Largs, pp.143-146.

SelectViewsLargs

 

Scotland and all her warriors forth,
And Norway’s sons might hear the mingled hum
Of Myriads o’er the mountains come!
The horses tramp, and tingling clank,
Where chiefs led on their vassal rank,
And chargers shrilling neigh;
And see the shifting lines advance,
While frequent flashed from shield and lance,
The sun’s reflected ray.
SCOTT.

 

LARGS is undoubtedly the most fashionable and best frequented watering place in the Frith of the Clyde. It is situated on a plain of considerable extent on the coast of Ayrshire, along which it extents for about three quarters of a mile. The distance of this village from Glasgow by land is about 30 miles, and from Greenock about 14 miles; the distance by water, however, from both places is considerably more. Though situated on a plain, it is well sheltered both on the north and east by surrounding hills; the air, therefore, is generally mild and genial, and the sea breeze healthful and invigorating. Provisions are here readily obtained; fish is particular is plentiful and good; and what cannot be had for family use, can easily be procured from Glasgow or Greenock by the steam boats.

The village possesses more than one street, but the principal one is that which extends in front of the beach. The houses are many of them good, but they have been built with little regularity, and the whole has rather a scattered look. Towards the south a number of villas have been erected in form of a crescent, which add greatly to the beauty of that part of the coast. There are several well furnished shops in which, grocery, haberdashery goods, hardware and other articles are exposed to sale. The church which stands at the northern extremity of the village, is a handsome new structure, surmounted by a neat spire in which there is a clock. A rather elegant structure was erected a few years ago, near the water edge, at the expence of about L2000, in which there are hot and cold baths, a large news room, often used as a ball room, and a library. This establishment is under the management of a committee, and supported by subscription. Persons visiting Largs may subscribe either by the half year, month or week, as suits their convenience and their probable stay. Largs also possesses a United Associate meeting house, a well endowed parish school, and post office. A good many of the inhabitants are employed as fishers, a few in a distillery, but the majority of the working people are weavers.

The estate of Largs belonged, in the 12th century, to a family of the name of Morville, anciently of great power in Ayrshire. In 1196 they past by a female heir, the sister of William, the last of his name, to Ronald lord of Galloway, whom she married. On the death of Alan, the last lord of Galloway, in 1234, the lordship of Largs was inherited by Dervorgill his daughter, who  married John de Baliol, the father of John the competitor for the Scottish throne. On her death it was inherited by her son John de Baliol; but was forfeited by him on Robert Bruce’s accession to the throne. That king appears to have conferred it on Walter the Steward of Scotland who married his daughter Marjory.

It subsequently came into the possession of the family of Brisbane of Bishopton, with whose descendant it still remains. In 1595 it was erected into a barony called the barony of Gogoside, and the town into a burgh of barony, called the Newton of Gogo. In 1650 this barony with the lands of Nodesdale and others, were erected into the barony of Nodesdale; and in 1695 the proprietor having disposed of the lands of Bishopton, and acquired those of Over-Kelsoland, the whole was erected into a new barony called the barony of Brisbane. The present proprietor is Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Brisbane, K. B. This gentleman entered early into the army; was long engaged in active service; and after the peace was for some years governor of New South Wales. He is also well known for his scientific attainments, and in particular for the benefits he has conferred on the science of Astronomy. The mansion house of Brisbane is situated in a pleasant valley about a mile and a half north east of the town.

Besides its natural beauties, Largs is remarkable from the battle fought in its immediate neighbourhood in 1263, between the Scots and the Norwegians, under Haco their king; the beneficial consequence of which was so great to Scotland, in terminating the inroads of these northern enemies, and procuring the renouncement of all claim on their part to the Hebrides, the Orkney or the Shetland isles. The accounts given of this battle by the Scottish and Norwegian Annalists differ very considerably, but however this may be, there can be no question as to the effects which followed it. Indeed McPherson in his “Critical Dissertations,” affects to doubt whether there was such a battle at all; but the investigation of the northern Sagas, by Mr. Dillon,has set that doubt entirely at rest.

The Scottish historians say that the fleet with which Haco entered the Clyde consisted of 160 ships, and when it is considered that in addition to his own, he had also the fleets of the king of Man and of several of the island chiefs, the account is not probably exaggerated. He anchored first in the sound of Kilbrannan where several ineffectual attempts were made to accomplish a peace; and he afterwards sailed with his fleet, and brought them to anchor in the sound between the island of Cumbrae and the coast of Ayr.

The accounts of the Scottish historians of this battle, containing few particulars, we shall follow Mr. Dillon in his account drawn from the Norwegian annalists. Haco, having made a detachment with part of his fleet which sailed up Lochlong, and committed considerable devastations in Lennox, he lay some time in his ships without landing his army. During this interval he renewed his proposals for a peace; but afterwards sent a message declaring the truce at an end, and challenging the Scots to fight him. On Monday night the first of October (1263) a violent storm came on, in consequence of which some of the ships began to drag their anchors, and a transport ran foul of the king’s ship. The cable of the transport was cut, and next morning (Tuesday 2d October) she ran ashore on the Ayrshire coast, along with a galley. The storm still continued, and the king’s ship was secured by additional anchors. Haco himself went ashore at the Cumbraes in his boat, and ordered mass to be sung; but in the mean time the fleet was by the storm driven up the channel towards Largs. Some of the ships were forced to cut away their masts, and five of them ran aground.

The Scots on shore did not omit to take advantage of the Norwegian distress. The main army was not in sight, but the parties posted to observe the motions of the fleet, attacked the ships that were driven on shore with missile weapons, while Haco found it necessary to send in boats with reinforcements. He at length came ashore himself, but soon afterwards retired. The Norwegians remained on shore during the night, but the Scots plundered the transport which had run aground. In the morning of next day, when the weather had probably moderated, Haco again landed with a numerous reinforcement. Soon after the Scottish army appeared, and it was so numerous that it was supposed the king of Scotland, Alexander III. was present, though this is doubtful as he was at that time only twenty years of age. It was commanded by Alexander the Steward of Scotland, and probably consisted chiefly of his vassals and retainers, as his territories were more immediately threatened.

From the Norwegian accounts as well as the tumuli, stone coffins with human bones, memorial stones, and other marks of a battle which have been found upon the spot, the principal engagement seems to have taken place between the house of Hailey about a mile south of Largs and the sea. Haco stationed a party on the high ground not far from the shore, where he took up his main position in front of his stranded ships. The Scots skirmished with the Norwegians on the high ground; but Haco appears to have returned to his ships in the roads. The Norwegians represent the appearance of the Scottish army as highly respectable. There were conjectured to be about 1500 on horseback, the horses having breastplates, and some of the Spanish steeds clad in complete armour; and a numerous army on foot armed with bows and spears. The Norwegians on the hill were driven in confusion to the shore, throwing those stationed there also into confusion, who in their turn rushed to their boats, several of which, from being overloaded, were sunk, and a number of men drowned. Others pushed the boats off, and though called by their companions to return, few did so. Haco of Steini, a relation of the king, here fell. The Scots now severely pressed those who remained on shore; and drove them southward toward Kelburne. At this attack there fell a Scottish knight called Peras or Ferash, which are corruptions of his real name which was Piers or Peter de Corrie. He is described as being armed and accoutred in the most magnificent manner, having a helmet plated with gold, and adorned with precious stones, and the rest of his armour as in a style of equal splendour.

The weather made it difficult for the Norwegians to afford assistance to their countrymen: two reinforcements, however, gained the shore under the command of Ronald and Eilif. Ronald was driven back to the ships; but Eilif behaved so heroically that the Norwegians were enabled again to get into order. However, the Scots got possession of the rising ground from which the enemy had been driven, whom they from thence annoyed with showers of missiles. Towards evening the Norwegians made a desperate charge against the Scots on his ground, who driven from thence retired to the mountains behind, while the Norwegians returned to their ships, and the battle was thus closed with the day. From this account there appears to have been nothing like a pitched battle as supposed by our historians; but only an irregular skirmishing between the shore, and the high grounds. Only the advanced parties of the Scottish army would seem to have been engaged, although the rest was in sight.

Next morning the Norwegians returned in search of the bodies of the slain; and it is said that Haco ordered his dead to be carried to a church. Although we are not told so by the Norwegian annalists, yet there can be little doubt that this could only be in consequence of a truce with the Scots; as they could easily have prevented the collecting and burying so many dead bodies, which must have taken up considerable time, not to speak of erecting of the tumuli and other monuments. There can be little doubt the cairns refer entirely to the Norwegian dead, for the Scots would of course bury their dead in church yards, while the Norwegians were obliged to bury theirs in the field. Eight or nine tumuli have been found in the neighbourhood of Largs, some of which have been opened, and some are now removed. One of these was very remarkable. It was of great extent, and was found to cover a building of stones, in the centre of which was found the remains of a body, and around it a number of others supposed about thirty.

After five days, employed no doubt in burying their dead, Haco brought his ships close under the Cumbraes, avoiding the Ayrshire coast, where he was joined by those which had been sent up Lochlong; and some days afterwards he sent people ashore to burn the stranded ships. He then sailed for the western isles, in several of which he committed depredations, and thence to the Orkneys, where he took ill and died.

 

Observations on the Norwegian Expedition in 1263. Transactions of Scottish Antiquaries, vol. 2d, part 2d.

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