Old High Kirk, Kilmarnock, Scotland

This evening, I am focusing on the town of Kilmarnock ( pop 44,000) in East Ayrshire, Scotland with particular emphasis on the town’s connection with Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.

Burns’ lifetime spanned the period 1759-1796. It was a publishing event at Kilmarnock which launched Burns onto the world stage. It was here on July 31st, 1786¬†at John Wilson’s printing shop in Starr Inn Close where 612 subscribed copies of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect were published and sold out in a matter of weeks at three shillings per copy. This event secured Kilmarnock’s position as the pre-eminent centre for Burns literature in recognition of which a Burns Monument Centre was opened in 1879 in Kay Park. The Monument Centre is now a weddings venue and a repository of archives and family history records.

Burns Monument Centre, Kilmarnock, Scotland

Burns was a man of modest means. The publication of poems was financed by nine of Burns’ fellow Freemasons. Wilson, the publisher was a member of the same lodge. However, financial support from the same group was not forthcoming for a second edition and Burns was forced to find alternative backers (using is masonic contacts) in Edinburgh.

A tangible connection with Burns at Kilmarnock is the High Kirk (see image at top of post) which dates from 1734 and was known to the poet. The minister,¬†Rev. James Oliphant (1734-1818) was referred to by Burns in ‘The Ordination’ as making the church ‘yell’. In the burial ground is the grave of John Wilson, Burns’ printer/publisher.

John Wilson’s Gravemarker

Today, Burns is commemorated in Kilmarnock by an eponymous shopping centre, the Burns Monument Centre¬†and¬†statues of both Burns and Wilson in the central, ‘Cross’ shopping district. The town has an indelible link with Burns via the 1786¬†‘Kilmarnock Edition’ of Burns poems a 3D digitised version of which can be viewed at the Monument Centre.

Statues of Burns and Wilson at Market Cross, Kilmarnock

Clearly, Kilmarnock should feature in a tour of Burns Country.

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