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Glen Albyne
Chapter IV—The Raven's Rock


AT Invergarry station we reach the west end of Loch Oich, which forms the highest point of the Caledonian Canal, little more than a hundred feet above sea level. Looking back across the little strip of land that separates the waters of Loch Oich from those of Loch Lochy, we see a stream coursing down the hillside which is one of those curious instances met with in watersheds where a man with a spade might in a few moments turn aside the waters of the stream so that instead of being discharged into Loch Linnhe on the west coast they would ultimately find their way into the German Ocean, far on the other side of Scotland.

A similar example is found in the headwaters of the Clyde and Tweed, it being quite a question whether the stream will flow east or west, and in times of spate salmon fry are frequently washed from the headwaters of the Tweed into the upper reaches of the Clyde, above the Falls of Cora.

In the present instance a very practical old lady turned this singular formation of nature to good account. She lived just on the march or boundary between Locheil and Glengarry, the dividing line being formed by the stream. As often as the Cameron factor came to collect his rent he found the stream flowing merrily between him and the old woman's house, and whenever she saw Glengarry's officer approaching on a similar errand she diverted the water to the other side of her little property and defied him to lift his dues. By this ingenious plan she maintained her house and land for a long number of years free of all rent and taxes.

Directly opposite Invergarry station on the edge of the loch there stands a small monument commemorating one of those deeds of blood so common in the Highlands. Beneath the monument there bubbles up a little spring of clear, cold water, whilst the top of the shaft is crowned by a hand grasping seven heads transfixed with a dagger. Few stories are better known in the Highlands than this tale of the seven heads, yet seldom has so well-known a fact been confused with such a mass of conflicting details.

The case is characteristic and throws a singular sidelight on the manners of the north at the time of the Restoration.

One of the chiefs of Keppoch had sought a bride outside the limits of his clan and had married "a woman from the south," as she was contemptuously styled, one of the Forresters of Kilbaggie, in Clachmannan. The two sons of this marriage were sent abroad to be educated in Rome, and while there the father died, leaving his brother in charge of the clan till such time as his son should have completed his course and attained his majority. Five years after their father's death the two youths, Alexander and Ranald, returned to Lochaber and took up the leadership of the clan.

With all the enthusiasm of youth and a liberal education, Alexander set about improving the condition of his people and made it his endeavour "to drive all thieves and cattle-lifters from his boundaries." This running counter to all the dearest traditions of Lochaber brought a certain amount of discontent and disaffection in its wake. The uncle, Alastair Buidhe, an unscrupulous and ambitious man, turned this dissatisfaction to account and fanned the spirit of rebellion till a widespread conspiracy was formed against the youthful chieftain. Finally the head of one of the minor septs, who had long cherished a secret grudge against the family of the chief, set out one night with his six sons and some other retainers, and having waded the river below Keppoch Castle, entered the house "with the water of the Spean still in his shoes." Finding the young chief defenceless in his bed, they plunged their dirks into his body, killing him on the spot.

Ranald, the younger brother chanced to be out at the moment of attack, and hearing of the disturbance hastened to the rescue ; but on entering the castle he was instantly seized and overpowered. He cried to his uncle, Alastair Buidhe, who was present, to assist him, but instead of trying to defend him the uncle plunged the first dagger into his breast. The other conspirators followed suit and then fled to their own homes. The clansmen quickly gathered, and John Macdonald, the famous poet, better known as Ian Lom, the bare or biting bard of Keppoch, had the bodies carefully laid out and honourably buried.

No one thought of seeking redress at the hands of the Government, and had it not been for Ian Lom the incident would probably have passed unavenged. As it was, the bard poured forth such a torrent of bitterest invective against the perpetrators of the deed that he had to fly the country and take refuge in Kintail. Glengarry, though loving the name of Superior of Clan Donald, evidently thought that charity began at home, and his love of justice was not sufficiently strong to make him risk burning his fingers by attempting to call the culprits to account.

and bring the murderers to justice. The conspirators expected an avenging party to come from Glengarry, and kept a sharp look out upon the castle from a little bothy on the summit of one of the hills of the southern range. But Ian I.om skillfully outwitted them, and brought the little party of Islesmen up the valley of the Spean to Inverlair, where they surprised the father and six sons in bed. The sons were instantly dragged out and slain and the house set on fire. In the scuffle the father almost escaped unnoticed, when Ian Lom cried out, "the six cubs are here but the old fox is still in the den." At once a number of men dashed into the blazing house and dragged out the father, dispatching him on the spot. The bard then severed the heads from the bodies and putting them into a sack carried them by a circuitous route to Invergarry. Before reaching the castle he washed his gory trophies at this little spring. Then, after taunting Glengarry with bitter sarcasm on the inactivity which left the avenging of this foul murder to his distant kinsman, the poet laid the seven heads at his feet, and they were afterwards buried in a little glade not far from the present mansion house of Invergarry.

It is worthy of note that the mother of these murderers on whom the beardless bard executed such summary vengeance was his own sister.

This monument was erected and the inscription upon it invented by Colonel M'Donell, the last chief of Glengarry, in 1812.

Some years ago an antiquarian enthusiast in Fort William sought to prove the truth of this tradition, and dug up the mound at Inverlair where the bodies were supposed to have been buried. The skeletons were found buried without a coffin, whole and entire, excepting that each one lacked a skull, thus confirming the main facts of the story current in Lochaber.

About half way down Loch Oich we come to the famous old Castle of Invergarry. It stands perched upon a rock rising sheer out of the waters of the lake, and in olden times was a position of great strength. The rock is known as "Creag an Fhithich," or the "Raven's Rock," and this used to be the war-cry of the clan.

The castle has an interesting history. It has been built again and again on the present site and as often destroyed, till finally it was burnt by Cumberland in 1745 and never restored.

In 1727 an English company, enticed by the plentiful supply of timber in the district, set up iron smelting works in Glengarry. The manager, finding the castle in ruins as a result of the loyalist rising in 1715, roofed over the walls and took up his abode there. But the clansmen were indignant at this desecration, as they deemed it, of their chief's ancestral hall, and they fell upon the misguided "Sassenach," who narrowly escaped with his life.

During the troublous times of religious persecution, Glengarry was one of the great centres round which the Catholics of the north rallied. On account of its close connection with the Catholic district of Knoydart, many of the Irish priests who came from Spain and elsewhere to minister to the wants of their co-religionists in the Western isles found their way to this district. The Hardwicke Papers tell us that the Clanranalds were

"always Popish," and "the people of all ranks here are much better acquainted with Rome, Madrid and Paris, than they are with London or Edinburgh." As early as 1670 a Catholic school was erected in Glengarry, one of the very first established in the north.

During the time the castle remained in the hands of the M`Donells persecution was unknown, but when it fell into the hands of English soldiery persecution was attempted and many a priest was done to death in the vaults of the ancient building.

As mentioned above, excepting the few square feet of ground in the churchyard of Kilfinnan, the narrow compass of this rock crowned with its ruined walls is all that now remains to the ancient clan of the wide lands that once belonged to the M'Donells of GIengarry.'

Rev. Alex. Stewart tells a pretty tale of how this rock came to remain in possession of the clan when all the rest of the estates were sold.

A great friend of Glengarry who was paying him a visit came down to breakfast one morning and found the chief with a letter in his hand and a look of blank despair upon his face. As his friend entered the room Colonel M`Donell rose and stretching out his hand greeted him warmly with the words: "Welcome for the last time to Glengarry's house and board." His friend asked him in amazement what this meant. "It means," said the Chief, "I have just had a letter, and the estates must be sold to meet the claims upon me." "Is it must?" quoth the friend. "Yes, must, there is absolutely no alternative." "Then if the estate must go why not keep the castle with the Raven's Rock, then with your back to the crag in the words of your favourite Fitz-James you can still cry out:

"Come one, come all. this rock shall fly,
From its firm base as soon ayI"

With tears in his eyes the ruined chieftain thanked his friend for his timely counsel, and in a few days the whole estate save only this lonely crag had passed into the hands of strangers.

This Colonel Alastair Ranaldson M'Donell was a notable character. An intimate friend of Sir Walter Scott, to whom he presented Maida, the deerhound of which Scott was so proud, he shot a grandson of Flora Macdonald in a duel, disputed with Clanranald the supremacy of the Macdonalds, was the last Highland chieftain who travelled the country with his "tail," married a daughter of Sir William Forbes - a strong claim on Scott's affection—and after living a century behind his times, died in 1828. He was the grand-nephew of Alastair Ruadh M'Donell, alias Jeanson, alias Roderick Random, and now perhaps best known as "Pickle the Spy." Scott .devotes a few lines of his journal to Colonel M'Donell. "He seems to have lived a century too late, and to exist in a state of complete law and order, like a Glengarry of old whose will was law to his sept. Warmhearted, generous, friendly, he is beloved by those who know him. . . . To me he is a treasure." With him passed away the final link that connected the ancient Highland dispensation with the modern, and when he was carried to the grave was seen for the last time the full accompaniment of Highland costumes on such occasions.

It was and is still a point of honour amongst the Highlanders amounting almost to superstition that a man should be buried in the grave of his fathers, no matter how far he might have strayed from home. This commonly entailed long journeys of twenty or thirty and oftentimes more than a hundred miles. As there were no roads the coffin was shouldered all the way, streams and rivers having frequently to he forded. Yet by relieving one another in regular relays the distance was covered in a surprisingly short space of time. Hence it came to be a disgrace in the Highlands to be carried to the churchyard in a hearse. When Glengarry died there was some question of sending a hearse from Inverness, but the clansmen rose and said it would never enter the glen; "no, it was by the hands of the people and shoulder high that Glengarry should be borne to the grave, and they would never see- Mac-mhic-Alastair carried to Kilfinnan in a cart."

The pipes always attended every funeral to inspirit the bearers on their march and to show honour to the dead. But on such occasions the piper invariably followed the bier, just as at marriages he played in front of the procession; the reason of course being that the corpse was carried feet first and the place of the piper was at the head. If the deceased were a person of note the clan standard was carried furled in front of the coffin, while directly behind the bier a space was cleared for the piper by four clansmen with drawn swords.

The inevitably early start entailed by the distances to be traversed accentuated the custom of wakes, so common in all northern countries.

As is well known wakes originated in the custom of watching through the night to say prayers for the dead, and the word is merely a translation of the familar term "vigil," so frequently used in the Catholic Church to-day. Hospitality demanded that refreshments should be offered to the watchers, and in time this degenerated into the carousal which we find as a blot on our English statutes as early as the tenth century. In the Highlands be it said, anything like intemperance at these wakes was practically unknown till comparatively recent times. Drunkenness was never a national vice of the Highlanders as of the English. Sir Walter Scott's well known description of a Highland festival in the "Fair Maid of Perth" may be taken as in the main true to life. "Even the liquor itself," he says, "did not seem to raise the festive party above the tone of decorous gravity." Whisky, now so intimately connected with the idea of the Highlands, seems to have been quite unknown in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and its introduction was very gradual. Brandy imported from France was far more common, while the ordinary alcoholic liquors in use were claret and the light Rhenish wines. Any adulteration of these wines in Scotland was punishable with death as early as 1482.

In the Highlands at the present day it is the custom for women never to follow the funeral. In olden days the womenfolk who had attended the wake used to follow as far as the first burn, where, after partaking of a light refreshment, they returned, and the cortege proceeded on its way. Frequently two men used to walk a few hundred yards in advance and offer refreshments in the name of the deceased to any they met on the way. This parting cup was intended as a last act of hospitality—always a darling virtue with the Highlanders—and carried with it a tacit obligation of offering a prayer for the person who was being carried to the grave.

An eye-witness describes the scene at the funeral of Colonel M'Donell.

At daybreak columns of the clan streamed down from every glen, each body being headed by the pipes. Arrived at the castle they lined up on the lawn in their various companies, and in the large open space before the door was pitched the great yellow banner of the clan surmounted by a spreading bush of heather, the badge of Clan Donald. Shortly after, the doors swung open and in the gloomy hall beyond appeared the coffin with four stalwart Highlanders bearing flaming torches at each corner. Waxen tapers fixed between the antlers upon the whitened stags' skulls that surrounded the hall cast a weird light upon the tartans and armour covering the walls. The "ceann-tigh," or heads of the cadet families, were already assembled, and as they lifted the coffin Glengarry's piper, who had taken his stand beside the colours, blew up the march "Cille-Chriost."

It was a terribly wild day and a thunder storm was raging as the procession moved off. Passing the barbican of the old ruined castle a brilliant flash of lightning lit up the sky followed by a crash of thunder. As the roar of the thunder rolled round the hills, Allan Dall, the old blind bard of the chief, burst forth into a piteous wail: "Ochon, ochon, ochon, Mhac Mhic Raonail cha a-fhaic mi thu cha maic mi thu a-chaoidh! A laimh dhcas a' ghaeil!" Then waving his bonnet towards the sky he broke into a wild lament, calling the heavens and the storm to the grave of his chief. In a few moments the refrain was taken up by all present, and a deep surge from two thousand voices rolled forth the chorus to the skies.

"Is sona 'Rhean-hamns' air an cinch grian,
Is beannaicht' an corp air an tuit an fhras.''

"Happy the bride that the sun shines on,
Blessed the corpse that the rain rains upon."

I3y the time the procession reached the graveyard at Kilfinnan the stream was swollen to a roaring torrent, and there was no bridge across the burn as there is today. But the Highlanders, well used to fording streams on such occasions, plunged fearlessly into the flood. When the coffin reached mid-stream it seemed for a moment as if the hearers with their charge would be swept away, when Angus, the chief's eldest son, flung out the war-cry from the other side: "Lamb dhearg hhuadhach Chlann DhomhuiIl!" Those behind pressed eagerly forward, and the bier, borne by the strong arms of the willing clansmen, safely won the further bank. A few minutes later and the Iast Chief of Glengarry lay side by side with his famous ancestor, "Black John " of KiIliecrankie, beneath the green sod of that little plot of ground, all that now remains to link his family with the glens and the people he loved so well.

As the train leaps into the little tunnel at the end of Loch Oich, the castle passes out of sight, but the high road clambers over the summit of the crag and affords a magnificent view of the old castle and its grounds. An interesting event was connected with this rock which may he worth relating.

Shortly after the battle of Killiecrankie a detachment of "Red Coats" was dispatched from Inverness under command of Captain Ramsay with orders to take Glengarry Castle. On reaching the east end of Loch Oich, in the absence of any bridge, it was found impossible to cross the river, and the only way of approach lay in passing round the west end of the lake. Ramsay was well known in the district as a daring and resourceful officer, and nothing daunted he set about accomplishing his purpose. Glengarry on the other hand was determined to crush him if possible before he could reach the castle. As the little troop won the top of the crag, Glengarry and his armourer were watching their advance from the castle window. Alastair, the "armourer," had long vaunted his prowess in the use of some small pieces preserved in the castle tower. Glengarry, half in jest, turned to the old man and said, "If there is any good in those pop-guns of yours bring down the officer who is leading that band of 'Red Coats,'" pointing, as he spoke, to Ramsay who was marching at the head of the column. ``I will not answer for them all," replied the armourer with grim determination, "but this 'cuckoo' will do a work which will surprise you,." and unhitching one of the weapons he levelled it across the window-sill. Just as he was in the act of taking aim Ramsay passed to the rear of the column, but Glengarry with his fierce Celtic impatience cried, " Never mind him, never mind him, blaze away at the head of the troop." The report rang out, and the next moment a confused rush at the front of the troop told that the armourer's pet weapon had carried death into the ranks of the assailants.- "Well done, well done, Alastair," cried Glengarry patting him on the back, "the 'cuckoo' has spat upon them," but the old armourer without answering a word calmly took down another of the pieces from the wall, carefully primed it, and laid it across the sill. While he was taking

aim Captain Ramsay hurried to the head of the troop to see what had happened. Once more the report rang through the glen, and Ramsay fell a huddled mass at the head of his men. Frantic with excitement, Glengarry turned to his faithful follower and cried, "Bravo, Alastair, the Ramsay is as good as the 'cuckoo'; little did I think that your southern toys could compare with my claymore." The soldiers in confusion and alarm hurriedly picked up the corpses of their officer and comrade and in all haste made the best of their way to Inverness. Just here a glimpse may be caught of Aherchalder Mansion, a shooting lodge on the Glengarry estate, which stands on an eminence to the right of the railway and takes its name from the burn which runs at its foot. From Aberchalder station a short run brings us to the village of Fort-Augustus. The flat peat-moss that is crossed on the way is known as "Montrose's Mile," for it was here that the intrepid warrior pitched his camp just before the battle of Inverlochy. In a few minutes we pull up at Fort-Augustus which will require a chapter to itself.


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