Burns and the Louth connection
is a strong link between Scotlandıs National Poet Robert
Burns and County Louth. His eldest sister Agnes came to
live here with her husband and is buried in Dundalk while
her home forms part of a nature park near Knockbridge. There
is a monument to the poet in Dundalk and the local cigarette
company, Carrollıs chose the name Sweet Aftonı for one
of its brands.
Robert Burns was born in the little village of Alloway,
Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland on January 25, 1759.
His family circumstances were poor. His father William moved
there from his native Aberdeenshire nine years earlier in
search of work which he found at Doonholm Market Garden.
William Burnes (the original spelling, pronounced Burn-iss
was later changed by Robert himself) was granted the tenancy
of a small plot of land which he tended while continuing
as head gardener at Doonholm.
Burns father met and married Agnes Broun (pronounced Broon
, the old Scots for Brown) and built the cottage that has
come to be known as "Burns Cottage". The house
was extended twice to accommodate a growing family. Robert
had three brothers and three sisters.
Agnes Burns was born on September 30, 1762. Despite their
impoverished circumstances their father believed in the
importance of education. Poverty, hard work and study as
well as an uncanny ability to observe everyday life were
the cornerstones of Burns success.
In July 1786, Burns had his first work published. Entitled
"Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" it is
considered one of the greatest collection of poems ever
written. He composed hundreds of songs, poems and letters
in the last 22 years of his life and he died in Dumfries
in the south of Scotland on July 21, 1796 aged at the young
age of 37 from rheumatic fever.
Just before his first collection was published he met with
and fell in love with Jean Armour. But when she became pregnant
her family disowned him and he also had to face the wrath
of the local Presbyterian Council. An incident that inspired
his poem, "Holy Willie s Prayer" which highlighted
the hypocrisy he saw within the church.
Other famous works include, "Tam O Shanter", a
chilling masterpiece recounting the thoughts of Tam from
the village of Shanter as he makes his drunken way home
on horseback one night.
"A Mans a man for a that" (A Mans
a man for all that) is a poignant and potent description
of what makes a true man. "My Luve is like a red, red
rose" is one of the most famous love poems ever written,
while "To a Mouse" exhibits Burns wonderfulgift
When he had established his reputation, he eventually married
Jean in 1788 and they had nine children. His literary success
helped him secure as job as a tax official that granted
him a steady income for the rest of his life. In 1791 he
gave up farming and moved to live in Dumfries.
Agnes Burns married William Galt in 1804 and they arrived
in County Louth in 1817 when William was contracted by the
Fortescue family to build the Stephenstown Pond on their
estate near Knockbridge.
The pond was required because too much time and effort was
being expended in ferrying water for plants, shrubs and
trees on the estate during the dry summers that prevailed
at the time and the Fortescues employed William Galt to
build the pond on the recommendation of a friend.
So pleased was Matthew Fortescue with his work that he appointed
William as Confidential Manager of the Stephenstown Estate
with the then generous salary of 40 guineas per annum. The
post also came with the use of a cottage as well as land
for the keeping of a cow and growing vegetables.
Agnes received a personal allowance of 5 for working in
the dairy. William and Agnes had no children but lived comfortably
for the rest of their lives. Fortescue later built a school
for the children of his workers.
Agnes lived to be 72 years old and died on October 17, 1834.
Her husband survived her by almost 13 years and died on
March 3, 1847. The couple are buried in St. Nicholas Cemetery
One contemporary said of Agnes, "she was as unprepossessing
a female as one would care to see. But, oh! to hear her
read her brother s poems was a caution, with hard rasping
delivery, that I question if many out of Ayrshire could
make out the meaning of a word she said".
In 1859 admirers of Burns erected a monument in his memory
near Agnes and Williams grave in St. Nicholass
cemetery, to mark the centenary of his birth. Beneath the
30-foot high obelisk is the inscription;
"As a tribute to the genius of Robert Burns, the national
bard of Scotland and in respect for the memory of his eldest
sister Agnes, whose mortal remains are deposited in this
churchyard. Erected by the contributions of the poets numerous
admirers in Dundalk and its vicinity 25th. January 1859."
On first reading the inscription could infer that Agnes
was older than Robert, but given that she was three years
younger than him it must imply that she was the eldest of
his three sisters.
The Burns connection was strengthened with the launch of
the Sweet Afton" range of cigarettes by Carrolls
in 1919, an era when the health implications of smoking
weren t realised.
The company believed that any new brand would only be successful
in Scotland if it had a Scottish name on the packet.
The people of Dundalk were canvassed and opted for the name
"Sweet Afton", inspired by the monument in the
The first verse of the poem, inspired by Burns love for
one Mary Campbell, was also printed on the packets and read;
"Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes
Flow gently, Ill sing thee a song in thy praise
My Marys asleep by they murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream."
The poet was romantically involved with the subject of the
poem during his separation from Jean. Some accounts suggest
they planned to emigrate to America but Mary Campbell died
from a fever in October 1786.
The Stephenstown Pond is now the focal point of a Nature
Park which has become a major tourist attraction in north
county Louth since it was opened in 1996, which also happened
to be the bicentenary of Robert Burns birth.
It comprises of a five-acre site with woodlands, walkways
and fishing decks. The cottage William and Agnes lived in
has been restored and its rooms explore the life and works
of the poet as well as interpreting his sisters life
as a dairymaid on theestate.
Visitors to the cottage can hear voice-overs interpret Agnes
and William Galt s daily routine. The local community in
Knockbridge and its environs have contributed enormously
in a voluntary capacity to the success of the project.
The Stephenstown Pond Trust has worked closely with the
Burns Trustees in Ayr to develop the Burns Centre at Knockbridge.
The restoration of the pond has won numerous awards including
an AIB Better Ireland award in 1997.
In addition to interpreting the life of Robert Burns and
the Galts the Lake View Cottage project also focuses on
the history of Knockbridge, the Stephenstown Estate and
the Fortescue family.
The centre also provides visitors with a multimedia experience
highlighting the wildlife of the county as well as providing
a playground for children.
Taken from Wee County 2003