Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Stirling Lines on Burns Night

Today is, as many of you even beyond the borders of Scotland will be aware, the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, born in 1759 in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire (the county, too, of my birth). Robert Burns came to Stirlingshire (where I now live) on two occasions in August and October 1787. He appreciated the importance of Stirling in Scotland's history and reflected this in a number of songs or poems (for example, Scot Wha Hae, By Allan Stream). I'm indebted to a fine new leaflet on Robert Burns' association with Stirling, published by Stirling's Smith Museum and Art Gallery for the above details and for providing me the opportunity to post something appropriate for Burns Night:

On one of his visits to Stirling in 1787, Burns stayed at the Golden Lion Hotel (which is still in business today) where he (mischievous lad that he was) engraved a short poem (known thereafter as The Stirling Lines) on a window pane in the hotel:

Written By Somebody On The Window Of an Inn at Stirling, on seeing the Royal Palace in ruin.

Here Stuarts once in glory reigned,
And laws for Scotland's weal ordained;
But now unroof'd their palace stands,
Their sceptre's sway'd by other hands;
Fallen indeed, and to the earth
Whence groveling reptiles take their birth.
The injured Stuart line is gone,
A race outlandish fills their throne;
An idiot race, to honour lost;
Who know them best despise them most.

The Smith Museum leaflet describes the poem thus:

"These ten lines summarise the ruinous condition of the palace and castle, where the ceiling with the Stirling Heads [carved wooden heads of royalty and citizenry, restored in 2011] collapsed in 1777. The town also lost its sense of purpose after the removal of the royal court to London in 1603 and was in a sad condition at the time of Burns".

However accurate a description of the condition of Stirling was provided by this little poem, it also proved immensely unpopular with some locals, perhaps also for its criticism of the ruling regime, and Burns was forced to break the window! The controversy even dogged his path two years later while seeking government employment, when he was "question'd like a child about my matters and schooled for my inscription on a Stirling window"!

An interesting little side story bringing Burns to life with all his mischief and perhaps a little youthful lack of foresight (or lack of care) about the consequences of his actions, and interesting for us right here in Stirling and especially today, on Burns Night.


  1. The more perceptive reader will have noted that this post is dated Jan 26th, whereas Burns Night is Jan 25th. Simple. I finished writing after midnight, despite my best intentions!

  2. Never heard that tale before. Like you say, it adds a nice wee bit if colour.


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