Another Debate


The first appointed Minister of the Seceder Church was Samuel Gilfillan (1792-1826). He was a grand preacher and most popular with all in the community although many did not adhere to the practices of the breakaway Church. Things in Church matters had quietened down for a spell but periodically the peace would be broken and old hatreds brought out and warmed to the flame.

This occurred at the time of Voluntary contributions which were often levied by government and passed down to the controllers of the Church and then on down to the Churches and this inevitably sparked fierce debate. During the tenure of the Reverend Robert Walker (1837-44) enormous argumentation raged with those in favour of the voluntary quoting Biblical text “My Kingdom is not of this world” and those opposing “That nation is blessed whose God is Jehovah” and “Kings and Queens shall be nursing fathers and mothers to the Church.” Those supporting the issue threw out the challenge to debate the questions in public and meet them in the Secession Church one evening. The Church party agreed and arrangements were made for the tilt. One of the Voluntaries from Alva decided to participate in the fray and members of the Church party heard about this and resolved to intercept him on his way to the village. It was also known he was an excellent debater and speaker.

Several from the Church party left Comrie in the morning and headed over the Langside and met him above the Toll at Blairnroar. They persuaded him to join him in a dram at the Toll house and then they would all proceed to the village. Further down the road was a fairly well-known shebeen at the Puddock hoose and more of the barley bree was applied. By the time the party had reached the straight at the Cowden their gait was irregular and at the point the Church party veered of leaving the debater to carry on alone. They went to Tullichettle, forded the river at the Linn, and then came in to Comrie via the Ross well pleased that they had, to some degree, neutralised their competitor.

All met at the Church in the evening with the Church party having the majority and the first issue to be resolved was the chair. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing Mr. Archibald McIsaac, farmer and distiller, of Tullybannocher got the chair. The debate was opened by Dr. Fyfe, a medical fellow who resided in Crieff, on behalf of those supporting the Voluntary party. Whilst Dr. Fyfe was manfully addressing the subject a member of the Church party was loudly shouting at him, “What brocht you here?” he shouted, “You hae no business to be here. You dinna belong to oor parish. Gang hame,” he shouted at Dr. Fyfe, “Gang hame and mak’ some pills, man; aye gang hame and mak’ pills.” They were incensed that the opposition would have brought in an outsider for the debate.

A young Divinity chap supporting the Church then arose and was given a warm round of applause from his side and was listened to with respect by the Voluntary party. Thereafter one of their side got up to speak but he was immediately shouted at. Someone shouted, “Man, Jock, dae ye mind when ye wis up at the toll o’ the Brae, riding on a dyke wi’ a wummin’s mutch on yer heid, an’ telling the dyke tae gee up. Man, ye wis that drunk ye didnae ken a dyke frae a horse!” Catcalls and whistles resounded and the Church party loved every minute of it. Another of the Voluntaries stood up and, as if to assuage the mob, said pleadingly, “Free discussion, free discussion, let us have free discussion.” A local farmer whirling his necktie around his head was bawling, “Free discussion, wha is he, that free discussion that man’s cryin’ for, I’ll gie him free discussion. Let him come forrit here, an’ I’ll gie him something he’ll no forget in a hurry!” Mr. McIsaac did the best he could but his pleading sounded fainter and fainter as the bawling increased to a crescendo and the meeting broke up with nobody feeling very pleased, and the matter far from resolved!

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