Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Robert Kirk - Part 1 - Balquhidder

The Reverend Robert Kirk (c.1644-1692) was a student of theology and perhaps more importantly, the seventh son of Mr. James Kirk, the minister of Aberfoyle. Due to being the seventh son he was said to be gifted with the highland second sight, and is famous for his fascination with the faery and for writing down his findings in the 'Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies'. His book is said to have been written in 1691, though it is thought that it remained unpublished until discovered by Sir Walter Scott, who printed 100 copies in 1815. He also provided the first translation to Gaelic of the book of Psalms. I have long been fascinated and intrigued by the life of Robert Kirk, and perhaps more fascinated with the mysteries surrounding his death, but i'll speak more on that later.

First on my list of places to visit to learn more about the Reverend Kirk was Balquhidder. It was here that Kirk was said to have first met the faeries. Balquhidder has long been seen as a very magical place and some say it is a "thin place" where the boundaries between this world and the other world meet. The first church was built there after St Angus visited in the 8th or 9th century, but it wasn't until 1664 that Robert Kirk arrived and took his place as Episcopal minister. The church where he ministered was built in 1631, but has since fallen into disrepair and now sits as a mossy ruin with some splendid yew trees growing inside.

In the graveyard lies the grave of Robert Kirk's first wife Isobel Campbell, whom he married in 1678. Unfortunately Isobel passed away only a couple of years later. It is said that Kirk decorated her gravestone himself, though unfortunately the stone is very weather worn now and difficult to read, as shown in the photograph below (the grave in the centre of the photo, set flat into the ground).

The photograph below shows 'Tom nan Aingeal', the hill of fire. Located just above the kirk and graveyard, it was here that fires were lit during the Beltane and Samhain celebrations in the hope that the ancient gods would bring warmth and light. The grave on the hill belongs to the Reverend Eric Findlater, who ministered in the area for forty years.

If you follow the path leading to the hill above the kirk, past the mossy covered walls of the graveyard, you will come to a bridge across an enchanting waterfall. According to leaflets at the current church, a ghostly wild hunt is said to ride through these parts.

Finally I include a photo of the bell hanging in the modern day church next to the site of the old kirk where Robert Kirk ministered. This bell was donated to the kirk by Robert Kirk.

The Reverend Robert Kirk left Balquhidder in 1685 to return to Aberfoyle, where I will visit in my next blog.

Sources & Further Information
Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies, Reverend Robert Kirk
Sacred Texts - Online version of Robert Kirk's famous book
Information Leaflets at Barquhidder Church

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