A Pageant of Colmonell

Pageant type

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Place: Community Centre (Colmonell) (Colmonell, South Ayrshire, Scotland)

Year: 1975

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 2


25–26 February 1975

Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February, 1975.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Lovegrove, Tom


Lovegrove was a former actor who moved to live in Colmonell.1

Names of executive committee or equivalent


Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Hamilton, Rev. J.H.


In Scene VIII: All four verses of the song, Behind Yon Hill Where Stinchar Flows by Robert Burns song were either recited or sung.

Names of composers



Very little information although music featured in much of the pageant.

It is likely that Mendelssohn's Wedding March was used in scene V.

Numbers of performers


The author of the pageant, was the local Minister, Rev. Hamilton, who also took an acting role as 'Peden the Prophet' in scene IV. The pageant's producer, Tom Lovegrove, played John Snell in scene VI. A newspaper article states that 60 performers took part and these were drawn from Colmonell, but some also came from the nearby smaller villages of Pinwherry and Barrhill. Most scenes have six or more main characters; but there are crowd scenes and dancing interludes which would have involved numbers of men, women and children. All scenes apart from scene VIII have women as named characters. Children took part as dancers (particularly in scene V). Colmonell was, and is, a small village of only a few hundred inhabitants.

Financial information

None known

Object of any funds raised

No information

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


A local paper stated that the community centre where the event was held needed ‘elastic sides’ on both nights of the pageant and that it ‘was a complete sell-out and it was standing room only, if you could find room to stand.’4

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

No information

Associated events


Pageant outline


Following an ‘overture of martial music’, the ‘Carrick Herald’ (this character opens all the scenes) enters and offers a proclamation of greeting ‘to all the folk of Colmonell!’5

Scene I. The Coming of St Colmon [650 AD]

Opens with the interior of a hut which contains a crude table and a pot hung over an open fire. At the table, a woman is preparing a rabbit for the pot when a man enters. They are described as ‘dirty and unkempt’. The couple begin arguing (played for comic effect). While this is going on, a young girl enters (the couple’s daughter); the mother berates her for staying out with a local youth, she answers belligerently. The couple’s son appears: he is carrying a large salmon, the group stare in wonderment, and then the father asks where he caught it, to which he answers ‘in the chief’s pool’. A loud argument over the son’s poaching then ensues until a figure dressed in a long garment and carrying a cross appears; at this, the company fall silent. He announces himself as ‘Colmon’ and states that he brings peace to the house.6 The father replies ‘but we like fighting; it passes the time.’ Colmon continues to sermonise after which the family members do as they are bidden and follow him as he exits the stage.

Scene II. Death at Craigneil [c1400s]

In between all scenes the Carrick Herald re-enters the stage and announces the forthcoming scene. The Herald describes the action as taking place at a time when the local lairds, the Kennedys, are at war with one another. The nearby castle of Craigneil is the seat of Sir Neil Kennedy who is of the Cassillis branch of the family; this faction is in conflict with the Bargany branch of the Kennedy clan.

The scene opens in the castle’s great hall, three guards are chatting when Sir Neil enters. He warns the guards to be on the lookout for danger. They exit and he sits. His wife (Lady Craigneil) then enters with two attendants. Her husband tells her that she must stay indoors because of the danger of conflict, and when she makes a slight protest he replies: ‘Whit mair should any woman want than to bake and cook and wash, and darn and mend and sew for the man that mairrit her!’ At this, a guard reappears with a prisoner who is announced as Sir Thomas Dalrymple (an ally of the Bargany family). Sir Neil accuses him of being up to no good on his land, which he denies. Dalrymple makes to escape, but the guards catch up with him and deliver a mortal wound. Despite this, Sir Neil insists that they hang Dalrymple as an example to others. The guards protest and the women weep and plead with Sir Neil not to take this step as ‘it will disgrace us all.’ He insists and so they drag the corpse out and hang him. Sir Neil laughs and looks out of the window in order to gloat at the hanged man, at which point the corpse opens its eyes and stares back at him. Sir Neil then falls down dead with shock; Lady Craigneil exclaims a ‘dead Dalrymple has killed a living Kennedy. May God have mercy on us all!’

Scene III. Man of the Covenant [1679]

The Herald outlines the struggle of the Covenanters and mentions the Battle of Bothwell Bridge at which Carrick Covenanters fought. Following their defeat, the survivors try to make their way home including the local martyr, Matthew McIlwraith, who sought refuge with 'his sweetheart' at her home near Barrhill in South Ayrshire.

The scene takes place inside a farm kitchen; it is night and the room is dimly lit. Three women are seated at a table: Mistress McEwen, her daughter Margaret and her friend Janet Carson. The women are talking about the men who left the locality to fight at Bothwell. Mr McEwen and his son Gilbert arrive. They remark on the cold weather, and then prepare for family worship. The father reads the 23rd psalm. When he reaches the passage 'Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies', a knock at the door is heard. McIlwraith enters looking exhausted. He embraces Margaret. He tells of the slaughter at the battle and states that he has returned alone, the other Colmonell men having been killed or captured. McIlwraith refuses to allow the family to hide him as this will put them in danger and he takes his leave. Following his departure, dragoons arrive at the house seeking McIlwraith; they search the house. Margaret is tearful. The dragoons then return with and dump the dead body of McIlwraith at the open door: they cry '[w]e've got your bonny boy now.' The family prepare to take the body for burial in the churchyard at Colmonell and attest that this martyrdom will not be forgotten.

Scene IV. Peden the Prophet [c.1670s-80s]

The Herald describes the conventicles that took place in the area and announces that Alexander Peden the most famous clandestine preacher of the time took part.

The scene takes place on moorland; a rock serves as a pulpit and as was usual, there are men keeping watch for the dragoons. Two men (Gilbert McMicken and John Gilbert), an unnamed woman and another man from the crowd assembled discuss the danger they are in by attending this service. Peden arrives and issues a blessing on the worshippers. He describes the perils he has been through in order to preach at this conventicle and prophesises that one day he will be caught but that he will not be sent to the Americas as others have been but will die in his own land. Peden states 'although I am a hunted man, men shall come with reverence and honour my grave.' The congregation begin singing psalm 124 just as the soldiers arrive. Gilbert tells the crowd to scatter; some escape, including Peden, but Gilbert and John are held. The captain of the troop questions them on the whereabouts of Peden. They will not tell; Gilbert states 'I defy you! You are a servant of Satan sent to torment the faithful of the Lord.' The captain then threatens them with the thumbscrew and the soldiers march off, taking Gilbert and John as prisoners.

Scene V. The Penny Wedding [c.1725]

The Herald announces that 'ye have need of mirth' following the grimness of the previous scenes. He describes the nature of a Penny Wedding and tells the audience that they will now see a recreation of this ceremony, as it would have happened in the village 250 years before.

The scene opens with guests arriving, followed by the bridegroom, groomsman, parents of the groom, and, lastly, the Minister. Then the bride and her family arrive. The marriage takes place with the performers miming the actions of searching for the ring and this being placed on the bride's hand. The ceremony finishes with the groom and bride kissing at which point all assembled cheer and music is played.7 All come forward and present gifts to the couple of household objects. The guests form a circle with the bride and groom and in the centre of this children perform by singing and dancing. The couple then move among the crowd receiving congratulations and a large box marked 'pennies' is passed around. The scene ends with a comic enactment of the bride being reluctant to accompany her new husband, until she gives way and the couple process off the stage followed by all the assembled guests.

Scene VI. John Snell Remembers, 1679

The character of John Snell is recalled by the Herald; he relates that although Snell lived most of his life in England, he was born in Colmonell in 1629 and never forgot the land of his birth. He was a benefactor of the University of Glasgow.

The scene takes place in a study within a manor house (described as being Ufton Manor, Warwickshire). It opens with Snell writing at a desk. A maid enters and tells Snell that he should retire to bed. He agrees that he is tired but wishes to finish his task first. He dismisses the maid and then reads from his own writing: 'I, John Snell, being born in the parish of Colmonell...' He then begins reminiscing about his childhood out loud: 'we learned reading and writing and counting, and grammar, aye and Latin. And then the Glasgow College.' He proceeds to tell how he fought against Cromwell and had to flee his army at Preston. Then after a time he began practising Law, having been taken on by Sir Orlando Bridgeman who later became keeper of the King's seal. Snell continues with his story, ending by saying that he will be buried after his death in England but that he wishes to leave his estate to the 'Glasgow College'.8 In return for which he wishes the College to care for his parents' graves in Colmonell churchyard 'and keep it so that their names can always be read.' He begins writing again, saying the words 'And on my death...' At which point his head droops and the pen falls to the floor.

Scene VII. The Witch Hunt, 1715

The Herald states that of witches 'we cannot here portray their midnight wanderings, yet we would disclose to you the dread and pitiful acts that were once done in our valley, not by those aforesaid daughters of darkness, but by the otherwise good and pious folk of this place.'

The scene opens with the interior of a village house. Two men are seated at a table and are examining a large minute book. The two (Fardenreoch and Knockdaw) are Elders of the village Kirk. A maid enters announcing the arrival of two more men, Daljarrock and Corseclays.

Fardenreoch dismisses the maid saying that the men have serious work to do. He checks that they are not being overheard and discovers the maid listening at the door. He shoos her away. Then he tells the arrivals about 'this evil thing that is going on in this parish.' Corseclays suggests calling the Minister, but Fardenreoch states that the cleric is too soft-hearted to deal with this problem. Local witnesses to witchcraft then begin arriving, firstly a farm-servant called Alexander Macilvrick, who appears nervous. He relates that a woman came through his byre muttering to herself, and that the next day the milk from his cows was sour. He is persuaded to say the name of the woman: 'Bonnie Bess McQuaker'. In reply, the elders then exclaim this name in unison and with surprise. Fardenreoch remarks that '[s]he's no very bonnie noo.' Daljarrock replies, 'no, but I mind the day...' Fardenreoch rebukes him, reminding him that he is an elder of the Kirk.

Macilvrick is dismissed but told to call in the next witness: this is Marion Drynan. She tells the tale of how the laundry on her washing line went missing but a woman told her where she might find it—at 'Kirkhill Dyke'. On checking, the washing was discovered in the place identified by the woman. The Elders ask Marion to state the name of this woman and she exclaims. 'Bonnie Bess McQuaker!' A third witness, an elderly man called Thomas McCrie also accuses Bess of 'the evil eye' and of putting a curse on his sheep. Meantime two of the Elders have fetched Bess and she is brought in; she denies witchcraft and all of the crimes of which she is accused. Fardenreoch threatens Bess with 'the nail'. He states 'if we find a spot where the nail does not pain her, then that is the devil's mark and she is his slave and a foul witch!' Bess struggles free from the grip of two of the Elders; Fardenreoch screams that they must go after her but at this Daljarrock suddenly assumes authority. He announces, 'let her go. This is God's world... we've maybe been kept from making a dreadful mistake.' He and the other Elders take leave; Fardenreoch accepts their handshake with ill grace and then, angry at having been thwarted, he drives the nail into the wood of the table.

Scene VIII. At the Cross Roads, Late 18th Century

For the last scene, the Carrick Herald states that this takes place at the end of the eighteenth century but involves the telling of what will later come to pass in Colmonell. He says 'what better setting for this than "At the cross roads!"' This is described in a script note as at 'the corner of Rowantree Street and Main Street adjacent to the Boar's Head Inn.'

The scene at the old cross roads of Colmonell is set at midday outside the entrance to the Inn. The scene contains a signpost pointing the way to the nearby villages of Ballantrae and Daljarrock and the nearest main towns of Girvan and Stranraer. Seated on a bench are two 'worthies'; they are drinking and passing the time of day and complaining of the state of farming and how hard their lives are. The conversation is played to comic effect. It ends with them remarking on the want of a bridge to cross the river. At this a stranger appears. The worthies question him as to where he is headed, and when the worthies become frustrated at being unable to guess his destination he states that he is going to Portpatrick and hopes to travel to Ireland. The stranger speaks with a Highland accent and says that he has the 'second sight'. A small crowd then gathers and he proceeds to deliver words of prophesy about 'carriages with no horses...' and that one day there 'will be a bridge across your river.' The worthies are dismissive and threaten him with the 'stool o' repentance come the Sabbath'. The crowd moves forward in a threatening way but a man cries 'let him alone!' This man announces himself as Robert Burns and states:

This mannie and I are gey chief wi' one another. He and I see wi' the eyes of fancy. He dreams of what is to be. I sing of what should be.

At this a man in the crowd states that he knows Burns and knows the song that Burns has written about Colmonell. Burns then recites this verse and the crowd applauds. The scene ends with the stranger telling Burns that

a day will come when your name, Robert Burns, the Ayrshire lad will be known all over the world... I can see a great day, when men shall see their brotherhood one with another, and man to man shall brothers be, the world over.

The stranger then departs and all wave their farewells.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Peden, Alexander (1626?–1686) preacher
  • Snell, John (1628/9–1679) educational benefactor
  • Burns, Robert (1759–1796) poet

Musical production

Recorded music was probably used.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Ayr Advertiser and Carrick Herald
Ayrshire Post

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Original script (one copy) in Local History Room, Carnegie Library, Ayr.

No published brochure or programme for this event has been recovered. The information in this entry is based mainly on a copy of the original script of the pageant.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Local History Room, Carnegie Library, Ayr (holds the script of the pageant and local press reports).

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Biblical texts: Psalm nos. 23 & 124 (scenes III and IV respectively).
  • Robert Burns. Poetry (scene VIII).


The village of Colmonell is in a particularly remote part of lowland Scotland that is still intensely rural and heavily dependent on local agriculture and forestry for employment. The nearest sizeable town is Girvan some ten miles away and, even today, road links are poor. This example of a pageant from the 1970s is of particular interest because of its close concentration on local historical lore within a secluded and sparsely populated part of Scotland.

Based on available evidence, there was no particular anniversary which gave rise to the pageant. However, this was a time of upheaval in this locality because of local government reform, which effectively ended municipal burgh and county boundaries that had been established for many decades. This may have influenced the will to tell Colmonell's story some short months before the community became a very small cog in the giant machine that was Strathclyde Regional Council. 9 It was also a time of economic pressure generally across this part of Scotland which suffered from high levels of unemployment. The writer of the pageant was a Minister of the local Presbyterian Church and within such a small community would have been a well-known person to all. However, coincidentally, the early 1970s saw the membership of the Church of Scotland collapse.10 This alignment of difficulties may have encouraged the Minister to organise something that brought the community together as performers and audience. There is also an undeniable bias in the script towards the place of religion, and Presbyterianism in particular, within local heritage. The performances took place in the village community centre and the audience, most likely, was predominately made up of people from Colmonell and other surrounding villages.

The format of the pageant blends elements of the traditional with the modern; indeed, in the retelling of this small village's history there is more than a little of influences from soap opera! Domestic discord, family feud, a wedding and preparations for a funeral all make an appearance. Yet classic pageantry features, such as a narrator who omnisciently knows the whole story, remain. In the case of Colmonell's pageant, the 'Carrick Herald' takes this central role and this name was no doubt an in-joke since this was also the title of the local newspaper. This type of reference to local knowledge is a feature of the entire pageant where characters take the names of local landmarks, dialogue is peppered with local dialect, and satirical remarks, which would have had local resonance, occur regularly in the script.

There are eight, short, episodes in the pageant covering some of Colmonell's most important historical influences. Notably, the first scene retells the coming of Christianity—brought by the Irish monk Colmon who in legend gave the village its name. Conflict within the local landed family—the Kennedys—is covered in scene II; it is difficult to date the events of this scene precisely; a newspaper report gives the date as 1400 but it may be based on a local legend.11 Nevertheless, divisions did exist within this powerful landed family and were longstanding; they continued as a feature during the war of the Three Kingdoms in the seventeenth century. There may also be a satirical inference in respect of the modern idea of a 'Kennedy curse'; implied in the nasty end that befalls Sir Neil because of his own misdoing. Thereafter, the narrative goes forward in time to a period of huge strife in this region when the remoteness of the location meant this part of the world provided a good hiding place for Scottish Covenanters. This part of South Ayrshire remains closely associated with this movement and therefore it is no surprise that two of the pageant's scenes are concerned directly with this time.

The light relief that forms scene V of the pageant highlights a part of local folklore and custom that was well known in lowland Scotland and was popularised in the likes of the famous painting by Sir David Wilkie (The Penny Wedding, 1818). This scene is conducted very much as a visual feast without dialogue. A review of the pageant states that this was perhaps the ‘highlight of the evening’.12 Perhaps the most interesting narrative of all takes place in scene VI. Once viewed as a shameful episode in the Scottish past, witch trials are not a common feature of Scottish pageants, but they are dealt with in the context of Colmonell. It is notable that this scene, which satirises the worthiness of the Kirk Elders, echoes the kinds of light-hearted treatment of authority that featured in broadside balladry during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Scene VII shifts to famous local son John Snell; this scene involves a monologue by the central character. The final scene again involves a famous local person, the poet Robert Burns, who had friends in the area and recorded its beauties in poetry and song. The character of a seer who foretells the future of the village also appears in this scene and rounds off the play in traditional pageant style.

The Pageant of Colmonell has left very little documentary trace save a surviving copy of the script and a couple of articles in the local press, but it probably was the event of the year for a great many people in this small community and doubtless resides in personal memories.


  1. ^ See ‘Colmonell’s Look at the Past’, Ayrshire Post, 7 March 1975, 43.
  2. ^ Information obtained from captions accompanying photos of the pageant published in the Ayr Advertiser and Carrick Herald, 27 February 1975, 7.
  3. ^ ‘Colmonell Pageant a Sell-Out’, Ayr Advertiser and Carrick Herald, 6 March 1975, 7.
  4. ^ ‘Colmonell Pageant a Sell-Out’, Ayr Advertiser and Carrick Herald, 6 March 1975, 7.
  5. ^ All information in the synopses obtained from A Pageant of Colmonell. Local History Room, Carnegie Library. Ayr ref no: 941.429 (Col). This is a copy of the original script of the pageant.
  6. ^ There are several saints by this name but this is likely meant to be St Colmon of Ela, an Irish monk who lived in the late 6th/early 7th centuries.
  7. ^ In the script notes the music suggested is Mendelssohn's Wedding March.
  8. ^ Snell did make a gift to Glasgow University, he also funded studentships for Glasgow graduates at Balliol College, Oxford; there are several famous recipients of this particular endowment, most notably the economist Adam Smith. See http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH0105&type=P
  9. ^ Reorganisation planned in 1973 was implemented in May 1975 and placed Colmonell at the most southerly boundary of the huge Strathclyde region: one of nine new regional councils in Scotland. This reorganisation is regarded in retrospect as a failure, perhaps more so for small remote communities like Colmonell. Strathclyde region was abolished in 1996 and Colmonell is now part of South Ayrshire District Council.
  10. ^ Callum Brown, 'Religion and Secularisation' in People and Society in Scotland, Vol. III, 1914-1990, ed. A. Dickson and J. H. Treble (Edinburgh, 1992), 53.
  11. ^ Ayr Advertiser and Carrick Herald, 6 March 1975, 7
  12. ^ Ayr Advertiser and Carrick Herald, 6 March 1975, 7.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of Colmonell’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1037/