The earliest dated gravestone here is No 131, which is inscribed thus – “This is the burial place of Hall. J.B. J.R. 1629”. Internments continued up to 1922 [‘Garan 1631 – Murikirk 1950’, Tom Findlay] though in the latter years they were much less frequent, the new cemetery being opened in 1866.
The two most notable persons buried here are the poets Isabel 'Tibby' Pagan and John Lapraik.
Tibby Pagan (No 235) was born in New Cumnock but came to Muirkirk to work as a shepherdess while still young. She was lame from infancy and is reputed to have squinted in one eye, had a tumour on her side, and be so deformed in one foot that she needed a support to walk. However her lively character, her ability as singer and poet, as well no doubt as her unlicensed trade in alcohol, ensured her popularity and her livelihood. She is best known for 'The Twa Kirks', 'Crook and Plaid' and above all ‘Ca' The Yowes Tae The Knowes'. A 'Collection of Songs and Poems' was published in 1805, and surprisingly the last song is not included. Burn's, as is well known, wrote a revised version of the song which was included in Johnson's 'Musical Museum’, but there seems no doubt that the original version was hers.
John Lapraik was born at Laigh Dalfram, near Muirkirk in 1727 (Muirkirk Churchyard, No 149). In 1754 he married Margaret Rankine, sister of “rough, rude, ready-witted Rankine”, the friend of Robert Burns. He inherited a large estate, which had been in the family for generations, but was ruined by the 1772 collapse of the Ayr Bank. After spending some time in debtor's prison, he ran the village post office and a public house in Muirkirk for 11years before his death on 7th May 1807, aged 79. He was much encouraged in his poetry by Burns and he published 'Poems on Several Occasions' in Kilmarnock in 1788.
John Smith, a covenanter, who was shot in 1685, is buried at the far end of the Churchyard. Three miles outside the village, on the Cumnock to Muirkirk road, is Airdsmoss. An obelisk marks the site of a skirmish involving around 30 'Cameronians' and Earlshall and his troops numbering around 112, on 20thJuly 1680. A stone beside it marks the final resting place of James Cameron (minus head and hands which were cut off to be put on public display in Edinburgh).
The obelisk carries the names of eight others who died there with Cameron - his brother Michael, Captain John Fowler, John Gemmell, John Hamilton, Robert Dick, Thomas Watson, Robert Paterson and James Grey. (These names also appear with Peden's in Auchinleck Churchyard stone No 1). Those taken prisoner on that day were, Hackston of Rathillet who was hanged drawn and quartered on 30thJuly 1680, Manuel of Shotts and John Villange of Auchinleck who died of their wounds, Archibald Alison of Evandale and John Malcolm of DaIry who were executed in Edinburgh on 13th August 1680, James Skene, Archibald Stewart and John Potter who were hanged in Edinburgh 1st December 1680.
A number of poems have been written about the battle, such as "The Mournful Occurance at Ayrsmoss" by Margaret Park, 'Peden at Camerons Grave’ by A. Stewart-Monteath, and ‘A Cameron Dream' by James Hyslop. A Large monument to the covenanters, erected by Charles Howatson of Glenbuck on 18th June 1887, stands in Muirkirk's Cemetery.
There are a number of interesting carved stones in the churchyard, first among which is that to two young boys killed by a wildcat (No 226). Several have carved skulls and bones – No’s 226, 255, 180. 720 & 124, and others carry the angel or winged soul – No’s 120, 119, 180, 201 & 227. There are two excellent examples of tradesmen's stones, No 119 which is that of a blacksmith, has a hammer and anvil carved on it as well as a winged soul; the other, No 165 belongs to a tailor and this has an iron and a pair of scissors. It also carries carvings of a winged soul, a skull and an hourglass. No 148 also has an hourglass. There are several stones with cast-iron surrounds in both burial grounds. These presumably, belong to those associated with Muirkirk Iron Works. (Churchyard No’s 187 and 207, Cemetery No 92). Also, stone No 77 in the churchyard has a vase with flowers all round it.
On the front, left-hand side of the church is a plaque dedicated to the memory of John G.A. Baird (No 268). He owned estates at Wellwood, Muirkirk and at Coulston, East Lothian, and had been M.P. for Glasgow Central from 1886-1906. He was educated at Eton and Christchurch Oxford and afterwards for five years in the 16th Lancers, holding the rank of Lieutenant. After marrying in 1880, to a daughter of Sir James Fergusson, Bart of Kilkerran, he left the army and settled in Wellwood. From 1901 to 1909 he acted as commanding officer of the Ayrshire Imperial Yeomanry and when in 1886 the Scottish Clerk's Association was formed, Mr Baird became its first president, a role he continued to play till his death. He was also interested in Archeology and wrote an 'Account of the excavation of Two Hut Circles at Muirkirk'. He died on 6th April 1917 and was buried in the south aisle of the chancel of St Mary's Parish Church at Coulston. A memorial service for him was held in the Parish Church on Friday 13th April 1917. [‘Ayr Advertiser’, 12th and 19th April 1917]
No. 204 - Mearns “Early was I taught to shed/ Drops of grief o'er loved ones dead! Dew on blossoms dry and sear/ Emblem meet of sorrow tear.”
No. 245 - Smith “Who was shot by Colonel Buchan and the Laird of Lee for his adherence to the word of God and Scotland's Covenanted . . . When proud . . . did abjure Scotland’s reformation pure and fill's this land with perjury and all sorts of . . . such as would not with them comply. The persecute with hue awl cry and I in flight was overtake and for the truth by them was slain.”