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The History of Brechin to 1864
Inquiry into the Origin of the word "Brechin"


Notwithstanding Mr Black’s elaborate investigation into the origin of the word “Brechin" an investigation creditable alike to his research and his learning,—we think he has entirely failed in tracing the etymology of the term.

The question, like others of a similar nature, must be determined by a reference to the original inhabitants of the country, and the language they spoke. Who, then, were the aborigines of Brechin, and what was their language ? At a very early period of the history of the human race, a migratory horde of Asiatics, issuing from the base of the Himmalaya Mountains in India, called in their own language "Caoilltich;” by the Greeks, "Kel-toi;” by the Romans, “Keltae” or “Celtae;” and in these islands, “Kelts” or “Celts" from the Celtic words caoill, a wood, and tamh, to dwell, (literally, dwellers in woods,) migrated into Asia Minor, and took possession of the coasts of Syria and adjacent territory. They worshipped Bel and Astarte, known to the Hebrews as Baal and Ash taro th, and built temples in the midst of groves usually situated on rising eminences, at which a body of priests, denominated "Druids,” officiated In whatever country they located themselves they introduced chariots, attached to the axle-trees of which were scythes for the purpose of mowing down their opponents in battle,—and which in ages antecedent to the organisation of standing armies proved extremely formidable to barbarian infantry. In process of time, when population began to press on the means of subsistence—a crisis which occurs at an earlier stage among a pastoral than an agricultural community— detachments from this horde would in all probability have crossed the Hellespont into Europe, and settled in Greece, within sight of Italy. The word “Italy*' is a compound of two Celtic words, “Edal,” pasture, and “ I/' an island; and though Italy is a peninsula, and not an island, yet its appearance from the coasts of Greece would naturally lead the inhabitants to suppose it was the latter. From the fertility of the Italian soil and its luxuriant vegetation, we may infer that the earlier settlers in Greece, during the summer months, when vegetation there was scorched by a powerful sun, would be attracted with their flocks and herds to the rich pasturage of Italy. Accordingly we find that when AEneas—son-in-law of Priam, king of Troy—fleeing from the wrath of the “ perfidious Greeks,” landed in Italy, he was opposed by numerous and warlike tribes.

The next outlet for a redundant population, pressed moreover by Greek colonists seizing on the Italian coasts, would be Gaul and Spain, which would have been entered by the Alps and Pyrenees, and from these countries Great Britain and Ireland came to be peopled. We are distinctly informed by Julius Caesar that he found Britain thickly inhabited by a race similar in language, manners, and customs, to the Gauls.

We have now traced the aborigines of this country to the great Celtic family, who in ages involved in a hoary antiquity occupied the greater portion of Europe. A portion of this family it was, probably intermixed with a sprinkling of Shemitic blood, from whom the Abrahamidae claimed the land of Canaan as an inheritance set apart by divine promise to them and their posterity. We know that the religious customs of the inhabitants of Canaan were very different from those of Egypt, and from the mythology which subsequently arose in Greece and Rome; and we are informed by Moses as well as by Josephus, that the Hebrews had to contend with their armed chariots, though they themselves were prohibited from using them. It is probable that the invention of the Macedonian phalanx by Philip of Macedon may have taught the Orientals the uselessness of this instrument of war as a means of charging and breaking opposing ranks, and thus led gradually to their being abandoned. Be this as it may, we learn from Caesar’s Commentaries, that chariots were used in this country, and we are informed that Boadicea the British queen, attended by her daughters, with dishevelled hair, rode round her army, exhorting them to fight the Roman invaders. And in the battle fought between the Romans and Caledonians, (Caoill-duin, men of the woods,) in the neighbourhood of Brechin, Tacitus records that by the steadiness of the imperial legions in withstanding the first charge of the Caledonians, and the weight of their assault in return, these machines were driven with great impetuosity into the ranks of their own infantry, and decided the fate of the battle in favour of the Roman general.

We think that the use of chariots in war could not have been an invention of the aborigines of this country, but must have been introduced by them from their original settlements in the East, for however suitable they might have been in the plains and tablelands of Asia, even previously to the construction of military roads, they could never have been efficient as a means of offence or defence, in a rugged and mountainous country like Scotland.

That the religious belief of the aborigines of this country was similar to that which obtained at a very early period among powerful tribes in India, and subsequently in Asia Minor, and Continental Europe, no one in the least acquainted with ancient history, —with the description of Tumuli and temples recently discovered in those countries, and with similar remains, still existing in this neighbourhood—will venture to deny; and we may also, in corroboration of this point, allude to many superstitious notions which the progress of Christianity and education have not yet wholly eradicated.

Having now shown, as we think, that the first inhabitants of this country were Celts and their language Celtic, we must necessarily refer to this language for the origin of the word “ Brechin;” but, ere doing so, it may assist us in arriving at a satisfactory solution of the question that we glance at the topography of this district.

The valley extending from Montrose to Brechin bears evident traces of its having been at one period covered with the ocean. The alluvial soil, slightly mingled with boulders rounded by the action of water, demonstrate that this carse must have been produced by a process of depositation or silting, as it is usually termed,—a process still in operation, and which has contracted the Montrose basin within the memory of men still living. Nor let it be urged that the period of time intervening between the first arrival of humau beings ou our shores, and the origin of written history was too limited to produce so great a change; a much greater change has taken place during the last thirty centuries at the embouchure of the Nile, and other rivers. Besides, we infer from the immense forests which once abounded in this country, which cannot now be produced, and the great quantity of moss, that the internal heat of this part of the globe must then have been greater than now; that owing to these forests a larger quantity of rain must have fallen, and thus given greater strength, volume, and velocity to the South Esk, and the rills which disembogue into it, whereby the deposit must have accumulated in a greater ratio than it has done since the cessation of these causes. We have thus no data whereby to approximate the length of time the ocean has occupied in receding to Old Montrose-The termination of the ocean we infer from the natural barrier there subsisting, to have been about Brechin Castle, the site of which would have been probably selected by the first settlers as a stronghold against the attacks of wild beasts, and in the vicinity of which, numerous habitations of men would ultimately arise.

The Celtic word "Braigh” signifies end, and “Cuan” the ocean, and the adjection and substantive being conjoined are pronounced Braighchuain, or the end of the ocean. This we feel confident is the true origin of the word Brechin. The corruption of the word must have taken place when the Scandinavians, a branch of the blue-eyed and fair-haired Teutonic race arriving from the north of Europe gradually drove the Celts beyond the Grampians, and seized on the coast-lands. It is the descendants of these Scandinavians, with a slight admixture of Celts and Saxons, who now inhabit the lowlands of Forfarshire, and who, unable to imitate or pronounce the harsh guttural tones of the Celtic, pronounce the word Brechin as they now do.


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