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Issued: 11 May 2004

The Past Rings a Bell at Kirriemuir

The role of the town crier comes under the spotlight as part of the Kirriemuir Townhouse 400th anniversary celebrations.

On display at the Gateway to the Glens museum which is now located in the historic building, is the bell used by the last Kirrie town crier Robert McDiarmid who was the town's 'bellman' in the 1930s.

Mr McDiarmid sadly lost his hand and part of his arm in an industrial accident at Kirriemuir's Gairie Works and so had to find alternative employment.

One of his subsequent jobs was as the town's bellman - a modern town crier. Part of this role was to use his bell around Kirrie to wake folk up so they could get to their shifts at the works.

Staff at the museum were delighted when Ed Weighton, Robert McDiarmid's grandson, lent Mr McDiarmid's bell for its exhibition celebrating the 400th birthday of Kirriemuir Townhouse; Prisoner's, Pundlers, Postage, Police & Pills.

This is particularly appropriate because Kirriemuir town criers of the past had very close links with the Townhouse, using the long gone outside stair for their 'performances' and storing their tools of the trade, a bell, or more often in the earlier town criers, a drum, in the Townhouse.

The most famous of these town criers must surely be Tam Barnet, from the early nineteenth century, who was famed for his appearance; 'nearly as broad as he was long' his dress: 'his blue bonnet with its red tuft', his wit and his ability to scare small children into behaving - a quality that many parents missed when he finally relinquished his post.

The town crier's post, like many official posts in the past was semi-inherited. Tam's father had also been the town crier, and was even louder of voice - reputedly you could hear Mr Barnett senior's declaration of 'Oh yeah' several miles from Kirriemuir.

Tam's news, which he cried on a Sunday, for the benefit of those who had just been to the Kirk, rivalled, and often seemed to counteract the minister's sermons, that the congregation has just listened through.

As well as the exhibition, a number of events have been organised for Kirriemuir this year as the little red town of has two great reasons to celebrate.

2004 not only marks the 400th anniversary of the Townhouse, but as the birthplace of author JM Barrie, a series of events have been planned to mark the centenary of the first performance of Peter Pan.

The statue of Peter Pan in the town square will be the focal point of guided walks following in the footsteps of the creator of this figure of eternal youth.

Other guided walks through the nooks and crannies of the old town will provide stimulating and entertaining insights into a millennium of amazing heritage since the Celts first carved out their cross-slabs there.

To find out more about the fascinating heritage of the burgh join the first of these walks this Sunday 16 May at 2.30pm. It is free of charge and starts at the Peter Pan statue in the Square.

In what promises to be a weekend of entertainment for all the family in Kirrie, the walk complements the 17th Century Day which kicks off the celebrations at the Townhouse on Saturday (15 May).

A packed programme of events on the day includes children's sessions when youngsters will meet some of the foot soldiers of the Dragoons, and learn more about warfare in the 17th century.

There will be talks outlining the life of women at the time of the Covenanters and Scots soldiers in 1600s Scotland, while the Dragoons spring into action again in front of the townhouse with a display of musketry.

The programme is: 11am Children's session; 1pm Talk; Women in the time of The Covenanters; 2pm children's session; 3pm Display of Musketry (in the Square); 3.30pm talk; Scots Soldiers in the mid 17th Century. All events are free of charge.