Agabatha Castle

Agabatha Castle # CLS O 1 50m

    Agabatha castle 1836 NSA ix, 28 [see discussion, below]
    Agabatha Castle 1854 OS Name Book 4, 20 [‘nearly 3/8 of a mile south-west of the village of Collesie’]
    Agbatha Castle 1854 OS Name Book 54, 37 [see discussion, below]
    Agabatha Castle 1855 OS 6 inch 1st edn [‘British fort supposed’]
    Supposed Site of Agabatha Castle 1900 x 1949 OS 6 inch 2nd revision [‘supposed Pictish castle’]

The earliest mention of this strange and evidently fanciful name is from the contribution written in 1836 by the local minister Rev. J. MacFarlane for NSA: ‘The eastern fort [near the hamlet of Trafalgar] was called Agabatha or marsh-field castle. This name was appropriate to its situation, as, within the last forty years, the fields adjoining the little eminence called a castle were a complete marsh, although now under cultivation. The eminence itself was surrounded by a ditch or moat, forming in a remote age the most effective kind of fortification. Several relics of antiquity have been found at this place. Among others a quern or hand-mill of mica slate, a mineral not belonging to Fife. A number of coins also, belonging to the reign of Edward I of England, were here turned up by the plough. They are the coinage of different towns, as London, Canterbury and York, but are evidently all of the same reign’ (ix, 28–9). He goes on to say that the western fort is called the Maiden Castle (q.v., below).

    It would appear from this that Rev. MacFarlane’s ‘marsh-field’ is an attempt at etymologising the name ‘Agabatha’, with the first element presumably G achadh ‘field’, the second connected with G bàthadh ‘drowning’, found in the territorial name Badenoch INV, meaning ‘drowned land’ (see Watson 1926, 118); in fact Rev. MacFarlane or some other local antiquarian may well have created the name themselves in the light of a local tradition regarding the long, low ridge, now called Birnie Hill, q.v. (formerly Park Hill), to the west of the site of the supposed castle. This tradition is first recorded in OSA (1792) by MacFarlane’s predecessor, Rev. Andrew Walker, who also describes the two ‘castles or fortifications’, although he does not give a name for the one which MacFarlane calls Agabatha. Walker writes of its ‘wet and marshy’ situation, continuing: ‘Upon the west side of it, there is an earthen mound, of a circular form, about an English mile in length, and about 30 feet high, above the level of the ground in the neighbourhood [i.e. Birnie Hill]. Some say, that it was a place of observation; and there is indeed a very good view from it. Others imagine, that the mound was constructed by an enemy for the purpose of damming up the stream that comes from Collessie den [i.e. Collessie Burn], in order to force the castle to surrender. This stream runs, at present, through the middle of the mound, at a place called Gadding; so named, from the water bursting through it. About 8 years ago, an urn was found, near the mound, containing some human bones, all of which seemed to have been burnt’ (OSA, 154).

    OS Name Book 54, 37 (1854), in its Notes for Park Hill (now Birnie Hill), echoes the same tradition: ‘Nearly half a mile west by south of the village of Collessie ... a long and narrow ridge shaped hill, now covered with wood. It is said locally to be of artificial construction and was so formed at some remote but unknown period for the purpose of flooding and thereby rendering Agbatha [sic] Castle untenable. The body of water thus collected around the above castle and against this embankment caused the latter to give way at the western end of the same. Two or three small dwelling houses near this spot are locally called Gaddon from the Go-down the water made there.’

    In 1933 RCAHMS Fife reported that the site was then under cultivation and no traces of a so-called fort could be seen, adding that the site was more likely to have been that of a medieval mote-hill. It was presumably on the basis of this that it appears as a motte in Geoffrey Stell’s ‘Provisional List of Mottes in Scotland’ (Simpson and Webster 1985, 17). However, already in 1952 D. C. Baird reported that ‘the evidence for this site is largely legendary ... The site is a long low mound which is defensible but is not at all like a motte as suggested by the Royal Commission’ (NMRS NO21SE 3).

    Since 1952 extensive gravel workings have completely destroyed the site, and it is now under the newly created Birnie and Gaddon Lochs.

This place-name appeared in printed volume 4