The Rev. James Kirkwood became the Minister at Minto on the 12th of May, 1679.
The Rev. James Kirkwood seems to have been a very single minded individual, clear in his thinking and not to be readily swayed from his opinion or chosen course of action. This anniversary is of his becoming the Minister at Minto, but on balance, that's was a minor event in his eventful life. Kirkwood didn't invent anything or discover a miracle cure or write stirring poetry about his fellow man, but he stood by his principles, for which he was prepared to endure some measure of persecution and he deserves a mention for that. In addition, Christian that he was, the Reverend Kirkwood did
some good things for the benefit of his fellow Scots and Gaelic countrymen.
On the 1st of November, 1681, a mere two and a half years after he was presented to his parishioners at Minto by the Earl of Caithness, Kirkwood was ejected from his ministry and deprived of the living he gained from it, apparently for refusing to take the 'Test'. It seems that, despite the Test Act of 1673 being an act of the English Parliament, before James VII & II ever ascended to the throne of Scotland (which he did on the 6th of February, 1685), the government, surely maliciously and in league with the Kirk of Scotland, instigated the 'Test' in Scotland. James VII & II would not have demanded the 'Test' be 'taken' in Scotland as it was “An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants” and James was popish to a fault. The Test meant Kirkwood was required to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribe to a declaration against transubstantiation. He refused, we may surmise, because of the oaths.
As an 'outed' Minister, Kirkwood moved to England, where, on the 1st of March, 1685, he become rector of Astwick in Bedfordshire, thanks to his respected friend and fellow Scot, Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury. Serendipity-do-dah didnae last long mind you as, following the English Act of Settlement of 1701, Kirkwood was ejected from Astwick, on the 7th of January, 1702, for not abjuring under the Act of Security. That act meant Kirkwood was required to renounce his allegiance to the Stuarts. Bearing in mind he was now living in England, the settlement of the succession to the English and Irish crowns and thrones on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs was relevant to an ex-patriot Scot. Kirkwood, true to form, was for taking no oath.
James Kirkwood was born in Dunbar around 1650 and, in 1670, he graduated M.A. from Edinburgh University. Nine years later, he became the Rev. Kirkwood, at Minto. Whilst in Bedfordshire, in 1690, Kirkwood began a correspondence with Robert Boyle, the noteworthy Anglo-Irish natural philosopher and chemist, best known for Boyle's law, but also a noted theologian. Boyle was a supporter of the Bible being available in the vernacular and, between 1680 and 1685, he personally financed the printing of the Old and New Testaments in Irish Gaelic. Boyle gave Kirkwood two hundred copies of his Irish Bible for circulation amongst the Highlanders in Scotland and, in 1690, subscribed towards the London printing of three thousand more copies. Kirkwood distributed all of those Bibles throughout the north and west of Scotland, but needless to say, he found opposition to his scheme – from the English – on the grounds that it would help preserve Gaelic. Well, they've still not succeeded, but they've sure as hell tried hard enough.
Whereas Boyle financed the Irish Language Bible, it was William Bedell, the Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, who commissioned the translation, which was undertaken by the Protestant Rector of Templeport parish, Muircheartach Ó Cionga. Kirkwood's involvement in Gaelic Language Bibles didn't end with Boyles's and Bedell's publication as he encouraged Robert Kirk, an aptly named Kirk of Scotland Minister, to produce a revision of the Irish Bible in Scottish Gaelic. Kirkwood's desire to promote Gaelic literacy is evident in his statement that, “...in our English Bibles there are several hundred words and phrases not vulgarly used nor understood by a great many in Scotland.” Kirk added a short Gaelic vocabulary to the 1690 London printing of the Irish Bible, but of his Scottish Gaelic translation, only the Psalms were published.
Kirkwood is also famous for being the 'father' of public libraries in Scotland, which stems from his having produced, in 1699, a tract entitled, 'An Overture for Founding & Maintaining of Bibliothecks in every Paroch throughout this Kingdom : Humbly Offered to the Consideration of this present Assembly'. An 'Overture' in the old Scottish Parliament corresponds to what's now called a 'Bill', by the way, but Kirkwood's tract seems to have got no further than the General Assembly of the Kirk. In 1704, the General Assembly passed an Act declaring its approbation of the project, the detail of which was drafted by Kirkwood in what survives as 'A Copy of a Letter Anent a Project for Erecting a Library in every Presbytery or at least County in the Highlands. From a Reverend Minister of the Scots Nation, now in England, to a Minister at Edinburgh'.
The General Assembly's approval extended to empowering an application to the Treasury for assistance “in bringing down the books from England” and fixing the places where the libraries were to be stationed. The funding for the libraries was to have come from levying one month's cess (tax), £72,000 Scots (when a Pound Scots was equal to 1s. 8d. Sterling); half on “the Heretors conform to their Valuations” and the other half “by the Ministers conform to the proportions of their Stipends.” Kirkwood's elaborate scheme involved Parish Ministers giving up of their own books (not to do so would've been “unworthy their high vocation”) to form the nucleus of each library, with the Parish Schoolmaster acting as librarian.
Kirkwood also proposed the setting up of a printing office, under the direction of a committee appointed by the General Assembly that would choose such works for printing as it thought fit. The scheme had broad economic benefits as, instead of spending money buying books abroad, a large trade in printing would be diverted from Europe to Scotland. Despite Kirkwood's scheme not being passed into Law via an Act of the Scottish Parliament, it appears that, by 1708, there was a library belonging to the Presbytery of Dunbar, to which Kirkwood bequeathed a number of his letters and papers. However, according to Miller's 'History of Dunbar', “A library was also established for the clergy in the Highlands by Mr. Kirkwood, in 1699, a catalogue of which is preserved in his MS. papers (dated 1699),” which perhaps makes Kirkwood's Highland Library the first public library in Britain - although Innerpeffray and Kirkwall might have something to say about that.