The Hilltap Toon by John Hodgart


According to both Blin Harry’s Wallace and John Barbour’s The Bruce, Sir Bryce Blair was hanged in a barn in Ayr, along with other Scottish nobles who had been summoned to a meeting by Edward I, though there is no documentary evidence of this having happened. Sir Roger Blair fought at Bannockburn and was knighted by Bruce.

The Ballad of the Laird o Lynn exists in several versions, but may not have originated in Dalry, though oral legend says otherwise. There certainly was a ruined tower, or remaining rubble near Tower Farm until the latter was rebuilt using the stone in the nineteenth century. The nearby Drumastle Mill probably means the castle on the ridge.

Bessie Dunlop o the Lynn was a mother, skeelywife (healer) and howdie (midwife) who used herbal remedies to cure humans and animals, but she also seems to have been regarded as a speywife who could find lost or stolen goods. She was tried at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh in 1576, convicted of witchcraft and probably burnt on the castle hill. See my play about her for more details.

Alexander Peden (1626-86), the famous Covenanting preacher, is said, at least according to oral history, to have held conventicles (open air services) up the Lynn Glen, preaching from Pinnioch Point (now Peden’s Point) during the notorious ‘killing times’ of the 1570s and 80s when Covenanters were persecuted by dragoons of both Charles II and his brother James II. 

Dalry was badly affected by a number of cholera epidemics in the first half of the 19th century, possibly caused by a well which drained through the graveyard. Press gangs would sometimes come over the hill from the coast and swoop on Dalry.

According to folklore, the writer James Boswell and his friend, the great Dr Samuel Johnson, passed through Dalry on their way south to visit James’s father, Lord Auchinleck, after their famous tour to the Western Isles. In his Ayrshire Idylls, Neil Munro opens his short story ‘Ursa Major’ (the great bear, i.e. Johnson) at a change house in Dalry.

Penny Waddins were given this name from the old custom of guests all contributing a penny to help pay for the food and drink at the wedding celebration which sometimes lasted all night and into the following day, much to the kirk’s disapproval.

Dalry Burns Club was founded in 1825, mainly by a group of weavers who held their first supper in Montgomery’s Inn, Courthill Street (The Turf) in 1826 and the club has an unbroken record of suppers ever since, making it the oldest continuous Burns club in the world.

A challenging Glasgow and west of Scotland question about someone’s identity, was ‘are ye a Billy or a Dan or an auld tin can? i.e. a Protestant or a Catholic or a bit of rubbish, though it could sometimes became a laughing matter, especially if the answer was ‘an auld tin can!’ Dalry’s RC church is named after St Palladius.

The Public Park was gifted to the town by John Blair, a wealthy Glasgow lawyer who later worked at the Scottish Office in Edinburgh, but grew up in Dalry and was opened in July 1893 with a parade of thousands and six bands in attendance.  

John Smith (‘Fossil Johnny’, 1846-1930) a mining engineer, geologist, ‘antiquarian and natural historian’, though born in Clarkston, grew up in Dalry and lived there for much of his life, at Swinlees, Dykes Farm, Baidland Mains and Rosebank Cottage, Templand Road, author of Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire, 1895, and other works.

Alexander (Sanny) Boyd, poet, classicist, geologist and botanist, was Smith’s biographer and lived in Templand Road. His living room and study were lined with books from wall to wall.

Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) was Minister of Health in the post war Labour government who was responsible for setting up the NHS. I have a photograph of him speaking at Merksworth Park, maybe in the late 1940s or early 50s, possibly at a Co-op Gala Day.

Billy Walker, Frank Pattison and Henry Mackay were three of Dalry Thistle’s outstanding football players in the 1950s and 60s and were among my boyhood heroes.

Nil Nisi Nixu = nothing without effort, the motto of Dalry High School, chosen by our Latin teacher, John, ‘Brutus’ Wilson of Kilmarnock.

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