Written by the parish minister and published in the Transactions and Journal of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1912.
Notes on the Parish of Kirkgunzeon. By the Rev. J. E. Gillespie, Minister of the Parish.
The earliest record that we have of Kirkgunzeon is in a charter of Uchtred, son of Fergus, Lord of Galloway, who granted to the Monks of Holm Cultram Abbey, in Cumberland, the lands of "Kircwinnyn" for six pounds sterling. The witness to this charter was Christian, Bishop of Galloway from 1154, who died at Holm Cultram in 1186. In 1207 Pope Innocent confirmed to the same Monks the lands and chapel of "Kircwynnin," which they had enjoyed peaceably for forty years in terms of the original grant of Uchtred.
The earliest example of the present spelling of the name is to be found in the grant of King David II., in 1367, to Sir John Herries of the lands of Kirkgunane, which had formerly belonged to the Monks of Holm Cultram. One writer gives as the reason for their deprivation that the Monks had taken the side of the English in the wars between the two countries. A century later, in a charter from King James III. to Sir Herbert Herries, it is written Kirkgunzene. The old form is still found in "Winning's" Well, near to Kirkgunzeon Mill.
The Church was thus dedicated to the same Scoto-Irish saint who gave his name to Kilwinning in Ayrshire; that is, the Church of Winning, in the Welsh dialect, and in Gaelic, Kilfinnan — the Church of Finnan; "f" in Gaelic becoming "w” or "gu" in Welsh. The change from the earlier to the later spelling is an example of this modification. In the ancient Irish Church there were two bishops named Finan — one Finan or Finian, bishop about 575; the other Finian, Wynnin, or Frigidian, about 579. Symson says in his history that the name is from "extrema unctione" — " Kirkgunguent." This derivation is on a par to that which the writer heard given by an Englishman when the train stopped at Kirkgunzeon station. "The Kirk requires a gun to send people to Zion!"
The "Grange" of Kircwynnin, which was granted to the Monks of Holm Cultram, seems to have been larger than the present parish. In the "Book of Caerlaverock" there is given in Latin a perambulation of the marches between the lands of Kircwynnin and Culwen, made in 1289 by Sir Robert Abbot of Holm and Sir Thomas of Culwen. Unfortunately, while some of the places mentioned can be identified, such as "the Water of Suthayk” (Southwick), "Bracanhirst" (Breconside), "Clochoc Monachum" and "Clochoc Beg of Culvven" (that is, Cloak and Little Cloak, and Stranside and Saltflat), there is so much change in the names that it is impossible to trace the boundaries.
I need not dwell on the general features of the parish. Kirkgunzeon Lane, which rises in Lochaber and joins the Urr below Dalbeattie port, intersects it from north to south. Roughly speaking, on the south side the rock is granite, and on the north whinstone. About fifty or sixty years ago, when the stream was being deepened opposite the farm of Porterbelly, some fine fresh water pearls were got from the bed of the burn.
On the Ordnance Survey Map of 1854 a spot on the southern slope of Clawbelly Hill is marked as the supposed site of Lord Maxwell's cave. It was said that the Lord Maxwell, who was outlawed for killing the Laird of Johnstone, hid there before escaping to France. Some years ago Mr Maxwell, Terregles Banks, and the writer made a careful search over the hillside, but were unable to find any trace of the supposed cave. About the middle of the slope there was a quantity of granite stones or boulders, loosely piled together, and it is just possible that these may have blocked the entrance.
There are three round moats or camps in the parish — one near the top of Camphill, close to the march between Kirkgunzeon and Urr. This camp is about 350 feet in diameter, and is well preserved. On the farm of Torkirra, about three and a quarter miles south from Camphill, there is another camp, fully as large. This one is not so well preserved, gravel having at times been taken from it. About 580 yards north-west from this camp, at the lower end of the field, there are traces of a smaller moat. Thirty years ago the encircling ditch and mound were distinct; but owing to drainage operations they are now somewhat obliterated. In the new Statistical Account published about 1844, it is stated that on the farm of Glaisters there had been a large cairn, which had been carried away for dykes, and that in the bottom of the cairn a number of urns were found filled with ashes, which crumbled into dust when exposed to the air.
At Barclosh and Corra are the remains of two old mansion-houses of the Terregles family. A tradition has been handed down in the parish that Mary Queen of Scots slept at Corra during her flight from Langside. In the earlier part of the last century the old house was used as a dwelling-house by the tenant of the farm, and there was then in the building an old carved oak bedstead, now removed to Terregles. One of the adjuncts of the mansion was a large pigeon-house, which was removed from Corra and re-erected near the Glebe by the Rev. Mr Heron. An old Scottish statute of 1617 enacted that no person should build a dovecot or pigeon-house unless he was possessed of lands of the yearly value of ten chalders or victual lying at least within two miles. On the top of the pigeon-house is the remains of a stone sun-dial, and on a slab above the door are the initials of William, Lord Herries, and Katherine Kerr, his wife. The tower at Drumcoltran is smaller and much plainer in style than that at Hills, in Lochrutton. Both towers belonged to the same branch of the Clan Maxwell. There is nothing noteworthy about the building, except the inscription above the doorway: "Secla : Secreta : Loquere Pauca. Verax Esto A Vino Cave. Memeto (for Memento) Mori. Misericors Esto."
The ancient church, which was erected by the monks of Holm Cultram before 1207, was used as the Parish Church till the close of the eighteenth century, when, having become very ruinous, the present church was built, in 1796. Dr Pocock, a dignitary of the Irish Episcopal Church, who made a tour through parts of Scotland in 1747, 1750, and 1760, refers to the old building as follows:— "We passed the Our on a bridge, and came in two miles to Cairgunian. I observed the little Church was old, with a round window in the East end, and a Cross in relief over the door." The length of the "Kirk" was 44 feet, and the "Queere" 20 feet, giving a total length of 64 feet. The width of both kirk and queere was 17 feet, with an arch between. The roof was of oak, and was said to have been brought from Holm Cultram. The old oak beams of the roof were used as joists, to which the seating of the present church is nailed, and are still beneath the floor. The only other part of the old church still existing is the oak pulpit. It appears from the Presbytery records that well into the eighteenth century the area of the church had never been allocated, and at the heritors' request the Presbytery did so. The queere was set apart for the communion table and for the seat of the patron, who was the Earl of Nithsdale. The pulpit and place for baptism were on the south wall of the kirk next to the arch, and on the north wall at the arch was a place for ringing the bell. The bell bore the inscription: "Kirkwinnong, 1674." At the manse there are still standing a pair of whale's jaws, which were given to Rev. Mr Heron by Captain Crosbie of Kipp. They measure about 13 feet in height above the ground and 11 feet in width.
The Kirk-Session Records state that in October, 1716, James Anderson in Isles was cited to the Session, there being a flagrant report that he had been guilty of a breach of the Sabbath by carrying a sheep on his back from Armannoch to his own house. At the meeting of Session he confessed "that on a Sabbath night in harvest he had carried to his own house a lamb of his own which had wandered to Armannoch muir and which he found among their sheep." For this he was gravely rebuked and exhorted to take more heed to his conversation in time to come.
In 1721 the Session appointed that whoever are married out of the Church in time coming shall pay one shilling, which is to be laid out on some pious use.
In 1730 "Nathaniel Ferguson appeared and confessed that he had cast knots on a string during the time of a wedding in church. He was required to produce them, and loose them and destroy them before the Session, which he did. Whereupon he was sharply rebuked for such a wicked practice." Putting knots on a string was supposed to be a charm of ill omen for the couple who were being married. References to the superstition are to be found in Norse sagas, for example, in Njal's saga — "Story of Gunnhild and Hrut." The superstition, however, was not confined to northern countries, as there is an allusion to it in the decrees of an ancient church council in Spain (Statuta Eccles. Valentina Concil. Hispan).
The Rev. John Crocket, who was settled at Kirkgunzeon in 1809, told the writer, who was his assistant and successor, that when a boy at Newabbey village he had met Billy Marshall, the well-known gipsy of the eighteenth century, who told Mr Crocket that he was helping with harvest at the Haugh-of-Urr when he saw King William III.'s soldiers pass through Galloway to the Irish campaign. That was in 1690, two hundred and twenty-two years ago.