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through the gate an' haud straught on till ye come to the big
Ye larks that the blue vaulting skim,
'Twas your sires that gave rapture to him.” Passing the farm-steading I entered a grass park and directed my steps to a cluster of trees that a stripling pointed to, and found in their midst a mound surmounted by three large pieces of rock intersected with moderately-sized boulders. And this is the grave of "Old King Coil, the merry old soul,' of nursery celebrity, said I, sitting down on the top of the tumulus. Well, it does not amount to much after all, and if it ever contained the remains of a monarch, then it is true indeed that
“ The glories of our birth and state
Are shadows, not substantial things ;
Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down
With the poor crooked scythe and spade." Unvarying tradition points to this spot as the resting-place of one Coil, or Coilus, a king of the Britons, who is said to have fallen in a bloody battle which he fought with Fergus I., King of Scots, in a field in the vicinity which bears the name of “ The Dead Men's Holm,” and in which pieces of ancient armour and fragments of bones have from time to
time been unearthed by the plough. This, and the fact that a brooklet close to it is named the "bloody burn,” and that the district of Kyle, as antiquaries affirm, derives its name from him, in a measure proves that the tradition has some foundation, or at least that an important battle was at some period of our country's history fought near the place indicated. Buchanan, the historian, who wrote about 1570, affirms that Coilus lived three hundred and twenty-five years before the Christian era, and in Bleau's “ Atlas”
-a work published in the middle of the seventeenth century-the battle is mentioned at some length ; but, on the other hand, Chalmers, the antiquary, scouts the whole story, and modern historians look upon the monarch as a fictitious personage, for the reason that the date assigned him is anterior to the period of genuine history.
The accuracy of the tradition will ever remain a matter of dispute; but that it is not wholly a myth is evident from the following interesting narrative which appeared in the Ayr Observer :—“On the evening of the 29th May, 1837, in presence of several gentlemen, the two large stones were removed. The centre of the mound was found to be occupied by boulder stones, some of them of considerable size. When the excavators had reached the depth of about four feet, they came on a flag-stone of a circular form, about three feet in dianieter. The light had now failed, and rain began to fall in torrents ; but the interest excited was too intense to admit of delay ; candles were procured, all earth and rubbish cleared away, and the circular stone carefully lifted up. The seclusion of the spot, the beauty of the surrounding lawn and trees, the eager countenances of the spectators, and above all, the light and voices rising from the grave, in which there had been darkness and silence (as supposed) for upwards of two thousand years, rendered the scene which at this time presented itself at Coil's tomb a very remarkable one. Under the circular stone was first a quantity of dry, yellow-coloured, sandy clay ; then a small flag-stone laid horizontally, covering the mouth of an urn, filled with white-coloured burnt bones. In removing the dry clay by which the urn was surrounded, it was discovered that a second urn, less indurated in its texture, so frail as to fall to pieces when touched, had been placed close to the principal urn. Next day the examination
of the mound was resumed, and two more urns filled with bones were found. Of these urns, one crumbled into dust as soon as the air was admitted; the other was raised in a fractured state. Under flat stones, several small heaps of bones were observed, not contained in urns, but carefully surrounded by the yellow coloured clay mentioned above. The urns, in shape, resemble flower pots. They are composed of clay, and have been hardened by fire. The principal urn is 7 inches in height, 7] inches in diameter, of an inch thick. It has none of those markings supposed to have been made by the thumb nail so often to be observed on sepulchral urns, and it 'has nothing of ornament except an edging or projecting part about half an inch from the top. No coins, armour, or implements of any description could be found. The discovery of these urns renders it evident that at a very remote period, and while the practice of burning the dead still prevailedthat is to say, before the introduction of Christianity-some person or persons of distinction had been deposited there. The fact of sepulchral urns having been found in the very spot where, according to an uninterrupted tradition and the statements of several historians, King Coil had been laid, appears to give to the traditionary evidence, and to the statements of the early Scottish historians (except with respect to the date), a degree of probability higher than they formerly possessed."
“In 1796, while some of the labourers about Coilsfield were digging a marl pit in the vicinity of the grave, they came upon a curiously carved stone, a drawing of which Colonel Montgomerie (afterwards Earl of Eglinton) caused to be sent to the museum of the Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh, where it still remains. Professor Wilson, in his ‘Prehistoric Period,' written chiefly from the remains of antiquity contained in the museum of the society, gives an etching of this stone.
It is worthy of remark that the symbolic slab was not found in the tumulus, but in a marl pit at some distance, where an urn was at the same time dug up, a drawing of a portion of which was also sent by Colonel Montgomerie to the Society of Antiquaries. If the battle happened between the Britons, Scots, and Picts, as Buchanan tells us, the symbolic cist slab may have covered the remains of some Pictish or Scottish chief, though more
probably Pictish, as these stones are chiefly to be found in the Pictish division of the country, or where colonies of the Picts are known once to have existed."* Musing on
“ Names once famed, now dubious or forgot,
And buried ’midst the wreck of things which were," I strolled across the field to the fence which separates it from the grounds surrounding Coilsfield House-or “the Castle o' Montgomery," as it is poetically termed by Burnsand in the absence of convenient entrance, vaulted across the barrier and threaded a narrow path along a grassy sward which leads to the gravelled walk in front of the mansion. The verdant carpeting was thickly strewn with wild flowers, and above was a delightful canopy formed of the interlaced branches of trees through which the screened sunlight softly fell.
The mansion is an elegant modern building with a portico at the front entrance, but on the whole gloomy and deserted in appearance. It is delightfully situated on a high embankment of the Fail, a rivulet whose music joins in chorus with the song of the birds singing you know not where, but everywhere, in the bosky woods in which it is embosomed.
The lands of Coilsfield were purchased from the Eglinton family by the present proprietor, William Orr, Esq., " who changed his name to Paterson, in compliance with the will of a relative, which name only he now bears. By the same will he was bound to call the estate, purchased with Mr. Paterson's funds, Montgomerie, which is accordingly now the name of Coilsfield.”
Ninety-four years ago Coilsfield House was the residence of Colonel Hugh Montgomery—not a very remarkable fact certainly, but then in this gentleman's service, in the capacity of dairy maid, was a Highland girl, named Mary Campbell, who won the affections of Burns, and who has been vouchsafed an immortality which rivals that of any other heroine of song, for the verses in her praise are justly ranked among the most finished efforts of her lover's muse. This attachment has been described as the purest and most elevated ever formed by Burns, and its object as "a sweet, sprightly, blue-eyed creature, of a firmer modesty and self-respect than too many of the other maidens he had addressed.” This may be, but tradition (which is seldom wholly incorrect) has it that she was neither graceful nor feminine, but was a coarsefeatured, ungainly country lass, which may possibly be conformable to truth, for his brother Gilbert tells us that he was somewhat of an amorist, and that “when he selected any one out of the sovereignty of his good pleasure to whom he should pay his particular attentio, she was instantly invested with a sufficient stock of charms out of the plentiful stores of his own imagination ; and there was often a great dissimilitude between his fair captivator as she appeared to others and as she seemed when invested with the attributes he
* “ History of the County, of Ayr.”
The history of “Highland Mary”—as she is poetically termed—is wrapt in considerable mystery, but thanks to Robert Chambers and others, a few facts have been rescued from oblivion. She appears to have been the danghter of a sailor in a revenue cutter, who had his residence at Campbeltown, and to have spent her early years in the family of the Rev. David Campbell of Loch Ranza (a relative of her mother), in the island of Arran. In early womanhood she was induced to come to Ayrshire and take a situation as a domestic servant, but her movements on her arrival could never be traced. However, it is almost a certainty that she was serying in the family of Burns' friend, Gavin Hamilton, writer, Mauchline, in 1784, and removed to Coilsfield in 1785.
About fifty yards from Coilsfield House I paused before an aged but shattered and decayed thorn which grows by the side of the drive leading to the Tarbolton entrance of the domain. The stately trees by which it is guarded overlook a steep bank clothed with verdure and dense masses of shrubs which screen the rippling Fail as it gurgles on to mingle its water with winding Ayr. There is nothing remarkable about the appearance of the thorn, nothing to attract attention, yet curiously enough its rotten moss-grown trunk is chipped and hacked, and its remaining limb disfigured with rude initials and gashes which wanton relic-hunters have inflicted with pocket knives.
What is the cause of all this? and why is