This is said to be the site where people accused and convicted of witchcraft were hanged and burned. There are currently calls for a legal pardon for those persecuted as witches.
Reverend William Adair was an outstanding and devout man, a Covenanter who believed in the word of God so much, that he gallantly fought in the battle of Mauchline Muir.
Adair felt it was a horrendous endeavour to slaughter fellow Scots on the battlefield but what was at stake was a set of ideals. It was God’s work he did. One of Adair’s comrades told of how he had heard Adair citing scripture aloud as he plunged his sword into his enemies and was seen saying prayers as he executed dying soldiers in the battlefield. When he swung his sword on the battlefield of Mauchline Muir and then Dunbar, Adair swung with faith – knowing that the Kirk party and those opposed to the engagement would lose. Once the Covenanter movement took control (for a time) in Scotland in the mid 1600’s, Reverend Adair turned his attention to a new enemy of the church: The Witch.
At the time of his arrival in Ayr in 1656 Adair was already a decorated war veteran and a respected Reverend – honoured to look upon the newly built Auld Kirk as its first Minister – spreading the word of God as a representative of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
The very day that Adair arrived in Ayr there was a public hanging of a Witch. A middle-aged woman who was stood on the gallows only to fall and hang in front of him. Adair found the screaming congregation of people more repulsive than the hanging woman. Something about this death haunted him. From that moment on Adair had to drink double at night as he could sometimes hear the woman’s
neck breaking and the jeering crowd. It made him ponder on his past actions as he sat alone at night, comforting himself that no man is without their demons. And he did right by his God and his Church. When he came to be judged he would be welcomed into the Lord’s Kingdom.
Adair enjoyed an evening stroll along the sands of Ayr’s shore. He would ponder many things as gazed onto the horizon. One evening he was strolling down the beach when he spotted a girl sitting on her own. Adair approached her and pleasantly greeted her:
“Good evening,” said the bonnie girl. She was maybe fifteen years old with bright eyes and gave off an air of intelligence with their alert stare.
“It’s unusual to see a young woman down here alone, may I sit?”
“Please do. I come here to admire the view. Look you can see Ireland.”
Adair smiled as he observed Arran before them. “And how do you know this?”
“I plan to sail there one day.”
“My goodness you are a bright one. I think God is looking down on you and smiling.”
“God isn’t looking down on me sir. He let my mother hang and then burn, and my father succumb to the plague. If there is a God, then he is as sick as the plague he unleashed on this world.”
Adair was almost speechless. He had never heard anyone speak like that in his life.
“God works in mysterious ways my dear. We must have faith in his plans,” he declared.
“Can I ask you something?” Adair nodded, transfixed, not knowing what this young girl will say next.
“How can anyone believe that it’s right to kill an innocent woman, with a family, in the name of a God that you cannot even prove to be real? She cared for sick children with herbs. She was kind and good. There are no witches. Only women with knowledge of the land and how to use it. Her executioners are the true evil.”
There was a deadly silence as Adair stared at the girl who calmly admired the view. Adair stood up and moved away from the girl. She has been sent to test me!
“How dare you question God. If you question God, then you must worship the devil like your mother before you!” Adair stormed off leaving the girl planted in the sand
watching the sun set. At peace with her words.
On a sticky summer’s day, amidst a congregation of supposed civilised people shouting and spitting. The hangman arrived and walked up the stairs, his feet banging on the oak gallows. He laid his hands on the wooden lever. The girls’ hands were tied together, and she looked up and admired clouds one last time and then down to the crowd. Here she saw Reverend Adair staring back at her.
The hangman yanked the lever to the crowd’s glee and the girl dropped to her death at the end of a rope.
Covenanters were members of a 17th Century Scottish religious and political movement, who supported a Presbyterian Church of Scotland. For 25 years, the Covenanters suffered brutal persecution and were cruelly suppressed. The Ayr Martyrs, hung in 1666, are buried in the Kirkyard of Ayr’s Auld Kirk.
The Reverend William Adair was the Auld Kirks first minister, from 1639 until 1682. During his time there many alleged witches were brought to trial.
Records of those accused of an tried for witchcraft were collated by The University of Edinburgh.
The Battle of Mauchline Muir was an engagement fought on 12 June 1648 between two rival factions of the Covenanters of Scotland.
The Battle of Dunbar was fought between the English New Model Army, under Oliver Cromwell and a Scottish army commanded by David Leslie, on 3 September 1650 near Dunbar, Scotland. The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the English. It was the first major battle of the 1650 invasion of Scotland, which was triggered by Scotland’s acceptance of Charles II as king of Britain after the beheading of his father, Charles I on 30 January 1649.
Written by: Neil Boyle
Illustrations by: Lori Isabella McColl
Audio by: Liam Stewart
Audio recording and mixing by: Scott Andrew