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The Scottish Nation
M'Kerlie


M’KERLIE, the surname of an ancient family, originally of rank in Ireland, and settled for many centuries in Wigtownshire, where they held extensive estates. Their early history was in the possession of the monks of Crossraguel, Carrick, and lost when that monastery was destroyed. A Father Stewart, one of the monks in the 16th century, who left some writings, states, “the next great family are the Kerlies of Cruggleton, who being brave warriors stood boldly up for the independence of their country under Wallace, and it was one of their forefathers who, at a place called Dunmoir in Carrick, was particularly instrumental in giving the Danes a notable overthrow. He took Eric the son of Swain prisoner, for which service the king gave him lands in Carrick.” They took part in the Crusades, to which their armorial bearings, borne for centuries, specially refer, and sever traditions of adventurous exploits have been handed down. The loss of their early history can never be replaced. As corroborated by Felix O’Carroll, in his Translation of the chronicles of Tara, and History of the Sennachies, it is that the first Carroll (afterwards changed to Kerlie) who came from Ireland was a petty king or chief in that country. Fleeing to Scotland, he was hospitably received by the king, and had lands assigned to him in Galloway, where he lived in great splendour. Henry the minstrel, the biographer of Wallace about 1470, also states with reference to William Carroll or Kerlie, the compatriot of Wallace (with whom the change in the name is believed to have first occurred), that his ancestor accompanied David I. from Ireland, and having at Dunmoir in Carrick, with 700 Scots, defeated 9,000 Danes, had lands in Carrick, then a part of Galloway, now of Ayrshire, given to him for that service. Henry, however, is wrong as to the period, which is believed to have been either in the 9th or 10th century, when the Cruithne passed over to Galloway from Ireland.

      Carroll was the original name, in Ireland O’Carroll, of which once powerful family more than one branch were petty kings or chiefs over different districts in the north of that country, even extending so far south as Meath, where were the hall and Court of Tara, as also Eile or Ely, now called King’s County, the chief of all being the arch king of Argiall. Since then (a peculiarity common with Galloway surnames) the name has been variously spelled at different periods, as Kerlé, Kerlie, M’Carole, M’Carlie, and M’Kerlie.

      The castle and lands of Carleton in Carrick, (now owned by the Cathearts under a charter dated 1324) was the first property possessed by the family in Galloway, originally called Carolton, the residence of Carroll. It is mentioned as a tradition in Ayrshire that Carleton Castle, in remote times, previous to the arrival of the Cathearts in Carrick, belonged to a family of the name of De Kiersly, evidently a corruption of Kerlie. They afterwards obtained the castle and lands of Cruggleton, &c. This castle (the Black Rock of Cree) was built by the Danes about 1098, on the highest summit of a range of precipices about 200 feet high, overhanging the sea, at the mouth of Wigtown Bay. It was considered impregnable, being on a small promontory which juts into the sea; and landward defended with strong battlemented walls, with a fosse between them, 42 feet wide and 16 feet deep, over which was a drawbridge with gates, portcullis, &c. The area within the walls contained an acre and a quarter. The castle was ruinous before the year 1684. It is an interesting, though very greatly dilapidated ruin. Part of an unornamented arch, and the lower parts of some walls, alone remain to attest its ancient spaciousness and strength.

      Chalmers, in his Caledonia, has some extraordinary errors in regard to Cruggleton. At the time he wrote, any peasant in the neighbourhood could have told him who the ancient owners were, but apparently without troubling himself with much inquiry, he seems at once to have concluded that this castle must have belonged to the lords of Galloway, and that John Comyn the elder inherited it through his mother, from finding, in Dugdale’s Baronage, mention of his name in connection with it; in the extract of which short passage he omits Galway castle (the royal castle of Wigtown) to adapt it to his ideas. As an antiquarian Chalmers ought to have known that the castles of the lords of Galloway were in Central Galloway, the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and not in Western Galloway.

      From 1282 the vicissitudes attending the possession of this castle were many, furnishing a striking example of the insecurity of property in this distracted district of Scotland, where charters were unknown until the 14th century, the ancient Celtic proprietors having held their lands under their own Celtic laws. In 1282, Wm. Kerlie had as his guest Lord Soulis, (a secret adherent of Edward I.,) who took the castle by treachery. Kerlie escaped and in several ineffectual attempts to retake it, lost his remaining followers. In 1292, John Comyn, earl of Buchan, had temporary possession, as also of the royal castle of Wigtown. In 1296, Edward I. appointed Henry Percy, governor of it and other castles, and in 1297, Percy was succeeded by John of Hoddleston. In 1296, Wm. Kerlie, the real owner, was one of the first to join Sir Wm. Wallace at the castle of the earl of Lennox, and from that date was his constant friend and companion in arms, in the noble and desperate struggle for liberty.

      In 1297, Wallace went to Galloway, and under Kerlie’s guidance, Cruggleton castle, by a daring scheme, was retaken by surprise, and the garrison of 60 men slain, a priest and two women only having been spared. Kerlie was then restored to his patrimonial property. He however did not leave Wallace, and all the fatal battle of Falkirk in 1298, he is traditionally said to have appeared at the head of 500 men, most of whom were slain in an ineffectual attempt to rescue Sir John the Graeme. This patriot’s career was closed at Robrastoun near Glasgow in July 1305, when he accompanied Wallace there, to await a meeting with Robert the Bruce, and were basely betrayed into the hands of their enemies. While both were asleep their arms were secretly removed, Kerlie slain, and the noble Wallace reserved for a worse fate.

      Wm. Kerlie was one of the few who never swore fealty to Edward the Usurper. He left an infant son, also called William, born in 1298, and therefore 7 years of age at his father’s death. This boy was treacherously dealt with by the prior and monks of the monastery of “Candida Casa,” Whithorn, near Cruggleton, who in 1309 concealed from Robert the Bruce that he existed, and was owner of the castle and lands, but represented that they had belonged to Lord Soulis, all of whose property had been directed to be sequestrated, and by this means obtained a charter of them for the monastery. Again in the disturbed reign of David II., when properties were so freely disposed of to his own supporters, Gilbert Kennedy (an ancestor of the Ailsa family), who had been one of his hostages in England, obtained in 1366, a charter of the castle and lands, but it was never put in force, and in 1423 the prior and monks of “Candida Casa” got it cancelled. By the charter of 1309, the superiority was wrested by “Candida Casa” from young Kerlie and his descendants, but this was unknown to them for generations, as the family were never disturbed in their proprietory rights by the monastery. They retained possession until about the end of the 16th century, when the Reformation broke up the ancient tenures, and as the family held under the Celtic laws without a Crown charter, with the ruin of the church, they lost the castle and lands.

      The last of the family, from father to son, who possessed the castle and lands, was John, who in the “Inquisitiones de Tutela,” under date 20th June 1583, is called therein M’Carole.

      His descendant, in direct line, was John M’Carlie or M’ Kerlie, born in 1704, and died in 1796, aged 92. His mother was daughter of William Baillie of Dunragget, the first of which family, now extinct, was Cuthbert, Commendator of Glenluce Abbey, of the family of Baillie of Lamington, said to be the descendants of the patriot Wallace’s only child, heiress of Lamington. He was sometime lord high treasurer of Scotland, and died in 1514.

      John M’Kerlie possessed considerable property in the vicinity of Wigtown, part of which remained to his family until 1834. He was twice married, first to Nicholas M’Keand, of an old Galloway family, and had issue, all of whom are extinct. In 1694, Alexander Stewart of Tonderghie, a cadet of the Galloway family, married Janet, daughter of Hugh M’Guffock or M’Gudfog of Rusco Castle, a very ancient and once powerful Galloway family, for a short account of which see the SUPPLEMENT to this work. James M’Guffock, of the same family, married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Tonderghie, and their eldest daughter Agnes became the second wife of John M’Kerlie. She died in 1822, aged 82. By her he had a son and daughter who died in infancy; also two other sons, Robert and John Graham.

      Robert, born November 11, 1778, entered the army in 1794, and served with his regiment throughout the rebellion in Ireland. In 1798 he became captain, and retired in 1804, having been appointed principal ordnance storekeeper in Scotland, an office which he retained for many years. He died Dec. 13, 1855. John Graham, born in 1781, as a young officer served in the army in the Peninsula, and was under Sir John Moore at Corunna. He died in 1816. Robert M’Kerlie, the last representative, by his marriage with Marion, daughter of Peter Handyside, Esq., Greenhall, (uncle of the eminent judge, Lord Handyside) left, with three daughters, three sons. 1. Charles William Montagu Scott, of the East India company’s maritime service, author of a Narrative of the loss of the East India Company’s ship, Duke of York, in which he was one of the officers. Edinb. 1834. 2. John Graham, colonel royal engineers, and a commissioner of public works, Ireland, author of the Report, dated 11th May, 1846, on musket firing, &c. from experiments carried on by him at Chatham, and on which the new rifle was introduced, and the School of Musketry at Hythe instituted, with Sir John Burgoyne’s Notes on it attached; printed by Government. 3. Peter Handyside, admiralty, London, author of a pamphlet, entitled “Statistics of the Composition of the Scottish regiments to 1861,” compiled from the regimental records. The arms of the family are, az: a chief arg: and a fret ga. Since quartered with the M’Guffog and Stewart arms – The Crest, which refers to a knight of the family engaged in the Crusades, is, the sun, or, shining on a cross crosslet fitchée, sa. placed on the dexter side of a mount, vert, with the motto, “In hoc Signo Vinces.”

      Although at one time the name was numerous in Galloway, in 1825 there were only three families who bore it, viz., the then representative Capt. R. M’Kerlie, Rear-admiral John M’Kerlie, and Alexander M’Kerlie, whose family is now merged into and represented by Sir John M’Taggart, bart. of Ardwell. – Rear-admiral John M’Kerlie served with Sir Edward Pellew (afterwards Lord Exmouth) in all his brilliant frigate actions, in one of which he lost an arm, and was at Trafalgar, &c. He left an only daughter by his marriage with Harriet, daughter of the late James Stewart of Cairnsmuir – also a nephew John M’Kerlie.

      Originating in the Perth edition of Henry’s “Wallace,” published in 1796, and followed by subsequent writers, the names Ker and Kier have been confused with that of Kerlie, which are quite distinct, and so shown in all the ancient editions of the patriot’s life, commencing with Lekprevik’s in 1570, and also the MS. of 1488. – The names Ker and Kier were unknown in Galloway, are of a different origin entirely, and only found in other parts of Scotland, several Kers having sworn fealty to Edward I.


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