Kirkcowan – What's Going On?

Village Life


The Waulk Mill had its own water supply before the water system was introduced into the village. A gravity-fed system had brought water from springs in the hill across the river. Piped under the river bed, it supplied the three houses in the Waulk Mill Road.

Kirkcowan’s original sewerage system, as was the system in all other country places of early years, was “a wee house” at the bottom of every garden containing a bucket. The bucket’s contents were emptied into deep holes dug in the garden. Garden produce, it is said, was of excellent quality:

The first W.C. in Wigtownshire was installed in the garden of the house belonging to Kirkcowan’s millowners, the Milroys. When asked by one enquirer why such a wonderful convenience had not been put inside the house for the greater comfort of the inhabitants, the mistress of the house answered indignantly that such a “dirty thing” did not belong inside a house. The structure of the modern innovation was considered to be “very comfortable” by those who used it. People came from miles around in their pony—driven traps to view and to use the contraption.

Sewerage and drainage were eventually installed into the upper part of the village and, finally, into the older, lower half. When the sewerage pipes from the town were being laid as far down as the Mill, there was a prolonged argument about the plan to close off the Mill Road for six months to do the work. The Milroys fought with the council until the plans were altered to avoid the road and take the pipes beside it into the field to the east.


The poor people of Kirkcowan were supported by weekly collections at the church services. As the minister’s stipend was paid by the patron and other heritors, it was left to the congregation to support the needy people in their village. Whenever the needs of the poor exceeded the collections, individual donations from generous people, including the heritors, made up the difference.

In the middle of the 19th century, there were 33 poor persons receiving aid from their neighbours in this way.

The amount of aid varied, according to individual requirements, from 8 shillings per annum to $6 10 shillings per annum. At this time the church collections amounted to about £35 a year, and a

further £25 in voluntary contributions from the heritors was added to the sum for the poor. There was also an annual addition of £3 from interest on a legacy for the purpose, making an annual total poor fund of £63 for the needy.


The greatest criminal activity in the village was its participation in the flourishing smuggling trade of the area in earlier centuries when local inns regularly provided hospitality to passing smugglers. These men landed salt , silk, and brandy from the free port of the Isle of Man on remote Galloway beaches and, using pack horses, transported the goods across the wild centre of Kirkcowan parish en route to Ayr or Edinburgh.

AS many as fifty of them at a time would break their journey to breakfast at one of Kirkcowan’s inns at dawn. “Halfway House, “Stiravage” (Stay the Voyage), and the “Thatch Inn” were known haunts of the bold, illegal pack men.

For some time, Kirkcowan had its own resident policeman. During this period, in 1853, there was at least one incident of real violence in the village for him to deal with. Having failed in an attempt to arrest one William Stewart, presumably a salmon poacher, the regular constable of the village was forced to ask for the assistance of two special constables, the schoolmaster, Mr. McNaughton, and Thomas Milroy.

In the second attempt to arrest Stewart, who was armed with a knife and a salmon leister, a deep gash was inflicted on Milroy. Stewart was later sentenced to fifteen months’ imprisonment in Perth prison.

Less serious concerns for the law in Kirkcowan were the plundering of the Manse garden (with a trail of apples leading the police along a back road to the smithy), and vandalism of bee boxes.


Kirkcowan has long had at least one resident doctor. In the past, as in other rural places, it had its own Nursing Association, whereby, upon payment of subscription and local fund—gathering events, a nurse was provided by the villagers to serve their community.

One nurse, Nurse Burns, is remembered as dressed in a long grey cloak with a long grey veil having a white band at her forehead.  She also wore black boots.

In recent years nursing services in the area have been operated on a wider basis from Newton Stewart.


Kirkcowan boasted the second curling club to be established in Scotland. When the loch at Craichlaw froze in earlier days, the school was abandoned and the village went to the estate en masse to pursue the popular sport.

The bowling club has also been popular in the village. At one time the Kirkcowan Cycle Club held annual races, and badminton has been a popular village sport.

Tarff Rovers 1902

The Tarff Rovers Football Club represented the local interest in foot ball.


Village dances in St. Couan’s Hall, with music provided by local bands, were always well—supported.

A bus came from Stranraer on Saturday nights for the football dances in Kirkcowan, which was regarded as a lively place in the area. For fifty years the village was renowned for the annual concert of choral and instrumental music, inspired and conducted by Mr. John Crozier. Soloists came from Scottish Opera in Glasgow to perform with local musicians in the packed village hall.

The once popular children’s club, the Band of Hope died out and was replaced for a time by a Children’s Hour. The village also had a dramatic society, cubs, a working men’s club, young farmers club, and an Autumn Club.

Present activities, besides some of the above  mentioned, are Girl Guides, badminton, youth club, a playschool, WRI, dressmaking class, and the Tarff Rovers Football Club.


Kirkcowan village and its inhabitants appear to belong to the modern age. The days of every household having its own cow, pigs, and hens, the village newspaper costing a penny, and Kirkcowan’s lovely home made “wab” adorning chemises, bed covers, and special day school pinnies, seem to be gone.

Yet the heart of the old village, with its warmth, local interest, and friendliness, remains unaltered.