COLMONELL is a large
thinly-peopled parish of hill and moorland in the southern part of
Carrick. It stretches from the sea on the one hand to the confines of
Galloway on the other, and is watered by the Stinchar and its
tributaries. Its population clusters mainly round the two villages of
Colmonell and Barrhill, in both of which there are two churches.
In the old Covenanting
days, Colmonell was sufficiently secluded to serve as a favourite haunt
of the persecuted. Peden was often there; and, at a time when
Covenanting Communions were rare, one of them was held in Colmonell. As
a natural consequence, the parish has had its "martyrs,"two of whom lie
buried at Barrhill, and one in the Parish Churchyard.
Barrhill is a village in
the moors, and, in the pre-railway days, was somewhat primitive in its
appearance. But quite recently it has got a brush-up, and can now boast
of a neat Parish Church with organ, as well as a Free Church, and
School, Bank, Shops, &c. Still, there is a breezy freshness and a
moorland aspect about it which is refreshing to a townsman, while the
smell of peats and the sound of waters is everywhere.
A little way up the side
of a burn which crosses the road at the entrance to the village, the
visitor finds a path leading to two graves which the piety of the people
of the district has kept enclosed now for over 200 years. The
inscription on the monument begins in the usual bad taste by setting
forth the praises of those who erected it instead of those in whose
memory it was erected. But passing that over, we find what we want in
the words inscribed below :—
"Here lie John Murchie
and Daniel M'llwrick, Martyrs, 1685.
Here in this place two
Whose blood to heaven hath a loud cry.
Murdered contrary to Divine laws
For owning of King Jesus' cause.
By bloody Drummond they were shot,
Without any trial, near this spot.
Erected anew, 1825."
It is not known what the
particular crime of these two young men was; but, in all probability,
they had been present at Rullion Green or Bothwell Bridge, and this was
accounted sufficient. They were discovered at New Luce, about 12 miles
off, had been pursued hither by soldiers, and found hidden in a farm
house called Alticannoch. Taken from the house and searched, Bibles were
found on them, which was accounted proof positive. Without any trial,
they were forthwith shot, and left where they lay. But two women (less
likely, therefore, to be interfered with) came by night, and performed
the friendly office of burying their bodies where they now lie. The
place is singularly secluded, although close to the village ; and the
rough rocks about, and the babbling burn beside, keep watch over the
Little is known of these
Barrhill martyrs, but still less was known of the Colmonell one, until
Dr Thomas M'llwraith of Barrhill kindly forwarded to me the following
particulars, which he had verified with great faithfulness. It gives me,
therefore, much pleasure to be the means of communicating to the public
the first authentic account of the death of the Covenanting worthy who
now lies in Colmonell Churchyard, with the following lines inscribed on
"I Matthew M'llwraith in
this parish of Colmonell, By bloody Claverhouse I fell, Who did command
that I should die For owning Covenanted Presbytery. My blood a witness
still doth stand 'Gainst all defections in this land."
It is probable that
Matthew, like the two Barrhill worthies, had been at Bothwell Bridge or
some other of the Covenanting "Rencounters," which caused him to be
"wanted" by the Government of those days Accordingly, some time-in the
year 1685, a party of dragoons found their way to this quiet Stinchar
valley in quest of him, and the circumstances under which they found him
are sufficiently human to add a touch of pathos to his death. Matthew
was the son of the farmer at Blair, about a mile above Barrhill, and at
that time was courting a Miss M'Ewen, daughter of the farmer at Barbour,
about a mile and a half below the village. The troopers, learning this,
surrounded the wood one moonlight night, when the inmates were engaged
at family worship. M'llwraith escaped into a wood close by, but when
search was made he took to the open fields. The soldiers' horses soon
became bogged, but four of them leaped off and continued the pursuit on
foot. Matthew led them down the Duisk, crossed the lands of Alticane and
Pinwherry, and plunged into a glen on the farm of Dangart, in the vale
of the Stinchar. In ascending the further side of this glen, the leading
pursuer threw his dirk and struck him on the heel, severing the tendon
Achilles, Although thus rendered unable to run, he had strength enough,
when his pursuer came up, to stab him to the heart with his own weapon.
The others, however, speedily arrived, and shot him.
A night and a day passed,
and no one was bold enough to remove the dead body. At last, as in the
case at Barrhill, two young women came, wrapped the corpse in a grey
plaid, and carried it to Colmonell Churchyard, about two miles distant,
and there digged a grave for it close by the wall. One of these young
women was named Janet Carson. She lived to old age, and often told the
story to her granddaughter, who told it to the late Peter Douglas,
joiner in Glenluce, who died in 1866. Peter even confessed that when he
was a young man, he had, one moonlight night, opened the grave of
Matthew M'llwraith, and found the bones of a man lying about 18 inches
below the surface, still wrapped in the remains of what appeared to be
Janet Carson's grey plaid. It was a popular tradition that M'llwraith
had been a very tall man, but the bones (Peter thought) merely indicated
a man of 5 feet 10 inches, or thereby.
And thus the sun set on
Matthew M'llwraith. For a short space, the darkness is parted, and we
get a glimpse into those days of "darkness and blood." We see the
Stinchar valley, beautiful then as now, lying in the quiet moonlight.
All at once we hear shouts, and get a "glint" of the hunted man and his
race for life. Then we see the desperate hand to hand struggle in the
Dangart glen, followed by the pistol shots of the pursuers. Finally, we
see the heroic Janet and her companion, both in their teens, take up the
dead man, wrap him in their plaid, and carry him between them to
Colmonell Churchyard, that he might rest with his kindred. The only
thing needed to complete the romance is to suppose that Janet Carson's
companion that night was Miss M'Ewen of Barbour, which, in the nature of
things, it was not at all unlikely to be. Whoever she was, she was
worthy. All honour be to both of them,