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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part II.—Inhabitants of Gairloch

Chapter I.—Ancestry and Names


NO traveller can claim even a moderate acquaintance with the parish of Gairloch unless he has acquired some knowledge of her Highland population. This part of our book is designed to help the reader in obtaining that knowledge; nevertheless it is not intended to supersede personal inquiry and observation.

To the casual observer the people here differ very little from the inhabitants of other parts of Great Britain; a closer examination reveals peculiarities in their race, language, manners and customs, superstitions, religious observances, and other characteristics, well worthy the examination of all who resort to this romantic country.

There is a common misconception on the part of English tourists who pay flying visits to the Highlands. Many of them suppose that the natives are of the same blood, and speak the same dialect, as the lowland Scot. Nothing could be further from the fact. To speak of a Highlander "as a Scotsman only," is, as Captain Burt says, "as indefinite as barely to call a Frenchman an European." The Highlander, though inhabiting a part of Scotland, is essentially different from the typical Scotchman. The apprehension of this truth, which will be illustrated in the following pages, is the first step towards the knowledge of the Gairloch Highlanders.

In Part I., chap, i., we have seen how the original Pictish tribe of the Caledonians called the Cantae, who inhabited Ross-shire, became intermixed with two foreign, yet probably cognate breeds, the Norwegians and the Danes. Further admixture of blood took place by the settlement in Gairloch of Highlanders of other septs, particularly the MacBeaths, M'Leods, MacRaes, and Macdonalds. The ironworkers left their mark on the breed, in such names as Cross, Kemp, and Bethune or Beaton. In more recent times sheep-farming brought lowland blood, identified by the names of Watson, Reid, Stewart, MacClymont, Lawrie, Boa, &c. Again, it is said, no doubt with truth, that some few English or even foreign sailors have at different times settled in Gairloch, owing to shipwrecks or other causes. A Spanish ship, possibly connected with the Armada, is said to have been wrecked on the Greenstone Point, and one or two persons used to be pointed out who, though bearing native names, were believed from their dark wavy hair to have Spanish blood in their veins. So the Taylors of Badachro are descended from a lowland sailor lad. Lastly, the minor admixtures of blood from the immigration of attendants who came with brides of the Gairloch lairds (of whom are the Campbells or M'Ivers, Grants, Chisholms, &c), and of some other individuals mentioned in these pages, such as Rorie Mackay, the piper, have, in a less degree, leavened the Gairloch breed. On the whole, however, it must be considered as mainly sprung from the original Pictish stock, herein differing ab initio from the lowland race.

The surname Mackenzie greatly predominates in Gairloch, and there are a number of distinct families of that name; many of them have an unbroken lineage from one or other of the lords of Kintail, or of the lairds of Gairloch, whose ancient origin has already been given. In the present day pedigrees are less thought of than in the time of the old seannachies, who were the genealogists of their clans, but many people now living in humble circumstances could, if they pleased, trace their ancestry a thousand years in an unbroken line through the original Kenneth, the progenitor of the family. The blood of kings and nobles flows in their veins, and accounts no doubt for the innate courtesy and gentle manner often noticeable among the humblest of the Gairloch Highlanders.

Surnames were little used in Gairloch in old times, and it is supposed that many persons of different races who settled in the Mackenzie country were after a time reckoned to be Mackenzies. Possibly the clan name was originally adopted only as a means of connecting the follower with his chief, whose tartan of course he wore for identification.

To the present day surnames are little used in Gairloch when Gaelic is being spoken, and even in English a number of men are often called by the equivalents of their Gaelic names. These Gaelic names are formed by the addition to the Christian name of a soubriquet or byname, often hereditary, or else of the father's, grandfather's,, and even the great-grandfather's Christian names or some or one of them. Thus in the minutes of the Presbytery of Dingwall, referring to sacrifices of bulls (Appendix F), we find the names of Donald M'Eaine Roy vie Choinnich and Murdo M'Conill varchu vie Conill vie Allister, which in English are respectively " Donald the son of John Roy the son of Kenneth " and " Murdo the son of Donald Murdo the son of Donald the son of Alexander." " Roy," properly " Ruadh," happens to be the only soubriquet in these two compound names. Take some examples from names of men now living:— Alexander Mackenzie, the senior piper of the Gairloch volunteers, is the son of John Mackenzie of Moss Bank; the father is known as Iain Glas, i.e. Pale John; the son is always called in Gaelic Ali' Iain Ghlais, i.e. Alexander [son] of Pale John. This name also illustrates the custom of continuing a soubriquet, whether appropriate or not, from one generation to another; Iain Glas is so called, not because he has a pale face, but because the byname had belonged to an uncle of his. So we find John McLean, the industrious crofter on the east side of the Ewe, called Iain Buidhe, or Yellow-haired John, not because he has yellow hair, but because an ancestor of his was dubbed with that byname.

Among very numerous instances of the application of bynames to men now living, the following may be given :—Donald Og, Alie Ruadh, Uilleam Ruadh, Alie Beag, Iain Dubh, Eachainn Geal, Seann Seoc, and Alie Uistean, meaning respectively Young Donald, Red-haired Alexander, Red-haired William, Little Alexander, Black John, White Hector, Old Jock, and Alexander Hugh. Young Donald is an elderly man; Little Alexander a tall man; Old Jock acquired the name as a boy because he had then an old head.on young shoulders; and Alexander Hugh is so called because he had an ancestor named Hugh, though he himself was baptized Alexander only. In each of these crises the individual is either a Mackenzie, Urquhart, or Maclennan, but is never so called by his neighbours. The same system of nomenclature is similarly applied to the other sex.

It is worth notice that several Gaelic names are not translatable into English; thus Eachainn is not really Gaelic for Hector, anymore than Uistean is for Hugh, but these English names have long been adopted as reasonably good equivalents for the Gaelic.

Some female names in Gairloch sound strange to lowland ears, i.e. those formed by adding ina to a man's name not usually associated with that termination in the south,—for example, Simonina, Donaldina, Murdina, Seumasina (or Jamesina), Angusina, Hec-torina, &c.


 


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