We have discovered that our Kilbride became a distinguishable separate parish when we were separated from our mother Parish church to the North of Lamlash in 1567. We have also discovered that the name Kilbride first came into use for our church lands in 1337 when these lands, along with a large chunk of Arran were donated to the monks of Kilwinning Abbey – all these lands came under the administration of the Chapel of St Bridget on Arran. From these two key years one would assume that our Main Street would come afterwards – but this is not the case.
In fact, our Main Street is part of a much older road called “the way to the sea” identified in the Norse / Gaelic Skaldic language as the “Half Weg” and now in common usage as “Halfway” Street or “Happy Hills” (Haef Weg Hills). The small road we now know as Halfway Street is a clue to a much older tradition stretching back to around the 9th or 10th century.
Below is a section of an 1827 map of the Parish held in the North Ayrshire Archives. Identified at the very bottom, to the south of the village of Ardneil, is Halfway – the same road extending from Portincross, over Corsehill, connecting with the Halfway Street we know nowadays, down our Main Street, across Bridgend, up Law Brae, under where Law Castle now stands and finally connecting with the path that was formerly known as the “Old Dalry Road”. This path was one single track from Portencross to another far flung destination – perhaps Glasgow or the ancient Anglo-Saxon / Norman Burgh of Renfrew.
Our Parish Minister – Reverend Arthur Oughterson wrote this in 1795 –
“The promontory, near to which, this port and castle are situated, is the extreme point of land directly West from Edinburgh. To this day, the track on a line of road, can be distinctly traced through the country, leading from the capital to this port. From this circumstance, as well as from the very name, we conclude it must have been a place of some consequence. In these barbarous and remote times, there could be no trade carried on in it, to give it that consequence. Neither can it be imagined, there was so much communication between the Highlands and the main land, as that this place might be converted into a mere ferry port, for the convenience of passengers, who we may believe, would hardly be induced, either from profit or curiosity, to visit these inhospitable regions.
The most probable account, therefore of the matter, seems to be that this was the place where they took boat to go over to the celebrated monastery of I. Colm Kill, the most ancient foundation of the kind in Scotland, and which, it is well known, was, for many ages, the burial place of our Scottish Kings. And, as this monastery was established long before any other in this country, it may be supposed, that, in that period of the gloomy reign of superstition, many pilgrimages were made to it. Hence, the name Portincross, being composed of Portus and Crucis; from this port, was the nearest and most direct passage over to the royal cemetery, and from it too, the pious travellers took their departure to do penance, or make their offerings at the sacred place. What corroborates this conjecture somewhat, is, that at Lochransa in the North end of the Arran, there is an old castle, where tradition reports, the companies passing to the western isles (whether these funeral and pilgrimage processions, is uncertain), were wont to stop and refresh; and then, as may be concluded, crossing over the narrow Isthmus of Cantire, and again taking boat, after sailing through the sound between Islay and Jura, were immediately at Iona, the object of their destination.”
(The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, West Kilbride, Ayrshire, Account of 1791-99, Number 31, Parish of West Kilbride (County of Ayr, Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, Presbytery of Irvine) Volume 12, Page 404)
Remembering this was written around 1795, we cannot be too critical of the Reverend as he did not have the resources to hand that we now may rely upon. But clearly he is suggestive of ancient times. It is the notion of Rev Oughterson that the dead Kings of Scotland were perhaps once transported down this road for final burial on Iona. Of course there is no corroboration of such a notion, but there are other points of evidence that do suggest an ancient history to our “Half Weg”.
Perhaps the most famous is the Hunterston Brooch found on the slopes of Goldenberry Hill (Ardneil) in 1830. The construction of the brooch is reckoned to be around 700AD
and is believed to be Irish or Scottish Christian. It was inscribed around 900AD with the legend “Melbrigda owns this brooch” (nothing whatsoever to do with a follower of St Brigid) in Viking runes (shown). One Melbrigda was an early Celtic warrior noble who was killed in a battle in the North East of Scotland – long before 900AD. We can conclude that someone dropped or hid this Norse rune adorned brooch near to an old trackway with a possibly Norse name. This would have been after 900AD.
We also know that our area was part of the ancient Norse / Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riata in the 12th Century. The Lord of the Isles, Somerled and a large number of allied tribes including the Scoti, Picts, Irish Celts and Norsemen invaded the west coast of Scotland occupying it until Somerled was defeated at Renfrew in 1164 and King Hakon at the Battle of Largs in 1263. It is reasonable to suggest that a strategic hidden landing site such as Portencross would be well used by the Lord of the Isles and his ships.
The village of Ardneil was to the north of the Halfway trackway. The Niall’s were a prolific Irish Royal family and so the name of the village and fort at Auldhill could well mean the “height of Niall” in a similar manner to Ardrossan being the “height of the de Rosses”. However, if this comparison is to be made, it must be at a relatively late date when the Irish Gaelic was being spoken at the same time as the Normans were in the west – again around the 12th and 13th Centuries.
It may be entirely coincidental that the land to the south of Ardneil is called Summerlee when Somerled was known in Middle Irish as Somairle, Somhairle, and Somhairlidh, and in Old Norse as Sumarliði.
Therefore, we do have considerable evidence in support of a proposition that Portencross was being used in the dark ages and that the road from Portencross all the way along our Main Street does back to at least the 12th Century.
Returning then to the Oughterson notion that the dead Kings of Scotland might have been transported down the “Kings Road” to meet with final burial at Iona. This is not actually as unbelievable as it might at first seem. Somerled himself was buried on Iona (1164) and must have been transported there from Renfrew where he met his end. In fact, three further generations after Somerled were all buried on Iona, although by these times they were far less powerful and likely confined more to the Isles. Is it possible that that the dead Somerled was brought down our Main Street in 1164 on his way to burial on Iona? Maybe?