Monday, October 13, 2008


Although my grandmother Agnes McFarland's parents were Irish, they
had met and married in Scotland! In the mid 19th century Edinburgh
entered a period of growth with the construction of many new buildings
to take the place of structures dating back to the Middle Ages. Many
Irishmen found employment on the construction crews at a time that
Ireland was still trying to recover from the Great Potato Famine.

A young Irish bricklayer named Patrick Kelley brought his wife
Anne and their family to Edinburgh. There he was able to get a job
on the outskirts of the city where some old dilapidated buildings
were being torn down to make way for the new ones being built
right along side. One day as he was pushing a wheelbarrow of
bricks towards the section of wall he was working at he saw a small
crowd of men backing away from the demolition site nearby. Some
of the men had their hats off, others were making the Sign of the
Cross. He walked over to ask what was going on, and one of the men
pointed at a hole in the old stonewall. Looking inside, Patrick could
make out a heartbreaking sight, the skeleton of a small child.

The job foreman came up and demanded to know why work had
ceased and after taking a look for himself, he reached inside and
drew out the remains, setting it aside on the ground and ordering
the men back to work. When someone asked what should be done
with the body, the foreman, a dour Scot, said it was not a relative
of his so he had nothing to do with it and then walked away.
Most of the men went back to work, but Patrick and a few others
took a closer look at the dead child. From the clothes and the doll
that had been with it, they could see it was a girl. Patrick could
thought of his own daughter Annie and wondered what had forced
the child's parents to hide the body in such a way.

Whatever the reason, it was now an unmarked pauper's grave for the
child. Somehow that didn't seem right, and Patrick "passed the hat"
among the workmen, collecting enough for a small wooden coffin and
cross. When the carpenter asked what name he should put on the cross,
Patrick said the first name that came to mind: Maggie. The sad incident
was a topic of conversation for a few days at home and at work, but as
time passed, it faded from Patrick's mind.

Then a few months later Patrick came home from work and heard his
daughter laughing and chattering away with someone in her room. He
went to see what she was playing at and found her dancing a Highland
fling, talking to the empty air as if there was another girl there with
her. An imaginary playmate, he thought, and mentioned it to his wife
that night after dinner. She seemed puzzled, for as far as she recalled,
little Annie had never been taught the Scottish dance.

They called their daughter down from her bedroom and asked her
where she had learned the Fling.

"From my friend Maggie!" she told them.

When they asked her what this Maggie looked like, she described a little
girl who wearing a dress like that the dead girl had been wearing when
the body was discovered. Of course, Patrick and Anne were terrified.
Was a ghost haunting their little girl? They took the matter to their
parish priest, who reassured them. The girl probably had recalled the
story about the body being found and had created her imaginary friend
from the details she'd heard. There was nothing to worry about; Annie
would grow out of her fantasy.

It was several months later that Annie announced that her friend Maggie
had gone home. She never played with Maggie again and grew up to
meet and marry a young coworker of her father's, John McFarland.
They emigrated to the city of Boston in America where they raised
a large family, and where Annie frequently delighted her Irish American
grandchildren by doing the Scottish Highland Fling even when she
was in her 80's!

But one question remains:

If Maggie was just a figment of Annie's imagination, how did Annie learn the
Highland Fling?

((You decide:Fact or Fiction? Written for the 58th edition of the Carnival
of Genealogy))

(graphic by the footnoteMaven)


Jasia said...

Oh Ho! Good one, Bill! This one has me thinking. It's a puzzle, it is. I'm going to say it's Fiction. Though I must admit it's convincingly well written!

Janet Iles said...

What an interesting story! I am going to say it is true. I can't wait until the answer is revealed.

footnoteMaven said...


As a man who surrounds himself with books, I think you are a master of the tale.

I'm going to say this is a "tall tale" - fiction.


TK said...

Great story, Bill! Just to keep things in balance around here, I'm going to join Janet and say it's true.

Anonymous said...

Balance or not, I believe your story. If it's not true, have you kissed the Blarney?

my Heritage Happens said...

What a wonderfully written story Bill! This is tough, but I am going to say fiction.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Oh, I think you're pulling our legs but I love a good ghost story!