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Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire

Historical Description

BALMAGHIE, a parish, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, four miles (N. W.) from Castle-Douglas; containing 1252 inhabitants, of whom 275 are in the village of Laurieston, and 243 in that of Bridge of Dee. This place takes its name from its ancient proprietors the Mc Ghies, whose ancestor, an Irish chieftain, settled here at an early period, and who retained possession of the chief estate in the parish till near the close of the last century, when the Balmaghie property was purchased by the present family. The celebrated castle of Threave, anciently the baronial residence of the family of Douglas, was built upon the site of a more ancient structure belonging to the lords of Galloway, who for many years exercised a kind of sovereignty independent of the crown of Scotland. In 1451, the eighth Earl of Douglas, in retaliation of some aggression on his territories, seized Sir Patrick Maclellan of Bombie, and detained him prisoner in the castle of Threave, intending to bring him to trial by right of his hereditary jurisdiction; and on the arrival of Sir Patrick Grey of Foulis, commander of the body-guard of James II., with a warrant from the king demanding his release, Douglas, suspecting his errand, instantly ordered Maclellan to be beheaded in the court-yard. A succeeding Earl of Douglas, levying war against his sovereign, was worsted in the conflict; and the castle was eventually besieged by the king in person. On this occasion, the artillery making no impression upon the walls, which were of extraordinary thickness, a blacksmith who witnessed the assault offered to make a cannon of sufficient power for the purpose; and the family of Maclellan providing him with iron for the work, he constructed the enormous cannon afterwards called Mons Meg, weighing more than six tons and a half. This formidable engine, which was made in the vicinity of the royal camp, being with great difficulty dragged to a commanding position in front of the castle, the first shot spread consternation among the besieged, and the second pierced through the wall of the castle, and entering the banquet-hall, carried away the right hand of the countess, who at the moment was raising a goblet of wine to her mouth. The garrison immediately surrendered, and the king presented to the blacksmith, whose name was Mc Kim or Mc Min, the lands of Mollance, as a reward for his ingenuity in devising and accomplishing the means of his success. This castle was the last of the various fortresses that held out for the Earls of Douglas, after their rebellion in 1453; and subsequently to the fall of that family, and the consequent annexation of Galloway to the crown of Scotland, which took place in 1455, the castle was granted by the sovereign to the family of Maxwell, who became hereditary stewards of Kirkcudbright, and afterwards Earls of Nithsdale. During the parliamentary war in the reign of Charles I., the Earl of Nithsdale, who held the castle for the king, kept up in it a garrison of eighty men, with their officers, at his own expense; and when no longer able to maintain it against its assailants, the king, who could send him no assistance, recommended him to make the best terms that were possible for the garrison and himself. As hereditary keepers of the castle, the earls used to receive a fat cow annually from each parish in the stewartry; and on selling the estate in 1704, they reserved the castle and the island, to which they appointed a captain in order to secure their right to the cattle, which were regularly paid till the attainder of the earl for rebellion in 1715. There are still some very conspicuous remains of the ancient castle, situated on an island about twenty acres in extent, formed by the Dee, at the south-eastern angle of the parish; they are the most striking object in the landscape, and consist chiefly of the keep, which was surrounded by an outer wall, with four circular turrets, one only of which is standing. Several stone balls weighing from one to three pounds and a half, and a gold ring supposed to be that worn by the countess when her hand was shot off, were found in the castle in 1843; and in the year preceding, a large ball of granite nineteen inches in diameter, thought to be that discharged from Mons Meg, was found by some labourers who were clearing the ground.

The PARISH, which is situated nearly in the centre of the county, is bounded on the north by the Blackwater of Dee, and on the east by the river Dee. It is about nine miles in length, and seven in extreme breadth, comprising 22,000 acres, of which nearly 7000 are arable, and the remainder meadow, pasture, and waste, with a moderate proportion of woodland and plantations. Towards the south-east the surface is tolerably level, but in all other parts hilly, though not strictly mountainous: the higher grounds command extensive views, including the Carsphaira and Minnigaff hills to the north-west, and to the south-east those of Cumberland, with the Isle of Man in clear weather. In the uplands are several lakes, of which Loch Grannoch, or Woodhall, the largest, is about two miles and a half in length and half a mile in breadth; and with the exception of Lochinbreck, which abounds in trout, they are all well stored with pike and perch.

In the valley of the Dee the soil is fertile, and there are extensive and productive tracts of meadow adjoining the river; the principal crops grown are oats, barley, potatoes, and turnips. The system of agriculture is improved; the farm-buildings are generally substantial and commodious, and those on the lands of Balmaghie are all of recent erection, and of a very superior order. Bone-dust is used as manure for turnips; the lands have been well drained, and are mostly inclosed with stone dykes. The moorlands afford tolerable pasture for sheep, of which about 4000, of the black-faced breed, are annually reared; and about 350 of the white-faced, a cross between the Leicestershire and the Cheviot, are annually reared on the low grounds. The cattle, of which about 1000 are fed every year on the uplands, are of the Galloway and Highland breeds; and on the lowland farms are numerous cows, principally Galloways, although the Ayrshire breed is being more and more introduced. The annual value of real property in the parish is £6603. The substrata are chiefly greywacke or whinstone, and in the higher lands granite is found in abundance; but there is no limestone, so that what is required for building or agricultural purposes is brought from Cumberland. The plantations are not extensive, but thrive well; they consist mainly of larch and oak, which appear adapted to the soil. Balmaghie House, an ancient mansion, in which parts of an older building have been incorporated, is pleasantly seated near the river Dee, in grounds beautifully undulated, and embellished with plantations. Duchrae House, a handsome mansion of granite, built in the old English style, about the year 1824, is finely situated near the confluence of the Dee and the Ken. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Kirkcudbright and synod of Galloway: the minister's stipend is about £235, with a manse and glebe rated together at £42. 10. per annum; patron, Capt. Gordon, R.N. The church, built in 1794, is situated near the Dee: it is in good repair, and contains 400 sittings. There are two parochial schools; one at the village of Laurieston, the master of which has a house, and a salary of £30, with fees averaging nearly an equal sum; and the other at Glenlochar, the master of which has a salary of £21. 6. 6., with fees amounting to about £14. Besides these, is a third school, endowed by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis