Over Fork Over

OVER FORK OVER-Motto or Myth?

Cunningham Coat of Arms

Cunningham Coat of Arms

According to a story by Frederick van Bassen, a Norwegian who wrote on the origins of early Scots families, as in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, King Duncan I of Scotland was killed by his thane, Macbeth, in 1040. Five years later,  a servant called Malcolm, son of Friskin, helped the escaping Prince Malcolm (a nine-year-old heir to the throne of his father, the late King Duncan I) by forking hay over him with a shake-fork to hide him from his pursuers. Macbeth and his soldiers wanted to kill the prince and usurp the throne, and so, as they approached the Prince’s hiding place, he told Malcolm “Over, Fork Over!”–meaning put more hay over me so I can hide from these devils. This deed is said to be the origin of the Cunningham motto “OVER FORK OVER.”   Eventually, Prince Malcolm slew Macbeth at the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057 and became Malcolm III ‘Canmore.’   Other so-called authorities argue that the fork was, instead, a symbol of the farm implements used by the Cunningham’s sponsors, the Comyns, but I rather prefer the myth. Another source provided by John Ravilious repeats the story above (Robert Cunyngham, Genologie of the Right Honourable the Earl of Glencairn’s Family, ms 1740).

In addition to this motto and the coat of arms of the Cunningham Clan is the crest, generally worn by the clan chief so that his warriors could recognize him in the heat of battle. The unicorn is on the Cunningham crest because of its connection to the Earls of Glencairn, the rightful chiefs of Clan Cunningham. The heraldic unicorn is drawn as a horse with a single, long and twisted horn, a lion’s tail and the front legs of a stag, symbolizing courage, strength, and virtue.

Cunningham Shake-Fork in the Great Hall

Cunningham Shake-Fork in the Great Hall


2 thoughts on “Over Fork Over

  1. Susie, thank you for your kind comments. I am sure that your family is also full of blue-bloods. We’re all related at some point. I would love to go to Scotland; that is my lifelong dream. Please don’t apologize if a challenge doesn’t sit right. It’s not an assignment. PS I found the poem challenging as well. Do what you do best, occasionally sneak out of your shell to try something intimidating, and embrace what is already fine in you!


  2. Dr. Linda,
    I have been reading your family chronicles with interest. It must be wonderful to know that you have “blue” blood- perhaps you could one day, go to visit your Cunningham relatives in Scotland.
    We had a textbook in Medical School, in Anatomy called ‘Cunningham’s manual of dissection of the human body”.
    PS: I am sorry Dr. Linda, but I couldn’t do any better with the ” love” poem challenge- it was very difficult for me.

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