The word Dailly derives from the gaelic words for meadow and field. This describes the surrounding area which is rich in farmland, grazing and woods. Dailly is in the parish of Dailly whose ancient name was Dalinakeran. Machrikill chapel dedicated to St. Machar stood near the old castle of Kilkerran a place passed on the Barony Walk. Dailly or "New Dailly" is not to be confused with "Old Dailly"' a few miles to the west. New Dailly began in the late 17th Century when the main church moved from Old Dailly to a new church at Milncavish on the banks of the River Girvan at what is now Dailly. The site of the original church in Old Dailly had been in use since 1200.
Dailly grew into a mining community with the development of coal workings on the Bargany and Dalquharran estates. In the 1830's around 20,000 tonnes of coal was mined, some exported to Ireland or used to produce gas for Ayr. Homes were built by the estate owners to house the pit workers in basic accommodation. In 1896 Dalquharran pit employed some 94 underground workers and 22 surface workers. Some of the coal sites were active through into the 1960's. Apparently one of the pits caught fire in 1850 and continued to burn for over 50 years. Few remnants remain of those mining days but an old engine room and railway sidings can be seen on the Kilgrammie Walk. In 1896 Kilgrammie employed 18 underground workers and 2 surface workers. The remains of the Craighead Lime works are just west of the reaches of the Kilgrammie walk. The geological richness of the area was commented on by the well-known pioneer geologist, naturalist and writer Hugh Miller who visited the area in the 1850's: at Mullochs Quarry near Dalquharran he found "more trilobites, shells and corals than he had at one time supposed all the Greywacke deposits of the south of Scotland could have furnished". In June 1999 a Memorial Stone was unveiled to commemorate mining in the area. The memorial is at the corner of West End and Bridge Street. This is the spot where traditionally miners would meet before starting their shift. This tradition began in 1415 with a Charter from the Monks at Crossraguel and ended on 26th April 1977 when Dalquharran Pit was closed. Over 100 mines are known to have operated over the years in the area.
Old Dalquharran Castle lies on the north bank of the Water of Girvan and is passed on the Barony Walk. The ruined 15th century castle dates back as far as 1200. The 'new' Dalquharran Castle (not open to the public) dominates the village from high ground above the River Girvan. It was commissioned in 1781 and completed in 1790. This Robert Adam design was built for Kennedy of Dunure and his wife (who was Robert Adam's niece). The round bastion design is reminiscent of nearby Culzean built 10 years or so earlier. The tower contained the drawing room and library with a magnificent spiral staircase. The wings of the house were added in the 1880's. The large building became unmanageable and passed out of the family in 1935. The building is now in vacant and in need of complete restoration. Despite this it still retains its majesty when viewed from across the river or the hills south of the village. There are plans for a £20m conversion of Dalquharran into a 5-star hotel with an adjacent 18 hole golf course.
Other notable houses in the area include Bargany (not open to the public) to the South-West of Dailly. This dates from around 1681 and was one of the first unfortified houses in Scotland. The building was constructed using stone from a ruined castle on the banks of the nearby Girvan River. It is also noted for the Duke's Bridge, a 1756 addition. It was home to the Dalrymple Hamilton family. More recently it was owned by author Axel Aylwen. Schoolmaster Ivie Willet said of the house in 1851:
Sweet Bargany House doth stand
On the richest of the land
Beautified with every grace
That can ornament a place.
The estate has other literary connections, one of the cottages on the Bargany estate was birthplace to two Victorian poets: Reverend Hamilton Paul (1773-1854) who was also a biographer of Robert Burns and Hew Ainslie(1792-1878). Another famous son of Dailly was John Thomson (1778-1840) one of Scotland's greatest landscape painters. He became Minister at Duddingston in Edinburgh (where his friend Sir Walter Scott was an elder). He painted from his studio in Thomson Tower by Duddingston Loch. He had a large family including children from his wife's earlier marriage and it is perhaps this that led to the well known phrase attributed to him "they're all Jock Tamson's bairns".
The other notable family home is Kilkerran (not open to the public) east of Dailly on the Kilkerran estate. This is widely considered to be the home of the Fergusson Clan. (although there are other branches of the family). The Fergusson name most likely comes from 'Fergus' a Prince from Galloway who lived in the 12th Century and whose descendant was the Earl of Carrick. The first Fergusson in Ayrshire was recorded in 1381. The lands of Kilkerran or 'Kylkerane' once stretched from the Stinchar to Maybole. Their original home was situated above Dailly and dates back to 1400. In 1686 they moved to Barclanachan, a former Kennedy household at the site of the current house. Part of the original building was included in the 17th and 18th Century redesign and the house was renamed 'Kilkerran'. In 1811 there were some 800 acres of woodland around the estate.
The Fergusson family are notable in their achievements. Sir James Fergusson (1832) was injured at Inkerman in 1854 and his friend Lieutenant-Colonel James Hunter-Blair was killed. At Straiton, a monument stands on top of Craigengower Hill commemorating James Hunter Blair of Blairquhan. Sir James Ferguson went on to become under-secretary at the India Office in 1866, Governor of South Australia in 1869 and Governor of New Zealand in 1873. He was killed in an earthquake in Jamaica in 1907.
Nearer Old Dailly is Penkill Castle. Originally from the 15th century it was renovated in the 19th century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti the Italian poet and painter visited Penkill in 1868. The poem The Stream's Secret was written at Penwhapple Burn. He also famously attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself over Tairlaw Lynn. William Bell Scott also stayed at Penkill Castle. He painted the King's Quair around the circular staircase. His poems Penkill Castle and Old Scotch House were also written there. (Note that access to the castle is by appointment only).
The book Ayrshire and Arran An Illustrated Architectural Guide by Rob Close is worth having if you are investigating the castles and houses in Ayrshire.
Old Dailly is some 3 miles south-west of Dailly. It is a small village with a few houses and the ruins of a 14th century church. The churchyard has the graves of five Covenanters (although eight are commemorated there). One of these is John Semple of Eldington who was shot in April 1685 by soldiers for harbouring Covenanters, after a tip-off from Alexander Fergusson of Kilkerran. Old Dailly church is built on the site of an earlier Celtic chapel dating around 1236. The church is the burial ground of the Dalrymple Hamilton family of Bargany, the Cathcart's of Killochan, and the Boyd's of Penkill.
Within Old Dailly churchyard lie two "Blue Stanes" or Charter stones. Tradition has it that these were sanctuary stones and if a criminal or debtor managed to place their back against them they were unable to be apprehended. Another tradition is that the stones have the power to heal and bring good fortune to anyone who touches them. This has led to an influx of visitors wishing to see, and touch, the Blue Stones of Old Dailly.
Another famous stone lies in a field just to the north of Old Dailly near Killochan Castle. The Baron's Stone is a 37 ton granite rock that was deposited by a glacier from its original location near Loch Doon. The rock is part of the Hill of Justice where in ancient times the barons of Killochan gathered their men and murdered their enemies.
Killochan (not open to the public) has been the home of the Cathcarts of Carleton as far back as 1317. Killochan Castle dates back to 1586 and is a magnificent 5 storey structure. Over the door is inscribed: "This work was begun the 1 of Marche 1586 be Ihone Cathcart of Carltovn and Helene Wallace his spouse".