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Guide to the East Neuk of Fife

Kilrenny is both a parish and a burgh. The burgh includes the little village of Upper Kilrenny, generally known as Kilrenny, and also the small town, half-a-mile distant on the sea-side, called Nether Kilrenny, or, more usually, Cellardyke. Until 1641, the parish also included the burgh of Anstruther-Easter.

Name.—It was formerly spelt, Kylrethni, Kylrethny, Kilreny, Kilrennie, Kilrenny, Kilrennye, Kilrany, Kilrynne, and Kilrynnie. In the old Statistical Account, it is said that “the name of this parish seems to be derived from the Saint to whom the church was dedicated, viz., St Iranaeus, Bishop of Lyons, whose fame for piety was at that time great throughout Christendom. What serves to confirm this origin of the name is, that the fishermen, who have marked out the steeple of this church for a meath or mark to direct them at sea, call it St Irnie to this day (1791); and the estate which lies close by the church is called Irnie-hill ; but by the transposition of the letter i, Rinnie-hill. What adds to the probability of this interpre­tation is a tradition still existing here, that the devotees at Anstruther, who could not see the church of Kilrenney till they travelled up the rising ground to what they called the Hill, then pulled off their bonnets, fell on their knees, crossed themselves, and prayed to St Irnie.” Leighton, however, in his History of Fife, following Sibbald’s opinion, says that “it is much more prob­able that the church here was dedicated to St Ninian, who was a bishop and confessor in Scot­land in the 5th century, and had various churches and chapels dedicated to him. Ninian is still popularised into Ringan; and Kilringan could easily be corrupted into Kilrenny.” Instead of expressing an opinion on the point, Hew Scott, in his Fasti, simply says, that “the church was dedicated to St Irerueus, or St Ninian, and prior to the Reformation belonged to the Abbey of Dryburgh.” That the church belonged to the canons of Dryburgh is quite certain, having been confirmed to them by Ada, the mother of Malcolm the Fourth and William the Lion, in or about 1170. But Bishop Forbes of Brechin, in his very elaborate and learned Kalendars of Scottish Saints, inclines to believe that Renny or Irnie is a form of Ethernan or Itharnan, a famous bishop and confessor who does not seem to have wrought miracles, but who had a religious house on the May. Skene thinks this a very natural corruption of the real name, that Itharnan may have been softened to Irnan, just as it has been hardened to Eddran.

The Church, which is an extremely plain, commodious building, situated in Upper Kilrenny, is not so large as the former one, which measured 100 feet by 50 over the walls, and had “the roof supported by two rows of Gothic arches and round pillars.” Forty years ago some of the older inhabitants remembered “that on one of its arches was cut a Lochaber axe, and on a stone on the west gable outside was the figure of a sheep, as forming part of a coat of arms.” The old tower, which still survives, is surmounted by a dilapidated slated spire, containing a double-faced crazy clock. The bell is dated 1747. It is somewhat of a gymnastic feat to step on to the top of the tower; but, once there, an excellent view is obtained of the beautiful situation of the village. The weather-cock seems to be moulting, but the beadle says that it lost its tail on the “Tay-Brig-nicht.” Several interesting references to Kil­renny Church will be found in the Chartulary of Dryburgh Abbey, printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1847. From the Record edition of the Acts of Parliament, we learn that the Abbacies of Dryburgh and Cambuskenneth, and the Priory of Inchmahome, were erected into a temporal lordship, called the Lordship of Cardross, in favour of the Earl of Mar, in 1606. Kilrenny occurs, of course, in the long list of kirks, which pertained before to Dryburgh Abbey. And it is added that, the parsonages and vicarages of the same are and were for the “maist pairt destitute of precheing of the Word of God, and conforte of the samyn, in defaulte of sufficient pastouris and ministeris, thir mony zeiris bigane.” His Majesty willing that these parish kirks be in all time hereafter planted with sufficient and learned ministers, and knowing the good zeal and ardent affection of the Earl of Mar, and knowing that he would omit nothing which might tend to the furtherance of God’s glory, therefore erected the said lordship in his favour. The charter which was thus ratified by Parliament had been granted by the King in 1604. In spite of the pious intentions of the King, and the good zeal of the Earl of Mar, it is stated that the grant was made to him, “that he might the better provide for his younger sons, whom he had by the Lady Mary Stewart, of whom the King took great care.” Unfortunately, in 1806, the church was found to be in a dangerous state, and was therefore taken down, that the present one might be erected on its site. The position is very central for the parish ; but as the bulk of the population is in Cellardyke, it might have been better to have had it there. That town, however, was lately made a quad sacra parish, and has now an elegant church of its own. No minister of this parish has been so widely known, or so highly esteemed, as James Melville. The old manse was built by him, according to Mr Beat, and when he wrote, there were still to be seen, on the sole of the highest window which overlooked the town, the words which Melville had inscribed—” The Watch Tower.” In this, however, Mr Beat is wrong. But the motto may have been copied from the Manse at East Anstruther, in the same way as the reference to the two gates appears on the parish churches of both the Anstruthers. A short account of Melville will be found under East Anstruther. John Dyks, his fellow-labourer and successor in Kilrenny, was mighty in the Scriptures. A brother minister said of him, that “he would get more from meditating on a passage in Scripture during the time he was combing his hair, than some others would get in a whole day.” William Beat, who wrote the old Statistical Account of the parish, was minister here for 37 years. His first wife—if the glowing epitaph he wrote on her marble be not overdrawn—must have been one of the chief ornaments of her sex. Probably, that was the reason why he filled her place in less than five months, and took a third wife in less than seven months after the death of the second. By a singular coincidence, George Dickson, who wrote the New Statistical Account of the parish, was also minister here for 37 years. The present manse was built in 1819. Conolly and Wood say that Cardinal Beaton’s body was brought to Kilrenny by his cousin, and buried in the family tomb, about six yards from the east end of the church. There is better reason, however, to believe that he was buried in the Blackfriars Monastery at St Andrews. The Skeith Stone stands on a rising ground a quarter of a mile to the west of the village. On one side of this stone there is a circle about thirty inches in diameter, within which there is an eight-pointed star cross. There is no satisfactory tradition connected with this stone, and its history is quite unknown. On a monument at Bressay, in Shetland, there is a somewhat similar cross, but it is quite unlike the other sculptured stones of Scotland. Archbishop Gladstanes of St Andrews, in 1606, granted an infeftment to John Strang of “the quarter toune and lands of Killrynnie callit the Skeitli’s quarter therof.” This infeftment was ratified by Parlia­ment next year. In 1620, Archbishop Spotswood of St Andrews granted an infeftment to George Strang of the “Skeyth quarter” for the yearly payment of 5 chalders of victual, a third of which was to be bere, a third wheat, and a third oats, or 8s 4d Scots for “ilke boll.” He had also to pay yearly £7 Scots, with 12 capons and 12 poultry, besides giving suit and presence at three head courts in St Andrews If he chose, he could give a shilling Scots for “ilk capoun,” and 5s 4d Scots for “the said doasen of poultrie.” As Scots money is only equal to a twelfth of money sterling, it is not difficult to calculate these prices of corn and poultry. Both the infeftment of 1606 and that of 1620 were ratified by Parliament in 1644.

The Caves of Caiplie are of far more antiquarian interest than anything else in the district. They are situated near the eastern extremity of the parish, and are close to the sea beach. They can be reached either from Crail or Cellardyke, by walking along the coast; but they are fully nearest to Crail. In the far distant past they have been wrought out by the sea in the half-detached rock, which is now above high-water mark. Some of the cavities go quite through the rock. The largest cave has a lofty roof, and measures fully forty feet from its mouth to the pointed recess at the inner end. It bears the unmistakable marks of having been artificially enlarged, although it is still irregular in shape. This has been called the Chapel Cave. The opening to the sea had, at one time, been closed by a wall, of which the foundations still remain. A pointed doorway had been cut through the rock on the south side, into an outer narrow cave, which was thus made the entrance. On the same side of the main cave, and near its mouth, a space of three or four feet in length has been cut in the rock, and forms a sort of seat. On the north wall a small niche has been cut out of the rock, and many crosses are around it. There is also a Greek cross within a surrounding line, and many Latin ones. The numerous crosses vary much in size. The modern ones can easily be distinguished from the truly ancient. In various parts of the cave, but especially in the inner recess, a curious contrivance is to be seen. Two holes, at a little distance from one another, are made in the rock, either in its face, or on the edge of a projecting ledge. They vary in size, but are generally about two inches in diameter, and two or three inches apart. In some cases the intervening piece of rock has a worn appearance, as if caused by a rope passing round it. These perforations, or “holdfasts,” as they have been called, also occur in the cave adjoining on the east.

A century ago, there was a small chamber in the rock above, partly artificial and arched over, which was reached by steps cut in the rock, beginning near the mouth of the passage, or cave, into which the door of the Chapel Cave opened. In the inner end of the upper chamber there was a bench cut in the rock, which may have been used as a bed. This cell had in later times been fitted up as a pigeon house. In 1841, the rubbish was cleared out of the caves, when it was found that the flanking rock, projecting on the east side of the space in front of the caves, had been scooped out into a niche, or small grotto, with a seat in the inner end. The floor of the Chapel Cave was found to be of clay; and outside the remain­ing portion of the wall which had closed its mouth there was another and lower foundation of three courses of large stones, about four feet high, forming a terrace four feet broad in front of the cave, and joined to the rock on each side. The cave to the east was found to be partly paved with rough flags, and. partly by levelling the rock. Something like a cistern had been hollowed out on the east side of its mouth, above which there was a kind of step or shelf. In this cave there are several “holdfasts,” but no crosses, and there is no appearance of its mouth ever having been built up. In front of the east cave, “and about two feet below the surface, a human skeleton was discovered, as if thrown head-foremost into a hole; and a little nearer to the sea, other four skeletons were found, as if they had been regularly buried east and west—the heads to the west, hut without any appearance of coffins. The human bones, from being in various states of decay, appeared to have been buried at several times. An offensive smell was felt on opening the graves.” “In front of the ‘Chapel’ and adjoining caves, and within the latter, were found a great many bones of cattle, boars’ tusks, pieces of deers’ horns, etc., mixed with earth and stones.”

There can be no doubt that Caiplie is the “Cap­lawchy” mentioned by Wyntoun as the place to which Adrian and his company came; and it may be safely inferred that these caves are some of the “steddis” in which a portion of them chose to dwell. Dr Stuart— from whose Sculptured Stones of Scotland the fore­going description of these remarkable caves is drawn—says that in the Chapel Cave and upper chamber, we may picture to ourselves the establishment of one of these early heralds of the Gospel to the rude tribes of Alba.

Not only was the upper chamber turned into a pigeon-house; but, before the end of last century, the Chapel Cave was converted into a barn, and was “large enough to admit two threshers at a time.” The caves have since been used for sheltering cattle, and have much need to be cleaned out again. In the New Statistical Account, it is said that “there is no tradition regard­ing them, except that there is a communication be­low ground between them and the house of Barnsmuir, situated nearly half-a-mile from the shore, where it is said that a piper was heard playing beneath the hearth-stone of the kitchen; but these days of delu­sion have passed away.”

Capelochy Castle.—Mr Dickson also states that an eminence near this, called Capelochy (or Caiplie) Castle, which is now under the plough, is conjectured to have been surrounded with water at one time, and hence its name. He says that there “an immense quantity of stones were dug up, and among them was found, not exactly a stone coffin, but stones set upon edge, within which some human bones were discovered.”

Thirdpart.—The old house of Thirdpart, formerly one of the residences of the Scotstarvit family, has been long demolished. It is still remembered in connection with the “Polemo Middinia,” or Midden-fecht between the Scotstarvit folk of Thirdpart and the Cunningham folk of Newbarns — a famous Macaronic or Dog-Latin Poem, commonly believed to have been written by Drummond of Hawthornden, but the authorship of which has lately been called in question.

School.—In 1791, the schoolmaster was “accomodated with a neat little house, fronting the public street, con­taining a school-room and kitchen on the ground floor, two rooms and a closet above, with a garret, and a small piece of ground before the door, inclosed for a garden.” His salary as schoolmaster, and perquisites as precentor and session-clerk, only amounted to £11 sterling. He had the school fees besides, hut these were small. The scholars, who numbered about 50 or 60, paid fourteen-pence a quarter for English, eighteenpence for writing, half-a-crown for writing and arithmetic, and three shil­lings for Latin, which, we are told, however, few were disposed to learn. It must have been a difficult matter to make ends meet on such a modest income, for beef had risen to fourpence a pound, butter to eightpence, and hens to a shilling. These were counted high prices in those days, for old people could remember when beef was rather less than a penny a pound, butter threepence­halfpenny, and when a good hen could be got for four-pence! In 1843, the salary of the parish teacher is said to have been the maximum, and the people were so alive to the benefits of education that there were comparatively few who could not read or write. The present school has accommodation for 147 children.

The Population of the parish in 1801 was 1043, in 1831 it was 1705, in 1861 it was 2534, and in 1881 it was 3198.

Click here to see pictures of Kilrenny

The Autobiography and Diary of Mr James Melvill
Minister of Kilkenny, in Fife, and Professor of Theology in the University of St Andrews with a continuation of the Diary edited from Manuscripts in the libraries of the Faculty of Advocates and University of Edinburgh by Robert Pitcairn FSA Scot (1647) (pdf)

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