The Great Disruption

The Parish Minister in 1843 was the Reverend Dr Cooper. The whole country was in a ferment of religious discussion of whether the Queen should appoint ministers, or the Kirk members. This eventually led to what is known as the Great Disruption. Dr Cooper led practically all of the members of his congregation out to orm a branch of the Free Church of Scotland. To pile on the agony, the new church was built a few yards away from the Parish Church gates. It no longer exists, but the site is marked and easily visible from the gates. Feelings were not appeased when the ringing of the bell in the new church exposed that the old kirk bell was cracked. Arrangements went ahead to repair the old bell, and when these were completed the workmen met to "wet the bell". In the ensuing celebrations, one of the apprentices decided to test the bell, hit it with his hammer, and cracked it again!

St Columbas Parish Church picture

If the church is open to the public, look around to see the seats named after many of the communities of the early days. In the entrance area is a Visitors Book available for signing, and the display cabinet reveals some interesting items of antiquity - a 16th century bronze alms dish and a 13th century wooden collecting dish, survivors from the old church at Kirkton, a Baskerville Bible dated 1792, and a colletion of tokens and dies for the tokens. There are early Communion vessels, and an extract from the minutes of the Convention of Royal Burghs stating that on April 12 1589 John Celphane, Provost of Burntisland, appealed to members of the Convention for funds to build a Kirk at Burntisland. Once these have been viewed, head out into the kirkyard to search for gravestones concerning interesting and famous personalities.

The Kirkyard and Gravestones

Near the Kirk entrance is a stone dedicated to one George Arnot. He was a dock labourer and a bit of a local worthy. At Kirk he could memorise the minister's sermon and repeat to others the whole content. He was a likeable character, always ready to tell a joke or sing a song. One day he was offered a glass of whisky which had been dosed with snuff. The result was disastrous, as George died. The townspeople were shocked by his death, and raised a public subscription to erect a tombstone. In addition a competition was organised for a poem which would best describe the man. There were 30 entrants, and the most suitable was engraved on his headstone.
"His mind was weak, his body strong,
His answer ready with his song;
A mem'ry like him few could boast,
But suddenly his life was lost."

Round behind the church is the largest memorial in the yard, that of the Watsons. This memorial is dated 1689 ad has the initials AW & IB, for Captain Andrew Watson and his wife Isobelle Boswell. Another set of initials JW & EO stands for John Watson and Euphamie Orrock. John set up what is known as Watson's Mortification, a fund now supervised by Kirkcaldy District Council. The beneficiaries are three poor widows of Burntisland. Preference is given to those whose maiden or married namess are Watson, Orrock or Boswell, who benefit by way of an annual distribution of money.

Facing this memorial across the green sward is the headstone of Admiral Sir William Fairfax and his wife Margaret Charters. Sir William was a Bailie and member of Burntisland Town Council for many years. He was the hero of the Battle of Camperdown, and has a history all to himself. Nearby is the gravestone of the Reverend James Wemyss, brother-in-law of the admiral and minister of the parish for almost 43 years.

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