The Heritage Layby, by the side of the A70 at the western end of the village, includes commemoration of the Covenanter activity in the area and of those who died for their freedom and faith, including:-

  • William Adam, shot at Upper Wellwood
  • John Smith, shot near Lesmahagow but buried in Muirkirk kirkyard
  • John Brown of Priesthill, shot in front of his family by John Graham of Claverhouse
  • Battle of Airds Moss – 22nd July 1680 (see below)

A notice board with information on the local Covenanters is available in the layby and a cairn commemorates the local martyrs.

Battle of Airds Moss 22nd July 1680

From The Covenanters of Ayrshire
by Rev. Roderick Lawson, 1904

Standing on a small knoll in the midst of this wild moor, as the traveller approaches Muirkirk from Cumnock, the traveller notes a tall tombstone of not very elegant shape, standing about half a mile from the road.

On making his way to it, he reads the following inscription:

Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Richard Cameron, Michael Cameron, John Gemmell, John Hamilton, James Gray, Robert Dick, Captain John Fowler, Thomas Watson, Robert Paterson.

While on the flat stone below, there is engraved a Bible and a sword with the following words:

Here lies the corpse of that famous and faithful preacher of the Gospel, the Rev. Richard Cameron, with the corpses of several others, who were conquered by the bloody enemies of Truth and Righteousness.

Halt, curious passenger, come and read,
Our souls triumph with Christ our Glorious Head.
In self-defence, we murdered here do ly,
To witness ‘gainst this nation’s perjury.

Richard Cameron was no common man. Born in a house which is still standing in the quiet little town of Falkland, Fife, he had been brought up as an Episcopalian.

On careful consideration, however, he cast in his lot with the persecuted Covenanters. And he did this in no half-hearted fashion. His was one of those minds which saw truth so clearly that compromise was impossible. He had no patience with the Indulgence. To accept of that was, in his eyes, not weakness, but sin. He therefore kept himself at the head of the “Irreconcilables,” and by his genius and decision, gave his name latterly to the whole party.

Listen to some of the words of this man, as he stood out there on the moor, preaching to the persecuted remnant that clave to him.

“0! sad to think upon the West of Scotland,” he cries, “the wild Highlands have not neglected so many calls as thou hast done. It may be ye think ye have enough, and stand in no need of persecuted Gospel ordinances. Yet, ye are the people in all Scotland that are in the worst condition. What say ye I. Shall I go away and tell my Master that ye will not come unto Him? I take instruments before these hills and mountains around us, that I have offered Him unto you this day. Angels are wondering at the offer. They stand beholding with admiration that our Lord is giving you such an offer this day. Nay, those that have gone to hell many years ago, and who are now crying out in the agonies of torment, may be saying, “0, that we had such an offer as yonder parish of Auchinleck!” Look over to the Shawhead and all these hills. Look at them. They are all witnesses now, and when you are dying, they will come before your face.”

And then, both minister and congregation, as an eye-witness tells us, fell into a state of calm weeping. These men felt themselves for the time carried away from earth. They were in the spirit world. The hills about them seemed living creatures. All nature was bound over to appear as witness against them at the Great Day. They were no longer encompassed by this world’s anxieties, but by the hopes and fears of their dying hour.

But now the dying hour, with its hopes and fears, had come to Richard Cameron himself. The 22nd July, 1680, found him away up in this Muirkirk district, attended by sixty friends. The night before, he had slept at a shepherd’s house, and said when washing his hands in the morning, “I must make them clean, because they must be seen by many witnesses.”

And now he was resting on this green spot about four o’clock in the afternoon, when a troop of one hundred and twenty horse, under the command of Bruce of Earlshall, were seen rapidly approaching. Escape was impossible, and so they resolved to sell their lives as dearly as they could.

Cameron had but time for a few words of prayer, one petition of which he repeated thrice, ” Lord, spare the green and take the ripe!” On concluding this prayer, he took his brother’s hand for the last time, and said, ” Now, let us fight it out to the last: for this is the day I have longed for, and the day I have prayed for, to die fighting against our Lord’s avowed enemies?”

The struggle was short but desperate. Cameron himself was killed in the thick of the fray, as well as his brother and seven others. Five, also, were sore wounded and taken prisoners (Hackston of Rathillet being leader), while the rest escaped over the moss, whither the cavalry could not pursue them. The prisoners were taken to Edinburgh, and there hanged. The head and hands of Cameron were cut off and taken to Edinburgh; and on delivering them up, the officer who carried them said, ” There are the head and hands of a man who lived praying and preaching, and who died praying and fighting.”

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