Bird Man of Stirling

When I visited Stirling Castle, I was amused to learn of the flying abbot, John Damian de Falcuis. Damian was a natural philosopher, a kind of proto-scientist. He was convinced that he would be able to leap off the terrifically high battlements of Stirling and fly away, if he could build wings for himself. One day in 1507, with King James IV and the court watching, Damian made his attempt. He was dressed in a chicken suit. He leapt off the parapet and flapped, only to fall right down. Amazingly, for having landed in a dung pile, he survived, with no injuries worse than a broken leg. Wrote William of Dunbar, an observer:

He schewer his feddreme

That was schene,

And splippit out of it full clene

And in a myre up to the ene

Amang the glar did glyd

Which is, loosely translated:


He shed his feathercoat

That was bright

And slipped clean out of it

And in a muckheap up to his eyes

Among the mud did slide


Evidently, Dunbar was not impressed.

One cannot but admire Damian’s innovation, as well as the firmness of his belief. Stirling Castle is not unlike Edinburgh in its stature, and even looking down, much less leaping off, takes courage. Courage and self-belief, however, were insufficient to keep him in the air. The day was coming when men would fly, not covered in feathers, but in balloons and then planes of wood and metal. Altering the levels of lift and thrust, in order to reduce drag and weight would see us in through the air. That day was not Damian’s.

I hear many people speak airy words of world peace, fellowship and harmony between the peoples of earth. The day will come when such are achieved, but ours is not that day. Too often, we look for Christ’s reign without Christ’s rule. They who would seek to achieve paradise on earth without Heaven’s Prince, are men dressed as chickens sitting in the dung. 

Stirling Castle