Guest writer KATRINA SAUNDERSON dusts off an old copy of Ronald Holmes’ book The Legend of Sawney Bean and is horrified by what she discovered – the Scottish cannibal may never have existed!
Sawney Bean and his family lived in a cave on the south west coast of Scotland.
Over the course of many years, Bean and his family murdered and ate hundreds of people. The monstrosity of their cannibalism was only overshadowed by their rampant acts of incest, which saw many inbred children born to the clan.
When Bean and his kin were finally caught and tried for their crimes, all of them – the men, woman and children – were hanged, drawn and quartered – a gruesome end for a gruesome bunch.
This is the story my Mother told me and I have grown up believing it to be completely true and I have never questioned it.
But reading an old paperback from the 1970s called The Legend of Sawney Bean by Ronald Holmes has lead me to believe that Sawney Bean may only be fiction and that is something I am having a hard time coming to terms with!
My Mother is from Ayrshire in Scotland and the story of Sawney Bean is one she was told and believes to this day to be fact.
The infamous cave the cannibals lived in is only a few miles down the coastal road from her home village of Girvan, where the locals also believe these crimes happened not too long ago.
In his novel The Legend of Sawney Bean, author Ronald Holmes questions the reality of the story and examines how the legend began.
Holmes dissects and analyses the different facets of the tale using Celtic history and mythology, anthropology and geology.
After recounting the story, Holmes traces the history of the published story and looks at how legends begin including the legend of Bloody Baker.
Based on the written description of the cave, geology and archaeology are used to try to discover the cave’s location.
Was Sawney Bean real or just a folktale?
The reputation of the wild men of Galloway as savages and pre-historic cannibalism are explored and used to explain the legend of Sawney Bean.
As well as looking at the Sawney Bean case, he also examines a number of different Celtic legends and links the similarities to Sawney Bean.
The author gives a compelling argument that this infamous criminal family never actually existed.
This book is a fascinating read, while some of the content is quite disturbing the majority of the content is about Celtic and English history and folklores, including ogres, vampires and the Galloway tale of the Murder Hole.
I have mixed feelings after reading this novel, while I found it interesting and enjoyed the novel I felt a little shell shocked, after all I have spent my life believing these things actually happened.
Even though I should be relieved that these terrible crimes never occurred I feel slightly disappointed and don’t want to believe that it never happened.
I know that it sounds terrible but I still have some hope in my heart that there was an inbred family of murderers who ate their victims. Maybe if I’m lucky, they might have actually ate some relatives of mine.
KATRINA SAUNDERSON loves zombies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing XBox and Sawmey Bean, apparently, a little too much, if this article is anything to go by.