Reminiscences of a Highland Parish
Mary of Unnimore
[From the Gaelic of the
late Dr Macleod, of St CoIumba's, Glasgow,
illustrative of the poor Highlander in the great city.]
THAT was the day of the
sadness to manythe day on which Mac Cailein [Mac Cailein. Sir Walter
Scott, and after him Macaulay, write Argyle's patronymic as Ma: cal/urn,
a mistake which sounds very offensive to a Celtic ear. Colin Celtice
G!ileinwas the founder of the Argyle family.] (Argyle) parted with the
estate of his ancestors in the place where I was reared.
The people of Unnimore
thought that "flitting" would not come upon them while they lived. As
long as they paid the rent, and that was not difficult to do, anxiety
did not come near them; and a lease they asked not. It was there that
the friendly neighbourhood was, though now only one smoke is to be seen,
from the house of the Saxon shepherd.
When we got the "summons
to quit," we thought it was only for getting an increase of rent, and
this we 'willingly offered to give; but permission to stay we got not.
The small cattle [Cows forming the chief property of the Highlanders,
known as ni, "substance," or "wealth," and furnishing epithets
expressive of strong affection, the sheep were thought to be highly
honoured by being styled "small cows," or "small cattle;" and here we
are reminded of Isaiah xliii. 23, " The small cattle of thy
burnt-offerings."] were sold, and at length it became necessary to part
with the one cow. When shall I forget the plaintive wailing of the
children deprived of the milk which was no more for them? When shall I
forget the last sight I got of my pretty cluster of goats bleating on
the lip of the rock, as if inviting me to milk them? But it was not
allowed me to put a cuuacla (pail) under them.
The day of "flitting"
came. The officers of the law came along with it, and the shelter of a
house, even for one night more, was not to be got. It was necessary to
depart. The hissing of the fire on the flag of the hearth as they were
drowning it, reached my heart. We could not get even a bothy in the
country; therefore we had nothing for it but to face the land of
strangers, (Lowlands.) The aged woman, the mother of my husband, was
then alive, weak, and lame. James carried her on his back in a creel. I
followed him with little John, an infant at my breast, and thou who art
no more, Donald beloved, a little toddler, walking with thy sister by my
side. Our neighbours carried the little furniture that remained to us,
and showed every kindness which tender friendship could show.
On the day of our leaving
Unnimore I thought my heart would rend. I would feel right if niy tears
would flow; but no relief thus did I find. We sat for a time on "Knock-nan-Carp"
(Hill of Cairns,) to take the last look at the place where we had been
brought up. The houses were being already stripped. The bleat of the
"big sheep " [The small cattle, (meanbh-chro,) the indigenous breed of
sheep, small in size, most delicate in flesh, and fine in wool, like the
ShetIand kind, housed every night, and milked every day, were favourites
with the people ; but the large sheep that ranged the mountain and the
strath alike, and which have led to so many unhappy clear ances, are to
the common Celt objects of utter detestation. The "tooth of the big
sheep" is "the root of all evil" in his estimation, and the "good time
coming" is always associated with the extirpation of this accursed
breed. We knew a minister who preached in Skyea native not of the
Highlands, however, but of the Lowlandswithin the last thirty years;
and who, wishing to present a very attractive picture of l.eiven,
assured his hearers that "there would be no big sheep there."] was on
the mountain. The whistle of the Lowland shepherd and the bark of his
dogs were on the brae. We were sorrowful, but thanks to Him who
strengthened us, no imprecation or evil wish was heard from one of us.
"There is no fear of us," says James. "The world is wide, and God will
sustain us. I am here carrying my mother, and thou, Mary, with my young
children, art walking with me on this sorrowful `flitting;' yet we are
as happy, and possibly as great objects of envy, as the owner of this
estate who has driven us to the wandering."
What have you of it, but
that we reached Glasgow, and through the letter of the saintly man who
is now no more, my beloved minister, (little did I think that I would
not again behold his noble countenance,) we got into a cotton work. Here
James got good steady earning, [Earnin is the Gaelic equivalent of
employment. I suppose it may be inferred from this that the Highlander
was often employed without remuneration; and, beyond question,
"remunerative work" would readily solve the difficulty as to the
maintenance of the population of the Highlands.] as did also the
children when they grew up. We were comfortable, and I hope that we were
grateful. The old woman was still living, her intellect and memory as
good as ever they had been. She knew so much of old Highland lore, that
it was a relief to James, when he came home weary from the work, to sit
down and converse with her.
We were able to do much
justice (give a good opportunity) to the children. They read English and
Gaelic equally well, and nothing did the old woman ever see that she
valued like listening to thee, Donald, beloved, reading the Bible and
other good books; and it is thou who couldst do that distinctly and
It pleased God to call
the old woman away, and she fell into the quiet sleep of death,
bequeathing her soul to the blessed Saviour who went to death for her.
We missed her greatly. Instead of being thankful for the time that it
had pleased God to spare her, we lamented for her beyond measure. God
chastised us. My beautiful, splendid boy took the infectious fever,
which was at the time in the great city, and shortly after his father
and his sister took it. It is He alone who enabled me to stand that has
knowledge of what I endured at the time. Let men never say that there is
not kindness in the Lowlanders. It is I who did not find them destitute
of pity. Though the fear of the fever kept away the greater number of my
acquaintance, God raised up friends who sustained me. A neighbour's
wife, with whom I was but slightly acquainted, took the lassie from me,
and I sent John to a friend's house to avoid the fever. My husband (the
man) [The husband, styled in Scotch the "good-man," is in Gaelic styled
simply the man; and, possibly, the manthe man, par excels the most
complimentary title that can be given.] and Donald were taken to the
infirmary at the head of the town, and it was permitted to myself to
follow them. Cheerless and heavy was my step after the carriage that
conveyed them. I thought it could not be more sorrowful, though I were
following them to the churchyard; but, oh! far asunder, as I have since
felt, are the two things.
I heard so many stories
of this nursing-house, that horror was on me for it ; but it is I who
did not need. They were placed in a chamber which might suffice for a
king, and a physician and a sick-nurse were as kind to them as if they
had been their dearest on the face of the world. Fifteen days after they
went inon the morning of the Communion-daythat pang entered my heart
which has not left, and never will leave it. From that time the world
has lost for me much of its gladness. Thou didst change, (die,) Donald,
son of my love, who never saidst to father or mother, "It is ill." But
why should I complain? He who called him to Himself had more right to
him. We must be resigned.
Donald departed : but
thanks to the benign Father, all did not depart, James recovered, and
eight weeks after he had gone in we returned again to our home; but, oh!
it was on that home that the change had come. Donald was not. It was he
who used to read to us in the evening at the time of going to rest. I
noticed the sad cloud that was on the countenance of my husband as he
"Wife, where is the
Bible? Bring it to myself to-night."
"Come here, John," said
I, "and take the Bible." "Oh! is it not right?" said James. "Thank God
that you are spared!"
James had no strength for
work. He was feeble and without courage. We had nothing but what John
brought in from day to day, so that it was necessity to me to sell,
little by little, what we could best spare of the furniture, hoping that
better days would come. At length the rent was to be paid and nothing to
meet it. James went out with Donald's watch, and the name of my darling
cut on the back of it. He returned after paying the rent, and laid
himself down on the bed without a word out of his head. But, as God
brought it round, who came in that very evening but the minister, and
that was the visit of blessedness to us. He held much discourse with us.
He offered up a prayer which dropped on our hearts. Our courage rose
greatly. His language was like the dew of the evening on the tender
plants which were withering.
The health of James was
improving, and he obtained some kind of light work during the year. But
on a night of those nights at the beginning of winter five years ago,
John came in and great grief was on his countenance, as if he had been
"What is the matter, my
love?" I said.
"There is not much," he
said. "Perhaps another place may open, though the work in which I am has
stopped. The work-people have risen against the masters, demanding a
heightening of wages, and threaten to burn the works if they will not
yield. They have drawn out a writing, and they threaten evil to every
one who will not put his hand to it."
James was stretched on
the bed, but as soon as he heard this, he raised his head and said :
"I hope, John, that thou
hast not put thy hand to that bad paper."
"Is it I, father ?" said
the poor lad. "Truly I have not put, and will not put."
"Thou never wilt, my
brave boy. Be faithful and true, as were the men from whom thou hast
come. Stand thou by thy king and the laws of thy country, and let there
be to thee no companionship with those who seek to lawlessness. We have
what will suffice us to-night, and put the Sabbath past. When Monday
comes, God will open another door. 'God- comes in want, and there is no
want when He comes.' Let us go to rest. Bring over the books, John, and
let us give praise to God. To-night let us sing the 146th Psalm, and
raise the tune together. Oft have I sung it in the great assembly, with
many of those who are not now on the face of the world, and I never
heard it that it did not give relief to my heart."
We went to church on the
next day, and heard teaching that helped us to forget this poor world.
"Blessed," said James, as
we returned home, is the day of the Sabbath; it is God himself hath set
At the beginning of the
week two men, whom we knew, came from the cotton-mill, asking James and
my son to stand out with them, saying there was no good for them to
continue separate; speaking much against the tyranny and covetousness of
the great merchants, and very much about king and kingdom which I could
"Leave me," says James.
"There is no use in your speaking further. I will not stand out, neither
will I do injury to the kind man who has given me employment ever since
I came to the place, and whom I found truly steadfast in every distress.
Leave me; the blood of rebelliousness is not in my veins."
They told him it was in
their power to help him that they had money from England to aid those
who would stand out with them, and as a proof of this they offered to
leave a crown-piece with him.
"No," said James. "Not a
penny of your money shall be left in this housethere is a curse along
with it. I will not stand with you; no more will my son. I have only
him. I saw his brother, my good and faithful son, borne to the grave
without the power of my being under his head, and it was a hard trial;
but I would choose to see him who is alive laid by his brother's side
before seeing him in the midst of those who seek to bring confusion and
bloodshed on the country. Take away your money. There is not a coin
to-night in my house. I have not a single (red) penny [A red penny,
i.e., a copper penny, the lowest coin contrasted with the while
pennythe silver shilling. White money is the common expression for
silver coin generally.] on the face of the world; but on the day that I
rise with you may I be without shelter for the night. Go," said he; "but
I beseech you give up your folly; it will not prosper with you."
They gave a loud laugh,
and went away ridiculing his language.
Day after day was
passing, and employment was not to be found. Everything that could be
sold was gone, except the two beds and a few small articles which were
not worth the disposing of James lost his cheerfulness entirely. He
would not go over the door; but kept rocking himself by the fireside,
without a syllable from his head. We had new Bibles, which had belonged
to Donald. I noticed my husband taking them now and then out from the
place in which they were locked, and after gazing on them he would shed
tears, start back with a heavy sigh, and replace them in the very spot
where they had been.
"You will, not sell
these, father, while I am alive?" said John.
"Truly, my son, I would
not wish to part with them, if I were at all able to keep them."
That very evening John
went out, and as he did not return at the time of our usual going to
rest, we were under great anxiety (many pangs) for him. When he came,
there was a kind of flush in his cheek, and a raised look in his
countenance, which caused us to wonder and to fear.
"Father," said he,
"forgive me; and thou, mother of my love, do not thou condemn me. You
shall not sell the Bibles of Donald, nor yet the bed on which you are
lying. There is what will help you."
He took out ten gold
coins, and he placed them on the table. His father started with horror,
and had there not been a support to his back lie would have been clean
over on the floor.
"What is this that thou
hast done, my son? What hast thou done? Has God let thee completely off
His hand? What, I say, has befallen thee ?" (has risen to thee.)
"Nothing," said he, "but
that I have joined the army. To-night I am a soldier belonging to Red
King George; and. I trust I shall not bring shame on my ancestors or on
James raised his eyes,
and the blood which had forsaken his cheek returned.
"John, come near me. It
might have been worse, my brave boy, much worse."
"Oh, it is good that it
is not worse; but wherefore did you not tell us what was in your
"It is not customary with
youth," said he, "to consult with their parents before they take the
gold? and good is it to the king that it is thus. I have enlisted with
Allan of Erract, (with the man of Erract,) and he promised to come
to-morrow to make my excuse."
On the morrow Allan Mor
(great Allan) came, and when he understood who we were, he assisted us
liberally. What is there to say but that he did not lose sight of John
when he was under him?
He advanced him step by
step in the army. He is now on his way home with a pension from his king
and country, which will keep him . easy for life. He is quit of
soldiering any more, and we look for his return home in the course of a
month. James is now in good health. He has got an easy place from the
humane men, who did not forsake him. My daughter is married to a
prudent, industrious lad from the Highlands, and now, thanks to the
Gracious One who sustained us, the voice of joy is to be heard among us.
Hardship did meet us: but God blessed it for our good. He stood by us in
every difficulty. Often does James, in the communing of the evening, go
over everything that has befallen us, tracing as he best can the steps
of the Lord's providence towards the good of our souls. "It is good for
me that I have been afflicted, is his language, and of every cause of
gladness the least is not that according to every account, John
remembers his God and loves his Saviour. He never parted with his
brother's Bible. Often has it accompanied him on the day of battle, and
been his pillow at night in a far distant land.
He has been writing to us
that this very Bible has been blessed for good to several of his
fellow-soldiers to whom he used to read it. And now have we not cause to
be thankful? Oh, let people never lose their hope in God. Let neither
hardships nor poverty compel them to break His law, nor to neglect His
ordinances. The higher the tempest strikes, (the louder the tempest
rages,) the closer may they flee to the shadow of the Great Rock in the
weary land. Thou, Lord, hast said, and true are all Thy words, "Because
he bath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him. I will set
him on high, because he hath known my name;" and it is we who have
experienced that "faithful is He who hath promised.'
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.