Monitoring work conducted by staff from Headland Archaeology Ltd during work in the graveyard of the Old Barony Church in West Kilbride has identified twelve in situ burials, along with material likely to represent the remains of at least another two individuals. Previous site investigations work undertaken by Headland in 2010 outside the Barony Church but within the former graveyard had failed to identify any burials, though the depth of these investigations had been limited. However, the most recent phase was concerned with monitoring of new drainage and an access ramp, which required deeper excavations and which as a result had the potential to encounter and disturb burials. The works were undertaken in accordance with a Sherriff's Warrant granted to North Ayrshire Council.
The existing Barony Church building dates from 1873, and was formerly known as the Parish Church. According to the First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1858) an earlier church was located on this plot. The date of the previous building is unknown, but it appears to have been considerably smaller than the current structure, and was orientated on a more E-W alignment. The church occupies a prominent ridge of higher ground, and this, in conjunction with the 'Kil' element of the West Kilbride place-name, may suggest an early date for the first foundation on the site. The graveyard was closed in the 1860s, and a new public cemetery plot was opened at the northeast of the village in 1858. No further interment was allowed within the old plot after this date, but it is possible that some later burial of members of special families may have been allowed.
The inhumations uncovered during the most recent phase of groundworks displayed a variety of age and sex typical of the normal use of a graveyard. All of the inhumations were orientated in an east-west alignment, which suggested that they were laid out in organised rows. The fact that the drainage trench ran in a north-south direction and that the majority of the inhumations uncovered were represented by their skull and/or upper body supports this. The presence of a couple of intercutting graves may suggest a fairly busy graveyard or one in which some of the graves were not clearly marked. The construction of the existing Barony Church in 1873 involved the landscaping of the graveyard, so that the gravestones surviving on site today are not located above specific graves. The truncation of some of the inhumations by modern services relating to the 1873 church show that these burials had been laid out in relation to the earlier church located on the same spot.
Some indication of this was also identified during the previous phase of work on the site, conducted in May and June of last year. During this phase of work, five in situ inhumations were uncovered within the standing church, along with a large amount of charnel which accounted for a minimum of 24 individuals. Since burial within a church building of this date is highly unusual it is likely that these inhumations relate to the earlier church seen on the first edition OS map of 1858. The truncation of one of the inhumations by the presumed foundation of the 1873 church would support this. The extent of the earlier graveyard or the location of the earlier church could not be defined by these test pits, though the large number of individuals accounted for from the charnel and in situ burials would suggest that therefore the earlier church was set further back from the modern road than had been previously assumed.