By Phil Weir
From my high Dickensian desk here at the Fife Free Press Group workhouse in Kirkcaldy’s Kirk Wynd I have, through the window, a fine view towards, only a dozen yards off, the fascinating hotch-potch of architectural gems lining the east side of the street, and which contribute so much to the view which is crowned by the Old Kirk on its elevated site above.
The assorted buildings offer up many points of interest to the roaming eye, especially with our newsroom sitting at the level of their rooftops.
The edifice directly facing where I sit, the one nearest the church, was built around 1890. Yet, despite its relatively recent vintage, with its mock turrets and battlements, it displays obvious pretensions to being a medieval castle.
One carved feature on the facade has intrigued me since I first took up my Lang Toun pew – a coat of arms depicting what looks like a swan or a dragon above an eroded Latin motto. However, a rare beam of strong angled sunlight last week, assisted by a bit of contrasting but equally illuminating shadow, allowed me to make out at least one of the incised words ... vulnere.
From there, some brief internet detective work solved the mystery. The heraldic tableau is one of a number of crests linked to Clan Stewart.
The bird is, somewhat strangely for these here parts, a pelican and, wings akimbo, it is shown standing protectively over a nest of its eggs.
The motto consists of three words: ‘Virescit Vulnere Virtus’. It means ‘courage grows greater through a wound’.
On pondering this interpretation of the old saying, my mind was spurred to stray from one editorial room to another – from our Press gang’s space in Kirkcaldy to the probably not dissimilar offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris , and to the journalists who were appallingly massacred on January 7, as well as those who have, so bravely, stepped into the breach left by their deaths.
Their loss was indeed a horrific wound, as well as a bid to strike a terrible blow against the world of free speech and those who make their living by exercising that hard-won right.
But all the evidence powerfully suggests the terrorists’ attempt to enforce a silence has failed. After all, “Virescit Vulnere Virtus”.
Who can doubt, in the wake of this wound, that the strength and courage of oh so many to oppose the factions that spawned the murderers, has simply grown greater?
The resolve to harden hearts and minds and to close ranks can be seen in the displays of global unity in the aftermath of the shootings – in the masses who gathered to take part in rallies all over the world; and not least in the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and ‘Je Suis Ahmed’ slogans adopted by the countless sympathisers who have propagated these expressions of solidarity via mainstream and social media.
And, of course there were the estimated millions who queued to buy the subsequent edition of Charlie Hebdo, its print run boosted into the stratosphere by the killings.
I’m certain, sooner rather than later, the people of Paris will build a monument to the victims of this month’s atrocities. I hope they build it out of stone. Stone is strong, it weathers well, and it endures.And for a carved inscription? Well, chiefly it should feature the names of the latest platoon of the fallen in this ongoing, often unfathomable war. But they would not be going far wrong if the masons added ‘Virescit Vulnere Virtus’ to the epitaph.