THERE is an ancient legend of the Hillfoots that tells of a wicked laird whose hand appeared from beyond the grave.

Hundreds of years ago, the local laird of Tillicoultry failed to pay church dues to the abbot at Cambuskenneth Abbey, which amounted to a considerable sum of money, so the abbot decided to send a monk out to the village to recover the debt.

When he arrived, the laird was in a foul mood. Unperturbed, the monk demanded the money, which just made the laird’s mood darken further.

As the conversation went on, and became heated, the laird suddenly pushed the holy man, knocking him down to the ground.

At that time, the punishment for hitting a man of god was death. Realising this, the laird took stock of what he had done and accepted his fate, should the monk tell anyone.

Just a few days later, the laird suddenly died. In the days leading up to his death, he had not complained of feeling ill and showed no signs of infection.

He was buried privately but the very next morning, a clenched fist was seen above his grave. Moreover, it was the hand that had struck the monk.

When the people of the town heard this, they were frightened, for they wondered what would happen to them if they did anything against the church.

The following morning many of the townsfolk congregated at the laird’s graveside, where once again his fist protruded above the ground. The sexton quickly reburied it.

The next day the hand re-appeared, and so began a ritual that lasted for a week, with the people by then frantic with fear. They got word to Cambuskenneth asking for help, but the abbot refused to interfere in the matter.

News of the fist spread, and hundreds turned up to see the spectacle.

Eventually the sexton had an idea. In order to keep the hand in the grave, the only solution was to place something heavy on top of it, so with the help of the onlookers, he placed a large stone over the burial site.

It is said the wicked laird’s hand has never been seen since but those who used to tell the story by the grave often turned around, keeping an eye out, just in case it appeared.

An old Scottish custom when a child happens to strike an adult warns that their hand will ‘wag abune the grave for this.’ Perhaps the saying stems from this very incident at Tillicoultry.