AYRSHIRE Civil Parish map in "Imperial gazetteer of Scotland, or, Dictionary of Scottish Topography" Volume 1. pp.110-114
Edited by Rev. John Marius Wilson


With respect to the subject of this volume, the names shire and county are interchangeable. Though the terms are practically synonymous, they are not arbitrary distinctions, for each has a characteristic signification which conveys lessons bearing on the social condition of our county's remote past. Shire in its etymology is allied to share and shear and is properly a portion shorn off. For military and financial purposes, the old kingdoms were broken up into divisions, each of which was required to furnish a fixed number of men in the event of war and to levy an assigned amount of money as its contribution to the national necessities. The government of this share or shire was assigned by the Saxon kings to an earl or alderman, and, in order to enforce its obligations to the crown, the jurisdiction of the district was entrusted to an official deputy called the " shire-reeve," the modern sheriff. After the Norman Conquest the Saxon earl was displaced by a nobleman of similar rank who came across with the Conqueror, and from the fact that he had had the honour of being chosen close companion to his leader he was called Comes (Latin comes = a companion). He had duties largely corresponding to those of a lord-lieutenant of the present time. It was his business to rule one of the local divisions formerly existing - comitatus - and from this Latin designation the English word county ultimately came.

For many of these divisions in the British Isles the double nomenclature is in use; with others only one term is usually associated. While all of them may be appropriately called county the name shire can be attached to only some of them, the reason being that these are parts of larger divisions called kingdoms. Kent, for example, never goes by the name of shire because it represents the old kingdom of Cantium. Cornwall, too, is the land of the Welsh at the Horn, and for that reason it is only known under the designation of county. Ayr, inasmuch as for several centuries it formed part of the kingdom of Strathclyde, acquired the name of shire.

How was the county named Ayr? As in many other divisions, it received its name from the chief town, which in turn was named from the river on which it stood. Ar from which the word is derived is a root widely diffused both in the British Isles and in continental countries, and a twofold meaning is associated with it. It may either signify slowness, as in the Arar, which, according to Caesar, flowed with a smoothness beyond belief, or it may imply the opposite quality, swiftness of motion, as in the Isar "flowing rapidly." With respect to the Ayr the balance of opinion seems to incline to the former of the two meanings because the bed of the river. in the main, lies on a smooth even stratum, giving the water a leisurely movement. The other feature is, how- ever, equally characteristic of portions of the stream, where, to the partial view of our national bard, it was correctly described as "bickering to the sea."

SOURCE: Pages 1-3; Foster, John. Ayrshire. Cambridge: University Press, 1910. Print.


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