Highways & Byways of Carrick - Maybole
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The following text and images are excerpted from the book Highways & Byways In Galloway & Carrick with Illustrations by Hugh Thomson. By Rev. C. H. Dick. Published by Macmillan and Co. Limited. London 1911.



Maybole—Its name—The Castle—The Collegiate Church—John Knox’s House—The Maybole martyrs—Crossraguel Abbey

A FORMER minister of Maybole, the Rev. Roderick Lawson, has written some pleasant notes on the town and its neighbourhood, and is excellent on the subject of its name. "Be the etymology what it may, the name itself in its modern form is one of which any town may well feel proud. What a fine, mouth-filling sound it has! There is no name of a town along the whole line of the Glasgow and South-Western Railway which is for a moment to be compared with it. Ayr, for instance, is plainly too short, and Kilmarnock too long. Troon and Beith are insignificant. Girvan and Greenock want sound, and Paisley wants strength. Kilwinning is too smooth, and Ardrossan too rough. Even Glasgow is no better than it should be. But Maybole is simply perfect." It is a great thing when a minister can be thoroughly enthusiastic about the name of his parish if about nothing else! The name probably means "the town by the marsh ". A bit of land, formerly a swamp, but now drained and cultivated, is still called The Bog.

I entered Maybole from the north and should advise anyone else to do otherwise. After surmounting the last of the undulations stretching between the river Doon and the town, I came upon some ugly factory buildings and heard the grinding and humming of machinery within. It might have been a fragment of the Kingston district of Glasgow! Maybole, I may explain in passing, has a large bootmaking industry and also makes agricultural implements. One may congratulate Maybole on the enterprise and wealth represented by its chimney-stalks and pass on to more attractive subjects.

The old castle in High Street arrests one. Look at its narrow tower, its crow-stepped gables, its mouldings, the quaint headings of the little windows, the antique turrets, the oriel window overhanging the old front, and feel grateful for its preservation It is believed to have been built about the middle of the seventeenth century, and was formerly the town house of the Earls of Cassillis, for if Maybole could not be the county town of Ayrshire, it was at least the capital of Carrick. At one time there were twenty-eight "gentlemen’s houses" here. No doubt, the Earl’s was the grandest; but if some of the others even approached it in beauty, it would have been worth while to thread one’s way through several miles of factories to see them. The building which has served as the Tolbooth for nearly two centuries and a half is known to have been originally the town house of the Lairds of Blairquhan; the modern Town Buildings, however, have been built against it, and it is now impossible to infer its aspect as a domestic structure.

The Collegiate Church, founded in 1371 by Sir John Kennedy of Dunure in order that daily services might be celebrated for the happy state of himself, his wife Mary, and their children, is the oldest building of all. It was served by a provost and three other priests. Most of the windows have been built up; but it is still possible to admire their tracery and an elaborately-carved doorway. After the Reformation the church fell into disrepair and became a mere place of burial for the Cassillis and one or two other families. A tablet at the east end of the church gives the names of members of the Cassillis family who were laid here between 1701 and 1832. It is quite likely, however, that the whole line of the former " Kings of Carrick" were buried here—David, the first Earl, who fell at Flodden; Gilbert, the second Earl, who was killed at Prestwick by Hugh Campbell of Loudoun; Gilbert, the third Earl, who died at Dieppe, it was supposed of poison; Gilbert, the fourth Earl, who roasted Allan Stewart; John, the fifth Earl, who caused the Laird of Bargany to be killed; and John, "the grave and solemn Earl ", who represented the Church of Scotland at the Westminster Assembly. A tombstone in another part of the interior bears the following statement within inverted commas: " He cannot return to us, but with God’s help we hope to go to Him "—surely a remarkable instance of careless quotation!

The way from High Street to the Auld College, as the church is called, lies down a very steep lane known formerly as the Back Vennal, but now named John Knox Street; and on the right-hand side there is the old residence of the Provost of the College. It is labelled "John Knox’s House" because it was the scene of a great disputation between the Reformer and the last Abbot of Crossraguel on the question whether the bread and wine brought forth by Melchizedek to Abraham. were a type of the Mass or not. The debate took place in September, 1562, and lasted for. three days. The Abbot could not prove the affirmative, nor Knox the negative; so the logomachy ended where it began.

The story of the six Maybole men who lost their lives on account of their fidelity to the Covenant differs from the normal types of martyrdom. The men were among the twelve hundred prisoners who were taken at Bothwell Bridge in 1679 and confined in Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh. They were also among the two hundred and fifty-seven who were shipped at Leith for the American plantations. The prisoners were shut up in a hold that was much too small for them, and endured twelve days of its horrors before the ship set sail. The voyage to the Orkney Islands took a whole fortnight. Anchor had been cast off the Mainland of Orkney on the 10th of December when a storm arose, the ship broke from its moorings, and drove upon the Moul Head of Deerness. The crew scrambled ashore, but the hatches had been battened down upon the prisoners, and the master of the vessel refused to lift them. As the ship went to pieces on the rocks, forty-eight men struggled to land, but the remaining two hundred and nine were drowned, and among them were the six from Maybole. These men surely deserve to be remembered along with those who perished by the bullet or the sword. The names of the Maybole martyrs were Mungo Eccles, Thomas Home, Robert MacGarron, John MacHarrie, John MacWhirter, and William Rodger. Their memorial stands in a corner of a field near the town.

A scrutiny of the names on the map makes it plain that, however many of the roads radiating from Maybole be left untravelled, the one leading to Kirkoswald must not; for this is the way to Crossraguel Abbey, the greatest of the old ecclesiastical institutions in Carrick and the best preserved of the monastic buildings of Scotland.1

As I followed the road, it was interesting to recall what Stevenson had written about 2 It is on the whole a dull one, and he did not say much. Yet it is a little surprising that he considered the phrase, " dilapidated castles and monasteries ", enough for Baltersan3 Castle and Crossraguel 4 Abbey. There is, indeed, little to detain the fancy about the keep; but in the case of one who wrote so much about the monastery of Our Lady of the Snows we might have looked to hear something of the convent. It is true, Our Lady of the Snows was the home of a living piety and a hospitable lodging-place as well, while this is a deserted ruin; but, as the local writer whom I have quoted already says, "the sacristy and the chapter-house, the cloisters and the cellars, the scriptorium and the gatehouse tower are all nearly intact, and one almost expects as one wanders among the ruins to see a monk coming round the corner with his bare feet and shaven crown ", a suggestion that might have come from Stevenson himself. Moreover, the reader who turns to the two magnificent quarto volumes of the Abbey Charters will find some very lively matter. He will also learn the outstanding facts about the convent: that it was one of the few Clugniac settlements in Scotland, that its founder was Duncan, the first Earl of Carrick, that it had the Kings and Queens of Scotland, both of the Bruce and of the Stewart line, for its benefactors—Robert the First may have been educated here—that it held temporal sway over nearly the whole of Carrick, and that it maintained its witness to the things of the spirit for three centuries and a half until, when its life was thought to be gone, the eagles were gathered together. The explanation of Stevenson’s silence—the sufficient explanation— doubtless is that he did not happen to be in the mood for monasteries that winter morning.

1 The Order to which Crossraguel Abbey belonged had its headquarters at Cluny in Burgundy, and French influence appears in the architecture, "noticeably in the apsidal termination of the choir, a distinctly Continental feature and one rare in Scotland, as distinguished from the square end more peculiar to this country ". The apse is polygonal. The recurring damages and repairs to which the abbey has been subjected make it impossible to assign it to any one period. An attempt to reconstruct its architectural history has been made by Mr. James A. Morris in Charters of the Abbey of Crosraguel. The abbey was fortified with strong towers.

2 Stevenson’s essay, A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway, is belied by its title. It was left a fragment unfortunately and contains nothing of the Galloway part of the tour. In a letter written in February, 1876, Stevenson says, "I went to Ayr, Maybole, Girvan, Ballantrae, Stranraer, Glenluce, and Wigton. I shall make an article of it some day soon, ‘A Winter’s Walk in Carrick and Galloway’. I had a good time."

3 Gaelic bail tarsuinn, village set obliquely.

4 Pron. Crossráygel, 1225—65 Cros- and Corsragmol. Circa 1560 Corsragvell. Prob. Gaelic crojs ratlhaig mhaoil, cross beside the bare or towerless fort.—Johnston.