Arran Text

Principal Sources


RMS II (563) 1452, (817) 1464, (914) 1467, (1096) 1472, (1789) 1488, (2702) 1502-3, (2741) 1503, (3170) 1507-8

RMS III (708) 1528, (732) 1528-9, (2510) 1541

RMS IV (361) 1549, (1674) 1565

RMS V (410) 1582, (1810) 1590-1

RMS VI (1827, 1838) 1607

RMS VII (591) 1611, (760) re 1556, (1232, 1243) 1615, (1813) 1618, (2023) 1619

RMS IX (136)

RSS VI (1321) 1571

RSS VII (1025) 1577


Bute Retours (15) 1607, (17, 18) 1609, (27) 1618, (35) 1625, (58) 1649, (62) 1661, (64) 1662,  (86) 1685, (92) 1696, (97) 1597, (98, 99) 1613


AS II (91, 92) 1620, (116, 117) 1621, (132) 1622, (198) 1626, (438) 1632, (778, 810, 811) 1652, (988) 1659, (1013) 1661, (1053, 1054) 1662, (1112) 1663, (1311) 1666


ER V pp 79-89, 162-169, 208-214, 249-255, 287-291, 331-335, 359-366, 406-413

ER XVIII p 434, 1548


1637 Rental – copy in Mitchell Library, Glasgow, TD 421/1

RHP 6175 Plan of lands from Drumadoon to Dougrie c. 1810

RHP 6600-6669 Bauchop’s Survey of Arran, from c. 1807, especially RHP 6605


Book of Arran vol I, ed J Balfour, Glasgow, 1910

Book of Arran vol II, ed W Mackenzie, Glasgow, 1914

Macfarlane’s Genealogical Collections II – Fullartons (pp332-356), SHS, 1900

R Currie, The Place-names of Arran, Glasgow, 1908

I Fraser, The Place-names of Arran, 1999



We are fortunate in having a series of rentals from the 1440s for many of the farms in Arran. These are printed in Volume V of the Exchequer Rolls. They are rentals, not assessments, but (as with similar documents for other parts of the Highlands and Islands) there is a one-to-one correspondence between land-valuation and the silver rent paid. This correspondence is supported by all the other land-assessment data we have for Arran and in particular by the comprehensive rental of 1637. Skene’s source claimed Arran was 300 merklands but I think this is an overstatement. The 1637 rental gives 184 merklands. I find 195m 0s 8d which includes a notional 10m for Sannox but which may not include all of the original church pennyland of Kilbride. (See below for an explanation of how up to another 10m may have been ‘lost’ by confusion over the value of two places called Margnaheglish). Can we look at it the other way about and work out a likely total valuation on the basis of the ounceland to merkland ratio?


The single concrete piece of information we have in this regard is the oft-repeated statement that a unit known as ‘the 10 pennylands’ of Arran was £40 (60m) Old Extent. As I have discussed below the table I do not think the lands so described actually came to 60m – or even to 10 pennylands. I think that what survived into the mediaeval period was actually only part of a larger, earlier, estate which retained its name and, in official circles at least, a notional assessment of £40. However if we take this piece of data as our premise we have an ounceland to merkland ratio of 1oz : 120m or 1d : 6m. Moreover this ratio seems to have prevailed in Eastern Cowal, Bute (and probably Cumbrae) as well. Since this is significantly higher than any other such ratio in the whole of the West Highlands and Hebrides we have to ask if it is well-founded.


There is a little circumstantial evidence to support it. Firstly we can point to one or two 1d units which actually seem to be worth 6m. The pennyland of Kinlochranza was 6m in 1437 although susequently broken up into smaller farms. The two Bennans also came to 6m and it is possible that the root of this name is a form of peighinn or penny. (The farm of Bennecarrigan was Penniecargan in 1637).


There are 79 farm-units in Arran for which we have valuations. Of these, 27 (just over ⅓) have valuations of 6m, 4½m, 3m, 1½m or 10s (ie 1, ¾, ½, ¼ or ⅛ of a notional 6m or 1d unit). This is not proof but if we contrast it with the situation in Kintyre or Western Cowal (where 1d = 4m) then the difference is striking. It is also noticeable that Bute (which probably shares with Arran the 1d : 6m ratio) has an even higher proportion of farm-units that are multiples or sub-divisions of 6m. Arithmetic consonance is not substantive evidence but it does lend our notional ratio some sympathetic support.


At 1 ounceland to 120 merklands it is likely that the true total value of Arran was 2 ouncelands or 240 merklands. Of these we seem to have ‘lost’ about 45 merks or 7½d. I suspect that some of these were church-lands which were subsequently absorbed into the surrounding farms. Kilmory, for instance, may once have been a 1d or 6m unit – like Kilbride. (I also wonder if Holy Island was really only worth 1m – see my comments below on possible confusion between ‘old’ and ‘new’ merks). It is also likely that each of the two mediaeval parishes (Kilmory and Kilbride) represented 1 ounceland worth 120m. Again this has parallels with Bute where the parish of Kingarth was almost exactly an ounceland of 120m while Rothesay was probably 2 ouncelands.


A striking feature of Arran’s land-assessment pattern is the existence of several names beginning with Marg- (merk). Marg- names do occur elsewhere on the west coast but they are not common. Arran has up to 8 such names and two of them have to do with the church. We can suppose they were introduced some time during the first decades of the thirteenth century as the Clyde Islands fell within the reach of the Scottish kingdom. If we assume that the process of re-acquisition began in Bute by about 1200 it probably stretched to Arran shortly thereafter. There was one (possibly two) military expedition(s) to Argyll in 1221-2 so presumably this was when the Scottish fiscal system of merklands first began to replace the Norse system of ouncelands and pennylands.


In Kintyre we have references to ‘senemargis’ or ‘old merks’. I have argued that ‘old merks’ were actually either davachs or pennylands – it is difficult to be sure which because I think that in Kintyre, Knapdale, Glassary, Cowal and the Clyde Islands they were regarded as equivalent. There is also one surviving place-name in Kintyre which may reflect an ‘old’ merk rather than a new. This is Margmonagach which was assessed as 4 ‘new’ merks which was the same as a pennyland or davach. Is there anything similar in Arran?


The relevant place-names are:


Margnaheglish (merkland of the church, NS 0332, near Kilbride) which was 1m in 1437.

Merkland (NS 0239).

Margnaheglish (NR 9349, South side of Loch Ranza)

Margreul/dacan (near Glenscorrodale at NR 9627) – only found in Blaeu.

Margareoch, NR 943244, worth 3m in 1637.

Marganish, NS 0222, worth 1m in 1637

Margielachland, c. NS 0121, worth 1m in 1637.

Marg Lodharna – see Fraser p 24.


With regard to four of these names we have relatively early assessments dating to 1437 or 1637. Three of these four are, as we might expect, worth 1m, although, as will be seen below, I am doubtful about Margnaheglish. Moreover, Margareoch was worth 3m which was, I think, the same as a half-pennyland or half-davach (or half an ‘old merk’). Not much can be built on a single piece of evidence but it is possible that Margareoch in Arran, like Margmonagach in Kintyre, was once an ‘old merk’ or pennyland or davach.


Two of the Arran marg-names were evidently church endowments – Margnaheglish, the merkland of the church. There are two points to make here. Firstly the merk was quite possibly an ‘old’ merk or pennyland when the endowment was originally made. Church-sites thoughout the West Highlands and Islands were endowed with a pennyland, sometimes a half-pennyland. If we suppose that the ‘marg’ in Margnaheglish was only 1m Scots then we would have to conclude that the Scottish kings were significantly less generous towards the church in Arran than their predecessors, Norse, Dalriadic or Cumbric. (1m Scots would only be one-sixth of a pennyland or davach).


I do not think this is likely. I think it more probable that the ‘marg’ in Margnaheglish means one pennyland or davach. Over the generations ‘old’ merks may have become confused and conflated with ‘new’ Scots merks which may be why the Margnaheglish by Kilbride was only thought to be worth 1m in 1437. If we allow the ‘marg’ in Margnaheglish to be an ‘old’ merk then both these locations are precisely analogous to Dachnaachlysk in South Kintyre which was literally the ‘davach of the church’.


The second significant point is that the names are Magnaheglish, not Margnacille. The word ‘eaglais’ for church is very unusual on the west coast where almost every early church site begins with ‘Kil-‘. In ‘The Kingdom of the Scots’ (pp 60-64), Professor Barrow discusses the distribution of ‘Eccles’ names in Scotland and contrasts the distribution maps for ‘eccles’ and ‘kil’. In this context the presence of three names including ‘eaglais’ in Arran and Kintyre, and the possibility that one certainly, and perhaps all three, were originally endowed with a davach of land, may offer evidence of early religious activity being linked to southern Scotland rather than Ireland.


On the assumption that davachs and pennylands were the same in Arran the whole island must have been worth 40 davachs.

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