- Clan bonds
A Scots name
An Irish name
Gillespie of Blackhall
The Barons of Blackhall
Gillespie pipe music
The origin of the great name of Gillespie
The Gillespie name is ancient, its
origins dating probably from 5th century Ireland. It is widely
thought to be made up of two Gaelic words, "Filid," a druidic bard, and "Asbuig," a bishop.
"FilidAsbuig" = Gillespie
The Filid were druidic bards, attached
initially to the courts of the Irish tribal kings, who were
called the "Rig" in their Celtic communities. Each
Rig had an 'honour price' in a legal system where the weight
of testimony depended on the witness's aristocratic pedigree.
In applying the ancient law of the Celts, the
"Brehon" code, a Rig's Filid
recited in court from memory his master's genealogical origins
to ensure that the Rig's testimony would take priority over
that of any of his subjects.
The Filid also entertained their kings'
guests with poetry and with tales rich in moral content on the
winter nights between Samain (1st November) and Beltain (1st
May.) These poets were clearly able to perform remarkable
feats of memory in a society where nothing was written.
By the second half of the 7th century, most
of the Filid had converted to
Christianity. St. Patrick's first learned convert had been the
5th century Filid, Dubthach.
Patrick cleverly shaped his scriptural teaching, based on
Roman Canon Law, to the Celtic traditions of the Brehon code:
he progressively involved the talented Filid
in the settlement of disputes arising from the complexity of
integrating the dictates of Rome with those of these ancient
Celtic societies. A century later, a long way up Great Glen to
Inverness from his Ionian retreat, St. Columba used similar
tactics in converting the Pictish king's, Bridei's, druid,
Broichan, to Christianity.
For the following centuries up to the Synod
of Cashel in 1101, the Bishops, the Asbuig,
of this Celtic society with its tradition of orally recited
law, now attempting to integrate Canon Law with the Brehon
Code, used the Filid to establish
their own honour price in the courts. The honour price of a
Bishop, Asbuig, came close to
that of a tribal king, Rig.
In 1111, the Synod of Rathbeasail accorded
the province of Armagh, which included Dal Riada (the area of
Argyll in today's Scotland) a total of 12 sees. During the
following critical surname period marked by the Normanization
of the Scots, there were arguably 12 FilidAsbuig in the service of the 12 bishops
responsible for these dioceses extending from Donegal and Down
in Ireland, to Argyll in Scotland. These men, who were to have
offspring bearing their names, were conceivably deacons, and
not under full orders.
The Gillespie name in its present form dates
arguably from this period with the points of genealogical
departure originating in these 12 "FilidAsbuig" deacons from the province
of Armagh. The present geographical distribution of the name
corresponds well to this area covering Northern Ireland and
Southern Scotland and lends credence to this origin. However,
it is intriguing to note that, in Northern Ireland, the
Gillespie name is more associated with the Presbyterianism of
Ulster than with the Catholicism of the Republic, to an extent
that could lend credence to the idea of a purely Scots origin.
If this were so, then the Gillespie families resident in the
Province may well be themselves of Scots extraction, many of
their ancestors having followed William of Orange's Scottish
army into battle against his Catholic Stewart father-in-law,
As with many Scots names, the origin of the Gillespie name
is thus linked to that of a profession, that of the bishop's
'lawyer.' This function of Celtic society had long disappeared
by the time the Norman scribes committed the names of the
Scottish landowners to the Ragman Roll when each swore
allegiance to Edward 1st, except the doughty Wallaces, father
and son, and a handful of others. By then, Gregorian reform
had gained the upper hand on the Brehon Code, and men of
learning were expected to apply Canon Law, and to read and to
write, rather than to commit to memory.
From the 13th century, Gillespie is found as a forename
given by Scots Celtic aristocracy to male offspring possibly
destined for a life of the cloth as the wealthier, ambitious
families had a ready eye for church property, although the
name was clearly not Norman . Like a small number of other
pre-medieval forenames, it would be perpetuated within a
family during successive generations, and so:
- a 13th-century 'Gillespic the Clerich' appears at the
origin of the Scottish clan Chattan;
- the 13th century progenitor of the Campbells was
Gillespic O Duithne "Cam (crooked) Beul
- the 14th century 5th MacEwen of Otter was called
Gillespie Mac Eoghain na h-Oitrich;
- we find one of the Bruce's MP's in Saint Andrews,
As the Norman scribes translated FilidRig, to Gilroy or to
Gilry, (the mediaeval French for king is 'roy') they
translated FilidAsbuig to
Gillespie. In Gaelic, the "F" in Filid goes unpronounced, and, during
the 13th century, the Norman scribes wrote an (also)
unpronounced "G" in its place.
wrong-headed etymological notions concerning the origin of the
Gillespie name which are no longer accepted.
not originally a
Gillespie, nor is the converse true!
- The first
associates the root with "Gilly," a serving boy.
If this were true, the Celtic Galbraith or Gillivray
names, where the the final syllable comes from the Gaelic
"Brath," meaning judgment, would foolishly
translate to, 'servant boy of judgment,' rather than to
the obvious FiliBrath, or 'teller, lawyer or legal reciter
- Another links
Gillespie to the name, Archibald ! It is wrong to confuse
the Gaelic name of Gillespie with the Germanic
'Ercenbald.' Every Scots "Archie" was
Origins of the Clerical Gil-Names - Creag Dhub, 1997 The
Annual of the Clan Macpherson Association
History of Medieval Ireland -A.J. Otway-Ruthven, Barnes &
The crest and arms shown
above are those of John Bonner Gillespie, O.B.E. on display at
the Macpherson Clan Museum at Newtonmore