- MUIRKIRK, a parish, in the district of Kyle, county of Ayr, 10 miles (W. by S.) from Douglas; containing, with the village of Glenbuck, 3125 inhabitants. The origin and history of this place are both involved in obscurity and uncertainty; little more of it is known than that, previously to the year 1626, it formed part of the parish of Mauchline, and as such was included in the barony of the earls of Loudoun. An attempt has been made to deduce the history of some transactions connected with the place, from the existence of various stones in different parts; but they are neither inscribed with any characters tending to explain the cause of their erection, nor are they of sufficient magnitude to warrant the opinion of their being monuments of commemoration. The parish, which is situated on the river Ayr, is about eight miles in length from east to west, and seven miles broad from north to south; and comprises about 30,000 acres. Not more than 5000 are in cultivation, and of these only 1000 are under tillage; 250 are woodland and plantations; and the remainder is now in a state of nature, though a very considerable portion might be rendered fertile, and brought into cultivation, at a moderate expense. The surface is very irregular; it is tolerably level near the banks of the rivers, but in other parts rises abruptly into lofty eminences. The highest of these is the hill of Cairntable, which has an elevation of 1650 feet above the level of the sea, and is crowned by two large cairns; it is chiefly composed of breccia, and for many years afforded a supply of millstones for the use of the parish. The higher grounds are clothed with a kind of dark-coloured heath that gives a cheerless aspect to the scenery, which is increased by the want of timber. The river Ayr has its source in this parish, in a spot where two artificial lakes have been formed by the Catrine Company, as reservoirs for the supply of their cotton-works, and which cover about 120 acres of ground. From these the river issues, receiving in its course through the parish numerous tributary streams from the hills, of which the chief are the Garpel, Greenoch, and Whitehaugh; and thus augmented, it pursues its course, for about thirty miles, and falls into the Frith of Clyde at Ayr. There are springs affording an ample supply of excellent water, and also some which have a petrifying property.The soil is various, consisting of sand, gravel, loam, clay, and peat-moss, which last is found in some parts twenty feet in depth: the crops are, grain of all kinds, potatoes, and turnips. The rotation system of husbandry has been generally adopted, and the state of agriculture is improved; hundreds of acres, also, have been tile-drained; but much remains to be done, and the abundance of lime and coal in the parish afford every facility of improvement. The plantations are chiefly spruce, larch, and Scotch fir. Surface-draining has been practised on some of the farms, with very beneficial results, by the tenants at their own expense; it has been done, however, only on a very limited scale. The farm-houses are substantial and commodious, especially those of more recent erection; but very few of the lands are inclosed, and those only with stone dykes. Several of the dairy-farms are well managed; the cows are of the Cunninghame breed, and a considerable number of young cattle of the same breed are annually reared, to the improvement of which adequate attention is paid. The sheep, whereof great numbers are fed, are the black-faced, which seem to be well adapted to the quality of the pastures. The woods appear to have been almost destroyed, though from old documents it is clear that this was a forest towards the close of the 12th century; and from the numerous trees found imbedded in the mosses, and from some detached portions of trees still found in various parts, it is evident that the parish formerly abounded with timber. Wellwood, the property of the Duke of Portland, is an ancient mansion beautifully situated on the banks of the Ayr, and embosomed in thriving plantations. The rateable annual value of the parish is £6179.The substrata are chiefly coal, ironstone, and limestone. The coal formation is part of the great coal-field of the country; the seam at present worked is about twenty-five feet in thickness, though in other parts nearly forty feet. The ironstone is found in belts about six inches thick; and the limestone, which is of good quality, is extensively quarried. Iron-ore, lead, and manganese have also been found; the two former were worked for some time, but the working was not productive, and it was consequently discontinued. The iron-works in this parish, which are very extensive, were erected in 1787, and have since been carried on with great spirit by the proprietors. The works consist of four blast-furnaces for the manufacture of pig-iron, an extensive foundry, and a rolling-mill for bar-iron; two of the furnaces are at present in use, and these afford employment to about 400 men, who are constantly engaged. The bar-iron is of excellent quality, and superior to that of most other forges: until a very recent year it was beaten into bars instead of being formed by rollers, as in other works. There were formerly some iron-works established at Glenbuck by an English company; but they were abandoned many years since. The village of Muirkirk has greatly increased since the opening of the works in its neighbourhood; it is inhabited chiefly by persons employed in the collieries and limestone-quarries, and in the iron-works. Two circulating libraries, containing large and well-assorted collections of volumes, are supported by subscription. Fairs are held in February and December; but they are not well attended. A branch bank has been established; and facility of intercourse with Strathaven, the nearest market-town, and with other places in the neighbourhood, is maintained by good roads which pass through the parish. Muirkirk is in the presbytery of Ayr and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and patronage of the Marquess of Hastings: the minister's stipend is £157. 17. 3., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum. The church, erected about the year 1813, is a neat and substantial edifice adapted for a congregation of 913 persons, and is conveniently situated nearly in the centre of the parish. There are places of worship for Burghers, the United Secession, and Independents. The parochial school affords instruction to about seventy children; the master has a salary of £28 per annum, with £30 fees, and a house and garden. There are three friendly societies, the Muirkirk, the St. Thomas's, and the St. Andrew's masonic lodges, all established for many years, and which have contributed very materially to diminish the number of applicants for parochial relief, and to keep alive a spirit of independence among the poor. Some of the springs in the parish are slightly impregnated with iron, sulphur, and other minerals. According to tradition, there was anciently a religious establishment on the summit of Cairntable; but of what order, or when or by whom founded, nothing is recorded.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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