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The History of Muirkirk

The 'Moor Kirk' existed long before the town of Muirkirk. This church or 'kirk' was built in 1631.Muirkirk is home to many Covenanter's stories and an information display at the Covenanter's Heritage layby beside the A70 at Muirkirk is a good starting point to exploring the history of the area. Many of the paths follow ancient roads and rights-of-way and when you click on a path you will find some details of its history.

Industrial History:

John Loudon Macadam who was born in Ayr in 1756, setup a tar works at Muirkirk. Macadam was made famous by his method of road laying. In fact the Furnace Road which leads to the car park is said to have been used by Macadam to experiment with road materials. He is commemorated by a Cairn on the Twa Brigs Walk which reads: "IN MEMORY OF JOHN LOUDON MACADAM THE FAMOUS ROADMAKER 1756 - 1836 THIS CAIRN MARKS THE SITE OF HIS TAR KILNS 1786 - 1827 AND IS BUILT WITH STONES FROM THEM IN 1931"

Ayrshire's first Iron Works was established in Muirkirk in 1787 and was still in existence in the 20th century. Railways were built to move the ore from the pits to the furnaces. A canal was dug in 1790 to move cheap coal and limestone on barges. Remains of the canal and railway lines can be seen on the Old Railway Walk. In 1859 the Muirkirk Gaslight Company was established and Muirkirk was the first town in Britain with gas lighting.

A review of the parish around 1900 described the industry at Muirkirk: "The works of the Eglinton Iron Company have several blast furnaces and rolling mills; coal mining and lime-burning are actively carried on. New works for collecting ammonia as a by-product at the furnaces were erected at a large outlay in 1883. In 1894 a drainage scheme estimated to cost £1,100 was begun. Muirkirk has a post office, a branch of the Clydesdale Bank, 2 hotels, a gas company and fairs on the Tuesday after 18th February for hiring shepherds and the Thursday nearest 21st December, when shepherds meet to restore sheep which have strayed from their owners. Muirkirk black faced sheep have carried off the first prize at several of the Highland Society's shows and at the Paris exhibition of 1867."

The Covenanters :

From 1638 to 1688 the Covenanters in Scotland, who refused to accept the King as head of the church, faced persecution and death at the hands of the King's soldiers. People were killed, houses were burned to the ground, large fines were imposed and some Covenanters were sent to America as slaves. The 'killing times' were a turbulent period in Scotland's history.

One such story relates the death of William Adam of Muirkirk who was a worker at Upper Wellwood farm. One day in 1685 he was waiting on his fiancée and passing the time by reading his bible. Soldiers spotted William with the book and General Dalyell ordered him shot on the spot. He is buried near Upper Wellwood farm where he fell and commemorated in Muirkirk cemetery. You can see other gravestones and memorials to martyrs in the graveyard including a 23 foot high obelisk.

John Brown's Walk takes you beyond Priesthill farm to the spot where John Brown, a Covenanter, was shot by Graham of Claverhouse in 1685. This memorial and gravestone are near where his farmhouse would have stood. Priesthill (or Priestsheil) was a meeting place for Covenanters and Brown would preach and run bible classes. On May 1 1685 he was out cutting peat when he was surrounding by soldiers of Claverhouse and brought back to his house. He refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance and was shot in front of his wife and children. The book Scottish Covenanter Stories by Dane Love provides a chilling picture of the Killing Times.