The Tale of Maggie Wall
Those of you who live in Perthshire, or who have an interest in the history of witchcraft, will no doubt have heard the name Maggie Wall who, it is popularly believed, was condemned as a witch in the 17th century. There is a monumental cross and cairn which still stands in the old parklands of the former Duncrub castle estate, near Dunning in Perthshire, which is twenty feet in height and reads simply: “Maggie Wall burnt here 1657 as a witch.”
The trouble is, no historian has ever been able to find any record of Maggie Wall. She does not appear in the parish records, and there is no reference to her execution. And yet the monument to Maggie Wall is the only monument known to have been erected in earlier times in memory of a witch in Scotland. It is cared for by unknown persons, and visitors occasionally leave offerings as if visiting a shrine.
Back in 2011 writer and researcher Geoff Holder came up with an answer to the mystery and concluded that the monument was almost certainly a folly erected about the year 1800. At least one map from the 18th century shows that there was a field then named Maggies or Muggies Walls and by 1829 a Maggie Walls Wood had also appeared. As Holder has shown, in the late 18th century a local schoolmaster and builder named David Balmain was the tenant of Maggie or Muggies Walls. The stones used in the monument show use of gunpowder and other evidence that date them to the late 18th century, and it is now believed that Balmain built the monument no earlier than 1797 or so, as a folly. Balmain knew of earlier relatives who were accused, but not charged, with witchcraft in 1662. Indeed, six persons – all women – were accused in Dunning in that year.
It is almost certain that Maggie Wall never existed, but the monument commemorates all those poor people who were caught up in the witch hysteria, tortured mentally and physically, and put to death. Below you will find a short story written by Gael A Hearn which puts her own spin on the tale.
The Scots Language Centre is grateful to Gael for permission to reproduce her story here, as a PDF file, which may be downloaded.
Gael has also made a recording of her story which may also be downloaded as an audio file below.