ON Edinburgh’s most hallowed ground the people said their final farewells to a revered son. They had gathered outside St Giles' Cathedral to witness the last journey of Ken Buchanan, the greatest boxer Scotland has ever produced.

Upon his coffin sat the white boxing gloves with which he’d conquered the world in the hardest of all sports. As his body was borne into the church a ripple of applause broke across the square and, acknowledging the sanctity of the moment, the tourists put down their cameras and bowed their heads.

Before this, the tour guides had been telling their charges about the 900-year history of St Giles and the story of an older Edinburgh pugilist, Jenny Geddes who, in 1637, had hurled a three-legged stool at the minister for daring to use a fancy prayer-book.

HeraldScotland: Ken Buchanan in his primeKen Buchanan in his prime (Image: free)

Ken Buchanan’s cathedral was a boxing-ring and he only threw punches, but the opponents he defeated often felt as though their own day of reckoning was upon them as the lights went out.

You wanted to tell these guides about this great boxer and compel them, just for today, to tell the visitors about the man who was being honoured inside that old church. For hadn’t Buchanan brought as much glory and renown to this city as the figures cast in stone who stand in this part of the High Street?

One of them, of Walter Francis Montague Douglas-Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensbury. A plaque tells you that it was: “erected by his fellow countrymen at home and beyond the seas”. It could have been a fitting memorial to Buchanan, this city’s humbler, but greater, hero.

Many among Buchanan’s family, close friends and old ring rivals who filed in were wearing the Buchanan tartan. This wasn’t merely to commemorate his clan name but also to recall his customary practice of donning Buchanan tartan boxing shorts in the ring when he defeated a string of the world’s top fighters to become undisputed lightweight champion of the world.

Among those who have come here to honour him are Dave MacAuley and his friend, Douglas. Like Buchanan, Dave is a Leithman, and shows me a picture he took of the great boxer in the Central Bar, down on Leith Walk in 2015.

READ MORE: Ken Buchanan: The extraordinary life of one of boxing's greats

Douglas tells me he is also a Buchanan before lamenting the fact that he’d forgotten to wear the clan tartan for the occasion. As we watch the mourners trooping into St Giles, Dave says: “You know who the old boxers are just by looking at their noses.”

A lone piper – the ultimate Scottish salute for greatness – plays and the ushers come down to invite the punters in: there’s room, it seems, for them too.

The hymns and eulogies are conveyed to the rest of us out on the square and we’re thankful for it. Each of the three men chosen to speak about their great friend do him proud. Jim Black, that very fine Scottish sportswriter, told us how Ken Buchanan rose to the top at a time when fighters had to slog it out over 15 rounds and world titles were far harder to win.

He said: “Ken was boxing royalty. His coronation as world lightweight champion in an age of truly great fighters before the sport was mired in an alphabet soup of titles. The word ‘legend’ is too often bandied about these days when referring to personalities unworthy of the description.

HeraldScotland: Jim Watt at the funeralJim Watt at the funeral (Image: free)

“But not only was Ken Buchanan, world boxing hall of famer, the finest fighter Scotland has produced, he is also rightly regarded as one of Britain’s giants of the ring. And the achievement of this proud Leither also did not go unnoticed across the globe.”

Jim Watt, another great Scottish world champion, had stepped into the ring with Buchanan in a memorable British title fight in which both men fought each other almost to a standstill. “If you’d told me back then that we’d become the best of pals, I'd have said you were crazy.”

He described that 1973 fight as “fifteen rounds of torture” and that you don’t emerge from an encounter like that without forming a bond based on mutual respect and admiration for your opponent. “But I still didnae like him. The reason I didnae like him was because I didnae know him. And when you got to know Kenny Buchanan, you couldnae help liking him.

“Boxing is the toughest game there is. And it certainly wasn’t any easier back in the 15-round days. So, to be successful at the level Kenny reached, boxing had to be your life. Everything else had to take second place: your family; your friends; your social life … everything.

“So, when the time comes to hang up the gloves it can leave a massive hole if you don’t have something to take its place. So, Kenny didn’t cope greatly with retirement – he had some struggles; some issues – but being the typical fighter that he was, any time you met Kenny, no matter what problems he was facing, he was always the Kenny Buchanan of old: upbeat, happy, great to be with.” And then, the service finished, they brought him back out and this time the applause came with cheers and shouts.

HeraldScotland: Ken Buchanan's son MarkKen Buchanan's son Mark (Image: free)

Last year, at the top of Leith Walk, the city at last built a statue to Ken Buchanan and it was there, a short while after the service that I met two of his old contemporaries: Ray Caulfield, a former British amateur champion and Tommy Marshall, who lifted the Scottish amateur lightweight title as a teenager in 1967. They both pose for pictures underneath the statue of their old friend and both are proud of their kinship with him.

Ray is Secretary/Treasurer of the London ex-Boxers' Association. “Ken was as popular in London as he was in Scotland, perhaps even more,” he tells me. “He was such a wonderful boxer and a great friend and supporter of our association. This city and this country will never forget him.”