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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