Minister Robert Kirk (9 December 1644 – 14 May 1692) was an author who translated the Psalms and other portions of the Bible into Scottish Gaelic. However, it is the belief that he was kidnapped by the fairies that keep him well-remembered so many years after his death.
As did most Scots in the 17th century, Robert Kirk strongly believed in the reality of The Good People. They are an invisible race that Kirk claimed were of nature halfway between that of angels and that of mankind.
Insulting Fairies and Death
Throughout his adult life, Robert Kirk took copious notes on the various beliefs of his parishioners. These beliefs included Fairies, the phenomenon of Second Sight, doppelgangers, and other occult matters. In 1691, he condensed these beliefs into a book entitled The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies. This book was to be his undoing according to the legend that started soon after his death. This legend states the Fairies did not take kindly to invasions of their privacy. They liked even less their manner and nature being reported to the public at large.
Instead of dying on the night of May 14, 1692, as the written records show, the local population believed Fairies took and held him captive in the Fairy Hill near the Aberfoyle church.
“Such was his familiarity with the wee folk, it was said in the district, that he was carried off by them the following year and his headstone stands over an empty tomb.”
During this time, people believed these sorts of kidnappings as real occurrences. Women dying during, or soon after childbirth, were thought to have been stolen to nurse Fairy infants. Sickly or troublesome babies were explained to be changelings: Fairies left in place of a human child.
An 1812 book gave the specifics of Kirk’s final fate:
As the Reverend Robert Kirk was walking one evening in his nightgown upon a…fairy mount in the vicinity of the manse…he sunk down in what seemed to be a fit of apoplexy, which the unenlightened took for death, while the more understanding knew it to be a swoon produced by the supernatural influence of the people whose precincts he had violated. Shortly after his funeral, (he) appeared in the dress in which he had sunk down, to a relation of his own…
Robert Kirk After Death
Kirk told the man that at the christening of his baby (born after his death) he would appear as a phantom. He said if a dagger is thrown above his spectral head he would be returned to the land of the living. Kirk reportedly did appear at the christening. However, everybody was so shocked by his appearance that they failed to throw the dagger. Kirk then left by a different door and never seen again.
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This story would become accepted by everyone. His son Colin wrote to a friend that his father had “gone to his own kind.”
A visitor to Aberfoyle in the early 20th century recorded how the legend of Kirk’s mysterious death had been somewhat embellished. For instance, the locals believed Kirk’s body was not in his grave. He was in Fairyland and his coffin filled with stones.
The lore continued. A young pregnant woman rented Kirk’s old manse during World War II. She told neighbors and visitors she hoped she would still be in Aberfoyle at the time of her delivery. Some Aberfoyle natives informed her that Robert Kirk would appear and finally be set free if a baby is born and christened in the manse.
Now a Simple Folklore
By the end of the 20th century, belief in Fairies in Aberfoyle became rare. A local publication discussing the legend states:
“Beyond the old kirk is the heavily wooded Doon Hill where it is alleged that the pine tree at the crown of the hill is the Reverend maintaining an earthly form after being spirited away by the Fairies. Does this tree really have the power to grant wishes to those who walk around it three times?”
Gone are all of the darker aspects of the legend. All that remains is a collection of quaint and harmless folklore completely unrelated to the original story. If this remains unchanged, it may forever leave Reverend Kirk trapped in Fairyland and the contents of his grave unknown.