The story of the Galloway poltergeist that terrified a community and burned down a farmhouse

The modern-day village of Auchencairn, close to the long since vanished Ringcroft farm. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
The modern-day village of Auchencairn, close to the long since vanished Ringcroft farm. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
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The case of Galloway's Ringcroft poltergeist is one of the earliest and enduring ghost stories to have emerged out of Scotland.

Over the course of three months in 1695, a number of farms and residences around the Ring-Croft of Stocking at Auchencairn were reportedly tormented by a malevolent spirit.

Later referred to as a poltergeist, the violent apparition is said to have thrown stones at occupants, set buildings ablaze and attacked and dragged family members.

The incidents were recorded in an explicit and highly-detailed eyewitness account left by local minister Alexander Telfair, who served the parish of Rerrick.

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Publishing his account the following year, Telfair was one of five ministers to witness the manifestations firsthand, which has caused headaches for those intent on refuting his claims.

The first of the events was recalled by Telfair occur in February 1695 at the home of farm tenant Andrew Mackie.

We are told that a startled Mr Mackie awoke one day to discover that the bindings that confined his livestock had been mysteriously loosened during the night.

Mr Mackie proceeded to make stronger bindings, but these too were broken.

The tenant farmer then moved the animals, but was horrified the following morning to find one of his cattle raised by a taut tether of hair to the back of the house; its feet barely touching the ground.

At the beginning of March, Telfair records the first incidents of stone-throwing, which continued with great frequency, but especially on the Sabbath.

"Especially in time of prayer, above all other times it was busiest then, throwing most at the person praying," noted Telfair.

Into the middle of March, the stones had increased in size and the throwing had increased in intensity, as Mr Telfair recalls when he visited on the night of the 21st.

He wrote: "Stones and several other things were thrown at me, I was struck several times on the sides and shoulder very sharply with a great staff, so that those who were present heard the noise of the strokes. That night it tore off the bedside and rapped upon the chests and boards as one calling for access.

"That night as I was once at prayer, leaning on a bedside, I felt something pressing on my arm; I casting my eyes thither perceived a little white hand and arm from the elbow down, but presently it evanished.

"It is to be obseved, that, notwithstanding of all that was felt and heard, from the first to the last of this matter, there was never any thing seen, except that hand I saw; and a friend of the said Andrew Mackie's said he saw as it were a young boy about the age of fourteen years, with gray clothes and a bonnet on his head, but presently disappeared as also what the three children saw sitting at the fireside."

The terror worsened as March wore on, with visiting neighbours suffering terrible injuries from being hit with stones and beaten with wooden posts. Andrew Mackie sustained a cut to his brow and scratches, resembling that of fingernails, to his body, while some found themselves dragged up and down rooms by the evil spirit.

Children were stripped of their bed clothes in the middle of the night and were hit so hard that the impact and screams could be heard throughout the entire house.

The following month, two other ministers, Mr Ewart of Kells and Mr Murdo of Crossmichael, arrived at Ringcroft to witness the ongoing horror.

Telfair records: "But it was cruel against them, especially by throwing great stones, some of them about half a stone weight. It wounded Mr Andrew Ewart twice in the head, to the effusion of his blood, it pulled off his wig in time of prayer, and when he was holding his napkin betwixt his hands, it cast a stone in the napkin, and therewith threw it from him.

"It gave Mr John Murdo several sore strokes, yet the wounds and bruises received did soon cure.

"There were none in the house that night escaped from its fury and cruelty. And also in the dawning as they rose from prayer, the stones poured down on all who were in the house."

Telfair's claims were backed up by the ministers present that night.

On 5 April the spirit really began to turn up the heat when it set fire to the premises. Stones were thrown at the occupants as they rushed out of the stricken house.

Returning to the house the next day, Mrs Mackie was shocked to discover several small bones and some flesh wrapped up in paper by the door.

Still the poltergeist did not rest.

Telfair records that the three days after the 11th of April were by far the worst yet.

"Not one that came into the house did escape heavy strokes," he recorded.

Towards the end of month, the house was set ablaze again and again, until the evening of the 28 April when one end of the home collapsed, making it uninhabitable thereafter.

Another incident was recorded on 1st May, when a sheep house was set on fire. This, as it turned out, would be the spirit's final act and there was no trouble after that.

Concluding his text, Telfair writes: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour."

Nothing remains of the Mackies' farm today, save for a dead tree, that is said to mark its precise location.