Local History around the Mull of Galloway

The Romans

Agricola looked across the North Channel to Ireland, which could be conquered and held, he thought, by a single legion of his regular troops supported by auxiliaries. The Roman hold on Britain would then be much stronger.

Agricola’s dream came to nothing. He was recalled to Rome in 84. But he was right when he saw the strategic link between the Rhins and Ireland – a link which remains significant throughout the later history of the area. Some of the evidence for later developments is to be found in local place-names.

In Agricola’s time, the people were Britons, speaking an older form of Welsh. In the South Rhins they are commemorated by the name of a farm, Drumbreddan (bold type indicates a place in the Southern Rhins), ‘the ridge of the Britons.’ Their chieftains lived in hill-forts, like that of Dunman, ‘fort of gables,’ 400 feet above sea level; some in drystone brochs, like that at Ardwell Bay. They built substantial fortifications, like the one between East and West Tarbet, which defends the Mull of Galloway against marauders from the north.

Probably before the end of the Roman period farmers and fishermen from Ireland arrived in the Rhins. Their language was an early form of Gaelic, which was to become the staple language of the countryside for the next twelve hundred years.

Between 400 and 450 Christianity was established in the area by St Ninian, a bishop and a Briton, whose main church was at Whithorn in the Machars.

An almost equally early site is at Kirkmadrine in the Rhins where three early monumental stones commemorate three priests or bishops.

The early Christians

Between 500 and 700 many churches dedicated to Irish saints were established, at Killumpha, for example, ‘church of Iomchadh’ (a very obscure saint), at Killasser ‘church of Lasair,’ a woman saint, and at Kildonan, ‘church of Donnan’, martyred on the island of Eigg in 618. Kirkmaiden, ‘church of my Etain (Medana),’ Kirkbride, ‘Brigid’s church’ (i.e., St Brigid of Kildare), and Kirkmabreck, ‘church of [Aedh] mac Bricc,’ an Irish bishop, are later in form, but their origins go back to the same early period.

Holy wells came under the patronage of other Irish saints. Chipperdingan, ‘well of your Finnian,’ is an example. The saint is probably Finnian of Moville (c.475-579), the chief patron of Ulster.

The Angles

Meanwhile the Angles of Northumbria had extended their political power to Galloway. About 739 Pecthelm, who came from the south of England, became the first in a series of Anglian bishops to be elected to Whithorn. The name Whithorn is itself Anglian, meaning ‘the white house.’ The influence of the Irish church declined, but did not disappear. Little trace of the Angles is to be found in the Southern Rhins.

The Vikings

From about 800 Vikings from Scandinavia became active in the British Isles and Ireland. Some settled in the Rhins and became farmers or land owners. Place-names bear witness to their presence. The old form of the name Stoneykirk, for instance, is Stennaker, Norse for ‘field of stones, stony field.’

The farm-name Float, in Meikle and Little Float, means ‘a piece of flat ground.’ Another, Cailliness, near Drummore, means ‘promontory where kail grows.’ The old name for Port Logan was Port Nessock, and Nessock is ‘bay of the nose,’ i.e., the Mull of Logan, which protrudes like a nose into the sea.

The people of Drummore and the area round about are still known as Fingauls, a Gaelic word meaning ‘Norsemen.’ The principal local landowners were the McDoualls of Logan. Douall represents the Gaelic word for ‘Dane.’


From at least the middle eighteenth century a parish school stood beside Kirkmaiden Church. The walls of the small building still stand, fronted on the east by the gravestones of two early schoolmasters. The first bears a much-worn Latin inscription, the other, that of William Todd and his family, begins with a quotation in Greek from the New Testament.

William Todd wrote a history and description of Kirkmaiden parish, which survives in manuscript but was never printed. He was a gifted teacher, and in addition a good stonemason – he carved the family gravestone, and he made his hobby the construction of sundials, some of which are still in existence.

Clachanmore school was built in 1831. The Education Act of 1872 led to the building of schools at Mull village, Drummore, Port Logan, Sandhead, Meoul, and Stoneykirk. The buildings survive, but have now been put to other uses, for the most part residential. The only schools left in the area are at Drummore and Sandhead.


The prosperity of the lairds gradually increased after the Reformation. Some began to think of ways to increase it still further. In the late seventeenth century Patrick McDouall of Logan began attempts, which continued into the nineteenth century, to establish a ferry-port for Ireland at Port Nessock, later renamed Port Logan.

He built a new quay, now no longer visible, but until the middle twentieth century still called the Wee Quay. He also built Logan Windmill to lessen the estate’s dependence on waterpower, which in summer was liable to failure. In 1702 Colonel Andrew McDouall built Logan House in classical style. By 1800 Logan Fish Pond had been constructed to ensure the supply of fish to Logan House, whatever the weather.

In the early nineteenth century a second Colonel Andrew McDouall made further attempts to improve the harbour at Port Logan, building the present quay and harbour light, and also making alterations in the village to improve access and to provide accommodation for travellers and officials. The construction of the Battery, the Inn, and the High Row (‘Heigh Raw’) was the result. Stone for building operations was quarried at Quarry Bay and Slate Heugh. The cutting through which the stone was transported to the seaside is still visible.

In the early-nineteenth century, Chapel Rossan was built as a house for the estate factor. The main building at Balgowan may have been erected as a dower house. Later in the century, Logan Tile Works, now a ruin, was established at Terally to provide bricks and tiles for local use. Logan Saw Mill, operated by waterpower, was also developed.

The McDoualls of Logan did not confine their attention to their estate. Andrew McDouall (1685-1750), second son of Robert McDouall of Logan, wrote a major work on Scots Law, The Institute of the Laws of Scotland in Civil Rights (1751-3). In 1755 he became a judge of the Court of Session in Edinburgh under the title Lord Bankton.

The eighteenth century saw the disappearance of the old communal farms. They were replaced by the setup, which in essence survives to the present day – farms with single tenants, or owners, who rotate their crops systematically in enclosed fields often separated by drystane dykes. The growth of industrial towns and cities meant that the market for farm produce widened. Farms supplied more than local needs. Cheese making became a farm staple. Creameries were eventually established in Sandhead and Drummore. On some farms flax for linen-manufacture was grown.

The former tenants of the ferme-touns were rapidly transformed into a new class of farm labourers, with the incidental consequence of much rural deprivation and discontent. The countryside gradually became depopulated as the result of migration to the new industrial towns and cities, or overseas.

The lack of paved roads made land traffic difficult, and with the growth of trade local ports, Drummore in particular, became more important. Traffic was mainly with Ayr, Belfast, Maryport in Cumberland, and Liverpool. Exports included potatoes, cheese, and other farm products. Imports included coal, salt, manure, lime, animal food, and a variety of household goods.

The toll exacted on ships by tides and rocks led to the erection of the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse in 1828. Robert Stevenson, a member of the celebrated family of lighthouse builders, directed the work.

A lifeboat station was opened at Port Logan in 1866, and closed in 1932. The former lifeboat house is now the village hall.

During the nineteenth century some paved roads were constructed, but land traffic was still slow and cumbersome. In 1877 a Galloway MP, M.J. Stewart, proposed the building of a railway from Stranraer southwards to Ardwell, where he lived, with the possibility of a later extension to Port Logan or Drummore. He employed a surveyor to plan the route and estimate the cost. The failure of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1882 put an end to the scheme. Until the early twentieth century stagecoach and carter’s wagon remained the only methods of transport by land.


In the 1843 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 451 ministers, led by Thomas Chalmers, separated themselves from the main body to become the Free Church of Scotland. They were expelled from their churches, but with the support of many members of their congregations they were able to form rival Free Churches in their former parishes. In Kirkmaiden the leader of the movement was the Rev. John Lamb, supported, among many others, by his session-clerk, William Todd, who thus lost his post of parish schoolmaster.

The new Free Church was established in what is now St Medan’s Church Hall, Drummore, outside of which stands a monument to Mr. Lamb. An inscription giving details of the foundation of the church has crumbled and almost disappeared. The parish nowhad two churches, of which the Free Church, on the whole, was the more successful.

In 1900 the Free Church of Scotland joined with a remnant of earlier secessions, the United Presbyterians, to form the United Free Church, which in 1929 was reunited with the Church of Scotland. The old church at Kirkmaiden was retained, but used only occasionally. The present St Medan’s, built in 1903, began as the UF church.

Churches built elsewhere during this time include Stoneykirk (1827) and Ardwell (1900-02), theformer disused, the latter used only occasionally. A former UF church, with manse and Sunday School buildings, stands at Doctor’s Corner. The name probably indicates that the minister held the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Sandhead Church of Scotland was built 1962-3. Stoneykirk and Kirkmaiden parishes are now united with regular services at the churches in Drummore and Sandhead.

The Twentieth Century

Military activities dominated the first half of the century. During the First World War (1914-18) German U-boats were active in the North Channel and Luce Bay. The graves of sailors drowned in the sinking of the Main in 1917 and the Rio Verde in 1918 are to be seen in Kirkmaiden kirkyard.

Other vessels also were torpedoed or sunk by gunfire. To counteract, the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) in 1915 established an airship base at East Freugh.

RAF West Freugh was opened in 1937 as an Armament Training Camp. During the Second World War (1939-45) it expanded to include training facilities for Observers, Navigators, and Bomb Aimers. It also served as a base for the Bombing Trials Unit. Operations continued after the end of the war. West Freugh today serves as a weapons trial and satellite tracking station.

The Second World War also saw the temporary and unsuccessful establishment of an emergency landing ground and supply dump on the west side of the Sandhead-Drummore Road, just south of Logan Toll. An air-sea rescue unit operated from the large, ugly shed still standing at the foot of Stair Street, Drummore. ‘Land girls’ were based in a hostel at Drummore, while others stayed on the farms where they worked. Many children from the Glasgow area were billeted as evacuees with local families.

The war years saw the conversion to arable of much land formerly fallow. In the second half of the century death duties on estates brought about the sale of many farms to their former tenants. The ever-increasing use of machinery reduced the number of farm workers and led to the consolidation of larger farm units. The growth in the number of cattle made it necessary to have larger fields for grazing and the growth of fodder.

Continued depopulation forced the closure of village schools, shops, churches and post-offices. Local landmarks such as Logan Tollhouse and Drummore Castle were destroyed. As against this, the ever-increasing use of the car made journeys to and from other parts of the United Kingdom easier for everyone. Tourism in general became more important. Caravan sites opened in many parts of the area. Visitors sometimes became permanent residents, thus going some way to solve the problem of depopulation.