The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy

Copyright © 2007 Iain Kennedy

A Poem by William Dunbar

I came across this work reading up on Galwegian Gaelic in wikipedia. Of this poem, the entry for its author William Dunbar born c. 1450 in Lothian, says this:

"In the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie, an outstanding specimen of a favourite northern form, analogous to the continental estrif, or tenzone, he and his rival reach a height of scurrility which is certainly without parallel in English literature. This poem has the additional interest of showing the antipathy between the Scots speaking inhabitants of the Lothians and the Gaelic-speaking folk of Carrick, in southern Ayrshire, where Walter Kennedy was from".

Of Walter Kennedy himself, little appears to be known:

"Walter Kennedy (flourished 1500), Saint of Lord Kennedy, was educated at Glasgow, and is perhaps best known as Dunbar's antagonist in the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy. Other poems are Praise of Aige (Age), Ane Ballat in Praise of Our Lady, and The Passion of Christ. Most of his work is probably lost."

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica Walter (1460-1508) was the younger brother of John, the 2nd Lord Kennedy (1454-1509), an earlier version is more specific in naming him the third son of Sir Gilbert, the 1st Lord Kennedy. I have not yet been able to confirm this and he needs further investigation.

The entry on Galwegian Gaelic tells us:

"The poem, written somewhere between 1504 and 1508 portrays an ideological, historical and cultural conflict between William Dunbar (representing Lothian, and Anglian Scotland) and Walter Kennedy (representing Carrick and Gaelic Scotland). Dunbar ridicules Kennedy's Heland accent and Erische language, whilst Kennedy defends it, saying calling it "all trew Scottismennis leid" and telling Dunbar "in Ingland sowld be thy habitation."2 The importance is that, from a Lothian perspective in the early sixteenth century, Carrick and Galloway still represented Gaelic Scotland, just as Lothian did Anglian Scotland. Note also that Kennedy is referred to as "Heland" (Highland)."

The original text of the poem can be found online and has been published for TEAMS (The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.