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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XXIV - Oban and Dalmally


Loudoun.—To-day we have a long ride before us, we must go to King's House; we need not stay on the road.

Cameron.-You will fatigue us. I fear. I should like to stay at Dalmally and see some friends.

Sheena.—And I want to go slowly on the road and feel happy as we go along.

Loudoun.—Then we give up the public coach and hire a carriage; we can have a waggonette. It will give us an hour longer before starting, and I can also again look down on Dunstaffnage and beyond to the fort of the sons of Uisnach, and up Loch Linnhe; I know few scenes so fine.

O'Keefe.--There is Dunstaffnage. The little hill here is called Dunbeg. I have not seen it well; some people say it is vitrified. However, I may tell you a story here about a true Celtic hero, Colkitto; he was a prisoner of the Lord of Argyll's, and Campbell of Dunstaffnage had him in charge. It was an easy prison, for although the prisoner was expected to be in view, Campbell had good feelings towards him and let him move about as he pleased, if he only promised to return when wanted. This was not pleasant to his enemies, and they complained to Argyle, who was a marquis at that time. This complaint, made at Inveraray, was answered by sending a messenger to find what Colkitto was doing at the time of arrival. The messenger went rapidly, but a friend was off a little sooner, and as he came, perhaps to the ground near the neck of land, he saw Colkitto amusing himself by helping the shearers. He shouted in Gaelic, "Col in irons! Col in irons!" Colkitto ran as fast as he could and had his irons put on by the time the messenger got into Dunstaffnage.

Cameron.—This refers to Colla Kittoch Gillespick or Macdonell, afterwards killed at Dunstaffnage. In a similar way the Macpherson of Cluny who went with Prince Charles was saved when a band of redcoats came to take him. There is a rapid turn of the road about five miles north of Cluny Castle, and on a mound there, one of the soldiers fell down and roared as in agony on the grass. He was left to get better, but as soon as the soldiers disappeared he was off by the short cut, whilst they went round the bend, and he had barely time to warn Cluny off to a long expatriation. This faithful friend was on the mound again when the soldiers returned.

We pass the ferry, but do not cross, and we see the falls of Connel again; a little beyond it there is now the Board school building. Education is becoming easier and commoner, but I am not sure if deep thought or wisdom is. It may be often said that science is very valuable for teaching you to obtain riches out of land called poor, and rocks that never gave wealth, and that it gives you even a knowledge of the laws of nature, so searching that with the commonest things, fire and water, you can do the greatest wonders. It is bringing a demon out of poor matter which we thought to be dead, and I should not wonder to find that our peat bogs gave out food and our hills yielded gold. This science makes us wonder, but it seems also to increase our greediness and destroy the simplicity of our natures ; it is an improved quality of industry.

But here we pass Lusragain, the sedgy river: the sedges are not down here but up nearer the sources. Above to the right is Luachragain, the river of rushes, rising at Deechoid, and Lundragan, the sluggish river, rising at Barguillein.

We pass Ach-na-Cloich; it is a small place; up the hill to the right they have built a good modern house in which the owner of all this district sometimes lives. They have translated the Gaelic into Stonefaeld, as I told you before.

But on we must go, although I am saddened at the desolation and the ruins of two ancient civilizations seen in the stone circle and in the ruined abbey. I am not sure but in this wood we have a third. We come to young birches grown for timber, cut every twenty-four years and made into charcoal for that unsatisfied furnace at Bunawe. It may have been a wood since the days of Naisi; at any rate it is a wood now, and as it is called by his name when he is forgotten here, it must have been called so long ago. We may let the waggonette stay here, and I shall give you a walk, very beautiful, through a forest with occasional openings, and smooth but with occasional romantic depths, so that you may imagine great variety visible in it, and especially when you look towards Cruachan Ben from this centre, and the beautiful undulations between us and its feet.

Sheena.—Why do you say so often Cruachan Ben instead of Ben Cruachan?

Cameron.—It is the usual name. I think it means that the hill is a Cruach or heap nam Beinn—of mountains—as piled on each other till they arrived at a point.

In this wood of Naisi I become sad and think of the many dead, and I fear for the many changes of the country, of which I am a native. Still I am connected with the past, and I sometimes think that the future may connect itself with me.

O'Keefe.—We must not have melancholy sentiment. They were Irishmen who gave the name to the wood, and it is I who may lament most; but I shall leave unwillingly this park or paradise and its varied undulations, with its memory of Naisi, and I must confess that I go forward with a certain hope and pleasure, as I want to see the fishing stream, which is said to be the finest in the Highlands—the Awe. What a rush, what a noble stream! not an Amazon, but a gigantic trout stream and a living place for salmon; and what a gorge cut by violence out of a hard rock, first by nature and widened by man; it is rather terrifying, and I do not wonder at any stories of wild cats up in the woods, or of wild Highlanders on the hills.

Cameron.—Observe! it was up on the left there, at a steep place where it is said Macdougall and Robert Bruce fought, and of Bruce it is said that in struggling with Macdougall he lost his brooch just on that rock above the stream.

You have heard of the brooch of Lorn.

Loudoun.—I have heard of another place where it was lost, much farther inland. I confess myself mystified about that brooch: it is said to have been lost in a fire at the Macdougall's, and also to have been presented to the Queen, and to be still in the possession of the old Somerled family—which version is true? The brooch is an interesting piece of work as represented in engravings. We rush along and here is Loch Awe. After all I like to get out of a pass, and to see the open sea or land, and I like to look at these islets and to think of that island of the Druids. I suppose that is the meaning of the name. I could stay here long.

Cameron.—I call Innis Draighneach island of Druids, but everybody does not do so. I hope you will like to stay a while at Dalmally. Here take notice of the sides of Cruachan, or rather of the hill next to it, forming a base although called by another name. You look up Glen Strae and you see at the top the hills that form part of the Black Mount, and over which is Inveroran.

Loudoun.—I remember that glen long ago, it has not changed, there is not even a new cot in it, I believe. When you look round from it you see the great corry of Cruachan, where snow remains till after mid-summer, and sometimes until it meets the snow of the new season.

But of all changes, that of the village is greatest, this long village of Stronmialchoin, long and broken, no two houses together, each separate and having a croft, and each on some rising ground, a veritable village of little mounds, looking pleasantly on the great mountain, the old castle of Kilchurn, and the beautiful lake. It is no crowded lane, it never was, but it was pleasantly and fully inhabited, and the ground socially occupied; now indeed it is only a few scattered houses along a road for about a mile and a half. The flat ground below grew the fuel, it used to be well covered with pits, the crofts grew and still grow potatoes and oats, and the hill behind grew sheep and cattle. It is one of the half-cleared places which is now likely to change again and to increase its inhabitants. One wonders that men can dare to thrust so many out merely that they may have more room. Murder is bad, and when many are turned out of house and home, some must die in the trial. Surely if repentance is pleasant, we shall call them back as we are doing in some places. But will they come? I remember when many left, but I daresay it was good on the whole for the young. I allude to a long time ago.

Cameron.—It is a new thing to me to come to a town, a place with a railway station. True, to you Dalmally is only an inn and a few houses; to me it is a connection with the active world out of which I am shut by nature and habit. We have time to eat and have a pleasant walk and another feast on the landscape before sleeping.

Margaet.—We shall look at the mouldy old church, damp looking and little used, and we shall go down past the roaring Orchy and seek out a boat. Mr. Hamerton has some poems on the isles of Loch Awe, and one about Kilchurn Castle; we can listen if any one will tell of them.

Cameron.—Yes, and I hope you will continue rightly as you do to call it "Kilhuirn," and not "tchurn" as some people do. Margaet.—There is a story of a knight who went from this to fight, I do not know where; his wife was thrifty, saved money and built the castle for him, but he was seven years away and she was persuaded to agree to marry a Macquorkadale. The knight, Sir Colin Campbell, came like Ulysses in the guise of a beggar to the marriage feast, but he had not such a struggle for the restoration of his position as the old Greek. He was a Breadalbane Campbell, and the land is still in their hands. Do you think it is true? He was recognized by shewing a ring.

Loudoun.—As to this particular story being true or not I have no opinion, but as to the probability it is of the very highest kind. I do not doubt that in early times, when travelling was difficult, such things were very common. They occur abundantly even now; people are so afraid of believing romance, that the length of the absence of Ulysses has been held wonderful. It is the telling and the adventures that have made it so. I have heard of a woman that has kept her husband's apartment unaltered for forty years expecting his return, and her mind is apparently sound. I know another who has waited more than twenty. I know one who waited as long expecting her son, how much longer I do not know.

Margaet.—It is an inconvenience to have such a distance to walk to the boat, but it is beautiful when we are on the smooth mouth of the river.

O'Keefe.—It occurs to me that I do not remember seeing a sail on Loch Awe; it is a very gusty loch ; people ought to have oars or steam.

Loudoun.-I have seen a sail, but it was not held wise to use it.

The stories of Kilchurn are not numerous; there is more historic romance connected with the Argyll Campbells, whose house was at Ardchonnel some ten miles below; there was Dugald Dalgetty when he took in his formidable provision for three days, and before he went to Inveraray. But not the less this Kilchurn castle has been painted oftener. The situation is fine, and we look from the cultivated to the wild, so that the natives, as well as people from the cities are attracted by this contrast; if not rich, it is not a desolate wilderness, but one that actively engages the eye and the thought in whatever direction we look. A waste is also a contrast with the city, but it leaves little to love and only uniformity to hate.

Margaet.—What do I see? a monument; is there something here to be remembered?

Cameron.—Yes, much; we have had our remarkable men here. You may be tired of the sons of Uisnach, even although they hunted here, but you will wonder at Duncan Maclntyre, or Donnachadh Ban, white Donald, who was born in this glen at Druimliaghart. He died about 1812, an old man, who had spent much of the latter part of his life as one of the city guard or police of Edinburgh. There he made his poems. He had in his strongest days been forester in Coire Cheathaich and on Ben Dorain, and also on Buachail Eite. We shall see these places, and I will give you a specimen of his poetry. Many people love the name of MacIntyre, and I like to give away copies of his poems. We ought here to have Professor Blackie to translate the poem on Glenorchy, but as he has not done it I will tell you in prose a part of what it says:—

GLENORCHY.

"A glen, warm sheltered,
Where very well grows the cornfood green,
Where there are the fields
And where the corn is planted.
(Rich) branchy corn will grow there,
As soft and white as curds,
Strong, nourishing, and juicy,
Heavy, fruitful, full and thick.
We were happy there in winter,
At the wedding we had our sport,
Of the flowing pipe the music would not let us tire;
And the stirring music of the fiddlers
Playing the whirling reels;
The maidens with their own songs,
With their sweet and clear voices.

We found salmon going up every stream,
And grouse in plenty,
And thousands of black cocks.
The little scraping roe,
The little kid and goat
O glen, where the deer forests are,
And the many huntsmen !"

Loudoun.—These simple thoughts make a pleasant poem.

I suppose we must leave it to the guidebooks to tell of all the wondrous places, and to describe the castle; we are searching rather after that which is older than history, but young compared with man, not to speak of nature. We shall get the novelist and the poet to help us with meditations. But we cannot be wholly in the past; we must fill our souls with the impression caused by this collection of scenes, for it is a picture on every side. It needs a song, a lyric poem—to my mind the finest kind of poem.

Margaet.—Then if the finest, why are there more fine lyric poems by far than dramatic or epic poems.

Loudoun.—The reason is clear. The soul bursts out into its highest feelings only for a short time; why is the brightest lightning only a flash; no man has ever through a whole epic spoken in the full glow of his power. It is usually a series of links for the fits of inspiration. The dramatic quality may keep up coherence: it is a long continued instinct, leading clearly to an end. But when the mind is fatigued the dramatic force weakens, and no reasoning has been able to retain it, although the industrious poet goes on to finish his work. The epic is intellectual, and so far less poetic than the lyric.

Margaet.—Did not the "Highland widow" live about here?

Cameron.--She lived at the foot of Cruachan Ben, Scott tells us, where a wild brook ran into the wild Awe, and where there are fine trees. We passed the place after leaving Bun-Awe two or three miles. You remember the account of the old oak where haspat sat; her memory is a monument to this place; even nature is less interesting when man or his fate is quite absent. Every corry is more dreadful when man suffered there, and every hill more beautiful when man triumphed there. For this reason I like the monument to Wallace on the Abbey Craig at Stirling. Some people speak evil of it, but I say it lightens up the most interesting of the plains of Scotland, for which Pict and Scot and Saxon have in their turn fought and now occupy together.

Willie.—You forget the Romans—but they are gone.

Londoun.—Yes, you are right and fresh from history; Agricola's Valium would give of itself a pleasant tour, and so would the battle-fields of Arthur, but we shall keep to our Gaels for this season.

Margaet.—Did Druids really live on that island pointed out to us over there and which you named?

Cameron—I do not know any exact history of the place; but, perhaps, we have had enough of- the Druids said to have been here. When I was young we preferred to run after the salmon; and many a time have I gone up Glen Strae with a spear and a lantern, and sought for the shining princes of the stream. We were often frightened by people coming after us, but we darkened our lantern and hid among the bushes, and luckily there were no blood-hounds to hunt us down.

Margaet.—But was not that wicked? Do you not think you were stealing?

Cameron.—From whom did I steal? These salmon came from the ocean to the land of my fathers, a gift of heaven to us men, and a joy to young hearts and vigorous bodies.

Margaet.—But could you not say that of everything that nature gives, or at least something near it. The grass grows on these hills and no one helps it.

Cameron.—Yes, the grass grows, but the sheep need care. I obey the laws of my country; but in early times, even in my recollection, it was scarcely required to protect salmon on all the rivers ; on some it certainly was. The time comes when so many parties are interested that to give liberty of fishing to all would be to destroy all the salmon, and indeed that time did come to many places and made laws necessary. New habits cannot enter rapidly into a country.

I remember that not far off there lived a Highland woman and three sons; they were a very lawless family, the well-taught offspring of those who resented Saxon laws. It was not easy to get rid of these people. Perhaps they fed on the mutton of the hills, having but a small croft and the right to feed only a few sheep of their own; they, I dare say, ate good salmon, but they refused to work. Strong men the sons were, and the mother would not hesitate to beg, and, when refused, to speak evil with a most alarming tongue. They were bad neighbours, but they would not leave. The cottage was deprived of windows by the farmers; that was not enough the door was taken, but they still remained; the roof was removed, and even that was not sufficient; but the removal of some of the walls at last sent them away. I wonder what became of them. There was here at least an apology for driving away people.

Margaet.—But why were the people bad? Perhaps they were starved.

Cameron.—Their field of labour was too small, and they fought against powers too great for them ; with better chance of success they might have been better men; but powerless wrath is a melancholy sight, and the old woman and her curses haunt me, and therefore I spoke. Curses give a bad effect to language, and people who use them are lowered in their own eyes and in the eyes of others, not because they are always worse, but because it is a habit taken up by the ignorant, weak, and bad, on account of its being an easy mode of apparent revenge, whilst the curses themselves are often the production of cultivated minds. On the other hand, we sometimes find the worst persons refuse to curse in words; they even bless, because they know the effect of appearance, and hypocrisy is a power.

Loudoun.-There is little doubt that the Saxon people altered the character of the Gaelic population and kept it from its natural development for centuries. I at least believe it. It is the character of revolutions to destroy the past, and the new requires long building. Men who fight become rough; they lose homes, leisure, and culture. For this reason the living world moves forward by a succession of ups and downs like our own hills and glens. Sometimes it remains longer at one place than at another.

Even this spot changes. It used to be very difficult to come to Dalmally, and still more so to go to Oban. It was a natural difficulty. The Pass of Awe forms a long road and a hungry one, and there are no resting places. Even the rats found it hard ; more than forty years ago our now common rats had reached Dalmally, but had not got the length of Loch Etive in 1835. There was no inducement to cross Cruachan or its spurs. They are across now, but I do not know the road they took. Mountain chains interrupt armies both of men and rats.

Margaet.—Now we return. Photographs will scarcely remind me of this place. I hope I may obtain a memorial in a good painting; if not, I must come now and then and renew the impressions which the greatness of nature and the violence required to struggle with it leave on the spirit, when these great old rocks look down upon us.


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