August 10, 2009

the king of the gypsies. . . .

treasure from kirkcudbright cemetery
amazing patterns from naturelichen patterns on stone
patterns man made, going back to natureold carving in sandstone
and tucked away in the oldest part
a carved & crumbling piece of granite billy marshall king of the western lowland scottish gypsies headstonedated 1792, the final resting place of
king of the gypsies of the scottish western lowlands
billy marshall king of the gypsies coins on headstone
it is said he was 12o years when he died
setting sun and celtic cross kirkcudbright i set off home as the sun was setting
to discover more
of customs & tales woven around coins & headstones & such
* * *
some say the coins are to pay the ferryman to take the soul across the river Styx
* * *
some that the copper represents good luck
* * *
in fishing communities men wore a gold hoop in an ear
so if the ship went down the ferryman could be paid
as coins were in short supply due to poverty
and had to be left with the wives
* * *
a penny for your thoughts? 
A thank you to Antony Marshall, who left a msg below saying
" I am the Great/Great Grandson of King Billy Marshall,
The coins on the grave are left by gipsies for the next gypsy

who comes along in case it is needed, as a way of help."


  1. SO very interesting. Were the coins attached or just sitting there? The earring bit was interesting too!

  2. I love your photos! a most interesting post! I read a book set in Chinese culture where the dead where buried with coins so they could buy things like clothing in the afterlife.

  3. Fascinating. I never knew the story behind the gold hoop in the ear.

    Beautiful photos as well!

  4. I love the name, "King of the Gypsies". Conjures up a wonderful image in my head.

  5. Very interesting information, Ruthie! And lovely photos as well.

  6. What a place! WI have a fascination with cemeteries, having visited and posted about some of them, and would love to visit this one :)
    Great photos!

  7. Fascinating, Ruthie. Graveyards are peaceful and remind us that we are travelers on a long journey. Don't you want to know more about this king? Last week I heard some Hungarian musicians who played Gypsy music filled with such fire. Surely this king played and danced likewise...

  8. I love this and I did not know about the gold earring.

    Love to you beautiful Ruthie.

    Love Renee xoxo

  9. An interesting post, Ruthie. I, too, love to wander around cemeteries. Kirkcudbright is a lovely looking place; I'll go back there to read a bit more.

  10. His Precious - es the coins are just placed on the top of the stone! i couldn't help but place one there too!

    Splendid Little Stars - there seem to be so many customs attached to coins & burials in many different cultures, fascinating.

    The Garden Ms. S - neither did i, apparently it is still quite a usual sight some northen coastal towns, though now more for fashionable reasons i should think!

    Pamela, Terry & Edward - It does for me too, wonderful romatnic images, i shall have to sketch some out!

    Julie - thank you, i do so enjoy my photography, shall have to upgrade to a better camera soon, this one is on its last legs!!

    Isabel - me too! i find them fascinating, full of history & beautiful images.

    Richard - they are indeed peaceful places. Fascinating to me, so full of fragments of a time long past & history. i have hopefully tracked down a book with more info about this gypsy king. i love putting the pieces together. Hungarian gypsy music, yum!

    Renee - neither did i , i love that i am constantly learning new things from my wanderings & my work. hugs to you x x

    Alaine - thank you. Kirkcudbright is my nearest town, such a scenic place, steeped in history & an "artists" town to boot. one of my very favourite artists lived there, jessie m king.

  11. Lovely photographs, churchyards are fascinating places. I have heard of leaving coins but never seen it.
    I always love that nature is used by the stone masons, and of course they stand the test of time, hundreds of years later we can see their carvings and read their writings. Great to have all this history on your doorstep.

  12. The patterns, both natural and manmade are lovely. The grave is a fascinating discovery, I would have thought it quite unusual for a gypsy to have a headstone - I wonder whether his family put it there or whether his great age decided the local community to mark his passing. The coin to pay the Ferryman is intriguing - it certainly isn't something I'd expect to find in a churchyard! I wonder what 'Billy' Marshall was like and whether he has any descendents still in the area.

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  14. Thanks for a very interesting blog Ruthie, I also love browsing in grave yards, so full of history and art. It's sad to think that now more and more people are cremated, these snippets of history will be lost.

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  16. Hi Ruthie,
    A very sensitive and interesting post. Beautiful photos too!
    I would like to learn more about our old traditions, especially the Celtic ones.
    I look forward to seeing your college designs, if you can find them.:)
    Enjoy the rest of your week as well!

    Love Jo.x:)

    P.S. Second time lucky. I made a few mistakes in the first message!

  17. I love graveyards - the older the better. Many are so beautiful. There was a tiny, old one, out on its own -the church was long gone-, in the country, not far from my folks' house. We all loved it, my brother even proposed to his future wife there. :-) Loved the coins - and learning about the origins of the earrings (makes total sense!)

    I'm glad you have such lovely atmospheric places to visit - and that you share. :-)

  18. Milly - they are fascinating places, i could spend hours wanderings.

    Rowan - it is unusual, i am looking into the history of william marshall to find out more, he was quite a character & held a lot of respect by many folk who were not travellers, it is said the earl of selkirk was present even at his funeral. As to his still having living relations, well... he is supposed to have been married 17 times and had many children at least 4 after his 100 birthday!

    Chris - it is a sad thought isn't it, all that history lost!!

    Joanne May - thank you,i am hoping to do many more post on our old celtic traditions, i am so fascinated by it all!! im still hunting those pics!!!

    Tara - i am always drawn to the oldest parts of the cemeteries! hunting for interesting bits & pieces great fun!

  19. Anonymous12/3/13 12:01

    My name is Antony Marshall, I am the Great/Great Grandson of King Billy Marshall,
    The coins on the grave are left by gipsies for the next gypsy who comes along incase it is needed, as a way of help

    1. Anonymous8/8/14 00:24

      Hi Antony i'm Billy Marshall from Ayrshire age 43 my roots stem from Dumfries and Galloway.

  20. Anonymous12/3/13 12:04

    Google Books,

    The Tinkler Gipsies,
    Andrew McCormack

  21. Thank you Antony for letting me know that. I keep my eye out for a copy of the Tinkler Gipsies book, never found one yet I could afford ;), but fascinating reading.

  22. Anonymous12/9/13 11:21

    Antony must be some age, must be another 4 greats missing in there lol, As its family tradition I always take or leave a coin, the book can be downloaded for free from versions for most E-readers available

  23. Anonymous21/5/14 16:57

    Dear Ruth, I see that you can view the book "The Tinkler Gypsies" online - but you probably know that.

  24. thank you for the nod on the on-line book both, I shall be downloding a copy of that right away!

  25. According to family lore our family is connected to Billy Marshall via the MacFarlanes who are descended from the Kirk Yethem Faas ,Faws . Our MacFarlanes were pipers in Dumfries and Galloway. I suppose half of Scotland is related to King Billy!Our MacFarlanes were also known as McFadim in the 1700s


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