The Scottish Gael
Of animals, and the manner of hunting
HUNTING is one of the principal occupations of
mankind in a state or
barbarism. With the exception of war, it is almost their sole pursuit, and
the necessity of following it as a chief means of subsistence, overcome?
the indolence which is so characteristic of uncivilized nations.
The Celtae were celebrated hunters, and they pursued the game not
only for the purpose of supplying themselves with food, but as an agreea-
ble diversion, suited to their active and roaming dispositions. There
was also an advantage in hunting, which, perhaps, had some influence
in stimulating them to the pursuit: it lessened the number of ferocious
animals with which their dense woods were filled, and to which their
flocks were so much exposed, and this was urged as a strong reason by
the Highlanders why they should be allowed to retain their arms. The
produce of the chase continued to afford the Celts a plentiful supply of
venison when it had long ceased to be their chief dependence. The
ancient Caledonians had numerous herds of domestic animals, and raised
a scanty supply of corn. Their successors extended agriculture, but they
preferred the hunting and shepherd state in which they remained until the
sixteenth century, and continued both the practice and love of fowling
and the chase until the disarming act altered their situation. Allan Mac
Dougal, a modern bard, regrets this change, in lines imitated in English
Sy a literary friend:
" Cha n'eil abhachd feadh na beann,
Tha giomanich teann fo smachd ;
Tha fear na croichde air chall,
Chaigh gach eilid a's rnang as.
Cha ! ir f haighar ruagh-bhochd nan alt
Le cu seang gachuir le strath ;
An eiric gach cuis a bh' ann
Feidirich na'n grail sgach glaichd."
" The cheerless hunter hangs his pensive head,
No more the hills re-echo to his voice ;
To meet the stately stag with mantle red,
No more the fawn and bounding doe rejoice
No more is heard the deep-rnouthed hollow voice
Of the lank greyhound that pursues the roe ;
But, in exchange for all our former joys,
Foul frowsy shepherds, whistling as they go,
Are seen in every glen, O bitter sight of wo !"
" Sealg is sugradh nan glean,"* a favorite air of the mountaineers,
keeps alive the recollection of other times.
The Highlander scorned the shepherd life as an occupation, but none
could be more attentive to the condition and pasturage of his flocks and
herds. The care of looking after the cattle was assigned to the youth
between boyhood and manhood: tending the goats and sheep was the
peculiar duty of the girls. The Gael thought it beneath them to spend
their time in the servile occupation of a shepherd, but were by no means
unwilling to assist their fair partners, recommending themselves to the
good opinion of their mistress by an attention to her fleecy care.
The existence in Europe, at some remote period, of many animals that
are no longer found in these regions, and of certain creatures whose
species are now extinct, is well known. It is not intended to investigate
the subject of the curious variety of fossil remains that have so often
been discovered, the deposits, perhaps, of an antediluvian world; but
it is necessary to notice some of the animals that must have formerly in-
habited these climates. Britain and its surrounding islands are found to
have once contained an extensive and strange variety of the brute crea-
tion. The bones of a large sort of bear, of the hyasna, of the elephant,
&c., have been discovered. The Welsh Triads notice the first as in-
habiting the island before it became the permanent residence of human
beings. Guillim says the bear was carried from Britain to Rome, but he
does not give his authority for the assertion. It was very common in
Spain, where the flesh was esteemed good food. The Beaver, an animal
of which there will be occasion to speak in a succeeding page, long
haunted the British rivers and lakes, and was only becoming rare in the
time of Giraldus Cambrensis. In the Welsh histories, this animal is
called efaine, in Gaelic it is named beathadach.
One of the most singular animals that formerly lived in these islands,
* The ancient hunting and hilarity of the glen.
272 MOOSE DEER. ALCE.- WOLVES.
is the MOOSE DEER, but the period of its existence has not been satisfac-
torily ascertained. Even the Irish legends, whose antiquity seems able
to reach the probable era, do not appear to recognise these animals as
inhabitants of Erin, where their remains are so frequently discovered.
In a learned communication by Dr. Hibbert, which I had the pleasure
of hearing read at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, it
was maintained that they have not been so long extinct as is generally
believed. On this occasion it was remarked, on what authority I cannot
tell, that the Norwegians were anciently accustomed to pass from Orkney
to the mainland of Scotland, to hunt the Rein-deer! If this is true, the
climate must be greatly altered. It is much too warm now for this hardy
animal, which was formerly to be found plentifully in the Hyrcinian
forest, in modern Germany, which they have long abandoned for colder
Whether the moose deer were cut off by a general murrain, or were
extirpated by the efforts of mankind, is matter of conjecture. The re-
mains of some have been found, that bore the plain appearance of having
received a deep wound, the apparent cause of death. The horns of this
animal, that are frequently dug up in Ireland, in Scotland, and in the
Isle of Man, are discovered sometimes alone, and at other times, seve-
ral together, and they are not seldom attached to the scull. These enor-
mous horns have measured two yards in length and nearly fifteen feet
from tip to tip. The only species of animal resembling the moose deer,
which is known now to exist, is that in America, which bears the same
name. The ALCE of the continent, from the descriptions of the ancients,
was a very singular animal. It was so extremely shy that it was very
seldom taken or killed, and the greatest cunning was requisite to surprise
it, for it could not be regularly hunted like other game. According to
Pausanias, it was an animal between a camel and a stag:* it appears to
have been the elk, the bones of which are often found in different parts
of Britain. The Elk is mentioned in several poems of the ancient
Bards. To this authority, however, the skeptical may object, as well as
to a tradition but little known, that Lon dubh, a term now given to the
blackbird, was originally the name of the moose deer, some of which
Ossian appears to have seen.
WOLVES were anciently very numerous on the continent and in the
British islands. The exaction of their heads as a tribute from the Brit-
ons, and the imposition of a certain number as a compensation for crimes,
led to the extirpation of this fierce inhabitant of the forest. The wolf
has been extinct in Scotland since 1697, when the last one was destroy-
ed by the celebrated Sir Ewen Cameron, of Lochiel. The statutes by
which the Barons were enjoined " to hunt and chace the wolfe and
wolfe's whalps, four times a year, and as often as they see them;"f and
" the Scherrif and Baillie to hunt them thrice in the year," with power
to raise the country to their assistance, J prove how numerous they must
* Lib. ix. 21. t Seventh Parliament, James I. f First Parliament, Jarnes VI.
FOXES. WILD CATS. BOARS. 273
have formerly been in the north, and evince the anxiety of the govern-
ment to root out this formidable enemy to the Scotish farmer. These
enactments, and a reward for the heads, hastened their extermination,
since which the word fiadhchoin, literally wild dogs, has become obso-
lete. Malcolm Laing thought he had found a strong argument against
the authenticity of Ossian's poems, in their silence respecting wolves;
but the publication of the originals has overthrown this objection, raised
from an ignorance of the Gaelic language. In the first book of Fingal
we find "the growling of wolves from their caverns;"* and in the
poems of clan Uisnich f and Cuthon they are also alluded to. Faol,
which occurs in ancient poems and various MSS., has long since fallen
into disuse, but is preserved in the compound faoilteach, or faoltmhi, the
wolf-month, which includes the last fortnight of winter and the first of
spring. J Mada, a dog, and alluidh, ferocious, form the present name
of a wolf among the Highlanders. Wolves are said to have remained in
Ireland until the beginning of last century, the bog of Kilcrea being one
of their latest and least accessible retreats. Derrick, in 1581, speaks of
no other wild animal. Mr. Adams, an English gentleman, having been
driven from his house with his family during the troubles in the seven-
teenth century, they were attacked when in the woods, by wolves, and
the whole party, to the number of fourteen, were destroyed.
The Lupus cervarius, a hart or hind wolf, called by the Gauls Raphi-
um, was found in their extensive forests, and several were exhibited at
Rome by Pompey, as natural curiosities.)} They were not the only re-
markable animals of the kind: there were a sort of very large and fierce
creatures, called wolf dogs, being a cross from the two animals. Great
herds of these roamed in the woods, and, what was most singular, a par-
ticular dog acted as a leader, all the others following and submitting to
his direction, the whole pack observing an appearance of order.lf They
appear to have resembled the Irish wolf dog.
FOXES, called Madadh ruadh, red dogs, or Sionach, and Cat fiadhaich,
WILD CATS, are still plentiful in Scotland. They are, indeed, much less
numerous than heretofore, from the exertions of district foxhunters, but
these gentlemen are not likely to obviate the necessity of their own di-
versions by exterminating the breed. The wild cat is extremely fero-
cious, and does much injury to the poultry. It would appear from royal
licenses, that this animal was formerly common in England.
BOARS were numerous in the primaeval woods of Britain, where they
ranged in natural wildness, and hunting them was a favorite amusement.
The native domesticated breed has long been intermixed with others.
In Sutherland, I believe, are still some remains of the indigenal stock,
which was of small size. In Man they remained wild, or semi-domesti-
cated, until lately, roaming without restraint in the woods and on the
* Gadhair is fiadhchoin nam earn. t S'air chuilen na fiadhchoin, stanza 7,
t Rep. on the Poems of Ossian. Appendix, p. 199.
Ireland's Tragical Tyrannie, 4to. 1642. || Pliny. IT Pliny, vii. c. 40.
274 DEER. CALEDONIAN OX
mountains They were called purrs, and had all the flavor of the wild
boar. * In the wastes of Germany these animals seem still to live in a
state of nature. The ancient Gauls appear to have attempted their do-
mestication, but Atnenasus says they were allowed to remain during the
nighl in the fields, and surpassed all others in size, strength, and swift-
ness, being little less dangerous than wolves.
DEER, once so numerous in Scotland, a"re much reduced in number,
and a chief cause assigned for their disappearance is the decay of the
woods. In many parts, the mountains, that were formerly covered with
red deer and roe, are no longer a retreat for them. The improvements
in sheepfarming have driven them to the inaccessible parts of the High-
lands. Their ancient haunts are now traversed by the shepherd and his
dog, before whom they have fled to the distant heights, and it is in many
parts now rare to meet with even a solitary straggler. This, however
unpleasant to the sportsman, is, perhaps, less to be regretted by the far-
mer, who might have had his cornyard plundered by these animals, with-
out being permitted to destroy them.
In the rugged mountains of Bra3 Mar numerous herds of red deer
still find protection in the remains of the forest of Caledonia, where two
or three hundred are sometimes seen together. It is supposed that up-
wards of three thousand are in the range of shooting-ground attached to
Mar Lodge, a seat of the Earl of Fife, which is nearly a square of twen-
ty miles. In the Rea forest, Sutherland, there are perhaps two thousand
-ed deer, See. and about two hundred fallow deer find comfortable shelter
in two sequestered islands in Lochlomond.
In the mountain of Arkel, in the forest of Dirimore, in Sutherland,
there was a peculiar sort of deer, according to Sir Robert Gordon.
They had all forked tails, three inches long, whereby they were easily
known from any others. Bede informs us, that Ireland was celebrated
for stag-hunting, but deer had become rare in that country about the
beginning of the 16th century, and the roebuck is said to have been un-
known. | There is a Gaelic saying, S'fiach aon fhiadh 's Mhona' liath,
a dha dheug an Gaig, i. e. one deer in the gray mountain is worth a dozen
in Gaig, or in the Grampians in general; an exaggeration, certainly, but
meant to denote the superior size of the deer found in the gray ridge.
The CALEDONIAN Ox is believed to have been peculiar to the north.
The- remains of this animal are frequently discovered deep underground,
and it is remarkable that, in most cases, they are found without the horns.
The skull of one is preserved in the British Museum, from which the
animal appears nearly allied to the European domestic ox, but of a larg-
er size. At Craven, in Yorkshire, ChiUmgham park, in Durham, and
Drumlanrig, in Scotland, breeds of these curious animals are yet pre-
served. Numbers of cattle must long have continued to live in a state
* Agric. Report. They were subjected to a particular tythe.
t Riche's Description of Ireland.
I Cut off for drinking cups, or musical horns ? 1T Caesar
SHEEP. GOATS. HARE.-RABBITS. -POLECATS. WEASLES. 275
of nature among the inaccessible woods and mountains. Gildas relates
that in his time wild bulls were caught by means of strong nets.
The peculiar sort of wild cattle which the Triads relate were among
the first living creatures in this island, are denominated Yohan-banog,
oxen with high protuberances. They appear to have been buffaloes, the
name of which in Gaelic is bo-alluidh, or ferocious ox. Caesar says that,
in Germany, was a bull, from the forehead of which grew a straight horn!
SHEEP, Caoraich, like other animals, must have been originally wild,
out the period when they were in this state in Scotland, is too remote to
be ascertained. Donald Munro says, that in the Hebrides he saw sheep
''feeding masterlesse, pertayning peculiarly to no man;" and in Orkney
they are described by Brand as wild, but these assertions are inconsid-
erate, for although there may have been stray flocks, the sheep were
formerly, from the small size of farms, more tame than they are now.
GOATS, Gabhair, have remained in a state of wildness almost until our
The HARE was a native of Britain, and one of those animals used in
divination. The religion of the Britons consequently forbade its use
as food,* and it was only occasionally killed for the purpose of drawing
auguries.t In the mountains of Sutherland, and other elevated situa-
tions, is found an Alpine hare, rather less than the common sort, a beau-
tiful creature, white as snow in winter, and in summer marked with a
few dark gray hairs on the back.
RABBITS, Coinean, appear to have been introduced to Britain, J prob-
ably from Celtiberia, where they were particularly numerous. In most
of the Western Isles they are yet. unknown. Those of the smallest size
are found in Isla; the largest are those of Man.||
POLECATS, WEASELS, and other animals of the same sort common to
South Britain, are to be found in Scotland. Gordon gives a list of a
variety of these creatures that were numerous in Sutherland.
A species of amphibious animal, apparently of the rat kind, called
Beothach an' f heoir, is found in the eddies of the higher regions, al-
ways inhabiting the vicinity of the green patches around springs. When
a horse feeds upon the grass that has been recently cropped by this an-
imal, it swells, arid in a short time dies, and the flesh is found blue as
it had been bruised or beaten. I believe this creature has not been
hitherto described by naturalists.
The tradition, of St. Patrick having by his blessing saved Ireland from
the annoyance of noxious reptiles, is well known, but has in later times
been found to be not strictly according to fact. Some parts of Scotland,
it appears, long remained free from rats. Badenoch is said to have been
thus fortunate, and in Sutherland, Sir Robert Gordon says, there is not
a rat will live, and if any are brought into it " they die presently, as
soon as they smell the air of the country, and, which is strange, there
* Cjesar. t Dio. t Varro, iii. 12. ap. Whitaker
Pliny. || Pennant.
276 HENS.-GEESE. CAPERCAILZIE. EAGLE.
are many in Caithness. " It is certain, that before 1798 they were not
known in that part of the country, but a ship being then stranded at
Ceantradwell, in the parish of Clyne, a few rats got ashore and took
refuge in a mill, where they increased, and soon ovefcpread the country.
Birt says he never heard of rats in the hills but at Coul na kyle, in
Strathspey, to which they had been brought in 1723 from London, and
were then thought a presage of good luck.
The Calf, a rock near the Isle of Man, was formerly celebrated for
affording a supply of young puffins, esteemed a great delicacy; but a
vessel unfortunately having been wrecked on it, the rats that got ashore
soon exterminated these birds. In Man itself there are no foxes, moles,
snakes, or toads; and magpies, frogs, partridges, and grouse were im-
ported not perhaps more than one hundred years ago. A country may
be happy in not possessing those noxious and unsightly creatures that
annoy the inhabitants of other lands; but no calamity has happened to
any place in these islands like what befell an unfortunate city of Gaul,
where the inhabitants were actually forced to abandon it by a prodigious
number of frogs. Nor have the number of rats been ever so formidable
as they were to the poor German baron, whose strong isolated tower
could not preserve him from ultimately perishing by these disgusting
The Britons had plenty of hens and geese.* Religion did not permit
them to be used as food, but the people kept numbers of them about their
dwellings. If their eggs were also prohibited, the Briton must have
been influenced solely by superstition in keeping them around him. It
does not appear from Pliny, who praises the German geese, that these
people refused to eat them.| Those in the Highlands are half wild,
occasionally resorting to the sea and lochs.
The CAPERCAILZIE, or cock of the wood, once found in tolerable
plenty in the forests of Scotland, is now only seen on the most remote
and inaccessible mountains, and so rarely is it met with, that it is suppos-
ed by some to have been extinct nearly a century. It is larger than the
black cock, which is now also very rare. The Ptarmigan, Grouse, and
other game, are well known to be plentiful on the moors and mountains
The EAGLE, lolar, that majestic tenant of the craggy steeps, has been
time immemorial the emblem of strength and independence. Its pinions
were the badges of Celtic chieftainship, and were esfeemed the most
honorable reward by the adventurous sportsman. This noble bird is,
however, extremely destructive to poultry, and even the young lambs
are not secure from its audacious attacks. Two eagles had built their
nest in the neighborhood of a gentleman's house in Strathspey, and the
quantities of game which they collected were truly astonishing. On the
* Geadh, Gaelic, a goose ; Gwyz, Welch.
1 He mentions the circumstance of a flock walking all the way from the
of the Morini, (Terouenne,) to Rome, x. 22.
DRUID-DUBH. CNAG DOGS. 211
arrival of any visiters, however unexpected, the gentleman had only to
despatch some one to the eagles' eyrie, when an ample supply of hares,
rabbits, muir fowl, partridges, ptarmigans, snipes, &c. were speedily
The Scots, like the Germans, are fond of singing birds, and do not
often kill them. The Nightingale, which has now forsaken the northern
part of the island, is supposed to have once frequented the woods of
Scotland. Its name in Gaelic is beautifully expressive of the sweet-
ness of its song, and the character of the bird. In Rqs an ceol, the
rose music, the melody is put for the melodist, the former being heard
when the latter is unseen.
The DRUID-DUBH, erroneously called Lon-dubh, or mountain black-
bird, I believe is peculiar to the Alpine regions of the Scottish high-
lands. It resembles in every thing, except its color, the blue bird of
the Alps, mentioned by Bellonius and others. The female is larger than
the common blackbird, and the feathers on the back are varied by a
beautiful dark green gloss. The cock is distinguished by a snow white
collar, or ring about three quarters of an inch broad round its neck, and
above all birds for the loudness and clearness of its notes.
The CNAG, or Lair fligh, a bird like a parrot, which digs its nest with
its beak in the trunks of trees, is thought peculiar to the county of
The numerous sea birds found on the coasts of Scotland and the isles,
that form so large a part of the subsistence of the inhabitants of some
places, are caught with peculiar dexterity, and by the most adventurous
methods, practised only by the hardy and experienced natives.
The Celtae had a prejudice against fish, which probably arose from
the veneration they paid to the waters. The Gael retained this antipa-
thy, and notwithstanding the numerous lochs, rivers, and arms of the sea
which intersect their country, the Highlanders have never paid much
attention to angling or other methods of catching the finny tribe. Many
of their lakes have never been stocked.
The Gauls employed themselves very sedulously in hunting, and
practised various methods to make sure of the game. The want of
food is a strong incentive to the pursuit, which is not always one of
pleasure, and however much attached a rude and spirited people may be
to the activity and enterprise of the chase, we may believe with Tacitus,
that during peace they usually resigned themselves to sleep and repasts.
Dogs were employed by the Gauls both in hunting and in'war. The
Celtic dogs were excellent in the chase, and those of the Britons were
superior to all others. They were so much esteemed, that great num-
bers were exported not only to Gaul but to Italy, being highly valued by
the Romans.* They excelled in swiftness, a quality for which all Celtic
dogs were celebrated."!" Those of the Belgce, Segusi, and Sicambri.
were next in value to the British.!
* Strabo, iv. p. 200. t Arrian, f. 121. t Montfaucon.
Vossius says, that the Latin catulus, a little dog, is a Gallic word. Lew
is, in his History of Britain, derives the Roman cynegii, dog keepers,
from the British ci, a dog. (Pvid uses gallicus canis for a greyhound,
and those now called beagles were denominated agassceos and vertra^os.
The Scots dogs were celebrated all over Europe.* Their use in
hunting rendered them inestimable to the tribes of Caledonia, and pro-
duced a strong attachment between the hunter arid his faithful companion,
who was believed to accompany his master to the " airy hall" of his rest.
A beautiful lamentation of Umad, an aged warrior, over gorban, his
hound, is preserved in the poem of " Manos," and it shows, in a strong
light, the love of the Highlanders for hunting, and the regard which they
have for their dogs, that this ancient composition is at the present day
the most universally known among them.f
The docility and attachment of the dog may have arisen from sharing
its master's confidence, and receiving his continued attentions. Buffon
ascribes these qualities in the Hottentot oxen to their enjoying the same
bed and board as their owner, and experiencing his daily care. The
Caledonians maintained great numbers of dogs, and the names of some
of the most famous are still preserved. Bran and Sgeolan were favorites
of Fingal, and in Glenlyon, in Perthshire, is pointed out his conabhacan,
or stake, to which his hounds were fastened. In the Isle of Sky is a
stone which was used by Cathullin for the same purpose. The Irish
greyhounds that were used for hunting" the wolf, are described as having
been bigger of limb and bone than a colt.J
The shepherd's dog I believe is peculiar to Scotland. The instinct of
this animal is wonderful, and its services incalculable. It will bring the
most numerous flock of sheep from the distant mountains, without other
assistance, and without missing a single individual!
It is probable the Celts used horses in the chase, after they had been
domesticated, but they may have often amused themselves in hunting the
animals themselves; for in the northern countries of Europe they were
formerly wild, and roamed about in large troops. Even in after ages
these animals must have continued to enjoy a freedom approximating
to wildness. This is still nearly the case in some parts of Scotland,
and in the Isles of Orkney and Shetland. All, a Gaelic term for a
horse, is long gone into disuse, and is only preserved in cab-all, a tamed
horse or mare.
Besides the assistance of horses and dogs, the Gauls endeavored to
secure their prey by assisting the effect of their weapons with poison.
With one sort, which Pliny calls venenum cervarium, they rubbed their
arrows in stag hunting; limeum, or hartsbane, was used in the same
way.^ They also dipped the points of their weapons in the juice of hel-
lebore, but in thus studying to render their shot effectual, they took cate
* Symachus, ep. ii. 77. Ant. Pagi. t Smith's Gallic Ant. p. 255.
t Campion. Lib. xxvii. 11.
that the game should not be injured. They immediately cut the flesh
from around the wound, and affirmed not only that the venison waa
uninjured, but that it was much improved, being rendered very tender.*
An antique sculpture, representing a boar hunt, was discovered in the
province of Narbonrie.j" The animal appears of a very large size, and
is attacked by two hunters on foot, each armed with a dart, or venabu-
lurn, about 3^ feet long, which is held in the right hand, while in the
left they carry a piece of cloth, which one of them is about to thrust down
the throat of the animal, as it rushes open mouthed on its assailants.
This forms the subject of the vignette to this Chapter, only it will be
observed, that one of the figures, who is in the same attitude, is omitted.
In the portfeuille of M. Lenoir, is a representation of a similar attack,
by a single hunter, who, instead of the cloth, wraps his hand in his
sag u til.
The hunting of the boar was particularly famous among the ancient
Gael. This perhaps arose from the peculiar address that was requisite
in attacking so furious an animal; for we learn from Ossian, and other
bards, that a warrior esteemed himself highly upon his address in spear-
ing the boar, and one of their heads is represented to have been sym-
bolical of particular prowess in hunting, being a trophy obtained at
HUNTING, among the ancient Scots, was an employment of the great-
est importance. In the reign of Paganism it was connected with their
mythology, for they believed that in the clouds they should enjoy, as a
reward for their bravery, the pleasures of the chase in higher perfection
than the earth could afford. According to Arrian, the Celts sacrificed
to Diana the huntress. Whether the Gael invoked Grianus or Baal to
prosper their hunting expeditions, we are not certain, but to be accom-
plished in this exercise was the sure, "the sole warrant for future renown
and ability to govern. A young chief was obliged to evince his talent
for conducting military operations by the leading of a great hunting
incursion, a practice that long survived the last of the Fions.J The
magnitude of the Highland expeditions against the wild tenants of the
dense forests arid rugged mountains was astonishing. Fingal, in an
ancient poem, is said to have had 1000 hunters: succeeding chiefs have
been accompanied by even a more numerous retinue. The heads of
various and remote clans were accustomed to meet at certain times and
in appointed places, attended by numbers of their followers, and com-
menced a rigorou.^ campaign against all the inhabitants of the forest,
which never failed in producing a most abundant slaughter: but fond as
the Highlanders were of the chase, and useful as it was to their subsis-
tence, they did not pursue it to the neglect of more important avocations.
" Though hunting," says their proverb, " be a good help, yet the chase
is but a poor livelihood." The great hunting matches were the means
* Pliny, xxv. t Montfaucon. I Marlin.
of preserving a social intercourse between tribes who lived far distant
from each other. It was a means also of bringing the chiefs and princi-
pal men of the country together, and enabled them to adjust differences,
settle future proceedings, &c. They were at these meetings also able to
arrange many things among themselves, which were of much more con-
sequence than the ostensible object for which they were collected. A
general hunting match has been the method by which the greatest en-
terprises have been suggested and matured, without a suspicion being
excited beyond the mountains.
Huntings were often given in compliment to the visits of friends, and
the vassals were summoned in suitable numbers. The chief could, of
course, muster his clan by hereditary right, and they were besides spe-
cially bound td hunt with their superior, the Highland servitudes being
hunting, hosting, watching, and warding. The gallantry of the ancient
Caledonians led them to honor a stranger with the danger of the chase;
in other words, he was allowed to expose himself to the greatest hazard,
and hence have the opportunity of gaining the most renown.
By the Welsh laws of Griffith ap Conan, hunting was divided into
three parts; helfa holet, hunting for the cry; helfa cyfarthfa, hunting for
the bay, and helfa cyffredyn, common hunting, or that by which a person
coming up to another who had killed an animal, could challenge the half*
The laws of the chase, according to Scotish Chronicles, were settled
by Dornadilla, one of the kings or chiefs of the fabulous period of na-
tional history. Without any such intimation we are sufficiently convinc-
ed of the importance in which it was held by the Celts. Many supersti-
tions were connected with hunting, from the belief that it formed part of
the amusements of the blessed after death, and some curious fragments
of bardic composition exist on the subject. In Scot's discovery of witch-
craft, it is recommended to prevent hunters or their dogs from being
ensnared by this foul art, that an oaken branch should be cleaved, over
which they should all pass. It was a most ancient belief that the forest
was infested with supernatural beings, who amused themselves at the
expense of mankind.
A certain late writer has said that the Highlanders are naturally good
marksmen. Their dexterity is produced solely by attention and prac-
tice; which has long rendered them famous for taking sure and steady
aim. Nearly 200 years ago they are thus noticed: " In the first place
stood Highlanders, commonly called Redshankes, with their plaides cast
over their shoulders, having every one his bowe and arrows, with a
broad slycing sworde by his syde: these are so good markesmen, that
they will kill a deere in his speede, it being the chiefest part of their
ing, selling the skins by great quantities, and feeding on the flesh. "f
A^purious instance of the nicety of shooting occurred about seventy
years ago. A poacher had long pursued his mode of life undetected,
although the destruction of game was very great, and his habits well
* Lewis. t His Majestie's passing through the Scots' armie, 1641.
known; but this veteran protracted his fate by using the weapon of his
ancestors, the noiseless bow and arrow, and he was perhaps the last who
used it for the purpose. After his capture he vaunted of his skill in
archery, and the Duke of Athol, pointing to a stag, desired him to shoot
it through the off eye; on which the Highlander giving a particular whis-
tle, the animal looked round, and immediately received an arrow in the
Some interesting descriptions of Celtic huntings have been preserved.
In the poem of" Fingal," three thousand hounds, that excelled in fleet-
ness as in fierceness, were let loose, and each is represented as killing
two deer; rather an exaggerated number, one should think. In the
poem of "Dernrid" is a paragraph, describing the manner of hunting,
which we regret has not been translated. * Taylor, the water poet, cel-
ebrates this noble sport of the Highlanders in energetic verse.
" Through heather, moss, 'mong frogs and bogs and fogs,
'Mongst craggy cliffs, and thunder-battered hills,
Hares, hinds, bucks, roes, are chased by men and dogs,
Where two hours' hunting fourscore fat deer kills.
Lowland, your sports are low as is your seat :
The Highland games and minds are high and great."
The Celtae, we are informed by Pausanias, surrounded plains and
mountains with their toils. In like manner, the Highlanders encom-
passed a hill or large tract of country, and, advancing on all sides with
" hideous yells," they enclosed the animals in a small space, and cut
them down with their broadswords so dexterously, as not to injure the
hide. In other cases they arranged themselves, part on the plain, and
the others along the declivity of the mountains, and with loud cries as
they advanced drove the herds of deer and other animals towards the
chief and his party, who were ready in a desirable spot to enjoy the
sport. This resembles the Spanish batidas, where some hundred people
collect and drive the game through a defile, where the king, with his
attendants, in an arbor or hut, constructed of boughs, slaughter the
animals as they pass.
King James V., having, in 1528, " made proclamation to all lords,
barons, gentlemen, landvvard-men, and freeholders, to compear at Edin-
burgh, with a month's victual, to pass with the king to danton the thieves
of Teviotdale, Stc. ; and also warned all gentlemen that had good dogs
to bring them, that he might hunt in the said country; the Earl of Argyle,
the Earl of Huntley, the Earl of Atholl, and all the rest of the High-
lands, did, and brought their hounds with them, to hunt with the king.'
His Majesty, therefore, " past out of Edinburgh to the hunting witn
12,000 men, and hounded and hawked all the country and bounds, "and
killed, as Lindsay heard, eighteen score harts. Next summer he went to
hunt in Athol, accompanied by Queen Margaret and the Pope's ambas-
sador, where he remained three days most nobly entertained by the Earl,
* Smith's Gallic Antiquities, p. 189.
282 ROYAL HUNTING.
and killed " thirty score of hart and hynd, with other small beasts, as
roe, and roebuck, wolf and fox, and wild cats."*
This last expedition was accompanied with such extraordinary circum-
stances, that Lindsay's account of it must be interesting. " The Earl
of Athole. hearing of the king's coming, made great provision for him
in all things pertaining to a prince, that he was as well served and eased
with all things necessary to his estate as he had been in his own palace
of Edinburgh. For, I heard say, this noble Earl gart make a curious
palace to the king, his mother, and the ambassador, where they were so
honorably lodged as they had been in England, France, Italy, or Spain,
concerning the time and equivalent for their hunting and pastime; which
was builded in midst of a fair meadow, a palace of green timber, wound
with green birks that were green both under and above, which was fash-
ioned in four quarters, and in every quarter and nuke thereof a great
round, as it had been a blockhouse, which was lofted and geisted the
space of three house height; the floors laid with green scharets and
spreats, rnedwarts, and flowers, that no man knew whereon he zied, but
had been in a garden. Further, there were two great rounds on ilk
f the gate, and a great portculleis of tree, falling down with the
manner of a barrace, with a drawbridge, and a great stank of water of
sixteen foot deep, and thirty foot of breadth. And also this palace with-
in was hung with fine tapestry and arrasses of silk, and lighted with fine
glass windows in all airths; that this palace was as pleasantly decored
with all necessaries pertaining to a prince as it had been his own royal
palace at home. Further, this Earl gart make such provision for the
king and his mother, that they had all manner of meats, drinks, and del-
icates that were to be gotten, at that lime, in all Scotland, either in
burgh or land, viz. all kind of drink, as ale, beer, wine, Stc. ; of meats,
with flesshes, &c. ; and also the stanks that were round about the palace,
were full of all delicate fishes, as salmonds, trouts, pearches, pikes,
and all other kind of delicate fishes that could be gotten in fresh waters,
and all ready for the banquet. Syne were there proper stewards, &.C.;
and the halls and chambers were prepared with costly bedding, vessel,
and napry. according for a king; so that he wanted none of his orders
more than he had been at home. The king remained in this wilderness
at the hunting the space of three days and three nights, and his compa-
ny, as I have shown. I heard men say it cost the Earl of Athole every
day in expences a thousand pounds." All this sumptuous edifice was
purposely consumed by fire on the king's departure!
Another old writer thus describes a great Highland hunting match
"In the year 1563, the Earl of Athol, a prince of the blood royil,
had, with much trouble and vast expense, a hunting maich for the en-
tertainment of our most illustrious and most gracious que^n. Our people
call this a royal hunting. I was then a young man, and was present on
that occasion. Two thousand Highlanders, or wild Scotch as you cah
* Lindsay of Pitscottie, Hist of Scotland, 225, ed.1776.
HUNTING MATCH. 283
t'nem he re, were employed to drive to the hunting ground all the deer
from the woods and hills of Atholl, Badenoch, Mar, Murray, and the
countries about. As these Highlanders -use a light dress, and are very
swift of foot, they went up and down so nimbly, that in less than two
time they brought together 2000 red deer, besides roes and fallow deer
The queen, the great men, and others, were in a glen, when all the deer
were brought before them. Believe me, the whole body of them moved
forward in something like battle order. This sight still strikes me, and
ever will, for they had a leader whom they followed close wherever he mov-
ed. This leader was a very fine stag, with a very high head. The sight
delighted the queen very much, but she soon had occasion for fear. Upon
the Earl's (who had been accustomed to such sights) addressing her
thus, ' Do you observe that stag who is foremost of the herd? There is
danger from that stag, for if either fear or rage should force him from the
ridge of that hill, let every one look to himself, for none of us will be
of the way of harm; for the rest will follow this one, and, having thrown
us under foot, they will open a passage to this hill behind us.' What
happened a moment after confirmed this opinion: for the queen ordc
one of the best dogs to be let loose on one of the deer: this the dog
sues, the leading stag was frighted, he flies by the same way he had
come there, the rest rush after him, and break out where the thickest
body of the Highlanders was. They had nothing for it but to throw
themselves flat on the heath, and to allow the deer to pass over them
It was told the queen that several of the Highlanders had been wound-
ed, and that two or three had been killed outright; and the whole body
had got off, had not the Highlanders, by their skill in hunting, fallen
upon a stratagem to cut off the rifcr from the main body. It was of
those that had been separated that the queen's dogs and those of the
nobility made slaughter. There were killed that day 360 deer, with
5 wolves, and some roes."*
.When a single deer was wanted, the gamekeeper and a few assistants
went to the hills, with a little oatmeal or other provision, and lay in wait
for their prey, sometimes for several days and nights together. Stalking
is the term applied to the pursuit of deer by individuals, and, as the ani-
mals are shy, incredible patience and exertion are necessary to secure
the game. A deer stalker has walked two miles in deep water, and
crawled a considerable distance on his belly, in order to approach the
The forester was an important member of the clan, and enjoyed several
perquisites. On the return of a young chief from his first public hunting
all his arms, clothing, and other articles were, by immemorial custom,
given to the forester. Sir Robert Burnet, of Crathes, in Aberdeenshire,
bears a Highlander as one of the supporters to his arms, his ancestors
having been the king's foresters in the north.
* Barclay's contra Monarc homacus.
It appears that HAWKING was a diversion of the ancient Britons
Helfa, hunting, signifies also hawking,* and Ossian mentions " a hun-
dred hawks with fluttering wing." By the laws of Hwyel Dha, the
master of the hawks enjoyed his lands free, he sat the fourth man from
the king, slept in the barn, and had a hand breadth of wax candle to
feed his birds and light him to bed. He received a dried sheep, and was
served with drink sufficient only to quench his thirst, lest his charge
should be neglected. The hearts and lungs of all animals killed in the
royal kitchen were allowed him to feed his birds, and he was obliged to
have his horse always ready.
Rederch, King of the Strathclyde Welsh, included hawks, dogs, and
swift hunters among his most valuable presents.
* Lewis's Hist. Pliny describes hawking as practised by the Thracians, among
hawk and the hunter shared the prey. Lib. x. c. 8.