St John's Town of Dalry


Dalry is built on the side of a hill, overlooking the River Ken. It is the largest of the villages in the Glenkens with a population of about 600 people. The road running up through the village is the A 702 which leads to Moniaive and Thornhill, the A713, which is the main road, passes through the bottom of the village and it is 16 miles north of Castle Douglas and 10 miles south of Carsphairn. Dalry was the ancient capital of the Glenkens. The present village dates from the late 18th century when the Earl of Galloway owned the land and like many ‘improving’ landowners of his time built proper cottages (as opposed to the but ‘ ben type) for trades people and craftsmen. In Dalry weaving was the occupation of many at one time.

In 1629 permission was given to erect a royal burgh in the barony of Earlstoun, and it was intended the this should be Dalry, known at the time as the Old Clachan or Old Galloway, as it was the natural centre for the area, located on the main highway and had the river ford. However there were problems and New Galloway got it in the 1630. Dalry continued to hold a market although this was illegal because only burghs were allowed to do so to protect the prosperity of the merchants trading in them.



In the 1851 census over fifty different occupations are listed for people in Dalry parish. Innkeepers, grocers and other merchants, doctors, nurses, teachers, saddler, blacksmith, baker, butcher, tailor, milliner, seamstress, millers, toll keepers, saddler, castrator, hooper, sheriff and many more, as well as all the different estate and jobs that you would expect in a rural area such as this.

 Today there is a primary and secondary school, a church, 1 grocer’s shop, (which from May 1st 2014 will also house the post office), a library which is open twice a week, 2 hotels, a village hall, a community centre, a bowling green, a part time police station and a petrol station.

People returning to visit will find a large new housing development ant the entrance to the village on the A702.

There are also a number of small businesses in the village. At the foot of the village, by the river there is a 12th century mote, and at the top is a stone known as St John’s Seat. 

St John’s Seat or Chair is set in the pavement at the top of the village between the road that leads up the Southern Upland Way and the road up to Moniaive. One local legend said that St John had been chaplain to the Lord’s of Kenmuir and that the he actually used this seat. However, the St John’s part of the name of the village is said to be from the Knights of St John who had had a base in the village. The Knights Templar were committed to protecting pilgrim routes, and Dalry stood on the pilgrim route between Edinburgh and Whithorn. It is possible that the stone seat may have come from that time, however the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland believe it may be a stone font from the old church, but there is some confusion as a stone font still exists in the churchyard.

There is a story that Joseph Train when visiting the village heard the story of the seat and decided he would take it and present it Sir Walter Scott. He got it and put it on a cart, but was seen, and angry villagers came out and stopped him before he could escape with it.

The village is at the head of the valley of the Ken, with the river running past it at the foot of the hill. There is river and loch fishing close by and many walks in the nearby hills and along the Southern Upland Way which runs through the village.

In the past Dalry was closely associated with the Covenanters and the Pentland Rising in 1666 was a direct result of an attack, by troopers, on an old farmer who had not paid a fine.

The famous Free Grammar School of Dalry was established in 1668 with a legacy of £2,500 left by a Mr Johnstone of London. There was some argument as to whether the Dalry specified was the one in the Stewartry or the one in Ayrshire, but this one won. Alexander McGowan had the distinction of serving as the first master of the school, and he went on to become a much loved minister of the parish. He was known to be somewhat unconventional in his manner and dress. Over the 40 years of his ministry he cleared the glebe land (11 acres) of rocks by blasting, and succeeded in growing good crops with the help of manure and lime … he was from a farming background. He was minister in the parish at the time when the First Statistical Account of Scotland was being compiled and he made some interesting observations therein. He gives details of farming life and the introduction of lime and manure, including compost, to the land which resulted in much better crops and higher land values. He gives the population of Dalry parish at that time being about 1000. He also states that the village belonged to the Earl of Galloway. He remarks about the high cost of labour and comments that the servants here and some neighbouring parishes do much less work than some in Ayrshire or the Lothians. The cost of labour and merchandise had apparently risen sharply within the last 10 - 20 years. Peat and especially coal were difficult to get and considered a great obstacle to the establishment of manufacturers in the area. The inhabitants of the parish are said, generally, to be peaceful, obliging and well disposed.

Gordon of Lochinvar There is a story about how the knight of Lochinvar got the name Gordon. The laird of Lochinvar was hunting a boar for which the king was giving a reward as they were considered “noxious animals”. He finally slew the boar and cut out its tongue, but being exhausted he fell asleep beside his prey. Another man called Seaton had also been after the beast and finding it dead and Lochinvar asleep he cut off its head and went to the King for his reward, which he received. Lochinvar, on waking, realised what had happened and sped off to Edinburgh to see the King. He produced the tongue and asked the King to inspect the head that had been given to him by Seaton. This was done and he got his reward. The King asked him how he had killed the boar and he said “I just gored him down”. “Well”, said the King, “as a reward of your merit you shall be henceforth Goredown knight of Lochinvar”. The family name actually comes from elsewhere.



A couple of stories about the people of Dalry are as follows -


The White Snake - the mote beside the river at the bottom of Dalry was originally built in the 12th century and was surmounted by a lookout post surrounded by high walls. The legend is of a great white snake which took possession of the mote, curling round it, and had to be fed by the villagers with milk, sheep and cattle or it would slide into the village and devour some of the populous. One day it dug up and ate the body of the blacksmith's wife, which had been buried the day before, this annoyed the blacksmith, Michael Fleming so much that he made a suit of armour from which spikes sprang out if he struggled. He put on the armour and took a pair of long gully knives and went to confront the snake. It swallowed him whole and he struggled and slashed with his knives and at last the snake lay dead. He cut his way out and was proclaimed a hero.


Adam Forrester and Lucky Hair - this is real story on which Burns based his Tam o' Shanter, transposed to Alloway, outside Ayr. Adam Forrester farmed in the 18th century just west of Dalry. He liked to drink in the inn at Midtown in Dalry which was owned and run by Lucky Hair. He teased her that she had sold herself to the devil, as she appeared to look younger each year. One evening she had disappeared before he went home, and when he left the pub mounting his white horse, he rode down towards the river. On passing the church he was surprised to see lights and hear dance music coming from the church so he peered through a window and saw people dancing wildly, most of them old and many known to be bedridden; there were even some church elders amongst them. The devil was there himself, dancing with Lucky Hair. Adam called out to Lucky Hair and instantly everything went dark and the people came tumbling out of the door. There were calls of 'Catch him! Kill him! Drag him off to Hell!’ He jumped on his horse and rode off toward his home across the river and up Waterside hill, hotly pursued by the erstwhile revellers. Before he could reach the top of the hill he was being overtaken so he jumped off his horse and drew a circle round himself and his horse with the words "I draw this circle in the name of God Almighty: let no evil thing cross over it!" The horse was petrified and for an instant part of its back end was outside the circle, the devil pulled off its tail and Lucky Hair got her hand on its rump leaving a permanent mark of a black hand print. All night long the witches menaced them but could not cross the line of the circle. At dawn the power of the witches was gone and they departed hobbling down the hill. The ground where they had been round the circle was blackened and scorched. Adam with a fervent prayer was able to continue his journey home. The mark of that circle stayed on the hill side for a long time. afterwards.


(From: Tales of Galloway by Alan Temperley)