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McIan's Highlanders At Home
Gillies with Game


Gillies with GameGILLE is the Gaelic term applied to a boy, or young man, and is used also for a servant, being given, like the Irish buachal, to those who have long surmounted the age of youth, and even of manhood. ‘Gille-cois,’ is a footman—’ Gille-each,’ a groom, &c.

The love of field sports, for which the country is admirably adapted, is so strong in the Highlander, that it may be said to be innate. No greater delight can be afforded a boy than to be allowed to accompany the sportsmen to the hills or the rivers, and their services are exceedingly useful, especially to those who are not well accustomed to traverse the rugged and boggy muirs and mountains.

They lead the way with sure footing across morasses, a matter, occasionally, of no small difficulty, nor always devoid of danger; they bound over the heath with surprising agility, and in walking or running up hill, few of the gentlemen from the south country who go to the shooting could keep pace with them.

In wooded districts the deer are frequently ‘driven’ from their coverts, as they cannot in such a situation be ‘stalked,’ and lads from ten to sixteen years of age are generally the most efficient for the purpose, as they make their way both bare-legged and bare-footed through heather, whins, and underwood, where grown-up men could not very easily follow, and numbers are sometimes so employed.

Possessed of much endurance and greater temerity than those more advanced in years, these lads will perform feats, the hazard of which might well deter others from the attempt. On precipitous and giddy precipices they will pursue the game, and an instance lately occurred of a boy, who, at ten years of age, killed with his own hand no less than nine foxes in one year, on most rugged parts of the mountain of Ben Nevis.

The artist has related of a Gillie, only twelve years old, that going out alone in one of the wildest parts of Ross—shire, for the purpose of stalking deer, he brought down a fine stag, which he greallached, i.e., opened and cut up on the spot. He is now alive and no longer a poacher; but the rifle is his loved companion, and he is a most excellent shot and a worthy Highlander.

Indeed, the Highlanders are the surest of marksmen, and their proficiency is solely the result of their early and constant practice; neither Highlanders nor any others being ‘naturally good shots,’ as a tourist in Scotland very simply observes. The nature of the country leads to the frequent use of gun and rod, and hence the dexterity acquired by the natives.

A Highlander having proved himself a most skilful stalker and an unerring shot, it was jocularly proposed by a hunting party, that he should shoot a deer, then in view, through the off eye! The Gaël at once undertook to do so, and giving a loud whistle, the animal immediately turned round his head, when instantly the fatal ball, true to its mark, went through the devoted eye!

The principal figure in the print is given from a sketch of Corie bui’ òg, nephew to Ewen Mac Fee, the outlaw of Glenquoich, taken in Glen Nevis, where the stag, the brown and white, or alpine, hare, and the birds, which he carries, were killed within two hours, near the curious natural caves, in one of which the Lady Glennevis, her child, and servant, were concealed in the lamentable 1746.

The exhilarating effect of a hunting expedition, accompanied by the hardy tenants of the hills, is acknowledged by the numerous parties who leave the south for its enjoyment. The scenes in the good old days were quite captivating to strangers from their novelty and rude grandeur.

When at peace, the lairds kept alive the spirit of their clans by congregating the Gullies to this sort of military exercise, and when meditating war, it served as a pretext for a general mustering without any suspicion of the design being excited.

The eccentric Taylor, called ‘The Water Poet,’ from having been a waterman of Southwark, went, in 1618, on a ‘pennilesse pilgrimage’ as far northwards as Banffshire, and having been invited to accompany Lord Erskine to a deer hunt, he witnessed a meeting of noblemen, with a retinue of fourteen or fifteen hundred, and most of these were the hardy Gillies who drove in the game from the recesses of the forest of Mar, which he describes as follows:—

"I thank my good Lord Erskine (says the poet); hee commanded that I should always bee lodged in his lodging, the kitchen being always on the side of a banke, many kettles and pots boyling, and many spits turning and winding with great variety of cheere, as venison baked, sodden, rost, and stu’de ; beef, mutton, goates, kid, hares, fish, salmon, pigeons, hens, capons, chickens, partridge, moorcoots, heathcocks, caperkililes, and termagents; good ale, sacke, white and claret, tent (or Allegant), and most potent aquaevitae.

"All these, and more than these, we had continually in superfluous abundance, caught by faulconers, fowlers, fishers, and brought by my lord’s (Mar) tenants and purveyres to victual our campe, which consisted of fourteen or fifteen hundred men and horses.

"The manner of the hunting is this: five or six hundred men doe rise early in the morning, and they doe disperse themselves divers wayes,. and seven, eight or ten miles compass they doe bring or chase in the deer in many heards (two, three, or four hundred in a heard) to such or such a place as the noblemen shall appoint them; then when the day is come, the lords and gentlemen of their companies doe ride or go to the said places, sometimes wading up to the middles through bournes and rivers ; and then they being come to the place, doe lye down on the ground till those foresaid scouts, which are called the Tinckell, do bring down the deer; but as the proverb says of a bad cooke, so these Tinckell men doe lick their own fingers; for besides their bows and arrows, which they carry with them, wee can heare now and then a harquebusse or musket goe off which they doe seldom discharge in vaine then after we had stayed three houres, or thereabouts, we might perceive the deer appeare on the hills round about us (their heads making a shew like a wood), which being followed close by the Tinckell, are chased down into the valley where wee lay; then all the valley on each side being waylaid with a hundred couple of strong Irish greyhounds, they are let loose as occasion serves upon the hearde of deere, that with dogs, gunnes, arrowes, durks, and daggers, in the space of two houres, fourscore fat deere were slain, which after are disposed of, some one way and some another, twenty or thirty miles; and more than enough left for us to make merrey withall at our rendevouse. Being come to our lodgings, there was such baking, boyling, rosting, and stewing, as if cook Ruffian had been there to have scalded the devill in his feathers."

Inspired with the scene, his muse burst forth in these quaint and curious lines:-

"If sport like this can on the mountains be,
   Where Phoebus’ flame can never melt the snow:
   Then let who list delight in vales below,
Skie-kissing mountains pleasure are for me.
What braver object can man’s eyesight see,
   Than noble, worshipfull, and worthy wights,
   As if they were prepared for sundry fights,
Yet all in sweet society agree?

"Through heather, moss, ‘mong frogs, and bogs, and fogs,
   ‘Mongst craggy cliffs, and thunder-battered hills,
Hares, hinds, bucks, roes, are chaced by men and dogs,
   Where two hours hunting fourscore fat-deer kills.
Lowlands, your sports are low as is your seat:
The Highland games and minds are high and great"!


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