Kirrie’s town crier, George (Dod) Barnett was born in 1716 and died in 1795 (aged 79).
His son Tam Barnett took over on his death and what a character he was.
Tam’s uniform was fantastic - a broad blue bonnet, a coarse blue cloth jacket and vest, a “harn” apron, and velveteen breeks reaching a little below the knee. He wore neither shoes nor stockings, and summer and winter he “skelped barefooted through mud and sna” in the discharge of his public duties with the jail key dangling in his hand.
That “Kirrie” was a well behaved and law-abiding community was abundantly evident from the fact a single policeman was capable of protecting life and property, and keeping rogues in order in a town containing a population of 4,000 inhabitants. Would it were thus today.
In the days when it was only a burgh of barony before the Police Act came into force, the majesty of the law was upheld by a solitary official dubbed a town’s officer. In the beginning of the 19th century that office was held by the worthy named Tam Barnett.
He contributed to their amusement for nearly 40 years, and as one who knew him well said, “take him all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.”
Tam was nearly as broad as he was long, and the leer in his eye being irresistibly comic, he only had to cock his blue bonnet with its red tuft, with his hands and drumsticks behind his back, he would begin his oration, to set the crowd which collected around him in a roar of laughter. However, he never laughed himself. Tam knew that no orator ever retained the respect of his listeners who laughs at his own jokes.
The frailty of Tam when he began to drink drams was observed that he was to be seen more frequently in a state of intoxication when a Justice Court met, the very times when he ought to have been most on his guard, but these were the days when he had the greatest command of cash. At last, after every gentle method had been tried and had failed, he was deprived of his office and obliged to submit to the humiliating arrangement of getting together another to do the town duties.
Among his multifarious offices, Tam was custodian of the Town House. It has been said he was married and had a family. It has even been stated that his wife “took a hurried death.” Be that as it may, Tam and his drum were inseparable. The drum was his friend and breadwinner.
His success as a detective was sometimes very cleverly attained, although he required to be detected himself in many cases, as being the culprit.
Latterly Tam Barnett became the only individual ever known to have been addicted to habits of inebriety who ever received assistance at the hands of the Kirk Session, and he was limited to the payment of his ‘house rent’ amounting to 20 shillings per annum.
But Tam’s memory was not always in proper tune. When he chanced to have “a drappie in his e’e,” or was tormented by the young laddies, he sometimes lost the thread of his discourse. On one occasion he was perambulating the town crying a roup of household furniture, but it soon became evident from his unsteady gait and guttural speech that Tam was far gone. He had a long list of articles to enumerate, but as he proceeded on his rounds item after item dropped from his memory till his bill of fare was abridged to the following concise terms:- “Notice - A roup of household furniture, consisting of table, chain, poker, and a lot o’ ither things – hic - I dinna mind the name o’ – hic - but you’ll see them whan you come!.”
In those days, the country was infested with bands of cairds, tinkers, and showmen, who were a great annoyance to the peaceful inhabitants. When a gang of these nomads visited the town,they generally got on the spree, and finished up their debauch with a fight amongst themselves. Tam was a brave, fearless, little man. Single-handed he would boldly attack these bands of lawless gangrels, and if he failed to drive them out of the town, he would fight the biggest man they had, beat him soundly, and then make him prisoner, and shut him up in the jail. ‘Tam’s black hole’ generally cooled their courage, and made them only too glad to decamp quietly after a night’s confinement.
We miss ye yet Tam.