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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

John Smith

KILBIRNIE DISTRICT

 

WE now come to the District of Kilbirnie, named after St. Birnie or Brinan, as is a well of excellent water near to the Place Castle, which latter belonged to the family of Crawford.

In this district there are no mounds nor hillforts extant that I know of. The accumulation of earth at Nethermill, described in the New Statistical Account, I cannot admit to such an honour, being, I consider, nothing more or less than material thrown together at one time in view of the extension of the mill dam, which was never carried out.

Near this place there was a stone coffin got; and a quarter of a mile below Kilbirnie Bridge, on the right bank of the Garnock, three stone coffins with human remains were discovered, and in one of them there was an urn.

At Langlands there once stood on the bank of the Garnock a large cairn of stones, 100 feet in diameter and 6 feet high. At one time it had been much higher. Seven feet within the perimeter there was a ring of large boulders. This is a common feature in large, or what I call king 's cairns. It is quite possible that the ring of boulders formed the basal circumference of these cairns when they were at first constructed, but by the habit of young men hunting after rabbits, and occasionally after pots of gold like 'Whang the Miller' they have come to get both lowered and spread out a bit. Under it was got a stone coffin, with human remains, formed of six flat stones, and placed in a north and south direction. In 1837, as per Statistical Account, it was totally removed.

About 1810, when Mr. Cochran was removing a stone cairn near Ladyland, an urn with burnt bones was found in the centre of it.

One of the most interesting relics of antiquity in this district was the crannog brought to light in Kilbirnie Loch by the heaving up of its bottom, caused by the immense weight of the slag hill being formed in it, the refuse from the blast furnaces. This crannog has been described by Dr. Munro in the second volume of the Ayr and Wigton Archeeological Collections. Before the final upheaval took place, it was marked as a low island , about 25 paces in diameter, covered by stones, known as the' Cairn,' and approached from the loch side by a stone causeway placed permanently under the water, the cairn being distant about 60 yards from the north-west margin of the loch. Under the stones, which were found to be 2 feet in depth on the surface of the crannog, there was a bed of sand and gravel, also 2 feet deep, and below this 6 inches of brushwood, which rested on a horizontal layer of wooden beams, some of them being as much as 2 feet in diameter, and 'checked' or mortised on to pile-heads, being fastened thereto with wooden pegs or iron nails. The piles had been driven into fine mud; how far is not known, but the depth of the mud at some parts round the margin of the loch is as much as 40 feet.

Near to the crannog and causeway several canoes were found, and inside of one of them, embedded in mud, were got two brass vessels, which are described by Dr. Joseph Anderson, of the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum, and beautifully figured in the Ayr and Wigton Archeeological Collections, the circumstances of their discovery having been communicated to the Society of Antiquaries by Mr. Cochran-Patrick in 1872. One of these vessels is a tripod pot, with ear suspension-loops, which measures 14 inches in height, and 11 inches across the mouth, and weighs 28 lb. The other is a lion ewer; 8 inches in length, and 8 1/2, inches high, with a handle extending from the back of the head to the rump (Fig. 159).  

It is known that vessels of this latter description were at one time used for pouring water over the priest's hands, and on Easter Day an acolyte carried one of them in the procession after the Pope.

Vessels of the above description used to be called ' bronze,' but Professor Macadam, of Edinburgh, has shown that the Kilbirnie Loch ones, at least, are of brass, the lion ewer being composed of about thirteen parts copper to two parts zinc by weight.

The old names of Kilbirnie Loch were Garnoth, Thankart, and Tancu.

On the hills there are the marks of ancient cultivation, known as 'elf furrows,' a name indicative of their antiquity, and perhaps showing that the climate was at one time much milder than it is now, as no land is at present cultivated so high up in this quarter. At Ladyland a small bronze axe was dug up. It measures 5 3/8 inches by 3 inches wide.

FIG. 159- Lion Ewer found near Kilbirnie Loch Crannog.

In Kilbirnie churchyard there are several grave-slabs inscribed with a sword and a cross, and shears and a cross (Fig. 160), and the interior of the church has been highly ornamented by carving in oak, the part called the' Lord's laft ' being still pretty entire, there being a row of painted shields along the front of it, ' proofs of lineage of the Crawfords.'

Besides the Place Castle already mentioned, there is Glengarnock Castle, placed on the edge of a perpendicular rock rising from the waters of the Garnock, and said to have been one of the strongholds of Hardyknute ; and the position is of such strength that the usual arrow-slits have been dispensed with.

On the banking below the castle there are the remains of the castle ' midden,' composed mostly of coal-ashes, the coal used having been the inferior low coals of the district. Amongst the ashes there are to be got bits of pottery covered with a yellow glaze, and window-glass, rendered iridescent by age, the edges of it having been chipped and ground.

FIG. 160. Ancient Grave Slab, Kilbirnie Churchyard

A very small fragment of Ladyland Castle now remains. It belonged to the Barclays and the Riddles.

The monumental tomb of Crawford, the captor of Dumbarton Castle, is in the churchyard.

Near Glengarnock Castle there was found a silver coin of Queen Mary, bearing the date 1556, and about the size of a modern shilling.

This district was divided into the baronies of Kilbirnie, Glengarnock, and Ladyland.

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

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