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Issue 79 - The Fairy Knowe

Scotland Magazine Issue 79
February 2015

 

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The Fairy Knowe

In memory of the Reverend Robert Kirk

The mythology of the little people: dwarves, fairies, pixies, brownies and trolls is prevalent throughout the world, but never more so than with the Celtic races. For example, the author Robert Louis Stevenson discovered that a belief in lady fairies, deathly to human lovers, was as common in Samoa as it was on the banks of Loch Awe.

And it was such thoughts that must have preoccupied the mind of the Reverend Robert Kirk, seventh son of the Parish Minister of Aberfoyle in the Trossachs when, before his death in 1692, he penned The Secret Commonwealth, a remarkable investigation into fairy folklore, second sight and extrasensory perception. When shown the manuscript more than a century after Kirk's death, the writer Sir Walter Scott was sufficiently impressed to personally publish the work to popular acclaim.

But Kirk's personal story is equally intriguing. Having studied theology at St Andrews and Edinburgh, he was appointed Minister at Ballquhidder in 1664 before succeeding his father at Aberfoyle in 1685. Twice married and a bit of an academic, he was instrumental in publishing the Gaelic Bible in 1690.

From Aberfoyle, passing over the old stone bridge, can be seen Doon Hill where, so the story goes, Robert Kirk would go throughout his life to meet his fairy friends. Nothing much has changed. Follow the track opposite the church and there is nowadays a signposted pathway flanked by tress which leads to a leafy copse on the top of the hill and the celebrated Fairy Tree.

Here, on a summer evening in 1692, Robert Kirk, collapsed and died and was allegedly taken to the centre of this tree where there are those who insist he remains to this day. Another tradition claims that his body and spirit were spirited away for him to become Chaplain to the Fairy Queen. Although his tomb is prominently situated in the Aberfoyle Churchyard, the tradition has it that it remains empty. And from all over the world, pilgrims arrive to leave messages and presents on and around the leafy Fairy Tree. Strips of ribbon, little dolls, rags, small purses and offerings, all of them gifts for the hidden world that exists out of our mortal sight. Make a wish and it will surely come true.

The rustle of the wind, seasonal shafts of sunlight, the sparkle on the wing of an insect and the crunching of twigs underfoot, all of this conspires to fire the imagination.

Info
Doon Hill, The Trossachs, Stirling and Forth Valley. The Riverside Visitor Centre is in the centre of Aberfoyle. Go past the cemetery on the right hand side of the road, then go left until you reach a green metal gate and follow the track.