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The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 21


Son of bold Gregor Roy, prime source of my joy,
Thy chance from the foray, has left us full sorry
To-day,

In the hills of the deer, with thy keen-edged spear,
And hounds in leash, who would not wish
To see

The chase in sight, and the axe of might,
And bow of yew, which often slew,
The king of the forest free!

Glenlyon's boast, to all foemen's cost!
A fletcher* skilled, thy quiver filled;
Behold!

The pointed dart is winged by art
From the eagle's spoil; and Ireland's soil
Has sent

The silken sheen, of red and green,
Which waxed with care, from the sunbeam's flare
Protects the polished shaft.

Stronmelochan's chieff—if claiming belief
The rights of thy race—whose descent we can trace
From the king.

In thy person or mind, no fault could we find;
Firm in council, and wise, to foresee and devise:
Like the storm

Was thy face in the field—the bravest did yield,
When flashed on the strife, our day star of life,
The steel of Clan Alpin's pride.

Open hand to thy friends, the smile of welcome attends
On thy chieftains and men; from thy threshold could wend
No sad heart.

Strangers come from afar, and thy brave deeds in war,
To the tunes of old days, Erin's bards sing in lays
Which will last.

And the wine-cup they drain, and the pipe's merry strain
Pours the wild notes of glee—who, alas! says to me,
The bright scene has gone past?

Deep was the moaning, yestreen at the gloaming:
The head of his clan—of his race the first man—
Was the cause.

Long the farewell, and dark was the dell,
When he bade us adieu: Good Heaven renew
Our lost hope!

Had I gone along, less sad was my song—
Whate'er could betide, I'd be happy beside
My Chief, though the Saxons' thrall.

THE preceding is a nearly literal version of an old song, called, in the metaphorical language of Gaelic poets, "The Arrow of Glenlyon?" the said "Arrow" being no other than Allaster of Glenstrae, who had been brought up, after the death of his father Gregor, in the family of his uncle the Laird of Glenlyon, and principally resided there during his after life. The incident handled by the poet is Allaster's surrender of himself into the hands of the "Saxons," for the satisfaction of justice, on account of the conflict of Glenfruin. No bloody catastrophe seems to have been anticipated either in regard to Allaster or the hostages—the poet indeed wishes he had been one of the latter, and for the sake of his chief, a bondsman of the Saxons.

The moment the clan became aware of the breach of faith towards their chief and hostages, they turned, according to custom, their thoughts upon the best means of wreaking their vengeance upon Sir Duncan Campbell, whom they considered—perhaps in this instance unjustly—to be at the bottom of the whole mischief. The house of Roro, which had given seven of the hostages—including the chieftain Gregor—threw off at last all reserve, and the prudential considerations upon which it had hitherto acted, and set itself at the head of the rebels. When the trial of the chief and the hostages was proceeding in Edinburgh, a storm, before which even he quailed for a time, burst upon the head of Sir Duncan. In a very short time the M'Gregors burned and laid waste Culdares and Duneaves in Fortingall, Cran-nuich in Breadalbane, Glenfalloch, and the land of Bochastil in Menteith, all pertaining to Sir Duncan. They burned, moreover, his castle of Achallader—the whole loss extending to a hundred thousand merks. At last, Robert of Glenfalloch, Sir Duncan's second son, at the head of his father's 'forces, effectually checked the marauders, and, following up his advantage, pursued a great number, which he brought to bay at "Bad-an-fsheoig," in the Moss of Rannoch, and thoroughly routed. In this fray was slain Duncan Abrach M'Gregor, grandson of Duncan Ladosach, and his son Gregor in Ardchyllie, who was Rob Roy's grandfather. With one or two exceptions, all the principals of the clan were either now slain or imprisoned. Clan Alpin's star was never more dim, but the work of extirpation was far from being accomplished ; the link of union was strengthened in place of being destroyed. If, instead of making Allaster and the hostages martyrs to their followers and the spirit of clanship, the King and the Barons had hit upon means to make them betray both, that would have weakened if not annihilated the allegiance which survived all persecutions. The policy of the King and the Campbells, &c, is embodied in formal documents and stern enactments; the sentiments with which the victims met this policy and triumphed over it, even when defeated, remain to us in the more truthful and lifelike form of songs and poems. I regret very much being forced, for the sake of the narrative, to become translator of some of these without having the requisite qualifications; and I cannot but express the hope that Gaelic-bred scholars, to the worship of the tuneful goddesses inclined, will seize upon the opportunity before it is too late, and make the poetic treasures of our native tongue accessible to the world. The following was composed about the year 1605, after the rout and slaughter at "Bad-an-tsheoig" and the execution of Allaster and the hostages. It would have been too much for Highland pride to mention that Gregor of Roro, the hero of the piece, and the other "dear foster-brothers," had been hanged. Though that, in fact, is the burden of the poem, there is no direct allusion made to it; and the abrupt transition to the fate of the remaining principals of the house, who had fallen fighting with the Campbells, and had been hastily buried as they fell on the field, in the chapel or vault of the M'Gregors at Fortingall, is intended perhaps to hide the shameful death that had overtaken the seven first men of the house in Edinburgh. The poem is said to have been composed by M'Gregor's nurse, as a lullaby to the young heir:—

M'Gregor of Roro.

With sorrow, sad sorrow,
My cup has run o'er;
From sorrow, sad sorrow,
I'll recover no more.

For Roro's M'Gregor
I bear the sharp pains—
M'Gregor of streamers
And pipe's echoing' strains.

Whose symbol, the pine tree,
And erne's tufted plume,
A king's son had chosen,
In Albyn's young bloom.

Whose spear-shafted banner,
Ascending the brae,
Was held by M'Vurich
His bannerman gay.

He struck me, the coward;
I'll mourn not to-day.
They strike me unjustly—
Who alas ! will repay?

My rightful protectors
In death are laid low,
And my part-takers sleep
In yon chapel of woe!

And my dear foster-brothers
In the narrow bed lie,
Their mean shrouds not decked
Under gentle dame's eye!

One counsel I give you
Should you hearken to me,
When you enter the hostel,
Oh! moderate be.

Take drink without sitting,
And watch your menyie:
Take the cup first offered,
Be it meikle or wee.

Make harvest of winter,
And summer of spring;
Sleep light in the mountains
Beneath the rock's wing.

Though shy is the squirrel,
He's captured at times,
And the high sweeping falcon
Low cunning beguiles.

The temperance advice was needful for men with their heads generally under the wood; but it is possible that it has special reference to an incident which occurred at Killin in the winter of 1605 or 1606. The bitterest enemies are obliged to have at times recourse to truce; and the longer the conflict, the oftener, and more matter-of-course-thing must truce become. Amidst the endless feuds of the Highlanders, the days appropriated to the honour of the district saints had been long observed as seasons of truce—a fact which, from the protection afforded to unrestrained intercourse, was principally the cause of the religious days becoming everywhere the stated markets of the kingdom. The Reformation, where it prevailed, no' doubt changed the current of men's thoughts, but in the Highlands its immediate success was but partial and superficial, and most of the customs springing from a Roman Catholic source, which by long habit had entwined themselves with the social being of the inhabitants, retained their full vigour for another century; and even in this year of grace itself, traces by no means faint are met with in certain localities. To St. Fillan, the Culdee Apostle of Breadalbane, the 9th of January (O. S.) had been dedicated. The Fair of St. Fillans on that day still survives, as at the period of our narrative; but then, though the religious ceremony had perished, its old sanctity as a day of universal truce, on which foes and friends might meet in safety and peace was supposed by the proscribed M'Gregors still to exist, and to afford them all requisite protection. A party of them, accordingly, made their appearance, headed by Ian Dubh Gear, a cousin of the late chieftain of Roro. Notwithstanding the immemorial custom, they were immediately beset, and most of them taken or slain. John-dubh escaped, after killing or wounding eight of his antagonists. He had been for some time under hiding, and was accustomed to receive hospitality and concealment from a certain family in Glenlochay, to whom he presented himself as usual, after the affray. He was received with the usual kindness; but as the wife went out of the house to bring him, as she said, a bowl of milk, her husband, an old man, a friend of M'Gregor, told the latter to fly at once, for that among those slain by him at Killin, in the late affair, was a friend of his wife, and she had therefore determined to betray him, and, instead of going for the milk, had gone in search of her two sons, who would be willing agents in the plot, and would kill him where he was, if he did not immediately make his escape. Before the old man had well done telling this to his guest, the young men entered the house with arms to kill him, but he had been forewarned, and stabbe'd them as they successively entered, and giving a mortal blow to the mother, who was attemping to bar the door upon him, rushed out of the house, exclaiming, "That is the way a M'Gregor avenges breach of trust." He then fled to Strathspey, where he was lucky enough to captivate the affections of a young girl of good family, who abandoned for a time friends and home for the sake of her daring outlaw. When sleeping in a barn, the couple on one occasion received warning that an officer of the law and twelve armed attendants were upon their track. But they appeared so soon after the notice was received that they could not fly. In this emergency, the young wife, who I think is called Isabella in an old song commemorating the-incident, showed herself worthy of her mate. He was well provided with fire-arms, having a Spanish gun and a large pistol or dag. The fair Isabella loaded as fast as John could discharge; so that between them the enemies quickly measured their lengths on the ground or took to their heels. In the joy of victory, John-dubh is said to have composed and danced the famous "Ttdaichean," or, as it is more generally pronounced by strangers, the "Reel of Hullichin." The old words are characteristic of a hardy outlaw, and have much of that exuberance of feeling resulting from an unexpected deliverance:

"O Thulaichean gu Bealaichean,
'So Bhealaichean gu Tulaichean;
'S mur faigh sinn leann 's na Tulaichean
Gun oil sinn uisge Bhealaichean."

"From the knowes to the passes,
From the passes to the knowes;
If we have no beer on the knowes
We have springs in the passes.''

John-dubh having obtained remission for his misdeeds became, it is said, an exemplary member of society; and most wonderful of all, if true, he and the fair Isabella were progenitors of the Gregorian dynasty, which has given Scotland upwards of twenty professors renowned in literature and science!

The Clan Gregor, stunned by the several calamities we have endeavoured to enumerate, for four or five years disappeared, as it were, altogether. But in 1610, they raised their heads again under another band of leaders, who had meantime come to maturity, and were resolved to avenge their fathers. We summarise the following account from the Black Book:—

"The King hearing of the great rebellion and oppression made again by the Clan-Gregor in the year 1610, sent from England the Earl of Dunbar, for taking order with them, and for settling peace in the Highlands, as he had formerly done on the Borders. Among others of the nobility and gentry, Sir Duncan Campbell was burdened to pursue the Clan-Gregor, for rooting out of their posteritie and name. The Earl of Dunbar, soon after this arrangement, retired to England. And in the month of February, 1611, the Clan-Gregor, being straitly pursued, betook themselves to the isle of Ilanbernak in Monteith; whereupon, the Secret Council employed Sir Duncan and other gentlemen in the countries round about, to besiege them. Which being begun, the siege was hastily raised through a severe snow-storm. When Sir Duncan's people were returning from the siege, Robert, his second son, hearing of oppression made by a number of the Clan upon his father's lands, took three of their principal men; and in the taking, one was slain, the other two were sent to Edinburgh."

About this time the Earl of Dunbar died, and the King charged by several commissions the Earl of Argyle and Sir Duncan and their friends to pursue the Clan Gregor. Whereupon the Council appointed a meeting to be held in Edinburgh of all the landlords. Sir Duncan being among the rest, directed out of Edinburgh his son Robert, and John Campbell son of the Laird of Lawers, who slew the most special man and proud lymmar of them, called John Dow M'Allaster in Stronfernan, and with him Allaster M'Gorrie. Immediately afterwards, while Sir Duncan was still abiding in Edinburgh with the rest of his sons and friends, attending on the Secret Council, the Clan Gregor burned the lands of Aberuquhill belonging to Colin Campbell, Lawers' brother, the lands of Glenurchay, Glen-falloch, Mochaster, in Menteith, and Culdares and Duneaves in Fortingall, all belonging to Sir Duncan. And "in the Cosche of Genurchay they slew fourty great mares and their followers, with ane fair cursour sent to Sir Duncan from the Prince out of London." From this time forth, the Clan Gregor held themselves together to the number of six or seven score men. But Sir Duncan returning, sent out his son Robert and Colin Campbell of Aberuquhill to pursue them, who followed them straitly through Bal-quhidder, Menteith, and Lennox, and drove them to the forest of Benbuie in Argyle. Here they slew Patrick M'Gregor, son to Duncan in Glen, and took Neil, bastard to Gregor M'Eane, with other five, whom they hanged at the Cosche where they slew the mares. From Benbuie they chased them to the mountains lying between Rannoch and Badenoch, and so scattered them that they never met again in greater numbers than ten or twelve. And from the month of May in the same year, the service was followed up by the Earl of Argyle and Sir Duncan and their friends, during which time Sir Duncan and his sons took and slew sixteen of the Clan Gregor.

At the time the Commissioners appointed by King James were resolutely following out the commands of their master to extirpate the Clan-Gregor and root out their posterity and name, the wide Atlantic bore to the shores of England the wailing cry of young Virginia, more than once repeated, for succour in the shape of men, and men accustomed to endure hardships and bear arms. The race that Scotland insisted upon disowning would have been an acquisition there. But we are wise in the retrospect, or after-hand ; and he who shall set himself to describe and weigh our country's total misapplication of resources may judge the total ignorance of the barons of the seventeenth century regarding the convenient outlet of emigration, less blameworthy, perhaps, and less hurtful to the honour and power of Britain, than the too keen appreciation of it by their successors in the nineteenth.

"In the month of October, 1615," says the Black Book, "the Laird of Lawers passed up to London, and desired of his Majesty that he would write to the Council, desiring the Council to send for the landlords of the Clan-Gregor, that they would grant a contribution of fifty pound out of the merkland, and his Majesty would find a way that none of the Clan-Gregor should trouble any of their lands nor possess them, but that the landlords should bruik them peaceably. For Lawers let his Majesty understand, that if his Highness would grant him that contribution, that he would get all these turns settled, wherein truely Lawers had neither power nor moyen to do it. The Council wrote for the landlords, such as the Earl of Linlithgow, the Laird of Glenurchay, the Laird of Weem, Alexander Shaw of Cambusmore and Knockhill; the rest of the landlords came not. The Chancellor inquired of them that were present if they would grant the contribution? which they all yielded to except Glenurchay, who said, he would not grant thereto, seeing his Majesty had burdened him to concur with the Earl of Argyle in the pursuing of the Clan-Gregor, because he knew he would receive more skaith from the Clan than all the other landlords. Thereafter the Council wrote to the landlords, and desired them to pay the contribution, and his Majesty's wish was that it should be given to the Laird of Lawers. Glenurchay refused, by reason that he had never yielded to the contribution, and the rest of the landlords, who were absent the first Council day that the contribution was granted, refused in like manner. So the Laird of Lawers was disappointed of the contribution. Glenurchay quarrelled the Laird of Lawers and his brothers, that he should take such enterprises in hand without his advice, seeing that he was the Laird of Glenurchay's vassal and kinsman come of his house, and also his sister's son ; and that when the house of Lawers would have wrecked in Lawers' father's time, the Laird of Glenurchay took in his mother, his brothers, and sisters into his house, and saved the house of Lawers from ruin and wreck."

"In the month of December, 1615, the Laird of Lawers sought ane suit of the Council for of entertaining three or four score of the bairns of the Clan-Gregor, and desired the Council to burden the landlords with the sum of two thousand merks in the month therefor. The Laird of Glenurchay desired the Laird of Lawers and his brothers not to trouble him with that suit, seeing they knew he had gotten more skaith of the Clan-Gregor than all the subjects of the kingdom, and that he had done more service to his Majesty than all the rest in oppressing of the Clan-Gregor. Lawers refused that Glenurchay should have any courtesy, but pay as the rest did for entertainment of the bairns of the Clan-Gregor. For the which refusal, Glenurchay met with the landlords, such as the Earl of Tulliebardin, the Earl of Perth, my Lord Madderty, and the rest of the landlords, and they took the burden upon themselves for ane space to entertain the bairns, whereby Lawers was disappointed of his two thousand merks."

"Thereafter the Earl of Argyle got of his Majesty the fines of the receptors of the Clan-Gregor, and.the Laird of Lawers and his brothers, for the time being daily waiters-on upon the Earl of Argyle, got the fourth part of the fines to themselves. Glenurchay desired he and his tenants, on account of the losses they had suffered, and the services they had performed against the M'Gregors, should not be troubled with these fines. Lawers and his brothers answered, they would grant no courtesy to Glenurchay. Whereupon Glenurchay posted up to London to his Majesty—where the Earl of Argyle was for the presen —and declared to his Majesty how that his tenants, notwithstanding their good service and great skaith, were pressed to be fined, which his Majesty declared was no reason, and so wrote down to the Council, desiring that none of Glenurchay's tenants or servants be troubled with any of the foresaid fines. To conclude, the house of Lawers has been very ungrateful to the house of Glenurchay at all other times."

Sir Duncan had rather a difficult part to act. His severity to the Clan-Gregor placed the family of Glenlyon, in direct opposition, and a pitiable scramble for the spoil entangled him again in a vexatious quarrel with the proud house of Lawers, whose heir was soon destined to blossom into Earl of Louden. At loggerheads with the oldest and most influential cadets of his house, Sir Duncan for a while slackened in the pursuit, but he had talents to overcome all opposition, and make enemies themselves the tools of his severe, but, it must be admitted, enlightened policy; for latterly, at least, he represented the principle of order struggling with class for the ascendency.


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