Tynron
The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon

THEMES & PERSONALITIES

Introduction

Some Historical Background

The Border

From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Thomas Telford


Robert Burns - Doonhamer

The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle

Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon

Other Literary Figures

The Artists

Fame and Fortune

Other Pairs of Eyes

Tynron

Once known as Dunron from 'dun of Tynron'.
A dun, sometimes called a doon, is an Iron Age fort and what is now referred to as Tynron Doon is the most spectacular feature of the landscape around here. It occupies a spur of Auchengibbert Hill and was first developed sometime in the first millennium BC.
The site's natural defensiveness was enhanced by ramparts and ditches cut into the rock. The history of its usage is multi-layered.

After the Romans abandoned southern Scotland in the early 400s Tynron Doon may have been the headquarters for one of the many small British kingdoms that re-emerged to fill the power vacuum.

It may also have become a motte-style castle of the medieval period and local legend has it that Robert Bruce used it during the early stages of the Wars of Independence.

In the early sixteenth century the site was again adapted: this time a tower-house was built on it. As late as the nineteenth century a shepherd's bothy is believed to have been here.


The village kirk was built in the 1830s but there were earlier structures: an early-seventeenth-century kirk, followed by a re-construction around 1750, for which the sixteenth-century tower at Tynron Doon is thought to have been demolished to provide the masonry. The kirkyard dates back to the previous religious buildings.


One of the earliest of the gravestones is for the nineteen-year-old Covenanter William Smith, who died for the anti-Episcopalian cause in 1685. The inscription on his table-stone is remarkable for so specifically indicting his alleged assassins:

Douglas of Stenhouse, Laurie of Maxwelton,
Caused Cornet Bailie give me martyrdom.

Cornet Bailie was a government soldier who had detained Smith for refusing to answer questions about his allegiance. Smith's father appealed for help to Sir Robert Laurie of Maxwelton near Moniaive, one of the gentry supervisors of the campaign against the Covenanters. This was a futile gesture, as Laurie was vehement in the carrying out of his duties. Cornet Bailie's wish for due process was overruled and he was ordered by Laurie to shoot young Smith. Laurie has another, less nauseous association with Dumfriesshire history: he was the father of the woman celebrated in the song 'Annie Laurie'.


An even earlier religious site can be found to the north-west along the Kirkconnel Burn. Excavation of St Conal's Chapel in 1983 revealed it to have been a small rectangular building possibly of the seventh or eighth century. It is by no means the only sacred building in the county to have been dedicated to the Irish missionary; others are at Kirkconnel and Eaglesfield. It is unlikely he was ever in residence here or indeed at any of the other locations.
Nearby is a spring called St Conal's Well.


In the late nineteenth century the Tynron schoolmaster was the highly engaging polymath James Shaw (1826-1896): poet, comic essayist, folklorist, botanist, astronomer and general antiquarian.
After his death admirers published an anthology of his work, A Country Schoolmaster (1899). Shaw was brought up in Renfrewshire and his first career was as a printer. He was already thirty when he decided to take up teaching.
After a number of posts elsewhere he arrived in Tynron in 1862 and remained here for the rest of his life, the seclusion of the parish well suiting his dilettante bachelor existence. Towards the end of his life he looked back on his early impressions of the area:

When I arrived in Tynron, and for years afterwards, water was obtained almost universally from open wells; chimneys were swept by setting fire to them; messages were conveyed across straths by shrilly whistling on fingers; towns were reached by bridle paths...The people around me to a greater extent than at present knitted their own stockings, plaited their own creels, carved their own crooks, made their own curling brooms or 'cows', bored their own 'bod-and-lamb' boards, squared their own draught-boards. A very few women smoked tobacco like men, and many men had chins like women.

Shaw was a passionate supporter of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and the two men corresponded during the 1860s, Shaw sending his first letter after reading On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection:

Here in the solitude of a remote glen your noble work has reached me and is another proof to me that the Age of Romance has not perished but that Truth is indeed stranger than Fiction. You have given articulation to a thousand things lying dumb within me. Never before have I conceived so clearly the wonderful relation of the individual to the august whole. Those dim ages when nature was silently strewing on her barren shores the dust of future continents and making out of her dead organisms quarries from which Ionic & Doric columns should be wrought are no longer in imagination spectral gleams but wear rather all the interest of history.

Was nineteenth-century Tynron especially prone to superstitiousness or was it the enthusiasm of James Shaw as a folklorist that accounts for A Dictionary of Superstitions by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem having so many entries from Tynron?
Some examples:

It is not well to change situations on a Saturday. 'Saturday's enter is a short residenter.'

The hair of the eyebrows meeting above the nose signifies unsteadiness and love of change.

Should a girl scoop a hole where three or more roads meet and apply her ear to it, she may hear a whisper telling her the trade of her future lover.

The bright speck often seen in a candle declares, if it falls, a letter is posted to you; but if it sticks to the side of the candle, it is only on the way to be posted.

The croft of Cormilligan, a little further north-west beyond St Conal's Chapel, was the home of the shepherd-theologian William McCaw (1818-1902) whose Truth Frae 'Mang the Heather (1855) brought him the exceedingly unexpected status of a celebrity.


PLACES

Ae
Amisfield
Annan
Auldgirth
Bankend
Beattock
Bentpath
Brydekirk
Canonbie
Carronbridge
Carrurtherstown
Chapelknowe
Clarencefield
Closeburn
Collin
Cummertrees
Dalswinton
Dalton
Dornock
Dumfries
Duncow
Dunscore
Durisdeer
Eaglesfield
Eastriggs
Ecclefechan
Eskdalemuir
Glencaple
Gretna
Hightae
Holywood
Johnstonebridge
Kettleholm
Kirkconnel
Kirkpatrick Fleming
Kirkton
Kirtlebridge
Langholm
Lochmaben
Lockerbie
Middlebie
Moffat
Moniaive
Mouswald
Newton Wamphray
Parkgate
Penpont
Powfoot
Ruthwell
Sanquhar
Templand
Thornhill
Tinwald
Torthorwald
Tynron
Wanlockhead
Waterbeck

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