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aberfoyle from fairy knowe

Robert Kirk was an early fairyist who wrote the Secret Commonwealth, the first and most important book about Highland fairies. He died in 1688 and by the early nineteenth century it was already being claimed that he was trapped in fairyland. There follows our earliest version of the story.

The Reverend Robert Kirk the first translator of the Psalms into Gaelic verse had formerly been minister at Balqnidder; and died minister of Aberfoyle in 1688, at the early age of 42. His grave-stone, which may be seen near the east end of the church of Aberfoyle, bears this inscription:

Robertus Kirk, A. M. Lingue Hibernii, (c) oe bumen,obit, &c.

He was walking, it is said, one evening in his night-gown, upon the little eminence to the west of the present manse, which is still reckoned a Dun shi [a fairy hill]. He fell down dead, as was believed; but this was not his fate:

‘It was between the night and day.

When the fairy king has power.

That he sunk down (but not) in sinful fray,

And, ’twixt life and death, was snatched away.

To the joyless Elfin bower.

Mr Kirk was the near relation of Graham Duchray, the ancestor of the present General Graham Stirling. Shortly after his funeral he appeared in the dress in which he had sunk down to a mutual relation of his own and of Duchray. ‘Go,’ said he to him, ‘to my cousin Duchray and tell him that I am not dead; I fell down in a swoon, and was carried into Fairy-land, where I now am. Tell him, that when he and my friends are assembled at the baptism of my child, (for he had left hi» wife pregnant) I will appear in the room, and that if he throws the knife which he holds in his hand over my head, I will be released, and restored to human society. The man, it seems, neglected, for some time, to deliver the message. Mr Kirk appeared to him a second time, threatening to haunt him night and day till he executed his commission which, at length he did. The time of the baptism arrived. They were seated at table; Mr Kirk entered, but the laird of Duchray, by some unaccountable fatality neglected to perform the prescribed ceremony. Mr Kirk retired by another door, and was seen no more. It is firmly believed that he is at this day, in Fairy-land (Graham 1812, 253-255).

Where did Kirk go for a walk, which Graham tells us was a fairy haunt? Some claim on Fairy Knowe, some on Doon Hill. But to judge by Graham’s words it was rather on Kirkton Hill: note the arrow on the map below marks the manse. The legend continued through the nineteenth and twentieth century: (Walsh 2002, 24-25)

aberfoyle fairies

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