North Ayrshire Historiography

West Kilbride Town Crest

One of the reasons I write about West Kilbride and surrounds is because very few other people have. I am not referring here to locals who through the ages have done their best without the tools at our fingertips such as the internet, but more the academics.

Scottish historians are notoriously Glasgow or Edinburgh centric, perhaps because these are seen as where all the great national events occurred – well, at least the ones that have any documentation in the University libraries.

It infuriates me when I buy a history book and it offers a diagram where the west coast of Scotland appears blank, or has a holding label because the writer if focusing on his or her view of “national” events. For example, when I wrote my book “The Portencross Armada Conspiracy“, Scottish history research was focused on Edinburgh, James VI and Mary Queen of Scots. Almost no information was reported on the parts played by the great Catholic Lords of the west.

Andrew Lang said the following between 1907 and 1912:

“A Dumfries, Ayr, Renfrew, Lanark or Peebles man, as a dweller in Strathclyde has some chance of remote British (Brython) ancestors in his pedigree; a Selkirk, Roxburgh, Berwick-shire or Lothian man is probably for the most part of English blood; an Argyleshire man is or may be descended from an Irish Scot or Dalriad.”

Andrew Lang, A Short History of Scotland, Vol I, Page 31

Actually, the Burgh of Ayr was established by the Anglo-Normans in 1205 to divide the Gaelic inhabitants. Dumfriesshire and all along the west coast was in fact very much a fluctuating part of Dál Riata or Dál Riada. Irvine (Vininus so called as the latinised name of the Celtic St Finian to whom the Abbey at Kilwinning had been dedicated) was established in 1249, to forge a presence into North Ayrshire following these pioneering Tironesian Monks.

Further north, in Largs in 1246, Robert de Semphill donated a Roman rite parish church and a Celtic rite church at Southannan. The Roman rite church was dedicated to St Mary under the Cluniac Monks whilst the Southannan church was under the control of the Kilwinning Tironesians who were trying to integrate with the local Gaelic population at that time. Note that the name Southannan itself derives not from any Celtic saint called Inan but is actually another local variant of the same St Vininus.

Modern day historians have a fixation with land ownership as a derivation from the Anglo Norman feudal system. However, the Gaels were of course tribal, and not diocesan. It was therefore largely irrelevant to suggest to the local Gaelic population that someone could “own” land. A tribe aligned itself to a leader such as the Lord of the Isles or the King in Dublin.

The question remains whether Hakon IV deliberately landed in Largs in 1263, rather than on lands aligned to the Celtic tradition less than a mile away. The Norse had integrated throughout Dál Riata over many years, and Hakon might well have regarded the west coast as part of his dominion. The invasion of the Scots into Largs in his eyes, may have been a step too far, or perhaps he wished to send a message to the King of Scots that had evaded him for so long.

These matters are of national historical importance, and like so many others I am aware of, have not been studied in any depth. I will continue to campaign to get the place of North Ayrshire recognised properly in the history books.

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