Friday, November 02, 2007

Alexander Peden, Cumnock, Ayrshire

A few months ago I posted here about the Covenanter hero Alexander Peden and his memorial in Glenwherry, County Antrim. Last weekend I was in Ayrshire and tracked down his grave in Cumnock. It's right at the entrance to the old graveyard (not the new one).

In the same small fenced area of the graveyard are other Covenanter graves - one of which has the following inscription:

"Here lyes David Dun and Simon Paterson who was shot in this place by a party of Highlanders for ther adherance to the Word of God and the covenanted work of Reformation. 1685"

Just a few miles away in Barrhill, there's a memorial by a wooded riverside to two other Covenanters; the interpretive sign nearby reads:

"...In 1687 John Murchie and Daniel Meiklewrick were pursued by soldiers. They were found to be carrying Bibles, and were shot without trial, their bodies being left where they lay..."

And just a few miles from there, in St John's of Dalry, there's a modern sculpture which commemorates a number of Covenanters, specifically "...two Covenanters, John Grierson and Robert Stewart, who paid the ultimate sacrifice..."

On one of the panels beside the sculpture, it says: "the south west of Scotland and Ayrshire were the parts of Scotland that suffered most severely during the troubles of the Covenanting times. This unhappy period of history came to an end with the "Glorious Revolution" in 1690, which brought William of Orange and Mary Stuart to the throne, and re-established the Presbyterian Church in Scotland..."

Which makes me think that, for all the summer activities there are around the 12th July each year - both in Northern Ireland and Scotland - that it would make sense for those events and activities to be about the freedoms and liberties secured by the Glorious Revolution, and not just about the single military victory at the Boyne?

It is said that Daniel Defoe reported to Parliament that 18,000 Covenanters had been killed in Scotland by the Royal troops of King Charles II and his brother King James II - simply because of their faith and their convictions that despotic kings should be resisted. So it's no wonder that the tyrannical King James II's defeat by William of Orange was welcomed by the Covenanters - in fact many of them had formed regiments to defend themselves, and some later joined William's army. William brought an end to what could well be described in today's terms as the genocide of the Covenanters. (The UN's definition of genocide is "...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group...")

Too much of the history of our wee part of the world has been reduced to an "Ireland-only" history and has been wrongly stereotyped as always being nothing other than a sectarian "Protestant v Catholic" history. Perpetuating these narrow visions will only perpetuate our problems. Broadening our view will also broaden our minds, and will make us all far more aware of deep aspects of our heritage that have almost been forgotten.

The Covenanters' story is one of committed faith and principles, of opposition to tyrannical rulers, and of the ultimate sacrifice. We have much to learn from those who went before.


Another Ayrshire icon, the poet Robert Burns (born in 1759 and who, through his mother, may well have been a direct descendant of the Covenanter martyr John Brown of Priesthill who was murdered in 1685), wrote of the Covenants:

The Solemn League and Covenant
Cost Scotland blood - cost Scotland tears
But it seal'd Freedom's sacred cause
If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneers