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Kirkcudbrightshire (pronounced Ker-COO-bree-shire, also known as the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright or as East Galloway) is a county of south-western Scotland, bounded on the north and north-west by Ayrshire, W. and S.W. by Wigtownshire, S. and SE. by the Irish Sea and the Solway Firth, and E. and N.E. by Dumfriesshire. It includes the small islands of Hestan and Little Ross. It had an area of 575,565 acres or 899 sq. m.

The north-western part of the shire is rugged, wild and desolate. In this quarter the principal mountains are Merrick (2764 feet), the highest in the south of Scotland, and the group of the Rinns of Kells, the chief peaks of which are Corserine (2668 feet), Carlins Cairn (2650 feet), Meikle Millyea (2446 feet) and Millfire (2350 feet). Towards the south-west the chief eminences are Lamachan (2349 feet), Larg (2216 feet), and the bold mass of Cairnsmore of Fleet (2331 feet). In the south-east the only imposing height is Criffel (1866 feet). In the north rises the majestic hill of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn (2612 feet), and close to the Ayrshire border is the Windy Standard (2287 feet). The southern section of the shire is mostly level or undulating, but characterised by picturesque scenery.

The shore is generally bold and rocky, indented by numerous estuaries forming natural harbours, which however are of little use for commerce owing to the shallowness of the sea. Large stretches of sand are exposed in the Solway at low water and the rapid flow of the tide has often occasioned loss of life.

The number of "burns" and "waters" is remarkable, but their length seldom exceeds 7 or 8 miles. Among the longer rivers are the Cree, which rises in Loch Moan and reaches the sea near Creetown after a course of about 30 miles, during which it forms the boundary, at first of Ayrshire and then of Wigtownshire; the Dee or Black Water of Dee (so named from the peat by which it is coloured), which rises in Loch Dee and after a course mainly S.E. and finally S., enters the sea at St Mary’s Isle below Kirkcudbright, its length being nearly 36 miles; the Urr, rising in Loch Urr on the Dumfriesshire border, falls into the sea a few miles south of Dalbeattie 27 miles from its source; the Ken, rising on the confines of Ayrshire, flows mainly in a southerly direction and joins the Dee at the southern end of Loch Ken after a course of 24 miles through lovely scenery; and the Deugh which, rising on the northern flank of the Windy Standard, pursues an extraordinarily winding course of 20 miles before reaching the Ken. The Nith, during the last few miles of its flow, forms the boundary with Dumfriesshire, to which county it almost wholly belongs.

The lochs and mountain tarns are many and well-distributed; but except for Loch Ken, which is about 6 miles long by half a mile wide, few of them attain noteworthy dimensions. There are several passes in the hill regions, but the only well-known glen is Glen Trool, not far from the district of Carrick in Ayrshire, the fame of which rests partly on the romantic character of its scenery, which is very wild around Loch Trool, and more especially on its associations with Robert the Bruce. It was here that when most closely beset by his enemies, who had tracked him to his fastness by sleuth hounds, Bruce with the aid of a few faithful followers won a surprise victory over the English in 1307 which proved the turning-point of his fortunes.


Silurian and Ordovician rocks are the most important in this county; they are thrown into oft-repeated folds with their axes lying in a N.E.-S.W. direction. The Ordovician rocks are graptolitic black shales and grits of Llandeilo and Caradoc age. They occupy all the northern part of the county north-west of a line which runs some 3 m. N. of New Galloway and just S. of the Rinns of Kells. South-east of this line graptolitic Silurian shales of Llandovery age prevail; they are found around Dalry, Creetown, New Galloway, Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright.

Overlying the Llandovery beds on the south coast are strips of Wenlock rocks; they extend from Bridgehouse Bay to Auchinleck and are well exposed in Kirkcudbright Bay, and they can be traced farther round the coast between the granite and the younger rocks. Carboniferous rocks appear in small faulted tracts, unconformable on the Silurian, on the shores of the Solway Firth. They are best developed about Kirkbean, where they include a basal red breccia followed by conglomerates, grits and cement stones of Calciferous Sandstone age.

Brick-red sandstones of Permian age just come within the county on the W. side of the Nith at Dumfries. Volcanic necks occur in the Permian and basalt dikes penetrate the Silurian at Borgue, Kirkandrews, etc.

Most of the highest ground is formed by the masses of granite which have been intruded into the Ordovician and Silurian rocks; the Criffel mass lies about Dalbeattie and Bengairn, another mass extends east and west between the Cairnsmore of Fleet and Loch Ken, another lies NW. and S.E. between Loch Doon and Loch Dee and a small mass forms the Cairnsmore of Carsphairn.

Glacial deposits occupy much of the low ground; the ice, having travelled in a southerly or south-easterly direction, has left abundant striae on the higher ground to indicate its course. Radiation of the ice streams took place from the heights of Merrick, Kells, etc; local moraines are found near Carsphairn and in the Deagh and Minnoch valleys. Glacial drumlins of boulder clay lie in the vales of the Dee, Cree and Urr.

Climate and Agriculture

The climate and soil suit grass and green crops rather than grain. The annual rainfall averages 457 inches. The mean temperature for the year is 48° F.; for January 38’5°; for July 59°. The major part of the land is either waste or poor pasture.

Population and Government

The population was 39,985 in 1891 and 39,383 in 1901, when 98 persons spoke both Gaelic and English. The chief towns are Castle Douglas (population in 1901, 3018), Dalbeattie (3469), Kirkcudbright (2386), Maxwelltown (5796) with Creetown, and Gatehouse of Fleet (1013). The county forms part of the sheriffdom of Dumfries and Galloway.


Tbe country west of the Nith was originally peopled by a tribe of Celtic Gaels called Novantae, or Atecott Picts, who, owing to their geographical position, which prevented any ready intermingling with the other Pictish tribes farther north, long retained their independence. After Agricola’s invasion in A.D. 79 the country nominally formed part of the Roman province of Britannia, but the evidence is against there ever having been a prolonged effective Roman occupation.

After the retreat of the Romans the Novantae remained for a time under their own chiefs, but in the 7th century accepted the overlordship of Northumbria. The Saxons, soon engaged in struggles with the Norsemen, had no leisure to look after their tributaries, and early in the 9th century the Atecotts made common cause with the Vikings. Henceforward they were styled, probably in contempt, Gallgaidhel, or "stranger Gaels" (i.e. Gaels who fraternised with the foreigners), the Welsh equivalent for which, Galiwyddel, gave rise to the name of "Galloway" (of which Galway is a variant), which was applied to their territory and still denotes the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and the shire of Wigtown.

When Scotland consolidated under Kenneth MacAlpine (crowned at Scone in 844), Galloway was the only district in the south that did not form part of the kingdom; but in return for the services rendered to him at this crisis Kenneth gave his daughter in marriage to the Galloway chief, Olaf the White, and also conferred upon the men of Galloway the privilege of marching in the van of the Scottish armies, a right exercised and recognized for several centuries.

During the next two hundred years the country had no rest from Danish and Saxon incursions and the continual lawlessness of the Scandinavian rovers. When Malcolm Canmore defeated and slew Macbeth in 1057 he married the dead king’s relative Ingibiorg, a Pictish princess, an event which marked the beginning of the decay of Norse influence. The Galloway chiefs hesitated for a time whether to throw in their lot with the Northumbrians or with Malcolm; but language, race and the situation of their country at length induced them to become lieges of the Scottish king.

By the close of the 11th century the boundary between England and Scotland was roughly delimited on what became permanent lines. The feudal system ultimately destroyed the power of the Galloway chiefs, who resisted the innovation to the last. Several of the lords or "kings" of Galloway, a line said to have been founded by Fergus, the greatest of them all, asserted in vain their independence of the Scottish crown; and in 1234 the line became extinct in the male branch on the death of Fergus’s great-grandson Alan.

One of Alan’s daughters, Dervorguila, had married John de Baliol (father of the John de Baliol who was king of Scotland from 1292 until his abdication in 1296), and the people, out of affection for Alan’s daughter, were lukewarm in support of Robert the Bruce. In 1308 the district was cleared of the English and brought under allegiance to the king, when the lordship of Galloway was given to Edward Bruce. Later in the 14th century Galloway espoused the cause of Edward Baliol, who surrendered several counties, including Kirkcudbright, to Edward III of England.

In 1372 Archibald the Grim, a natural son of Sir James Douglas "the Good", became Lord of Galloway and received in perpetual fee the Crown lands between the Nith and the Cree. He appointed a steward to collect his revenues and administer justice, and there thus arose the designation of the "Stewartry of Kirkcudbright".

The high-handed rule of the Douglases created general discontent, and when their treason became apparent their territory was overrun by the king’s men in 1455; Douglas was attainted, and his honours and estates were forfeited. In that year the great stronghold of the Thrieve, the most important fortress in Galloway, which Archibald the Grim had built on the Dee immediately to the west of the modern town of Castle Douglas, was reduced and converted into a royal keep. (It was dismantled in 1640 by order of the Estates in consequence of the hostility of its keeper, Lord Nithsdale, to the Covenant.) The famous cannon Mons Meg, now in Edinburgh Castle, is said, apparently on insufficient evidence, to have been constructed in order to aid James III in this siege.

As the Douglases went down the Maxwells rose, and the debatable land on the south-east of Dumfriesshire was for generations the scene of strife and raid, not only between the two nations but also among the leading families, of whom the Maxwells, Johnstones and Armstrongs were always conspicuous. After the battle of Solway Moss (1542) the shires of Kirkcudbright and Dumfries fell under English rule for a short period. The treaty of Norham (24 March 1550) established a truce between the nations for ten years; and in 1552, the Wardens of the Marches consenting, the debatable land ceased to be matter for debate, the parish of Canonbie being annexed to Dumfriesshire, that of Kirkandrews to Cumberland.

Though at the Reformation the Stewartry became fervent in its Protestantism, it was to Galloway, through the influence of the great landowners and the attachment of the people to them, that Mary Queen of Scots owed her warmest adherents, and it was from the coast of Kirkcudbright that she made her luckless voyage to England.

Even when the crowns of Scotland and England were united in 1603 turbulence continued; for trouble arose over the attempt to establish episcopacy, and nowhere were the Covenanters more cruelly persecuted than in Galloway.

After the union (1707) things mended slowly but surely, curious evidence of growing commercial prosperity being the enormous extent to which smuggling was carried on. No coast could serve the "free traders" better than the shores of Kirkcudbright, and the contraband trade flourished till the 19th century. The Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745 elicited small sympathy from the inhabitants of the shire.

Kirkcudbrightshire disappeared as an administrative area with amalgamation into the region of Dumfries and Galloway in 1975, although as with all counties, it certainly did not cease to exist, and maintains a strong regional identity.


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