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Wallace and Bruce Place-Names of New Cumnock

Wallace and Bruce place-names of New Cumnock, Ayrshire

Local historical accounts of many parishes throughout Scotland will inevitably have a chapter reserved for the exploits of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Typically, such accounts will include a list of place-names associated with these great heroes or their contemporaries. Based on fancy or fact the derivations are worthy of preservation. New Cumnock in Ayrshire is one such parish.

Cumnock: The fanciful Comyn Nock , Comyn's Castle [1] can be discounted. John Comyn killed by Bruce in February, 1306 did hold lands in Nithsdale (Dalswinton) but not in Cumnock (then the combined parishes of Old and New Cumnock). Comenoc Castle was owned by Patrick Dunbar, Earl of Dunbar (Patrick of Comenagh, Ragman Roll 1296). Comenoc, Comenagh and Cumno (see later) were later forms of Gaelic comunn achadh 'place of the confluence', for the castle stood on the hill overlooking the confluence of the River Nith and Afton Water [2].

Castle William: William Wallace held a 'royal house at Black Rock, Blak Crag in Cumno' [3]. The Blak Rok is Blackcraig hill at the head of Glen Afton some 5 miles from Cumnock Castle. Across the valley stands the rocky outcrop known as Castle William, reputedly marking the site of Wallace's castle [1,4]. The rediscovery of the Wallace seal suggests that he was the son of Alan Wallace. The name Alan Wallace 'crown tenant in Ayrshire' appears in the Ragman Roll, 1296 [5]. Was Wallace's royal house a reference to these Wallace crown-lands at Blackcraig, in the far east corner of King's Kyle - i.e. that part of Kyle maintained under royal control ?

In 1722, William Hamilton published his translation of Harry's 'Wallace', a book which was only outsold by the Bible [6], creating a new generation interested in all things Wallace. Doubtless new Wallace place-names were spawned across Scotland, including Castle William, the earliest reference to which is on a map of 1775, where it is depicted as a ruined dwelling [7].

Black Bog Castle : Ironically, Hamilton's work was responsible for creating a new name in the parish of New Cumnock He renamed Harry's Black Rok as Black Bog ( to rhyme with 'merry cog'). The parish minister writing in 1838 applied this invented name to Cumnock Castle [8]. A case of two wrongs making a right mess !

Stayamrie: Robert the Bruce and his force of 400 men evaded capture from Sir Aymer de Valence ' up in the strenthis' of Cumnock (the hills of New Cumnock) [9]. Near to Castle William, is the sheer rock face of Stayamrie, or Stay Amery, called after the beleaguered Sir Aymer and his attempts to capture Bruce, i.e. keep going Amery! [4]. Another account considers Stayamrie to contain a reference to Wallace's armoury, due to the proximity of Castle William [1].

However, Stayamrie appears to comprise two elements. Scots stey 'steep hill to climb' (cf. Steygill in neighbouring Dumfriesshire) and Gaelic, Irish aimreidh (amrie) ' steep or rugged'. (cf. Carrickcamrie in Galloway 'steep or rugged rock', [10]). Stayamrie, the doubly steep rock !

Craig of Bohun : Yet another rocky outcrop, near the source of the Connel Burn, carries the name Craig of Bohun, in honour perhaps of Sir Henry de Bohun, Bruce's first victim at Bannockburn [4]. Gaelic bothan 'hut, booth, tent' on the banks of Gaelic connel (connyr ,c. 1590) conghair 'uproar' may be more likely.


Robert Guthrie July 2003



[1] George McMichael 'Notes on the Way through Ayrshire' (c.1890)

[2] Robert Guthrie SPNS Newsletter 9, Autumn 2000 and

[3] Blind Harry 'Wallace' (c. 1477)
[4] Hugh Lorimer 'A Corner of Old Strathclyde (1951)

[5] Dr. Fiona Watson 'A Report into Sir William Wallace's connections with Ayrshire' (1999)

[6] William Hamilton 'Blind Harry's Wallace'(1722)*

[7] Captain Armstrong's Map of Ayrshire (1775)

[8] Rev. Matthew Kirkland 'New Statistical Account' (1838)

[9] John Barbour 'The Bruce' (c.1375)

[10] Sir Herbert Maxwell 'The place-names of Galloway (1930)

* The Luath Press Edition 1998 contains a map showing some 83 Wallace place-names.


The New Cumnock Mural , at the Mary Morrison Memorial Garden
New Cumnock Mural
at the
Mary Morrison Memorial Garden
with Willam Wallace

Cumnock Castle at the confluence of the Afton Water and River Nith
Blackcraig Hill
Castle William
The fictitious
Black Bog Castle
Craigbraneoch Hill with Stayamrie rock face
William Wallace and Robert the Bruce