Friday, September 28, 2012

The gravestone of Rev George Brydone at Kircubbin Presbyterian Church (from Flodden > Covenanters > 1798 Rebellion > 1912 Ulster Covenant)

The flat stone in the foreground is the gravestone of Rev George Brydone, who (then aged 51) was the minister of Kircubbin on the shores of Strangford Lough in 1798. He was from Scotland and had arrived at Kircubbin aged 31. Brydone's understudy Archibald Warwick of Loughriscouse was arrested and executed nearby (aged just 29) for his involvement in the 1798 Rebellion and was later buried at Movilla. The inscription on George Brydone's stone reads:

lies the body
late minister of the presbyterian
Congregation of Kircubbin

He was ordained to the pastoral charge
of this congregation
by the Presbytery of Lauder, Synod of Kelso, Scotland
March 3rd commenced his ministerial labours
April 26th 1778
And departed this life September the 3rd A.D. 1817
Aged 70 years.


Situated halfway between Kelso and Edinburgh, Lauder had been a Royal Burgh since 1500 and was where John Knox and James Guthrie (the second martyr of the Covenanter 'Killing Times') had ministered in previous centuries. The town grew in the shadow of Thirlestane Castle, the architect of which, Sir William Bruce, also designed the unique Old Parish Church in 1673.

The famous collection Wilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland (first published in 1834) includes a story about a John Brydone, set in 1645 in the area near Lauder, called 'The Adopted Son - a Tale of the Times of the Covenanters' (read it online here). It shows that the Brydones were very familiar with being persecuted by the King's troops - back in 1600s Scotland, never mind in late 1700s Kircubbin.

Earlier still, a William Brydone of Selkirk had been knighted by King James IV of Scotland on the battlefield of Flodden in 1513. In 1790 a John Brydone also of Selkirk was reported as still having William's sword.

The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany of 1817 reported Rev George Brydone's death, 'At Dunevely, Ireland'. Next to his stone is another flat one, to 'John Brydone of Donavelly' (Dunevely) who died on 16 October 1825 aged 74. Presumably they were brothers.


It is easy to imagine the Brydone brothers standing alongside their congregation and neighbours at Kircubbin in October 1798, watching young Warwick being hanged by Redcoats - remembering full well their own illustrious ancestors who had fought similar struggles in centuries gone by, and no doubt sympathising with the cause Warwick had died for.

It is no wonder that a Newtownards Chronicle report of an Ulster Covenant meeting at Kircubbin Orange Hall in 1912 records that when William Mitchell-Thomson (the Scottish-born MP for North Down) referred in his speech to the Scottish Covenanters of old, someone in the room cried aloud "their descendants are here tonight!".

Over the next few days the Ulster Covenant will be marked. This simple story above shows that the Ulster Covenant, when cut off from its Scottish cultural roots and the power of handed-down family traditions, becomes a hollower story of simply 'big picture' politics - rather than deep rooted centuries-old heritage which coursed through the veins of the people of 1912.

Political history is interesting - but it's not the whole story.