Robert Burns, his parents and maiden names

Burns' parents' grave

The photo is of the grave of Robert Burns’s parents. It’s situated in the graveyard of Old Alloway Kirk, the place which inspired Robert Burns to write his poem Tam O’Shanter. If you want to see more of Alloway and the kirkyard have a look at a previous post here.

I was chatting with a friend recently about the Scottish tradition of women being known by their maiden names, particularly when they die. As you can see from the photo, the father of Robert Burns was William Burns and his spouse was Agnes Brown, Robert’s mother.

Officially I suppose married women are generally known as Mrs Married Name, but amongst old friends they’ll still be Somebody Maiden Name. In fact whenever I meet women for the first time I find that it takes on average about 10 minutes of chat before the words “of course, my own name is …whatever her maiden name is.”

Sadly I’ve noticed that the tradition seems to be dying out (pun probably intended). I’ve got to the stage in my life where the local newspaper hatches and matches announcements rarely come up with anyone I know. It’s the dispatches that I’m more likely to recognise, although happily those folks are often in their 80s and 90s. But I have noticed that the women’s announcements nowadays just have the name of their husband, with not a clue as to the woman’s real name. Let’s face it, some women have quite a series of surnames throughout their lives. I had a friend whose own name was rather unusual and began with ‘S’, then she married an unusual ‘H’, divorced him and married an unusual ‘D’. When her son asked why her names were always strange she told him that she was working her way down the alphabet of strange names. Husband ‘D’ gave her a poisonous look and not long after that he skedaddled! I wonder if she has reached ‘A’ yet!

Back to graves, on this Halloween – gravestones aren’t that common nowadays, my family has always gone for the ‘scattering’ option in recent generations, and in fact although I enjoy mooching around old graveyards reading the inscriptions, I wouldn’t be up for visiting family graves as I would find that quite depressing and pointless. It’s much better to have personal ways of remembering loved ones. But I’d hate to think that those who do opt for the more traditional burial in Scotland have somehow forgotten that if it’s a married woman then she should revert to her maiden name. Maybe it’s up to the stonemasons to educate them.

Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland

As I said before, by the time we got to Alloway, which is just a short hop from Culzean Castle, Robert Burns’s birthplace was shut. But here is a photo of it anyway, thatched roof and all. Hopefully the next time we’ll get there earlier.

Burns's cottage

This one is of the main street in Alloway, speed bump and all! You can just see the gable end of Burns’s cottage at the top right hand side.

Street in Alloway

If you carry on walking past the cottage it isn’t long before you reach the Auld Kirk which was already a ruin by the time Robert Burns was a wee boy (he was born in 1759). It’s this church and graveyard which inspired him to write his poem Tam O’Shanter, which you can read here.

Alloway kirk + yard

This sarcophagus is actually situated within the ruined kirk, it’s obviously very ancient.
a sarcophagus

Just along the road again a very short distance and you reach the River Doon. This is the famous Brig o’ Doon which features in the poem, with the witch pulling the horse’s tail as it gallops across the bridge to escape, of course witches can’t cross water!

auld Brig o' Doon

I took this photo actually on the bridge which is very steep and the garden beyond is the Robert Burns memorial garden, sadly it was shut but from what I could see it looks beautiful.
auld Brig o' Doon  and gardens 2

This is a view from the old bridge to a newer bridge which isn’t all that new really. The pretty area of planting to the right belongs to a local hotel, it looks like a good place to relax and watch the river.
River Doon

And this is the river from the other direction and yet another bridge.

River Doon

I must say that Alloway was never a place which featured high on my list of ‘must visit’ places, but I was very agreeably surprised. The River Doon is really beautiful, fast flowing and clear and having been to the Burns house in Dumfries, I think he must have been pining for his beloved Alloway all the time he was there. Maybe that was why he wrote this song.