Kirkcudbrightshire or, formally, "the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright" (Siorrachd Chille Chuithbheirt in Gaelic) was a county in the southwest of Scotland until Scottish counties were abolished in 1975. It was then merged with its neighbouring counties of Dumfriesshire and Wigtownshire to become the Dumfries and Galloway Region. In 1996 there was another reorganization of local administration structure in Scotland. This caused very little change in the southwest. The Region is now a unitary authority with the name Dumfries and Galloway Counci Area.
The term "Galloway" is used when Kirkcudbrightshire and its western neighbour Wigtownshire are described together.
The county is called The Stewartry by its inhabitants and forms the Stewartry committee area of Dumfries and Galloway Council, represented by eight Stewartry councillors. Local administration of the district today is overseen by the Stewartry Area Manager, based in the county town of Kirkcudbright.
Kirkcudbrightshire continues to be used administratively for property registration. References to past censuses, civil registration (or vital statistics records) prior to 1975, and the Old Parish Registers (pre 1855) always quote "Kirkcudbrightshire" in preference to any other title..
Kirkcudbrightshire is bounded on the north and north-west by Ayrshire, on the west and southwest by Wigtownshire, on the south and southeast by the Irish Sea and the Solway Firth, and on the east and northeast by Dumfriesshire. It included the small islands of Hestan and Little Ross. It had an area of 897.6 sq. miles (2,323km2).
Today the economy is dependent on agriculture and tourism. The land is hilly and in parts mountainous. Rainfall is higher than the British average. As a result the county is better suited to growing grass than grain crops. Galloway cattle, a beef breed, is native to the region.
The country west of the Nith was originally peopled by a tribe of Celts called Novantae, who long retained their independence. After Agricola's invasion in 79 AD 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. The view that there were Picts in Galloway in historical times can not be wholly rejected.
After the retreat of the Romans, the fate of the Novantae is unknown but by the 6th century Galloway was part of the Brythonic kingdom of Rheged. By the 7th century much of Galloway became part of the English kingdom of Northumbria.
After the Norsemen conquered southern the fate of the rest of the kingdom is unclear. It is likely that Galloway became part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. There was significant immigration into Galloway in later centuries from Ireland by the Hiberno-Norse Gallgaidhel, or "stranger Gaels", the Welsh equivalent for which, Galiwyddel, gave rise to the name of "Galloway" (of which Galway is a variant). The name Galloway was applied to their territory and still denotes the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and the shire of Wigtown. (It has been argued inconclusively that the Gallgaidhael were only a warrior aristocracy on top of an existing Anglo-Saxon / Brythonic population).
When Scotland consolidated under Kenneth MacAlpine (crowned at Scone in 844), Galloway 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, Dervorguilla, had married John, 5th feudal lord Balliol, he and Dervorguilla being parents of King John I of Scotland (1292–1296), 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 limited 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.
McCulloch and Gordon families were of Cardoness Castle, Anwoth Parish and Rev. Rutheford was minister of Anwoth.
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 until the 19th century. The Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745 elicited small sympathy from the inhabitants of the shire.
Sources for Old Parish Registers Records, Vital Records and Censuses
Notes for Kirkcudbrightshire
Further Sources of Reference
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