Over the course of half a century the Auld Kirk was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, but in 1740 it was reroofed and for several years was used for public worship and as a school. By the mid 1750’s it was again vacant and, when Robert was a boy, the roof partially collapsed.
On one occasion a wide-horned Highland bullock strayed and eventually wandered into the Auld Kirk where it got stuck and, being without food and water, went half mad. A day or two later a local lass happened to be passing the Kirk when she looked in and saw a pair of horns, accompanied by loud bellowing. She fled in terror convinced the Devil had taken over the Auld Kirk. This incident may well have been the basis for that other Deil story, Tam o’Shanter.
Gilbert Burns said that when his father fued his property near Alloway Kirk the wall of the kirkyard had gone to ruin and cattle had free liberty of grazing in it. His father took the lead in having the cemetery enclosed with a wall. “Hence,” said Gilbert, “he came to consider it as his burial place, and we learned that reverence for it which people generally have for the burial place of their ancestors.”
This would explain why Burns had to borrow a horse from James Tennant of Glenconnor to bring his father’s body from Lochlie in Tarbolton Parish about 10 miles away for burial in Alloway Kirkyard.
On the initiative of Wm Burnes the villagers of Alloway made some attempt to repair the neglect to the kirkyard and tidy up the headstones. When it was proposed to build houses at the back of the yard a preparatory dig discovered human bones outside the west wall. Could the renovation to the Kirkyard wall have resulted in unmarked graves being excluded or was there perhaps a darker reason?