THE derivation of the name of Maybole is somewhat doubtful. Chalmers, referring to the charter of "Duncan, the son of Gilbert de Galiveia," who, in 1193, gave to God and St Mary of Maelros, a certain piece of land in Carrick called Meybothel, is of opinion that "the name Maybole is merely an abbreviation of Maybottle. . . Botle, in the Anglo-Saxon, signifies a house, or dwelling-place, a farm, a village, and appears in the termination of several names in the south of Scotland. The prefix May, in Maybottle, may be derived from a man's name: or it may be the Anglo-Saxon Maey, May, signifying a kinsman, a cousin; so Maybottle would signify the dwelling, of the kinsman or cousin."
This is by no means satisfactory; and yet, in support of it, the writer in the new Statistical Account says " it may be alleged that several names and usages of this district are undoubtedly Saxon, and to be traced to the period of the Heptarchy, when Galloway and the southern parts of Ayrshire were overrun by the Northumbrians." We should like to know how the writer traces these Saxon names and usages to the Heptarchy! There is, however, so great a similarity between the language and usages of the Celts and Saxons, that they are now considered to have been originally one people. But much more likely is it that the names and usages referred to were of later introduction, as in other parts of Scotland, where the Celtic language has been gradually superseded by the Anglo-Saxon.
Carrick was not only originally Celtic, but the Celtic language continued there until a comparatively recent period. The etymology suggested by Chalmers is not satisfactory - it is not sufficiently characteristic. There may have been fifty dwellings of the kinsman in Carrick - and why should Maybole have been held singular in this respect? Besides, old charters are not to be regarded as positive authority in matters of derivation. It is more than probable that the charter in question was written by the monks of Melrose themselves, who were foreigners, at all events more familiar with the names of localities in the south of Scotland, where the Anglo-Saxon prevailed at an early period than anywhere else in Scotland. The writer of the charter may therefore have spelled Maybole according to his own idea of its meaning.
The etymology of places is not to be sought for in a solitary charter, as in this case, but rather in the vernacular pronunciation of the word. Now we know that old people used to call Maybole Minniebole; and in old writings it is either Minnyboil or Maiboil, but never Maybotle, with the exception of the original charter, where it is Meybothelbeg. Its derivation is consequently to be sought for in the Celtic, and the writer in the Statistical Account himself, attributing it to this source, says, it "will signify the heath ground upon the marsh or meadow, both of which names are so far descriptive of the situation of the town, which stands upon a declivity - no doubt at one time covered with heath, and at the bottom of which there is a tract of meadow land which must at one time have also been a marsh."
Unfortunately the writer does not give the Gaelic of this very significant and perhaps correct etymology. A Celtic friend, however, suggests another meaning, Maiglb (Mai, the gh in Gaelic being silent), a plain, and Buile, a fold for milk cows. Maibuile would thus signify the fold of the plain. Minniebole (properly Monibuile), would signify the fold of the hills - Moni, in Gaelic, meaning small hills or hillocks. Thus Maibuile-beg would imply the little fold of the plain. The ancient fold consisted of wooden flakes, resembling those now used for turnip-feeding, and the cattle were shifted from place to place, so as to be convenient for manuring, the land. Hence the fold would sometimes be on the plain, Maighbuile, and sometimes on the table land, or hillocks, Monibuile. We do not assert that this is the only correct derivation, but it seems extremely probable; and we are always safest in seeking the etymology of ancient places in the early language of the country.
Maybole originally formed two parishes - Maybole and Kirkbride. With both combined it comprehends about thirty four square miles - its greatest length being about nine miles, and its breadth five. It is bounded on the north, and so far on the east, by the river Doon, which divides it from the parishes of Ayr and Dalrymple; on the east and south by Kirkmichael, and the water of Girvan; and on the west by Kirkoswald and the Firth of Clyde.
The parish is considerably varied in appearance. Towards the northeast, and stretching along the coast, it is bounded by a ridge of high land, rising about 1000 feet above the level of the sea, called Brown Carrick Hill, forming a kind of natural barrier, besides the Doon, which flows at a short distance, between the coasts of Kyle and Carrick. From this height a magnificent view is obtained both seaward and landward. The rest of the parish is of an undulating character, and has a rich cultivated aspect. The hill pasture and moorland occur chiefly on the Brown Carrick range of hills; but even these are gradually losing, their distinctive character, by the operation of the plough and the spade, and excellent corn and green crops are now raised where recently the heather and whin flourished in all their natural vigour.
The only rivers are those of the Doon and the Girvan, which are at the extremes of the parish. There are springs innumerable, however, and several small rivulets, which water the district abundantly. The few small lochs formerly to be found in the parish, have long ago disappeared.
Abercrummie, who wrote immediately prior to the Revolution, describes the parish as " very large and populous, extending from the sea and water of Dun to the water of Girvan, about Dalduffe and westward. - Beside the large church, and Kirkbryde, and other chappells, whereof mention is made above. The Lord Bargany is patron thereof, though he have small or no interest therein. There be a great number of gentry living therein, who have pretty dwellings in commodious places throughout the parish."