Falkirk Tunnel project to throw new light on Burke and Hare

An historic canal tunnel's grisly past is expected to be highlighted as part of plans to upgrade its lighting.
New lighting installed in the Falkirk Tunnel last year. Picture: Scottish CanalsNew lighting installed in the Falkirk Tunnel last year. Picture: Scottish Canals
New lighting installed in the Falkirk Tunnel last year. Picture: Scottish Canals

Scottish Canals said the Falkirk Tunnel project on the Union Canal provided the opportunity for staging theatrical performances and other artistic events.

These could include promoting the canal’s links to murderers Burke and Hare, who came from Ireland to help build it between 1818 and 1822.

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While the pair killed 16 people to provide bodies for medical experiments, the canal was also used by unscrupulous doctors to smuggle the corpses of their patients to Edinburgh University.

The bodies were hidden in containers labelled as industrial chemicals.

Scottish Canals said the new lighting could also be used to provide seasonal themes along the 630-metre long tunnel, such as at Halloween.

A spokeswoman said: “194 years ago, the tunnel was blasted through solid rock to carry the Union Canal beneath Prospect Hill in Falkirk.

“It is an incredibly atmospheric place – full of eerie echoes, odd nooks and crannies, and thousands of stalactites.

“We upgraded the lighting system last year to a LED kit that shows off the details of the tunnel - the candle holders, dynamite stores and shafts.

“This year, we’re taking it a step further with the installation of a programmable system inspired by the history, design, and stories of the passage.

“As part of the project, we’ll be looking to see how we can work with groups to take full advantage of the new equipment and transform peoples’ journeys through the tunnel.

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“It will allow opportunities for artistic and theatrical communities to use the tunnel in new ways for public and community engagement.”

The tunnel closed on Wednesday for two weeks for the work.

Peter Ranscombe, author of Hare, an historical thriller, said: “The Union Canal plays a big part in the story of Burke and Hare because it’s the reason they each moved from Ireland to Scotland.

“Although it’s very gruesome, the story is an important part of our heritage and so any move that makes it easier to commemorate the connection with the canal should be welcomed.

“Staging a drama or other form of art in the tunnel would be a great idea.”