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

Chapter XV.—Visions and Second-sight


PERHAPS the most common class of superstitions in Gairloch comprises those represented by or connected with "visions" or the gift of "second-sight." It is often difficult to discriminate between the two; but as a general rule " visions " may be considered as recalling the past, whilst "second-sight" brings the immediate but unseen present or the near or sometimes the more remote future within the ken of its possessor. The following stories seem to be examples of one or other of these superstitions.

The appearance to Alastair Mac Iain Mhic Earchair, early in the nineteenth century, of the great chief of Gairloch, Hector Roy Mackenzie, with his bodyguard of twelve chosen heroes all wearing kilted plaids of Mackenzie tartan, and their noiseless departure, is narrated in Part I., chap. ix. In addition to the details there given> old Alastair told Ruaridh an Torra, the present repository of the tale, that before the spectral heroes disappeared he handed his snuff-mull to them, and they each in turn helped themselves to its contents. Alastair always expressed his astonishment that they should have been able to enjoy the snuff as they apparently did.

In 1884 I heard of a young man having seen a spirit. He was very reserved on the subject, but when closely questioned he said it was on a pretty dark night in the previous year that the form of a man passed him on the road. He spoke to the figure, but there was no reply ; and this he considered proof positive of the ghostly nature of the appearance!

Two men, of the utmost credibility and respectability, declare that they saw on separate occasions, by daylight, the figure of a woman dressed in brown sitting or walking within a considerable house in Gairloch parish. On each occasion the woman mysteriously disappeared, and no trace of her could be discovered. The appearances wefe supposed to be prophetic of some incident that has since occurred, or will shortly occur, at the house in question.

Seers of visions and possessors of second-sight are always reticent, and every one has a delicacy in speaking of cases that have occurred among persons now living. Thus it is difficult to procure accounts of recent cases, and I have thought it best not to press inquiry in this direction. Here, however, is an instance which came under my own notice within the parish of Gairloch. A shooting party was invited, and a number of beaters engaged for the occasion. Several of those who had been similarly employed before declined to attend, because it had been rumoured that the figure of a strange man dressed in dark blue clothes had been seen walking in the coverts the evening before, and it was thought that the appearance of the supposed spectre portended the death of some one at the shoot. Happily the day passed off without casualty.

Second-sight may be (1) a faculty frequently exercised by the individual possessing it, who becomes known as a seer; or (2) it may be manifested on one occasion only, under exceptional circumstances, by some one not otherwise credited with this supernatural power. Our next story tells of a woman whose second-sight was of the first of these descriptions.

Simon Chisholm, who has long been forester and gardener at Flowerdale to Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, remembers a woman named Seonaid Chrubach, or Jessie the cripple, who was reputed to be a witch, and to have the faculty of second-sight. She lived near Flowerdale, and was a queer bad woman. She wore a short tight-fitting jacket like a man, and a short petticoat resembling a man's kilt. She used to afford much amusement to sailors, singing ribald songs to them, and would visit various ports as far north as Ullapool for the purpose. When Simon Chisholm was a young boy a number of lads one day caught Jessie, and, believing in her witchcraft, tied her to the middle of a long piece of rope. They took her to the moat or ditch then remaining below Flowerdale House, in the midst of which the old Tigh Dige had formerly stood, and dragged her many times backwards and forwards through the water of the moat. Jessie survived this ill-treatment many years. It would be about 1835 that Jessie came one day to the house of Simon Chisholm's father at Flowerdale. His family have been there for several generations; they say his ancestor came to Gairloch as attendant to a lady who became the wife of one of the lairds of Gairloch. Simon was still a boy, and was at home when Jessie -came to the house. Jessie looked very pale and haggard; she said she felt faint and ill. After resting a while, she told them that on her way she had met a shepherd with his dog, driving a flock of sheep: she minutely described the shepherd and the dog and sheep, and even stated the colour of the dog. At that time there vcere no sheep at Flowerdale, only black cattle; Sir Francis Mackenzie, the then baronet of Gairloch, had a celebrated strain of them, and bred them in considerable numbers. The following year, at the same time of the year as that at which Jessie had seen the vision, Sir Francis substituted sheep for the black cattle, and the shepherd, the -dog, and the sheep exactly corresponded with Jessie's description.

Our next narrative is an illustration of the other class of manifestations of second-sight. At the date of this story the blacksmith at Poolewe had his house and smithy where the Pool-house stable now stands. It was close by the east side of Poolewe bridge, from which the spectator can look down into the deep gloomy pool in which the River Ewe joins the brackish waters of Loch Ewe. The smith had a son, a boy, almost a young man; he was in sickly health at the time, and died shortly afterwards. The late Rev. William Rose, Free Church minister of Aultbea and Poolewe, who died in April 1876, told me that one day the smith's son had walked over to Gairloch, and returning somewhat exhausted, came into his father's house (the door being open), and instantly sat down on the nearest chair. No sooner was he seated than he fell from the chair in a fainting fit. He presently came round, and on recovering consciousness the first thing he said to his family was, "What are all these people on the bridge for ? " They pointed out to him that there was no one on the bridge. He then told them, that as he had approached the bridge he had seen it crowded with people, that he had had to push his way through them, and that he had felt very much frightened. Those members of the smith's household who were at home had seen no one on the bridge; the doors and windows of the house faced the bridge, and were not thirty yards from it, so that no individuals, much less a crowd, could have been on the bridge without the family having noticed them. The following day, the 3d October i860, was a day that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed its terrible events. A number of open boats with their crews were at the head of Loch Ewe near Boor, Cliff House, and Poolewe, setting nets for herrings, when a storm suddenly came on, far exceeding in violence any other storm before or since, so far as those now living remember. A hurricane sprang up from the west-north-west, of such extraordinary force as actually to lift boats and their crews from the water, and in one or two cases to overturn the boats. Happily most of the men clung to their boats, and were soon washed ashore. One boat was carried rapidly past the point called Ploc-ard, by Inverewe House. As she was passing close to some big stones one of her crew jumped out on to a rock, but was washed off and drowned. In another boat, opposite Cliff House, there were four men; the boat was capsized and three of the men were drowned ; the fourth had tied himself to the boat, which came ashore by Cliff House ; he was taken to the • house, and restoratives being applied soon recovered. About a score of the boats ran into the pool under Poolewe bridge. And thus the vision of the smith's son was fulfilled, for at the very hour at which he had crossed the bridge on the preceding day, a multitude of the fishermen's friends and relations, breathless with agonising anxiety, crowded the bridge and its approaches watching the arrival of the boats. The tide on this awful evening rose one hundred and fifty yards further up the shore and adjoining lands than on any other occasion remembered in the district. The bodies of the drowned men were recovered, and were buried in the Inverewe churchyard, where the date of this memorable storm is recorded on a gravestone over the Temains of two of the men named William Urquhart and Donald Urquhart.

James Mackenzie narrates, that when he was fourteen years of age (about 1822) he lived with his parents at Mellon Charles, but went to the school at Mellon Udrigil. This school was attended by about sixty scholars. He went home to Mellon Charles every Saturday night, and returned to Mellon Udrigil each Monday morning. At the time of the following extraordinary occurrence the Rev. Dr Ross was holding sacramental services at Loch Broom, and many of the people had gone from Mellon Udrigil to this sacrament; most of the women had remained at home. It must have been about midsummer ; that was always the time of the Loch Broom sacrament. When James Mackenzie returned to Mellon Udrigil on the Monday morning he learned that all the people who were at home on the preceding day had seen a strange sight. The whole sea between the Black island and Priest island, and the mouth of Little Loch Broom had appeared to be filled with ships innumerable ; to use James Mackenzie's precise words, " the sea was choke full of great ships, men-of-war. It was a great sight." Whilst the people were watching, vast numbers of boats were sent out from the sh}ps filled with soldiers with scarlet coats. Many of the boats rowed direct for Mellon Udrigil, and the red-coats landed from them on the rocks on the shore. They seemed so near that the people could make out the individual soldiers. Mrs Morrison, the wife of Rorie Morrison of Tanera, who then lived at Mellon Udrigil House, buried the boxes containing her valuables in the sand lest the redcoats should carry them off to the ships. The girls at the shielings on the hills on the Greenstone Point retreated to the highest tops, so that they might have time to escape if the soldiers should appear to be coming near. But no soldiers came, and the whole thing was a vision.

More than fifty years ago Donnachadh na Fadach (Duncan Macrae) was living at Inveran. He employed Donald Maclean, who was stopping at Londubh at the time, to work in the garden at Inveran, and Donald walked to and from Inveran every day. He told James Mackenzie, Duncan Macrae, and other persons, that he often saw companies of soldiers in red uniforms marching to and fro along the tops of Craig Ruadh, Craig Bhan, and the hills behind and beyond Inveran. These visions of Donald Maclean's are said to have impressed his own mind very deeply at the time, and his earnest accounts of them are well remembered by the older people. It is an actual fact that the visions are now generally understood at Poolewe and Londubh to have been prophetic of the visits to me at Inveran of the Poolewe section of the Gairloch volunteers, who wear scarlet Highland doublets, and have several times come to Inveran in uniform.

The appearance of the great fleet seen from.Mellon Udrigil with the boats filled with red-coats, "and the visions of the red-coats near Inveran, are closely analogous to the strange appearances of troops seen by numbers of people on Saddleback in Cumberland on the midsummer eves of 1735, 1743, and 1745, and to the similar appearances elsewhere referred to in the account given of the Saddleback visions in Miss Harriet Martineau's "Guide to the English Lakes," such as the spectral march of troops seen in Leicestershire in 1707, and the tradition of the tramp of armies over Helvellyn on the eve of the battle of Marston Moor. Hugh Miller, in his " Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland " (page 485), refers to visions of troops near Inverness at the time of the commencement of the war with France. There were similar appearances in England reported in the newspapers when I was a young man, which were supposed to have been mirage-like reflections of the gatherings of troops going to take part in the Crimean war. One theory is, that all the visions of this character have been of the nature of mirages, or reflections on transparent vapour similar to the "'Fata Morgana." This is certainly a suggestion that ought to be taken into account, but, as Miss Harriet Martineau says in her book, it " is not much in the way of explanation."

Whatever the visions or appearances at Mellon Udrigil and near Inveran may have been, the evidence is very strong that they really were seen as stated.


 


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