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Netherlorn and its Neighbourhood
Chapter X - Kilmartin


"Am fear a bhios fad' aig an aisig, gheibh e thairis uaireigin".
--GAELIC PROVERB.

THE watershed between Loch Awe and the Atlantic runs along a ridge of moorland known as the String of Lorn (Sreang Lathurnach). From a little lake known as Loch na Sreinge the Bragleen river emerges, and passing down the glen to Loch Scammadal, is joined at Finaglen by Allt an Ath' Dheirg (the Stream of the Red Ford), which rises on the shoulder of Beinn a Chapul, the highest of the Netherlorn hills. About 1294, the MacDougalls of Lorn had a dispute with the Campbells of Lochow regarding the marches between their lands. With the object of arriving at a peaceable understanding it was agreed that the disputants should meet at a burn flowing into Loch na Sreinge, still known as Allt a’ Chomhlachaidh (the Stream of the Conference), and settle the exact boundary; the String of Lorn being roughly the line of division. The MacDougalls, principally from Netherlorn, when on their way to the meeting, halted beside Loch Scammadal, to confer as to the procedure to be adopted at the meeting; and when divining by means of a magic crystal the probable issue of a conflict, the charm was spirited out of the seer's hand and lost in the loch. Discouraged at the auspices, the MacDougalls of Reray returned home, and the remainder, in no good humour, proceeded up the glen to meet their rivals. The Campbells, who by the defection in their opponents' ranks now outnumbered them, had arrived at the place selected at the appointed time, and, taking the non-appearance of the enemy as a forfeiture of the MacDougall claims, proceeded down the glen into hostile territory. The forces met at Ath Dearg, and, with little preliminary in the way of debate, a mortal combat began. The MacDougalls, hopeless of the result, fought to die; while the Campbells, not anticipating a battle at the moment and too confident in their numbers, neglected good generalship. A Netherlorn scout, who managed to work his way behind a boulder (Carn Chailein, the Cairn of Colin) on the flank of the Campbells, shot an arrow, which transfixed Cailein Mor, the Campbell chief, killing him on the spot. This stroke of fortune saved the MacDougall army from destruction, but such was their loss that it is said the river ran red, and the bed of the stream was choked by dead bodies: hence the name-Ath Dearg (Red Ford). The Campbells retired, carrying the body of their chief, which was interred at Kilchrenan on Loch Aweside. The late Duke of Argyll erected a monument with a suitable inscription over the grave of his ancestor.

It is from Cailein Mor, or as he is still called, Cailein Mor na Sreinge (Great Colin of the String of Lorn), that the Dukes of Argyll derive their patronymic, MacCailein: a title corrupted into MacCallum Mor (the son of great Malcolm), a corruption for which Sir Waiter Scott is chiefly responsible.

Crossing the String of Lorn, the road descends by Loch Avich into the valley of Loch Awe, thence skirting the west side of the Loch to Ford it runs through the Vale of Ederline and the pass of Craiginterve (Creag'n Tairbh, the Rock of the Bull), to join the main road from Lochgilphead to Oban at Kilmartin. The scenery of this part of Loch Awe, though pleasant, has not the rugged and romantic beauty which the towering hills, and deep glens and passes confer upon that of the north. The rounded, smooth outlines of the hills, the mammillated forms of the rocks and islets, and the deep ruts and scratches, show the influence of the ice-sheet. The glacier flow was in a south-west direction, along the valley of the loch, across Kilmartin towards the Sound of Jura. There can be no doubt that until comparatively recent geologic time the outlet for the waters of the Awe Valley and the deep glens--Glen Strae, Glen Orchy, and Glen Lochy-at the head of the loch was in this direction, and in the River Add (Flumen Longum, Abhuinn Fhada) and Kilmartin Burn we find the relict of that discharge. The line of weakness which aided the forces of denudation to determine the direction of this longitudinal valley was probably a continuation of that great fault which, traced from the upper part of Strathspey, passes in a straight line through Loch Ericht and Loch Lydoch to the eastern corrie of Cruachan, and which in all likelihood is continued along the Awe valley, through Loch Crinan to Loch Tarbert in Jura. The present configuration of Loch Awe and the cutting of the outlet at the north end along the Pass of Brander were events of the glacial and subsequent periods. How the later outlet was formed is matter for conjecture; but as Sir Archibald Geikie says, 'it is another example of a watershed cut through by streams which flow in opposite directions, aided doubtless both by the sea and by the stream of ice that came down from the mountains and pressed through every available outlet to the ocean."

Entering the Strath of Kilmartin by the road from Loch Aweside, we come upon a scene of rural beauty and a district of great interest. The old name was Strathmore of Ariskeodnish; a title the meaning of which it is difficult to determine, but which may be translated as "the territory of the Scots." It was here that the earliest settlements of the Scottish adventurers were ma de; and Dunadd rock, rising like a fortress 170 feet above the level of the plain, was the early capital of the kingdom. The valley is studded with cairns, megaliths, inscribed stones, forts, and other monuments of antiquity. The number of these is but a tithe of what existed two centuries ago: old men alive at the beginning of last century spoke of more than a score of cairns and many standing stones being removed to make room for the plough, or to build dykes and form steadings. Some fine specimens of pottery and of bronze urns were recovered from the demolished cairns, and placed for safe keeping in Poltalloch House. It was at this period, that is during the eighteenth century, that improved methods of agriculture were being introduced; any obstacle which interfered with the path of the plough was ruthlessly destroyed; and cairns, large standing stones, or other pre-historic erections which afforded a suitable quarry for stone for building byres, barns, or dwellings were barbarously removed. It was Vandalism of this thoughtless type which caused the destruction in 1743 of Arthur's Oon, the supposed Templum Termini, near Stonehouse, a most remarkable relic, noticed by Nennius in the early years of the seventh century. Similarly the Stone of Odin, near Loch Stennis in Orkney, after having survived the waste of centuries, "until it had nearly outlived the traditionary remembrance of the strange rites with which it had once been associated," was destroyed by a farmer in the year 1814: and it is said that had it not been for the interference of the eminent historian Malcolm Laing the whole of the world-famed group of Stennis would have been treated in like manner. In the case of Kilmartin, the almost complete extirpation of the native race during the Montrose wars, the civil discords preceding the Revolution of 1688, and the colonisation of the district, through Lowland immigration, by a people who did not possess the traditionary reverence of the Celt for the monuments of shadowy heroes and early religion, but who probably looked upon these as vestiges of idolatry, would account for the wholesale removal.

The best view of the Strathmore of Ariskeodnish is got from Carnasarie Castle, an imposing ruin situated at the apex of the fork of hills which flanks the valley. The castle is in the form of an oblong hall with stepped gables, tall chimneys and turrets; the walls are thick, with stairs and cubicles in the thickness: a plain, substantial building with little attempt at ornamentation, except the presence of a stone with armorial bearings, and ornamental tracing above the door. The present building was built on the site of an older one by John Carswell, Bishop of Argyll. In the old castle Carswell was born about the beginning of the sixteenth century, his father having been Constable of Carnasarie for the Earl of Argyll. John Carswell was one of the most eminent men the Highlands has produced, and his name is well worthy of being held in reverence by a race for whom he translated, and had published in Edinburgh, on the 24th day of April 1567, a Gaelic edition of the book known as John Knox's Liturgy: the first book printed in Gaelic or, indeed, in any Celtic tongue. This book contained a compendium of the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church, and was, during the seventy years following, practically the only spiritual guide which the Highlanders of Argyll and the Isles possessed. After the first flame of enthusiasm among the Reformers had subsided, the loss of revenue, due to the spoliation of the estates of the older church and other causes, made the supply of ministers difficult to obtain. It was not until the ardour inspired by the Covenant had revived the interest of the people in religious affairs, that an attempt was made to give a proper supply of clergymen to these parishes; and it was during this interval that Carswell's publication proved of inestimable value to the Gaelic-speaking Protestant of Scotland.

Of this book there are only three copies in existence: an almost perfect copy is carefully treasured in Inverary Castle; the second, but imperfect one, is in the Library of Edinburgh University; and the third, also imperfect, in the British Museum.

Carswell performed the work well, considering the fact that he was unacquainted with the literature of the Gael, then abundant in MSS., as he himself states: " If any learned man finds faults in this writing or composing of this little book, let him excuse me, for I never acquired any knowledge of the Gaelic except as of the people generally "; and that it was a labour of love and devotion, and not for vainglory, we may well believe. In his dedicatory epistle he writes to the following effect: "If I saw any man of the Gael of Alban or Eirind that should undertake, in aid of the Church of God, to translate this book into the Gaelic language, in which men could understand it, it would be very grateful to me, and I would not undertake the work; but since none such has been found, or if there be, I do not know him, who will undertake it out of love to God and to the Church, with more ability than my means and my power can bring to it, I hope that God will aid me in my defects and ignorance"; a humble and, as it has been remarked, a very unnecessary apology.

Carswell received his training for the priesthood in St Andrews, taking the degree of M.A. there in 1544; but after serving as rector of his native parish, and, subsequently, as Chancellor of the Chapel Royal at Stirling, he was in 1560, after the Reformation in Scotland had become an accomplished fact, appointed Superintendent of Argyll. The duties of superintendents were much the same as those of bishops—to create new charges, to visit churches and schools, to suspend or deprive ministers, to confer benefices, and to eradicate all monuments of idolatry in the bounds assigned them. It is very probable that Carswell, who was deeply attached to Queen Mary and her cause, had strong leanings towards the old religion. We find him in 1566 appointed by the Queen to the temporality of the Bishopric of Argyll and the Isles, and the Abbey of Iona. He was never consecrated, however; and although rebuked in the Assembly for accepting the appointment, he remained Titular Bishop until the end of his days. The enormous extent of his diocese imposed a vast amount of labour upon the good bishop, but he was a man of herculean frame and iron endurance: he was known as "An Carsalach Mor" (the Big Carswell). The income derived by the bishop in those days would consist, besides money, of many exactions in kind from the parishioners in the neighbourhood of the castle; and the payment of tithes in the shape of eggs, butter, chickens, and other farm produce caused much irritation amongst the good wives of the strath, grumbling which found expression, still surviving, in the following lampoon:-

"An Carsalach mor tha 'n Carnasarie,
Tha na coig cairt 'n a osain,
Tha dhroll mar dhruinnin na corra,
'S a sgroban lom, gionach, farsuing.

(The Big Carswell in Carnasarie, There are five quarters (45 inches) in his hose, His rump is like the back of a crane, His stomach empty, greedy, and unfortunately capacious).

After his censure by the Assembly, Carswell withdrew from Court and retired to Carnasarie, where he died in the year 1572. He was buried, by his own desire, at the Priory of Ardchattan. The leaden coffin lies below the floor of the kitchen of the present mansion-house, which was, with a spirit of desecration hard to excuse, built over a part of the old graveyard. Such was the weight of the coffin, the violence of the storm which prevailed on the funeral day, and the consequent hardships endured by the mourners, that a saying is still current when any extraordinary event happens, "Cha d 'thainig a leithid bho latha adhlaic a Charsalaich" (" There has not been the like since Carswell's funeral day").

Our rude sketch of Netherlorn and its neighbourhood is ended. Of a country where every hill and hollow, every loch and river, every skerry and bay has its name and history; of a country replete with legend and tradition, much more might be told. It might be that something should be said of the people and their characteristics, but how can one, to whom they are kith and kin, do so: he may see their merits and demerits, but through the haze of affection. They are a kindly race, with many of the characteristics of a primitive folk, suspicious of strangers, but hospitable, and once their confidence has been secured, frank and genial; slightly tinged with Celtic gloom, the outcome of a religion ill-suited to the Celt, but ardent devotees of Presbyterianism withal. I think the ancient faith, a ritualistic one, was best adapted to the temperament of the Gael, and that his Presbyterianism is impregnated with faults of the older religion. If he does not reverence saints and images, his worship is still a worship of idols: a worship of the Word and the Roll. This declension is the result of his innate conservatism; it is the cause of an intolerance--far too prevalent--of the lighter vein of human nature, of an aversion to the amusements, music--nay, even to the language of his forefathers. Yet notwithstanding the effects during the last century of the tyranny of church and of land laws, a truly national spirit is uprising, a spirit which awakens within the Gael the feeling that his salvation as a race, and as a useful and in many ways unique component of the British Empire, is by development of his own good points, by development from within, and not by the imposition upon him of an alien culture which makes him at best but a sorry imitation of his protagonist.

FINIS

PRINTED AT THE EDINBURGH PRESS, 9 AND II YOUNG STREET.


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