Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Glen Albyne
Chapter III.—Under the Shadow of Ben Tigh


QUITTING the little siding we see below us the fine mansion-house of Invergloy, beautifully situated on the shores of Loch Lochy, and straight opposite on the further side of the lake we see Clunes Bay with its whitewashed house peeping out from beneath the trees. For the benefit of those interested in such things we may mention that in the centre of the bay there are still to be seen traces of an ancient crannog or island built on wooden piles. Many years ago there was a dispute of long standing between Locheil and The Mackintosh as to the possession of certain lands in this neighbourhood, and we are told in an ancient NIS. that The Mackintosh sent 2,500 men for three months to construct an island called "Eilean Darrach," in which he placed a garrison to keep the Lochabrians in subjection. This island "was built," as the MS. puts it, "on oaken jests (sic) within the water." But the Lochabrians took the oaken jests seriously, and having surprised the garrison, demolished the island and "brake forth again into their wonted rebellion." This feud was finally brought to an end on the 20th of September, 1665, when Locheil and Mackintosh met and "having drunk together in token of perfect reconciliation, exchanged swords and so departed, having in all probability at that time taken away the old feud which with great hatred and cruelty continued betwixt their forbears for the space of thirty-six years." So says the MS., but another two hundred years was to pass before friendliness was re-established. Till 1869 no Mackintosh visited Achnacarry nor did a Locheil set foot within Moy Hall.

It is worthy of note that dispite the terrible atrocities perpetrated throughout the Highlands by Cumberland and his followers after the battle of Culloden, atrocities that would have done credit even to a civilized German army of to-day, the Highlanders showed no inclination to avenge themselves on their enemies by mean or insidious methods, though they might frequently have done so with ease and impunity. Only one man is known to have fallen by the hand of an assassin, and that was in this neighbourhood. One of the Glengarry men on returning to his house after a short expedition found that during his absence his property had been destroyed, his wife outraged, and his home rendered desolate. In the bitterness of the moment he vowed a deadly revenge. Learning that the officer who had thus foully wronged him rode upon a white horse, he took his musket and resolved never to rest till he had slain the offender. Several weeks passed without his being able to discover his enemy, till at last one day he saw an officer advancing at the head of a party mounted on the white horse he had heard described. As it happened this was not the real perpetrator of his injuries, but Major Munro of Culcairn, younger brother of Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, who had unfortunately borrowed the horse from the officer in question. The infuriated Highlander fired from behind a crag overlooking the road and shot the major dead. He then fled through the rugged country and was soon beyond pursuit. On learning later that he had slain an innocent man he burst his gun and renounced the vow which bound him to vengeance.

Before taking leave of the Cameron country a few words must be said on the famous character known as Miss Jenny Cameron, whose ardour and enthusiasm for the Stuart cause led her to be present at the raising of the standard at Glen Finnan, and who throughout the campaign did all in her power to assist the loyal clans and to the end remained a staunch adherent of Prince Charlie.

One hundred years ago the Highlands were practically a terra incognita, and Smollett's famous novel "Tom Jones" would have been more than sufficient to blight the fair name of Miss Jenny Cameron beyond repair. But at the '45 the bitterness of party feeling was so intense that any lady who befriended the Prince or assisted him in any way was almost certain to be calumniated as having dealings with him of a more compromising nature. Thus the generous and whole-hearted partisanship of this high-spirited lady made her a certain target for slanderous tongues.

It is for historians to completely clear up this mystery, if mystery there he, but this much seems certain, that there was another damsel bearing the same name, whose discretion may not have been altogether beyond reproach and who was taken prisoner by Cumberland at Stirling. In fairness to this other Miss, or Mrs., Jenny Cameron it must be said that there is no proof whatsoever of misconduct other than utilising a mistaken identity to advance her commercial interests. Human pruriency and love of scandal have done the rest. As a matter of fact at the period of the '45 Miss Jenny Cameron was no longer in the first blush of youth; she was married and close on fifty years of age. In her early days she had been wedded to an Irishman, but on account of his heartlessness and brutality she obtained a separation and returned to Glen Dessary, where she resumed her maiden name and managed her brother's property. At the raising of the standard --on which occasion, by the way, there were several other ladies present besides herself—she is described as "a genteel, handsome, well-looking woman, with a pair of pretty eyes and hair as black as jet, of very sprightly genius and very agreeable in conversation." It is significant of the temper of the age that a Grub Street novel was written upon Miss Jenny Cameron, while the ignorance and credulity of the Saxon do not seem to have been unduly taxed by an extravagant caricature in tartan trews supposed to be the typical ladies costume in the Highlands of that day. Even in Edinburgh some forty years later an unfortunate disabled cripple with a wooden leg used to be solemnly pointed out to strangers as no other than the too ardent admirer of Prince Charlie, Miss Jenny Cameron, in male attire!

After the stirring episodes of her life were past this talented woman settled at Mount Cameron in Lanarkshire, where she was known throughout the district for her intelligence, the keen interest she displayed in public affairs and politics, and for her undying devotion to the House of Stuart. "She retained to the last," says the historian of Rutherglen, "the striking remains of a graceful beauty. Her whole deportment was consistent with that good breeding, unaffected politeness, and friendly generosity which distinguishes the people of rank in the Highlands of Scotland. She was buried at Mount Cameron in a clump of trees adjoining the house, and her grave is distinguished by nothing but a turf of grass which is now almost equal with the ground."

Running down from the summit of the line towards Invergarry Station the mountain burns which score the steep hill face illustrate admirably the erosive power of wet and weather so ably described by Sir A. Geikie in his book on Scottish scenery. Looking up the wild corries we see the rough and jagged rocks shattered by rains and frost, whilst down below acres are covered with debris borne down in tons by every winter spate. The progress of the stream as it eats its way year by year into the heart of the hill can easily be followed.

Shortly before reaching the east end of Loch Lochy we enter the Glengarry country belonging to the M'Donells of that ilk. The chiefs of this sept at one time claimed the headship of the entire clan, which for so many centuries swayed the destinies of the Highlands. In our day the name is perhaps most widely known to the stranger by the unenviable notoriety obtained for it by Andrew Lang's famous book on "Pickle the Spy." Our route does little more than skirt their territory, as the chief part of the possessions of the clan lay across the range of hills on the opposite side of the loch and in the glen which runs from there right out to the western coast.

About a mile from the end of the loch we see opposite to us, hard by a grove of sombre fir trees, a little churchyard known as Kilfinnan. On the eastern side a mountain stream brawls past noisily as it hurries down to pour its waters into the lake. Kil or ciil in Gaelic signifies the cell or church of some saint, though it is by no means a certain sign that the saint in question lived or even preached there. The saint after whom this church is named was St. Finnan, one of the many Irish missionaries who in early days evangelised the Highlands, and who was known as "The Leper." Whether St. Finnan ever visited this district or no cannot be surely ascertained, he certainly is not buried here. If, however, the origin of the chapel and its dedication are lost in obscurity, at a later period it has an interesting history of its own.

A famous Cameron freebooter of the fifteenth century commonly known as "Ailein nan Creach," or Allan of the forays, obtained charters from the crown for various lands as rewards for "good and faithful service," and united the whole into a free barony called the "Barony of Locheill." Needless to say that this "good and faithful service "was regulated on the principle expressed by Wordsworth in his lines on "Rob Roy's Grave":

"the good old rule
Sufficeth then the simple plan
That they should take who have the power
And they should keep who can."

Allan was strong, bold, reckless, and fearing neither God nor man he pillaged his neighbours without mercy. Amongst other excesses he burnt this church at Kilfinnan. An ancient poem in the Dean of Lismore's collection refers to this crime:

Fierce ravager of church and cross
................
Beside that other lawless raid Against Finnan in Glengarry
Have cursed the bald head Allan."

In his old age and his baldness, however, he seems to have been smitten with remorse and endeavoured to "hedge." It was enjoined on him as a penance for his crimes to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or to build seven churches in various parts of the country. Allan chose the latter alternative, proving thereby that he had not lost his wits with his hair, for if we may judge by the ruins of the chapels which remain to this day most of them could not have taken longer than two or three weeks in the building. One of these seven churches was erected here at Kilfinnan on the site of the chapel sacriligeously burnt by Allan in the days of his youth. Unfortunately, during the construction of the Caledonian Canal the lake was raised several feet, and the waves of Loch Lochy now flow over the old graveyard and the ruins of the little chapel sacred to the leper saint. On a clear day in a boat fragments of the walls may still be seen beneath the water some few hundred yards from the present enclosure.

Kilfinnan is also worthy of note as being the last resting place of several of the chiefs of Glengarry. The tiny plot of ground contained within the four rude chapel walls together with the rock on which the ancient castle stands is all that now remains to the family of the once broad acres of the clan.

While speaking of freebooters it may be said that much misconception exists in the southern mind in respect to the Highland practice of "cattle-lifting." Cattle-lifting was not looked upon in the Highlands as theft, but as an honourable pastime or game of chance for which great shill was required, much like boxing or racing in our own day. The rules of the game were clearly recognised and for the most part strictly adhered to. The favourite time for these expeditions was the month of September, for at this season the cattle were just in prime condition after the summer grazing, hence it used to be said that the Highland lairds counted their daughters' "tochers" (dowries) by the light of the Michaelmas moon. A large number of the chiefs kept a professional "lifter," who used to head their predatory hands, and many are the tales told of these heroes.

A troop would make its descent on another clan, usually a good distance away, and drive off the cattle as rapidly as possible to their own territory or else to one of the great lowland trysts. If the raid was made upon a clan in the close neighbourhood an agreement was generally come to with another company of cattle-lifters in a distant part of the country, accurate information as to the number, colour, and peculiar marks of the cattle being furnished weeks or even months beforehand, and the results of the foray were at once passed on to this band to be disposed of. If the persons from whom the booty had been taken were clever enough to follow the trail they could get the cattle back again or else obtain compensation from the guilty parties. When the cattle were "hounded" or tracked into the property of another clan the chief of that clan was bound to take up the search and discover the thieves or else follow them out of his own territory, and the chief in whose land the quarry was ultimately run to ground readily offered compensation to the injured parties in order to protect his cattle-lifters from the arm of the law. Needless to say, this compensation paid him all right in the long run, as a skilful thief was a good investment.

While whole-hearted cattle raiding was looked upon as a just and honourable occupation, a man who would condescend to take one or two sheep or a single cow was looked upon as a mean scoundrel and degraded outcast. Captain Burt tells an amusing story of a man who was arraigned before the court in Edinburgh for having lifted a herd of cattle. The indictment was read setting forth that "as a common thief he had lain in wait," etc. On hearing the accusation the Highlander burst forth in a torrent of indignation: "Common thief! Common thief! One cow, two cow that be common thief. Lift a hundred cows that be shentleman drovers." After a little progress had been made with the case he again cried out: " Och hone! that such fine shentlemans should sit there with their fine covens on to mak' a parshel o' lees on a puir, honest man." Finally on being condemned he pointed to the judges and roared out: "Oh for a proad-sword and a tirk to rid the hoose o' those foul peasts."

Another story is told showing that if an honest cattle-lifter did ultimately fall into the hands of the judge and suffer the extreme penalty of the law, his execution was in no way looked upon as a disgrace but as a sort of honourable martyrdom.

A certain Highland woman was asked how many husbands she had had. She replied three. On being further questioned if they had been good to her, she said the first two were honest men and very careful of their family, for they both died for the law, i.e., were hanged for theft. "But what of the last?" "Oh, he was a fulthy peast; he died at home like an old dog on a puckle o' strae."

At the same time Captain Burt bears witness that personal theft was almost unknown among the Highlanders, and that he frequently travelled the country with from four to five hundred guineas in his portmanteau without the least fear of molestation, though nothing would have been easier than to have slain him and stolen the money.

We cannot pass this spot without mentioning the famous clan fight that took place on this little isthmus

connecting Loch Lochy with Loch Oich, and which on account of its unparalleled ferocity and wealth of incident is by far the best known and most noteworthy of all these battles. The beauty of the old clan fights was that they had as a rule little or no effect upon the general history of the country. The clansmen fought, harried and retired home again, and things went on as before until the party which had been worsted was strong enough or found opportunity to retaliate, when the process began afresh. This system had its advantages, and afforded a simple solution of the problem known to modern social economy as that of the surplus population.

Historical research is continually throwing new light on the battle in question, which was fought between the Macdonalds and the Frasers in 1544, whilst Celtic imagination and clan prejudice have clothed the event with a richness of detail manifestly fictitious. The most certainly ascertained facts taken from reliable authorities may be chiefly summarised as follows.

Early in the sixteenth century the Clanranald branch of the Macdonald clan, discarded their legitimate chief Ranald, at the time little more than an infant, in favour of a hardy warrior and renowned leader, John of Moidart. Ranald's mother was a sister of Lord Lovat, so according to a common custom of the Highlands the child was sent to be brought up amongst his mother's people. For the time he was lost sight of and forgotten, but when John of Moidart was carried into captivity as a hostage by James V., Ranald, now grown up to man's estate, thought fit to reassert his claim to the chieftainship.

He arrived at Castle Tirrim, the seat of the Clanranald chief, and was favourably received, At once orders were given for a mighty feast, according to the custom of the clan, which has ever been noted even amongst the Highlanders for open-handed hospitality. When Ranald passed through the castle court and saw the numbers of fat sheep and oxen that had been killed and were being prepared whole over great fires in the open, he asked what all this meant. He was told in reply that it was to hold high festival in honour of his return. Turning on his heel, in an evil moment the young man said: "What need of all this fuss? Would not a few hens be amply sufficient to celebrate the event." The clansmen took this as a deadly insult, and thinking him a chicken-hearted fool—which in reality he was very far from being—nicknamed him the "hen chief " and chased him back with scorn to his mother's people. This was too much for Lovat's fiery temper, and he determined to reinstate his nephew in his ancestral home.

Having enlisted the sympathy and aid of Huntly, the Prasers swept through the Great Glen as far as Inverlochy (now Fort-William), but their foes retired before them, and, deeming the expedition hopeless, the combined force resolved to beat a retreat to their respective countries.

Following the course of the Lochy they reached Gairlochy together. Here Huntly and his men determined to make their way home by the valley of the Spean, through which the railway runs to-day, and at the same time strongly urged Lovat to do likewise. But the foolhardy chief determined to take the shorter and more direct route through the Great Glen to Beauly. This gave his enemies the very chance they looked for.

John of Moidart, who had recently escaped from prison, made a rapid march and reached the east end of Loch Lochy, where he was joined by some of the Camerons and by the Glengarries. Here in the lap of the hill where Ben Tigh raises its sharp-pointed mass out of the lower elevation, lies a little lake called to this day "Lochan nan Diota" or "Lochan nan Bata," that is the tarn of the repast or of the sticks. On the borders of this loch the little force took their food, consisting of a small quantity of oatmeal, which each man carried tied up in the corner of his plaid, and which they mixed with the water of the loch. Then each one drove his stick into the soft peat moss, a common practice in the Highlands before a battle, and which took the place of the modern ticket number in our army. Every survivor on his homeward march "lifted" his stick and the remainder gave the numbers of the fallen.

After this John's force arrayed themselves at the little burn which we see furrowing the brae face opposite to us, and which is still called the "burn of the gathering," and as the Frasers neared the end of the loch, he swept down upon them and began the fray.

As we have said before, Loch Lochy has been raised several feet, and the severest fighting of the day took place where the water now forms a large pool at the back of the sandbank covered with grass and scrub and which at that time was dry land. It is worth noting that an ancient song speaks of firearms having been used in this battle, which, if true, was very early for the Highlands. But it was not by firearms nor by bows and arrows, but blade to blade and axe to axe that this battle was to be fought and won. On the Fraser side three hundred of the flower of the clan were engaged; how many John of Moidart had cannot be clearly ascertained, but certainly his force outnumbered his opponents.

Lovat seeing that he had been trapped determined to fight his way through; so having delivered a brief, inspiriting address to his men, fell on the foe, and a furious melee ensued. It was at noon on an intensely hot day in the middle of July that the fight began, and the combatants not merely threw off their plaids but their short jackets and vests as well, and fought in their shirts and kilts, hence the battle received its name of "Blar nan Leine," or "Battle of the Shirts."

Shortly after the commencement of the battle, the Master of Lovat, who had purposely been left at home by his father, appeared on the scene. At this time he had not long returned from France, where he had just completed a most distinguished course at the University of Paris, and seemed to have a brilliant career in front of him. The day before the battle he had been out hunting, and on his return his stepmother, Lady Lovat, whose conduct is not above suspicion, taunted him with idling at home whilst his father and better men were fighting for the honour of the clan. Stung by the reproach, the Master gathered a dozen stalwart followers and set out post-haste to join his father. The sight of him filled Lovat with dismay, for all was now at stake, and when a few moments later the youth was cut down in the thickest of the fray, the Frasers filled with fury, fought like tigers, not for victory but for extermination. So closely were the ranks crushed together and so stubbornly did they hold their ground without either side shrinking or giving way, that, as an ancient chronicler says, "they were felled down on each side like trees in a wood till room was made by these breaches and at last all came to fight hand to fist."

In the course of the battle a stalwart Macdonald made a furious slash at a burly opponent, crying out : "Take that from the blacksmith of Clanranald." The Fraser deftly parried the stroke, and taking a tremendous blow with his Lochaber axe, cried out: -And take you that from MacShimie's (Lovat's) blacksmith." After the fight they were both found lying side by side dreadfully mangled.

As the day wore on and the field gradually thinned out, the combatants, too exhausted to ply their claymores, took to their dirks, and several by mutual consent fought their way to the lake's edge to gain coolness and refreshment from the water. Here numbers were found lying in couples in the shallow water clasped in a death embrace.

So fierce was the struggle that those who were lying almost dead upon the ground would make a desperate effort to disable a passing opponent by hacking at a leg or an arm. Lovat himself, swinging his two-handed sword like Simon de Montfort at the battle of Lewes, cut a path before him wherever he went. At length, however, he fell covered with wounds, and at once a cry went up over the field: "Thuit a cruaidh chascar" ("the lusty slasher is fallen") and in a short while all was over. The sun went down on a dismal scene of carnage. The Fraser chronicles tell us that only one gentleman of the clan, James of Foyers, who was carried off the field on the shoulders of his foster-brother, escaped alive. If this is true the extermination must have been complete, because this James died of his wounds a few days after. Certainly not more than half a dozen escaped to Beauly to tell the tale. The story that, like the Kilkenny cats, the Macdonalds also fought until they were exterminated is manifestly a fabrication.

Ranald Gallda, the hen chief, who was the primary cause of all this bloodshed, fought like a hero. His swordsmanship astonished even his foes, and one after another his enemies fell beneath his blade till he came face to face with a Strontian man known as the "son of little Red Donald." This worthy seeing himself on the point of being cut down, cried out to Ranald to beware of the man behind him. Ranald wheeled round to meet this imaginary foe and at once the Strontian man ran him through with his sword. The dying man with a supreme effort dealt a tremendous back-handed blow which struck his assailant on the head and deeply gashed his skull but did not kill him. Some days after his return home a doctor who was dressing the wound carelessly opened the gash anew. The " son of little Red Donald," suspecting treachery, reached out for his dirk which was hanging by the bedside and plunged it into the doctor's heart, but the violent exertion proved too much for him and in a few moments he expired. There seems good reason to believe that his intolerable boasting, together with the ruse he made use of in his combat with Ranald Gallda, had rendered him so odious to the clansmen that they were anxious to do away with him, and the action of the doctor in reopening the wound may not have been altogether unintentional. The body was buried at Eilean Fhionnan, and until recently the skull with the mark of the sword-cut upon it was to be seen under the altar in the little ruined chapel.

There is also a tradition that Ranald Gallda's sword was preserved by a family in Strontian for a long time, and they used to show a nick in the blade proving that not without good reason were the men of that district considered hard-headed rievers.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast