Like a Seannachie of old,
would that I could visit each and every one of your homes to tell my
story. But in this case, the pale and tepid Written Word will have
In our Celtic mind’s eye, I’d show up at your home just before
suppertime, (conveniently) when the chores were done. Children up
and down the neighborhood would spread the word. After a good meal,
we’d sit around the family table, or gather by the fireplace. As if
by magic, friends and neighbors would casually drop by for a
blether. Of course, someone would show up with a fiddle and let
loose a tune or two. With a couple of damp dogs or a purring cat
sprawled at our feet, talk of family, politics, work and home would
soon run its course.
Announced by the cheerfully corky squeak of a fresh bottle of usage
–beatha, a wee bit of the creature is unleashed. With the happy
sounds of drams being poured, it is time for a story of Clan
Shaw……an 18th century a tale of:
Cattle, Deceit, Honour and of Carma...
Now, a young man named Seumas ‘Og’ Shaw grew up in Rothiemurchus,
hard by the old Shaw castle at Loch an Eilean. The son of James
Mackintosh ‘Shaw’ of Tullochgrue and Christina, a daughter of Robert
Farquharson of Invercauld, our young Seumas was of the bloodline of
the Clan Shaw Chiefs.
During the unhappy time when the Grants of Rothiemurchus were slowly
backing up their canny lawyers, papers and charters to Rothiemurchus
with steel and roof-burning (mostly of Shaw homes), Seumas ‘Og’ left
his family home in Rothiemuchus and crossed the Lairig Ghru - going
‘over the hill’ to settle with his mother’s family in Upper Deeside,
in Farquaharson of Invercauld country. It was 1633.
1653, James had a son was named Donnachaidh, or Duncan. His name
means ‘Brown Warrior’. James gave his son a good education, and as
he grew up into manhood, Duncan also became quite canny in local
business affairs. He soon became pivotal in the community. By
1690, Duncan was Chamberlain to the young Earl of Mar – the infamous
‘Bobbing John’ who led the ’15 Rising. Duncan was also factor for
the estates of Balmoral, Abergeldie and Invercauld. In short, at
one point, nothing moved in Upper Deeside that was not party to, or
aware of. Today we would call Duncan a ‘Go to Guy’.
Living up to the meaning of his name, Duncan was also noted for his
great bodily strength and stature. Both he and his father James had
large and shaggy eyebrows – a trait which still continues in the
Shaws of Glenshee families even to this day. This latter attribute
came in handy when claymore and dirk were often cheerfully called to
play - for as any fencer knows, it is the movement of your
opponent’s eyes that first betray where the next move of his blade
is said that Duncan’s father James ‘Og’ was a Gaelic poet of no
small repute. It is also said that young James went out with
‘Bonnie Dundee. While privately a Jacobite, his son Duncan of
Crathienaird was wise enough to know which way the political wind
was blowing. A man of his word, Duncan was trusted by both the
Williamite government and his Jacobite friends and relatives. In
1691, he received a Captains commission to raise, arm and command a
company of 20 men for the local ‘Watch’ or Independent Company. It
was his job to protect the district from cattle raiders and who
plagued Deeside and Glenshee. For all that and more, he was known
as Donnachiadh ‘Riem Aon’ Shaw – Duncan the ‘Man of
the Highlands, a man’s position in society was dependent on two
things: How many warriors he could bring in to the field, and how
many cattle he owned. So naturally, Duncan’s entrepreneurial spirit
was such that he also became a drover and dealer in cattle: ‘walking
gold’. So successful was he that he acted as agent for his kin,
tenants, friends and local widows, selling their cattle at local
or around 1708, Duncan had a disagreement with the town fathers at
Kirkmichael over the price of cattle tolls. So the next year, he
drove a large herd down south to Falkirk market instead. They were
plump and fat from lush summer grass, so he would get a good price
per head. As his cattle were penned or pastured just out of town
and as his men rested, Duncan came across a very wealthy Englishman
who was looking to buy a large number of Highland cattle. Well
dressed and bewigged he was, all silk and satin and lace. Even his
servants and retainers were only slightly less elegant: their shoes
had silver buckles!
What a contrast with Duncan of Crathienaird and his shaggy yet manly
breacan-feile clad Highlanders in their flat blue bonnets and
blazing tartan. Our Heilant men were all armed to the teeth
and ever shadowed by their loyal black and white dogs. Well, after a
bit of haggling, that afternoon Duncan and the Englishman agreed to
a fair selling price on the entire herd.
Crathienaird’s word was truly his Bond, so when they shook on the
deal, that was that. Duncan would meet the Englishmen the next
morning, turn over the cattle, load his shaggy pony with the
Englishman’s silver and be on his way. Pleased with the
arrangements, the Englishmen’s hospitality was quite fulsome. He
invited Duncan and his men to the public house to eat and drink in
celebration. As the night progressed, the Englishmen’s retainers
were quite affable. Too affable! And the whiskey flowed. And then
the claret. And more whiskey.
Came the dawn, Duncan and his men awoke with mouths as dry as dust.
But despite the throbbing in their heads, they were each working out
how they would each spend their shared profits when they returned
triumphant to Deeside. Gathering themselves and their
drink-scattered gear, they waited at the agreed-to time and place to
complete the transaction with the Sassenach. A minute or two became
ten. And still they waited. The Englishman and his ribboned walking
stick and powdered wig and gold threaded jacket and his retinue of
servants were late. Even hung over, the Highlanders noticed it was
quiet. Way too quiet. As they waited, visions of stacks of bovine
coin began to fade like morning mist. Duncan tersely ordered one of
his sons to check the cattle pens. When he returned, the young
man’s frantic look said it all. Where the cattle were lowing the
evening before was only full of dust, hoof prints and cow pies, alas
no longer fresh.
Black despair became incandescent fury. The herd was gone!
Long gone! With shaggy brows a-thunder, even his sons and
loyal friends could not summon the courage to look Duncan in the
eye. Now bristling with claymore, gun, dirk, dag-pistol and even
the hidden sgian achlais, Shaw and Co. saddled up for a ‘Hot
Trod.’ Seething with righteousness, they urged their sturdy
garrons or jogged alongside, weapons jingling, guns angrily cocked
as they followed the fading trail south mile after soggy mile.
Poor Duncan tried to keep the soon to be disappointed and quietly
desperate faces of his friends, tenants, partners and neighbours out
of his mind’s eye. Winter was coming. And they all had counted on
him. He and his men were well versed in tracking thieves and
caterans and deer and wolf. But soon Duncan’s roiling mind and
lowering brow were mirrored by the unfair Scottish sky. And the
heavens opened up, the remorseless rain muddying and confusing the
already cold trail.
Slower and slower they went. Heavier and heavier the burden of
guilt and self-incrimination weighed on Duncan’s broad shoulders.
Until at last even he - who through fire and war, through despair
and disaster lived by the ancient Clan Shaw motto: ‘Fide et
Fortitudine….even Duncan finally stopped. And with an inward sigh,
slowly turned his dripping pony north. It was the quietest, longest
homeward trip there ever was. For once, even the dogs were silent.
Duncan of Crathienaird was not called ‘Riem Aon’ for
nothing. It was not his influence, or his position in Deeside and
Glengairn, or the loyal armed men he could summon. It was not the
powerful friends he had, like the Earl of Mar or Ogilvy of Airlie or
Farquharson of Invercauld, or even his Clan Chattan connections over
the Lairig: Lachlan Mackintosh, MacPherson of Craggie and his Shaw
cousins at Tordarroch, Dell and Guislich.
it was Duncan’s own strength of character. And his deep sense of
honour and his commitment to Justice that truly made him ‘The Man of
Power’. Despite his loss of the cattle money and his battered
credibility and most important of all, the terrible theft of his
dignity in a muddy field in Falkirk - Duncan did the only thing he
could do. The right thing. He duly paid from his own modest
treasury each and every one of his friends, tenants, crofters and
the widows that he acted as agent for. All got their fair share of
silver what they would have received for their cattle.
With all his canny business dealings and well placed connections, I
am sure Duncan tried to weather the storm of this terrible financial
loss. But it was just too much. So, like his ancestor Alan ‘Ciar’
Shaw of Rothiemurchus before him (but for a different reason!),
Duncan had to sell ownership of his portion of his beloved
Crathienaird back to Farquharson of Invercauld.
‘The Memorials of Crathienaird’ tell us how Duncan and his large
family soon had an Old Testament-style exodus, moving from his home
on Deeside south to Glenisla. The elderly rode on horseback and the
small children nestled in creels on the back of shaggy ponies. With
a heavy heart, Duncan leased a home from his friend the Ogilvy of
Airlie, settling in his family in the farm and sturdy fortalice at
Crandard - a former MacThomas holding.
With his considerable talents, experience and local influence,
Duncan was able to re-gather himself from his misfortune and put
down roots for his ever-growing family in Glenisla and Glenshee.
few years later, Duncan and his men again assembled and drove a
large herd of cattle south to Forfar for market. Just outside of
town, the lowing herd was at last settling in under the very
watchful eye of Duncan’s men and their dogs.
he walked to the little town to transact business, Duncan’s
brow-hidden eyes must have for once been as big as plates! For who
did he see but the same ‘fause Southron’ and his elegant ‘tail’ of
retainers. Although Duncan was around 57 years old at the time, he
drew his claymore and dirk with the swiftness of chain lightning
that even legendary Cuchullan of old would not match! Moving faster
than he ever did when he was a lithe twenty year old, Duncan’s blade
angrily quivered at the Sassenach’s lily white throat.
Looking at the quickly oncoming death that he read in Duncan’s angry
blue eyes, the Englishman protested sorrowfully, his hands
upraised. With his face truly expressing his guilt, he apologized
for what he had done, and plead to Duncan for forgiveness. That for
six long years, he had spent many sleepless nights plagued with a
tortured conscience for the terrible injustice he had done on Duncan
when he had stolen his herd. Somehow, miraculously, whatever he
said changed Duncan’s mind. Lowering his blade – slightly, he gave
the Englishman the tongue-lashing of his life!
Finally silent, breathing heavily, both the aggrieved and the guilty
party were spent. The Englishman swore to Duncan that on his
father’s grave that he would truly atone for his sins, and more so.
Ordering his retainers to bring forth a stoutly bound strongbox, the
Englishmen brought forth a silver key hanging from his recently
threatened neck and unlocked it.
When Duncan saw the contents, he was reminded of the river Dee
coldly shimmering on a breezy winters day, such was the amount of
bright silver coins inside. ‘Its Yours’, the Englishman said. And,
if you’ll forgive me, I will buy your present herd at a
premium....sight unseen! Well, to quite Tordarroch’s fine history
book: “…and for long after there was a saying in the country, on
the occasion of any unusually good market that there never had been
a market like it since that in Forfar when Duncan ‘Riem Aons’drovers
drank bickersfull of wine.”
can only imagine Duncan’s conversation with his wife (a daughter of
Farquharson of Coldrach – a staunch Jacobite clan) when he returned
home to Crandard and noisily dropped a very heavy sack of silver on
the table. With thoughts of his old home up north, Duncan later
approached Farquharson of Invercauld, offering to repurchase the old
family property at Crathienaird. He was deeply disappointed when
Invercauld (knowing a good piece of land when he saw it) decided to
keep it as part of his growing estate. He declined Duncan’s
still, Justice had finally showed her tardy face on Duncan. With
his treasury doubly restored, he was able to give his seven sons and
six daughters a good start in the world, helping James settle at
Daldownie in Glengairn, John at Riverney and William at Broughdearg
in Glenshee, Duncan at the Balloch (at the pass between Glenshee and
Glenisla and Alister at the Auchavan in Glenisla.
Duncan died at Crandard ‘castle’ at the ripe old age of 73 in 1726.
With ‘Riem Aon’ as a role model, many of Duncan’s sons and grandsons
later served as officers in the Farquharson contingent that mustered
with Ogilvie of Airlie for Bonnie Prince Charlie. With Donnachaidh
Riem Aon’s name on their lips, they drew claymore and charged the
for the King Over the Water at Culloden.
Duncan’s progeny lived up and down Glenisla and Glenshee for many
generations to come - at Dalnaglar, Forter, Easter Lair, Cray Mount
Blair and Blacklunans. Generations after wandering away from our
Highland glens, the Shaw families from Crathienaird, Glenshee and
Glenisla are now spread ‘throughout the airts’. But we will never
forget the good Captain Duncan ‘Riem Aon’Shaw of Crathienaird, and
will always remember how his word of honor meant even more than the
home he so loved.
William G. A. Shaw of Easter Lair