Robert Burns


Tam O'Shanter's Kirk of Witches and Warlocks to Dance New Jig

MARTYN McLAUGHLIN - The Herald - March 22 2005

Kirk AllowayIt is the ancient kirk where Satan led a gaggle of warlocks and witches in a frenzied jig "till roof and rafters a' did dirl". But now a dilapidated Ayrshire monument immortalised in Tam O'Shanter, one of the best-known works of Robert Burns, is to be preserved for future generations in the latest effort to safeguard the poet's heritage. The Auld Kirk of Alloway, the scene of a supernatural dance in the poem, and its churchyard, where Burns buried his father, will be reinstated in a £250,000 project.

The work is expected to be completed ahead of nationwide celebrations planned to mark the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth, in four years' time.

The kirk building was a ruin even in Burns's day, but in recent years its condition has rapidly deteriorated.

Fears over safety issues prompted the local council to dismantle the kirk's bell tower nearly three years ago. A survey carried out at the time revealed the A-listed structure was unsafe, with the tower on the point of collapse and seedlings damaging the external stonework. A structural report recently undertaken to examine the historic fabric of the scheduled monument suggested that the long-term stability of the building could not be guaranteed unless immediate action was taken.

South Ayrshire Council has approached Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund in an attempt to secure nearly £250,000 for the restoration project.

The scheme will reinstate the bell tower and attempt to curb deterioration of the building. Both organisations have expressed support for the scheme, and the local authority is also to consider other sources of fundraising, including finances from the town of Ayr's Common Good fund.

The decision has been welcomed by Burns enthusiasts who point to the Auld Kirk as not only a landmark in terms of Burns's work, but one that held significance for the writer. Margaret Morrall, secretary of Alloway Burns Club, said: "William Burnes is buried in the churchyard and there's an inscription Burns wrote to him which is very touching, but not a lot of people know about it.

"It's very important that the kirk is saved from complete ruin. When the bell was removed it was very worrying, so it's appropriate that these steps are being taken."

The Robert Burns World Federation has backed the project. Murdo Morrison, its spokesman, said: "The federation wishes the council all the best with this venture.

"The kirk is a very important artefact and part of the bigger Burns picture, so it's vital that it's saved."

The kirk is believed to date to at least the sixteenth century. Architectural prints drawn in the late eighteenth century show that when Tam O'Shanter was written the kirk was already in ruins. Burns's father, William Burnes, is buried in the Auld Kirk's graveyard, although his original headstone was damaged by souvenir hunters. On the copy is inscribed Robert's epitaph to "the tender father and the generous friend". Burnes also helped to build a wall around the kirk building.
The project is the latest in a multi-agency effort to ensure the historic sites in the village of Alloway are safeguarded.

Last month, The Herald revealed that the National Trust for Scotland is to oversee the management structure of the Burns National Heritage Park, home to Burns Cottage and its associated museum.


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