monogram in the upper left corner. The margins contain Gaelic text.

The Book of Deer (Leabhar Dhèir in Gaelic) (Cambridge University Library, MS. Ii.6.32) is a 10th-century Latin Gospel Book with early 12th-century additions in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It is noted for containing the earliest surviving Gaelic writing from Scotland.

The origin of the book is uncertain, however it is reasonable to assume that the manuscript was at Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland when the marginalia were written. It may be the oldest surviving manuscript produced in Scotland, and is notable for having possibly originated in what is now considered a Lowland area. The manuscript belongs to a category of what are known today as Irish pocket Gospel Books, which were produced for private rather than for liturgical use. While the manuscripts to which the Book of Deer is closest in character are all Irish, most scholars argue for a Scottish origin. The book has 86 folios and measures 54 mm by 107 mm. It is written on vellum in brown ink and is in a modern binding.