Robert Buchanan – Bard of Falkirk

Falkirk in Central Scotland is a small town with a big history and, unlike many other towns, its own bard.

Robert Buchanan was born in Falkirk’s Steeple Land on 22 June 1835. His father was a baker who worked in and later owned the Pie Office at the steeple. Robert attended Falkirk Parish School where he was ‘not noteworthy for either his regular attendance or overwhelming love of his studies’. On leaving school he was apprenticed as a currier in his Uncle John Gillespie’s business at the foot of Bell’s Wynd. However, his ‘constitution was delicate’ and he did not have the ‘bodily strength necessary for such laborious employment’. At the age of twenty-two Robert was nominated to Her Majesty’s Customs and was appointed to a position at the port of Grangemouth.

Robert Buchanan. (Secret Falkirk, Amberley Publishing)

After ten years at Grangemouth, Robert was promoted to a position in Dublin and later to Londonderry. Although Robert’s career prospered in Ireland, he was homesick for Falkirk – his ‘dear auld toon wi’ grey spire crowned’. His wife, Margaret Rankine, a fellow Bairn of Falkirk, passed away from consumption in July 1874 and her remains were returned to Falkirk for internment. The loss of Margaret was a severe blow to Robert and despite plans to return to his native town, he passed away in Londonderry on 31 December 1875.

Robert was known at school as a ‘ready rhymer’ and, from 1856, contributed poems to the local paper on a regular basis. His poetry is noted as being distinguished for its ‘light, fanciful grace and airy turn of thought and rhythm.’ A collection of his poems was published in 1901. These feature a number of works dedicated to Falkirk and the ‘Glories of Grangemeouth’.

The Pie Office, High Street. (Secret Falkirk, Amberley Publishing)

His poem ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’ was written for a reunion of the Bairns of Falkirk living in Glasgow. It was set to music composed by John Fulcher, and was first performed by the local singer Michael Rennie at the Glasgow Trades Hall on 26 January 1866, where it was ‘warmly applauded by the assembled Bairns of Falkirk’. The tune was arranged for the Falkirk Iron Works Band and played at most of their public appearances. It was for a time Falkirk’s anthem (the ‘Auld Lang Syne’ of the Falkirk Bairns); for many years it was sung at ‘all convivial gatherings held in the ‘dear auld toon’ and wherever the Bairns of Falkirk congregated. It was even introduced into the curriculum of Falkirk board schools.

‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’:

The dear auld toon, wi’ grey spire crown’d

In happy langsyne days,

We wandered, sun and tempest browned,

Amang they glens and braes;

We were bairns then, we’re bairns yet,

Our hearts beat aye the same,

And time can never memory flit

Frae thee, our dear auld hame.


For we canna forget the dear auld hame,

Gae wander where we will;

Like the sunny beam o’ a simmer’s dream

That lingers near us still.

We mind where Carron silvery flings

Her white spray o’er the linn,

And dashing doon the woodland sings,

Wi’ bubbling, brattling din;

And love blinks o’ a bonnie e’e

We won by Marion’s Well,

Twines every round life’s stormy sea,

A fairy plaited spell.

Wha wadna lo’e thee? Dear auld hame!

Wha round thee hasna shared

That sacred fire that laid De Graeme

Within the auld kirkyaird?

And strewed thy field wi’ horse brave,

Wha focht in Freedom’s name,

And bleeding won an honoured grave

In building Scotia’s fame.

Oh, dear auld hame! tho’ toiling years

Hae left us sere and grey,

A glimpse o’ langsyne ‘mid our tears

Turns dark’ning nicht to day.

We were bairns then, we’re bairns yet,

Our hearts beat aye the same,

And time can never mem’ry flit

Frae thee, oor dear auld hame.

The unveiling of the momument to Robert Buchanan. (Secret Falkirk, Amberley Publishing)

In 1899 a proposal to erect a monument to Buchanan to ‘perpetuate his memory’ was suggested in the columns of the local paper. In less than three months, £38 and 10s was raised by subscription for the proposed monument. The subscriptions were

donated by those that ‘had the privilege of personal acquaintance with Buchanan, and who admired him for his poetic gifts and his qualities of head and heart’ and ‘those of a later generation who were happy to support one who had sang so sweetly of the dear auld toon’.

The ‘chaste and imposing’ monument to Buchanan was unveiled in Falkirk Cemetery on 30 September 1899. Despite torrential rain a large crowd gathered for the ceremony, including one of Buchanan’s daughters, who had travelled from Liverpool to attend the event. The unveiling ceremony ended with a rendition of the ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’, which it was reported ‘touched the hearts of everyone that attended’.

Perhaps a recital of ‘The Dear Auld Hame (Falkirk Town)’ should be revived for present-day events in the town.

Jack Gillon's new book Secret Falkirk is available for purchase now.