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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Here Lies the Farrier...And There Goes Tam O'Shanter

by Fran Jurga | 31 October 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

Lichen covers this fascinating old gravestone in the Alloway kirkyard near Ayr, Scotland. Surely a farrier lies here. Was he the farrier who inspired the lines in the poem: "That every naig was ca'd a shoe on, The smith and thee gat roaring fou on"? (Tam and the smith had a drink for every shoe that was nailed on.) Or did he die earlier so it was part of this scene: "Coffins stood round like open presses / That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses /And by some devilish cantraip slight / Each in its cauld hand held a light."

Happy Halloween!

There are many farrier headstones in cemeteries around the world. Grand anvils and headstones sporting horseshoes decorate churchyards and forgotten family plots. But I think this one is suitable for Halloween!

You'll find this stone in the churchyard at Alloway, near Ayr in Scotland. Was this farrier also a pirate (note the skull and crossbones) and someone with royal ties (note the crown)?

This graveyard is not far from Closeburn, the home of the late famed farrier Edward Martin, and I must assume that Edward knew of this stone, though I don't recall him telling any stories about it--and this stone surely has a great story!

Alloway is the town of Robert Burns's birth as well as where he set his famous poem, Tam O'Shanter. This is the universal tale of a man who simply stayed too late at the pub one night, drinking with the smith (perhaps the one buried here?) and his other pals, and had to count on his good mare Meg to get him home in foul weather.
Tam was shocked to see half-dressed women from the village cavorting with the devil. But in his drunken state he called out in admiration to one attractive woman in a "cutty sark", which set them all in pursuit after him.

The poem is interpreted many ways when it comes to people's views on alcohol, witchcraft and lewd behavior. But there is never any doubt about the character of the horse involved.

Tam gives his mare Meg her head to find her way home and probably snoozed in the saddle. Passing through Alloway, he's startled awake to see the church ablaze, with witches dancing in every window as the devil plays the bagpipes and the graveyard's coffins open wide.

The Brig o'Doon, or bridge over the River Doon in Alloway. Apparently, a witch can't cross a running stream so Tam spurred his mare on. Once across, Tam O'Shanter would be safe from the witches, though he would still have to answer to his wife. But his horse would never be the same again.

I won't spoil the story for you. You can read the interpretation here. (It's a great tale!)

But let it be known that Meg the Mare takes care of her rider that night...though she spends the rest of her life as testimony that something did happen on the way home, even if it was the most elaborate and world-famous tale a husband ever made up for why he was late coming home from the pub. 

Spooky enough for Halloween, don't you think?

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