muirkirk in the hills of ayrshire - from the muirkirk enterprise group


John Lapraik - Poet

An excellent source of information about John Lapraik is a book published in 1840 entitled "The Contemporaries of Burns and the more recent poets of Ayrshire". There is a full transcript of the chapter devoted to John Lapraik at

John Lapraik was born in 1727 about three miles to the west of Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland. He was the eldest son and, on the death of his father, succeeded to the family estate. He had an interest in poetry which he maintained throughout his life.

In March 1754 he married Margaret Rankin (sister to John Rankin, another friend of Robert Burns). In about 1762, eight years after they had married, Margaret Rankin died whilst giving birth to her fifth child.

In 1766, John Lapraik married Janet Anderson of Lightshaw (map), a neighbouring farm, with whom he had nine children.

Douglas, Heron and company traded as the Ayr Bank. Founded in 1769, the bank failed in August 1773. John Lapraik had provided guarantees to friends who had taken out loans with the Bank and, when all those loans were immediately called in following the Bank's collapse, he was ruined and struggled to overcome the losses he had sustained. After nine years, having sold off all his lands and still having failed to discharge his debts, he found himself the victim of legal prosecution and was thrown into prison.

Following his release from jaill in 1785 John Lapraik leased the neighbouring ground and mill of Muirsmill, near Nether Wellwood farm (map), from the Earl of Loudoun.

Robert Burns was a near neighbour and, at that time, an unknown poet who had heard one of John Lapraik's songs. The two men entered into correspondence and the three Epistles which Burns wrote to John Lapraik in 1785 were subsequently published by Burns in 1786. As a result, the correspondence between the two men is well known. 

At Robert Burns House in Dumfries there is a silver inkwell made from a pony's hoof with the brass lid inscribed: Presented To Mr Lapraik by his Much respected Friend Robt Burns

In Burns First Epistle to Lapraik he proposed a meeting - which happened in late 1788 at Muirsmill.

John Lapraik sought to emulate Burns by, in 1788, publishing a book entitled: Poems on several occasions. Two years earlier Burns had first had his poems published by the same printer.

The content of the poems give an idea of what it was like to live in Ayrshire in the second half of the 18th century, with much of the material in the poems relating to matters of which Lapraik had direct experience.

Whilst Burns became famous and moved to Edinburgh, Lapraik remained at Muirsmill until 1798 when he moved to the village of Muirkirk, opening a small public house which also served as the village Post Office, where he lived until his death on 7th May 1807 at the age of 79.

Following his death in 1807 he was buried in Muirkirk's kirkyard at Kirkgreen where his grave is marked by a tabular stone with the inscription:

In Memory of
John Lapraik late of Dalfram
who died at Muirkirk on
7th May 1807
In the 80th year of his age

John Lapraik's memory was subsequently kept alive by the Lapraik Burns Club which arranged for the erection of a Memorial in his memory. The Memorial Cairn is ten feet high and built from stone from Lapraik's house, Dalfram (map), in a field between the Sorn and Cumnock roads and can be seen from the Sorn road on the Muirkirk side of Townhead farm (map).

An account of the ceremony when the Memorial was formally inaugurated which featured in the Muirkirk Advertiser in 1914 and was reproduced in "Cairntable Echoes". It contains a history of of Lapraik's forbears - going back to La Privick who, according to tradition, was a Frenchman who had come in Queen Mary's retinue to Leith and Edinburgh in 1561 - and includes a statement that John Lapraik was Burns' model in "A Man's a Man for a' That, - one of Burns' most famous poems.

Some of Lapraik's possessions were gifted in 1923 by Miss M.S. McMinn of Wellwood Fairlie to the (now defunct) Lapraik Burns Club Number 56 in the Burns Federation. These items are now held by East Ayrshire Council, Museums Arts and Theatre Section and include a wooden armchair and the family Bible which has a list of his children and their birth dates.

In 1840 the book "The Contemporaries of Burns and the more recent poets of Ayrshire" recorded that:

Three brothers and one sister still reside near the place of their birth. The latter was married to a Mr McMinn, farmer Nether Wellwood. She is a widow - an elderly matronly woman - and perfectly remembers the visit paid by Burns to her father at Muirsmill. her brother Thomas, has long been shepherd on the farm, which is large, and consists partly of pasture. James and John reside in Muirkirk. The former is a retired farmer. The latter served his apprenticeship as a cooper, but was pressed on board a man-of-war; and, having been captured by the enemy, was ten years in French prison. After the peace he returned to Muirkirk, where he now follows his original calling. He is the only one of his trade in the village, and is on that account generally styled "the cooper". He is well-known in the neighbourhood - can spin an interesting yarn - and, like a genuine old tar, is by no means averse to his grog.

Janet Anderson died on 5th March 1825 at the age of 83. She was interred in the Churchyard of Muirkirk where a large tabular stone can still be seen recording her death - as well as that of John Lapraik and several children.

In the posession of Irvine Burns Club is a testimony of Mary Lapraik, daughter of John Lapraik. The testimony details her personal knowledge of the Poet and was given before a panel of club members in 1840. It is signed Mary Lapraik.