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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XXVII. Ceannard nan Cearneach—The Chief of the Caterans


AMONG the raiders some stand out as more famous than others. Patrick Macgregor or Gilderoy (Gille-ruadh, the red lad), whose name has passed into song, and whose life has been invested with the glamour of romance (cf. "Lives and Exploits of English Highwaymen," by Captain Charles Johnson) was well known in our parish. Tulloch was one of his haunts. Mr John Hay, Edinburgh, writing to the Laird of Grant, 30th June, 1639, says—" It seems your Baillies has been better acquaint with Gillroy than you have allowed, els I cannot think he would have been so weel used, and so often, and long lying lodged, and entertained, on your bounds. It is to be suspected, and may be perchance provin that James Grant (Carron) has had no worse usage, so that I think your friends hes wronged you, in that sort, as never honest gentleman of your coate is lyke to suffer more be their doings than you." Gilderoy with five others were hanged on the 29th July, 1638. Thirty years after, Patrick Roy Macgregor, another notorious freebooter, was also put to death. Lord Pitmeddie gives the following graphic sketch of this desperado— "He was of a low stature, but strong made, had a fierce countenance, a brisk hawk-like eye. He bore the torture of the boots with great constancy, and was undaunted at his execution, though mangled by the executioner in cutting off his hand." It was sometimes ordered that the right hand should be cut off before the execution. James Grant of Canon (Seumas-an-tuim), above referred to, had also accomplices in the district. Ample powers were given to the Laird of Grant to deal with him, and 5000 merks were offered for his apprehension, but for a time all endeavours to lay hold of him failed. It was said afterwards, in depositions before the Privy Council, that never were ten men employed against James Grant, but five sent him information privately of what was going on. He was at last apprehended and taken to Edinburgh, but he managed to escape. Nothing daunted, he resumed his old ways, and after many strange adventures he is said to have died quietly in his bed about 1639. Allister Grant of Wester Tulloch was one of Carron’s chief allies. He was the son, or perhaps the brother, of John Grant, alias MacJockie, who with his two sons, Patrick and John, were condemned to death in 1637. The first glimpse we get of him is in company with John Grant of Carron, nephew of James, at the slaughter of Thomas Grant of Dalvey and Lachlan Mackintosh in 1628. Having been denounced as a rebel and put to horn, he fled to Ireland. He seems to have found friends there, as Lord Antrim wrote a letter or certificate on his behalf to the Laird of Grant. In 1631 a commission was issued to Sir John Grant for his apprehension. and power was given, should Allister "flee to strengths," "to pass, follow, and perseu him, raise fyre, and use all kinds of force and warrlyke ingyne that can be had." Sir John was successful, and Allister was apprehended and lodged in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, 1631. The trial was postponed from time to time, but it came off on the 4th August, 1632. Allister was charged, at the instance of John Grant of Ballindalloch and others, with the triple crime of participation in the raid of Inverernan, November, 1628, when he is said to have taken away kine, oxen, horses, ewes, and other plenishings an attack on Ballindalloch, 23rd April, 1630, of purpose to have harried and spuilzed the same, when he slew John Dallas; and thirdly, the slaughter of Thomas Grant of Dalvey and Lachlan Mackintosh, on the lands of Rothiemoon, August, 1628. He was found guilty on all the counts, and sentenced to death; but the execution was postponed by Act of Council, 31st July, 1632, and it is doubtful if it was ever carried out. The raider who made the deepest impression on our people was the man who was called by way of eminence the "Ceannard" or Chief. There is some mystery about him. His proper name is not given, but he is always spoken of in the letters of the Privy Council by his Gaelic nickname, "An Gamhainn Cirinn," or its Scottish equivalent, "The Halkit Stirk." Names there have always been. They were necessary to mark and identify individuals. Surnames, like many other things, good and bad, are said to have come in with the Normans. In the Highlands, where clan names were so common, it was often found convenient to give individuals, and especially notable men, some designation, or nickname, by which they might be distinguished from others. The nickname was generally given for some peculiarity of feature. Among the Macgregors, Ian dubh biorach got his name from the sharpness of his nose, which had been sliced by Achernack’s arrow. Patrick Macgregor was called Parraig donn an t-shugraidh. It is said he had, like Diarmid, a mole or beauty spot (ball-seirce) on his cheek, which caused any maiden who looked upon it to fall in love with him. Probably the man had a certain charm of manner. His power proceeded not from the magic of his skin-spot, but from the magnetism of his personality. The "Gamhainn" may have belonged to a family which bore this sobriquet, as there were such in Lochaber, or he may have received the title from his own well-known strength and stubbornness (cf. the custom as to names among the North American Indians, and the mention in the Old Testament of such designations as Oreb, The Raven, and Zeeb, The Wolf—Judges vii. 25). The term cirinn means white-face (cir-fhionn), and was given from some mark on the forehead. Though the man’s proper name is not mentioned, there is little doubt but he was a Macdonald or Macdonell from Lochaber. In 1660, August 29th, the Commissioners of Estates gave special orders to the Laird of Grant for "the preservation of the peace of his country," and the letter contains the following very significant postscript:--"Sir, be pleased to take spetiall notice of Gavine Cirinn alias Halket Stirk, and use all possible means to apprehend his person and send him to the Committee." The Laird was successful in apprehending the Gamhainn, and he sent his Chamberlain, James Grant of Achernack, to Edinburgh with a letter intimating this to the Chancellor, and with instructions to represent the danger of reprisals from Macranald, and all the tacksmen of the name of Macdonald in Lochaber. He was also to crave that "surety should be taken of Macranald and all the branches of his house, with the rest of the people of Lochaber, Glengarry, Badenoch, Rannoch, Glencoe, Glenlyon, Glengaule in Strathearn, and Strathnairn, that the Laird (of Grant) and all his kin, and his tenants should be skaithless, and in the meantime to direct letters to Glengarry and the Heritor of Glencoe because the Halkit Stirk had many friends in these two places." The reply is dated 9th October, 1660:—"The Committee of Estates haveing heard your letter read in their presence, are very sensible of your good service in apprehending the Halkit Stirk, and doe render to you hearty thanks for your care therein, assuring you that they will be very desyrous to protect and maintain you and your followers for doing so good a work to His Majesty and the peace of the kingdome, and will be very ready to resent and repare any wrong or injury that shall be done to you or your followers upon this accompt, giving you notice that they have directed ane warrant to the Magistrates of Aberdeen to receive the Halkit Stirk from you that he may be conveyed along till he come to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh." Having received this warrant, the Laird despatched the Gamhainn with a strong guard to Aberdeen, and from there he was conveyed by stages to Edinburgh. But his "many friends" did not forget him, and even the Laird of Grant, perhaps at the solicitation of his tenants, interested himself in his behalf, for he sent his Commissioner again to Edinburgh to discuss various matters with the Lord Advocate, and "to speak for the Halkit Stirk to see if he will be releavit upon good securitie." The intercession for the Gamhainn seems to have been successful. So far as can be discovered from the Records, he was not brought to trial, but "releavit upon good securitie." There is an entry in the Books of Regality of Grant, 1698-1703, which corroborates this, showing that Margaret Bayn, Inchtomach, was charged with "haunting with the Halkit Steir" and others, and punished by scourging (p. 146). The tradition in the country is that the Gamhainn resumed his old trade, and that he was severely wounded in a fight at Ri-daros, near the Green Loch, and had to be left behind in Glenmore in care of the Stewarts. It is said that Mrs Stewart was one day bringing him food, accompanied by her son. The Gamhainn, who no doubt had an eye for manliness, said, "That’s a pretty lad, it’s time he was sent to school." Mrs Stewart answered that he had been to school at Ruthven, and had got on well. "O," said the Gamhainn, "it was not the school of the white paper I was thinking of, but the school of the moon" (Cha’n e sgoile a phaipair gheall bha mi ciallachadh, ach sgoile-na-geallaich). We find a parallel to this in Rob Roy’s offer to his kinsman, Professor Gregory, Aberdeen:—"I have been thinking what I could do to show my sense of your hospitality. Now, here you have a fine spirited boy of a son, whom you are ruining by cramming him with your useless book-learning; and I am determined, by way of manifesting my great good-will to you and yours, to take him with me, and make a man of him" (Scott’s Introduction to "Rob Roy"). Before his death, the old raider made a sort of confession of his sins. His last words were that "he had never taken anything from the poor, that he had been kind to the widow and the fatherless, amid that he had always gone far away for spoil." Here again we find something of the spirit of Rob Roy, of whom Sir Walter says:—"He was the friend of the poor, and, to the utmost of his ability, the support of the widow and the orphan. Kept his word when pledged, and died lamented in his own wild country, where there were hearts grateful for his beneficence, though their minds were not sufficiently instructed to appreciate his errors."


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