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Heraldry in Kilbirnie Auld Kirk

When I finished listing and describing the Heraldic Panels on the Crawfurd Gallery, with the help of the material supplied by the Lyon Clerk, Mrs Elizabeth Roads, and Mr Charles Burnett, Ross Herald, I felt that the remaining items in and on the church should receive the same attention, for they were almost as numerous.

Once again the court replied willingly and sent the proper Blazons and useful comments, but it seemed when I read the letter that I was in more difficulties than I had bargained for, for there were many apparent and real anomalies.

Heraldry came into use late in the 12th century to distinguish individual leaders in warfare, in order that their supporters should be able to rally around their commanders. The system has carried on, and indeed grown more popular today than ever, although it does not figure much on the field of battle, camouflage being deemed more suitable!

Probably the evolution of the science was not governed very tightly, until it had proved its importance, and the first Register of Arms, or Armorial, which has survived belonged to the reign of King James V, when the Lyon King of Arms was Sir David Lindsay of the Mount. This takes us to the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Reformation was beginning to be felt in Church affairs.

Four centuries had passed, and no doubt a tremendous amount of Heraldic history had become lost or confused, which must have an effect today. Later usage is probably not above criticism, due to lack of qualification or enthusiasm among representatives of the Lyon Court. Today Heraldry is rigidly controlled and new mistakes are highly unlikely, but existing gaps can only be filled with difficulty, if at all.

What started out hopefully as a final clearing up of the Auld Kirk Heraldic inscriptions and carvings has not ended in complete success because of these caveats. The carved examples present special difficulties, because colour is not there to help out, or if it ever has been it has disappeared due to weathering. The convention of using lines and hatching to denote particular colours was not followed on stonework.

The first description known of the Auld Kirk, was written by John Shedden Dobie of Morishill, Beith, on 25th September 1879. A lawyer, Writer to the Signet, he was a well-known antiquarian of his time, and the article was published in the "Transactions of Ayr and Wigtown Archaeological Society". The Kirk possesses a copy. I refer to this work in this article.

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Outside the church there are three carvings to be seen, two on the south face of the Bell Tower, and one on the south-facing Cunningham, or Glengarnock Aisle.

One on the tower is oddly and unsymmetrically placed, as if the builders had taken a stone which had previously been carved and used it to fill a gap. This is the uppermost, immediately under the eaves, to the right of the window, and it bore the impaled Arms of Crawfurd and Barclay, now so weathered as to be almost unrecognisable from ground level. When the tower had its original corbie-stepped gable modernised in 1854, the stone was replaced upside-down for unknown reasons, but this was rectified during the 500th Anniversary restorations.

The reason for the impalement of the Arms was the acquisition of the Barclay territory by the purchase of the Glengarnock Barony, into which it had been absorbed. This was in 1677. Lower, at the "intake" where the rising wall was reduced in thickness, directly under the window, the second stone is found; this is carved with the undifferenced Arms of Cunningham of Glencairn. If this stone is original it shows the importance of the Glencairn

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