A Little Bit of Ancient Carrick History, Part Three: Silver Spurs

Looking towards the new manse.

Near to the natural mound of Kirkmichael House (called Kirkmichael Tower on Pont’s map) is a house called Fairy Knowe. Incidentally, if you want to have a look at a series of old and interesting maps of Scotland, including Carrick, you can see and search them all online on the National Library of Scotland's site here.

Most fairy knowes have nothing to do with the fairies, and this one hasn’t either. Instead it comes from the Scots Gaelic faire, meaning watch or guard hill. But a guard hill for what? Fairy knowes are strategically placed near castles or forts of some sort. Fairy Knowe looks towards Maybole, commanding fine views over the surrounding countryside. To the north is Drumore, the big ridge. The name suggests an outlying rampart of something. West of Kirkmichael House is Auchenairney or the Field of Sloes – and still has sloes to this day. What seems to be true is that for many hundreds and perhaps thousands of years people have lived not just in, but around Kirkmichael House, which would have been as important to the village as the kirk. Even within the village is a house named Clawbeg that appears on old maps – with the name meaning ‘small mound’ or barrow. 

There are other place names of interest within the parish. Drumdarragh is a farm mentioned in old records. It seems to have disappeared, but in 1711 we find two farms referred to as Upper and Nether Dundarrach, which translates as small fort of the oaks, and there is an Aikenhead farm in this area today, which of course means much the same thing, but in English. 

Natural mound of 
Kirkmichael House 
Maybe Dundarrach hasn’t disappeared at all.

Descriptively Port Cheek, within the village, is Gaelic, meaning the harbour where the river flows out of the hollow. As it does. The burn is the Dyrock, which was also named for the oaks that grew and still to some extent do grow along the banks. Arnsow is the height of the wise man or sage, Dalduff, the dark field, Ballycoach, the town of the wood, Barskelly, the top of the bare rock, Drumfad, the hill of peat, and so on. 

These were people who were describing and naming a landscape in which they lived and worked and were occasionally referring to people they thought of as others – such as Barbrethan, or Barbredda on the old Pont map, ‘the height where the Brits live’ - even when those others had been here for a long time. The names are, if we pay attention, still describing the place to us, but back then, they were even more important in characterising the landscape.

An English friend had been told that Guiltreehill, outside the village, had been a gallows hill. Well it's possible, but not likely. Executions would have taken place elsewhere, in centres like Maybole and Girvan and Ayr, It seems much more likely that the tree element is yet another British tref, or house name. Gil-tref may mean the house of the manservant, (as in the word ghillie.)  Maybe we see a favoured servant being given some land to build a house for himself, just as so many years later, our own house was built by a well regarded servant. 

Lead was mined up there, but the ore also yielded silver. The 1838 Statistical Account for Kirkmichael contains this tantalising reference: 'In the wacke at Guiltree-hill and Montgomerieston, veins of galena are found, of sufficient importance to have been at one time worked; and they are said to have yielded a high per centage of silver.'

That 1838 account, which can be accessed here, via the excellent Maybole site, also contains a wealth of fascinating information about the area, not least that of some 1000 people in Crosshill, 800 are Irish. The minister doesn't seem to approve of them very much. He also notes that there are ten alehouses in Kirkmichael and finds it an 'unwarrantably large number'.

When I first moved to the village, many years ago, older people would tell me that items made of Kirkmichael silver could still be found here - but I've never seen any. I'd love to know if any remain, lurking at the back of somebody's drawer, or in a box in the attic! 

The mine was certainly a very old one. Perhaps the ‘silver spurs’ that had to be paid to John Kennedy by Murdoch son of Somerled, on St Michael’s day, were made from local silver. And as I said in an earlier post, the Britonnic tribes were miners as well as horsemen and women. Intriguingly, Orchard Farm, and Cloncaird House also seem to be connected with metal working: Orchard with gold, not apples, while Cloncaird is the ‘field of the metal workers’. 

 Perhaps the whole area, back then, was noted for its metal working and perhaps the Britonnic people had those particular skills. Maybe this was an area of much more wealth and interest than we can possibly imagine.

Go to Part Four of this overview of life in the village, for a fascinating account of what life was like in an eighteenth century manse.