With a collection ranging from the oldest football in the world to the beautiful architect’s drawing of the National Wallace Monument, The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum is a treasure trove of the nation’s past.

In 2001 James Robertson wrote a series of sonnets celebrating its holdings, with illustrations by Owain Kirby (published by Kettillonia with the Stirling Smith). Here are two of them; the first concerns that legendary ball; in the second, the poet reflects on the unsung ordinary folk of the centuries the museum celebrates.

         CASTLE INCIDENT, 1540

This hinner day at fitbaw whit a clamour -

a grievous thing befell big Geordie Lang.

Ettlin tae dunt the baw he wis ower strang

an fired it heich abune oor guid Queen’s chaumer.

Says Maister Sime, Thon’s mine, ye muckle ox,

it tuik ma mither fower lang nichts tae steek it.

Awa an get it back. I’ll haud yer jaiket.

It maun be stickit there amang the bauks.’

George fetched a ladder, but the tapmaist rung

bruk aff and doun he fell upon his heid,

richt tae the oxters in the royal dung.

We pu’d him oot, but Geordie Lang wis deid.

Sae wis oor sport – we had nae hert tae play it,

forby nae baw: wha funs thon nou can hae it.


Where did you go, where are you now, you men

who did not rise to be professors, sirs

of this and that, inventors, ministers

of kirk or state, mighty of sword and pen?

And where are you, you women without fame,

who bore and bred, slave-laboured, broke your backs

to make ends meet, who are not raised on plaques

or council-blest with streets that wear your name?

I wander the museum like a ghost

among your countless ghosts, this breathing ground

of buried lives, slow-seeping energy.

Agnostic, I believe again -  almost –

in more to come, a second time around.

Can this be all there is? How can it be?