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Clan Donnachaidh Annual
Ronald Stewart Menzies of Caldares


From 'Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander' by Duncan Campbell. Inverness 1910.

RONALD STEWART-MENZIES of Culdares completed the twenty-first year of his age on the 3rd of January, 1845. His minority had been a long one. He was a five-year-old boy when his father died, and on his mother's death soon afterwards, was taken away from the Glen, to which he only returned on attaining his majority. He was educated in England and came back from Eton and Oxford as much a stranger to the people on his property as they were strangers to him. Had he been educated in Scotland and spent his holidays on his own land many things might have been different [He cleared his lands within a couple of years]. The reason for his being brought up thus like a stranger was that his excellent mother died so soon after his father. She was an Appin Stewart, a daughter of the Laird of Fasnacloich, and a Gaelic speaking lady with all the kindly old Highland sympathies which knit gentle and simple together. Her husband was an amiable man and a just and considerate landlord. It was naturally hoped that the young Laird would, as a landlord, tread in the footsteps of his father and mother, notwithstanding his English education and alien rearing. As soon as it was made known that he was coming to Meggernie Castle with college companions and local gentry to celebrate his coming of age, preparations were made for giving him a hearty welcome. Tar barrels and logs of birch and pine were hauled up the steep "leacuin" to the top of Craig-an-fhaoraich to be piled in a high pyramid there for a grand bonfire that would throw its light far up and down the Glen. On the day of his coming the tenants met him at the march of his estate on horseback, and escorted him to the castle. On his birthday the Laird gave a great feast to guests and tenants in the long empty peat-house forming one side of the court-yard, which the Maor Ruadh, who had a genius for such matters, had transformed with evergreens into a summer bower. The dinner was followed by a ball, to which all the people on the estate were invited, and between dinner and this ball there was a display of fireworks on the wide lawn which lighted up the fine old trees round the castle. Old Duncan Dewar and I had been told off to light the bonfire. The signal for applying the torch was to be the firing of a gun at the castle. And we were scolded by the Maor when we got to the castle for lighting it a quarter of an hour too soon. It seems the shot we heard and mistook for the appointed signal was fired at Milton-Eonan by some one who, in the dusk, took a pop at partridges lying among the stubble. The Maor swore terribly at the unknown poacher, but his adjutant hinted it was a lucky accident because the premature firing shortened the after-dinner drinking before it had gone too far. At any rate the bonfire blazed splendidly, and with the undeserved scolding for a blessing, old Dewar and I had a good dinner and then hastened to see the fireworks.

     Outdoor and indoor Highland music of the best was supplied by pipers and fiddlers of more than local celebrity. At the ball the dancing was kept up with spirit throughout the long winter's night. I never was a dancer, and never felt that I had been wronged in not having been taught dancing in early years. As an onlooker I enjoyed this hall very much, which was not the case with the lads and lasses of my age, who took the floor and came away from the merry gathering full of vexation, and in a spirit of revolt against ministers, elders, and parents, who, on mistaken religious grounds, had prevented them from being regularly taught dancing like the generations before them. Dancing had been so strongly preached down that there had been no dancing school held in the Glen for twenty years. It was only surreptitiously that boys and girls were taught to dance to the Jew's harp o' to "ceileireachd" in out-of-sight places by a few of their elders who loved the old ways, and were looked upon by the godly as frivolous persons or incorrigible sinners, although they were as honest, industrious, and moral as the best of the pious. As soon as I got into my teens, I was an outspoken rebel to the authority of ministers, elders, Baptists, and the "Unco guid" of both sexes in regard to song-singing, fiddling, and dancing, and I could be all the more outspoken because I did not care to dance, and because I was unable to sing; having, strangely enough, considering my father's fondness for scraping a fiddle for his own amusement, no musical gift whatever. I think the gloomy, ascetic piety which looked upon innocent joyousness of life as either sinful or leading to paths of sin was more genuine and wide-spread in Glenlyon before than it was after the Disruption. Ecclesiastical controversy is not conducive to the advancement of real piety of any sort; for it fills the minds of the controversialists with other thoughts than those of introspection and supererogatory analyses of positive and relative good or evil. The spirit of the Disruption was not a spirit of mystic asceticism, but one of holy war, sacrifice, and construction. It was, in modern form, the spirit which sent Crusading armies to Palestine, and impelled mediaeval Europe to build grand churches and monastic establishments.

     The Meggernie Castle ball was an eye-opener to the young people who had not been allowed to learn dancing properly t hough most of them had surreptitiously practised steps and got some idea of figures. They felt shy and awkward because of their ignorance of the art, but they went in for the dancing with all their heart. A spell was broken, though what had been lost could not be restored. The young people were all the more vexed because parents who formerly yielded to or sided with the prohibitionists now danced as merrily as if the days of their youth had been brought back to them by the fine fiddling of their Roro countryman, and coeval little Mackerchar of Dunkeld, and the rest. The dancing of the elder people was so excellent as to put that of their sons and daughters to open shame. I watched the kirk session elders who were present, to see whether the music and dancing excitement would so thoroughly renew their youth as to compel them to take the floor. They resisted the temptation, but they looked on with beaming faces.

     A great shinty match concluded the coming of age celebrations. In the Glen we called shinty "camanachd" from "caman," the bent stick or club, and football we named "creatag," which simply means ball. In both forms the game was a favourite with. with schoolboys. The Kirk had very rightly put down the Handsel Monday cock-fighting at the school, but left the other games untouched. These were shinty, football, rounders, duckstone, terzie or "enu-corr" (ocld ~bild), races, wrestling, etc.

     As a very little boy I was present at the last cockfight held at Innerwick, and did not like it at all, though seemingly the grown-up people who came to see it liked it well. But to revert to the Meggernie Castle "camanachd", boys under fourteen being rejected from the ranks of war, divided themselves into rival teams, and went off to play in a separate part of the long, level haugh. Culdares and a friend of his divided the multitude of adults between them, and the battle, which began early in the morning of a frosty day, was finished by moonlight. Among the players were several heads of families who would not see fifty again. Pipers played stirring war-music, which warmed their blood. The spirit of fun and frolic seized upon them, and they entered the lists feeling their youth renewed. But the reverse of what happened at the ball happened on the field. In the dancing the young were put to shame by the better-taught, elderly people; on the field the young men and lads showed the "bodaich," who strove their best, that their sons were the better players. We called Culdares and his company the Castle Defenders, and their opponents the Invaders. I myself belonged to the Invaders. Victory was to be decided by the winning of two of three goals or "taothalan." The companies were evenly matched. I think all the Glen people wished that Culdares should fairly win. I am sure that such was my own wish, but I played my best for the Invaders, and so did the rest of my side. Our captain was good at arranging his men and retrieving defeat. Culdares and his company won the first "taothal" easily. We (the Invaders) strugg]ed hard to win the second, and very barely succeeded. Then came the concluding struggle, which was the longest of all, and which, as the light was failing, ended in our favour rather by accident than merit. As we confessed that it was accident and had light which gave us the victory, both sides were pleased, and we parted with loud cheers of mutual good-will and pleasure. On the Sunday which came after the Camanachd, Culdares and his guests, among whom it was said there was not a single Presbyterian, went in carriages, as in a State procession, to the parish church. It was known beforehand that this was to take place; but if the idea was anywhere entertained that people who had joined the Free Church would be led by sycophancy or curiosity to go that day or ever back to the church they had left, it was at once proved to be a delusion. The Castle party only saw the desolation the Disruption had wrought there. Young Culdares was much misled if he was made to believe that his temporary patronage of a church to which he did not belong would have any influence in changing the opinion of the Glen people on church questions; opinions which they had deliberately formed for themselves, and deliberately resolved to act upon.


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