There is a significant local history event and moreover, a religious pilgrimage, that takes place on the 16th September in New/Old Aberdour in Aberdeenshire. As international sponsorship has been raised to assist, this is early publicity around this interesting partnership , (with a piece about the timings, route etc, for the pilgrimage being published the week before the event itself).
The event pertains to Banffshire Pilgrimage Group and Aberdour St Drostan’s Parish, New Aberdour collaborating to offer a pilgrimage recalling the life of the ‘Christian Pictish proto-Missionary’ Saint Drostan. It is an invitation to participate in the following proposed activities: – A countryside walk to St Drostan’s Well; the re-telling of the story of St Drostan; waymarks for prayer, reflection and worship at the site of the old celtic church of St Drostan’s and the Holy Well at the beach; an exhibition, refreshments, and lunch at New Aberdour Hall. A great family day out and much happening.
Support for the day has recently arrived from the United States in the form of the ‘Clan Baird Society International’ and the attached ‘clan’ photo is of Heather Baird Synder (far left, from Vermont), Erin McCanna (Minnesota), and far right, Debra Baird (who is from Alabama). A good image is the one of Erin at the old kirk as it provides a helpful context; Erin is active with the Scottish Highland games and festivals in her part of the US. The father of Heather is a Baird, as is Erin’s mother.
This recent partnership with the ‘Clan Baird’ has broad interest and appeal I feel, (religious and non religious), taking in many of our local towns in terms of its relevance, and is reinforced by the opening statement from Debra who is the President of the ‘Clan Baird Society Worldwide’ (attached) when she states that the Society is :
“honoured to be a sponsor of the Banffshire Pilgrimage Group, and especially St. Drostan’s Kirk and the Holy Well Pilgrimage that is taking place on the 16 September, arranged by Banffshire Pilgrimage in conjunction with St. Drostan’s Church, New Aberdour. The Banffshire and Aberdeenshire Bairds have a long and deep history as natives of New Aberdour, Auchmedden, Pennan, Banff, and Fraserburgh.”
Debra Baird has provided a more detailed statement from which quotes can be taken as I refer to, above. The significance of this international connection and the pilgrimage will appeal to local interest, not least the Baird connection from across the seas, which can be gleaned from the following detail and the historic prophesy it contains.
Debra has added: “Essentially what happened is that members of each Baird line were transported or forced to leave Scotland for the United States, (there are four main lines, three originally from Auchmedden and one from Lanarkshire. but all from the same group in the 1100’s, the three from Auchmedden are Auchmedden [Pennan], Newbyth [Byth], and Saughtonhall [Edinburgh]), and we banded together over here, in the US. There are now more of us outside Scotland than in, sadly.”
She also states “My own heritage is Aberdeen, in the form of a sixteen-year-old boy who fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie, William Baird, the younger. His father, (also a William Baird), owned a silk/wool dying business in Gallowgate, and both of them were put in the Tolbooth during the Rising of ’45, at differing times. William the younger was transported and sold in Maryland from the ship, Gildart, in 1747, and here we are, in Alabama, since 1832.”
Part of the pilgrimage on the 16th September will obviously include a visit to the original St Drostan’s Kirk, with the most historic part of the kirk dating to the early 16th century, and indeed, it continued to be used until 1818. Moreover, the nave had been used for burials despite the edict of the Reformation forbidding burials in church buildings. The chancel is now the burial aisle of the Bairds of Auchmedden, and one of the attached photographs is of Debra and members of the Baird clan, taken at the aisle. Nearby St Drostan’s Well, although constructed in 1884, is said to be where St Drostan landed c. 575 and there will be much discussion and presentation on the impact of St Drostan, both nearby and further afield.
The Bairds are one of several clans who claim to have saved their monarch, in this case William the Lion (or William the First, of the 12th century) , from a rampaging beast! The Baird motto, ‘Dominus Fecit’ (The Lord Made) appears in the clan crest and church plaque, and you can see this in another of the attached photographs taken at the kirk.
The story behind the prophesy remains a wonderful episode in our local history and clearly resonates locally and internationally. From what we can discern, it would appear that King Robert the Bruce in 1310 granted lands to Robert Baird in the Barony of Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire. This branch of the family later held lands at Posso and Lavoroklaw in Fife and the Earl of Buchan in 1539 disponed the lands of Auchmedden in Aberdeenshire to Andrew Baird for a sum of money. Auchmedden from this time onwards, became the seat of Baird family for over 200 years. Later, William Baird, then Laird of Auchmedden, joined the Jacobite rising of 1745 and was an officer of the Prince’s body guard at Culloden. After the battle he had to go into hiding and the estate at Auchmeddan was sold to Lord Haddo in 1750 to pay off his debts.
From that point in its history, a prophecy of ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ predicted that ‘Whilst there are eagles on the crag there will be Bairds at Auchmedden’. The context here is that eagles which had nested on the cliffs at nearby Pennan for centuries, are said to have disappeared when the estate passed out of Baird ownership. As a current resident of Pennan, I can testify that sadly, no such birds have returned or are currently nesting in the village!
There is yet further mystery surrounding the subject matter of the pilgrimage. Resting on a ledge on the east wall of the church, an octagonal stone font is thought to have been brought from Chapelden and to have once contained the relics of St Drostan.
Later on and in the the 19th century, the vessel, ‘William Hope’ from Dundee was shipwrecked nearby in October 1884, and the crew was rescued due to the heroic efforts of local resident, Jane Whyte. A memorial to Jane is at the west end of the shore, fixed to the ruins of the old walkmill beyond the burn. And on a more contemporary note, in the 20th century strangers arriving on the shore included German spies who were put ashore from a submarine in a rubber dinghy in 1942. Subsequently they were arrested whilst cycling along the Banff road on conspicuously shiny red bicycles!