Festival for a defiant champion of democracy

Singer Karen Matheson.
Singer Karen Matheson.

This year’s events to celebrate the legacy of radical reformer Thomas Muir are to feature a headline concert by Capercaillie star Karen Matheson.

It is reckoned a major coup for the festival, as Muir was an elder of Cadder Parish Church, where she will perform - and where a stained glass window honouring his memory was unveiled two years ago.

Born in Kirkintilloch, Muir was a talented young advocate fired with a reforming zeal inspired - like Burns - by the heady rhetoric of the French Revolution.

He was persecuted for his agitation, which was viewed as sedition by an establishment terrified of the anarchy and mass murder which had engulfed France as revolution gave way to orchestrated Terror.

Muir was banished to Australia after a trial seen as a travesty of justice, but was rescued with little difficulty and - after many adventures - finally sought sanctuary in France.

Muir was later to act as an intermediary between France’s chaotic revolutionary Directory and groups which included the United Irishmen - whose violent revolution in 1798, supported by a French invasion, met with defeat and savage retribution from the British.

Fortunately the threat of a similar bloody insurrection erupting in mainland Britain never materialised.

Ironically while Muir strove for democracy he died in France in 1799, the same year in which Napoleon Bonaparte quashed the Revolution with a military coup.

However he remains an icon for the concept of freedom of speech and voting rights for all.

Muir’s life and legacy are commemorated every year by the Friends of Thomas Muir, supported by East Dunbartonshire Council.

This year’s festival programme will include the Thomas Muir Symposium in Kirkintilloch on November 8, where the theme will be “Scottish and English Radicals”.

It will involve speakers from the academic community, secondary pupils and members of local history societies.

From November 18 to 24 East Dunbartonshire Schools Art Exhibition will be staged at the Thomas Muir Coffee Shop; and on November 24 Karen Matheson performs at Cadder Parish Church.

Festival organiser Jimmy Watson said: “We’re delighted to announce this year’s festival events - which combine art, education, entertainment and talks.

“The festival offers an eclectic mix - shining light on the life and time of a true Scottish hero.”

Councillor Jim Gibbons, convener of East Dunbartonshire Council’s Place,

Neighbourhood and Corporate Assets Committee, said: “The council is proud to

continue supporting the festival as it enters its seventh year.

“It’s great that East Dunbartonshire schools and young people are once

again involved in celebrating Thomas Muir through a number of interesting

and innovative events.”

For more information visit www.thomasmuir.co.uk.