The case of Neil, last of the Macleods, Lairds of Assynt, has often been discussed, nevertheless when some time ago I became possessed of a MS. folio volume, running into 143 pages, consisting of authentic official extracts from the Scottish Records connected with Assynt, I felt after perusal they might form an interesting and authoritative paper, notwithstanding previous accounts of the family.
The first paper is a “Decreet of Certification, Alexander Mackenzie of Fraserdale against the creditors of the Estate of Assynt, dated at Edinburgh, 25th June, 1740,” and extends to 66 pages, signed on each page “ William Kirkpatrick.”
The second document is “Extract registered Disposition by Roderick Mackenzie of Preston Hall, one of the Clerks of Session, in favour of Mr John Mackenzie,” described as brother-german to Kenneth, Earl of Seaforth, and PrestonhalTs nephew, dated Edinburgh, 4th August, 1688, recorded at Edinburgh, 22nd day of February, 1739. It extends to 28 pages, each one signed by “Alexander Home.”
Third—“Extract Warrant by the Lords of Justiciary, dated 2nd February, 1677, upon, the petition of Neil Macleod,” consisting of one page, and extracted from the Records of the High Court of Justiciary by George Muir.
Fourth—“Proceedings in the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, on the second day of February, 1674, in the Trial of Neil Macleod of Assynt, now prisoner in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, consisting of 9 pages, and signed on each page by George Muir.
Fifth—Extract of the verdict of Assize on the indictment against Neil Macleod, consisting of 2 pages, and signed by Robert. Leith.
Sixth—Extract Decreet of Spuilzie, the said Neil Ma<cleod against Sir William Sinclair of Mey and many others, dated Edinburgh, 18th November, 1692. it consists of 14 pages, and is signed by “William Kirkpatrick”; and
Seventh—Extract registered submission and decreet arbitor between Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat, and Alexander Mackenzie of Fraserdale, Hugh Fraser of Lovat, the eldest, and Roderick Mackenzie, the second lawful son of the said Alexander on the other part. Dated Edinburgh, 16th September, 1741. It consists of 23 pages, and is signed by “Hugh Forbes.’
These papers throw a great deal of light upon many incidents in the career of Neil Macleod, whose misfortunes certainly greatly exceeded his faults. The undoubted betrayal of Montrose cannot be laid at Neil Macleod7s door. It adds to our admiration and regret that the unhappy man, so far as is known, never, directly or indirectly, while denying the charges against himself, indicated the real culprit.
The name of Macleod is of Scandinavian origin, and the general idea is that the first Macleods settled in the great island of the Lews, of which North Harris forms part. From Harris descends the present Chiefs of Macleod.
Although the Lews Macleods possessed the greater estate, the Macleods of Dunvegan at an early period took up, and have maintained, the more prominent position. Dunvegan, issuing forth from the Isles, long kept a determined hold upon the Mainland in Glenelg, while, at the same time, the Macleods of Lews spread over the Wesit Mainland of Sutherland and Ross.
It would be out of place in a paper like the present to determine, even if disposed, whether the Macleods of Lews or Harris were the elder branch, nor the exact position of the family of Macleod of Raasay. Th6se three families have an unquestioned independent lineage of sufficient antiquity to satisfy even the most exacting.
At an early period the Macleods of Lews extended their grasp towards the adjacent Mainland of Sutherland and Ross, and settled in Assynt and Coigach, as also in Strathpeffer. Precisely as the Macdonalds and Macleans were eaten up by the Argylls, so the Macleods were treated by the Mackenzies.
The race of Torquil suffered severely. First the Lews fell, then the wily Tutor of Kintail got possession of Coigach, Strathpeffer, with the picturesque residence of Castle Leod, and others; and a junior branch, who, however, Were not able to retain possession very long, as Highland families count, got Assynt. And it is to the Macleods of Assynt, and particularly the last, that this pa,per refers.
The Barony of Assynt, for some time part of the great domains of the House of Sutherland, was in itself a magnificent estate, little short, it is reputed, of 100,000 acres, with the combined advantages of mountain, dale, and muir, together with lochs and large sea frontage. In the ancient titles it is thus described: —
“All and Haill, these respective Towns and Lands formerly and of old called and reputed the Country and Barony of Assint, or Assin, comprehending therein the Towns and Lands and others after specified, vizt: —All and Haill, the Land of Assint, or Assin, Towns and Lands of Elvin, and Markie, Knockem, Cronald, Inverkirkiak, Hulliach, Knockanmaich, Inbeg, Assinbeg, Loch-benock, Doriglock, Drumsnordaven, Scutine, Invarbuddie, Dair-ack, Torbeach, Auldraw, Auchmalrush, Claahtooktone, daish-more, Strichmaoaimie, Clussmess, Alennie, Drumbrick, Nuddie Glenreoch, Ardmore, Rinadie, Auohmore, Ardrach, Auchne-gleeich, Inchnunald, Stroncalie, Laim, Leadonbeg, and Leadon-more. And siclike the whole other respective Towns, Lan Is Grazings, Sheallings, Glens, Hills, Mountains and Valleys appertaining and belonging to the said Lands and Barony of Assin or Assint, Milns, Miln Lands, Multures, lucken and sequels of the same, with all and sundry lochs, rivers, and waters of and within the Town Lands, Baronies and others aforesaid belonging thereto and contiguous with the said Lands and on all sides thereof, particularly the water of Invercouloch and Inverkirkaich, with the salmon and other fishing great and small of and upon the said Lands waters and rivers, particularly and generally above mentioned, and on all other parts and sides of the same, with all other fishings as well in fresh as in salt waters appertaining to the said Towns, Lands and Baronies of Assin aforesaid, Lochs, waters, rivers, great and small thereof; together likewise with the Towers, fortalice and Mannor places respective of Assin, haill other houses, biggings, veards, orchyeards, tofts, crofts, out-setts, insetts, mosses, mures, marishes, parks, meadows, hainings, commonties, pasturages, grazings, sheallings, forrests, tenents, tenedries, and service of free tenents, woods, bushes, annexis, connexis, dependencies, creeks, havens, harbours, priviledges, casualties, parts, pendicles, and universall pertinents of the same haill and severall Towns, Lands, and others particularly and generally of the said old repute Barony of Assint, with their pertinents or that was, is, or shall be known to appertain and belong thereto in and by any manner of way whatever, or as the Town9, Lands, and others above mentioned with their pertinents are otherwise denominate and designed by the original and late Rights and Infeftments thereof, and with all Rights, Meiths and Marches of the same. Together likewise with the advocation, donation and right of patronage of the Kirk and parishin of Assint, Chaplaincies, Prebendaries, bursaries ajnd altarages of and within the samen and of and within the Towns, Lands, Baronies, and others foresaid of Assin pertaining and belonging thereto, and also the Teinds great and small as well parsonage as vicarage, fruits, rents, profites and casualties of the said kirks, parishes, chaplaincies, prebendaries, altarages, Towns, Lands and others foresaid included with the stock, and never to be separated therefrom now nor at any time hereafter, And siclike the heretable office of Bailliary of the Towns, Lands, and others above mentioned of the said Barony of Assint, with the Fees, casualties and profites, fines, mulcts, unlaws, amerciaments, herezelds of and belonging to the said office, all lying of old within the Sheriffdom of Inverness and now within the Sheriffdom, of Sutherland.”
It is generally agreed that the lands of Assynt first came to the Macleods by the marriage of Torquil MacLeod of the Lews with the daughter and heiress of Macnicol, the old possessor of Assynt. This occurred early in the 14th century. Thereafter for a considerable period the line is somewhat obscured.
The principal Christian name of the proprietors was Neil, and they are sometimes described as “Neilsons,” or “Nelsons.” Donald Macleod of Assynt, sometimes called Neil’s son, at others. Netts Son, was grandfather of the last Neil Macleod of Assynt, and first married to a daughter of Lord Raey, by whom he had two sons. Neil, the elder, and father of the last Neil, died during" his father’s life, leaving two sons—Neil, last of Assynt, and John —both infants. John, brother of Neil, was the first of the Mao-leods of Geanies, to which family reference is afterwards made.
Donald, grandfather of the last Neil, married, secondly, Miss Ross of Pitcalnie, by whom he had two sons—Donald-ban-oig,. and Hugh, afterwards of Cambuscurry, formerly part of Pitcalnie.
Of the Cambuscurry family sprang Eneas Macleod of Cadboll, founder of that important family in Easter Ross, and now the only heritor of the name in either Ross, Cromarty, or Sutherland.
Neil Macleod, last of Assynt, having lost his father during infancy, was still young when his grandfather died, and, by the intrigues of his step-grandmother, her own children got possession of the estate, which they held for some time, so that Neil did not recover it until the year 1649. Thus, without any care or, proper education, he became early plunged in difficulties, imaterially adding thereto by his unfortunate marriage with a daughter of John Munro of Lemlair—a family long extinct, and having no connection with the modem respectable family of Lemlair. Neil Macleod was still under age at the time of his marriage, and apparently afterwards had reason to regret his choice. The lady possessed some of the narrow Calvinistic views of the period, and was somewhat hostile to the Royalists and Cavaliers.
The real story of Montrose's betrayal must have been perfectly well known in the North. There can be little doubt that when Montrose was fugitive and starving—there is no truth in the statement that his alleged companion, the Earl of Kinnoull, died of starvation—he had, from dire necessity, to yield himself up to some of the country people, who brought him to Ardvrack, and to Mrs Macleod, her husband being then at least sixty miles away. Montrose's defeat had become well known, and, amongst others, to Captain Munro, then in the army of the usurper, who was in constant communication with his sister. Montrose was hurried off prisoner before Macleod’s return, and the story that Montrose offered Neil a large sum to permit his escape to Caithness is a fable. Whether Montrose made any such proposal to Mrs Macleod cannot now be proved. If he had the least idea of her character he would have refrained from doing so.
Montrose was conveyed South with every expedition and indignity. He was confined one night at Skibo Castle. The neixt r&sting-place was Brahan Castle; and the following day Montrose was subjected to the further indignity of having his feet tied beneath a garron’s belly, in which humiliating position he was led round by Beauly towards Inverness. Feeling much fatigued, Montrose was allowed to rest for a short time near a well at Muirtown, which is on the upper side of the high road to the Aird, nearly opposite the house formerly a toll-bar keeper’s, and, refreshed by the water and rest, was able to face the passage through Inverness with equanimity. Provost Forbes, though a staunch Roundhead, considerately ordered wine and refreshment to be placed for him, where a temporary halt was made, and courteously said he was sorry for Montrose's misfortunes. Montrose replied, with his usual dignity, that he was sorry for his country, and declined the preferred hospitality. The late accomplished Hugh Robert Duff of Muirtown caused the well, where Montrose rested, to be handsomely enclosed as a fountain in remembrance of the great Royalist; but, whether when this was done the veins had been cut, or drainage had stopped the supply, there is at times little or no water in the well. Our late townsman, Mr Angus Bethune Reach, wrote early in the forties a but failed to trace it.
The Earl of Seaforth, under colour of a commission from the Earl of Middleton, proceeded, in 1654, to Assynt, ostensibly to raise men for the Royal service, but Macleod had just cause for suspicion as to his real intentions, and raised men to oppose Seaforth, who declared that Neil did absolutely refuse to give Any obedience to the King’s commands, but, on the contrary, assisted the English rebels under command of General Morgan. Further, he conducted Morgan through Seaforth’s country, and, when it was burnt and plundered, Neil drove away a great booty. These proceedings were among the crimes laid to Neil’s charge -when indicted, many years later, for the betrayal of Montrose.
Had Neil Macleod of Assynt been guilty of the betrayal of Montrose—the reference to recompence in the Records of Parliament are vague—the hearty steps taken after the Restoration, in 1660, to do honour to Montrose’s memory, would have brought about an instant trial. Judges were at that time by no means too scrupulous in the manner of dealing with alleged crimes against the Royal cause and its supporters. Neil Macleod’s enemies were busy attacking his estate; carefully laying out their plans, while the poor man had no friends save the Sutherlands and Macleods of Dunvegan, his foes were also of his own household. Old debts, fictitious and otherwise, were bought up, transferred to willing tools, and pursued to the adjudication stage.
Neil, however, showed fight against very heavy odds, and, his enemies taking advantage of the arbitrary conditions of Government growing more stringent and tyrannical every day, caused the apprehensions of Neil Macleod for the betrayal of Montrose and other crimes. Macleod remained in prison, without being "brought to trial, for many months, and, while resolutely denying that he had betrayed Montrose, he pleaded that fhe indemnity promised by the treaty of Breda exempted him from all proceedings for crime committed prior thereto. This treaty proved a formidable obstacle to his prosecutors, and I learn from the Acts of Parliament, 1663, that the Scots law officers referred the matter to Charles II. as to whether Neil’s prosecution should proceed. On 1st December, 1663, Neil presented a petition to the Privy Council mentioning how long he had been prisoner upon groundless allegations of his accession to the betrayal of Montrose. After consideration of medical certificates, the Privy Council agreed to release him on parole, provided he gave sufficient caution to give himself up when required. In this emergency he found good friends in Colin Mackenzie of Logie and. Captain William Hardie, who became sureties for him in the sum of £20,000 Scots.
Although Neil was thus released from custody, he still had the charge hanging over his head, and he was not permitted full liberty until 1666, when Charles II. sent an imperative order to-the Privy Council, in terms much to his credit, dated at Whitehall, 20th February, forbidding further proceedings against Neil.
Unfortunately, after Neil’s release and return to the North,, the wrongs he had endured evidently rankled in his breast, and he' acted in very arbitrary fashion. Harassed and hard pressed upon every hand, by Mackenzies and his own relatives, the need of money rendered him desperate, so he levied exorbitant rates upon all vessels which touched or cast anchor in any of the numerous bays which intersected the great stretch of coast line of his property. When they refused to pay, as in the case of Captain John Ker, the men of Assynt, whether acting under the directions of Neil or not, seized them and held them captives until they acceded to the demand made upon them. Such proceedings as these strengthened the hands of Neil’s enemies, and, in 1670, when the Mackenzies matured their plans, they procured letters of ejection against him. To resist them, Neil garrisoned the Castle of Ardvrack with his kinsmen, the Slioch-Ean-Abrachs and the end of the matter was that Seaforth procured a commission of fire and sword against him. At the head of 800 men, Seaforth marched into Assynt, provided with cannon and other necessaries of war, but the House of Ardvrack held out against him for fourteen days, Neil, it was said, encouraging the garrison by lying near at hand with upwards of 400 men. As a result of Seaforth’s operations, Neil fled into Caithness, but was apprehended by Sir William Sinclair of Mey, who raised a great number of Caithness men to effect his capture. He was sent South to Edinburgh, and confined in the Tolbooth.
The ruin of Neil was now determined upon, and he was indicted on the old charge of having betrayed Montrose. When the trial took place, in February, 1674, Alexander Graham of Drynie, a creature of Seaforth’s, and the Earl’s Chamberlain in Assynt, laid an information against him. But, as delay prejudicial to Neil was countenanced, the Laird petitioned that he might be brought to trial, and the Lords of Council acceded to his request, ordering his prosecution by the King’s Advocate, upon information to be received from Seaforth, at whose instance he was imprisoned, the Earl being obliged to allow him six shillings per diem as aliment until he was brought to a legal trial.
It is thus clear who was the prime mover in the attempt to convict Neil, and render him dead in the eyes of the law. The following Indictment was brought against him. [it has already been several times published; but, as it is not generally accessible, the main facts may be briefly referred to. | Neil was accused, in the first place, of treason, and, as an aggravation thereof, that he *most perfidiouslie, threcherouslie, baslie, and inhumanlie” took and apprehended James, late iviarquess of Montrose under trust whilst he was invested with his Majestie’s Commission, and delivered him to the rebels, his Majesties's enemies by whom the said Marquess was “cruellie and inhumanlie murdered.” For which Neil received 400 boll of meal as a reward. In the earlier prosecution he was accused of receiving money. Neil was also accused of convocation of the lieges and opposition to Seaforth in 1654,. as well as being concerned in the plundering of the Mackenzie lands, along with General Morgan. He was charged with oppressing subjects, by levying heavy unlawful taxation upon ships which put into Lochinver, inasmuch as he exacted from every ship that fished in the loch, or touched ground, 3s 6d per last,, one barrel of ale for his own use, another barrel for the use of his bailie, with a pair of shoes and 4s nightly during the time the said ships lay within the said loch. The most heinous offemoe alleged against him in this connection was the violent kidnapping of Captain John Ker, who refused to accede to the demands made upon him. Ker was taken inland, and kept a prisoner in remote mountains and caves until he purchased his freedom with a sum of money, but there was no proof that Neil was directly concerned in this affair. Ker, after the treatment he had received, put to sea in a storm, and perished with all his company. Another point of the dittay was the garrisoning of Ardvrack Castle in 1670, when he resisted and deforced the Sheriff of Sutherland, who sought, at the instance of Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat and John Mackenzie, son of Seaforth, to eject Neil, his bairns, and servants from the castle. He was further accused of rendering assistance to the garrison, by having several companies of armed men drawn up in military array within sight of the place, it being alleged that members of the garrison tried to brain the Sheriff with a great stone, hurled from the battlements, and that they presented guns at him. Neil was put to the horn on 28th February, 1671, and declared fugitive for these crimes committed by him and his adherents. Further, that in 1672, when Seaforth and Lord Lovat, etc., received letters of fire and sword against . him, he raised, it was alleged, 400 men in arms, displayed his colours, and swore them to the same, placing men, arms, and every necessary of war within Ardvrack. When required to render the house of Ardvrack, Neil’s men declared they would maintain the place for the Laird of Assynt to the last drop of their blood, and oared not a plack for the King, only yielding after fourteen days’ siege, Neil being forced into Caithness, It was, therefore, urged that the doings of the laird and his adherents involved the “loss of life,” lands, and goods, which ought to be inflicted upon him with rigour, to the terror and example of others.
Neil Macleod had able advocates in Messrs John Elies and Robert Colt; they debated the various points of the dittay with great skill, and, as a result, the prosecution abandoned the charge in connection with Montrose, save only as an aggravation of the other crimes. As to the treatment of Kerr, it was asserted for the defendant that in levying rates he had acted quite within his rights as a free baron, but an alibi was pleaded in regard to other points. The Lords of Justiciary therefore deserted the diet as to the taxing of subjects, and, in connection with the maintaining ol Ardvrack against the Sheriff of Sutherland, “ found the same not relevant to infer the conclusion of the libel,” thedr interlocutor being favourable to Macleod on some of the points. With regard to garrisoning Ardvrack, after publication of the letters of fire and aword, they found the charge relevant, and such as should be tried by Assize.
After much debate upon the various points, witnesses were called to prove the convocation of the lieges, the swearing of them to the colours, the garrisoning of Ardvrack, and resistance to the King’s commission. Macleod unsuccessfully protested against the admission of the evidence of an Assynt man, who bore the formidable patronymic of Donald M‘Ean, vie Connel, vie Kynoch, alias Macleod. This man alleged that Macleod raised the three hundred men and put them under officers, that they had a staff instead of colours, which they touched, swearing to be true to them; that the garrison was under the captaincy of John McConnell, vie Ean, vie Corkell, the tenant and son-in-law of the laird. Another Assynt witness, Angus Miller in Auchmore, deposed to the same effect, with this addition, that he stated Neil placed eighteen men in the house for its defence, providing them with bere and cowes, and some aqua vita—but little of it! Donald Bayn and John Fraser, both of Dingwall, testified to seeing the Assynt men drilled and under arms.
When the Court met, on 19th February, 1674, several of those upon the Assize absented themselves, and were fined in 200 merks each for their contumacy. Sir George Mackenzie of Tar-bat had some apprehensions that, notwithstanding the elaborate precautions taken to secure Neil’s conviction, he would be acquitted. So, on the following day, when the Court met, he asked, before the verdict was given, that the Chancellor of the Assize might declare whether they had not taken notice of the -oommission of fire and sword, and, if not, it was craved that they might yet take notice thereof. The following is Extract of the Verdict of Assize against Neil Macleod of Assint, 1674 : —
“Att Edinburgh the eighteenth day o£ February one thousand six hundred and twenty four years. The underwritten persons being chosen to pass upon Assize of Neil Macleod of Assint did *huse for their Chancellor Mr James Ellis of Stenhouse milns and gave their verdict ut infra: —
Mr Jas. Ellis of
Stenhouse, Miln Chancellor.
Sir Alex. Macculloch of Ardwell.
James Fleming, Merchant.
John M‘Clurg, Merchant.
Robert Childers, Merchant.
Jas. Summerwell of Drum.
George Galbraith, Merchant.
Mr Robert Smith of Southfield.
Mr Alex. Paterson, Merchant.
Mr John Paip of Walliford.
John Watson of Damhead.
Robert Stadayside, Merchant.
Thomas Noble, Merchant.
Mr Robert Blackwood, Merchant.
The assyze all in one voice (one only excepted) assoilzie the Pannel Neil Macleod of Assint from the Crimes contained in the t»wo Members of the last Article viz.: That the pannel after the publication of the commission for Fire and Sword did raise and levy one hundred men and upwards in arms and put them under officers and military Discipline, or swore them to Collours or had “them under Collours or drilled them, or put them under Monthly or weakly pay. As also that after the publication of the said 'Commission of Fire and Sword, the pannel stuffed, provided and garrisoned the house of Ardvrack and in respect the publication of the Commission for fire and sword is not proven, as also assoilized the pannel from the taking of Captain Kerr containel in the fourth Article in regard not proven; as also assoilizies the channel from the Deforcement mentioned in the Sixth Article because not proven, (signed Jas. Ellis Chanc.) Extracted from the Records of the Court of Justiciary.
By (signed) Rdbert Leith."
From the above it will be seen that one juryman of the 15 (Mr Robert Blackwood) was for conviction.
After his release, among those who assisted Neil was Maoleod of Dunvegan, who advanced him money for the purpose of enabling him to take legal steps to recover his property. On 5th December, 1681, John Macleod of Dunvegan granted a bond in favour of Neil, wherein he declares that certain dispositions were granted to him by Neil for the prosecuting of certain actions then depending before the Lords of Session at Assynt’s instance, and for pursuing all such other actions as should be thought necessary for evicting the Estate of Assynt from the then possessors, and for compelling them to accompt and denude themselves of the said estate. He also obliges himself to pursue and follow forth the said actions to a final determination, and to make payment yearly of four hundred merks for Assynt’s aliment during the dependence thereof. Further, he obliges himself that, upon performance of these conditions, that as soon as he should attain to possession of the said estate he would grant and deliver a valid disposition thereof to Neil Macleod containing a precept of sasine and other necessary clauses upon condition of Assynt’s making payment to him of all sums he should disburse with annual* rents thereof, and of the sum of twenty thousand merks, or adequate security. A bond of 1st July, 1690, proves that Macleod of Dunvegan had laid out 6506 marks for behoof of Neil.
When driven by Seaforth from house and home, Neil Macleod took, as he supposed, refuge in Caithness, having no property but his titles and writs. This step, however was according to the old saying, " merely from the frying pan into the fire.” The inveterate hostility of the Mackenzies never slumbered, and Neil had hardly set foot in Caithness, as we have seen, ere he was seized and robbed of his papers by a parcel of Caithness men incited by Seaforth, headed by Sir William Sinclair of Mey, and including Kenneth, Earl of Seaforth, and Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat. So, for this robbery, he instituted, in 1692* a Process of Spuilzie against the Earl of Seaforth, and about fifty others, for damages to the extent of 200,000 marks. In this Process the Writs taken from him are enumerated, beginning with Charter by Roderick Macleod of Lewes to Neil Macleod and his son, Angus, of the lands of Assynt, 2nd June, 1496, and extend over 200 items, a most interesting paper, but hardly suit-
Able for reading on the present occasion. The next Earl of Sear forth, on his father’s death, sisted himself party to the action, and neither Seaforth nor Lord Tarba.t came out well in their examinations in the affair, Seaforth escaping by the skin of his teeth, as it were, while the other defenders were cast in 2000 marks damages, a mere trifle compared with the expenses incurred.
Neil Macleod lived for some years alter the date of his obtawing decree in the action of Spuilzie on 18th November, 1692, and died in extreme poverty.
After all the struggles to crush Neil Macleod, ultimately crowned with success, let us see how it fared with the Mackenzies. Presumably, not feeling comfortable at Ardvrack, they built a new house not far distant, sometimes called “Calda,” sometimes “The White House.” This is a common, though largish, house, while Ardvrack is striking and picturesque. Retribution followed speedily. The Mackenzies never had any peace, were drowned in debt, and, in the time of Kenneth Mackenzie, son of the first John Mackenzie of Assynt, as early asi 1741 matters had come to a crisis, and they had practically lost Assynt. The Mackenzies also possessed the lands of Killilan of Kintail, which are thus described: —
“All and Haill the Towns and Lands after mentioned which are parts and portions of the Lands, Lordship or Barony of Kintail, viz. the Town and Lands of Killylane, Wester Killylane, Easter Pharloch and Kilby, and haill houses, biggings, yeards, barns, byres, tofts, crofts, outfield Lands, Infield Lands, delvings, sheallings, Grazings, meadows, mosses, muirs, marishes, woods, fishings in fresh and salt waters, priviledges, pasturages, common-ties, parts, pendicles & universal pertinents of the same, with the Teinds (parsonage and vicarage), of the said Lands, lying within the parish of Kintail and Sheriffdom of Ross.”
Has Assynt been a success with the Sutherlands, who followed the Mackenzies? Well, they built what might be termed a palace at Locihinver, but it is now an hotel. Ardvrack is referred to in many books relative to the county of Sutherland, generally inaccurately, but seldom in so credulous a fashion as by Mr Charles Richard Weld in his “ Two Months’ Tour in the Highlands/’ published by Longman, in 1860. Here is one paragraph: — “ The Castle of Ardvrack was reduced to its present condition by lightning, a just judgment in the estimation of the peasants for Maoleod’s treachery.”
A fair description is given by Mr Archibald Young, Commissioner of Fisheries, in his book, entitled “ Anglers’ and Sketchers’ Guide to Sutherland’: —
“For grilse and sea trout, the best locality is the rocky shore below the high road between the head of the loch and Ardvrack Castle; for the great lake trout, the steep, wooded crag on the opposite shore, beneath which the water is very deep; and for common trout, the bays around and below Ardvrack Castle. On the south shore of Loch Assynt, not far from the head, there is a point where the loch, Inchnedamph Inn, the hill behind it, and the towering summit of Benmore combine to form an attractive picture. But by far the finest view of Loch Assynt to be had in the neighbourhood is from summit between the Inn and Ardvrack Castle, where a bay of the loch, the picturesque old castle on its rock peninsula, the bold peaks and grey rugged sides of Quinag, and the wide expanse of the loch beyond, bounded by lower hills, afford admirable materials for a picture. Ardvrack Castle was erected about the end of the sixteenth century by the Macleods, who were then Lords of Assynt, and appears to have been once strongly built and well fortified/’
“Not far from Ardvrack Castle, and also on the shores of Loch Assynt, stands the ruins of Calda House, a more modem residence, built by the Mackenzies, who succeeded the Macleods as Lairds of Assynt. It was destroyed by fire about a hundred and thirty years ago (1750), and nothing but the bare walls now remain.”
Like most old castles, Ardvrack has its ghostly traditions, one of them, communicated by Mr Macleod, Sub-Inspector of the Scottish Education Department, Glasgow, who had sent a fine photograph of the houses of Ardvrack and Calda, now exhibited. Mr Macleod contributed an interesting paper some years ago to “The Highland Monthly" entitled “A Ceilidh” about Ardvrack, and, in his present letter, says : —“The Castle and its neighbourhood are, of course, haunted, and many are the tales even yet told, at the Ceilidh of ghosts and other supernatural beings. If I had more time I should like to have told fully the last scene in the history of Ardvrack. A ball was held on Saturday night, and continued till the early hours of Sunday. As the grey dawn of the Sabbath smote the Castle windows, heavy curtains were drawn over them to keep out the light, and the cocks’ tongues cut out to prevent their crowing at dawn. Then there was a quarrel, and before the dispute was decided the devil had to be called in. Appearing, but annoyed at the disturbance.
"Auld Nick, after giving judgment, left his mark, for on Sunday morning the Castle was in flames.”
This story I have often heard as a boy, leaving a lasting impression. The photograph, made as late as 1874, shows, notwithstanding considerably over a century’s neglect, the wonderful building power of the Macleods, as seen also in Castle Leod, Dunvegan, Rodil Church, etc., etc. In concluding this paper, I have been obliged to curtail a deal of interesting matter, but I hope that the subject may yet be dealt with in the fulnese it deserves.
The Macleods of Geanzies, descended of John, brother of Neil, last of Assynt, flourished and were held in much respect from the time of John the first to that of Sheriff Donald Macleod. After his death the estate was sold, but the reputation of the family continued, and attained a high position in the person of the Sheriff’s grandson, the late distinguished officer, Sir Donald Macleod, C.B., K.C.B., who, after 42 years’ service in India, fell victim, after his return, to a railway accident.
The family of Cadboll, thanks to the prudence of Eneas, the first, a pawky Clerk of Session, descended of an uncle of Neil’s, have maintained their position.
The Macleods, who can justly claim to be of the House of Assynt, are considerable, and hold their own. I particularly desire to mention the name of a friend of old standing, an enthusiastic and devoted Highlander, gifted with a ready tongue, and incisive, fair, and independent spirit. I refer to Mr I. Mackenzie Macleod, so well known as “Loch Broom,” long the head of the cordial, hearty Celts of Liverpool.
The Neilsons of Assynt are not all dead—far from it.