Buchanny Cairn (Site of)

Place-name:Buchanny Cairn
Suggested Meaning:Cairn of the house of the Canon
First elementGaelic buth channon ‘house or seat of the Canon’
Second elementScots cairn ‘a pile of loose stones marking a grave
Blaeu Coila (1654):N/A
OS Name Books (1855-57):Buchanny Cairn
Location:Ordnance Survey (1898)

Early Forms:
Buchanny Cairn (Estate Map 1772)
Forms of the name of a farm building presumably named after the cairn
Cairn of Buckwhanny (1707), Cairn Buchanan (1708) Cairn of Buchanan (1714), Cairn of Buchannan (1733), Buchanny Cairn (Estate Map 1772), Cairn Knockshinnoch(1811-1834)

Buchanny Cairn (Site of)

Map 1: Site of Buchanny Cairn OS Map (1856) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Buchanny Cairn (site of) reads –

On this spot stood “Buchanny Cairn.” It consisted of a large heap of Stones, which were removed some years ago, to build dikes and houses in the neighbourhood. In the Centre was found a Stone Coffin and some fine mould of a blackish appearance.

Mr. Miller of Laight (who pointed out the Cairn’s Site) – States that there could have been very little short of 3000 Cartloads of Stones in it.

The field is still called ‘Cairn Park‘. And the name appears on an old Estate Map, dated 1772.

The ‘Authorities for Spelling’ of the name were Andrew Miller Laight; James Sloan, Ashmark , John Parks, Pathead and Mr. William Johnston, Schoolmaster, New Cumnock.


Scots cairn ‘a pile of loose stones marking a grave’

Scots cairn typically applies to ‘A pile or small pyramid of loose stones, especially one serving as a boundary- or land-mark, or marking a grave’ [1] and in this case it clealry marks a grave – ‘a large heap of stones‘ with ‘a stone coffin in its centre‘. Sadly, as described above, nothing now remains of the Cairn and the CANMORE entry for Buchanny Cairn only repeats the text in the OS Name Book [2] while John Smith in ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’ only offers ‘Cairn Buchanny stood near Ashmark‘ [3]. A good example of a stone-coffin can be seen in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll which was found in the centre of a cairn built in the period 1400-1200 B.C.

Stone Coffin Temple Wood Cairn, Kilmartin Glen (Robert Guthrie 2010)

Buchanny Cairn was situated on the lands of Ashmark [4] a few hundred yards north-east of the farmhouse. It stood about a half mile south of the Laight farm, which may be named from Gaelic leac ‘gravestone’ [5]. John Parks, is likely to be John Park, stone-dyker, living at Pathhead, while the schoolmaster, no doubt would add any further local knowledge. All four authorities agreed on Buchanny Cairn as the only spelling, which coincided with the name on the 1772 estate map; presumably Knockshinnoch estate which included both Ashmark and Laight.

Map 2: Buchanny Cairn (OS Map 1864) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Cairn Park

Scots park ‘An area of enclosed farm-ground'[6]

Map 3: Buchanny Cairn and Cairn Park (OS Map 1856) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Cairn Park from the north dry stane wall with Lochbrowan hill and Blackcraig Hill in the distance (Robert Guthrie 2022)

Buckwhanny, Buchanan, Buchannan, Buchanny

Although all the ‘Authorities for Spelling’ agree on Buchanny Cairn as the spelling of the name of the cairn, the Old Parish records of baptisms/births offer some alternatives [Scotland’s Places]. It appears that in the 18th century there was a farm cottage that was named after the Cairn and presumably located in the ‘Cairn Park’.

Sadly, no such named building appears on the Ordnance Survey maps or on earlier maps such as Blaeu, Roy or Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire. There are other stones to be seen on the field that may be associated with outbuildings etc.

The Old Parish Records for New Cumnock cover the period (1706-1855). Cairn Buckwhanny is the the earliest entry but this changes to what appears like the proper name Buchanan/Buchannan.

The name then disappears from view from the Old Parish Records, which of course may reflect there where no further baptisms for a period. However, one hundred years later, still with no further baptism records at Cairn of Buchanan, a similar name, Cairn of Knockshinnoch, appears in the Old Parish Records. This is certainly a reference to a residence on the Knockshinnoch Estate and it may be that farm cottage Cairn of Buchannan was re-named. Whatever the case, Cairn of Knockshinnoch does not appear in the OS Name Book (1855-57).

There remains many questions to be answered about the Buchanny Cairn. When was it built? Why was it built at this location? Who was buried in the stone-coffin? When was the name assigned to the cairn? These may not be answered here but an attempt will be made to unearth the source of the name Buckwhanny, Buchanan, Buchannan, Buchanny?

1. Early form: Buckwhanny

The second element –whanny is similar to the second element in Alwhannie that sits on the south facing slope of Alhang [7] on the Kirkcudbrightshire side of the county boundary. The discussion of the Alwhannie and Alhang in ‘Place-Names of the Galloway Glens’ consider the possibility ‘that these were originally the same name which has been recorded in two different ways.’ [8]

Looking further afield Sir Herbert Maxwell in the ‘Place-Names of Galloway’ considers Barwhanny, Kirkinner as Gaelic barr bhaine [vanny] ‘milking hill’ and includes Alwhannie as another example [9]. John MacQueen in ‘Place-Names of the Wigtownshire Moors and Machars’ considers the second element of Barwhanny to be obscure and comment on Maxwell’s offering as following [10] –

Maxwell’s barr a’ bhaine ‘hill of the milk, milking hill’ has some attraction , but bh– would normally give rise to w– or v– rather then wh

Sir Herbert Maxwell, ‘Place-Names of Galloway’

2. Personal name: Buchanan.

This personal name is the first to be considered if only to dismiss it as a possible candidate. In the New Statistical Account of 1845 (compiled in 1838) the Reverend Matthew Kirkland records ‘D.S. Buchanan of Cunninghamhead as ‘one of the chief-landowners in the parish ‘[11]. This was David Snodgrass Buchanan whose name appears on the list of heritors allocated seats in the new parish Church opened on 20th May 1833 [12]. He acquired the lands of Knockshinnoch, Little Mains, Carcow & Ashmark, Laight, Laglaff, Culcreoch as well as the Castle Inn and other lands in the Castle (the main thoroughfare in the town).

Since the Cairn of Buchanan baptism records pre-dates the Snodgrass Buchanan ownership of the Knockshinnoch Estate by over 100 years then this family name can be discounted as the source of the place-name.

However, in 1902 the family came close to leaving its mark on the name of on the town [13]

In consideration of the feu-duty and other prestations after specified DO HEREBY SELL AND IN FEU-FARM DEPONE to and in favour of John Gordon, Boot and Shoemaker residing at the Castle within the parish of New Cumnock and County of Ayr -ALL and WHOLE that piece of ground, part of the said estate, contained –

  • On the North by a proposed new street to be called Buchanan Drive
  • On the South by ground feud to the Cooperative Building Society
  • On the East by ground feued to the late James Young of Castle Inn
  • On the West by ground still unfeued forming part of the Estate of Knockshinnoch

Sadly, the name of the new street, Buchanan Drive, never transpired.

3. Gaelic buth channon ‘house or seat of the Canon’

Hugh Lorimer, late historian from Cumnock is best known for his book ‘A Corner of Old Strathclyde’ (1951) which is packed full of local place-names and his attempts to unlock their meaning. However, a few years beforehand his views on local place-names were published in the local newspaper, the Cumnock Chronicle, including his thoughts on Cairn Buchanny [14] –

Cairn Buchanny: Grave of the Canon. Buchanny is made up of two words. Boot as in Bute and comes originally from Norse. Bud is a house, booth, bothy Chanain – canon.

Canon:– he was a person bound by certain vows over and above those binding upon regular members of his community. He was obliged to reside at his Cathedral part of the time. He seems to have died here and hence a cairn.

Hugh Lorimer, Cumnock Chronicle (1942)

Lorimer was probably unaware of the earier forms of the name in the Old Parish Records and certtainly if he had known of Cairn (of) Buchanan fits he would have been pleased how well that fits with the Clan Buchanan views on the origin of the clan name [15] –

In Gaelic the name of the clan is Canonaich. The Anglicized name is said to derive from “Mac a Chanonaich” (The Son of the Canon) and Buth Chanain (house or seat of the canon)

The Clan Buchanan Society

It may be the case that the house or seat of the canon was deliberately sited on the prehistoric landscape of an ancient burial cairn at Ashmark and a standing stone on the neighbouring lands of Laight. Rather than Cairn Buchanny being considered as ‘Grave of the Canon’ it seems that ‘Cairn of the House of the Canon’ is a better fit.

It is worth noting the proximity of Buchanny Cairn to the lands of Dalhanna on the opposite bank of the Afton Water. There is a Chapel Knowe (unmarked on maps) at the foot of Dalhanna Holm which also suggests a potential Christian site. N.B. although Dalhanna was considered as a potential Christian site the study concluded Dalhanna Gaelic dail ‘haugh, holm’ Personal name Hannay, i.e. Hannay’s Holm. [16]

This connection between Buchanny Cairn and the lands of Dalhanna has also been noted in the ‘Saints in Scottish Place-Names’ web-site [17].

Map 4: Buchanny Cairn and Dalhanna (OS Map 1857) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Footnote: Coincidentally, 97 year old Bessie Cannon died at Greenhead of Knockshinnoch on 3rd April 1700 [Scotland’s People, Wills & Testaments].

4. Gaelic bothanach ‘booths or huts’

Drawing parallels with similar place-names, Sir Herbert Maxwell ‘observed the forms –buchany and –buchannan in the Wigtownshire place-name Barbuchany in his ‘Studies in the Topography of Galloway’, where he also discusses the place-name Buchan in that region [18]-

BARBUCHANY (P. Barbuchany ; Inq. ad Cap. 1685, Barbuchannan). ‘ Port Patrick.’* Barr bothanach [bohannagh] [?], hill of the booths or huts; adj. from bothan. Bothan, casa (Ir. Gl. 120), dimin. of both, a hut.

BUCHAN (P. Bukunstoun ; MS. 1527, Buchane). ‘ Minigaff.’ Bothan [bohan], a hut.

BUCHAN BURN (P. Ess Bouchany). ‘Minigaff.’ Named from the farm-house standing on this burn (see Buchan). Pont preserves the old Celtic name eas bothanach [ess bohanagh],the torrent or cascade of the huts.

Sir H. E. Maxwell, Studies in the Topography of Galloway (1887)

5. Proper name Buchan,’named for the family Comyn, Earls of Buchan’

Maxwell revisits these names in ‘The Place-Names of Galloway’ [19]. Under Barbuchany he corrects the location from Port Patrick to Peninghame. For Buchan he still refers to bothan, a hut or cottage, however also notes that the hill farm is situated in a district known as the Forest of Buchan, ‘reputedly the hunting ground of Comyn, Earl of Buchan in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, but the Comyns took their title from the district of Buchan between the Spey and the Dee‘. Consequently, he reconsidered Pont’s eas bothanach as the cascade of Buchan, i.e. now including the borrowed name.

John MacQueen in ‘Place-Names of the Wigtownshire Moors and Machars’ [20] notes that Barbuchany sits near Barr Hill and suggests ‘that it is possible that the ‘Bar-‘of Barbuchany may be Barr Hill‘. As for the second element, he believes that ‘it probably contains a reference to the district of Buchan, Aberdeenshire’ through a link with the Comyns, Earls of Buchan beginning with Alexander Comyn, 6th Earl of Buchan who became Sheriff of Wigtownshire. He was succeeded by John Comyn, 7th Earl of Buchan who was involved in the following skirmish Edward I of England’s forces –

In May 1300 he came to Galloway in an attempt to win it over in the Scottish cause in the struggle against the English king, Edward I (reigned  1272-1307). In August of the same year, together with his cousin, the Red Comyn, John III, Lord of Badenoch (murdered 1306) and Sir Ingram de Umfraville, he faced Edward’s forces across the Cree, somewhere near the modern Newton Stewart, only to flee when the English cavalry crossed the river. Possibly the name Barbuchany preserves some remembrance of this skirmish. It may mark the position of Buchan’s forces before the encounter.

John MacQueen, Place-Names of the Wigtownshire Moors and Machars

Map 5 : Barbuchany (OS Map ) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotlans

N.B. the presence of a cairn on Cairn Hill near Barbuchany (High), although it does not merit an entry in CANMORE.

There is also a Comyn link with New Cumnock in that Marjory Comyn, daughter of Alexander 6th Earl of Buchan and sister of John 7th, Earl of Buchan was married to Patrick IV, 8th Earl of Dunbar. In 1296 he swore fealty to Edward I as the Earl of March and Dunbar and as Patrick de Comenagh for his lands in Ayrshire (Cumnock, i.e. Old and New) and Lanarkshire (probably Blantyre). He was also the owner of Cumnock Castle, which stood at the heart of what is now the village of New Cumnock [21] . Later the Dunbars acquired the lands of Mochrum and Glenken and some sources suggest by way of the Comyn marriage [22, 23] while others suggest the Dunbar interest in Mochrum ‘may have dated from the early 1200s [24].

Could the name Cairn Buchanny have been coined as a reference to the family of the Comyn, Earls of Buchan? If so as landowners. it would give some credence to one local oral tradition that the place-name Cumnock is the fanciful Comyn Knock, ie. Comyn Castle! [25].

However, for what purpose would assigning the name of a 13/14th century noble to a prehistoric burial cairn serve?

6. Welsh bwch ‘cow’

W. J. Watson in ‘The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland’ [26] included Buchan, the district north of Formartin under his ‘Territorial Divisions’ of Scotland. Here, of particular interest, he also referenced Buchan Burn and Hill on Loch Trool in Kirkcudbright, on record as ‘foresta de Buchane’ (RMS :1526), Barony of Buchquhane, in Strathore, Fife (RMS:1530) and Buchany in Kilmadock, parish, Buchny (RMS: 1511). Watson concludes –

‘These are difficult names and may be not all of the same origin. The district names may be connected with W. buwch, a cow.

W. J. Watson, The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland

Peter McNiven in ‘Gaelic place-names and the social history of Gaelic speakers in Medieval Menteith’ considered Watson’s comments on W. buwch ‘cow’ in relation to his study of Buchany, Kilmadock. However, he concluded that ‘given the lateness of his recorded forms , i.e. Puchantie (1720) and Buchany (1783,1862), it is not clear if that applies here‘ [27]. The New Cumnock forms Buckwhanny (1707), Buchanan (1708), Buchannan (1733) and Buchany (1855) fall into the same category. [N.B. McNiven noted that Watson’s reference to Buchny (1511) in Kilmadok was in fact a reference to Buchanty, in the parish of Fowlis, Perthshire].

Cairn of Knockshinnoch

As discussed above, Cairn of Knockshinnoch may be a renaming Cairn of Buchwhanny (and later variants) based on the common element ‘Cairn of -‘ and that Cairn of Buchwhanny and Cairn Park formed part of the Knockshinnoch Estate. At the time of the first recorded baptism John Logan of Knockshinnoch & Laight owned the Knockshinnoch Estate – he was an acquaintance of Robert Burns who referred to him as, ‘Afton’s Laird’ in ‘The Kirk’s Alarm’. It appears John Mills and Margaret Wilson named their son James Logan Wilson after the family.

The Buchanan family succeeded as land-owners soon after and during their tenure the name and cottage of Cairn of Knockshinnoch disappears.

Attempts, thus far, to track down a copy the 1772 Estate Map are on-going.

[1] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. |cairn
[2] CANMORE National Record of the Historic Environment |Buchanny Cairn
[3] John Smith, Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire (1895)
[4] New Cumnock Place-Names | Ashmark
[5] Edward Dwelly, Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary | leac
[6] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.|park
[7] New Cumnock Place-Names | Alhang
[8] Place-names of Kirkcudbrightshire. 2022. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. https://kcb-placenames.glasgow.ac.uk | Alwhannie
[9] Sir Herbert Maxwell, The Place-Names of Galloway (1930, 2001 Edition) | Barwhanny
[10] John MacQueen, Place-Names of the Wigtownshire Moors and Machars (2008) | Barwhanny
[11] Reverend Matthew Kirkland, New Cumnock, County of Ayrshire, NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 517
[12] New Cumnock History | Heritors (Landowners): 1833
[13] Feu Charter by Horatio Ross Macrae, W.S. Justicial Factor on the Trust Estate of the Late NEIL GRIFFITHS BUCHANAN of Knockshinnoch. In Favour of John Gordon, 1902
[14] Hugh Lorimer, Place-Names Articles, Cumnock Chronicle (1942)
[15] Clan Buchanan Society | Etymology Buchanan
[16] New Cumnock Place-Names | Dalhanna
[17] University of Glasgow’s School of Humanities (Celtic & Gaelic, and HATII) |Saints in Scottish Place-Names | Little Dalhanna
[18] Sir Herbert E. Maxwell, Studies in the Topography of Galloway (1887)
[19] Sir Herbert E. Maxwell, The Place-Names of Galloway (1930, 2001 Edition)
[20] John MacQueen, ‘Place-Names of the Wigtownshire Moors and Machars’ (2008) | Barbuchany
[21] New Cumnock Place-Names |Cumnock ,New and Old – in progress
[22] Alexander McCulloch, Galloway, A Land Apart (2000)
[23] Wigtownshire Charters, Edited by R.C. Reid, Publications of Scottish Historical Society Third Series, Vol II, p. xiv.
[24] Richard Oram The Making and Breaking of a Comital Family: Malcolm Fleming, First Earl Of Wigtown, and Thomas Fleming, Second Earl of Wigtown, International Review of Scottish Studies 42, p. 19
[25] George McMichael, Notes on the Way Through Ayrshire (1888)
[26] W. J. Watson, The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland (1926, 2004 Edition), p.119
[27] McNiven, Peter Edward (2011) Gaelic place-names and the social history of Gaelic speakers in medieval Menteith. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Images used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
Map 1: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882 (1856) | Buchanny Cairn
Map 2: Ordnance Survey, One-inch to the mile maps of Scotland, 1st Edition – 1856-1891 (1864) Cairn
Map 3: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882 (1856) |Buchanny Cairn
Map 4: Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1843-1882 (1857) Buchanny Cairn
Map 5: Ordnance Survey, One-inch to the mile maps of Scotland, 2nd Edition – 1885-1900 (1895) | Barbuchany
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Buchanny Cairn
Scotland’s People
Old Parish Records, Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census Records, Valuations Rolls, Wills & Testaments
Old Parish Records | Baptisms