This image encapsulates the themes of all of the talks at the 2016 South Ayrshire History & Family History Fair at the Walker Halls, Troon on Saturday 4th June.
In one of his illustrations for the 1840 publication ‘The Land of Burns’, the artist and pioneer photographer David Octavius Hill imagined the farmer and smuggler Douglas Graham and his companions about to set off from the coast of Carrick. Their horses carry casks of smuggled brandy. The Fair’s first talk at 10am will be ‘The Smuggling Coast from Stranraer to Girvan’ by Frances Wilkins, a leading authority on this subject.
The scene is located at the ancient standing stone now on the edge of Turnberry Golf Course, with Maidens Bay in the background, and two of the day’s talks are about early human activity – ‘Ayrshire before History’, about the county’s early sites and their archaeology, by Tom Barclay of South Ayrshire Council Libraries at 11am, and ‘A Founder’s Workshop from the Bronze Age? Excavations from the shadow of Hunterston’ by archaeologist Thomas Rees at 3pm.
On foot and speaking with the smugglers is the teenage Robert Burns, taking time off from his school classes at Kirkoswald. (He is unlikely to have been so well-dressed at that time.) It is claimed that he later based his best-known character Tam o’Shanter on Douglas Graham. The 2pm talk is by Professor Chris Whatley and is ‘Men at War: securing Burns’ memory in the West of Scotland c.1859 – c. 1896’, about the race between towns in the region to have a statue of Burns.