'There was a lad was born in Kyle,
But whatna day o' whatna style,
I doubt it's hardly worth the while
To be sae nice wi' Robin.'
Rantin' Rovin' Robin
In 1205 William the Lion, King of Scots, grouped
the feudal territories of Cunninghame, Kyle and
Carrick into the sheriffdom of Ayr. Kyle was sub-
divided into two parts. To the north of the River
Ayr was Kyle Stewart, lands held by the Fitzalan's
since the 11th century, the future Stewards of
Scotland. To the south was Kyle Regis or King's
Kyle, lands historically retained by the monarch
under royal authority from the royal castle at Ayr.
However, it is to the reign of an earlier king that
we need to turn to uncover the origins of the name
Kyle. Being well -versed in Ayrshire folklore,
Robert Burns was in little doubt that is was named
in honour of that 'jolly auld sowl, King Coil'
Local Ayrshire tradition recalls that in 702 AD, a Scots
army lead by Fergus fell upon King Coilus and his army of
Britons camped near the River Doon, not far from the
shore of a small loch, now known as Fergus Loch
[COYLTON]. The Scots slaughtered the Britons, but Coilus
escaped eastward crossing the Water of Coyle, with the
aid of great stepping stones, still known as 'The King' s
Steps'. The Scots caught up with the King and the
remnants of his army, on the lands now known as
Coilsfield Mains [TARBOLTON] and a massacred
ensued. The Britons were buried in the field now known
as 'Dead Men's Holm', through which flows the Bloody
Burn, and Coilus their king, interred in a great tumulus.
The burial mound was excavated in 1837, and four
cinerary urns dating from the Bronze Age found, matching
in antiquity with a great bonze horn, King Coilus's Horn,
found at 'Dead Man's Holm' in the early 17th century.
Despite these artefacts pre-dating Coilus by approx. 2000
years, his legend lives on in the local place-names. 
South of Coilsfield Mains is Coilsholm and Coilsholm
Wood. The element coils- appears to be common to
both names appended with Scots, English element -field,
and -holm respectively.However, an early form of the
name Coilsfield is Quyltisfield, 1342 with the later
Koelsfield, 1654 . This may still reflect a personal
name Quyltis. However, with the proximity of the ancient
wood, G. coille 'wood' + location suffix -us (cf. Calais,
Fife ) is worthy of consideration, giving, Coilsfield, 'the
field at the place by the (Coilsholm) wood'.
'Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle,
That bears the name o'auld 'King Coil,'
The Twa Dogs
1. Dead-Men's Holm 2. King Coil's Grave
3. Coilsfield Mains 4. Coilsholm 5. Coilsholm Wood
6. Monument to the parting of Robert Burns and Mary
Campbell at Failford. Mary Campbell or Highland
Mary worked as a dairy maid at Coilsfield.
1. Maich 2. Cairn 3. Loudon Hill
4. Corsencon 5. Laight Alpin
Tolls and customs points established in 1205
An early from of Coilsholm is found as Kolyam and Kolyam Wood,
1654 , and this form corresponds well with the modern-day local
pronunciation. Intriguingly, the form Kolyam compares well with
Colyam for modern-day Colzium near Kilsyth in Stirlingshire ,
which is G. cuingleum 'defile, leap' and describes as 'a rather
common term for a narrow gorge in a stream' .
Coilsholm is enclosed within a meander of the River Ayr, downstream
is Stair [STAIR], G. stair 'stepping stones', whilst upstream is
Stairaird [STAIR], G. stair +aird 'upper stepping stones' , both
marking ancient crossing points of the river. Today the Coilsholm
Wood forms part of the Ayr Gorge Woodlands Reserve.
The supposition that Coilsfield and Coilsholm contain the same
personal name element coil for King Coil or Coilus no longer holds.
King Coil's grave contains bronze age relics and that too is a misnoma
in the contect of a Dark Age British king. However, along with Dead
Mens' Holm these place-names continue to play an important role in
preserving local tales and traditions.
Ayr Gorge (cuingleum)
from Peden's Cave
Another traditional account , holds that King Coilus was buried at Coylton Kirk [COYLTON]. However, a former minister
of the parish was less convinced , when amassing old forms of the names viz. Quiltoun, Cuiltoun, Coiltoune, Coyltoune, he
concluded 'It is more likely the parish received its appellation from some feature characteristic of the district, or,
from the River Coyl'. The minister's offerings included G. coill, coiltean (pl.) 'wood, woods', British coll , kell ' a grove',
British coll , cyll , cyll (pl.) 'hazelwood' leading him to conclude that Coyle Water is ' stream of the hazelwood grove' and
Coylton' the place of the hazelwoods' . According to the minister the local pronunciation of the (Water of) Coyl was Kill,
suggesting the water-course name element * kel - 'shout, cry' . . (Cf. Kello Water, Kirkconnel which is known locally as
the 'Killie' ), leading to Coylton 'the settlement on the Coyl, -the noisy water'.
More recently, Ayrshire historian Thorbjorn Campbell was willing to dismiss the association between Kyle and King Coil as
apocryphal until he assessed the host of 'Coil place-names' and indeed added his own, offerings of Holebogs [COYLTON],
Hollybush [DALRYMPLE] and Coalhall [OCHILTREE] to the conventional offerings. . Like their counterparts of Coylton,
Coilsfield and Coilsholm it may only be a coincidence that they are found in that part of Ayrshire known as Kyle
It is to W.J. Watson that we turn for the possible identity of
Old King Cole, he writes' AYRSHIRE, formed part of the
territory of the Damnonians; later it appears to have
become a separate province. Coel, the ancestor of its
line of rulers, flourished, if we may judge by the Welsh
genealogies, about A.D. 400; his seat was most probably
in the central division of the county, called after him
Kyle (Cul, 1153, Reg. Glasg.), Cil, 1164, ib., in Irish
Coel Hen headed a great dynasty, the leader of which in the
7th century was the celebrated Urien, king of Rheged, a
British kingdom created from a coalition of the tribes of the
Novantae and the Brigantae in the 7th century. The
Novantae, are said to have taken their name from the River
Nith, (Ptolemy, Novius) and held the lands to the west of the
river, and Dunragit 'fort of Rheged' in Wigtonshire is often
cited as a western outpost of their new kingdom. It is often
overlooked that the River Nith begins its life in Ayrshire, let
alone Kyle. It rises in the Southern Uplands in the parish of
New Cumnock, (only four miles from the source of the
Water of Coyle), and four miles downstream sits Dalricket
Mill [NEW CUMNOCK], which is considered to be 'dale of
Rheged', a northern outpost of the kingdom .
Note : Other members of the Coel Hen dynasty appear on
the Alloway Page.
The exact origin of the place-name Kyle may remain a
mystery but the folklore of Coel Hen, Coilus and the
merry auld sowl lives on.
(1) A.M. Boyle 'Ayrshire Heritage'
(2) James Paterson 'History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton
Volume 1, Kyle'
(3) Johan Blaeu 'Atlus Novus, 1654'
(4) Simon Taylor
(5) W.J. Watson 'The Celtic Placenames of Scotland'
(6) Statistical Accounts of Scotland, Ayrshire 1791-1799 and 1845
(7) W.F. H. Nicolaisen ' Scottish Place-Names'
(5) H. Lorimer 'A Corner of Old Strathclyde'
(6) A.M. Boyle 'The Ayrshire Book of Burns-Lore'
(7) Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, Vol. V (Eds. C.G.
Simpson and J.D.Galbraith)
(8) T. Campbell 'Ayrshire - A Historical Guide'
(9) H. Lorimer 'A Corner of Old Strathclyde'
'Poems and Songs of Robert Burns' (Ed. James Barke)
By Robert Guthrie
Place-Names in the
Land o' Burns