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A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times
Chapter I.—Early Inhabitants


Passing by the River-drift men and the Cave men, who belong to archaeology rather than to history, we may take it as settled that the district was inhabited at a very early period by the Ivernians or Iberians—a short, black-haired, dark eyed, and swarthy complexioned people, with long or oval heads, and speaking a non-Aryan language. The land of their origin is unknown, but by some it is placed in the Western Ocean and identified with the fabled continent of Atlantis. At one time they inhabited the whole of Europe west and north of the Rhone and the Rhine, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and the North of Africa, and are said to have had affinities with the Firbolgs in Ireland, the Silures in Wales, the Aquitani between the Pyrenees and the Loire, the Etruscans in Italy, the Sicani in Sicily, the Basques in Spain, and the Berbers in Africa. A people of the neolithic age, they were more civilized than their predecessors, the Cave men. They were acquainted with cereals, had domesticated animals, and are regarded as the founders of modern European civilization. Whatever may be the number of the remains they have left elsewhere, those which have been ascribed to them as found in Renfrewshire are few and of doubtful origin. Still, it is not altogether improbable that they fashioned the canoes which were dug up some time ago in the parish of Lochwinnoch, and that the personal ornaments found in a cist at Houston belonged to them.

The Iberians were followed by the Goidels or Gaels, the vanguard of that great Aryan army which was destined to rule the west. Of Celtic origin, the Goidels were in personal appearance altogether unlike the Iberians. They were tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed, with light complexions and broad heads. Armed with weapons of bronze they drove the Iberians into the west or reduced them to slavery. By some their arrival in Great Britain is set down as early as the ninth century B.C., and by others as late as the sixth or seventh. They were the builders of those vast megalithic structures which, though in ruins, still stir the imagination of the beholder at Avebury and Stonehenge, and of the smaller circles, which are scattered over the moors and hilltops of Great Britain.

After the Goidels came the Brythons or Britons, who were also Celts. Their arrival in Britain is set down at from two to five centuries before our era. They were armed with weapons of iron. Landing on the eastern and south-eastern coasts of Britain, they gradually drove the Goidels into the west, who there inter-married with the Iberians, and often joined hands with them against the invaders. At one time the Goidels, it is said, occupied the whole of the west of England from the Solway to the Severn ; but under the pressure of the Brythons they were forced back upon the mixed population of Wales and driven southward into Cornwall and Devon, and northward into Cumberland and Lanarkshire, and beyond the Clyde.

During the Homan occupation Renfrewshire was inhabited by the Goidelic Dumnonians, except in the east, where in the Mearns, as the name implies,* was a tribe or clan or settlement of the Maeatae. The Dumnonians were related to the Damnonians of Cornwall and Devon, who were probably their superiors in the arts of civilization, in consequence of their more frequent intercourse with foreigners. The Maeatae are usually mentioned along with the Caledonians, and are supposed to have come like them from the north. Both are described as “ living in utter savagery, without agriculture, or any dwellings but tents, and having wives in common, living in marshes on roots and other such food, naked, tatooed, armed with spears having a chain and knob attached to them to strike terror by noise.” How far this description is true, and whether it represents “a Celtic people which by long isolation had gone back into savagery, or a race non-Celtic and perhaps non-Aryan, which had succeeded in overpowering its neighbours,” are questions to which satisfactory answers have not been given. The two tribes are first mentioned towards the close of the second century a.d., by which time they appear to have got possession of the country adjacent to the Northern Wall; possibly they had also gained a footing on the south side of the Firth of Forth. In 208 Severus led an expedition against them. Soon after his return, the Maeatae were again in arms, and were joined by the Caledonians. Severus died in 211, and it was probably not till after this that a clan of the Maeatae settled in Renfrewshire. Whether this clan was among those who were subsequently called Picts, and along with the Scots became a terror to the Romanized Britons of the South, are questions which need not here detain us.

Traces of the Roman occupation in Renfrewshire are few. A camp at Paisley and a few Roman coins, discovered near that town, are all that are recorded. Of the coins nothing is known. They were dispersed immediately after their discovery, and have gone no one knows where. The camp was situated on Oakshawhead, on the site now occupied by the John Neilson Institution. It had two outposts—one on Woodside, the other on Castlehead. The view from the three stations commands almost the whole of the lower reaches of the Clyde. Roads probably connected the camp with Carstairs on the south, with the camp at Loudon Hill on the west, and with the Clyde at a point opposite to the west end of the great Wall of Antoninus. Down to the end of the seventeenth century the Clyde above Dumbarton was by no means deep, and at low water was easily fordable at several places, and it is not improbable that the camps at Loudon Hill and Paisley were held by the Romans in order to prevent the natives on the north of the wall from outflanking it, and then crossing the Clyde to invade Kyle and Cunningham and the country to the south.


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