ABOUT the end of the last
century, smuggling was-very prevalent along the Carrick shore. The duty
on spirits was then so high that armed luggers used to come with
duty-free brandy on the chance of finding customers among us; while,
latterly, salt and glass were so heavily taxed that it was a profitable
occupation to keep a swift sailing smack to run the blockade from Larne
or the Isle of Man. A certain farmer near Girvan was the owner of a
clipper nabby named the Mayflower, which never failed to-show her stern
to any of His Majesty's cutters which tackled her; and I have even heard
of a Ballantrae boat of twelve oars which used to row over to Larne by
night, and return ere dawn with a duty-free cargo.
Ballantrae, from its
nearness to Ireland, was notorious in. those days for its participation
in this contraband traffic. Some of the fishermen had cellars dug in
their kitchen floors for storing away the smuggled goods, while the
farmers had holes or caves in their fields, to which they conveyed their
spoil till the road was clear. M'Nall's Cave on Ailsa Craig and the
Brandy Hole on the farm of Balnowlart near Ballantrae, are relics of
those old times. Quite recently a Ballantrae fisherman told me how his
father had been seized by the Revenue officers near the Bennan Cove, as
he was proceeding to Ayr (probably by night) with a load of salt, and
how cart, horse, and salt had all been confiscated, while himself was
lodged in Ayr prison for a time.
Burns tells us that when
he was at School in Kirkoswald (1775) he met with many of these
smugglers, and shared in their "swaggering riot and roaring
dissipation." Tradition has it that Tam o' Shanter was one of them; and
a story is handed down how a certain farmer's wife on the Carrick shore
one morning made the household porridge with brandy instead of water,
and only discovered her mistake when there was such an unaccountable
demand for more porridge that morning!
As may be supposed,
struggles between smugglers and Revenue officers were of frequent
occurrence. But the smuggling feats in Carrick culminated in what used
to be called the Battle of Howshean Moor, in Kirkoswald parish, where a
regular melee took place between the king's men and the Lintowers. There
was blood spilt on that occasion, and a life lost; but the life was only
that of a horse. The smugglers got clear off, though one of them
received such a clour with a sword that the skin of his brow hung over
his eye ever afterwards. The following homely ballad used to keep fresh
the memory of this fight for many years.
I was born in Kirkoswald,
in the shire of Ayr,
Bred by good, honesl parents, I vow and declare,
Until I was thirty, ay, thirty and three,
When I from Kirkoswald was forced to flee.
Through the Highlands and
Lowlands I travelling have been,
In the Isle of Man, too, I was held, in esteem;
It was not for robbery of any degree
That I from Kirkoswald was forced to flee.
'Twas for shooting the
black horse on Howshean Moor,
A bit from Kirkoswald, I must suffer sore,
I must suffer sore, and banished be,
For trying to save our tobacco and tea.
In the breist of the moss,
defending we stood,
The rider must lose his horse, or I my head;
The one or the other, I plainly did see,
So the horse was shot dead, and the blame laid on me.
My two loving brothers for
brandy were slain,
Their death I'll lament while blood flows in my vein;
For what was their own, they fought hard to free,
And while blood 's in my vein, lamented they 'll be.
At the foot of Loch Doon,
near the bonnie Keir hill,
My friends safely hid me to keep me from ill,
But a bloody informer informed on me,
And a gey near relation proved cruel to me.
Kirkoswald may weep, and
Kirkoswald may mourn,
For they're gone from Kirkoswald that will never return;
My two loving brothers, beside other three —
Farewell! for Kirkoswald we'll never mair see.