The parish of Barr was created in 1653 out of parts of the parishes of Dailly, Girvan and Colmonell. The area is traditionally sheep pasture and borders on large forestry commission plantations to the south and east bordering on the Galloway Forest Park.
Evidence of Barr's past can be seen in the churchyard where a gravestone commemorates Edward Mc'Keen, a Covenanter, who was shot, in February 1685. A company of 24 soldiers, surrounded Dalwyne farm north of Barr where they discovered Mc'Keen. He had traveled from Minnoch vale in Galloway. McKeen tried to escape and was shot twice in the head by Colonel James Douglas.
When you enter Barr you cross the Stinchar Bridge which was built in 1787. There are a number of 19th century buildings including the Church and Free Church.
In 1837 the main landowners of the district were the Marquess of Ailsa and Sir James Ferguson. The main shopkeepers and traders of the town at that time were listed as:
Baird, William, surgeon Caldwell, John, blacksmith Ferguson, Wm, grocer & spirit dealer Fergusson, Thos, grazier, Dinmurchie Forsyth, Geo, boot and shoe maker Forsyth, Janet, vinter Forsyth, John, boot and shoe maker Gibb, Geo, shopkeeper and teacher Kennedy, John, joiner & cartwright McCaa, Jas, shopkeeper and cartwright McCraken, Robert, blacksmith McCreedy, Andrew, tailor McCubbin, George, tailor McGarvie, John, vinter McKinnan, J, cartwright & joiner McMurtrie, John, Innkeeper Pringle, Wm, cartwright & joiner Walker, Stephen, master of the parochial school, and librarian of the subscription library.
You may have already read the story of the Laird of Changue and the Devil by clicking on the Devil's Trail on the map. The story relates back to the times when the Fair of Kirkdandy was held on the last Sunday in May near the ruins of Kirk-Dominae a mile and a half south-west of Barr. This 'feeing' fair was a chance to trade and socialise.
People came from far afield to trade, barter and enjoy themselves. In a ballad of the time the writer describes seeing 63 tents, the sound of pipes and fiddles, and people drinking and eating cold haggis, ham, cheese and bread. There were travelling merchants together with fortune tellers, ballad singers and wandering minstrels. The fair would start early in the morning selling sheep, bartering wool, and getting supplies for the winter. Later the minstrels would play, folk would dance, drink would flow and eventually fighting would erupt. Pitched battles were a characteristic of the fair. The fair was eventually replaced with a Girvan fair. The ballad describes the Kirkdandy Fair:
And mony a lad and lass cam' there,
Sly looks and winks to barter,
And some to fee for hay and hairst,
And others for the quarter.
Some did the thieving trade pursue,
While ithers cam' to sell their woo';
And ithers cam' to weet their mou,
And gangs wi lassies hame, man.
It was also a time of smuggling and the illicit stills provided much of Galloway with large quantities of peat-scented whisky.
So as you wander through the quiet village of Barr and experience the solitude and splendour of the countryside, if you hear some pipes in the distance it may be the ghosts of the locals dancing at the Kirkdandy Fair.
From Barr head towards Old Dailly and on the left you will see Penkill Castle. Originally from the 15th century it was renovated in the 19th century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti the Italian poet and painter visited Penkill in 1868. The poem The Stream's Secret was written at Penwhapple Burn. He also famously attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself over Tairlaw Lynn. William Bell Scott also stayed at Penkill Castle. He painted the King's Quair around the circular staircase. His poems Penkill Castle and Old Scotch House were also written there. (Note that access to the castle is by appointment only).
The book Ayrshire and Arran An Illustrated Architectural Guide by Rob Close is worth having if you are investigating the castles and houses in Ayrshire.