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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter II. Parish of Alvie

1. BELLEVILLE is, in its English form, of French origin, and means “beautiful town.” The old name in documents and in maps was Raitts, and in the 1776 Roads Map this name is placed exactly where Belleville would now be written. Gaelic people call it Bail’-a’-Bhile, “the town of the brae-top,” an exact description of the situation. Mrs Grant of Laggan (in 1796) says that Bellavill “is the true Highland name of the place, not Belleville; and it has been maintained by old people that the place was called Bail’-a’-Bhile before ‘Ossian’ Macpherson ever bought it or lived there.” Belleville is now the seat of Mr Brewster Macpherson, a grandson of Sir David Brewster, and a great-grandson of James Macpherson, the translator of Ossian’s poems.

2. Dalnavert (Gaelic, Dail-a’-bheirt, signifying the field of the loom). — Dalnavert was long possessed by the Shaws of Dalnavert, subsequently by Captain Alexander Clark, and afterwards by his eldest son, James Clark, sometime a lieutenant in the 42d Highlanders, who died in 1837. Dalnavert and South Kinrara, portions of Mackintosh’s property in Badenoch, at one time called “the Davochs of the Head,” formed, it is said, part of the compensation given for the head of William, fifteenth laird of Mackintosh, who, by the order of the Earl of Huntly, was beheaded in the year 1556, when paying a friendly visit to Huntly Castle. In an article on the Highland Clans, contributed by Sir Walter Scott to the ‘ Quarterly Review’ for January 1816, there is the following reference to this transaction :—

“William Mackintosh, a leader, if not the chief of that ancient clan, upon some quarrel with the Gordons, burnt the castle of Auchindown, belonging to this powerful family, and was, in the feud which followed, reduced to such extremities by the persevering vengeance of the Earl of Huntly, that he was at length compelled to surrender himself at discretion. He came to the castle of Strathboggie, choosing his time when the Earl was absent, and yielded himself up to the Countess. She informed him that Huntly had sworn never to forgive him the offence he had committed, until he should see his head upon the block. The humbled chief kneeled down, and laid his head upon the kitchen-dresser, where the oxen were cut up for the baron’s feast. No sooner had he made this humiliation, than the cook who stood behind him with the cleaver uplifted, at a sign from the inexorable Countess, severed Mackintosh’s head from his body at a stroke.”

3. Dalraddy (Gaelic, Dail-radaidh, the dark or sallow dell).—Dal-raddy was long possessed by a branch of the Macphersons which subsequently became merged in the family of the Macphersons of Invereshie, now represented by Sir George Macpherson-Grant, Bart. Connected with Dalraddy is the well-known Badenoch conundrum :—

“Bha cailleach ann Dailradaidh ’S dh’ith i adag’s i marbh.”
(There was a wife in Dalraddy who ate a haddock being dead.)

4. Delfoor (Gaelic, Dail-fur. Dail, meaning dale; but the derivation of the terminal fur is very doubtful. Some suppose it to be from the Old Gaelic miir, signifying fruitful).—At Delfoor, which is situated about a mile from the church of Alvie, there are the remains of a nearly perfect Druidical cairn enclosed by large stones closely set on end, in a circle 55 feet in diameter. Within this circle is another, 25 feet in diameter, with stones of a smaller size, and at a distance of 25 feet west from the cairn stands an obelisk, 8 feet 6 inches high, 5 feet broad at bottom and 15 inches thick, diminishing gradually in breadth from bottom to top, where it is only 6 inches. As there is no sculpture upon this stone, it has not been included in the volume of the Spalding Club. Such is the veneration still paid to these relics of antiquity, that although they stand in the middle of an arable field, no attempt has been made to remove them.

“Those circles of erect stones, sometime called Druid’s circles, and known all over Scotland by the vulgar name of standing-stones, seemed to have retained their original use as places of meeting for the solemnities of justice in the north country longer than elsewhere. We find the king’s justiciar, with a great array of counsellors and attendants, holding a solemn court for the trial of a case at the standing-stones of Rane in 1349. A similar instance occurs in the present volume, where in 1380 Alexander Stewart, Lord of Badenoch, in the most formal manner cites the holders of certain lands in Badenoch to appear and produce their titles to their lands at the standand stanys of the Rathe of Kyngucy. Amongst others the Bishop of Moray appeared upon this citation, not, however, to prove his title to the lands of Badenoch, but to protest against the jurisdiction and whole proceedings of the Earl, whom he refused to acknowledge as his over-lord. The approach of the Bishop to the court, the formal protest, the disregard with which he was treated, and the whole proceedings of the court, are described much more graphically than was the wont of Notaries Public.”

5. Dunachton (Gaelic, Dun-Neachdainn, the hill-fort of Nechtan).— “Who he was we do not know. The name appears first in history in connection with the Wolf of Badenoch. St Drostan’s Chapel, below Dunachton House, is the cepella de Nachtan of 1380. We have Dwn-achtan in 1381, and Dunachtane in 1603. The barony of Dunachton of old belonged to a family called MacNiven, which ended in the fifteenth century in two heiresses, one of whom, Isobel, married William Mackintosh, cousin of the Chief, and afterwards himself Chief of the Clan Mackintosh. Isobel died shortly after marriage childless. Tradition says she was drowned in Loch Insh three weeks after her marriage by wicked kinsfolk.”2 According to Shaw in his ‘ History of the Province of Moray,’ the barony of Dunachton came into the possession of the Laird of Mackintosh about the year 1500. Here Mackintosh had a castle, which was burned in the year 1689, and was never rebuilt.

6. Kincraig (Gaelic, Cinn-a-chraige, the end of the rock).—The mansion-house, farm, and lands of Kincraig were long held in wadset or long lease by Mackintosh of Balnespic, an ancient branch of the Chiefs family.

7. Lochandhu, the black loch, is a little loch situated on the meadow of Belleville between the road and the Spey, which Sir Thomas Dick Lauder has celebrated in his novel of that name :—

“It is a pond nearly of an oval form, made by the Spey, before any embankment protected the adjacent meadows from its inundations. Lochandhu was surrounded by a thick belt of natural birch, which concealed it from view, till the late Mr Macpherson of Belleville rooted out the trees, and converted the ground about it into arable land. The dark grove furnished a place of rendezvous for Borlum and his crew, whence they sallied forth on their nocturnal excursions; and here he is said to have murdered a servant of his own because he refused to go along with him to rob the house of a weaver in Killihuntly, who was known to possess a good deal of money. The house of Lochandhu is thus described: ‘It seemed to consist of a plain and very low centre, hardly high enough for one storey, but appearing, from its double row of small windows, to be divided into two. On each side was a lower wing, running out to the front at right angles, dedicated to a variety of useful purposes.’ This Borlum, whose name was Macintosh, and who derived the former appellation from a property near Inverness, was a man of education and insinuating politeness. Though possessed of the manners of a gentleman, he was yet leagued with a gang of desperadoes. His last exploit, which obliged him to flee the country, was an attempt to rob Sir Hector Munro of Novar after his return from India in 1770. Three of his accomplices, one of them being his natural brother, were hanged at Inverness. Borlum is said to have gone to America, and served under Washington; and, in obedience to that yearning for home which is so strongly felt by every mountaineer, to have encountered the perils that attended a ‘flying visit’ to his native land.”

8. Lynwilg (Gaelic, Loinn-a-bhuilg, the field of the wallet or bulge).— Lynwilg was the birthplace of Lieutenant Alexander Gordon and Lieutenant George Gordon, both of the g2d Regiment, who saw much service in the Peninsular war, where the latter received several wounds. Lieutenant Alexander was for several years tenant of the farm of Lynwilg, where he died in 1856. Lieutenant George was married to a daughter of William Mitchell, sometime tenant of the farm of Gordonhall on the Invereshie estate, by whom he left a family, some of whom were officers in the army.

9. Pitchurn (Gaelic, Bail - chaorruinn, the town of the rowan).— Pitchurn was the seat for a long time of a family of Macphersons, and the birthplace of Captain Donald and Captain Charles Macpherson of that family, both meritorious officers.

10. Pittourie or Ballourie (Gaelic, Bail-odharaidh, the dun or grey town). — Pittourie was long possessed by an old family of the Macphersons. Here lived an iEneas Macpherson, familiarly known as “Aonghas Ballourie,” who had a companion of the name of John Grant, known as “Iain Bad-an-dossain.” Macpherson joined the Black Watch when only well up in his teens. On this account he became known among his comrades as “An Giullan”—i.e., The Youth. In the course of a few years, Macpherson acquired the championship of his regiment, and was generally acknowledged as the first man in all feats of manly and pugilistic exercises. Grant was likewise an able-bodied man, and of a fierce and unbending disposition; but on all occasions he was ready to yield the palm to Macpherson, although he would be inclined to do the same to few others. Grant having obtained his discharge from the regiment, returned to his native strath, where he settled, and became the landlord of an inn, while his friend Macpherson still remained to fight the battles of his country. The latter was a meritorious soldier, and in course of time rose to the rank of a commissioned officer. Several years had elapsed, and Macpherson having obtained a furlough, visited the Highlands, and formed the resolution of making an early and unexpected call upon his old friend and companion-in-arms. He travelled on foot, and arrived at the door of Bad-an-dossain’s house in the dusk of the evening. Mine host of the inn was at the moment enjoying a quiet tumbler in the company of a few boon companions, and relating to them some adventures of his military life, when the conversation was interrupted by a stentorian voice bawling out, “Am beil mac an uilc Iain Bad-an-dossain steach?”—i.e., “Is the son of the mischief, John Bad-an-dossain, within? ” The spirited old veteran was by no means the man to let such an insulting address pass without attempt at retaliation, and in a boiling rage sprang towards the door for the purpose of inflicting personal chastisement upon the offender. In the darkness Grant had no opportunity of knowing the appearance of his man; but coming in contact with him upon the threshold, he, with the spirit of a true Highlander, at once attacked him. Macpherson made no apology or explanation, and for a while an arduous struggle took place. The stranger good-humouredly acted upon the defensive principle, and when he had gained his opportunity, by a dexterous and scientific movement of the body, he whirled Bad-an-dossain to a considerable distance, and landed him in a filthy cesspool that lay in front of the house. Grant was naturally a good deal disconcerted at the position matters had thus assumed, and while in the act of rising and shaking himself, exclaimed, “ Co an D b’urrainn sud dheanamh mar eil Giullan na Reisimeid duibh air tighinn dhachaidh”—i.e., “Who the d-- could have done it unless the Youth of the Black Watch has come home?” Macpherson explained that he had judged rightly; that he had come home, and begged to apologise for his conduct. A cordial recognition took place, and they were instantly the best friends in the world. They enjoyed each other’s company for a few days, and “fought their battles o’er again.”

11. Raitts (Gaelic, Rat, signifying a stone circle. The term Rat— in the older form Roth—was applied to places set apart for Druidical rites, or for the purposes of religious worship. Hence glebe lands are to this day termed, in Gaelic, Rath mhinisteir—i.e., the minister’s land or portion). —With the old Castle of Raitts, which stood on or near the site of the present mansion-house of Belleville, the following incident is said to have been associated :—

“In a great battle between the Comyn and Macintosh, the former was defeated, and, being either unable or unwilling to renew the war, he proposed a peace, which was accepted. To celebrate it, the Comyns invited the Macintoshes to a feast in his castle—the design of these hospitable and honourable personages being to seat a guest alternately among themselves as a distinguished mark of friendship, and, at a concerted signal, to murder them, each stabbing his neighbour! The signal was the introduction of a bull’s head; but their purpose having been revealed by a Comyn, the tables were turned on their hosts, and thus all the Comyns were killed. Such were the horrible deeds of other days, perpetrated under the guise of friendship and hospitality!”

12. South Kinrara (Gaelic, Ceann-an-rath reidh, the end of the smooth or even field).—Kinrara was the favourite Highland residence of the famous Jane Duchess of Gordon. South Kinrara was the birthplace of Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Carmichael, a distinguished soldier, of whom the following obituary sketch is given in the ‘Inverness Courier’ of 21st August 1844:—

“We have the painful task of recording in our obituary this week the premature death of our gallant countryman, Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Carmichael, which took place at Forres on the 8th instant. A braver soldier, or a man of a more gentle, affectionate, and modest yet independent nature, never existed. Colonel Carmichael commenced his military career as an ensign in the 59th Regiment in 1809, whilst he was yet a mere boy. His first campaign was in the Peninsular War, when, towards its close, he was four times wounded, and on one of these occasions very severely. He was engaged in the battle of Vittoria, at the siege and capture of St Sebastian, the battles of the Nive and Nivelle, and at the crossing of the Bidassoa. After the escape of Napoleon from Elba, the Colonel was with his regiment at Waterloo, and was next engaged at the storming of Cambray. Shortly after the peace, he joined his regiment in India, where he served in the Mahratta war of 1817 and 1818, and in the commotions of Ceylon in the following year. In 1826 he particularly distinguished himself at the siege of Bhurtpore, being then aide-de-camp to Sir Jasper Nicol. On some of these occasions his conduct and bravery were made the subject of special mention in general orders. In Canada also, during the late disturbances, his services merited and received similar acknowledgments. He was in the command of the regular and militia forces when Beauharnais was given up by the insurgents; and, afterwards commanding at Coteau-du-Luc, he was as efficient in keeping the quiet of the provinces as he had been before in quelling the insurrection. He obtained his majority by purchase after leaving India in 1829; his unattached lieutenant-colonelcy was his reward for his services in Canada. At St Sebastian he was the only officer out of thirteen who accompanied the advance that entered the town; and at Bhurtpore he did signal service, at the greatest personal risk, by examining a part of the interior defences three days previous to the assault. Some of the trophies taken at Bhurtpore were handsomely presented to him by the Indian Government. On the occasion of the shipwreck of a portion of his regiment, on board the Lord Melville transport, near Kinsale, in the year 1815, he displayed admirable courage and coolness, and the influence he possessed over his men was mainly instrumental in conducing to their preservation. In Canada the Glengarry Highlanders looked up to him as a brother, while they obeyed him as a chief. The cairn raised by them in honour of Lord Seaton was planned at the suggestion of Colonel Carmichael, and his own assistance in rearing this singular structure was not wanting. He was greatly attached to all relating to the Gael, and cherished their language, their customs, and the remembrance of all connected with the north, in whatever part of the world his destiny led him. The duties of private life he discharged in the most exemplary manner; he was a devoted and affectionate relation, an attached and constant friend, and a highly agreeable and intelligent companion. His constitutional firmness and intrepidity were united to the mildest disposition and most unassuming demeanour. The respect in which he was held was strikingly evinced on the occasion of his lamented death, which was felt by all who knew him as a personal calamity; while his funeral was numerously attended both in Forres and Strathspey. At the former of these places nearly all the respectable inhabitants followed his remains; and many of the neighbouring proprietors (among whom were the Earl of Moray, Sir W. G. G. Cumming, Bart., &c.) joined in the same mournful tribute to departed worth. He now sleeps in his ‘narrow bed,’ amongst his native hills, in the churchyard of Cromdale. Peace to his ashes, honour to his memory!”

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