Greyfriars Kirkyard is famous throughout the world, and attracts a constant stream of visitors, day and night – unlike the Kirk itself, the Kirkyard is open 24 hours a day. Some of the famous names people come to see include:
Bobby was a Skye Terrier, looked after by John Gray for the last two years of the old man’s life. After the death of Gray, Bobby reportedly guarded his grave for fourteen years, capturing the heart of the Lord Provost, William Chambers (whose own statue stands nearby on Chambers Street) and the public, who would bring him food and other comforts. Chambers organised for the Town Council to pay for Bobby’s dog licence, and so saved him from being rounded up and destroyed. The story of the loyal little dog spread across the world, helped by Disney releasing a film based on Bobby’s life in 1961.
Bobby himself was buried just outside the Kirkyard, near where the world-famous statue of him stands today (just on the corner of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row). It was erected the year after he died, in 1872, and has attracted swathes of visitors ever since (some getting a little too close – Bobby’s nose has been rubbed so much that it has turned from dark grey to bronze!). Most recently, Bobby’s statue was voted the city’s 101st Object by the public, in a campaign run by This Is Edinburgh, celebrating and championing Edinburgh’s unique history.
McGonagall was known, rather cruelly, as one of the worst poets in Scotland – his most famous work is probably The Tay Bridge Disaster (based on a horrific rail crash by Dundee, his hometown), which ends on these priceless lines:
“Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv’ry Tay,
I now must conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.”
McGonagall worked as a weaver and struggled to ever make any real money from his poetry. He was buried in the Kirkyard in an unmarked grave – though an inscribed slab was later installed in 1999.
Pity poor innocent Tom Riddell. When he passed away in 1806, it’s very unlikely he had any notion of ever being the inspiration for one of the most famous villains in modern children’s literature. But that is exactly what he has become, as a stream of devoted Potter fans flock into the Kirkyard – whatever the weather – to pay homage to a grave that JK Rowling has said subconsciously inspired her writing.
Other headstones are said to have played into the names for characters – there is a Moody (Alastor Moody) and the above mentioned McGonagall (Head of Gryffindor, no less). In addition, the entire Kirkyard is rumoured to have been the inspiration behind the resting place of Harry’s parents – the eery and beautiful graveyard in Godric’s Hollow…
Would you like a map of the Kirkyard? They are available for 50p in our Kirk shop!