Leading historian heads landmark Thomas Muir event

Sir Tom Devine
Sir Tom Devine

Champion or even father of democracy - or well-intentioned dupe of Jacobin terror and red revolution?

That may be among the questions addressed at the launch of a landmark anthology to be published about the complex life and times of Thomas Muir of Huntershill next month.

Speakers at the event, to be staged at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall, will include Sir Tom Devine, widely accepted to be Scotland’s greatest living historian.

The publication of “Thomas Muir of Huntershill: Essays for the 21st century” will round off a bicentennial year of commemoration of the radical reformer from Kirkintilloch – now celebrated in East Dunbartonshire as one of the area’s most illustrious sons.

Sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in Australia’s notorious Botany Bay colony (where, however, some accounts suggest he lived in reasonable comfort), Muir fell foul of the establishment for promoting the works of America’s Thomas Paine, author of the Rights of Man.

Two years after his escape from the colony the United Irishmen - a group Muir had wanted Scots radicals to become more closely involved with - staged a disastrous insurrection in Ireland, supported by an invading French army.

Despite the later violence of the weavers’ doomed insurrection in Scotland there was to be no Scottish parallel of the carnage enacted on the other side of the Irish Sea.

After many adventures, including detention by Spanish authorities in Mexico and Cubas, Muir was put on a ship bound for Spain – but was badly injured when the vessel became engaged in a running fight with the Royal Navy.

He ended his days in France, shortly before the chaotic revolutionary regime there was swept away by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Since then he has been widely celebrated as an unalloyed hero of the global struggle for democracy, but the forthcoming book of essays may disclose a more contentious historical context.

The launch event is on Thursday, December 15 at 6.15pm, and speakers will include Sir Tom Devine and one or more of the editors.

Admission is free, but booking is required – more information is available at RobertBurnsStudies@glasgow.ac.uk