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Issue 66 - Away with the Fairies

Scotland Magazine Issue 66
December 2012


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Away with the Fairies

Annie Harrower-Gray investigates the church minister kidnapped by fairies

As the seventh son of a local church minister, the Rev. Robert Kirk believed he was born with second sight. It appears this special gift allowed him to eavesdrop on the activities of fairies living under Doon Hill near Aberfoyle in the Trossachs. Robbed of their secrets, the subterranean inhabitants sought revenge and kidnapped Kirk, holding him captive in Fairyland.

Kirk graduated with degrees in Theology from St. Andrews and Edinburgh universities, first taking up a post as minister at Balquidder then transferring to Kirkton Church, Aberfoyle in 1685. Scotland in the late 17th Century was a country in religious turmoil. Church leaders struggled to gain social control by enforcing a strict interpretation of the Christian faith on the people. But the ministers were unable to destroy belief in the supernatural completely, despite linking fairies to witchcraft and devil worship and persecuting those who persisted in following the old ways.

The minister for Aberfoyle did not share his fellow churchmen’s methods but believed the existence of the Sleagh Maith or fairies was a fact in nature and could be incorporated into the Christian faith. Unlike his colleagues, he did not condemn members of the congregation who believed in the supernatural. He was a rarity in that he treated such physical phenomena as a matter of scientific enquiry.

After a great deal of psychical research, Kirk concluded that the Sithe, a dwarf-like people in highland dress did in fact live in caverns under Dun Sithean or Doon Hill. He also discovered that he was not the only one to have seen this elusive race. One such person with second sight living in Balquidder only escaped the wrath of the fairies when he cut one with an iron knife. Nothing scared fairies more than iron.

In 1691, Kirk wrote a book entitled Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth. The manuscript was discovered by his son Colin and is now held in the Advocates Library in Edinburgh. It was printed at Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott, in 1815.

It is quite possible that Doon Hill was an Iron Age fort although there is no record of it having being excavated. If it was a fort, then this is probably where the fear of iron originated as it would have been a fearsome and mysterious material when it was first discovered. Kirk believed the hill was riddled with underground passages. In those dwelt fairy folk who flitted on the first Sunday of every quarter year, their movements only visible to men of the second sight. A moonlight flit may have been necessary to avoid punishment for their misdeeds. Kirk claims they ate well on human food, ‘some fine spirituous liquors, that pierce like pure Air and Oil, on the SCOTLAND Haunted Issue 66 | Scotland Magazine 57 poyson or substance of Corns and Liquors. Others stole the actual grain, ‘as do ‘crowes and mice.’ They could thrash as much grain in one night as 20 men. In the form of Brownies, the fairies entered houses and ate the food from the hearth. While they helped themselves they would throw stones, earth and wood at the people sitting around the fire.

The minister spent a great deal of his free time lying on Doon Hill with his ear to the ground, often staying late into the night listening to the activity down in the fairy realm. On these occasions, his worried wife would walk from the manse to collect him.

On 14th May, 1692, Kirk set out on one of his strolls and is said to have fallen into a swoon and while unconscious the fairies of Doon Hill carried off his soul. A funeral was held nonetheless and a tomb erected on the south side of Kirkton Church graveyard. Two heavy mort weights stand outside the now roofless old church. These iron boxes would have once protected fresh corpses from body snatchers, but many still think only stones lie in the coffin under the headstone. It is believed by many that Kirk’s body was taken by body snatchers of a more ethereal sort.

There is nothing fairies enjoy more than attending christenings and funerals and the minister may have accompanied them to his own wake. It was after his funeral service that Kirk appeared to a relative and begged him to go to his cousin Graham of Duchray and tell him that he was not dead but being held in fairyland.

The minister’s wife gave birth to a child after her husband’s death and Kirk claimed that Duchray could obtain his release at the child’s christening. He prophesised he would materialise in the room as the child was being baptised.

Duchray should throw his dirk over the appearance and thus release him from captivity. Robert Kirk’s form was seen to materialise at the appointed time but leave again through the door.

Visitors to the area still make a pilgrimage to Doon Hill. Conical hills have always been set aside for special worship and the mushroom shape rising out of the otherwise flat landscape around Aberfoyle makes it the perfect symbol of a fairy walk. The dense woodland covering the hill only adds to its supernatural appearance. Kirk’s spirit is believed to be imprisoned in the lone pine that crowns the hill from which he commutes between the earthly world and the subterranean.

The existence of fairies may be as, Kirk insisted, an actual fact of nature and due to a force as yet unexplained or the phenomena may be a combination of the subconscious mind processing old traditions. Part of the Scottish fairy legend could have originated with popular tales of the Picts. We may never now know the answer.

Had Duchray followed the instructions that would have returned Kirk to society, would our knowledge of the inhabitants of Doon Hill be greatly increased? Sadly, on seeing his cousin’s appearance at the christening, Duchray froze with terror, forgot to throw his dirk and the minister is still away with the fairies.

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