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History of the Island of Mull
Chapter I - Introduction


The island of Mull is next to the largest of the Inner Hebrides, yet it has been overshadowed by a very small one off its coast. In extent the.isle of Iona is insignificant, yet, historically and religiously it has occupied a prominent position, though practically of very little importance covering the past three hundred and fifty years, during which time. Mull has gradually attained unto historical value. During the period of Iona’s importance and influence, but very little was known of Mull. Even to this day the origin and meaning of its name is a matter of dispute. Its origin has been variously assigned to Latin, Gaelic and Norwegian derivation. It cannot belong to the last, because Adamnan, before the advent of both the Dane and the Norwegian, in three different places in his Life of St. Columba, calls the isle Malean. In Camden’s Kritnninu (London edition 1695), is the statement, “After this (Iona) we arrive at the Isle of Maleas, as Ptcleny calls it, now Mula, which Pliny seems to mention in this passage, Re-liquaruni Mella XXV mill, pass amplior proditur, i.e. Mella is reported to be 25 miles larger than the rest. For so the old Venice Edition has it; whereas the common books read it-Helm quanun Mulla.” Strangers purporting discoveries of new lands are prone to fasten on the same such names as their fancy suggests. Often these names became permanent and adopted into the language of the native people. The name in Gaelic is Muile, sometimes written Muileach. This appears to be the same as Maol and Maoile, which mean brow of a rock; a cape or promontory. If from the Norse Muli, it would mean jutting crag, or snout. The Norse called it Myl, and in old records it appears as Mowyl, Mulle, Mwll, &c.

If the name of Mull appears to be in doubt, then it must not be thought strange that-its early history is even more obscure. Over a hundred years ago James Macdonald in his “General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides” wrote:

“The early history of the Hebrides is involved in thicker darkness than that of any neighboring region. These islands were successively over-run by different tribes from the continents of Scotland and Ireland, and by the northern rovers of Scandinavia. The ancient tales and traditions of the natives, which constitute the existing historical documents of this district, constantly refer to these eruptions; but they yield little that can be relied upon.”

Macdonald might have added that during the long period of darkness covering the history of the Hebrides there gropes not a single native attempting to inscribe her glories, or attainments on the scroll of fame. Indeed what has been preserved comes from stranger hands, and the native does not appear as a chronicler until recent times. What has been revealed requires the scholarly hand of a Skene—and others who may be mentioned—to unravel.

The first written accounts which we have of the Western Isles are given in the Chronicle of Man, which are scanty and confused. There are preserved other accounts, more durable than parchment, which are visible in her ancient monuments. Castles still exist whose history is lost in tradition; great pillars of stones are scattered abroad, whose erection and transportation required skill and united action; ruins of houses, fortifications, both mural and stone offer a revelation to the competent reader; and there are numberless relics of domestic implements and ornaments which arrest the thoughtful.

Referring to the period of written history, or the time when records have been .more or less correctly preserved, we discover the character of the people has been most grossly misunderstood, and they have been represented as barbarous, cruel and uncivilized, and for evidence the feuds of the clans have been dwelled upon. If the same amount of space had been accorded the Hebridean in narrating his virtues, the forbidding part would have been less darkened. It is not here attempted to modify, apologize or atone for many of the misdeeds recorded. Many are beyond all atonement. These were deeds decidedly revolting. There were clan feuds utterly unprovoked, and some of these transpired on Mull. Revolting deeds were enacted by men professing the Christian religion, although that pre-eminently mild, humane, ennobling and gentle religion was interpreted after the manner of the cruelties of the ancient Israelites. The. feuds of the clans have been massed together, although they transpired through a term of ages, which must not be forgptten.

In judging the Highlander, the age, the system of government and surroundings must be considered. In a sense, the clans constituted independent kingdoms, the chief being the head of the nation or tribe. The clans rpade war and peace. A clan battle was identical with that of the great-nations, though in miniature.    *

Comparisons are not always odious, for they may be illustrative, defensive and even corrective If the atrocities committed in the Highlands and Western Isles—and they were many—were revolting—which is not denied—then what may be said of the same transactions in the Lowlands, and even on the throne, though surrounded by advanced civilization, decorated by religious houses, stately cathedrals, learned societies, and schools, of intellectual instruction? Time and space will not here be devoted to the morals of the rulers, the intrigues at court, the prostitution of justice, and the undermining of the rights of man in his legal and honorable possessions. But some matters will be succinctly set forth.

Of all the clan battles, the blackest, the most ferocious, without any palliation, excuse, or cause, was that fought October 23, 1396, on a meadow by the Tay, called th&North Inch of Perth. Lists were staked off as for a great * tournament, and benches and stands erected for spectators. A vast crowd gathered of all ranks, from the king downwards. Each of the two opposing clans was represented by thirty warriors. It was a blood-thirsty affair. On one side but ten remained alive, though all wounded; and on the other, but one. And for what? Simply to gratify the throne of Scotland! King Robert III sanctioned it. He appears to have been gratified.

Coming down the ages, and reaching the year 1528, there is a mandate by James V ordering certain sheriffs to fall upon Clan Chattan,

“And invade them to their utter destruction by slaughter, burning, drowning, and other ways; and leave na creature living of that clan, except priests, women, and bairns.” The “women and bairns” were ordered to be taken to “some parts of the sea nearest land, quhair ships salbe forsene on our expenses, to sail with them furth of our realme, and land with them in Jesland, Zesland, or Norway; because it were inhumanity to put hands in the blood of women and bairns.” It is not probable that any effort was made to execute this cruel decree.

Less than a hundred years after the above decree was issued, we find it recorded that in the year 1607, James VI. directed the Marquis of Huntly should reduce all the North Isles, except Sky and the Lewis. Gregory, in his “History of the Western Highlands,” referring to this decree says:

“It is scarcely credible that such conditions should have emanated from a King of Great Britain in the seventeenth century; and yet there seems no reason to doubt that, if not originally suggested by James himself, they certainly received his approval. They were as follows:—That the Marquis should undertake the service upon his own private means alone— that he should conclude it within a year, and have no exemption from paying rent but for that space—that he should end the service, not by agreement with the country people, but by extirpating them. The Marquis of Huntly, to his shame be it recorded, accepted nearly all these conditions, undertaking to end the service by extirpation of the barbarous people of the Isles, within a year. 

When Huntly appeared before the Privy Council on the 23rd of June, to Hear, the final determination of the King regarding the amount of rent to be paid for his grants in the Isles, he was, on a complaint by the more violent of the Presbyterians, ordered by the Council to confine himself within the burgh of Elgin, and a circuit of eighteen miles round it; and while in this durance he was enjoined to hear the sermons of certain Presbyterian divines, that so he might be reclaimed from his errors. This accident—for it does not bear the appearance of a scheme concerted to save the Islanders—seems alone to have prevented the reign of James VI. from being stained by a massacre which, for atrocity and the deliberation with which it was planned, would have left that of Glenco far in the shade. But whether the interference of the Presbyterians was accidental or intentional, the Islanders of that day owed nothing to their prince, whose character must forever bear the stain of having, for the most sordid motives, consigned to destruction thousands of his subjects.”

The attitude of those in authority, in brutalizing men and persecuting the innocent may be seen in Elder’s “Highr land Host of 1678,” published in 1914. In 1678, Charles IP. had been on the throne eighteen years, during which time he had been an absolute monarch over Scotland. His privy council was presided over by Lauderdale, a fitting instrument for any measure of tyranny against Presbyterians. In the southwest of Scotland that sect held conventicles and engaged in building meeting houses, but refrained from all acts of violence or public disturbance. With this people Lauderdale had no idea of toleration. He caused Highlanders to be assembled for the purpose of suppressing this sect in the west. These Highlanders were retainers of the Marquis of Athol, Earl of Perth, Earl of Caithness, Earl of Moray, besides Lord Charles Murray’s troops, to the number of eight thousand. On December 11, 1677, King Charles empowered Lauderdale to order the march of the Highlanders from Stirling to the west. The bishops had great satisfaction in the preparations being made to subdue the west; and on December 21 issued a memorandum in which they urged that the most stringent measures should be taken. On December 14, the Bishop of London wrote to Lauderdale assuring him of “the gratitude our whole Church owes to you for ye very great protection & encouragement you give to those of its principles in Scotland.” In January 1678 the army took up its march to Glasgow and Lanarkshire,—the people in those sections having been ordered to surrender all their arms. The host was quartered on the unresisting inhabitants of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, and practically turned loose to robbery. The losses of the people in Ayrshire was estimated to have been 200,000 pounds Scots. To this must be added the loss sustained in Stirlingshire, Dumbartonshire, Lanarkshire and Renfewshire.

On their homeward march the Highlanders lived, as they had done on their outward march, upon the people, along the line of their journey. By the plunder carried, it resembled the sack of a city.

The morning of February 13, 1692, witnessed the most atrocious and brutal massacre recorded in the pages of history. It was executed without any just cause, and upon a people who were quietly residing in their homes, and the head of the family having, but a few days before, taken the required oath of fidelity to the government. This frightfully black spot was made by direct order of the “good” King William and planned by his Secretary for Scotland, Sir John Dalrymple. This inhuman slaughter is known as The Massacre of Glencoe, perpetrated on a small, and insignificant branch of Clan MacDonald, called Maclan of Glencoe. The order of King William, dated 16th January, 1692, reads as follows:

“If McEan of Glencoe and that tribe can be well separated from the rest, it will be a proper vindication of the public justice to extirpate that set of thieves. ”It is signed “W. Rex.”

Dalrymple rejoiced over the prospects of extirpating the men, women and children of the lonely Glen. His letters exhibit “a savage spirit of revenge and cruelty—of horribly sportive avidity in his demands for blood.”

The final order was given by Lieut. Col. James Hamilton, dated 12th February, 1692, in which he says:

“It will be most necessary you secure well those avenues on the south side, that the old fox, nor none of his cubbs get away. The orders are, that none be spared of the sword, nor the government troubled with prisoners; which is all until I see you.”

The person to whom the bloody work was committed, is known as Campbell of Glenlyon, related to the Maclans by marriage. He was well adapted for the deed. With a company of soldiers, and under the disguise of friendship he was quartered upon the people who received him and his company with hospitality. Even the night of the massacre Glenlyon played the friendship game in the house of the old chieftain), knowing full well he would murder him before daylight. In all1, thirty-eight persons were slaughtered, but many fled to the mountains, through deep snow. The details, given by two sons of the old chieftain, who escaped, have been reĢ-corded, but too painful to be transferred to these pages.

As a matter of justice it should be stated that in every quarter the account of the massacre was received with horror and indignation. The ministry and the King grew alarmed, and in order to pacify the people Dalrymple was dismissed. Although the nation desired an inquiry into this barbarous affair, yet none was made until 1695, and in the report of the commission the blame was thrown on Secretary Dalrymple. “In fact, the whole matter was hushed up, and it now lives in the pages of history as a sad and somewhat inexplicable blunder, which has rendered the memories of those who contrived it and those who executed it, ever infamous.” Dalrymple has been considered a heartless and bloodthirsty wretch and failed to understand the indignant astonishment expressed by all parties. In his “Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland” he devotes three pages to the massacre. He states that the King signed the warrant “both above and below with his own hand,” and concludes his account in the following words: “This execution made the deeper impression, because the King would not permit any of those who were concerned in it to be punished, conscious that in their cause, his own was involved.”

Cruelty towards Highlanders may be said to have been uniform, by the rulers of Scotland, and reached its culminating point, following the battle of Culloden, fought April 16, 1746. The victorious army was under command of a son *of the reigning monarch. Although the Highland army was disbanded, and the war was at an end, yet the Duke of Cumberland exhibited a ferocity towards the prisoners, the sick, the wounded, and the dying that beggars all description. With evident satisfaction he superintended the murder in cold blood of the unfortunate prisoners who fell into his hands, many of them being gentlemen of high standing and great courage. President Forbes of Culloden raised his voice against the massacre, and entreated the victor to spare the lives of his victims, but the work of vengeance was not stayed. He firmly declared to the son of George II. that the wholesale slaughter that was going on was not only inhuman, but also contrary to the law of the Hand and against the laws of God. “The laws of the country, my lord,” answered the duke, with a sneer, ‘Til make a brigade give laws, by God!” The massacre spread; houses burned, property destroyed, women ravished, and atrocities occurred throughout the surrounding region. Shortly after, President Forbes was asked by the king if the reports of the atrocities following the battle of Culloden were true, he replied: “I wish to God I could consistently with truth assure your Majesty that such reports are destitute of foundation.” The king in great displeasure abruptly left him. The President, in consequence had great difficulty in having his accounts with the government passed, and an immense balance was left unpaid. Not satisfied with the destruction carried into the very homes of this gallant race, the British parliament passed an act, that on and after August 1, 1747, any person, man or boy, in Scotland, who should on any pretense-whatever wear any part of the Highland garb, should be imprisoned not less than six months; and on conviction of second offence, transportation abroad for seven years. The soldiers had instructions to shoot upon the spot any one seen wearing the Highland garb, and this as late as September, 1750.

It must not be forgotten that the conflicts of the clans, and the greater part of the turmoil in the Highlands and Western Isles were largely due to intrigues at the court of the Sovereign. In order to acquire more land and more power court favorites would create the disturbances, and in the tumult would seize the property. Left alone a more peaceable people did not reside in Europe during the period of the conflicts.


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