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

Chapter XXI.—Alexander Grant, the Great Bard of Slaggan


ALEXANDER GRANT, known as "Bard mor an t' Slaggan,"or "the great bard of Slaggan," was born at Mellon Charles about 1742. His ancestor came to Gairloch from Strathspey, as attendant to Anne, daughter of Sir John Grant of Grant, who was married in 1640 to Kenneth Mackenzie, sixth laird of Gairloch. Most of the bard's life was passed at Slaggan, but shortly before his death he removed with his son to Tournaig, where he died in 1820 (or perhaps later), being about eighty years of age. The title bestowed on Sandy Grant of the "great bard" would perhaps be more correctly translated as the "big bard," for it was given him on account of his enormous stature and strength rather than for his merits as a poet. In height he was a giant, far exceeding in size any man then or now living in Gairloch; nor had he his equal in point of muscular strength. He did not fight; but on one occasion there was a row, to quell which the great bard caught Donald Morrison, of Drumchork, and held him fast by the hand. Donald, though himself a giant as compared with most men, was a pigmy by the side of Sandy Grant, and neither he nor all the bystanders could pull the bard's hand from his. Another proof of his great strength is remembered. In that day black periwinkles were plentiful, and were a favourite article of food ; only two men in the country could break or crush a handful of them by the mere force of their grasp, viz., Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch and the "great bard." It is doubtful whether any man could be found in Gairloch to perform this feat in the present day.

Sandy Grant was not so eminent a bard as were his contemporaries William Ross and Alastair Buidhe. He composed comparatively few songs or poems. In manner he is described as having been a "blunt " man. In appearance he was most remarkable for his gigantic form, already alluded to. Tcan get no positive information what was his exact height in inches; he far exceeded the height generally considered that of a tall man, and I am told he certainly stood more than seven feet in his stockings. The bard was a fine-looking man in face, features, and expression. A portrait of him,. which they say was an excellent likeness, appeared in the first edition of John Mackenzie's "Beauties of Gaelic Poetry." John Mackenzie made a collection of Sandy Grant's poems, intending to publish them. in a new edition of the "Beauties," but death frustrated this design, and the poems seem to have been lost.

The "bard mor" was a canny man, if we may judge from the following amusing anecdote, which is quite authentic, and illustrates the superstitions of the times. It was told me by James Mackenzie:— There was a man in Loch Carron who had his cheeses stolen from. his barn by a neighbour. Now Sandy Grant, the "bard mor," was reputed to have the power of discovering things that had been lost, by the faculty of second-sight. The worthy but simple-minded man who had been robbed of his cheeses sent a message immediately he discovered his loss to the bard at Slaggan, and requested that he would find out who had stolen them. The bard, who thought he saw a chance of earning an "honest penny," at once started on foot for Loch Carron. The man who had stolen the cheeses heard that the bard had been sent for, and was terrified; every day he walked out three miles on the road towards the north, hoping to intercept Sandy Grant. At last he met Sandy. Says he, "Are you not a stranger coming to Loch Carron?" "Yes," said Sandy," "I come from Slaggan." "Well," he says, "I am the man that stole the cheeses, and Til give you fifteen shillings if you will not tell that I am the man." The bard replied, "Of course I know it was you that stole the cheeses, but where did you put them?" "Oh, dear!" said the man, "I put them in a peat-stack at the back of the township." "Yes; I know that," said Sandy, "but which stack did you put them in?" He replied, "The one that's farthest from the township altogether." "Are you sure that you put all the cheeses there?" again asked the cautious bard. "Yes," the man said, "I put them all there, but one cheese is out of count." "Well," said the bard, "I will not tell your name; when once they get the cheeses they will be satisfied." The Loch Carron man gave him the fifteen shillings, and as they passed his house he pressed the bard to come in and have a dram. "Oh, no, no," said Sandy; "be off, that they may not suspect we have been together." Then they parted, and the bard went to the house of the man who had sent for him. After refreshing the inner man, Sandy was asked to state who had stolen the cheeses, and where they now were. "Well," he said, "I will not tell you who stole them, but I will tell you where they are." He then asked what he was to receive for coming all the way from Slaggan. The man inquired how much he asked. Sandy named twenty-five shillings, and that sum was paid to him. "When to-morrow comes," said her "I will tell you where the cheeses are; but I must warn you that there will be one cheese missing." The next day the cheeses were duly discovered and restored to their rightful owner, and the "bard mor" returned to Slaggan with both the fifteen shillings and the twenty-five shillings in his pocket, making two pounds,—in those days a more considerable sum than it is now.

The Grants, who formerly lived at Mellon Udrigil but are now .at Londubh, are descendants of the " Bard mor an t'Slaggan."


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