Sunday, 1 December 2013

Theo and the Siller Gun

The Siller Guns of Kirkcudbright and Dumfries were trophies presented by King James V1 of Scotland to try and encourage skill and marksmanship using the new technology of musketry, at ‘Wappenshaws’. The idea, as ever,  was to have the locals able to defend themselves properly against the English when they attacked. The Dumfries Siller Gun was presented at a banquet by the King himself to the Trades of Dumfries in Queensberry Square, not that it was called that then, on 3rd August 1617.

"And may this day, whate'er befa',
The King's birthday, our Waponshaw
Be hailed wi' joy by great and sma',
And through the land
May Concord, Liberty and Law
Gae hand in hand."
From 'The Siller Gun' a poem of 1780 by Dumfries poet John Mayne

 The Kirkcudbright gun is a model of an early firearm called a hagbut, and has the date 1587, and the initials T Mc for Thomas MacLellan, Provost of Kirkcudbright. It is the oldest surviving sporting trophy in Britain
The Siller Gun of Kirkcudbright
The Dumfries gun was originally a miniature cannon mounted on a wheeled carriage, but in the early 19th century it was vandalised and remade by the silversmith David Gray  as a flintlock musket.

The Dumfries Siller Gun
 The Kirkudbright gun was older than the Dumfries one, but the contest for the Siller Gun in Dumfries is the one still regularly held, annually on or before the town’s Guid Neighbours Celebrations in June. The shoot was held at Kingholm in the old days, but for health and safety reasons moved to the gun club in the old aerodrome at Heathall. Competing either as individuals or as teams, the participants are often from the gun club itself or from various of the cadet forces, or the TA. The competition is intense, and the punch bowl which is awarded these days is a much coveted prize.

 In 2004, an ex-Chef well known around Dumfries, let’s call him Theo, having heard some talk of the contest in a pub, decided for a laugh to enter the siller gun with his mate, an ex-cabinet maker. It would be fair to say that the pair at that time had drifted from life’s mainstream and were full-time ageing hippies and  herbalists.  Having signed up when under the influence, and never  fired a gun in his life, Theo sought advice from his drinking cronies, some of whom had past military experience. “Breathe the bullet out” intoned the artist Hugh MacIntyre, mysteriously, “breathe it to the target.”  
Having completely disregarded or forgotten any advice, the pair spent the morning of the competition relaxing in their usual fashion then reeled up to shoot, among the last of more than three hundred competitors. “We were like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” said Theo later,
 “……..was blazing away in the booth next door and giggling like a madman, his cartridges kept falling onto my back, burning me”. Later on in the Hole in the Wa, a bemused Theo was sought out by one of the contest officials and told he’d scored ten perfect bulls-eyes, the best pattern since 1932 and had, much to his own and everyone else’s astonishment, romped the siller gun.




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