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Places of Interest about Girvan
Rev. Cathcart Kay, Parochial Schoolmaster


IN the sweet secluded churchyard of Old Dailly, 2 miles from Girvan, there is a rather handsome Tombstone with this inscription:—"The Rev. Cathcart Kay, Parochial Teacher, Girvan. Born at Ochiltree, 21st Oct., 1804. Died at Girvan, 13th June, 1848. This stone was raised by his pupils and friends to commemorate his faith as a Christian, his worth as a man, his skill and fame, as a Teacher." Here, then, my old Schoolmaster has been resting for 44 years. He was brought up at Old Dailly, where his father was a joiner, and I can recollect him telling us at school that he "liked to take a walk to Old Dailly occasionally on the Saturday afternoons to see the place where he expected to be laid."

My old Schoolmaster belonged to a class, common enough in those days, but entirely extinct in Scotland now, and that was the class of Minister-Schoolmasters. He was licensed as a preacher, but found his life-work in teaching instead. And I cannot but think that Providence in doing this had shaped his end more wisely than he himself would have done; for he was an excellent teacher, while he would have made but an indifferent pulpit orator.

Carlyle's description of his Annan Schoolmaster might answer in many respects as a description of Mr Kay— "You could always notice in Annan boys something of that primeval basis of rigorous logic and clear articulation laid down for them in childhood by old Adam Hope." So was it with us. Stern thoroughness was the key-note of our School. Order was the first law. We were made even to write to order, by means of a whistle blown by the best writer when he had finished each line. Very vividly can I recall now our old Teacher's appearance. He was tall and spare of person, with sharp features, dark grey eyes, close crisp hair, and a peculiar deep voice; and the dread inspired by his presence was such that I can hardly pass the old School yet without a certain inward trepidation. What endless sums we used to get out at night to be returned next morning! and what drill we had in spelling, and parsing, and geography! Drill, in fact, was the word all through, and a stout piece of whalebone, facetiously called by him "the black man," was the enforcer of it. The result was that he got a lot of work out of us, and when brought into competition with boys of other schools, we were hard dogs to beat.

In the days I speak of, steel pens were not, and the old Master had to mend our quills himself with his pen-knife. He had a big box, called the pen-box, with various compartments in it, which he carried about with him, as a lady carries her knitting-bag. In the quiet hours of the morning, or late afternoon, therefore, when the most of the scholars were away, we "Latin Boys" would gather round his desk, and read or parse our Caesar or Virgil, while he mended the pens and corrected our blunders.

Religious instruction consisted chiefly in the Shorter Catechism committed to memory. We used to stand in rows on the floor on Saturday forenoons, and repeat the Catechism till the last man fell—if he did fall—which I rather think he never did. Beside this, there was a chapter of the Bible read and explained to the whole school each morning, of which, however, I have only a very hazy recollection. We used to sing the psalms through also, and as the old master could not sing himself, there was a succession of precentors selected from among the elder scholars. I remember him once saying that the only tune he could "croon" in a sort of a way was St Paul's.

The old Master had little humour, told few stories, and rarely made jokes. To the elder lads, I believe, he unbent a little, but to us younger fry, he was strictness personified. We never dared take any liberties with him, and when his temper was ruffled, "the boldest held his breath for a time." I have witnessed some terrible scenes of "flogging," as he well termed it, which always did harm to the school; for we generally took the sufferers part. But this did not occur often.

In those days, there were no "accomplishments" taught in Parish Schools, such as Drawing; and our Musical training was of the simplest. Neither was there any Natural History or Local Topography thought of. Our teaching was confined to our text-books, but these we had to master. He did not spare us, neither did he spare himself. There was a half-day's schooling on alternate Saturdays, which I believe he would willingly have extended to every Saturday, had it been desired.

The old Master bore a high character in the town. He was reserved in his manner, and rarely seen out of his own house in the evenings. His life was given to the School, and his sole joy seemed to be in the success of his pupils. The only occasions on which I have seen him radiant were when the College classes broke up, and brought home some of his senior scholars. The monitors of the School were then invited to supper to meet them, when we had some talk and singing; and I think on these occasions he was as happy as it was in his nature to be.

Generally speaking, I think his life must have been a comparatively joyless one. With a weakly constitution he wrought hard, and had few relaxations. He had no talent for public speaking, and cultivated little society. His whole time was given to the furtherance of his work; and, on the whole, he had his reward. For although no brilliant genius has arisen from the classes he taught, still not a few have reason to thank him for the sound education he gave them, and the high ideal of strenuous endeavour he ever set before them.


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