The Whig’s Hole on Altry: A Conflict in Traditions

Whigs Hole Altry

The Whig’s Hole is said to be the traditional location for the killing of Margaret Gracie and George Allan in 1685. However, the earliest surviving traditions about the Whig’s Hole, or ‘Whighole’, do not mention their deaths at all…

The Whig’s Hole lies on Altry, a hill in Dalry parish, Kirkcudbrighrshire.

Map of the Whig’s Hole                Aerial View of the Whig’s Hole

The “whighole” was first recorded in the Old Statistical Account of the 1790s:

‘On the farm of Altrye, near the top of a hill, there is a trench which seems to have been digged, capable of containing 100 people. As in this trench one has a view of two different roads, at a comfortable distance, without being observed by those persons who travel upon them; the Whigs or the Cameronians, as they are usually styled, are said to have frequently made use of it during the time of the persecution in Scotland, both as a place of refuge, and of observation. Hence it obtained the name of the Whighole, which it bears to this day.’ (OST, XIII, 59.)

The same text was recycled half a century later in the New Statistical Account and that text was the basis of the entry in the OS Name Book of 1848- to 1851:

‘A small hollow or trench on Altry Hill where it is said that the Whigs or Cameronians, (as they are usually styled) frequently made use of during the time of the persecution in Scotland both as a place of refuge and of observation, hence the name “Whigs Hole”.’

Lorg FootLorgfoot

The site of the ‘Whighole’ lies above the farm of Lorg, a.k.a., Lorgfoot, which was the home Daniel McMichael, one of the original “Cameronians”, a proclaimed traitor and activist in the Society people.

It was only in 1855 that Simpson referred to the Whig’s Hole as the place where Margaret Gracie and George Allan were killed. Prior to that, the OS Name Book had only recorded the death of ‘John Allan’ at Allan’s Cairn further to the east.

It is evident from some of Simpson’s other traditions, that those traditions coopted significant features in the landscape into their narratives. Every tradition has to be judged on its own merits. For a variety of reasons, Simpson’s tradition of Gracie and ‘George Allan’ is very dubious in historical terms and is almost certainly fabricated. At least in part, it was created out of other local traditions about the Whig’s Hole and Allan’s Cairn.

The traditions about the Whig’s Hole and [John] Allan’s Cairn, are at least half a century older than the ‘tradition’ of George Allan and Margaret Gracie. A brief chronology of the recording of the sites is as follows:

1790s. Old Statistical Account identifies the Whig’s Hole as a refuge.
1804. Allan’s Cairn appears on a map.
1848 to 1851. OS Name Book lists both the Whig’s Hole and Allan’s Cairn, the latter as the site of the killing of a ‘John Allan’.
1855. Simpson’s Traditions records of the martyrdom of Margaret Gracie and ‘George Allan’.
1857. A monument is erected at Allan’s Cairn, which names Gracie and George Allan.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to or retweet this post, but do not reblog without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

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~ by drmarkjardine on April 11, 2014.

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