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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter VIII. - Some Parish History


THE parish of Fortingall was in area less like a parish than a small county. The Reformation supplied it with one parish minister and one parish school-master, who lived close to each other at Fortingall village. It was a long time before Glenlyon and Rannoch were each provided with side-schools, the latter with one at the upper end and another at the lower end of Loch Rannoch. It was in the latter that Dugald Buchanan taught during the early part of Mr Macara's long ministry. The earliest of the Glenlyon schools was set up at Innerwick, and the second at Roro. Mr Ferguson, minister of Fortingall parish from 1719 to 1752, was an uncompromising upholder of the Revolution Settlement and Presbyterian doctrines and discipline. He made himself a sort of terror to the Jacobite lairds of the parish, and was accordingly much detested by them. He succeeded, in 1719, Mr Alexander Robertson, who had been deposed for having read treasonable papers from the pulpit at the time of the 1715 rising. Mr Ferguson during the '45 rising acted with the full courage of his convictions, and when Prince Charlie was at Castle Menzies, within a few miles of his church and manse, increased rather than diminished the emphasis of his denunciations. In 1752 he died from a cold which he caught through having fallen into the river from an upset boat. For over thirty years his ministry was a long fight with ignorance, immorality, disorderliness, and adverse heritors, who, I believe, with the sole exception of Sir Robert Menzies, were Jacobites, and, as long as he lived, adherents to the deposed minister, Mr Robertson, who became an Episcopalian. It was said that at first Mr Ferguson tried conciliation, but if he did he found it of no use, and he soon went on the war-path, which he never afterwards left. About 1726 he forced an augmentation of stipend on his heritors. Immediately before his death he compelled them to renovate his manse, which, in spite of remonstrances, they had long refused to do. While this work of renovation was going on, he went to lodge with his wife's relatives at Laggan on the other side of the river hence the river crossing and the boat accident, about which there was a whispered suspicion that it was less accident than a malicious Jacobite trick to give the strong-handed minister a ducking. Be that as it may, Mr Ferguson died of the cold he got by the immersion. He died, was buried, and then the groundless story arose, from a light having been seen in the vacant manse, that after death he walked and found no rest until he had an interview with his successor. His successor was as much a Church militant warrior as himself. His lot fell on happier times, and he was able to carry much further the work of reform which Mr Ferguson had begun. In 1715 the men of the parish of Fortingall, gentry and commons, rose spontaneously on behalf of the Stuart dynasty. They thought it disgraceful that a wee, wee German lairdie should succeed Queen Anne in the place of her brother. They had not bothered their heads much so far about the religious and constitutional questions which came home so acutely to hearts and minds in other parts of the country. They had no persecution during the Restoration period. With two or three exceptions the ministers of the then big Presbytery of Dunkeld, if half of them Vicars of Bray by compliance, were worthy men who kept on the old order of worship arid forms of discipline without innovation. The only novelty was the re-introduction of a bishop, who was not personally objectionable. It was remembered how before the Restoration, Monk and his Cromwellian troops ruled the Perthshire Highlands from Finlarig, and how humiliating the rule was to Scotland although it produced unwonted order, stopped the cattle-raiders, was justly administered, and, outside national sentiment, had little of the bitterness of conquest. But, good or bad, they would not tolerate Saxon rule again if they could help it, and whatever evils Whig Statesmen and Lowlanders might predict, they would fight for placing the right heir on the British throne. So they fought and were much disappointed in many ways. Mar was an incompetent commander who by delay allowed the Duke of Argyll to scrape together a small army, which won the results of victory at Sheriffmuir although the battle itself was indecisive. When at at last the "right heir" presented himself to his discomfited and angry army at Perth, his gloomy countenance chilled their returning ardour. But worst of all for Jacobitism in the parish of Fortingall was the different treatment received by followers and leaders after the suppression of the Rebellion. Old Culdares then a young man whose supposed minority was used as a plea in his favour John Campbell of Glenlyon, and Struan, the poet chief of the Robertsons, after a short exile in France, were pardoned and restored to their estates, while the common men were sent to be sold as seven years' bondsmen to the plantations. Popular resentment arising from this difference of treatment was not lessened by the stories returned bondsmen had to relate. And in the thirty years between the two risings education had been spreading, and the power of the Church had grown into a real check on the old undivided sway of feudal proprietors. Between one thing and another the '45 rising on the south of the Grampians, and in most places on the north side likewise, was far less spontaneous than had been the '15 rising. In the parish of Fortingall, Old Culdares, John Campbell of Glenlyon, and Alexander Robertson of Struan, who had been in the former rebellion, were still to the fore. Culdares was still in the prime of life, but although steeped to the neck in Jacobite intrigues, was far too prudent to endanger that neck a second time. He sent a gift horse to Prince Charles, and remained at home. His second son held a com- mission in King George's army, and he was trying to get civil service employment for his elder son. He wanted to be safe whatever happened. He thought that Cluny would succeed in getting the Glenlyon men out while he himself kept aloof ; especially as Cluny and his Badenoch warriors had just, under threats of fire and sword, forced out Sir Robert Menzies's tenants, little to their own liking and far less to the liking of their chief. The Glenlyon men flatly refused to come out at Cluny's call, and wanted to know why he did not begin by getting Culdares to rise with him. Culdares plotted and would not rise. But Glenlyon and Struan, who were now too old to fight or even to ride, were as full of enthusiasm as they were in the former rebellion. Glenlyon, whose eldest son was in King George's army, and had earned praise and the right to promotion at Fontenoy, sent his youngest son, Archibald, a mere youth, along with a son of Duneaves, to call out the men on the Culdares estate, and about thirty of them responded at once to what was to them a sort of hereditary call; for although Glenlyon had nothing then of the old glen barony but the empty name, he was the representative of those who in peace and war had led the Glen men for two centuries. Struan fired the heather in Rannoch, although stricken by age and infirmities. The two all-daring veteran rebels did another thing, in conjunction with a younger Sheriffmuir comrade of theirs, Menzies of Shian, which was both romantic and clever. They carried the fiery cross round Breadalbane to raise recruits for Prince Charles, and the device did succeed in raising a few. The Earl of Breadalbane was spending the closing years of a rather useless life at Bath, while his capable and energetic son, Lord Gleuorchy, was from Taymouth ruling Breadalbane and striving with might and main to hold it for the Government. The three Sheriffmuir veterans got in with their fiery cross under his guard, and wiled away some of his men, but he kept the bulk of them in his regiment, and also as many of the Glenlyon men as had not gone to fight and fall or fly at Culloden. Mr Ferguson volleyed and thundered against rebellion from the pulpit of Fortingall Church, and the ministers of the neighbouring parishes were working on the same side, if in a less belligerent strain, while Lord Glenorchy was gathering up into a fighting host the Highlanders who had imbibed Church of Scotland political views, and had got the keys of knowledge, reading, writing, and arithmetic, in parish schools and side schools. The '45 rising, which was far more disastrous than the '15 to the propertied rebels, possesses a dazzling amount of meteoric splendour. Unlike his gloomy father, Prince Charles had the gift of fascinating his Highland followers, who, through the accounts they gave of him to their children and children's children, exercised a reflected mesmeric influence on succeeding generations of people who detested the principles of his dynasty, and who knew about the inglorious latter years of his own life.

Long and stoutly as Mr Ferguson fought for the Presbyterian conquest of the whole of the unwieldily large parish of Fortingall, by the combined forces of religion and education, he had to leave to Mr Macara the hard task of bringing all Rannoch to the same orderly condition as Fortingall, Glenlyon, and Bolfracks. The lower half of Rannoch, although Jacobite and anti-Presbyterian, was not particularly unruly. The unruly elements gathered in the braes and woods belonging to Struan. In the cattle-lifting days Lochaber and Rannoch raiders were usually co-workers. These days were now over, but thieves of both districts were still at work in a small way. When Mr Macara was inducted as minister of the parish, I believe that rebel and thief, the Sergeant Mor, was still at large and living on the country. His refuge cave was in Troscraig, between Rannoch and Glenlyon. An incident in his early life prejudiced Mr Macara against Rannoch evildoers, and an incident in his early ministerial career confirmed that early unfavourable impression. Mr Macara's father was a saw miller, carpenter, and timber merchant, at Crieff, who bought a quantity of fir timber from Struan. Mr Macara, then a big lad, wearing a new pair of stout Lowland boots, came with his father's men and horses to fell and fetch away the purchased timber. As the lad was one day at work out of his comrades' sight and hearing, a big thief jumped on his back, and, having thrown him, stripped off his boots. The incident in his early ministerial career was of a different and, from his point of view, of a far more heinous description. He had been up to the head of the loch, preaching and catechising, where his duties detained him to a late hour. He was making his way to Kinloch through the pine-wood, when he was stopped by armed men, who pulled him off his horse, dragged him into the wood, where were an old man, an old woman, and a younger one with an ailing infant child. He was ordered on pain of death to baptise the child there and then. He knew his leading assailant to be a married man, and had heard during his perambulations that a servant maid had lately born a child to him. The child got ill, and the poor mother was terribly afraid of its dying un- baptised. So was the father of it, who was far from being thoroughly evil and inhuman, although passionate and violent. The minister, telling the man that he would call him to account for his double misconduct, accepted the girl's father and mother as sponsors, and there and then by torch- light in the pinewood, baptised the child, who did not die of its infantile ailments. Mr Macara was not vindictive nor revengeful although a hard disciplinarian. In this case he had an opportunity for giving unruly parishioners an impressive exhibition of Church power and discipline. He had the offender in a cleft stick, for had he not violated the law of the land as well as the law of the Church? The minister did not appeal to the law of the land, but he carried out the law of the Church in regard to adulterers to the utmost extent; and the man, who was well connected, fearing the criminal prosecution to which he was liable, escaped that danger by making twenty-six appearances as a penitent, most of them in the parish church of Fortingall, and some at Kinloch and Killichonain when the parish minister preached and baptised children there. Similar work was going on in the less unruly parishes. A power, as all saw, had arisen in the land which claimed the right, in God's name, of supervising faith and morals without fear or favour. Mr Macara had elders ordained in every part of his parish, who, along with teachers and catechists, formed what might be called his field army. He had no difficulty with Fortingall, Glenlyon, and Bolfracks, and he overcame his difficulties in Rannoch.

Church and school were in those days one and indivisible, although the parish schoolmaster had his "ad vitam aut culpam" tenure. It had always been so, amidst all State and Church mutations from the Reformation downwards. The parish schools of the Perthshire Highlands were not neglected during the Restoration period, but they were few and far between, and it was only after 1700 that the wide gaps outside began to be filled up by humble but very useful side schools. Glenlyon had three of these schools before I was born. One was at Innervar, another at Roro, and the third at Innerwick. The last was the oldest of the three; for the story of the laying of the ghost in Meggernie Castle by its schoolmaster shows that it must have been set up before 1700. But somehow it fell behind the other two before my birth, for instead of having, like them, a settled teacher, it was taught by ever-changing teachers, young men from parish schools who were aiming at going to the Universities, or who were qualifying for getting parish schools. They got their board and lodging at the farmhouses, moving about after their pupils. It was not in all respects a satisfactory arrangement, and it was surely very primitive, but the annually or almost annually changing teachers diligently and efficiently taught the three R's. In the preceding century Glenlyon turned out three or four ministers and two advocates, as well as some army officers and clerks and schoolmasters. The elder of the two advocates was Angus Fletcher, who earned the great distinction of being called "The Father of Burgh Reform." The younger one's career, which promised to be a brilliant one, was cut short by early death. He was a son of the Roro school- master, Robert Macarthur, and a nephew of Mr Macarthur, minister of Kilfinan in Mull. About 1800, Leyden, the border poet, made an excursion to the Highlands in search of remains of Ossianic poetry and traditions. Among many others he interviewed this Mull minister, who was then an old man, and who told him something that seems to indicate that a learning that was never taught in the side-schools, but had come down from ancient days, existed in Glenlyon far down into the 18th century. Mr Macarthur told Leyden that when he was a student at St Andrews, he had, by means of the carrier who brought him supplies from home, regular fortnightly correspondence with his father, who had no command of English, and who wrote his Gaelic epistles to him, not in the Roman but in the Irish characters. Another of the Glenlyon ministers of the 18th century was Mr Macdiarmid, who was minister of Weem for fifty years 1778 to 1828. Until Glenlyon was made a quod sacra parish, the minister of Weem had to preach a certain number of Sundays annually in the Glen, because the Roro district belonged to his parish, and the minister of Kenmore also held an annual service or two there because his parishioners crowded with their cattle to the shealing of the Rialt, which, however, was in the parish of Fortingall. Of the schoolmasters that Glenlyon turned out in the 18th century, one was Archibald Macdiarmid, the maternal grandfather of Sir Noel Paton ; another was Duncan Lothian, Dugald Buchanan's pupil and fellow-worker, who made a felicitously-rhymed gathering of Highland proverbial sayings which commences so:

'Nuair a chailleas neach a mhaoin,
'S gnothuch faoin bhi 'g iarraidh meas:
Ged do labhair e le ceill,
'S beag a gheibh e dh'eisdeas ris.

Clever boys like the two brothers of Duncan the Fool could go direct from the Fortingall parish school to the Universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, but similarly clever Glenlyon and Rannoch boys who aspired to the higher education were much handicapped by having to go to the parish or some further-off and more costly intermediate school to get qualified for entering on their college career. But where there was a strong will, a way was found to overcome the difficulties.


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