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    Symbols on Reverend Kirk’s Gravestone in Aberfoyle Cemetery: Thistle, Shepherd’s crook and Dagger

    Aberfoyle Cemetary Gate

    Aberfoyle Cemetery Gate - Scotiana.com - 2006

    Mairiuna, I did made some research about the inscriptions showing on the grave of the most famous resident of the city of Aberfoyle, native clergyman Robert Kirk, born in 1644, who mysteriously disappeared in 1692.  He was considered a very eccentric man as he believed in the existence of a world inhabited by faeries, goblins and other mysterious creatures.

    To get more insight into his life, our readers can refer to previous posts, where we also talked about his book written just  before his mysterious death :  The Secret of the Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies in which he explains why the nearby Doon Hill, sometimes called Fairy Knowe, is a sacred place.

    The Secret Commonwealth Reverend Kirk fac simile

    The Secret Commonwealth Reverend Kirk fac simile

    The website Sacred Texts has a long essay about Reverend Kirk’s book, and here’s a very interesting quote from it:

    He died (if he did die, which is disputed) in 1692, aged about fifty-one; his tomb was inscribed–

     

    ROBERTUS KIRK, A.M.

    Linguæ Hiberniæ Lumen.

     

    The tomb, in Scott’s time, was to be seen in the cast end of the churchyard of Aberfoyle; but the ashes of Mr. Kirk are not there. His successor, the Rev. Dr. Grahame, in his Sketches of Picturesque Scenery, informs us that, as Mr. Kirk was walking on a dun-shi, or fairy-hill, in his neighbourhood, he sunk down in a swoon, which was taken for death. ” After the ceremony of a seeming funeral,” writes Scott (op. cit., p. 105), “the form of the Rev. Robert Kirk appeared to a relation, and commanded him to go to Grahame of Duchray. ‘Say to Duchray, who is my cousin as well as your own, that I am not dead, but a captive in Fairyland; and only one chance remains for my liberation. When the posthumous child, of which my wife has been delivered since my disappearance, shall be brought to baptism, I will appear in the room, when, if Duchray shall throw over my

     

    p. xiii

     

    head the knife or dirk which he holds in his hand, I may be restored to society; but if this is neglected, I am lost for ever.'” True to his tryst, Mr. Kirk did appear at the christening and “was visibly seen;” but Duchray was so astonished that he did not throw his dirk over the head of the appearance, and to society Mr. Kirk has not yet been restored. This is extremely to be regretted, as he could now add matter of much importance to his treatise. Neither history nor tradition has more to tell about Mr. Robert Kirk, who seems to have been a man of good family, a student, and, as his book shows, an innocent and learned person.

     

    Reverend Kirk Gravestone in Aberfoyle Cemetary Scotland

    Reverend Kirk Gravestone in Aberfoyle Cemetery Scotland - Scotiana.com - 2004

    His earthly grave can be seen in the churchyard near the old roofless kirk ruins.

    Aberfoyle Churchyard - Reverend Kirk Tomb

    Aberfoyle Churchyard - Reverend Kirk Tomb - Scotiana.com - 2004

    The inscriptions mentions his work in translating the Psalms of the Bible into Gaelic, but no reference is made to his fairy work, but we have to keep in mind that we are in a period of time when witches were still being condemned.

    Symbols on Reverend Kirk tomb

    Symbols on Reverend Kirk tomb - scotiana.com - 2004

    I was wondering what meaning had the symbols that we can see on the gravestone. Happy was I to find an explanation on Sophie’s Fantastic Castel website:

    Down the track, past the manse, across the bridge,(…) there is a ruined church. There is a graveyard at its back, which faces the hill. We wander amongst the stones, noting the names: McGregor–for this is McGregor country; Macintyre; Mac Donald; MacLaren, MacFarlane, Menzies, Primrose, Swan, Keir..And Kirk. Robert Kirk. Here he is, commemorated in a slab of red sandstone, and these Latin words, written, according to local historians, in what appears to be 18th century script:

     

    Hic Pultis Ill Evangeli Promulgator Accuratus et Linguae Hiberniae Lumen M.Robertus Kirk Aberfoile Pastor Obiit 14 Maii 1692 Aetat 48.

     

    Here lies the accurate promulgator of the Gospels and luminary of the Hibernian tongue, Mr Robert Kirk, pastor of Aberfoyle, who died 14 May 1692, aged 48.

     

    There are also three designs on the stone: an etched thistle, to represent his proud Highlands background; a shepherd’s crook, to represent his calling; and a dagger, to represent–well, we shall see. No mention on this slab of stone of the Minister’s Pine, or the other life of Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle. No mention of the strange story surrounding his death. No mention of the strange book he wrote a year before his death, which ensured his immortality in more ways than one. Nothing ambiguous about this stone, pinning Kirk firmly to the earth, to time, to death, to sensible pursuits.

     

    Only in recent times has a small plaque been erected on the wall of the graveyard, noting discreetly that the gravestone of Robert Kirk, the ‘Fairy Minister’, was to be found within. The modern tourist authority knows that it is not Kirk’s prowess in evangelism or translating the Bible into Gaelic that attracts modern pilgrims from far away. But it doesn’t want to be too closely connected with the strangeness of the other thing, the ambiguous, elusive nature of just what it was Kirk did, and how he came to be both beneath that firm slab of stone, and in the lone pine on the hill.

     

     

    Sophie Masson also posted a customer book review on Amazon for The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies in which she mentions;

    And for those interested in reading novels inspired by this book, the greatest is Australian writer Christopher Koch’s ‘The Doubleman

    Another book that will soon be on Scotiana’s bookshelf. 🙂

    By the way Mairiuna, funerary Art is a subject that really intrigues me and I took ” tons” of photographs during our sightings of cemeteries. You took many as well, and Jean-Claude has maybe more shots that us two together. It would be interesting to blog about this peculiar art in a near future. When you have a minute, I’d like to hear your thoughts .

    Gotta go for now.

    Talk soon.

    Janice

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    12 comments to Symbols on Reverend Kirk’s Gravestone in Aberfoyle Cemetery: Thistle, Shepherd’s crook and Dagger

    • terry phelps

      I did a lot of research on Kirk. No-one seems to have noted that his gravestone is lying over the grave of Jane Dent (whose headstone it abuts, as can be seen on this website). The stone was almost certainly commissioned by Scott, who was a Freemason, and ‘Bro. Kirk’ (as Robert Boyle, a Rosicrucian, referred to him in a letter) was almost certainly, as Lewis Spence declared, also a Rosicrucian. Next to Kirk’s grave is that of Tod, with a cat’s-head Green Man on it, and this (Eastern) corner of Aberfoyle Old Kirkyard is full of Masonic gravestones (skull and crossbones, etc). I also obtained a copy of Kirk’s will (which was signed by him in 1692; so much for Patrick Graham’s nonsense!) but never found out where ‘Inch-Allodine’ – presumably an island – was (it’s where he wrote the Sec Comm. according to the ending of it, which seems incoherent to the point of madness). He was, by the way, the 7th son of a 7th son.

    • caroline

      Maybe Inch-Allodine is just a misspelling for Inchmahome on Lake Menteith. Certainly this area has great fairy connections (viz Janet and Coline Bord’s “Mysterious Britian”: “The area is also associated with fairy lore, Bogle Knowe (NS 584 996) is a hill traditionally seen as a fairy abode, and on the Southern shore of the lake opposite the Priory, is a long finger of land called Arnmach. This is said to have been constructed by the fair folk, who were tasked with completing a rope of sand by the Earl of Menteith. He is traditionally said to have read a fairy book and released them into this world.

      Finally, after they pestered him out of his mind, he gave them Coire nan Uruisgean on Ben Venue as a meeting place, and they bothered him no more. The fairies are still said to meet at this place, which is situated half way up the mountain to the West of Lake Menteith.”

    • t phelps

      ‘Inch’ is merely the Gaelic ‘Innis’ (island) : there are dozens of such ‘Inches’ in Scotland. The Earl of Menteith – local to Aberfoyle – is intriguing however, since as Caroline has pointed out, he was undoubtedly up to his neck in witchcraft (as indeed were/are many other Scottish nobles) and the Menteith title, mysteriously, died out contemporaneously with Kirk. The problem is further confounded by the interchangeability of the terms ‘witch’ and ‘fairy’ (see MacCulloch, J.A. “The mingling of fairy and witch beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century Scotland” , Folklore, vol.32, 1921) and I’ve little doubt that Kirk was involving himself in matters which were off-limits for a clergyman. For what it’s worth, by the way, the ‘tradition’ would appear to have continued into the present, and it was made abundantly clear to me at Aberfoyle that certain local sources didn’t like me poking around in the matter.

    • t phelps

      Further to my earlier posting, I shall propose that the ‘dagger’ shown on Kirk’s gravestone is a Templar sword – further evidence of Kirk’s Masonic/Rosicrucian connection – and not the ill-fated laird’s dagger mentioned (1806) by the Rev. Patrick Graham in Kirk’s supposed post-mortem reappearance. Kirk’s will, I should add, was signed by him on the day of his death: so much (as I have earlier pointed out) for Graham’s wonderful story!

    • Hi there, I was just wondering how you got a copy of Robert Kirk’s will. ALso, I’m a bit slow at prosessing information, so I am a bit confused by what some of these comments mean when they say Robert apparantly signed his will on the day of his death, meaning that “Graham’s “story is un true. Do they mean his cousin Graham? I dont understand the connection there and why that would mean the story of the dagger and Robert re appearing to him was un true..?
      Please help. Ive been fasinated with the hill adn teh tree at the top for 10 years now. A scary thing happened at the bottom of the hill once about 8 years ago – aimed at my then partner, local Aberfoyle forest ranger.

    • I also looked up the scottish national archives a while back, and I couldnt find that Robert was a 7th son… as far as I can remember, he was somewhere in the middle. I am re visiting my research, as my memory is terrible, and my brain small, but I did make a family tree and found out lots of family members. I did not find that he was a seventh son.

    • t phelps

      If you Google ‘Robert Kirk seventh son seventh son’ you’ll find online confirmation on this. If you want the best detailed information on Kirk, I recommend that you read the Introduction to Professor Stewart Sanderson’s version of Kirk’s book. He did leave a few things out: Kirk had a daughter, for example, and the 1815 version of the ms used by Scott is listed in the Advocates Library Catalogue (though it might since have been sent to the National Archives). I sent Sanderson a bunch of stuff that he didn’t know about, but he steadfastly refused to return it when asked. My own researches were done thirty years ago, and the results sent to the Folklore Society and elsewhere, so I no longer have my copy of Kirk’s will (try the National Archives). It would be nice to conduct a discussion offline (yes, I do know who you are, but your email address isn’t online!) but hesitate to give my own email out here. I should, however, be happy for Scotiana themselves to forward this to you should you wish. We’re getting into some rather murky waters, what with your Ranger friend and all (I have a similar story, also concerning a local Ranger)so I feel it may be prudent to be a little careful here.

    • t phelps

      If you Google ‘Robert Kirk seventh son seventh son’ you’ll find online confirmation on this. If you want the best detailed information on Kirk, I recommend that you read the Introduction to Professor Stewart Sanderson’s version of Kirk’s book. He did leave a few things out: Kirk had a daughter, for example, and the 1815 version of the ms. used by Scott is listed in the Advocates Library Catalogue (though it might since have been sent to the National Archives). I sent Sanderson a bunch of stuff that he didn’t know about, but he steadfastly refused to return it when asked. My own researches were done thirty years ago, and the results sent to the Folklore Society and elsewhere, so I no longer have my copy of Kirk’s will (try the National Archives). It would be nice to conduct a discussion offline (yes, I do know who you are, but your present email address isn’t online!) but hesitate to give my own email address out here (I should, however, be happy for Scotiana themselves to forward this to you should you wish). We’re getting into some rather murky waters, what with your Ranger friend and all : I have a similar story, also concerning a local Ranger, so I feel it may be prudent to be a little careful here.

    • t phelps

      If you access the National Archives of Scotland catalogue, and enter ‘Robert Kirk Aberfoyle’, you will see several items related to Kirk and his son, Colin. Kirk’s will, it is seen, is contained in item reference GD50/75. It is, I now note, dated the 13th May 1892 (whereas Kirk’s death is always given as the 14th ) so it was apparently signed the day BEFORE his death. The plot thickens (maybe)!. These papers (and many others, also in the catalogue) mention Kirk, his relations, the Earl of Menteith, and other matters which would doubtless clear up many mysteries (the possible whereabouts of ‘Inch-Allodine’, for example). They are an absolute treasure trove on Kirk, and were quite unknown to me when I did my research thirty years ago.

    • I appreciate what yoru saying re googling seventh son seveth son etc, however, I do not trust much that I read online, I prefer to have the solid facts myself. I can remember 10 years ago, there were only a few pages on the web that had info on teh Robert Kirk story, and their facts were all over the place..getting simple dates, like birth dates and death dates wrong. Its all too easy to “copy and paste” info these days, instead of finding out the real facts for ones self.
      I do find the story fasinating and very exciting. I stem from a bit of a fairy tayle background myself, to do with JM Barrie, however my family fail to give me many facts so I’m finding it hard to piece it all together. Too many secrets these days!
      Could it not be sheer cooincendence that he signed his will before he died? Or could he have “known” he was going to die ( as the story may suggest) ?
      Im interested to hear about “Inch-Allodine”. Was something written on the will about it? How exciting.. we should find out where it is!

      How do you go about passing on an email on this sight without the whole world seeing it? Would be good to chat.

    • t phelps

      Delighted to hear that you are so careful in your researches! Unfortunately, I don’t have the materials to hand which I carefully assembled so long ago, and therefore can’t immediately quote any reliable (i. e. original) documentation for the 7th son of a 7th son claim, but with you up in Scotland and me down in London (retired, and with a reader’s pass to the British Library) then perhaps we can work something out. If you examine a website entitled ‘Lumbini On Trial’, you’ll see my email details given above the ‘References’ heading, so if you wish to contact me offline you can do so from that. I have perfectly good reasons, I shall add, for my caution over placing too much in the public domain over this.

    • colin anderson

      I do not find it surprising he believed in faeries.
      He was a minister, so believed in god.
      Both are imaginary beings.

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