The question I am most often asked by locals as well as visitors is why Falkirk folk are called ‘bairns’ and what distinguishes them from anybody else other than the obvious things like good looks and intelligence.
The first part is easy to answer – we have really no idea!
The name was certainly used in the 18th century when the “Better meddle with the deil than the bairns of Falkirk” motto was common and maybe even earlier when people said “You’re like the bairns o’ Fa’kirk: you’ll end afore you mend”.
However, in the absence of the truth we do have our own local legend which says that back in the mid 1600s the Earl of Callendar, James Livingston, provided the town with its first water supply at the Cross Well near the steeple.
At the official opening ceremony we are told that he drank a quaich of water and toasted the health of “the wives and bairns of Falkirk”.
A bit romantic but unfortunately it’s all we’ve got!
I have always understood that to be a genuine Falkirk bairn you had to have been born within the bounds of the old burgh or at least within sound of the steeple bell.
This was all very fine while most babies were born at home which was the norm until 1932 when the new Falkirk Royal Infirmary opened its doors.
Its predecessor down in Thornhill Road had no maternity unit and indeed the planners who designed the new infirmary did not include one until the government stepped in to provide the cash to pay for a 24-bed unit.
You will recall that the rest of the wards were still paid for by voluntary subscriptions, fees and donations and that did not change until 1949 with the creation of the NHS.
So from 1932 hundreds of babies born in the infirmary were technically ‘bairns’ even though they came from all over the place.
The growing pool of ‘bairns’ was further increased in 1935 when the private mansion house called Dunrowan in Maggie Wood’s Loan was opened up as a nursing home.
I think this was a kind of private breakaway from Falkirk Royal though I am not sure. It may have been a simple case of increased demand as more and more mothers-to-be were persuaded of the benefits of a supervised birth.
All I know is that between then and 1951 hundreds first saw the light in the building which is still standing.
I was one of them and hardly a week passes without an encounter with another Dunrowan bairn.
Later on the building was used as a nurses’ home and it remained in the health care service until recent years.
In 1987 a brand new state of the art maternity unit was opened at the Infirmary and the future of the bairns seemed secure.
But there were already disturbing rumours about possible closure and a merger with Stirling and feelings boiled over in 1989.
The reaction in the town was fierce to say the least with petitions, protest marches and rallies which did seem to change minds for a time.
In the end the decision in to create Forth Valley Royal Hospital brought about the end of Falkirk’s maternity unit in 2004 and with it the end of hospital births in the old burgh.
So for the last 12 years the only true ‘bairns’ are the handful whose parents chose a home birth. They are a unique group and deserve a bit of recognition.
I think we should strike a special medal for each and everyone of them.