A WOMAN who was burned as a witch has been commemorated in a unique project which has produced a film and a poem in the Scots language.

The project began when a group of women in the Ayrshire town of Dalry wanted to ensure it was not forgotten once a new bypass was built and began trying to raise funds for a piece of landscape art they hoped would raise awareness of the “Hilltap Toun”.

The subject they chose for their art project was Bessie Dunlop, a 16th century Dalry healer who was burned as a witch – one of around 2000 people, mainly women, burned as witches in Scotland between the late 16th and early 18th century.

The group asked John Hodgart, a retired English teacher and author of the play Bessie Dunlop the Witch of Dalry, to write a few verses about her – but those turned into 64 verses in Scots, not only telling Bessie’s sad tale but the story of Dalry throughout the ages. “It’s a fantastic poem,” said the group’s chair Julie Wales. “I was amazed when I read it, as it has all of Dalry’s history in it from the Stone Age right up to the windmills and it is all in Scots.”

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The group liked the poem so much they decided to use it in a film involving the town’s community to showcase Dalry’s heritage.

Funding was secured from North Ayrshire Council and more than 150 people were persuaded to take part – young and old – including members of Dalry Burns Club, health centre staff, the churches and the local football team, Dalry Thistle, who not only learned their lines, but delivered them in front of a camera in various locations around the town.

The end result is an innovative community poetry project, featuring various local beauty spots as well as the diverse talents of the community and celebrating the town and the language of the area.

The film was completed early in 2020 but as a result of the pandemic has only just been screened in Dalry.

“It went down really really well,” said Wales. “I always thought Dalry was beautiful but when you see it on film it brings home how lucky we are to live here in the heart of beautiful countryside where the community spirit is fantastic.

Hodgart said he had been meaning to write a poem about the town for a while but the women gave him the “kick up the bahoochie tae get on wi it”. “It then developt a life o its ain, sae that the poem noo belongs as much tae aw the folk that taen pairt in it, an tae the hale community, as it does tae me,” he said.

He added that the experience inspired him to go on an “Ayrshire odyssey” writing about other towns in the Garnock Valley and the rivers, then “ramblin roon the rest o Ayrshire writin poems in Scots aboot every toon an village in the shire, celebratin oor history, folk, language, landscape an place names, tho it isnae jist aboot Ayrshire, for Ayrshire’s story is at the centre o Scotand’s story”.

“Writin them wis great fun, but a lot o hard work, though I suspect it might be even harder persuadin somebody tae publish them,” said Hodgart.

The group is still seeking funding for their landscape art but as well as the poem and film has secured information boards, heritage trails and plaques giving information about the town’s history, as well as a memorial garden and a new housing complex named Bessie Dunlop Court.