Blind Alick Lyon

Blind Alick was a familiar face in the Old Town taverns of the late 18th and early 19th-centuries. He came not to share a draught with the worthies and wastrels, his legend insists, but to preach against the ‘Demon Drink’! Blind since birth, he had but one constant companion - the Holy Bible - and he was said to know every word of that good book by heart.

Cast out of the tavern by the drunks he sought to save, he declared “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him”. Without another word he turned on his heel and – never missing a step - hastened into the darkness. Soon after his body was found in his rooms in King Street.Blind Alick

Months passed. One evening, their drinking done, the tavern-dwellers set off across the Old Kirkyard to their homes beyond the Gowan Hill. There, upon the Ladies’ Hill loured two figures, locked in terrible combat. The first they recognised in an instant – Blind Alick Lyon, risen from the grave, his Bible clutched, as always, to his feeble frame. The other was a fiend born of nightmare - Satan himself, in the form of a Great Beast. Welling up his will, Alick arched his Bible high above his head, plunging it downward, deep into the Beast’s black heart. ..and both figures vanished in an instant, leaving the drunkards trembling in their wake...

Alexander Lyon had been a famous figure, and not just in the Royal Burgh. In 1839 ‘The Boys Scrap Book of the American Sunday-School Union’ held him up as an exemplar of ‘faithful fortitude’, noting his ‘retentive memory, and the extreme acuteness of those senses on which the blind depend for compensating…for the loss of sight’. His knowledge of Scripture was prodigious. Only a few year earlier, in 1833, ‘The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’ gave account of a gentleman who sought to test his memory and asked him to recite the ninetieth verse of the seventh chapter of Numbers. “You are fooling me sirs!” chided a canny Alick “There is no such verse – that chapter has only eighty-nine verses!”

What is rarely mentioned is that Alick was a beggar, who relied on his peculiar skills for his survival - his 'party piece', as it were. 'The Penny Magazine' expressed amazement that his memory had not only resisted the ‘encroachments of old age’, but a force ‘still more destructive to that faculty of the mind, the impairing effect of strong drink’.

Far from preaching against the ‘Demon Drink’ our Alick was ‘ower fond’ of the hard stuff!

So how was a drunken beggar transformed into a poster-boy for abstinence?

Even while he still lived, American reports of Alick’s piety were filtering back to his homeland. The Temperance movement pounced on such an exemplary model of Christian virtue. In 1828 Stirling’s own William Findlayson, an avowed tea-totaller, who must have regularly encountered the doddering dipsomaniac on the streets – Alick was 73 when he died – chose to ignore the evidence of his eyes, and composed an epic (and quite dreadful) poem dedicated to the imaginary Alick celebrated by our Colonial cousins:

‘Though temporal blindness may enfold,

And darkness dwell around,

Yet doth thy powers all light behold,

Through Faith's triumphant sound.’

further confusing pilgrims travelling to the Burgh to meet their remarkable hero...only to come face-to-face with a slavering old drunk.Blind Alick Lyon's Key

The idea of the virtuous blind preacher was just too good for the well-meaning worthies to resist, and each account of Alick’s prodigious memory and purity becomes more fanciful and inspirational than the last. One account of his memory becoming muddled when his door-key misplaced is followed by another where it is the key, itself, which divinely imbues him with total recall.

The Happy Hangman currently owns the key in question - pictured above - and would like it known that it hasn’t helped him to learn his GhostWalk scripts!

Alick’s legend was shaped not by actual events, but by what people wanted to believe. His ghost story was first printed by Stirling’s Drummond Tract Works, Scotland’s most prolific publisher of religious pamphlets for almost a century, in the 1840s...just a decade after the old man died. If the ghost of Blind Alick ever appeared atop the Ladies’ Hill, he certainly hasn’t been seen for a long time – but his tale is testament to the enduring evolutionary nature of local legend.

Further Information:

Learn more about the odd tale of Blind Alick Lyon in David Kinnaird's book 'Haunted Stirling'.

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