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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XXXIX. - Feill Ceit


RAILWAY transport and sales in large towns and central places have almost effaced the old local fairs, and reduced the Falkirk trysts themselves to mere shadows. "Feill," often contracted to "Fil," meant both festival and fair. The festival was in honour of the patron saint of the locality, but the religious gatherings led to secular business in early times, and after the Reformation the saint element was almost entirely forgotten except in a few Roman Catholic corners. Cedd, one of the Saxon pupils of Saint Aidan, was the patron saint of Fortingall, and his festival, the Feill-ma-Chaoide, was a lamb market held in August. Fill-Ceit, of course, means the Catherine Festival or Fair, but I do not think that it was a Saint Catherine that gave the fair a name. I was told by Fortingall ancients that it was called after a daughter of the Laird of Glenlyon, because she had persuaded her father or brother to give a better stance for what had been a small fair for the sale of goats held at Balnauld at the beginning of December. When changed it continued to be held at the old date, and soon grew into importance. When I was schoolmaster of Fortingall the Filkate, as the Lowlanders called it, was rather a provincial institution than a small parish fair. Thousands of people gathered to it from five or six parishes. Perth merchants flocked to it to settle accounts with rural shopkeepers and farmers, and to get new orders. Farmers paid servants' wages and made new contracts of services with them or renewed old ones. It was quite a great feeing market; for it had grown into a habit with male and female servants to put off till Filkate closing engagements with employers even when determined to stay on in their places, and those who consented to be feed at home would not be content without going to the Filkate to spend more than arles there infairings and drink. The gathering was, to a large extent, a servant's saturnalia. At it employers and employed were on a footing of equality. A great deal of whisky was consumed, and the pockets of the women were filled with sweets. There were at times quarrels and fighting among a few of the young men who were rivals in love, and it might happen that old grievances among older- people who had taken too much of the mountain dew might find outlets in angry language. Still the two or three policemen who assembled to keep the peace had usually nothing more to do than to look on and enjoy themselves as far as the Highland people were concerned, but they had to keep a sharper eye on some of the doubtfully honest characters who came from beyond the pass of Dunkeld or across the Highland line from other directions. Mishaps of a serious nature rarely happened, but a few years before my time a fatal accident did occur. After the Filkate, a man from Strathtay who attended it was discovered to be missing. Suspicion of foul play arose, because on the evening of the fair the boots and feet of a prostrate man had been seen coming out of straw in an empty stall of the hotel stable. The Procurator-Fiscal came to hold an enquiry in the village. Those who believed that there had been foul play had two theories. The first was that the man had got into a tipsy quarrel, been accidentally killed, and that his body had been put in the stable straw and afterwards taken to some better hiding place. The second that he had been waylaid, robbed, and killed, and thrown into the river by some of the rogues who had come to the fair from distant towns. No one who knew him could believe that the stableman had anything to do with the disappearance. He was indeed capable of taking a dram too much on odd occasions, and he admitted that this fair-day was one of them. He had been working hard the previous day and much of the night, felt weary, took whisky to brace him up, and then laid himself down in the straw to sleep. His straightforward story was corroborated by fellow-servants. So the stable story was reduced to nothing. The quarrel theory also broke down. The missing man was of a pacific disposition, and his acquaintances said he had no enemies in the world. The enquiry of the Procurator-Fiscal left the matter as it was before. But far down its stream the river Tay, after some time, rendered up the missing man's body, which the Lyon had borne into it. There were no marks of violence on the body, and in the purse found on it were receipts for accounts he had had settled, and the balance of the money he was known to have taken with him to the Filkate. The night was dark, and he must have stumbled into the Lyon, then in flood, where it flowed close to the road east of Drumcharry.

Among those examined by the Procurator-Fiscal was Peter Macdougal, one of the two tenants of Balnacraig. Peter was called Paraig Eoghain Peter the son of Ewan in Fortingall, but outside the village he was widely known as Paraig na feile Peter of the kilt because he habitually wore the garb of old Gaul. Peter and his twin brother, Alastair, were so closely alike in person, face, and voice, that it would have been difficult to distinguish one from the other if Peter did not wear the kilt and Alastair trousers. Peter told the Fiscal that he had had a talk with the missing man before noon on the fair day, together with a friendly dram. "Did you see him after six o'clock at night?" asked the Fiscal. Peter's reply was prompt and thorough. "Lord bless you, how could I, when before two my son and daughter took me home shoulder high and sent me to bed?" The shoulder high was a flourish, but, no doubt, Peter had indulged in a good spree before his son and daughter interfered. He was no drunkard nor habitual tippler, but a light-hearted social creature who could enjoy a bit of a spree now and then. As Peter was a widower, his daughter, Isabel, who was a religious Free Churchwoman, ruled his house. She had an idea that the kilt was not a fit garment on communion days, and, without consulting him, got him a pair of sacramental trousers. With much persuasion she induced him to wear them at the next Kenmore communion to which the Free Church people of Fortingall resorted because they had then no church or minister of their own. At that communion Peter caught the first bad cold of his life. It sent him to bed for days, and his first act on getting up was to throw the trousers on the fire, from which Isabel rescued them in a scorched condition. Peter was seventy-seven when he went with his well-doing family and other friends to Ontario. Before he went away people told him, to tease him, that he would have to wear the condemned but carefully stored garment on board ship. He declared he would not, and asked who would like to go out in clothes that would smell like a singed sheep's head? Peter lived long in Ontario. His people had taken up land and settled near where the migrating myriads of pigeons passed, and Peter with his gun and kilt annually marched off to shoot the pigeons until he was a very old man.


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