Captain Cunningham of Auchinskeigh

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X:1 T:Captain Cunningham of Auchinskeigh's Reel M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel B:John Riddell of Ayr – Collection of Scots Reels, Minuets &c. B:for the Violin (1782, p. 40) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:Gdor (gab)a {a}Tg2 (fd)|cd(fg ag)fa|(gab)a {a}a g2 (fd)|cdfA G/G/G G2:| BdBG BdgB|AcAF AcfA|BdBG BdgB|{B}(A>G)FA G/G/G G2| BdBG BdgB|AcAF AcfA|Bcd_e fgfd|cf{d}cA G/G/G G2||



CAPTAIN CUNINGHAM OF AUCHINSKEIGH. Scottish, Reel (cut time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB. Glen (1891) finds the tune earliest in print in Ayrshire fiddler-composer John Riddell's second collection (1782, p. 40), a revision of his earlier 1766 volume of the same title. The estate and lands of Auchinskeith, Ayr, at the time Riddell's volume was published was William Cunningham (also spelled Cunninghame) who was admitted at burgess of Ayr in 1775. He married Margaret, sister and heiress of Alexander Fairlie of Fairlie, and acquired that property. His son, Sir William Cuningham-Fairlie of Robertland (the successor to Auchinskeith) and Fairlie, inherited the estate in October, 1781, from his father and became the 6th Baronet Cunningham, or Robertland, County Ayr. He married Anne Colquhoun, daughter of Robert Colquhoun.

The lairds of Auchinskeith were referenced [1] in the reminiscences of Robin Campbell, who worked as a servant to Alexander, the 10th Earl of Eglinton, at Eglinton Castle and was on friendly terms with the popular Earl. Campbell related some of the folktales of the surrounding Ayr country, including those about the "De'il" and "little folk." One such tale tells of how the 'Laid' o Auchenskeigh was tricked by Nanny Police who made two o' his kye (cows) rain wud and ramming to did, bewitched his hens that they wanna lay and she cuts glamour on the kiln that the butter wanna reel."

When the Laid's son was born Nanny turned up and said the bairn was forspoken. At that the Leddy o' Auchinskeigh signed herself and prayer and Nanny "at the sound o't, moist swarmed wi' dreid and turnes up the whites o' her hen like a deign' doo." The Laid chased her and rained curses down on her but she hoodwinked him into making a pact with the De'il and after many years of plenty on his farm the De'il came back to claim his reward and the Laird disappeared "down an auld heuch at the Walcat Holes in a flash o' fire." And some say he never de'ed aaa but rides wi' the fairies yet, and has been seen by folk coming home through the moors at Auchentiber. [1]

Such tales had real-life consequences, or perhaps were the result of real-life consequences. One Bessie Dunlop was tried for witchcraft in November, 1576, charged with "sorcery, witchcraft, and incantation, with invocation of spirits of the devil, continuing in familiarity with them at all such times as she thought expedient, dealing with charms, and abusing the people with devilish craft of sorcery aforesaid." Curiously, she was not accused of actually harming anyone, nor in having direct dealings with the devil, rather she seems to have fallen a victim to practising on the credulity of the simple and to a knowledge of medicinal herbs. She was recognized as a 'wise woman' among her neighbors, and told tales of commuting with a familiar spirit in the person of Thomas Reid, who had been slain on the field of Pinkie nearly thirty years before. "Thom" as he was known to her was a fairy, whom she consulted as needed.

As a rule, Thom Reid, though quite indistinguishable from the ordinary flesh-and-blood denizens of this earth, does not seem to have cared to mingle with them. On two occasions, however, Bessie saw him in the throng, once in the churchyard of Dalry, where he was going up and down among the people, and again on the streets of Edinburgh on a market day, where he comported himself in a manner similar to those about him. He preferred rather to confine himself to the society of Bessie Dunlop herself, and to impart to her such knowledge as he was permitted to teach her. Her connection with the fairy folk, other than that already referred to, was very slight. A stout woman called upon her, took a drink of water from her hands, and told her that one of her children would die. This, Thom explained, was none other than his mistress, the Queen of Elfame. And while walking one day by the side of a loch a great company of riders carne by, making a din as if heaven and earth had gone together, and disappeared in the loch "with many a hideous rumble." These were the happy wights of the Court of fairyland, and among them was the Laird of Auchinskeith, who had died nine years previously.

Although Bessie was sentenced to be burned at the stake, there is no record of the sentence having been carried out.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Riddell (Collection of Scots Reels, Minuets &c.), 1782; p. 40.

Recorded sources: -



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  1. Alexander Gardner, The Memorables of Robin Cummell by John Service, Paisley (1913).