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Highland Gatherings
Chapter VI - Fifty Years: 1807 - 1857


"In the Highlands, in the country places,
Where the old plain men have rosy faces,
And the young fair maidens quiet eyes,
Where essential silence cheers and blesses,
And for ever in the hill recesses
Her more lovely music broods and dies."
- R. L. Stevenson.

IN 1807, the date was October 12th, and it lasted one week. The Duchess of Gordon was absent, also Lord Seaforth from illness.

1808. The Duchesses of Gordon and Manchester were present on October 14th. There was a good support for the hounds, and the meeting was "numerously and respectably attended," in the language of the period. The Marquis of Huntly was energetic in entertaining the company. Having attended the Aberdeen Shooting Club earlier in that week, he rode one hundred and five miles in under seven hours to be present, having eight relays of horses on the road. Lord Seaforth presented a brace of fat bucks to the company.

1809. The attendance was small, owing to loss of life in the war. Duchess of Gordon present. Records refer to the "polished manners and dignified character" of the gathering. The stewards were Lords Huntly, Seaforth, and MacDonald, Colonel Fraser of Lovat, Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch, Bart., Lewis Dunbar Brodie of Bunghie and Lette, Esq., Hugh Innes of Lochalsh, Esq., Thos. Gilzean, Esq., Provost of Inverness, Alex. McKenzie, Banker, Inverness, secretary and treasurer. Most of these were re-elected for the next year, with the addition of Colonel Francis W. Grant, Sir Wm. Gordon Cumming, Henry Davidson of Tulloch, and Ed. H. M'Kenzie of Cromartie, Esquires.

It is noted that a well-known piper, known locally as "Up and waur them a' Willie," embarked this year with the 71st Regiment for Portugal. He played on incessantly at the Battle of Vimiera, in spite of being wounded.

I have dealt with the year 1810 in the summary, and in 1811 we find the funds were in a good state. One hundred and forty ladies and gentlemen attended the dinner and two hundred the ball. There was a trotting match between a pony of Lord Huntly's and a horse of Mr. Forbes' of Culloden, the former winning. The course was six miles, done in twentythree minutes, or at the rate of sixteen miles an hour. A curious note is made about a girl of eight years, Miss Paton, who for three years had officiated as a pianist. She was also asked to sing and recite, to which some members took exception on the score of cruelty.

In 1812 the date was October 30th, and the outside sport was spoiled by bad weather. On the closing night Colonel Fraser gave a "select and numerous" party at his residence, "the Barracks," which lasted well into the following day. In 1813 there was a more numerous and elegant assemblage. Presents of venison were received from the Duke of Atholl and Lord Seaforth. Two hundred attended the supper. Lord Huntly presented to the meeting a portrait of his late mother, the Duchess of Gordon, although it had been the intention of the members to purchase this for themselves.

A young vocalist, Master Weeks, performed so creditably that Sir James Dunbar and some friends presented him with twenty guineas. About this time a well-known resident old lady lost 6d. and found it six weeks afterwards in the gizzard of one of her fowls! This was an improvement on the story of the lawyer who swallowed a sovereign. All they could extract from him was 13s. 4d.; in those days 6s. 8d. was the lowest fee chargeable.

In 1814 bad weather again prevailed, but the balls took place, and the time was spent in visiting. There was a great display of costly and varied equipages, parading the streets in gay profusion.

In 1815 some sort of Highland Society seems to have been formed, and it was suggested that there should be horse races at Duneancroy in connection with the meeting. Lord Huntly sent a turtle, Colonel Fraser game and a Spanish mutton, and Innes of Lochalsh a fine hart.

In connection with the gift of a turtle, it is interesting for those who have attended a lord mayor's banquet to recall some facts as to these sea-monsters. They sometimes weigh nearly 300 lb., and come mainly from the Caribbean Sea, being fed on the journey by young seaweed. The only part that is seen in the soup is the gelatinous flesh from the inner lining of the carapace, or outer shell. Other parts, of course, as well as other ingredients, such as spices and mysterious herbs, are used. The process of cutting up is rendered easy by the lines and ridges of the shell being reproduced as a diagram on the flesh. Turtles are considered young at eighty years of age, and the monsters of three hundredweight may have lived for three hundred years before their capture. The "fins" make splendid steak-meat for grilling, and soap is made from the oil in rejected parts. What is known to users of luxurious articles of toilet, etc., is the shell from the green turtle or "hawksbill," which is of no use for food.

This year the patron was asked to sit for his portrait, and another note is made that complaints were received about the ladies' dresses being crushed, and their bones being hurt from overcrowding. The staircases were also considered unsafe, and eventually it was decided that all titled ladies should be handed out of the building before the general egress was allowed.

Sportsmen in 1816 derived much amusement from the Inverness Harriers, and the racing is referred to on page 113. Those present on October 24th, 1817, included Lord and Lady Huntly, Lord and Lady Saltoun, Mr. and the Hon. Mrs. Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth, Colonel and Mrs. Macdonald of Glengarry. The latter appeared in full Highland costume, with belted plaid, broadsword, pistols, dirk, etc. Horse races were held at Fort George, chronicled as a novelty, and much appreciated.

1. Plate value 50 guineas An easy victory.
    Mr. Fraser, Culduthel, b.g., Martin Luther - 1. 1.
    Mr. Gifford, b. mare, Louisa - 2. 2.
2. A match for 30 guineas.
    Mr. Sheppard's Bay Mare - 1.
    Captain Fraser's brown horse - 2.
3. Sweepstake for a Subscription Purse.
    Mr. Eache's horse - 1.
    Mr. McAndrew's b. mare - 2.
    Captain Sinclair's horse - 3.

This year public dissatisfaction with the management is manifest in the columns of the press; the meeting was stated to be heavily in debt, although high prices were made for certain things, viz., 1s. 9d. for a cup of coffee. In 1818 on October 21St, the Huntlys, Mackenzies, and Frasers of Lovat sent large supplies of venison, muirfowl and ptarmigan. Arrears of subscription were called in, and Mr. Mackenzie remained secretary.

The year 1819 was under the chairmanship of Lord Saltoun, and there was a long discussion as to the secretaryship, but Mr. Mackenzie was reappointed eventually. A large portrait of Lady Huntly was presented to the ballroom. As a sidelight upon the educational status of the neighbourhood it is noteworthy that out of twenty-two thousand inhabitants, only about three thousand could read English or Gaelic.

In 1820 the absence of the life and soul of the meeting, Lord Huntly, is recorded. There was a good attendance, the chairmen being Mr. Macleod of Cadboll, Sir James Dunbar, and Sir William Gordon Cumming. Game was presented by neighbouring families.

The new secretary appointed this year was Mr. Affleck Fraser, of Culduthel.

1821 saw an earlier gathering, on September 20th. "An unusually great concourse of a fashionable company." Mrs. Maclean of Cariacon sent a fine turtle, as also Mr. William Falconer of Inverness. Game was sent by Lovat, Relig, and John Windsor, Esquire, the race course being arranged for games, etc.

We note a thin attendance for 1822, but other interesting events occurred. At Duneancroy (of which the translation is "the level stretch by the Hill of Birds") games are held after the meeting, under Glengarry. He presided in all his glory and had the field almost wholly to himself, "the other judges probably conceiving themselves ill qualified to decide in matters which lay altogether between the chief and the gentlemen of his tail." What, may say some Saxon Duinhe-wassal (English gentleman), is the exact meaning of "tail "?

The tail is a retinue of followers which usually accompanied a chieftain when he paid visits to those of equal rank with himself. There was the henchman or right-hand man, then the bard or poet, then the bladier or orator to make harangues, then the gillymore or armour-bearer to carry sword, target and gun, then the gilly casfluich to carry him on his back through sikes and brooks, then the gilly-comstrain to lead his horse in rough places, then the gilly-trush harnish to carry his knapsack, concluding with the piper and his man and a dozen "boys of the belt" for odd requirements of the Laird.

A foot race of eight miles was run in fifty minutes, the winner reaching the tape minus any particle of clothing !

Another event was the throwing of a boulder of eighteen stone weight over a bar five feet off the ground. A mere stone-mason did this feat, all the other "pretty men" being foiled. A contingency of this competition was the rupture of blood-vessels or breaking of backs.

Most remarkable, however, was the tearing of three cows limb from limb, after they had been felled and stunned by a sledge-hammer. Even the most expert of the competitors took four or five hours in "rugging and riving," tooth and nail, before bringing off the limbs of one cow. Payment was made at the rate of five guineas a joint, so that (so runs the narrative) "We hope the rise in the value of black cattle will make the Glengarry men some small amends for the fall of ewes and wedders at Falkirk Tryst, lately noticed by their Chief."

This sarcasm shows that not much love was lost between the local press this year and Glengarry !

A writer of this period remarked that "Southron delicacy might have turned up its nose at the rather paradisical costume of the runners in the foot race." Eight started, not absolutely in McNab's nightgowns, whatever might be whispered amongst the ladies, but in shirts of rather ample dimensions, considering the comparatively recent adoption of this Saxon luxury in this country. They proved their high antiquity in various ways, and besides, bore ample tokens of having seen abundant service since last year's great bucking washing at Invergarry. Four of them came in "skelpin-naked." Limitations of space prevent me from quoting further criticisms of this festival, but a perusal of the Inverness Courier for 10th October will well repay the trouble of those further interested.

In 1823, owing to the death of a lady friend, the Marquis of Huntly was absent from the dinner of sixty.

An account of the races may not be without interest.

Wednesday, October 1st.
50 given by the Meeting.
Weight for age. 1 mile heats.

1. Sir Alex. Ramsay's Meeta - 4 years - 1. I.
    Mr. W. M'Dowell Grant's b.g. Moureath, aged - 2.
2. Match for 50 guineas each, h. ft. 6 st. 7 lb. 1 mile.
    Mr. M'Dowell Grant's br. g. Governor, 6 years - 1.
    Mr. Fraser of Lovat's b.g. Cockney, aged - 2.
3. Match for 50 guineas each. P.p. 9 stone. 1 miles.
    Lord Huntly's ch. m. by Idle Boy, 5 years - 1.
    Mr. Newton's br. g. Malcolm Graham, 4 years-2. An easy win.

Thursday.
50 given by Lord-Lieutenant for horses bred in the counties connected with the meeting.
2 mile heats. Weight for age.

1. Mr. Shepperd's br. m. Shepherdess by Troilus, named by Mr. Fraser of Culduthel. W.O.
    Mr. F. Mackenzie, junr., of Gairloch's blk. .m. Gipsy, drawn.
2. Port Stakes of 15 guineas each. 5 forfeit for Ponies not exceeding 13 hands. 8 st. each. Mile heats. 11 subscribers.
    Mr. D. Mackintosh's W.S. br. p. - 1.
    Lord Huntly's Highland Lassie - 2.
    Lord Saltoun names Jenny from Toun - 3.
    Mr. Mackay's Bl. p. distanced - 4.
  Referred to the Newmarket Jockey Club.
3. Match for 50 guineas each p.p. 13 st, 1 mile and distance.
Mr. W. M`Dowell Grant's b.h. Llewellyn, aged - 1.
Mr. F. Mackenzie junr., Gairloch's ch. g. Ruby by Petronius - 2.
Gentlemen riders. Won by half a neck.
Match for 50 guineas each p.p. 1 mile.
Mr. F. Mackenzie's Gipsy - 1.
Mr. Frazer's Shepherdess - 2.

Friday.
Northern Meeting. Stakes of 30 guineas.
Weight for age. 10 forfeit. 2 miles. 13 subscribers.
Mr. Farquharson's Meeta. W.O.
Sir A. Ramsay's b.c. Marshal Blucher, drawn.
50 given by the M.P. for the county.
Weight for age. 2 mile heats.
Sir A. Ramsay's b.c. Marshal Blucher - 1.
Mr. M'Dowell Grant's b.g. Governor - 2.
A well contested race.
A match of 50 guineas each.
2 ft. Half-mile heats.
Mr. Grant's Llewellyn - 1.
Mr. Mackenzie's b.g. - 2.
Gentlemen riders.
A match of 50 guineas. 1 mile.
Mr. Davidson junr. of Tulloch's b.g.- 1.
Mr. Grant of Radcastle b.g., rode (sec.) by Mr. Mackenzie junr. of Gairloch - 2.
A fine race won by a length.

The course was greatly improved, the concourse was great, and weather favourable. The site was three miles from the town, along the Caledonian Canal, and a good view was obtained from the sloping banks and high ground adjacent.

The owner of Shepherdess gave 50 towards further improvement of the course.

In 1824 there were races at Dunain, and scarcely ever before had such an illustrious company and splendid equipages been seen. The date was 29th September, and the ball was kept up until four a.m. A curious entry was that in one race horses of two years old had to carry " a feather" and three-yearolds 6 st. 10 lb. Three hundred attended the ball, and two hundred and fifty the supper, the chairmen being Mr. Mackenzie of Kilcoy, the Hon. James Sinclair and Lord Huntly. Quadrilles and strathspeys were danced. Lords Huntly and Macdonald each promised one hundred guineas towards the suggested new grand stand for the race-course.

In 1825 both the Huntlys were absent, and Lord Saltoun presided, the other chairmen being Lord Macdonald and the Hon. James Sinclair.

Two gold cups were added to the prizes for racing, value one hundred guineas each. Most of the activity this year emanated from Ross-shire, headed by Mr. Davidson, Jun., of Tulloch.

Amongst the entries we find:-

Mr. Rose of Glastullich's g.g. L.D.D.B.T.R.D. 6 years old.

but it did not win.

A charge of jostling having been made against the rider of the four-year-old black filly belonging to Mr. Fraser of Lovat in one race was found proved upon inquiry, and the race was given to Othello, who came in second.

There was a match for 50 between Mr. Fraser's b.f. (mentioned above), 8 St. 3 lb. (Wm. Boynton), and
Mr. Davidson's b.f. (3 years), 7 St. 7 lb. (G. Gukie).

In 1826 no ladies attended the dinners, but no reason is given. One hundred and sixty danced until four a.m. Sir Wm. Gordon Cumming was chairman at dinner the first evening, Sir Ralph Anstruther the second, and Lord Macdonald the third. The course was kept clear by an unarmed detachment of the 78th Highlanders from Fort George. Quacks and mendicants, the latter lame and blind, were present. Complaints were made about the charges for supper, but the secretary explained that no caterer would take the contract. Only fifty-seven dined one night. Twenty-five ladies and sixty-five gentlemen subscribed to a breakfast set of silver, which was given to the secretary, Mr. A. Fraser of Culduthel.

Nothing much occurred in 1827, the next year having only a poor attendance and bad weather. Lord Huntly was now Duke of Gordon. Thirty attended dinner, Mr. Davidson of Tulloch being chairman. The "croupier" was Mr. Munro of Novar.

In 1829 we are told the attendance was "more respectable than large." Seventy had supper under the chairmanship of Mr. C. C. Halket of Braelangwell the first day; the second one hundred sat down under Lord Saltoun. The Gordon family were absent. Many appeared in full Highland dress.

1830 was the dullest year weather.

In 1831, owing to His Majesty's accession to the throne, the town volunteers were presented with an elegant set of colours by John Mackintosh and William Inglis Esquires, both D.L.'s. There were no races, members being away in Parliament, but the attendance at Thursday's ball was good.

1832 was a blank year owing to the cholera. The subscription of two guineas was now altered to one.

Next year the falling off continued, and only the ball took place, many strangers being present.

1834 saw it pick up a bit, but more Southrons turn up every year. Three dinners and balls were held, one hundred and sixty coming on the Friday under Cluny Macpherson.

In 1835 the Duke of St. Albans and Lord Frederick Beauclerc appeared in Highland dress. There were a boat race, rifle practice and a pigeon shoot on the Friday. Captain Horatio Ross of Rossie, a noted rifleman, was defeated by Cluny Macpherson. A cold collation under an awning, with a band, was provided by Mrs. Baillie of Dochfour, an example commended to neighbours, as morning amusements have been noticeably absent since the horse races ceased.

Nothing is said of 1836, but in 1837 we read of an appeal being made by the secretary for support, and a good account is given of sports held. It would appear that their origin sprang from private and separate sources, but received patronage from the members of the Northern Meeting, who eventually amalgamated them with their own fixture. The date was 27th September, said to be more suitable, and it was the best meeting that had occurred for ten years. The secretary's appeal met with a good response, and the games were held in a field of Mr. Wilson's of the Caledonian Hotel near the "Longman." The derivation of this name is from the legend concerning the ghosts of men that were hanged on this space, long white spectres being said to haunt it. Whatever occurred there in the past, this year the shores of Moray Firth never looked gayer with the crowds that attended, and 100 was promised for the following year. Mr. Thos. Fraser was clerk of the meeting, and competitors were requested to "timeously enter" their names with him. The Duke of Richmond was absent, but the chairmen were Sir Francis Mackenzie and Lord Saltoun, the speakers including Lord Wm. Lennox. Events were as follows :-

Throwing the Hammer. 16 lb.
   John Cameron, Findon, Ferrintosh, 72 feet 8 inches - 1st, 2.
   Hugh Fraser, Blacksmith, Inverness, 2 feet 8 inches less - 2nd, 10s.
12 lb.
   Robert Cameron, Inverness, 86 feet 6 inches -1st, I.
   H. Fraser, 85 feet-2nd, 5s.
Putting the Stone. 21 lb.
   John Chisholm, Milburn, 30 feet 6 inches - 1st, 10s.
   John Cameron, within 4 inches-2nd, 10s.
Hop, Step and Leap.
   John Hay, Inverness, 24 feet 8 inches-1st, I.
   John Macpherson, plumber, Inverness, 23 feet 4 inches - 2nd, 5s.
High Leap.
   John Cookson, 4 feet - 1.
   John McRae, piper - 5s.
250 yards.
   John Campbell - 1.
100 yards Sack Race.
   George Bain, Inverness - 1.
Wheelbarrow Race.
   George Bain, Inverness - 1.
Wrestling.
   John Chisholm, Milburn - 3 and collection of 35s. as well.
Rifle Shooting.
   Sir Francis Mackenzie of Gairloch, Bart. - 1st.
   Lord Lovat and Mr. Mackenzie, junr.-2nd and 3rd.
   No belts or rests were allowed - distance 100 yards, and 3 shots each at a target of 36 inches in size.

1838 was a very successful year. The Duke of Gordon being dead, the Duke of Richmond was present, and the sports were similar to 1837. Judges: Lord Saltoun, Tulloch, Cluny, Arndilly and Culduthel. The new Duke was quieter than the old one, not a politician, but one likely to strengthen the tie between Gordon Castle and the Highland capital - a quiet but convincing speaker.

In 1839 races were started for the people. The starter was Mr. Peter of Yorkshire, who had won the St. Leger three times. Hurdle races and steeplechases were added.

September 29th being the anniversary of the Battle of Busaco, it was noteworthy that Lord Saltoun and the Duke of Richmond had served under Wellington and at Waterloo.

Gifts contributed were :

Duke of Sutherland, 2 fine stags.
Lord Lovat, 2 fine hinds.
Culduthel, partridges.
Mr. Boulderson, Brahan Castle, choice fruit.
A turtle of 130 lb. from the host of the Caledonian Hotel.

In 1840 Lord Lovat sent a fine stag and forty hares and rabbits; grouse, fruit and fallow deer were also sent. One hundred and fifty dined and three hundred danced, and there were races on two days. Two concerts in the town hall were added, at which the Inverness Militia Band attended. Concerto solos were given by Mr. Mackenzie and his brother, of Edinburgh.

1841 was a memorable year from the introduction of a Highland piping and dancing in full costume. Travelling expenses for one day's journey were allowed to competitors. Extra prizes were given for the two best dressed Highlanders, regardless of the person who paid for the dress. One Celtic competitor said he could not dance without a woman! The pipers had to lodge a list of twelve tunes with Mr. Hugh Bain for selection by the Committee. At one of the balls all the ladies appeared in fancy dress, such as Spanish, Swiss and old English.

Piping.
1st. Wm. Smith, Gordon Castle, piper to the Duke. ("Macdonald's Salute") - a set of bagpipes value 10 guineas.
2nd. Angus McInnes, piper to Lord Douro. ("Battle of Sheriff Muir") - 5 guineas.
3rd. Donald Cameron, piper to J. R. Mackenzie of Scatwell. ("Viscount Dundee's Lament") - 2 guineas.

Eleven other competitors, including an old man eighty-six years of age called Macbeth, who was blind and led on to the field.

Dancing.
1st. James Grant, Battangorm, Strathspey for Highland Fling - 3 guineas.
2nd. John Macallister, Tulloch, for Reels - 2 guineas.
3rd. Kenneth Maclennan, Novar, "Ghille Cheallain" (Callum) - 2 guineas.

There was a disturbance amongst the crowd owing to their breaking the ropes. Inspector Macbean and constables, assisted by Lord Ward and Cluny, quelled the disorder, four ringleaders being taken into custody.

1842 was a normal year, 1843 being in bad weather, but with a fair muster. Those present included Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and Richmond, Lord Douro, etc. Eighty-nine dined, under the Duke of Richmond, with Mackintosh, junior, of Mackintosh, "croupier."

1846 next attracts our attention from its large number of those present. The day was a month sooner, during the residence of noblemen and sportsmen in the district. No bands attended, nor were there any seats for the ladies. One of the competitors threw the hammer amongst the crowd, inadvertently. A fatal accident was only avoided by the stooping of those inside that part of the palisade. Cluny Macpherson and Mr. Hall Maxwell were both in imminent danger from this "foul throw." Sam Kennedy of Tulloch Castle threw the 12 lb. hammer 105 feet 10 inches with one hand, and was awarded four guineas. We now have mention of caber-tossing, but although the wood was often sawn and so shortened, the trial was eventually abandoned.

Printed programmes of the dances, etc., were now suggested, and Gaelic singing was a novelty. Singers appeared in sober suits, like church precentors, and the long and serious strains caused impatience amongst the audience. One, however, created amusement by his ludicrous gestures !

1st. Donald Macdonald, Invermoriston - 5 guineas.
2nd. John Rose, Bank Lane, Inverness - 3 guineas.

Lists were submitted to judges for selection.

The prizes for the pibrochs were a set of bagpipes, a silver brooch, silver-mounted snuff-mull, a dirk, a sporran, and a belt and buckle.

A race after a pig with a greasy tail then occurred, in which, after a rough and tumble, most of the tail was pulled off, spectators consequently ceasing to approve of the event. A seaman named James Fraser of Inverness eventually captured the pig. It is said there were no fights this year, nor were any pockets picked. Perhaps the silence as to other years is ominous!

The year 1847 was memorable from the visit of Prince Albert. He arrived from Gairlochy by the canal route, and was the guest of Mr. Baillie of Dochfour. A procession of Councillors, Trades Representatives, and Freemasons was formed, and Provost Wm. Simpson presented an address from the Corporation in the town hall. The Earl of Seafield, Lord-Lieutenant, later on presented an address from the County. Two hundred Mackintosh clansmen assembled, and, with pipers and ensigns, formed a guard through which the Royal carriage passed. The Waterloo soldiers wore their medals at the head of each of the three Divisions. Prince Albert stayed for two hours at the dance later on, attired in a blue coat, white vest and black pantaloons, with the Ribbon of the Thistle and the Collar of the Garter. He seemed pleased with the reel dancing, and expressed his admiration of the music, the arrangements and general aspect of the ball. He left Dochfour on the Friday, and returned to the Queen at Lochiel. Queen Victoria, in the course of a letter to the King of the Belgians from Ardverikie during September, said: "Really, when one thinks of the very dull life, and particularly the life of constant self-denial which my poor, dear Albert leads, he deserves every amusement in the world, and even about his amusements he is so accommodating that I am deeply touched by it." Let us hope he found the Northern Meeting to his liking on this occasion.

1848 was nearly as good as 1847, the excitement lasting a week, steamers running to Glasgow, Leith and London, coaches to Dingwall, Caithness, Perth, Fort William, Aberdeen, and Elgin. The s.s. Edinboro' Castle was in command of Captain Turner, "vessel and captain great favourites."

Cholera interferes in 1849; 1850 had only two days; a good and brilliant attendance included Lord and Lady Gough.

Clan dress was worn in 1851. Mr. Ronaleyn Cumming is said to have worn a singular costume, but no description of it is forthcoming. A small boy, called Peter Stewart, of Inverness was the recipient of much applause from spectators.

1852 was the most successful for some years; but 1853 appears to have lost its original character, more English people than Highlanders being present. Hardly twenty of the latter description, as proprietors, attended.

In 1855 there was an improvement in the attendance, and in 1856 several foreigners present were struck with the novelty of the scene, in spite of cold and ceaseless rain.


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