This magnificent mural can be found at the Mary Morrison Memorial garden established in honour of my late mother, at the Castle, New Cumnock. It is the work of Pamela Ramage a muralist and decorative artist from the neighbouring county of Lanarkshire. Pamela has succeeded in capturing snapshots from New Cumnock’s past and magically placing them in the timeless landscape of Glen Afton.
The St. Andrew’s Cross or the Saltire, Scotland’s flag flutters gently and proudly across the hillsides. These hills formed part of the Southern Uplands and gave refuge to both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce during Scotland’s Wars of Independence in the late 13th and early 14th century. Wallace, the son of Alan Wallace a crown tenant in Ayrshire and Guardian of Scotland holds a special place in the history of New Cumnock’s . Blind Harry tells us Wallace held a ‘ryall residence near the Blak Rok’, or Blackcraig Hill at the head of Glen Afton.
The town of New Cumnock grew up round Cumnock Castle, which was situated at the
confluence of the Afton Water and the River Nith. The surrounding hillsides provided the
livelihood for the majority of the people of this rural community and the ploughman and his trusty two-horse team would have once been a familiar scene in the parish. The Reverend James Young writing in 1793 extols ‘ The soil is generally good and rough, and the hills are covered with green. The air is generally healthful, witness the long lives of many who have died above 90 or near it, and some now in the parish have reached that period ‘
The Reverend Young was on the receiving end of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns lampooned as Jamie Goose in the notorious ‘Kirk’s Alarm’, Of course Rabbie is revered in New Cumnock for his wonderful work ‘Sweet Afton’ and it is fitting to see him posing in the environs of the Afton Water as it flows gently down the glen.
The rural setting changed dramatically throughout the 20th century, as coal became king and the population of the parish quadrupled, reaching close to 7000 at its peak. The renowned coal-mining community spirit took root and it was put to its greatest test in 1950 when the Knockshinnoch Disaster claimed the lives of 13 miners, fathers, brothers and sons. Little wonder that the miner’s lamp aside the miner with his pick carries the brass plate emblazoned with the name Knockshinnoch Colliery.