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The Skirving Grave

Athelstaneford kirk has many impressive graves including a number of medieval headstones. It is also the last resting place of Adam and Archibald Skirving. Both father and son are rememberd today for different creative works which are still admired and popular. Adam Skirving for his ballad Hey Johnny Cope and Archibald for one of the most recognisable images of Robert Burns.

The memorial to father and son is badly damaged and need of urgent repair and restoration. The restoration aims to make the grave and headstone safe for future generations and allow better interpretation so visitors to Athelstaneford can learn more about the lives of father and son. 

Donate to the Skirving grave restoration

The repair costs and new path and setting for the grave are estimated at £8,500. You may make a donation on-line be credit or debit card or by making a bank transfer or sending a cheque. Click to donate or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss larger donations or corporate sponsorship and donations from organisations. 

Adam Skirving

Adam Skirving was born in 1719. He is famous as the writer of the Jacobite ballad "Hey Johnny Cope".

He farmed at Garleton Castle, near Haddington and at Prora. Skirving died in April 1803 and is burried at Athelstaneford. 

"Hey Johnny Cope" satarises the Sir John Cope commander in cheif of forces in Scotland during the Battle of Preston Pans and mocks Cope as a coward. 

Listen to the song

Adam Skirving, by his son Archibald Skirving

Archibard Skirving

Archibald was born in Athelstaneford in 1749. The son of Adam Skirving. He studied in Rome and London and later  settled in Edinburgh, where he obtained some fame as a portrait-painter.

His most recognised work is his pastel portrait of Robert Burns. Skirving's chalk drawing of Robert Burns was based on Alexander Nasmyth's famous portrait. It is thought the work was partly from Nasmyth's famous portrait, and partly from Skirving's recollection of the poet, whom he met, it is said, at Edinburgh in 1786. Now in the National Burns Collection. Other works by Skirving including his portrait of this fater and a self-portrait are held by the Scottish National Portraig Gallery in Edinburgh. 

Archibald Skirving, self portrait
Robert Burns, by Alexander Skirving


The lower part of the grave has failed completely and needs to be built up with sandstone rubble to match the surrounding walls and pointed in lime mortar. 

The uper areas will have the old decayed cement pointing and vegitation carefully removed and be repointed with lime mortar.  

An older, origional, headstone is lying horrizontally this will be carefully hand brushed to remove the moss and vegetation. Any loose parts or laminated inscriptions will be reattached. 

The restoration of the Skirving Grave will fit into the wider landscape works which are planned. Natural stone paving will lead off the new resin bound path to the grave helping to highlight the importance of the Skirving Grave.