CHAPTER III

KIRKTOUN OF CUMBRAE

    The old ecclesiastical site merits special attention. Any one who has persued the foregoing pages will be in some measure prepared to realise the early importance of what was evidently the chief of the ancient Cumbrae churches. The interesting old crosses which have been found in the soil of the ancient churchyard at Kirktoun, and which have already been described, will have led him to perceive that a thriving Christian community, well advanced in many of the arts which civilisation implies, dwelt in the pleasant vale around the precincts of a sixth or seventh century church. Perhaps we will presently find that there are good reasons for assigning an even earlier date to the first planting of a church in the island. If Ninian, the great apostle of the southern Picts, was privileged (as we know he was) about the year 410 to consecrate a churchyard at Glasgow, and if there was a bishop "exercising his office " in Scotland as early as the year 314, we may well believe that Ninian himself was not likely to miss the Cumbraes on his way through Kyle, nor the oppertunity of preaching the gospel to the indwellers thereof. If he was the earliest pioneer missionary to land on the island-shore, his name and labours were sufficiently remembered to cause a small chapel to be reared in his honour towards the eastern side of the island. The efforts he made in the training of the youth proved the happy means of raising up a goodly band of earnest disciples, who pressed forward into fresh districts, unfurling the banner of the Cross, and acting as the victorious vanguard of a noble succession of Christian pastors and teachers. One or more of these would remain in the island, doing duty in the school and the higher departments of the institution, as well as in the church. If any chief of the church old Damnian race of Firbolgs still held his ground and his clan in the isle, we can, according to well-known parallels, imagine Ninian or one of his companions doing what Columba and Drostan did at Deer--asking of the chief a piece of ground whereon to build a sanctuary or house of prayer. The request granted, forewith arose the holy fane. It might be, at first, a mere creel- house, that is, a house framed of stakes or wattles with interlacing knot-work of willow-wands. But very soon a church of stone would be erected, and in those early days of missionary enterprise it would be not merely a church, but a church combined with a Christian institution for the instruction of the natives, the doors of which would be open to all. When the husbandman had committed his seed to the furrows he would choose a season of comparative leisure in order to obtain for himself some instruction within the walls of the institution. And when the harvest was gathered in he would find another opportunity of enjoying a similar benefit. Nor would the warrior-chief himself be disobedient to the divine invitation. At any rate, it often happened that he was not. These old Yeats or Picts were too strong-witted and sensible to permit themselves to hesitate between candid inquiry and stolid indifference. As a result of this spirit the hardy Pict laid aside his spear and listened to the teachings of those men whose weapons of warfare were not carnal, but mighty withal to the pulling down of strongholds. The high places of heathenism were purged and consecrated to a purer worship; the diviners and magicians felt their influence on the wane, and, like Coifi,œ were sometimes the foremost to renounce it altogether. When the aged veterans of the Cross had fulfilled their task, native teachers and ministers stepped into their places and carried on the good work which they had begun.
    Doubtless the clergy were aggressive, and took pains to reach those who might not come to them. In obedience to the spirit of this holy aggressiveness they went out to the people. They would visit them in their queer little conical huts of wattle or wicker-work; they would visit the court or lys of the chieftain, and they would tell them all in kindly tones of the folly of demon-worship, and of the beauty and excellence of the Christian Faith.
    By these and other means the great and noble work would be carried on successfully, and often through long years of unbroken peace. At times there might be war or other disturbing interruptions, as probably at the period of King Arthur's campaigns against the Saxon invaders, carried on early in the sixth century. Judging by their names, two of his battles, the eighth and ninth, may be located in the district of Cunningham, --one at Carwinnin, a fortress in Dalry, and the other at Carlung in West Kilbride. The tenth battle, that of Tribruit or Trathreuroit, has a name which corresponds so remarkably with one of our island-names as to warrant us, apparently, in identifying with Trawharry on the Cumbrae shore!
    Another century from the death of king Arthur- who, indeed, according to the legend never dies-would see the lofty, self-denying labours of Columba and Kentigern brought to a close; the triumph of King Oswald, saint and martyr, who brought Aidan from Iona to teach his benighted subjects the doctrines of grace; and would also witness the entrance upon their evangelising efforts of the noble-hearted Christian ladies, Beya and Maura. To these lady-missionaries-probably connected with families of princely rank-the whole of the West, to all appearance, from St. Bees to the Cumbraes, owed much. Their devotion to the religious instruction of the maidens who were taught in the schools ; their zenna-like operations in bringing gospel truth to bear apon the lives of the matrons who dwelt in the province they made their special care ; these and other agencies or social organisations, due to their activity and intelligence, brought the blessing that maketh rich to many a home. Did the Cumbrae church become a prey to the destroyer in any one of the wars that raged between Bretwald and Pict, then was it that Maura may have come to the rescue and provided the means for its complete restoration. At any rate we know that Maura, after many years of self-denying effort in the best of causes, settled down in the island for good and devoted herself to the godly training of a company of young maidens. In the Creang-Haque, or hospice of the lady, did she pursue her duties, and when at times she visited her like-minded sister Beya (who spent the latter portion of her life in seclusion on Little Cumbrae), she brought away the cream of their discourse on spiritual themes, and imparted the whole of it to the promising young scions that sat at her feet and eagerly received it from her lips. Little wonder if the grateful people among whom she dwelt called the name of the church which she loved to frequent by the honoured name of Maura, and so left to us of to-day not only the heritage of her bright example, but also the treasured name of Kil-Maura, now Cumbrae, or the church of Maura.
"Lady, that in the prime of earliest youth
Wisely hast shunn'd the broad way and the green,
And with those few art eminently seen,
That labour up the hill of heavenly truth,
The better part with Mary and with Ruth
Chosen thou hast; . . . . .
Thy care is fix'd, and zealously attends
To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light
And hope that reaps not shame."--Milton.
    To reach Kirktoun and the site of the ancient church in the old churchyard, let the visitor pass up Cardiff- street, and straight along the road by the side of the mill-burn. Millburn House is on the left, a few paces in advance brings one to the Bowling Greens on the right, Maclellans-yards* are on the left between the road and the brook, and to the west of these are Sannoc-fauld, or field of the holy maid, and Feilcolm-knowe, or the knoll of the festival of St. Columba. Nether Kirktoun is the farm-house on the left, and them fine field on the right is the Dawglon (good meadow), being part of the farm-lands of Pammachrey (right)--a name which appears to denote the residence of the chiefs of the clergy. Kirktoun farm-house is the one on the left, and the farm-road which leads from it to Portathro passes along the side of the field called Creang-haque. Keeping, however, by the main road we pass under the nine tall saugh-trees by the streamlet, and in half a minute reach the gateway of the ancient churchyard of Cumbrae. Patie's yard is right opposite the churchyard gate, and on the east side of the road. To the north by east of this "yard" are the pretty green hills called the Shighans, or mounts of the fairy-folk ; and at the distance of a furlong right east from the same "yard" is the Corsfield with the Cors-burn, the rivulet of which falls into the sea at Covans-creek. The Bell-man's yard lay between the churchyard and the manse avenue, and Baillie's yard lay next to the gate of the churchyard, being on the right as one enters the cemetery. Besides these yards, or garden plots, there were in close neighbourhood a good many more yards and cottages, all of them mying on the west side of the burn, and constituting in the aggregate the old clachan or kirk-toun.
    Before we enter the churchyard a few more localities may be briefly noticed. Play-hill is about north of the Shighans, and the Lausy-hill, or hill of the blazing fire, comes next. In this hill the fairies, according to report, used to "roast their ham," the smell of which was sensibly felt by peasants passing that way! Clanypott, or abbot's meadow, lies north-west of the Fairy-mounts, and this meadow is bounded on the west by the syke or rivulet of Lagalein. Glastran- fauld, or the glebe-land of the (sainted) lady, may be found by walking a distance of ninety yards from the manse gate northwards, and identifying it with the field on the right or east side of the road. This very ancient glebe probably embraced all the land traversed by the road in this quarter, but the full elucidation of the point would detain us too long. Suffice to say that Keill-croft and Port-gelsie Park lie west of the road, and both of them are on the north side of the parisg minister's manse. The latter of these two local names is properly written Prot-gelsie, and evidently signifies penance-kirk ; but see Landmarks, p 83, for an alternative redering, viz., Lady- kirk.
    Pennance-hill is in the north-west side of the manse garden, and quite near to it. A perforated rock on the hillock marks the spot where apparently an ancient church, cell, or chapel stood. Certain of the old inhabitants of the island have a tradition that "the Romans," that is, the Roman Catholics, did penance here. Probably an image of the founder of the chapel was fixed to the perforated rock. prot-ghelsey was evidently the old name of the place or chapel.
    Entering the churchyard, the site of the old parish church (pulled down 49 years ago) will be found at a distance of about 33 yards nearly due west of the entrance or lich-gate. The tombstone of the Rev. Henry Graham, who died in 1798, was placed very near the south wall of the church, but outside of it. As this stone--a --"throch" one--has not been shifted, it serves as a "methe" or mark whereby to determine the former position of the sacred edifice. This church was built in 1802, and it stood upon the same site as that of the church built of "fine hewn stone" in 1612, which latter church replaced "ane kirk callit Sanct Colmis Kirke," or the church of St. Columba. The next entry on the record connects this same church with the "chapel of Cumray" granted in 1318 by Walter the Steward to the monks and abbot of Paisley. this is not stated in so many terms in the deed of gift, but it is made certain by the Confirmation thereof, a few years afterwards, by the Bishop of Glasgow. A long period of blackness--five centuries of it--precedes this reference to the gift of the church, and brings us to the beginning of the ninth century, at which time the fierce Norwegian invaders burned and destroyed so many churches in the West. About this same time the record of the succession of abbots of Kingarth suddenly ceases, caused, we cannot doubt, by the ravages of those northern pirates and slayers, who harried and burned Iona in 802, and four years afterwards slew sixty-eight of the monastic family there. Cumbrae church was only too likely to receive the hostile attentions of the hardy but destructive sea- rovers, and it is to this period of violence we must assign the building of the refuge-hold on the Lorne. Whether this "dwelling of strength" proved sufficient for the defence of the churchmen and their flock cannot be told, but the memory of the noble stand they made against ruthless foes was cherished by succeeding generations, and handed over to our keeping to-day in the beautiful name of Kennara Borough, or the fort of the Christian teachers.
    Glancing back still farther, we find that the Chapel-on-Island of the Virgins was built in the year 714, and as this chapel is evidently none other than Chapel Santa Vey (St.  Bey's memorial chapel) in Little Cumbrae, we take the testimony of early chronicles, the breviary of of Aberdeen and certain other facts and conclude that the church of Maura was built within the walls of this grave-yard, or near vicinity, some years prior to the death of King Oswald in 642. It is a long time to look back to, but the reader is assured that the date just assigned is approximately correct. Now, as Beya and Maura were so closely associated in their lives and good deeds, so also in death they were not long divided. Maura died first, her end having come at the place called Kilmavvris in the Breviary. Kilmaurs, in Ayrshire, has been imagined to be the place where Maura breathed her last, but it is much more likely that the Cumbraes witnessed the devotion of her last hours--l'ultimo sospiro. Beya died shortly afterwards (Nov. 3--her anniversary), and was buried in that Isle of Cumbrae wherein she spent the evening of her days, and in that same island a chapel of graceful design was erected in her honour. This chapel became the resort of pilgrims, whose pious aspirations were fostered and quickened by the remembrance of her godly example.
    Cumbrae Church may not have been inscribed to the memory of Maura until early in the eighth century. After having been so "inscribed" the church would be called after her Keil-Maura, shortened into Cumbrae [kum'ra] by elision of the letter l-- a common occurrence in old names, e.g., --Kilcaiss or --Kincase.
   Kilmaura, in Ayrshire, is locally pronounced kimmaurs. That the ancient Cumbrae Church became the subject of a double dedication need not be doubted, for such double dedications are far from being uncommon. We may, therefore, trust Dean Monro (writing in 1594) when he tells us that there was a church in the island called St. Colm's, and his statement is borne out by the local name of Feilcolm Knowe. Maura must have been honoured at Whitinghame, East Lothian, for there are lands at Papple, in that parish, which are still called by her name--" Terre de Popill vulgariter vocate Sanct Mawris landis inconstabularia de Hadington."--Lib. Respons., cited Kalendars of Scottish Saints, s.v. Maura. Nov. 3. Probably she had some connection with the ancient ecclesiastical establishment at Papple, one of the considerable importance in former times. A small part of the ruins still remains near the present farmhouse, and increase greatly the value of the state.
   Did space permit something might be said about the worthy ministers who, since 1626, have attended to the spiritual interests of the islanders. In that year the Rev. Thomas Moore was parish minister, and he is the first of the Reformation ministers whose names are on record. Moore has, up to the present date, had eighteen successors, the present incumbent being the Rev. James S. Macnab, who was ordained to the charge of the parish in 1867. Nearly a century ago the Rev. James Adam, A.M., was ordained to the charge, and he died in his eighty-third year after a ministry of more than thirty-one years. He was a good kind man, and when a beggar came to his door he used to make him repeat the commandments, and if the beggar proved capable of the task he was counted a respectable preson and duly entitled to the silver coin which the minister gave to all such. It is reported that, in his church services, he was wont to pray for the "Big and the Wee Cumbraes, and for the adjacent islands of Great Britain and Ireland !" Some have affected to doubt the authenticity of the story, but it is certain that the traditionary report is of a piece with the well- known idiosyncrasies of the old pastor. Like not a few other preachers of his time, Mr. Adam was accustomed to use the Scottish tongue in his pulpit ministrations, saying, for example,--"an' Saura leuch" (and Sarah laughted.) Now and again he would finish up am earnest exhortation to his little flock by saying, "My friens, let us a' learn tae dae weel ; let us dae gude and be gude, and gude 'ill come o' us."
   Quite recently the parish church has undergone extensive alterations and repairs, and it is now said by competent judges that the sacred edifice, internally, is one of the most beautiful and chaste on the west coast.

 


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