Strathard Heritage Archive

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The Enchantment of the Trossachs: book review

From Local History News by British Association for Local History

The Enchantment of the Trossachs

Louis Stott

Loch Ard Local History Group 2018

ISBN 978 1 9999487 0 2 £4.00 publishlochard@gmail.com

Loch Ard Local History Group has made a successful initial venture into publishing. This book first appeared in 1992, and the updated second edition makes available to a wider audience an important aspect of the heritage of the area. 

Aberfoyle’s 17th century minister, Rev Robert Kirk, bears responsibility for the locality being seen as ‘the fairy capital of Scotland’. Rev Kirk (1644 – 92) ended his days there in close touch, it is said, with fairyland. While this might seem absurd to us today, the author Louis Stott, examines the importance of Kirk within the context of early modern religion and superstition. At that time there was no scientific explanation for many of the vagaries of daily life, and certainly none that was accessible to rural communities. However, much can seem to make sense if you allow for the involvement of fairies.  Indeed the Royal Society itself investigated both natural and supernatural phenomena. 

Robert Kirk was minister of the parish of Aberfoyle from 1685 to 1692. He was a noted scholar, in particular he was the first to translate the metrical psalms into Gaelic, and he oversaw the publication of the most significant Gaelic Bible of the 17th century. 

Kirk’s book The Secret Commonwealth has appeared in numerous editions over many years, in varying relationships with an original manuscript.  It was written in 1691 in the midst of widespread interest in second sight from, amongst others, Robert Boyle, Samuel Pepys, and Bishops Gilbert Burnet and Edward Stillingfleet. One version of its subtitle explains its purpose: An essay on the nature and actions of the subterranean (and for the most part) invisible people heretofore going under the name of faunes and fairies, or the lyke, among the low country Scots, as they are described by those who have second sight.  Interest was revived in the early 19th century by Sir Walter Scott, and the legend of Kirk’s death, spirited away by the fairies when walking on a hill near the manse, dates from this time. 

Louis Stott was presented with a BALH Award for Personal Achievement in Local History in 2017 (see Local History News 125 p10). Here he examines the way Kirk’s work has been used by subsequent writers from the 18th to the 21st century, and how it has been influential on the history of the local area and on folklore studies more broadly.  There is a glossary of different types of fairies, a note on the ‘topography of fairyland’, and a valuable bibliography.