The astonishing tale of the Dalry 'witch' Bessie Dunlop is coming to Beith next week.

Over the past year, a team of local folk have been hard at work recording an audio play about Bessie, which dramatises a grim period in Scottish history almost 450 years ago.

The recording was made in Irvine's Harbour Arts Centre and is now available as an audio book on Amazon.

A local launch party will held be in Beith Library on Saturday, August 5, at 10.30am, following an event held in Dalry earlier this month.

Further events are planned for the Autumn at Kilbirnie Library and possibly Seahorse Bookstore, Ardrossan.

Bessie's story had been long forgotten in the Garnock Valley until local author, John Hodgart, and the late Martin Clarke, wrote a play about her, which was performed in Garnock Academy, Kilbirnie in 1977.

That memorable production was 46 years ago, but in the autumn of last year, as a contribution to Scotland’s Year of Stories, a group of amateur dramatic enthusiasts from the Garnock Valley and beyond, began working on an audio book (radio play) of John’s revised version of ‘Bessie Dunlop the Witch o' Dalry’, produced by Barry Robertson’s Grey Hill Productions of Ardrossan and directed by Mark Thomson, of Beith Theatre Group.  

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Rehearsals for the play

The revised version of the play is now available as an e-book or a text from the Association for Scottish Literature (with funding from the Scottish Government).

This recording project was only made possible thanks to the enthusiasm and enterprise of Julie Wales and the Dalry Bypass Art Group in obtaining funding from Garnock Connections.

Although four professional actors were employed in the recording, over 30 local folk gave up their time to learn the songs, enjoy the Scots language of the play and try out many challenging roles in a cast list of over 50 characters.

The groups involved included Beith Theatre Group, Dunlop Players, Dalry Bypass Art Group, Dalry Burns Club and Barrmill Jolly Beggars (i.e. Donald Reid) and the Cunninghame Choir.

Many of the cast are former pupils of Garnock Academy, including the director, Mark Thomson and his wife Jen, as well as Donna Morrison, who teaches English in Garnock.

Another English and drama teacher, Kirsty Strachan, not only played a part but also persuaded her daughters Oriana and Rosie to play the roles of Bessie’s children and sing a beautiful song in the play.

Other songs are performed by the cast, James Dippie, Alister Sim and Stevie Richmond of Dalry Burns’ Club, as well as Eilidh (Hodgart) Hill, John’s daughter, and Lorna Manson.

Rehearsals were mainly held in Beith Parish Church Hall, plus a few local hostelries.

A future development might well be a new dramatic production of the play.

“I think we could make it happen on stage,” said Mark.

“The enthusiasm for the project was infectious."

The main recording was done at Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre last autumn.