and St Ninian

peninsula of Galloway has a long history and for centuries
was a natural stopping off point for traders, raiders and
missionaries who found the climate mild and fertile land
for settlement. Lying so close to Ireland there has been a
regular two way traffic of both people and trade goods,
including livestock. In the troubled seventeenth century
it was quite common for Scots in Ulster to travel across
to Stranraer to attend the Sabbath Kirk service and return
home in the evening. They would also travel the other way
to Donaghadee and Bangor for markets and prayer meetings.

Sitting on
top of a hill, Wigtown commands a view over the bay 
and the surrounding countryside. It is this dominant
position as a stronghold that caused it to be delivered to
into the hands of Edward I in 1291. The castle, now long
since demolished, was an important centre from which the
Earl of Wigtown (created in 1342) held  jurisdiction
over the area. However, the earldom failed and the rights
and possessions passed to Archibald Douglas, the Grim, in

Windy Hill, Wigtown
top of the aptly named Windy Hill stands a tall obelisk, a
memorial to the martyrs of religious persecution in the
seventeenth century. Central to the Wigtown martyrs are
two women, an 18 year old Margaret Wilson and a 63 year
old widow Margaret ( Mc)Lachlan. The younger woman was 
probably a follower of James Renwick and the widow
Margaret was taken while reading her bible. They were
executed byWindy Hill,first dedication
drowning for refusing to take the Abjuration Oath. There
was a third woman, also Margaret – Maxwell who was
subsequently released (presumably she took the oath
offered her). 

Wilson her 16 year old brother and 13 year old sister were
the children of reasonably well off farmer but they
refused to accept their parents episcopalian beliefs.
After some weeks on the moors and hills as fugitives the
two girls crept into Wigtown seeking food and shelter but
were discovered and thrown into gaol. The younger daughter
was released after her father went to Edinburgh to post a
£100 bond but the elder girl was kept in prison. On 11 May
1685 the two women were led to the waters edge and
according to the sentence passed on them

to palisados fixed in the sand, within the flood mark, and
there to stand till the flood overflowed them and drowned

bk.60.jpg (50843 bytes)
tales are told of the incident including how the Town
Officer pushed the younger Margaret`s head under with the
words ` Tak anither drink hinny`. Another recounts that
afterwards the officer suddenly became obsessively thirsty
and had to carry a large flagon of water with him for the
rest of his days  to quench his thirst . Another tale
is of the children born to the Town Officer who were `clepped`
– with webbed fingers and feet. So the traditional tales
go on. But the facts are clear, the execution by drowning
was a method specifically prescribed for women by order of
the Scottish Privy Council.

to the women occur in several places with a stone pillar
on the shore symbolic of their deaths. The graves
themselves areWilson grave
grouped and enclosed with three other martyrs – William
Johnston, John Milroy and George Walker in the old church
yard; and the tall obelisk looks down on them. The
steadfast adherence to their beliefs have been
commemorated in later years with Millais painting a superb
portrait of Margaret Wilson entitled The Solway Martyr
which hangs in the  Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 
In the Knox Presbyterian College, of Toronto a statue of
Margaret greets the visitor in the entrance. This statue
was subject of a `politically correct` complaint by a
visitor who winged that it showed harassment of women. You
Margaret Knox

think these people would have something better to do, but
such people are both blinded by their own prejudice and
act in ignorance of the facts. Of course she was being
harassed – she was being executed by vile cruel men who
were obeying the orders of the Court and the Privy
Council. It was all legal and the bigoted interpretations
of the modern day should not be made of events over three
hundred years ago. The Margarets laid down their lives for
their beliefs and are to be held in the highest regard for

In modern
times Wigtown has become the  `book town` of Scotland
and was recognised as such by the Scottish Parliament on
15 September 1999.There are many second hand and
antiquarian book shops to visit with a wide selection of
books for sale. There are several shops who specialise in
Scottish history and many an hour might be spent browsing
– especially if the weather interrupts outdoor activities.

Long before
the persecution of the Covenanters, however, St Ninian
came to the Galloway peninsula. The Venerable Bede in the
eighth century wrote of a holy man called Nynia who was
born among the British , a son of a tribal chief somewhere
in the Solway region. Whithorn seems the possible
location. Ninian was baptised at a time when the Romans
were quitting Britain and tradition has it that he was a
contemporary in Rome of St Jerome. He was consecrated by
Pope Siricius and sent to be a missionary amongst the
Picts and was therefore responsible for introducing the
Christian faith into Scotland many years before St Columba.

Ninian Chapel
Ninian built a stone sanctuary around 397AD. His Candida
Casa or `shining white house` (from the lime plaster that
was used for the walls) was dedicated to his mentor St
Martin of Tours. From the Saxon  equivalent `Hwit
erne` came Whithorn. St Ninian went out to convert the
barbarian throughout much of Scotland with a trail that
seems to have followed the east coast when over the Forth
Estuary, right up to the Orkney and Shetland Isles. At
Candid Casa he founded a religious school for his
followers which continued as the university of its day
after his death in 432 AD. The first settlement of wattle
and daub  buildings dates back to about 500 AD with
Whithorn becoming a thriving community with a monastery
from the mid sixth century. It was made a Burgh in the
fourteenth century. St Ninian`s grave became a shrine for
pilgrims who were still coming to the area in the
sixteenth century but this was brought to a grinding halt
by the Reformation and the prohibition on pilgrimages. An
act of parliament in 1581  made them penal and was a
great loss to the burgh of Whithorn.

Ninian Witness
Whithorn Trust has excavated the sites and has an
outstanding display of artifacts including 5th and 6th
century crosses in its Visitor Centre. Nearby is the
ancient priory which was founded by Fergus, Lord of
Galloway in the twelfth century. Down on the shoreline
beside the harbour on the Isle of Whithorn is the ruin of
a 13th century chapel and beside it a  modern
`Witness Cairn` created by visitors placingNinian Cairn
and or dedicating a stone to the memory of St Ninian.
While there take a look at the ragged rocks that make up
the shore, and wonder how a frail boat could land its
passengers on such a place. If feeling adventurous there
is the Cave of St Ninian on the shore line in Glasserton
parish which was found to have  incised crosses on
the rocks.