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Banffshire
Chapter 10. The People—Race, Language, Population


As the Ice Age came to an end, Neolithic men, i.e. men with the finely polished weapons and tools of the New Stone Age, followed the reindeer northward. Their presence in Banffshire is denoted by the existence of flint arrow-heads. These men—often designated Iberians—were small, dark-haired, long-skulled. They have today their representatives outside Britain in the Basques. Names of places such as rivers and mountains are, like flints, very permanent traces of inhabitants, and the word Isla has been held to indicate Iberian influence. Later came the Gaelic invaders and the period of bronze tools and weapons. Then followed the age of iron, the time of the coming of the Brythons or British. In early historic times Banffshire, Iike the regions to west and east, formed part of the kingdom of the Northern Picts. The name Fiddich has been declared to be identical with the name of one of the Pictish subdivisions. The precise relationship of Picts to Iberians, to Gaels and to Britons, is problematical; but the Pictish tongue appears to have been akin to British (Welsh) not to Gaelic (Irish). Pit and for (as in Pitlurg and Fordyce) are Pictish elements; while British or Pictish are Spey, Keith, and aber as in Jberchirder. Knock is Gaelic, and so are bal and inver in names like Ballindalloch and Inveraven. English is evident in $andend, Lintmill, and the first syllable of Kirkmichael.

The language of the English-speaking settlers has ousted the Gaelic. Or if there be stiII a few old people in Tomintoul who can converse a little in Gaelic, assuredly the old language, as far as concerns Banffshire, will die with them. In the Minute Book of the Synod of Moray (1715) it is recorded that the Synod considered that "Irish was necessary in the case of the minister of Glenlivet," but it does nc#t appear that he, either at that time or afterwards, was a Gaelic-speaking minister. It is the view of Rev. R. H. Calder, the present minister of Glenlivet, that Gaelic probably became extinct in that district about the close of the eighteenth century. It held its ground more tenaciously in the neighbouring parish of Kirkmichael. There is evidence that in 1794 it was the dominant, if not the sole, language at the Tomintoul markets, and there is reason to believe that it continued to be the dominant language at these markets till the middle of the nineteenth century. The late Rev. James Grant, minister of Kirkmichael (18431896), was a hi-lingual preacher and a good Gaelic scholar. On the half-yearly pre-communion Fast-days, his custom was to conduct a short Gaelic service before the English service. By and by he would say to the minister who often assisted on these occasions—" Another of my Gaelic hearers gone since you were here last," and again, "Another of my Gaelic hearers gone since you were here last," and so on until they were all gone. The Gaelic service was finally discontinued about 1893.

The vernacular of Banffshire, like that of Aberdeenshire, belongs to the north-east division of Scottish dialects. Both counties have the characteristic of sounding f instead of wh in certain words; as fah, fahn, fahr for who, when, where. "Fahr are ya gain?" (Where are you going?) "Fah fuppit th' folpie?" (Who whipped the whelp?) Folpie shows one of the favourite forms of diminutive so common in Banffshire. Another is ik, and still higher, ikie; as beast, beastie, beastik, beastikie. The idea of diminution is carried still further by the adjective wee, by doubling the wee, and by adding yet again little, as little wee, little wee wee. Diminution is expressed by the word bit, always used in the construct state, as a bit beastie, and by the word nyaff, as a nyaff o' a mannie, a nyaff o' a doggie. The word horse, for example, may be used in descending scale from horsie through a multiplicity of degrees to little wee wee horsikie.

Within the county four divisions of dialect have been distinguished—the fishing, the lower, the middle, the higher. The fishing population accent the last syllable, throw the ictus on the last word of the sentence, and lengthen vowels. The lower district is marked off from the middle by a softer pronunciation and a slight lengthening of some vowels. Thus bone, stone are been, steen in the lower district, but behn, stehn in the middle. In the middle district meal, peat, beast, beat are sounded mehl, peht, behst, beht, while in the lower they are as in standard English. The upper district has been influenced in its accent by Gaelic.

The population of Banffshire at the census of 1911 was 61,402. Since the first census was taken in i8oi, the highest point of population was reached in 1891, when the number was 64,190. Ten years later that was reduced by 2702, and in 1911 the total was again reduced by 86. The preliminary count in 1921 shows a decrease of 4109. og. Ten years ago, 46.4 per cent, of the population was enumerated in burghs and 53.6 in landward districts; and while the burghal population showed an intercensal increase of 4.3 per cent., the landward population showed a decrease of 3.7 per cent. The extra-burghal part of the county is divided into two Public Health Districts—Banff and Keith. The population of the former remained almost stationary during the intercensal period, but in the latter the population decreased by 9.4 per cent.

Of nine burghs then in the county, one only, Buckie, increased in population to an appreciable extent; in 1911 its population was 8897. The only parishes which showed a material increase of population were Rathven, the parish which contains the burghs of Buckie, Findochty, and Portknockie, and the village of Portgordon; and Boyndie, which contains the village of Whitehills.

The number of males returned as having some remunerative occupation was 18,064, and of these 32.9 per cent, were connected with agriculture and 21.5 per cent. with fishing, so that 54.4 per cent, of the male population in employment was absorbed in these two industries.

Of the total population 60,385, or 98.3 per cent., were returned as being of Scottish birth, and 75.9 per cent, of the whole had their birth-places within the county. Three hundred and seventy-eight were returned as able to speak Gaelic as well as English and none as speaking Gaelic but not English. Of the 378 only 89 were born within the county, so that the theory of the sister of the Antiquary, Grizel Oldbuck, that because a man "cam' in his youth frae the braes of Glenlivet" he must needs know Erse, certainly does not hold good today.

The area of the county is 403,053 acres. In the Banff district of the county there are 125,645 acres and in the Keith district 277,408 acres, while in the former district the population in 1911 was 20,432 and in the Keith district 12,453, the population figures being exclusive of the nine burghs then in the county. In the Banff district there was on an average one person per six acres, and in the Keith district there was an average of one person per 22 acres.

The following table gives population particulars by families for the 22 civil parishes in the county and deals therefore with Banffshire as a whole:


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