I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for
a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
– Genesis 9.13
A Brief History of the Kirk in the Parish of Ballantrae
How and when the Church became established in the Parish of Ballantrae is a matter of conjecture, if we start with the name “Killantringan”, we can make a reasonably good guess
Killantringan means “The Church of St Ninnian”. St. Ninnian or Ringan, as he is sometimes called in Scotland, was born on the shores of the Solway firth about the year 353 A.D. His father a chieftain of that district brought him up as a Christian and dedicated him to the Church. The lad was enthusiastic for religion , for knowledge and for travel, and, as a young man made his way across the Alps to Rome, where he lived for some years. He returned to Galloway about 397 with a band of followers lent to him by St. Martin to help in founding the Monastic Church in Britain. Tradition tells that he tried to land in his coracle south of Currarie Port and at Ballantrae, but was unable to secure a footing on either point. Some of his followers were skilled in the art of building and tradition claims that with their aid Ninnian erected the first stone church in Britain. This claim is disputed, but it is certain that the Candida Casa or white house, afterwards known as Whithorn, was a centre from which a great impetus was given to the spread of the Gospel. The names of its missionaries are still borne by the fields and hills, by wells and villages all over Scotland. Balkissock in our parish, is said to have been named after St Kessock, who came from Whithorn and was martyred at Luss.
Our first Church is likely to have been somewhere in the area known as Killantringan. Nearby Auchencrosh means “Field of the Cross” and to southwest is Balminnoch, “the place of the Monks”. This church would be an unsubstantial building and all traces of it must have disappeared long ago.
St. Ninnian died in 432 A.D. and more than 200 years elapse before we pick up the historical threads of the Church in our Parish.
Shortly after 661, St. Cuthbert, Prior of Melrose, and the Apostle of the Borders, visited Galloway, and as the custom of naming Churches after living saints continued to a later period in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe, it is probable that the Church at Kircubright-Innertig (the Kirk of Cuthbert at the mouth of the Tig) was built as an immediate result of his visit and was named after him and dedicated to him.
This Church is situated on the Farm of Kirkholm close to the junction of the Tig with the river Stinchar, about one and a half miles inland from the village of Ballantrae. There are ruins of a Church there now but they can hardly be those of the earliest Church, which would more likely be of wood or turf. In its enclosure of about an acre in extent are several small undressed tombstones, all unlettered, except one bearing the name Thomas M. McCreadie.
The date of the erection of the Church now in ruins at Innertig is unknown but it was evidently old at the time of the Reformation. It was one of the Churches granted to the Monks of Crossraguel by Duncan, Earl of Carrick in 1185.
In the reign of James V (1513 – 1542) the monks imposed an annual tax of £2 13s. 4d. on Innertig. Obviously the Parish was poor, so a “reader’ had to do duty instead of a vicar. Andrew Oliphant was in charge at the time of the Reformation; John Cunningham held office from 1571 – 1574; Alexander Kennedy from 1575 – 1585.
At the end of the 16th century, the Church was in a ruinous condition but by this time its situation was inconvenient to the Laird of Bargany and Ardstinchar, and to the people who lived in the clachan or village which clustered around Ardstinchar Castle. No one, therefore, was anxious to repair it, partly, one supposes, because there must have been a desire for a new Church in the village.
In 1601 Gilbert Kennedy died of wounds received in a skirmish in a snow storm at Maybole, and his body was interred at St. John’s Church in Ayr. His young widow, however, had a tomb or vault constructed at Ballantrae and in 1604 a new Church was built over it, on a site south of the present Church.
Lady Bargany died near London in 1605 and her body was brought back to Scotland and placed beside the remains of her husband in the Church at Ayr. Shortly afterwards, the remains of the Laird and his Lady were removed from Ayr to the vault at Ballantrae. The funeral was conducted with great pomp and splendour, and must have been a most impressive spectacle. One account states that “the procession which accompanied the remains from Ayr to Ballantrae numbered one thousand gentlemen on horseback. including three Earls and many Lords and Barons. A nephew of the slain Ardstinchar bore the banner of revenge; on which was painted a picture of the Laird and the motto ‘ Judge and revenge my cause, O Lord’. A vast concourse of people attended the funeral ceremonies at Ballantrae
A description of the, Bargany Tomb, written over 200 years ago states, that it is situated on the south side of the Kirk exactly in its centre. Apparently this aisle was a transept of the Kirk, built over the vault. This transept was, of course, open to the body of the Kirk, but the arch has since been filled up with solid masonry, with a stout wooden door in its centre. With the exception of this Kennedy tomb and a smaller aisle or tomb attached to the. west side of it, no other vestige of the old Kirk now remains; the site whereon it stood is fully occupied by graves and tombstones.
The kirk built in 1604, served for a little over 200 years. It was small and could not have held many worshippers. In its later years the heritors put a Gallery over the Fergussone aisle to accommodate the increase of population. It is said that this was chiefly for the fishermen and the name it was given was “The fishermen’s loft”.
Seven Presbyterian and four Episcopalian ministers occupied the pulpit. The Episcopalian form of worship was not acceptable in Ayrshire as envinced by the sometimes ruthless “Outings” of their ministers. The Reverend John was “outed” from Ballantrae in 1686.
For a congregation to have had only three ministers during a period of 124 years must be something of a record!
From 1826 – 1830 the Minister was the Reverend Thomas Burns, who was a nephew of the poet Robert Burns. He was the third son of the poet’s brother Gilbert and was born at Mossgiel. He came out at the Disruption and in 1847 he emigrated to New Zealand and was the first Presbyterian Minister there. He died in 1871.
Among the mural tablets in the present Church is one erected by public subscription to the memory of Robert Cunningham, Postman, who lost his life when endeavouring to carry out his duties during a heavy snow storm.
The Church clock, which had given good service for many years “packed up” in 1958. This meant that, if it was to be replaced, the Clock and Tower Committee were to be faced with considerable expense. Due to the enthusiasm of a number of people, a Sponsored Walk was held in August 1968 and £340 was raised, a really magnificent effort. This amount, along with other subscriptions, enabled the Committee to install a new electric clock
Since 1987, pew bibles, copies of “Junior Praise”, an alms dish, the loop-system, a lectern fall, a white pulpit fall with matching book-marks and carpeting have been presented by generous members. To mark the Church’s 175th anniversary, the Woman’s Guild gifted a red pulpit fall.
In May 1975, the General assembly took the decision to move Glenapp Church into the Presbytery of Ayr. This took place on 1st January 1976. On the 7th July 1985, Glenapp Church was united with Ballantrae Church.
An honour of significance came to the Church in the years 1973-1974 when one of the elders, Lord Ballantrae, was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly, an office he held with great distinction.
Ballantrae Church History was compiled by:
The Reverend H. Miles Leith, TD., M.A., Minister at Ballantrae in July1969, the 150th anniversary of the building of the present Church with additions by the Rev. Isobel J. Brain, M.A.. on the occasion of its 175th anniversary. Updated by Rev. Robert P Bell BSc.2004. Further updates by John McIlwraith 2007.