Dunscore
The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon

THEMES & PERSONALITIES

Introduction

Some Historical Background

The Border

From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Thomas Telford


Robert Burns - Doonhamer

The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle

Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon

Other Literary Figures

The Artists

Fame and Fortune

Other Pairs of Eyes

Dunscore

The droll antiquarian and schoolmaster James Shaw from Tynron once described Dunscore as having been 'built entirely without any prearrangement on the part of the builders. In fact, the houses seem to have been engaged in a reel, and to have stopped dancing in the middle of it.'

The name, Gaelic in origin, means 'hill with the sharp rock', and dominating the summit of that hill is the parish kirk, which was completed in 1824 and replaced a previous building of the 1640s. Rev Joseph Kirkpatrick (1750-1824), minister here for thirty years from 1776, was renowned for his pedantic dreariness. Among those who found him intolerable was the poet Robert Burns, whose Ellisland farm near Auldgirth* lay within the parish (see Robert Burns, Doonhamer). Burns described the minister as 'in himself one vast constellation of dullness, and from his weekly zenith rays out his contradictory stupidity to the no small edification and enlightenment of the heavy and opaque pericraniums of his gaping Admirers.' He finally gave up attending Dunscore kirk after a Kirkpatrick sermon poured scorn on the deposed Stuart royal family. Burns wrote: 'The Stuarts have been condemned and laughed at for the folly and impracticability of their attempts [to regain the throne] in 1715 and 1745. That they failed, I bless my God most fervently; but cannot join in the ridicule against them.'

Burns was not alone in his criticism of the minister's deficiencies. His friend Robert Riddell said that Kirkpatrick's contribution to the Statistical Account was 'the worst account yet printed, except the account of the parish of Terregles. Much more may be said of Dunscore, but the ignorance and stupidity of the minister is such, and so great a Mule is he, that no good can be done with him.'

The parish kirk of today proudly displays its 'Caring for God's Creation' credentials at the front gate. It received awards in 2005 and 2007 from an organisation called Eco-Congregation Scotland. The citation praised the parishioners' projects such as 'working to establish Dunscore as a Fair Trade village'.


Three historic personalities, of markedly differing types, are associated with the Dunscore area.

The notorious persecutor of the Covenanters, Sir Robert Grierson of Lag (1655/6-1733), derived his territorial name from the early-sixteenth-century Lag Tower, to the north-east of the village.

The Griersons had been installed at Lag since the first decade of the fifteenth century. Sir Robert was the last of them to inhabit the tower, which he had inherited from a cousin. He had another home at Rockhall near Mouswald, which is where he died. It was said that at his funeral a crow perched on his coffin. His fearsome reputation gave rise to the once-common parental admonition 'Watch out or Grierson'll get ye!' There used to be a game called 'playing Lag', revolving around the creation of a beast with prominent eyes, pointed ears and a long snout: the eyes were for spying on Covenanters, the ears for eavesdropping on their activities and the snout for sniffing them out.


Well to the west of Dunscore, close to the county boundary with Kirkcudbrightshire, Craigenputtock farm is where, from 1828, the writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane Welsh spent several years of their early married life before re-locating to Chelsea in London.

Carlyle described the remote property as their 'peatbog Castle' and said the place was so quiet that 'my broom, when I sweep up the withered leaves, might be heard a furlong's distance.' Jane was miserable for most of their time there but in one letter tried to be as positive as she could be:

This solitude is not so irksome as one might think. If we are cut off from good society, we are also delivered from bad; the roads are less pleasant to walk on than the pavements of Princes Street but we have horses to ride; and instead of shopping and making calls I have bread to bake and chickens to hatch - I read, and work and talk with my husband and never weary.

Dunscore was the birthplace of Jane Haining, the tragic World War 2 Church of Scotland missionary.


Jane Haining

To the north of where the Carlyles lived, Loch Urr has the site of a crannog, an Iron Age island homestead.


Unlikely as it may now seem, the folk of Dunscore were once able to travel by train. When the Cairn Valley Light Railway opened in 1905 there was a station here (see Some Historical Background).

PLACES

Ae
Amisfield
Annan
Auldgirth
Bankend
Beattock
Bentpath
Brydekirk
Canonbie
Carronbridge
Carrurtherstown
Chapelknowe
Clarencefield
Closeburn
Collin
Cummertrees
Dalswinton
Dalton
Dornock
Dumfries
Duncow
Dunscore
Durisdeer
Eaglesfield
Eastriggs
Ecclefechan
Eskdalemuir
Glencaple
Gretna
Hightae
Holywood
Johnstonebridge
Kettleholm
Kirkconnel
Kirkpatrick Fleming
Kirkton
Kirtlebridge
Langholm
Lochmaben
Lockerbie
Middlebie
Moffat
Moniaive
Mouswald
Newton Wamphray
Parkgate
Penpont
Powfoot
Ruthwell
Sanquhar
Templand
Thornhill
Tinwald
Torthorwald
Tynron
Wanlockhead
Waterbeck

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