Sunday, 21 November 2010

19th Century 'Kirkings'

These days in the UK, Sunday is often a day spent at the pub, a chance to meet up with friends and relax at the end of the working week. A far cry from the early 19th Century when Sunday was spent going to church, you might think? Or perhaps not, if this outburst from the Kirk Session of Kilcalmonell and Kilberry, Argyll is to be believed: 

Kilcalmonell and Kilberry Kirk Session: Minutes 1821-33
NAS Ref. CH2/1423/1 - Pages 33-35 

At Kilcalmonell the 17th of April 1825 years The Kirk Session of Kilcalmonell met. Present the Moderator and Elders.

Among other matters the consideration of a practice too common in Country Parishes and in this also, of people meeting together after Divine Service in a public house profaning the Lord’s day by drinking and engaging in carnal conversations especially when collected together under the vulgar name of Kirking Came before the session when after a full discussion of the same the Members agreed in the following as their judgment in this Matter. 

That profanation of the Lord’s day is a sin of vast criminality to many awful prohibitions of the word of God condemned by several Acts of Parliament and acts of Assembly; and quite inconsistent with the profession of Christianity. And it appeared to the Session to be established beyond a doubt, that those meetings on the sabbath called Kirkings, are [a] most gross and heathenish violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath, by the indulgence which is given to the flesh in drinking and speaking; they unanimously resolved and do now resolve, by the blessing of God, to apply the discipline of the Church to the suppression of such unholy meetings. 

And give this public intima[tion] of their determination to deal with those who assemble in Kirkings on Sabbath day as with other transgressors of the law of God. And moreover that those keeping houses should take care not incur the penalty of the Civil Law annexed to keeping their houses open During Divine Service or disorderly during the rest of the Sabbath. And finally that the parties which occasion the Kirking shall be held as the leaders in the sin.

The Kirk may not have been able to prevent these 'Kirkings' but they did succeed in getting some of the individuals who participated brought before the Session and there are descriptions of two such events on pages 60-68 of the minutes.  At one of these 13 or 14 bottles of whisky were drunk by a group consisting of between 20 and 25 people - naturally, recollections were a little vague!

I looked at a few Scottish dictionaries and did a quick internet search but was unable to find any further reference to this particular type of Kirking so it is hard to know how widespread the practice was.  Although there does seem to be some similarity with the 'Kirking Feasts' which sometimes accompanied ceremonial attendances at church.


  1. Thanks for this interesting post. It ties up with what I know of Kilberry Kirk and the inn that used to be beside it. I hope you don't mind that I've quoted you on

  2. Hi Lucinda,

    I'm happy for you to quote from and link to this post. I was interested to read your article on the kirk and to see a photograph of it!