suicide cairns

You may not be aware of this, but across Scotland there are surviving cairns which mark where somebody who had taken their life was once buried. Generally the names have been lost and most of these cairns are to be found on the boundary lines of parishes.

The first Ordnance Survey was undertaken in the mid 19th century to prepare for the first edition 25 inch maps – the most detailed and earliest of the OS maps. The books were based on thorough surveys, fieldwork, and gathering information from as many local informants as possible.

It is from this first Ordnance Survey book that I have selected several suicide cairns for this short film:

(1) BRODIE’s Cairn, near Aberdour (this was not a suicide cairn, it is the cairn of a murderer) but is next to the farm of Clenterty where Peter Gordon took his life 1899 [please note: although I share his name I am no relation]

(2) LESLIE’s Cairn, Forgue Parish boundary

(3) PURDIE’s Cairn, Cockburnspath Parish boundary, Berwickshire

(4) AULD GUID WIFE’S CAIRN, Longside Parish boundary

(5) POORMAN of HAGGS [POOR MAN has been scored out],  Inverkeithney Parish boundary, Banff

The film that forms a backdrop to these cairns is an edit of a film made by me over ten years ago. That film was called ‘INTENSELY LOCAL’ as Clentery farm is not far from Pennan and Gamrie, where LOCAL HERO was shot.

I am afraid that I  have forgotten whose voice it is that opens my film, just like we have forgotten the names of near all of those buried under cairns such as these.

The music track is by ELBOW.


Personal Note: 
The placing of these cairns is a clear marker for the marginalisation of people who have felt the need to end their lives. Their stories have, more often than not, been lost. I have updated this film because I feel strongly that current conversations on suicide prevention have to work harder to include those who might be seen to be on the boundaries. My own experience of suicidality was related to prescribed medication and I have encountered resistance to bringing this kind of story into the centre of discussion where it should belong.

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