Robert Burns was a poet, not a warrior; a fighter for Scotland’s culture and soul with the might of his pen; a visionary with a great dream that still gives hope to humankind. But dreams can only be fulfilled when all peoples are free. Look, then, at the arches of the bridge under the figures of Wallace and Burns and read their words of liberty and peace.
On the left, ascribed to Wallace: "I TELL YOU A TRUTH, LIBERTY IS THE BEST OF ALL KINGS. MY SON, NEVER LIVE UNDER ANY SLAVISH BOND."
On the right, by Burns: "IT'S COMIN YET FOR A' THAT, THAT MAN TO MAN THE WORLD O'ER, SHALL BRITHERS BE FOR A' THAT."
The third inscription on the bronze, "THE STORY OF WALLACE POURED A SCOTTISH PREJUDICE IN MY VEINS", running from figure to figure, and, inexorably, linking the two across the bridge of time tells, in Burns’ own words, of the effect that the story of Wallace had, not on a poet, but on a young boy who was to learn the glory and equality of all nature at the tail of a plough and was to have his devotion to his country and his people kindled by the flame of a glorious and tortured warrior.
The bronze, bringing together warrior and poet, has many stories to tell, many dreams of peace to share.
If, in contemplating this superb piece, your mind turns to the outstanding genius that is Robert Burns, the patriotic sacrifice that was Wallace, and the singular glory that is Scotland, then the efforts of the Directors of Irvine Burns’ Club have not been in vain.
In 1985, the suggestion was first made that a piece of Scottish art, specially commissioned, would enhance the stairwell window in Wellwood and would be a significant contribution to Scottish contemporary culture.
In 2007, funding became available, a Scottish sculptor of eminence was identified and the forthcoming 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth provided the ideal raison d’etre. This original sculpture brings together Robert Burns, the Ploughman Poet, his inspirational hero William Wallace and the town of Irvine where both had left their mark.
The imaginary meeting between is set on the Old Bridge that Burns must have crossed many times in 1781 and which was close to the spot where Wallace had forded the River Irvine.
Part of the project cost was met from Irvine Burns’ Club’s special projects budget, comprising money raised by the Directors from charity dinners. The organising sub-committee comprised Past Presidents Bill Cowan, Jack Lovie and Peter McGlone.
However, the commission of this magnificent bronze was ensured by the outstanding generosity of the Barcapel Foundation, a valued benefactor of the Club. The sincere thanks of the Club go to the Foundation and especially to the Honorary President of the Club, James Wilson OBE, whose enthusiasm brought the project to fruition.
The Club also thanks Brewin Dolphin, Complete Investment Management, for sponsorship of promotional literature.
Over many years, on the Sunday nearest to Robert Burns’ birthday, flowers are laid in tribute at the statue of the Poet on Irvine Moor followed by an open reception in Wellwood.
In 2009, the 250th anniversary of the Poet’s birth fell on a Sunday, making it a most appropriate day for the unveiling ceremony. This was attended by the Directors and a large number of guests, members and friends of the Club.
The bronze was unveiled by Club President Iain Doole and James Wilson, representing Barcapel. It was dedicated by Fr Willie Boyd, a toast to Burns and Wallace was proposed by Matthew Brown, appropriate readings were delivered by Raymond Fitzgerald, and an account of the making of the bronze was given by the sculptor, Alan Herriot.
by Kenneth Steven, after viewing the Wellwood Bronze
We're brothers, but there is no bridge
To span the centuries between us.
Your blood was ploughed into the fields back then
For freedom. You poured your life out
For the land you loved; you did not fear
The horror that would come one day –
You kept your step and did not flinch.
I hold a plough and not a sword
And yet the best plough that I know’s a pen –
I long to plant in words
The justice and the honest truth we hunger for
No less than when your Scotland
Began to struggle to her feet and find her voice.
Let me take your sword then, Wallace,
And plough the heart.
The historical background
Aged 27, William Wallace embarked on his campaign against the English by leading a number of skirmishes against the invader. In 1297, he routed a much superior English army at Stirling Bridge. Following this and other lesser military victories, he was proclaimed as people’s champion and, in 1298, Guardian of Scotland.
His success was short lived, however. Following a heavy defeat by Edward I of England, “Hammer of the Scots”, Wallace resigned as Guardian. Failing to find support abroad, he returned to Scotland and to betrayal. Taken to London, he was tried, unjustly convicted of treason and hanged, drawn and quartered in August 1305.
Despite this bloody end, his martrydom has inspired Scots throughout the ages to dream of that freedom and the equality of humankind that Robert Burns was to champion Worldwide 500 years later.
John Strawhorn ('History of Irvine', 1985) records the tradition that, sometime prior to 1297, Wallace successfully ambushed an English force seeking access to the burgh by a ford of the River Irvine known as the Puddlie-deidlie (“deadly fight”) near to where the Old Bridge depicted in the bronze was subsequently sited. This tradition is commemorated by a rider costumed as Wallace in the annual Marymass Festival parade.
Of Robert Burns it has been said that, while the man was born in Alloway, the poet was born in Irvine. This refers to Burns’ well documented sojourn in the town over the Winter and Spring of 1781-2 to learn the trade of flax dressing.
It was in Irvine that he “learned something of town life”. It may have been in Templeton’s bookshop in Irvine that Robert discovered, and became fascinated by, the work of Robert Fergusson, a brilliant young Edinburgh poet writing in Scots. It is certainly true that, while in Irvine, Burns came to realise his potential as a poet and was urged by Captain Richard Brown to publish his work.
This led to his first book of poetry, “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” that, more than any other publication, was to save Scotland’s language, song and culture and, subsequently, was to lead to Burns becoming recognised, all over the World, as the Poet of Humanity.
A further link between Robert Burns and Irvine was forged in 1826 when twelve men, five of whom had known him, decided to form Irvine Burns Club in his honour and memory. That Club has an unbroken record of service to the Poet and the community at large.
This monument commemorates a stand-off in the First War of Scottish Independence in 1297, when the Scottish nobles signed the 'Capitulation of Irvine'. The nobles included Robert the Bruce, but William Wallace was not present.
For more on the monument and the story, see the item on the More Irvine page.
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