Burns Night Connections

Robert Burns on the New Cumnock Mural

On this day the 25th January 1759 Robert Burns, the son of William Burn and Agnes Brown, was born at Alloway. The following day he was baptised at Alloway Kirk by the Reverend William Dalrymple. In later years Dalrymple would be one of a band of ministers that would face the wrath of the ploughman poet in his notorious attack on Scotland’s church ‘The Kirk’s Alarm”.

Reverend William Dalrymple headstone – Ayr Churchyard

Also numbered in the brusied band was the Reverend James Young of New Cumnock mocked by Burns as ‘Jamie Goose’. The bard receiving some local knowledge on the minister from his friend and acquaintance (and no friend of the minister) John Logan of Laight or ‘Afton’s Laird’ as he is called in a the presentation stanza of the poem.

Reverend James Young headstone in New Cumnock Auld Kirkyard

A search through the Old Parish Records reveals that Reverend Young, like his Ayr counterpart, also baptised a baby boy born on the 25th January 1759, George Rankin the only son of James Ranken of Whitehill and Jean Hutchison.

Lane Burn heading past Whitehill

Born on the same day of Burns, George Ranken of Whitehill married Janet Logan, the sister of Burns friend John Logan of Laight, the aforementioned Afton’s Laird. Together they had 14 children including son Thomas Ranken who would later marry his cousin Janet Campbell Logan, the daughter of Afton’s Laird.

Another son,  James Ranken served in the Medical Service of the Honorable East India Company on their Bengal Establishment and was Postmaster General at Agra. He died in 1848, umarried at Afton Lodge, near Tarbolton. The lodge was orignailly built as a home for Mrs Catherine Gordon Stewart of Afton & Stair , the great patroness of Robert Burns. It was for her titles the Stair Manucript and Afton Manuscript (including “Sweet Afton”) were named and for whom the Bard wrote –

‘To Mrs. General Stewart of Afton. The first person of her sex and rank that patronised his humble lays, this manuscript collection of Poems is presented, with the sincerest emotions of grateful respect, by the Author’

Afton Lodge near Tarbolton

When the new parish church of New Cumnock was openend, in 1833, both George Ranken of Whitehill and the Misses Stewart (daughters of Mrs Catherine Gordon Stewart) appeared in the list of heritors allocated by the Sheriff of Ayr. Almost forty years later William Allason Cunninghame, Esquire of Afton & Logan (grandson of Mrs Catherine Gordon Stewart) presented the clock to the parish church.


Today the minister of the New Cumnock Parish Church is the Reverend Helen Cuthbert from ‘Auld Killie’. It would be interesting to learn what Rabbie would make of today’s church and how a modern day “Kirk’s Alarm” would read. One thing’s for sure when Helen gets the muse, she would certainly hold her own against the Bard! But where does she, in Burns’s words, ‘catch this poetic skill’?

Reverend Helen Cuthbert and her mother

Helen’s mother, Helen is also known to catch the poetic muse and surely it is no coincidence that she too was born on the 25th January.

Happy 92nd birthday Mrs. Cuthbert!


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