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The Parish of Balmaghie.
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A TOPOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF SCOTLAND, by Samuel Lewis. Published in 2 vols, London, 1846.
"BALMAGHIE, a parish, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, 4 miles (N. W.) from Castle-Douglas ; containing 1252 inhabitants, of whom 275 are in the village of Laurieston, and 243 in that of Bridge of Dee. This place takes its name from its ancient proprietors, the McGies, whose ancestor, an Irish chieftain, settled here at a very remote period, and whose descendants retained possession of the chief lands for many generations. A part was the property of the Douglas family, whose baronial residence, Threave Castle, was built upon the site of a more ancient structure belonging to the lords of Galloway, who exercised, for many years, a kind of sovereignty, independent of the crown of Scotland. In 1451, the eighth earl of Douglas, in retaliation of some aggression on his territories, seized Sir Patrick Maclellan, of Bombie, and detained him prisoner in the castle of Threave, intending to bring him to trial, by right of his hereditary jurisdiction ; and on the arrival of Sir Patrick Grey, of Foulis, commander of the body-guard of James II., with a warrant from the king, demanding his release, Douglas, suspecting his errand, instantly ordered Maclellan to be beheaded in the court-yard. The castle was soon afterwards be-sieged by the king in person ; but the artillery making no impression upon the walls, which were of extraordinary thickness, a blacksmith, who witnessed the assault, offered to make a cannon of sufficient power for the purpose ; and the family of Maclellan providing him with iron for the work, he constructed the enormous cannon afterwards called Mons Meg, which weighed more than six tons and a half. This formidable engine, which was made in the immediate vicinity of the royal camp, being with great difficulty dragged to a commanding position in front of the castle, the first shot spread consternation among the besieged, and the second pierced through the wall of the castle, and, entering the banquet-hall, carried away the right hand of the countess, who, at the moment, was raising a goblet of wine to her mouth. The garrison immediately surrendered, and the king presented to the blacksmith, whose name was McKim, or McMin, the lands of Mollance, as a reward for his ingenuity in devising and accomplishing
the means of his success.
This castle was the last of the various fortresses that held out for the earls of Douglas, after their rebellion in 1453 ; and upon the fall of that family, and the consequent annexation of Galloway to the crown of Scotland, in 1455. it was granted by the king to the family of Maxwell, afterwards earls of Nithsdale, hereditary stewards of Kirkcudbright, and "keepers of the king's castle of Threave." During the parliamentary war, in the reign of Charles I., the Earl of Nithsdale, who held the castle for the king, maintained in it a garrison of eighty men, with their officers, at his own expense; and when no longer able to maintain it against its assailants, the king, who was unable to send him any assistance, recommended him to make the best terms he coud for the garrison and himself. As hereditary keepers of the castle after the Restoration, the earls received annually, from each parish in the stewartry, a fat cow ; and when they sold the estate, in 1704, they reserved the castle and the island, to which they appointed a captain, in order to secure their right to the cattle, which was regularly paid till the attainder of the earl, for rebellion, in 1715. There are still some very conspicuous remains of the ancient castle, situated on an island of about 20 acres in extent, formed by the Dee, at the south-eastern angle of the parish ; they consist chiefly of the keep, which was surrounded by an outer wall, with four circular turrets, of which one only is standing. Several stone balls, weighing from one to 3 1/2 pounds, and a gold ring, supposed to be that worn by the countess when her hand was shot off, were found in the castle, in 1843 ; and in the year preceding, a large ball of granite, 19 inches in diameter, thought to be that discharged from Mons Meg, was found by some labourers who were clearing the ground.
The PARISH, which is situated nearly in the centre of the county, is bounded on the north by the Blackwater of Dee, and on the east by the river Dee : it is about nine miles in length, and seven in extreme breadth, and comprises 22,000 acres, of which nearly 7000 are arable, and the remainder meadow, pasture, and waste, with a moderate proportion of woodland and plantations. The surface, towards the south-east, is tolerably level, but, in all other parts, hilly, though not strictly mountainous ; the higher grounds command extensive views, including, to the north-west, the Carsphairn and Minnigaff hills, and, to the south-east, those of Cumberland, with the Isle of Man, in clear weather. In the uplands are several lakes, of which Loch Grannoch, or Woodhall, the largest, is about 2 1/2 miles in length, and half a mile in breadth ; and, with the exception of Lochinbreck, which abounds with trout, they are all well stored with pike and perch. The soil in the valley of the Dee is fertile, and there are extensive and productive tracts of meadow in the parish ; the principal crops grown are, oats, barley, potatoes, and turnips. The system of agriculture is improved ; the farm-buildings are generally substantial and commodious, and those on the lands of Balmaghie are all of recent erection, and of very superior order. Bone-dust is used as manure for turnips ; the lands have been well drained, and are mostly inclosed with stone dykes. The moorlands afford tolerable pasture for sheep, of which about 4000, of the black-faced breed, are annually reared ; and about 400 of the white-faced, a cross between the Leicestershire and Cheviot, are pastured on the low grounds. The cattle, of which about 1000 are fed on the uplands, are of the Galloway and Highland breeds ; and on the lowland farms are numerous cows, principally Galloways, with some of the Ayrshire kind. The rateable annual value of the parish is £6603.
The substrata are chiefly greywacke or whinstone, and in the higher lands, granite is found in abundance ; but there is no limestone, and what is required for building, or for agricultural purposes, is brought from Cumberland. The plantations are not extensive, but thrive well ; they consist mainly of larch and oak, which appear adapted to the soil. Balmaghie House, an ancient mansion, in which parts of an older building have been incorporated, is pleasantly seated near the river Dee, in grounds beautifully undulated, and embellished with plantations : Duchrae House, a handsome mansion of granite, built in the old English style, about the year 1824, is finely situated near the confluence of the Dee and Ken. The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Kirkcudbright and synod of Galloway ; the minister's stipend is £203. 8. 8., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £17. 10. per annum ; patron, Capt. Gordon. The church, built in 1794, is situated near the Dee; it is in good repair, and contains 400 sittings. There are two parochial schools ; one at the village of Laurieston, of which the master has a house, and a salary of £30, with fees averaging nearly an equal sum ; and the other at Glenlochar, the master of which has a salary of £21. 6. 6., with fees amounting to about £14."