Barr’s ‘unholy row’ over stone is laid to rest

Residents and members of the community council turned out for the event
Residents and members of the community council turned out for the event

A historic gravestone has been re-erected in a Carrick village kirkyard more than a year after it went missing.

In a simple but moving ceremony in Barr last week the headstone marking the 17th century grave of the murdered Covenanter martyr Edward mcKeen was re-dedicated.

It marked the end of an unholy and bitter row surrounding the removal of the stone by a restoration group and a year-long fight by villagers to get it back.

A stroll though the kirkyard by a vigilant local resident almost a year ago led to the discovery that the stone was missing.

That sparked some relentless detective work by the village’s community council and South Ayrshire Council and within a month, the stone had been traced to a stonemason’s yard in Patna.

It had been removed and taken there by the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association charity without the knowledge or permission of the community and its discovery provoked a furious local response.

Barr artist, Merlin Currie, who has led the fight to recover the stone, said: “We were appalled at what I desribed at the time as the sacrilegious plundering of our heritage and we were determined to have our stone returned.

“The plans of the Covenanter Memorials Association to have a granite replica made to replace the original were totally unacceptable to us.

“We were incensed that they felt that they could just walk into our graveyard and pick up the headstone because the base was damaged and without any proper permission or agreement.”

That view was strongly backed by South Ayrshire Council whose bereavement services officer, Liz Linton, threw the council’s weight behind the village’s determination to have their stone back.

In a strongly worded message to the memorials assocation’s chairman, Dane Love, she pointed out the seriousness of the situation, saying, “your organisation has entered a listed cemetery without consent and removed a listed headstone. This in itself is a criminal offence. Your solution, to supply a replica stone, flies in the face of good conservation practice and is one that we, nor Barr Community, would ever give permission for”.

But Mr Love was quick to defend his organisation’s actions in removing the stone.

He replied: “The original stone was brought to our attention as having been broken and in need of work done to it.

“Stonemasons were appointed to look at the stone with a view to ascertaining what was required, and also to consider replicating the old stone with a new one in granite, copying the same size and shape of stone and lettering”.

When he visited the kirkyard he found the stone broken from its plinth and lying on the ground. In his professional opinion it would have been better to replace the stone with a new one.

The SMCA has existed for almost 50 years repairing and maintaining the graves and monuments to the Covenanters.

With the stone recovered the council had restoration work completed and last week the stone was revealed to a small but appreciative gathering at the kirkyard who heard Rev Ian MacLachlan sum up the short history of Edward McKeen and rededicate his stone.

And with a donation of £1000 towards the work from the Covenanters Memorial Association it seems that the issue has now been laid to rest.

Councillor Alex Oattes reminded the gathering that we must be vigilant of our heritage.