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Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families and of the Highlands
MacKenzies of Redcastle


This branch of the clan M’Kenzie, at one time numerous and powerful, may now be said to be extinct. In former days when violence, rapine, and war, was the all-absorbing business of men, the Mackenzies of Redcastle, occupied the southern portion of the County of Ross, and possessed in the frith of Beauly (which bounded their estate on the south) a natural barrier of great importance to protect them from sudden invasion or surprise, commanding a view of an extensive portion of the country of the Frasers and the Mackintoshes, were well situated to act as the scouts and warders of their clan, to communicate information to their chief and his adherents, and to harass and delay, if they could not effectually oppose, a hostile and invading army. In their capacity as sentinels of the clan, they were distinguished by watchfulness and bravery, and rendered important services to their friends. In times of peace, they were, however, characterised by a spirit of tranquillity, humanity, and benevolence, which was seldom evinced in the turbulent times in which they lived.

The period at which the Mackenzies became the proprietors and took possession of the estate of Redcastle, is very remote, and not known to the author. In the year 1590, Kenneth Mackenzie, then laird of Redcastle, a gentleman of great worth, and endeared to his friends, tenants, and dependants, by his amiable and engaging qualities, resided in the family Castle at Chapeltown, situated a few hundred yards north of where the present Castle stands. From his peaceable and impartial conduct to all with whom he came in contact, he obtained a character for integrity, intelligence, and justice, and the disputes of his more quarrelsome neighbours were referred to his decision. Not only was he esteemed and respected by the lairds and chiefs in his own county and immediate neighbourhood, but his acquaintance and friendship were solicited by many at a distance. He was particularly intimate, and a great favourite with the then chief of the clan Cameron, and on the invitation of the chief, paid frequent visits to the residence of Lochiel in Lochaber.

In the year 1598, the Earl of Huntly, created Marquis in the latter part of that year by James the VI., went on a hunting excursion to the wilds of Lochaber. The Marquis was a keen sportsman, and devoted much of his time to that noblest of British, or perhaps of any sports, deer stalking, then pursued with an ardour and on a scale of greater extent and danger than in these degenerate days, although of late years something of the spirit and enthusiasm of the olden times seem to be reviving, among those who devote themselves to this glorious pursuit. To receive so important a personage as the Marquis of Huntly with suitable respect, and to enable him to follow his favourite amusement on an extended and splendid scale, Lochiel, invited to his castle, not only the gentlemen of his own clan, but several lairds and chiefs far and near, and amongst them Kenneth Mackenzie, Laird of Redcastle. The sport was carried on for several days with all the ardour, skill and success of practiced sportsmen, and great was the destruction which the numerous party made, among the antlered monarchs, of the braes of Lochaber and the surrounding country.

On the return of the party one evening, after a fatiguing day’s sport through hill and dale, the worthy chief as usual threw open his castle gates, and admitted the almost worn out party. They were received with the highest courtesy, and treated with the greatest respect; and on the pressing solicitation of Lochiel, Huntly and the other guests consented to pass the night under the chieftain’s hospitable roof, for whom a splendid feast was ordered to be speedily prepared, to which a few of Lochiel’s most respectable neighbours were hastily summoned. At the groaning board, on the right of Huntly, sat their brave and hospitable host and son, and on his left Lochiel’s lady and her lovely daughter. The piper, as customary, played during the repast, some family airs. All, with one exception, were as joyful and happy as could be; the ruby cup passed round, relieved with some of Ossian’s songs bursting powerfully and melodiously on the ear, and at times the piobrach’s stirring strains, resounded through the banqueting-hall. But there was one individual present for whom the cup held out no enticement, or the rapturous songs, delight, nor could the wild and marshal notes of the great bagpipe arouse him from his reverie. This solitary exception was Redcastle’s son, who, from the first glance he got of Lochiel’s beautiful daughter, became desperately in love with her; and although his father, who was surprised at his unusual silence, would now and then gently chide him, it had no effect in awakening him from his contemplative mood. Next morning as the guests were leaving the hospitable mansion, under the roof of which such an agreeable and happy night had been passed, each and all of them shook Lochiel and the rest of the family heartily by the hand; and among the last to perform this mark of friendship was the Laird of Redcastle’s son. He shook Lochiel and his lady with the accustomed cordiality and respect, but upon approaching Miss Cameron, the chief’s daughter, to take his leave of her, there was a hesitation in his manner, his hand trembled, his cheek was flushed, and in the expression of his eye, there was an eloquence which told the throbbings of his heart, although his tongue was mute. The young lady was also much fluttered, her colour came and went, and she hung down her eyes upon the ground, until their hands separated, and the young Laird was about to depart, when she ventured to raise them, and they encountered his as they were taking a last lingering loving look of the object of his affections. The declaration on either part, although not a word was spoken, was inexpressibly intelligent—the eyes spoke unutterable things, and the bond of mutual attachment was sealed. The young Laird departed in melancholy silence, and quickly rejoined his party, and a few more days saw himself and his father in safety at Redcastle.

Since the morning he had left Lochiel’s, the young man was never known to be happy, and if he did smile, it was the smile of one who was a stranger to cheerfulness—a sort of melancholy seemed to have taken possession of his mind, and settled there. This state of matters could not long remain concealed from the eye of a fond and anxious parent, who became greatly alarmed, when he discovered traces of a decline in his son’s countenance, and pressed him hard to know the cause. To his father’s entreaties to be informed of the change in his manner, he at last yielded, and informed him of his attachment to Miss Cameron, and that without her he could not survive much longer, at the same time requesting his father to intercede for him with Lochiel. Finding that his son’s affections were irretrievably fixed on Miss Cameron, Redcastle, like a wise and prudent parent, entered into the feelings of his son, and instantly despatched a trusty messenger with a letter to Lochiel, acquainting him with the distressed condition of his son, stating, at the same time, that nothing on earth would give him greater pleasure than that that chieftain would condescend to bestow his daughter on his son, and pointing out the disastrous results to himself (Redcastle,) in the event of his refusing to do so. Lochiel found his daughter in much the same state as Redcastle his son, and the sooner the youthful pair were united, the better. Great was the joy of the son when Redcastle informed him of the import of the letter, and even the worthy parent could not refrain, from participating in his beloved son’s happiness, at the approaching alliance with the daughter of the chief of a powerful clan.

Redcastle and his son, accompanied with a good many relatives, and a numerous body of followers, lost no time in setting out for the castle of Lochiel, where, in a few days after their arrival, the young and loving pair were united. In the evening of that eventful day, and for many after, the halls of Lochiel’s castle overflowed with guests, all hearts joining in wishing happiness to the youthful couple, for which the latter seemed to entertain no fears for a bright future. During the marriage feast, the visitors were delighted with music, resounding through the extensive hall; while their followers, forgetting old animosities, betook themselves to sports and games upon the green, and were amply refreshed with plenty of home-brewed ale, &c.

After spending some weeks at Lochiel Castle, the happy pair, accompanied by their friends and followers, returned to Redcastle; Lochiel sending along with his daughter, his faithful and trusty valet, Donald Cameron, an gille maol dhu, or the bonnetless lad. Valets then, did not, as now, wear fine hats with gold and silver bands around them, neither were they dressed in any other livery than their plain clan tartan, and were not only bonnetless but shoeless. Now, although Donald Cameron held this menial situation under his chief, he was a member of one of the most respectable families in Lochaber, and nearly allied to the chief himself. It was not generally the poorest who held the situation of their chief’s gille maol dhu. and Donald being a stately, fine looking, powerful and faithful man, possessed no small share of Lochiel’s confidence. Although Lochiel was overjoyed at his daughter’s marriage with Redcastle’s son, he had yet his fears for her safety, owing to an old feud that existed between the Black Isle people and those of Lochaber, especially the Glengarry men, and the horrible tragedy at the church of Gilchrist not being yet effaced from the memory of the Black Islanders. What still more increased his apprehensions was, that some time previous to this, they were repeatedly harassed by a lawless band of cattle lifters from Lochaber—the Bains, or Macbeans, headed by their savage leader, Bengie Macbean, whose son, whilst quite a youth, became so disgusted with the barbarous life his father and his adherents led, that he fled from, and never returned to them again, but afterwards became one of the brightest ministers that Scotland could boast of since the days of the great Mr Welsh. As already stated, Lochiel being aware of a deep-rooted, prejudice existing in the minds of the Black Isle people towards the Lochaber men, made him the more anxious of sending with his daughter the gille maol dhu, knowing full well that this trusty adherent, sword in hand, would die in defence of his young and beautiful mistress. The party at length, without the least occurrence worth mentioning, arrived in safety at Redcastle, where a sumptuous banquet was prepared, to which all the neighbouring gentry and farmers were invited, and a cordial welcome the young pair received to their future home from those assembled. The surrounding hills were all in flames, every knowe showed its bonfire in honour of the occasion, and as the blaze was reflected from the Beauly and Moray Firths, Donald Cameron was convinced, that for his young mistress, no danger need be apprehended from the Black Islanders, from this display of their attachment to the house of Redcastle. Donald was soon presented with a more civilised dress, with the additional appendages of bonnet and shoes. Being a remarkably good-looking young man, he attracted the attention of the housekeeper, who was also young and pretty. Honest Donald being aware of the bonnie damsel’s partiality for him, like a good and true knight, could not suffer any lady to die for love of him, and they were soon united. Having now possessed himself of an agreeable and happy companion, Donald was resolved to return to "Lochaber no more," but fix his residence in the Black Isle, and by the kindness of his amiable mistress and her lord, he was enabled to enter into possession of the farm of Mulchalch in Ferrintosh, but was not long tenant of it when he was deprived of his wife—who left him, however, a legacy of seven beautiful daughters. Donald soon married again, and his second wife bore him seven sturdy sons, who grew up and married, so that the Black Isle was well supplied with the race of the gille maol dhu. He lived himself to a great age, and was interred in the church-yard of Ferrintosh, where also repose the ashes of many of his descendants. The descendants of the gille maol dhu were not only to be found in the Black Isle, but Ross-shire in general, and not a few of them are to be found in the shires of Sutherland and Moray, and even in various parts of the globe, holding prominent stations in society, while a good many respectable and sturdy sons are yet to be found in Ferrintosh, their original soil.

But to return from this digression to the Mackenzies of Redcastle. The family continued to increase in wealth and power. The old castle became too old or too inconvenient, and the present castle was erected. It is situated on a small eminence within a few hundred yards of the sea, and commands one of the most extensive, varied, and picturesque views in the north. Immediately in front is Loch Beauly, the whole of which, from the village of Beauly at the one end, to the ferry of Kessock at the other, can be seen from the castle windows. Beyond Loch Beauly, the Aird, Bunchrew, Muirtown, and Belladrum, rise in variegated splendour with their handsome seats, fruitful fields and beautiful plantations, while to the north the eye gleams along a fertile and cultivated country, until the view is bounded by the dark mountains of Strathorrin and Strathconan. The Castle itself is an extensive, commodious, and elegant structure, combining some of the conveniences of the modern mansion with the strength, the turrets, spires, loopholes, and battlements of the castles of the 16th century.

From the period when this Castle was erected, the tide of prosperity which had hitherto attended the Mackenzies of Redcastle began to ebb. The superstition of the people of the country ascribed the decay of the family to the circumstance of a man having been buried alive below the foundation stone. It is unnecessary to say that there can be no grounds for a story which would reflect such diabolical disgrace on the family; but it may have arisen from the accidental death of one of the workmen while engaged in his work. The people of the neighbourhood, perhaps the most superstitious in the kingdom, required then, and require even now, but very slender materials to impose upon themselves, and upon others, a tale of horror. Be this, however, as it may, certain it is, that from this period the family declined in prosperity, until it gradually became extinct. The Lairds of Redcastle, like their neighbours, took part in the civil commotions of the last century; and like most of those who were engaged in those commotions, suffered for their loyalty or disloyalty, whichever it may be called.

The last Laird of Redcastlc of the name of Mackenzie, was Collector of Customs at Inverness and was well known to the narrator. He was a most amiable man, condescending in his manners, and arduous in the duties of his Office, which he discharged satisfactorily for a considerable time, but from the circumstance of his oldest son Kenneth joining himself with a band of determined smugglers, the good old gentleman was viewed with a jealous eye. Kenneth was not long associated with this lawless band when he had the boldness to bring them with him to his father’s Castle of Redcastle, and there, for safety, deposit their contraband goods.

The worthy Laird his father, who was residing at his post in Inverness, was not till then aware of the illegal and evil career his son was pursuing, although at the same time his hopes were far from being sanguine regarding him, as from his youth upwards he was of an over-rambling disposition. However, there was now no alternative for Collector Mackenzie, but to resign his situation, a situation he filled with honour and integrity. He was much felt for and sympathised with by both high and low throughout the north, and particularly so by the inhabitants of Inverness. Kenneth, seeing what his folly brought his venerable parent to, like the prodigal son, immediately abandoned his inquitous career. A short time after this he commenced the droving trade—a more lawful occupation—but not being successful, he soon gave it up for the more honourable one of fighting for his king and country, having got a commission in the 78th, or Ross-shire Highlanders. So keen and eager was he in enlistment, that he forced several poor fellows out of their beds on his father’s estate, to accompany him to India’s shores. This work of compulsion he even had the boldness to carry on in Inverness, where he trepanned not a few, among whom there was one of the name of Gunn, whose mother was a reputed witch, and whose awful imprecations were fearfully levelled against him and his family, for tearing away her only child. Sometime after, while, with his regiment in India, he was charged at the instance of the Government with fraud, for which he was called home and confined for the rest of his lifetime in the Tower of London. In the midst of grief and sorrow, his venerable parent calmly and meekly resigned his spirit into the hand of his eternal Father, in whose mansions the cares, toils, and disappointments of this world below are not known. The estate subsequently became much burdened, and as the second son John, who was also in the army, and was much beloved and respected by his brother officers, and every one who had the pleasure of his acquaintance, was not in circumstances to redeem it, it was put up for sale. A wealthy scion of the clan offered largely for it, and the only impediment in the way of getting it was his being the son of a tinker, (but he was a good and honest man although horn spoon-making, &c., was his calling.) It was, however, purchased by the Grants, then by Sir William Fettes, and after his death by the present proprietor, Col. Baillie of Tarradale, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county.

The last of the family of the Mackenzies of Redcastle, Miss Mary or Molly, died at a very advanced old age a few years ago, at Lettoch, in a house which she had occupied there for many years. She was a stately dignified old maiden lady, but somewhat eccentric in her habits, and if a story current of her in the neighburbood be true, a little whimsical in her tastes. If the cooking of any dish did not please her, she invariably exclaimed "very good for servants, but don’t like it for mysel’." So frequently did she give utterance to this expression, that for several years before her death the neighbours were in the habit of calling her by the title of "very good for servants, but don’t like it for mysel’." Major Mackenzie of Kincraig is the lineal descendant and representative of the Mackenzies of Redcastle.

There is perhaps no property in Scotland which has been so much improved as the estate of Redcastle. Eighty years ago the estate was a naked barren waste, scarcely yielding any corn, except on what was called the mains. It is now one of the best cultivated properties in the kingdom, and so greatly and so rapidly did the value of the property increase in consequence of planting the hills and cultivating the plains, that although the property was purchased by the Grants a few years only before the beginning of the present century, for somewhere about 20,000; it was in 1828 or 1829 sold to Sir William Fettes for the sum of about 135,000! but the present proprietor purchased it for a smaller sum. One of its most valuable farms is the ferry of Kessock, which pays a rent of about 1000 per annum, although not 60 years ago the toll was principally paid in bannocks!! It is still more gratifying to record that the comfort, intelligence, and morals of the inhabitants have improved in a ratio corresponding with the value of the soil.

Until within a late period superstition abounded in this and the neighbouring estate of Drynie. There is scarcely a bog, burn, or lonely spot, with which some tale of superstitious horror is not associated; and in addition to the ordinary witches, warlocks, ghosts, benshees, and benaives, the superstitious have called to their aid the water horse and the water bull ,—which are said to frequent Loch Drynie and Linne a Bhuic Bhain.

A very singular story is told of the Patersons of Kessock. It is said that one of them was fortunate and courageous enough to secure and take home a mermaid, which he kept for sometime in his house. But the nymph of the ocean, being eager to regain her native element, supplicated her captor for her release, and said that she would grant any three requests he would make, if he would permit her to depart. He agreed to this, and one of the three which he asked was, "that no Paterson should ever be drowned in the ferry of Kessock." The people of Kessock, Craigton, and Redcastle, firmly believe in this story, and their belief is strongly confirmed by the singular fact, that although many persons of the name of Paterson have for centuries been engaged on the ferry, such a circumstance as one being drowned was never known, and what is perhaps yet more singular is, that while the ferry was in their possession, no person was drowned in it.

Besides the above annoyance to the peaceable parishioners of Redcastle, they were often troubled, especially in their sojournings under cover of night with other and still more wicked demons, particularly whilst passing a burn about a mile to the east of Redcastle, for scarcely one could pass or repass it without being in danger of their life. The last individual who was attacked at this unhallowed spot, was a worthy man of the name of Paterson, reader and catechist of the parish. Episcopacy was then the entire creed of the district. He being at the time on a catechising mission in the west, and returning rather late to his own house at easter Kessock, was attacked whilst passing the said burn by a huge monster, and were it not for the repeated interposition of a faithful mastiff, he would never return to tell the tale. However, after a severe struggle the poor man proceeded homewards, when there appeared as it were, a lighted torch or candle, as an emblem of the fiendish spirit being overcome, which light stuck by him until he arrived at his own house, a distance of four miles. He ordered his wife to give plenty of food to his faithful companion the dog, but next morning the poor animal was found dead, and the inference was, that although the evil spirit did not get power over the honest catechist, it assuredly got it over his companion. Nothing daunted, the worthy man repaired next night to the burn, travelling the whole long night up and down from one end to the other, carrying in his hand an open bible, and constantly engaged in prayer. From that time henceforward, the poor traveller was never known to meet with any impediment at this ill-fated spot.

"The prayer of the righteous availeth much."

However, the march of civilisation, religious and moral, has now, we may say, entirely banished all ideas of such supernatural beings out of our land.


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