Kirkcowan – What's Going On?

Notes on the Poem


William Nicholson’s poem is described by Rev. C. H. Dick, author of “Highways and Byways in Galloway and Carrick, as, “the greatest piece of vernacular literature that Galloway has ever produced.” Dr. John Brown, author of “Horae Subsecivae, said ,

“Here is the indescribable, inestimable, unmistakable impress of genius. Chaucer, had he been a Galloway man, might have written it, only he would have been more garrulous, and less compact and stern. It is like ‘Tam o t Shantert in its living union of the comic, the pathetic, md the terrible. Shrewdness, tenderness, imagination, fancy, humour, word—music, dramatic power, even wit, are all here.”

The setting of the poem is the Bladnoch River in the area of the Linn of Barhoise and the Glaisnick Mill. “Thrieve, the farm referred to at the end of the poem, is near the back road from Mochrum Park to Newton Stewart.

The “Macmillan’s cup” spoken of in the poem, is described by Dick thus: “A communion cup belonging to John Macmillan, minister of Balmaghie, and first minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

‘This cup was treasured by a zealous disciple in the parish of Kirkcowan and long used as a test by which to ascertain the orthodoxy of suspected persons. If, on taking the precious relic into his hand, the person trembled or gave other symptoms of agitation, he was denounced.’

Also according to Dick, “There is a story that the Rev George Murray, minister of Girthon and later of Balmaclellan, met the poet near the manse gate and offered to give him some money if he would recite “The Brownie of Blednoch.” Nicholson did this with much gesticulation and fervour. Mr. Murray, handing him a coin, said, ‘Now, William, I wish to know your own opinion of this wonderful poem.

‘It has ae faut, said the author, ‘ an’ that an ill ane: it has nae moral.