Friday, 18 April 2008
Alloway Auld Kirk and Graveyard
re-opened ahead of Homecoming 2009
By: Murdoch MacDonald
ACCOMPANIED by South Ayrshire Council Provost Winifred Sloan, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond today (Friday 18 April) officially re-opened the Alloway Auld Kirk and graveyard in Alloway, Ayrshire, following the completion of extensive conservation and repair work that has been taking place since July 2007.
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Together South Ayrshire Council Provost Winifred Sloan and the First Minister (pictured above) saw the improvements that have been carried out in Alloway Auld Kirk, which is a key visitor attraction in South Ayrshire because of its connection with Rabbie Burns and his famous poem Tam O’Shanter, forming part of the rich cultural heritage of the area.
Provost Winifred Sloan said: “I am particularly pleased that the restoration and repairs have been completed prior to the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth, which has been designated as the ‘Year of the Homecoming’ in 2009. The work has been carried out in a very sympathetic manner, with 68 headstones being stabilised or repaired and vegetation that was damaging or covering headstones removed. During excavation a considerable number of bones were uncovered, which had obviously been disturbed over the centuries. These were catalogued by archaeologists and re-interred at the end of the project.”
The nearby Burns National Heritage Park and Burns Cottage Museum are one of the top visitor attractions in Scotland. The current building, which is ‘A’-listed and a scheduled monument, can be dated to no later than the 16th century but is likely to be significantly older. Towards the end of 2002 there were increasing concerns about the stability of the bell tower, which subsequently proved to be at risk of collapse and was temporarily dismantled. Given the importance of the site in both wider historical terms and its Burns connections, the Burns National Heritage Park Trustees commissioned a study to undertake a fuller assessment of the condition of the historic fabric of the building, and the work necessary to conserve the site in the long term for prosperity.
In 2007 funding was secured from the Heritage lottery fund, South Ayrshire Council, Historic Scotland and Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire.
First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The story of Tam O’Shanter is a reminder to every Scot of the wisdom of hurrying home. It is here at Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk that Tam came to appreciate that wisdom. That’s why I’m so pleased to see the kirk and graveyard restored in time for the Year of Homecoming, for all to enjoy.
“Robert Burns is an integral part of our cultural heritage, the nation’s Bard, and loved across the world. Here in South Ayrshire we come closest to connecting with that heritage, with the kirk and graveyard adding to a historical landscape that includes the Burns National Heritage Park and Burns Cottage Museum. Burns’ poetry has breathed eternal life into these attractions.
“The year of Homecoming 2009 will make sure that Burns’ history, and the cultural jewels on display in South Ayrshire, are as much about Scotland’s future as its past. It is an opportunity to showcase our distinctive assets and to forge direct links between Scotland and the world. The Alloway Auld Kirk and graveyard are just one example of Scotland’s pulling-power, acting as a literary touchstone among the tombstones.
“I’m proud to officially re-open this historic site and hope that Scots around the world will join in my excitement as one more cultural connection brings imagination to life. Mind you, I hope that for those thousands who return to Scotland in 2009 the journey will be less traumatic than was Tam O’Shanter’s!”
The Auld Kirk is an important part of the history and archaeology of South Ayrshire. Critically it forms a major part of the Burns tourism infrastructure. The National Trust will take over management of the site as part of a planned exciting development to upgrade and consolidate the Burns heritage attractions in and around Alloway.
Various conservation and repair work was carried out including:
* Removing vegetation from the wall heads of the Kirk and making sure they are safe.
* Stabilising movement cracks within the Auld Kirk and providing secure access to each of the chambers of the building.
* Refurbishing the entrance area to the graveyard to provide safer access.
* Stabilising a number of unsafe headstones.
* Cleaning and regilding of the headstone of William Burns, Robert Burns’ father.
* Stabilising the boundary wall to secure its long-term stability.
New interpretative signboards, which are currently being worked on by the National Trust, will be installed to assist people to understand the historic features of the Auld Kirk and the graveyard.
Burns featured the graveyard in one of his most famous pieces of work, Tam O’Shanter. This is a famous ghost story involving our hero Tam, a Carrick farmer, known to Burns, who enjoys spending market day in an Ayr pub with friends, flirting and ‘getting fou and unco happy’ – much against the better judgement of his wife who nags him on the perils of drink.
On this particularly dark night, as Tam returns home riding his faithful grey mare Meg, he passes the ruins of Auld Kirk Alloway. It is fully lit and a party is in full swing amidst the gravestones. Tam hides to get a better look, and is amazed to see witches and warlocks led in a wild dance by the devil himself. He is particularly taken by a winsome young witch, Nannie, dressed in a short shirt, and can’t resist cheering her on – “Weel done, Cutty-sark! And in an instant all was dark.”
On his trusty mare Meg, Tam makes a run for it closely chased by the spooks led by Nannie. As he crosses the keystone of the Brig O’Doon Nannie catches Meg’s tail. Fortunately for Tam, Meg’s tail falls off in Nannie’s hands, the spooks are unable to cross the running water, and Tam and Meg escape into the night.
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