If driving through the picturesque village of Kirkoswald you may be forgiven for glancing over at the small parish church and thinking it is like any other small village parish church. In actual fact, Kirkoswald Parish Church has a fascinating and historically significant past.
In 634 AD Oswald, exiled prince of Northumbria, founded a church after defeating his enemies in a nearby battle. Later rebuilt in the 13th Century, Kirkoswald’s Old Parish Church contains the baptismal font believed to be used for King Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick (1274 – 1329) who was born and raised nearby at Turnberry Castle
In 1775, at the age of 16, Robert Burns spent the summer in Kirkoswald studying mensuration and geometry under the tuition of Hugh Rodgers. Rodger’s school was actually on the site where Souoter Johnnies Inn now stands.
The poetry of Burns features friends and neighbours from his time in Kirkoswald including Souter Johnnie, Kirkton Jean and Douglas Graham of Shanter, the inspiration for Tam o’ Shanter. These notables are buried in Kirkoswald’s Old Parish churchyard.
Burns also had strong family connections to Kirkoswald and the Parish Church. His mother Agnes Broun the eldest of five siblings was born in Kirkoswald and was only 10 when her mother passed away leaving her to look after her family for two years.
Her parents and other family members are buried at the old Church in Kirkoswald. In 1757, she married William Burnes at the nearby town of Maybole and the marriage was blessed with the birth of our national bard, Robert Burns on the 25 January 1759.
Quite astonishingly, there is another famous historical figure with links to this small parish church. In 1959 the US President, Dwight Eisenhower joined the congregation at Kirkoswald Parish Church for Sunday service. The 5th Marquess of Ailsa gifted the exclusive use of an apartment at Culzean Castle to the President in recognition and thanks for his position as commander-in-chef of the Allied Forces, 1942-45 and for commanding Scottish troops in the Battle of Europe. This makes Kirkoswald Parish Church the only church in Britain to have an American President as a parishioner.
Kirkoswald also has a shadier past, and was well known for its links to smuggling. It was a favourite hiding place for contraband goods that landed along the coastline around Culzean. A story is told that a farmer’s wife one morning made the household porridge with brandy instead of water. The mistake was only discovered when there was an unusual demand for second and third helpings that morning. Burns is said to have met many of these smugglers.
Top: Robert Burns, 1759–1796
© The National Trust for Scotland
Bottom: Artist impression of Tam o’ Shanter