South-western Scotland; Ayrshire, Galloway, Carrick, and Dumfriesshire, are seldom afforded the ink spillage they deserve in the Mediaeval history of Scotland. It is true that in the aftermath of the constitutional crisis precipitated by the untimely demise of the Maid of Norway and the subsequent Plantagenet pressing of its claim to suzerainty over the Kingdom of Scotland that these southern shires were not the backdrop to events that would later become iconic in the story of Scotland’s civil war and the wars of independence in the later thirteenth and early-to-mid fourteen centuries. Wallace’s haven at Riccarton, the Battle of Loudoun Hill, and the Carrick estates of the Bruce’s lack the excitement and drama of Berwick, and the battles of Falkirk, Stirling Bridge, and Bannockburn, but they remain crucial to the fabric of the whole story – especially with regard to the wider European context of Scotland’s struggles against Edward I, his son (Edward II), and his grandson (Edwards III). Almost nothing remains on the built Scottish landscape of these tumultuous times, even the auld stane brig at Stirling was erected decades after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Yet close by Kilmarnock there are a number of impressive reminders of the Wallace and Murray rebellions and the Bruce efforts to seize the throne from John Balliol.
Up on Wallace View, a quiet cul-de-sac south of Kilmarnock’s town centre, is the rise by the Mote Hill where Wallace’s uncle gave him shelter when he was on the run. It was from here that he watched as his scorched earth tactics were employed to hamper Longshank’s advance through Ayrshire. He is reputed to have commented that the fields of Ayr burn well, and not too distant a street to this day bears the name Barnweil Road in memory of these events. On the other side of Kilmarnock stands the Dean Castle; a keep built by the Boyd family sometime about 1350. During the Bruce-Balliol conflict, once Robert Bruce the Younger had quit his flip-flopping between feudal submission to Edward I and his claim to the kingship of the Scots, as Robert I (“the Bruce”) he dispossessed the noble supporters of the Balliol claim and granted lands to his own supporters, and it was due to this grant of forfeited land that the Boyds came into possession of Kilmarnock. Robert Boyd was one of the commanders of the Scots at Bannockburn.
After a short visit to Glasgow earlier this month, as I travelled back towards the ferry at Cairnryan through Galloway and Carrick, I was reminded that this was the same land through which the victorious Robert I and his brother Edward would have travelled on their own journey to Ulster in their attempt to stem the supply of troops to the English infantry from Ireland. It did come as something of a shock, however, to read that my own distant ancestors – the MacCan magnates of Galloway under Dòmhnall MacCan – were on the ‘wrong side’ throughout these conflicts. I comfort myself, perhaps with a hint of delusion, that these ancient MacCans were patriots indeed, albeit to Toom Tabard and the English-backed Balliol claim on the Scottish crown.