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The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 1

GLENLYON stretches in a westerly direction between Appin of Dull and Tyndrum. It lies wholly in Perthshire, having Rannoch running parallel on the north and Breadalbane on the south. The road to Tyndrum not being open, as well as other reasons, have hitherto caused this glen to be a little world by itself. The scenery is unique, and beautiful throughout. The circular dale of Fortingall, abounding in Druidic and Roman remains, forms the vestibule, The traveller then enters the Pass of Chesthill, and for three miles walks along the course of the Lyon, which, hoarse-murmuring over its bed of honey-combed rocks, and now and then hampered by cliffs jutting from either side, gives one, by its twisting stream, crested with milky foam, the idea of a half-strangled serpent wriggling along, wounded but menacing. Lofty abrupt rocks, cloud-capped above, and covered with woods at their base, adorn and complete the scene. Emerging from the Pass, our traveller now reaches the inhabited places, the beginning of the real glen. Its conformation may be generally described as a succession of long "bends," the angles of which consist of mountain spurs, that so closely approximate at certain points as to make the beholder think he has attained his goal, and that the little opening before him has no ulterior, beyond, at best, a small mountain corrie. His astonishment increases as he enters another and still another "bend," in generals so like, but in particulars so dissimilar from, the preceding ones. Thus the scene shifts from beginning to end, a distance in all of thirty miles, while the average breadth is not much above two. The hills, rising nearly perpendicular from the bed of the river, give the whole glen its individuality of character; but the surface changes continually from bare rocks to verdant green—from woods and purple heath to the rich pasture of the braes, in summer almost white, from the large intermixture of white bed-straw (Galium sexatile) and eye-bright. The patches of arable ground, formed upon the debris washed down by mountain streams, are very fertile, but slow in ripening, as in most places the mountain tops intercept the kindly sunbeams. In some places, indeed, the sun is not seen for upwards of two months.

The present population does not exceed 600. Within the memory of persons living, it was fully double this. The population consists of large sheep-farmers, a few cottars and tradesmen, with a very slight sprinkling of crofters or small holders. There are an Established and a Free Church and their respective schools, and also a Baptist meeting-place. Three proprietors share among them the whole glen—R. S. Menzies, Esq. of Culdares; J. S. Menzies, Esq. of Chesthill; and the Marquis of Breadalbane. The last possesses the lands once held by the M'Gregors of Roro, and in the braes which formerly made part of the royal forest of Bendaskerly, of which an ancestor of that noble family, Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, was appointed hereditary forester by James VI.

The glen abounds in traditions and remains of the Fin-galians. A chain of round towers stretches through its whole length, which the people still call "Caistealan nam Fiann," castles of the Fingalians. There is an old saying, "Bha da chaisteal dheug aig Fionn an crom ghlean nan garbh chlach"—"Fingal had twelve castles in the crooked glen of large stones." Most of these ruins are to this day pointed out. There are five of them at the place called Cashlie (castles), each bearing the name of a known Fingalian chief. There can be little doubt these towers were used both for protection and watch-towers, from which the approach of danger was telegraphed far and near. It is no argument against the latter view, that some of the towers were not within sight of others ; the conformation of the country rendered it impossible, granting that each dale and valley was held by its own tribe of inhabitants, squatting round their tower. It was in general only requisite that, when the messenger of war arrived, the chief, by displaying the beacon light from the top of the tower, could gather his own followers without loss of time. In confirmation of this view, we find that a tower, which is in sight of no other one, still commands the whole glen or section of a glen in which it is placed.

The chain of towers between Dunkeld and the borders of Argyleshire must have been of much consequence, indeed, in the pre-historic annals of Scotland. There seems little doubt this was the Drumalban of later historians. A passage in a poem by the bard Douthal, on Mordubh, king of the Caledonians, still extant, speaks of Drumalban and the beacon light as follows:—

"Tionailibh mo shuin o'n t'-sei!g,"
Thubhairt Ceann-feadhna na' h-Alba.
Soillsichibh srad air Druim-Feinne,
Is thig mo laoich o ghruaidh gach beinne."
Labhair Mordubh righ nan srath,
'S lionair crag tha 'g-innseadh an sgeul.

"Cal my heroes from the chase," said the Captain of Scotland. "Light a spark on Druim-Feinne (the high top of the Fingalians—viz., Drumalban), and my warriors shall come from the side of each hill. Mordubh, King of Straths, thus spoke, and many a crag tells the tale." Captain of Scotland —such is the title given to Mordubh as generalissimo in the war, while his personal and ordinary rank was King of Straths. King, in those days, was a name assumed by any chief that had a decent following. The long bead-roll of Caledonian kings anterior to Kenneth, was likely, to a considerable extent, made up of the names of so many independent chiefs, who, one way or another, made themselves remarkable in their day, and many of whom must have lived contemporaneously, and of whom few, perhaps, merited the title of king, in the sense in which the annalists, misled by the unity of their own times, so liberally bestowed it, so as, indeed, to destroy the authority of their story.

Glenlyon is a mine of legends, or was so a few years before it was "swept." We may give a few in passing; but our principal object is to gather in one record the chief events in the traditional history of a family that one unfortunate circumstance made too notorious in the history of Scotland— the Campbells of Glenlyon. Before coming to the Lairds, however, it is necessary to pay homage to Holy Mother Kirk, and relate the


St. Eonan (as tradition says) was the disciple of St. Columba, but more correctly an alumnus of the Monastery of Iona, founded by St. Columba about 565. St. Eonan set out in company with St. Fillan to instruct the rude inhabitants of the Grampians in the doctrines of Christianity. The whole land lay before them, and—like the patriarchs of old, casting lots—Strathfillan, Balquhidder, &c, fell to St. Fillan; Glenlyon and its neighbourhood to Eonan. Civilization, of yore as now, followed in the wake of the religion of the cross. Both saints, in their different abodes, recommended their spiritual doctrines to the people, by showing they could better their temporal state. Fillan erected the mill at Killin; Eonan that of Milton Eonan in Glenlyon. During Eonan's sojourn in the place of his pilgrimage, one of the dreadful plagues that then so often depopulated Europe, broke out over Scotland. At Fortingall it made such ravage that only one survived—"an Ossian after the Fenians." This was an old woman, who performed the duties of sexton, conveying the dead, by her grey horse and sledge, into one hollow over which a heap of stones was aftenvards raised, still to be seen in the Haugh of Fortingall, and called the " Cairn of the Dead.'' What became of the heroine of the grey horse, our Sennachies forget to tell; but they say the desert dale of Fortingall was subsequently repeopled by a colony of the M'Dougals of Lorn, many of whose descendants are still found there. As the plague extended up the glen, St. Eonan's people despairing of all human rescue bethought themselves of the spiritual aid of their pastor, whose good help they importuned in the following lines :—

Eonan nan gruaidhean dearg
Eirich, is caisg plaigh do shluaigh;
Saor sinne bho'n Bhas
Is na leig oirnn e nios no 'n nuas.

"Eonan of the ruddy cheeks, rise and check the plague of thy people. Save us from the death, and let it not come upon us east or west." However unreasonable the request, the prudent missionary found it expedient to temporise. He assembled the people. The meeting was held in the open air, within forty yards of a house in which a young child was dying of the plague. He preached with success the gospel of peace to the excited and horrified multitude. He took, at the same time, all precautions within his reach, separating the sound from the unsound, and did not hesitate himself to discharge the duties of attendance on the dying, while he sent their relations away to the mountain sheilings. The plague soon stopped, and the people, of course, ascribed their safety to the miraculous power of the saint. The rock on which he prayed and preached in that dreadful crisis is called Craig-dianaidh—i.e., "rock of safety." A rude cross, set up by the wayside, was probably erected at a later period, to excite the devotions of the faithful. The rock was henceforward the place where neighbouring chiefs could most safely meet in solemn conclave, both for judicial and other purposes. Here was held the meeting, in which the chief of the M'lvors, having refused to do justice to the foster-brother of Stewart of Garth, brought upon himself the fate related at length by General Stewart in his Sketches of the Highlanders. Near the rock is Bodach Chraig-dianaidh, a large round stone, which is to be placed on another flat one some feet high. While the seniors were in council grave, the young men, it is probable, were putting their strength to the test in lifting the Bodach. There are at least two other similar stones in the glen—one at Cashlie, eight miles farther up; and one at Lochs. Fingal, the grey-haired King of Morven, would, it is said, allow no youth to bear the warlike spear, or join the ranks of war until he lifted one of the Bodachs.

When Eonan was dying, his people assembled to receive his blessing, and asked where he wished to be buried. He made the singular request that they should carry his corpse down the water until the withs that attached the handspikes to the bier broke, and there bury him. Faithful to their trust, they proceeded downwards and downwards with the remains of the saint, till the "dul" or withs broke at Dull, where St. Eonan was buried, and to which he bequeathed a name, and the potent magic of his sanctity. We find, at the end of the tenth century, the Abthania of Dull —a singular word, that puzzled eminent antiquaries—possessed by Crynyn, "Abthane of Dull, and Seneschal of the Isles," who, as the father of Duncan (slain by Macbeth), and husband of Beatrix, daughter of King Malcolm, was the progenitor of a long line of princes. Doubtful tradition says that Dull was the first seminary of education on the mainland, and that, long before Kilreymonth or St. Andrews merged into light, the Caledonian youths there imbibed the learning of ancient Rome, and the comparatively pure doctrines of the monks of Iona.

The saint's day was commemorated till of late by St. Eonan's Fair at Dull. Strange that religion should, in every case, be so ready to slide into worldly business and pleasure! The traffickers in the temple, and the caravans of Mecca, are familiar examples; and it would be instructive to inquire how many of the shrines of Catholic saints have conferred benefits on the world by becoming the centres of profane markets.

The little chapel built by St. Eonan, near the Bridge of Balgie, was pulled down in the fourteenth century, and a new one erected at a few hundred yards' distance, in the burial-place of Brennudh. The old pyramidal hand-bell, used at the religious ceremonies, is still preserved in the burial-ground. Within forty years ago, the miller at Milton Eonan would not grind on the saint's day, and a similar rest was, till of late, observed at Killin on the day of St. Fillan.

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