Ironmacannie kyles c. 16th-17th century
Diameter 17,8 cm
Weight 1320 g
They were discovered in 1835 in a peat moss, just outside the Galloway village of Ironmacannie; three rough – hewn kyles and a ball, possibly made from pine, though clearly not by a craftsman.
Possibly medieval. Certainly no later than 1650.
The word kyle itself comes from the French quille, for skittle. But in what type of game might these homespun relics have been used?
So diverse is the variety of skittles known in Europe throughout the ages that we can only guess. In Germany, as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries, a kegel was a flat-bottomed club used partly in self defenice, partly by monks who told peasants rhat each kegel represented a sin that they had to topple with a stone. In later incarnations – in England variously referred to as kayles, keiles and later, Aunt Sally – instead of a stone or a ball, a stick or truncheon was thrown.
Some games, such as clost and Dutch pins, used between six to nine skittles, one of them a ?kingpin’. Sometimes the ball was throuwn, or lobbed between the leg. In other versions, such as half-bowl, the ball was cheese-shaped. In loggats, bones took the placeof skittles.
But what links all these variations across the centuries was their association with drinking and gambing, that age-old combination of ?beer and skittles’. Unsurpisingly therefore, such games were frequently listed amongst those activities outlawed by King and Kirk alike, whether it was to concentrate minds on archery practice or holy worship, or simply to discourage mob gatherings.
In Scotland such puritanical strictures reached a peak in the decades before the Restoration in 1660. Typical of these was a fine of 10 shillings on anyone in Perthshire caught playing at kyles on the Sabbath. Indeed it may well have been a simlar injunction which persuaded the owners of these homespun kyles to hide them away until the coast was clear. Perhaps they hid them too well. Or did they make themselves a better set? In any event, their loss is indubitaly our gain.