Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 3

IN 1590, a commission was granted to Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, empowering him to pursue the clan Gregor with fire and sword, and forbidding any of the lieges to reset them. Mad Colin was first married to Sir Duncan's sister, on whose death he married a sister of the Laird of Lawers, who was Glenorchy's right-hand man in the persecution of the clan Gregor. Colin, as a clansman and near relative, was solicited to join them by the Knight and Lawers. Remembering Iain dubh nan latin's gift to his forefathers, he viewed the project with abhorrence, laid a curse on those who proposed it, and threatened death to any who injured a M'Gregor within his bounds. To mark his contempt, he invited all the M'Gregors in his neighbourhood to a great feast that he prepared for them. But there was a traitor in the camp: his wife had sent secret information to her brother Lawers, and pointed out how, at one fell swoop, he could destroy so many enemies. As dinner was not served up as soon as Colin wished it, he sent his henchman to ask the cause of the delay. The lady, forgetting herself, replied quickly: "I expect my brother." The reply was announced in the hall; and the M'Gregors, thinking they had been entrapped, rushed out, deaf to all Colin could say. It was time: Lawers was crossing the ford below the castle, before they gained the hill-side. Colin was disgraced on his own hearth by his nearest friends. He had his revenge; for that night, his wife and son, by the second marriage, left Glenlyon to return no more. The boy, known by the name of Cailean Lionnach, was brought up by his uncle Lawers. Cairlean Gorach died about 1597.

Donnachadh Ruadh Mac Cailein (Red Duncan, the son of Colin), followed his father's footsteps in protecting the M'Gregors. After the battle of Glenfruin, the persecution of the clan was renewed with tenfold severity. The story of this battle, and the immediate cause which led to it, as I learned from the grey-haired sennachies who knew the past, is as follows: Before Marshal Wade paved the way for carriers and stage-coaches, the Highlanders received all their little necessaries and luxuries through the hands of pedlars, who made regular visits to one or other of the large towns, and brought back in their packs the articles chiefly in demand at home. The pedlars, as a class, were of great importance to the whole community, and Highland faith and hospitality guaranteed to them security and good reception wherever they went. Two pedlars of the MGregors of Dunan, in the Braes of Rannoch, were benighted while on their way home from Glasgow, on the property of Sir Humphrey Colquhoun of Luss. They asked hospitality, which was refused. This churlishness was owing to the quarrels of the Colquhouns with their neighbours, the M'Gregors of Glengyle; but the Colquhouns, in setting limits to the hospitality asked, so far violated the conventional and hereditary code of Highland morality, that the pedlars deemed themselves justified in taking what was refused. They kindled a fire in an unoccupied sheiling-house, and taking a wedder from the fold, killed it, and feasted on its carcase. Unluckily for them, the wedder was the most marked animal in the fold. It was black all but the tail, which was white. In the morning, the shepherds missed at once "Mult dubh an earba.ilghil"—the black wedder with the white tail. The pedlars were at once suspected, pursued, captured, brought back, condemned, and hanged without delay. The M'Gregors could not tamely pass over such an affront. Alastair of Glenstrae, the chief of the clan, with about 300 men, left Rannoch in the beginning of the year 1602, and encamped on the Colquhoun marches. He proposed an accommodation, on condition that the Colqu-houns acknowledged their fault, and made reparation to the friends of the deceased by paying the blood eric. Sir Humphrey, having assembled a large force—composed of Colquhouns, Buchanans, and the citizens of Dumbarton— scorned the offers of peace. The battle of Glenfruin was fought, Colquhoun's party utterly routed; and during the fight, Dugald Ciar Mor, who quietly sleeps now in the churchyard of Fortingall, stabbed a number of clerical students who had come from Dumbarton to see the battle, and had been consigned to his care by the chief. When the latter inquired for the students, Dugald showed his bloody dagger, and said: "Ask that, and God's mercy"—that being the exclamation of the students when dying.

After this battle, the crusade against the clan raged with irresistible fury. The Laird of Glenlyon dared no longer openly protect them; and his brave heart swelled to see Lawers exultingly scouring the glen with his blood-hounds. In secret, Duncan and his men did all they could to succour the fugitives. One of the proscribed, by name Gregor Ban Mor, after running the gauntlet for some time with his pursuer, and making more escapes than I can here describe, one day suddenly presented himself before Doririacriadh M'Cai-Icin, and offered him his sword, bidding him do with him what he liked, as he was weary of life. "Keep your sword," said Duncan; "I do not pursue your clan. If you wish to surrender, go to Lawers; he knows how to mete out mercy and justice to the M'Gregors." "To Lawers? and die the death of a dog by the hands of a coward! No; since I must die, let me receive the death-blow as a warrior should —from a brave man." "By Mary! you say well; will you go to Lawers with a letter from me?" "I will." "Then you will set out to-night, and, if he lets you go, be back tomorrow at noon." So said, so done. M'Gregor, under the safeguard of Glenlyon's letter, presented himself to Lawers in the morning, when making ready to renew the pursuit after him. The cruel are generally cowardly; and Lawers was glad to let the enemy, now within his power, off scot free, ere more harm came of it. M'Gregor lost some time on the way, and was an hour or two too late in appearing before Glenlyon. He found the chieftain at the head of his men, banner displayed, and pipe playing, on the point of marching to Breadalbane, to revenge the supposed death of the fugitive. Gregor explained. The chieftain smoothed his ruffled brow, and said: "It is well. Had it been otherwise, ere night the house of Lawers would perish—stock, shoot, and branch. Though in my quarrel with Black Duncan with the Cowl, kindred blood glues the sword to the scabbard, thank Heaven ! there is no such bar to hinder my revenge upon his minion Lawers." This is the abridged version of a story often yet told over the winter fire by the old Highlanders.

Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, or "Black Duncan with the Cowl" (Donnachadh dtibh a chtcrraichd), the uncle of M'Cailein, was, according to the unvarying testimony oi Highland tradition, a character such as cannot here very well be described. In high credit at the Court of James VI., he easily obtained charters of the lands of the M'Gregors and other foolish chieftains, who continued to hold their property by "coir a chlaidheamh" then set them together by the ears, and, when weakened by mutual slaughter, by the power conferred upon him in the charters, or under the pretext of preserving the public peace, he quietly took possession of the belligerents' land, which he ever afterwards held by no slippery grasp. We may give one example of his modus operandi. Fletcher of Achallader had a small estate in the Braes of Glenorchy. Sir Duncan, wishing to have the whole glen, took his measures to destroy his neighbour, and, as usual, without implicating himself. With some attendants—among whom was an English servant—he went, as if on a friendly visit, to the Laird of Achallader. When near the house, he ordered the Englishman to go forward, and let the hungry horses loose in a patch of corn on the haugh, and if any spoke to him, to give no heed, as he would soon be forward himself, and see everything put to rights. The servant did as required. Fletcher, astounded to see the man letting the horses loose in his corn, called upon him, from one of the windows of his house, to remove them immediately; and, as he paid no attention, threatened, with the irascibility of a Highlander, to shoot him upon the spot. The Englishman, who understood not a word, gave no sign of compliance ; and Fletcher, in a transport of boundless rage, put his threat into execution, and the servant fell. Sir Duncan took good care to be near enough to witness the tragedy. He showed to Fletcher that his life had become forfeited to the law, that there was no resource but immediate flight, and as his property would be clearly lost, if remaining in his own name, he advised him to make it over to him (Sir Duncan) by a kind of fictitious sale then very prevalent, and he promised to hold it in trust for him until he returned. Fletcher did as advised, with many thanks; and the friendly Sir Duncan efficiently provided against his ever returning to claim the property.

The all-grasping knight could not at times keep his fingers off the properties of the Siol Diarmid itself. As observed before, the legal tenure of land was for long little appreciated by the Celtic clans; and after claims to the lower and more fertile places were settled and secured, the mountain sheilings, used as summer pasture, remained often a kind of commonty among the clansmen of different chieftains. Luban, in the braes of Glenlyon, was in this predicament. The Laird of Glenlyon claimed it by prescriptive right. Sir Duncan advanced counter claims as King's forester. The quarrel, some time in abeyance, was brought to a crisis by M'Cailein building a shepherd's hut on the disputed ground. Sir Duncan, whose genius lay rather in the tricks of diplomacy than in the rough jousting of war, proposed a friendly conference to settle all disputes on the spot. M'Cailein came on the appointed day with the stipulated number of twelve armed attendants; but what was his amazement to find his uncle and a hundred men in arms before him at the obnoxious hut! He saluted him, however, as though no treachery were intended. Sir Duncan, with the cold smile his countenance usually assumed, pointed to his men, and in studied terms showed his claims, and exhorted his kinsman peacefully to drop all opposition. M'Cailein stood before the wily man, his brow clouded with anger, but firmly self-confident. With an effort at self-control, he heard him uninterruptedly to the end, but not without paying dear. The point of his unsheathed sword rested on his soft brogue, and unconsciously he kept boring with it until brogue and foot were equally pierced through. "Now give thy say for peace, fair nephew," concluded Sir Duncan. "Never!" fiercely replied M'Cailein. "What," said the knight—"what can you hope to do with your pitiful twelve against my hundred? My men, pull down the hut." "Whatever a man of clean heart may against a craven treacherous fox"—making a spring, clutching Sir Duncan by the throat, and brandishing his sword. "I shall have your life first, and as many other lives afterwards as I can." His men now could do little for the knight; for M'Cailein, at their slightest movement to rescue him, threatened to plunge his sword in their captain's breast, and they knew he was the man to keep his word. Sir Duncan begged pardon, and obtained it. His parting words were: "St. Martin, nephew "—(by-the-bye, how or when did Martin of Tours become a chief Scottish Saint ?)—"I will not risk my good against your violence; but of me will yet come those who shall possess Luban." Magician as he was counted to be, these words did not prove prophetic.

But Sir Duncan, if a magician himself, did not approve of magic in others. On one occasion, when clan necessity had thrown him and his nephew together, an Italian wizard accosted Sir Duncan, offering to show him wonders. The knight pooh-poohed, and told him to go to M'Cailein, adding he was ready to gape at his impostures. He did as advised; and the chieftain, pleased at the man's performance—who, from his pretensions, appears to have been a Rosicrucian—gave him what money was in the sporran. The Italian, touched at the liberality, offered M'Cailein a miraculous stone, said to be preserved yet in the family of Garden of Troup, that through the female line became heirs-at-law to Dr. David Campbell, the last Laird of Glenlyon. It was called, in the language of the country, "clach-buadha"—stone of victory—because water off this stone, when sprinkled by the heir of Glenlyon upon his men before entering battle, ensured them success. It was also reckoned a charm against ball wounds, lead being supposed to have no effect on those sprinkled by it. This became apocryphal, at least after the battle of Sheriffmuir, in which several of the Glenlyon men fell by musket wounds. It was one property of this stone, that, when put into cold water, it caused it to bubble as if boiling.

Red Duncan was not as prudent as he was brave. The following gambling story I give as I received it. Some law plea had brought M'Cailein to Edinburgh. Having nothing else to do, he entered a gambling-house, and sat down to play at cards with the master. M'Cailein lost game after game ; but, as if taking pleasure in seeing himself plucked, he continued to play. When his cash was gone, he rose to depart. "Come," said the gambler, "you have lost often; let us have another game, and, to give you your revenge, I don't mind though I stake two to one." "My sporran is turned inside out," replied he. "Never mind; I'll stake cash against your word, chief, if you pledge it." "No; the word of a Highland chief is pledged only among those who know it shall be redeemed. He speaks in deeds to the suspicion of the strangers. Here are the title-deeds of my property (I had to produce them before your Red Lords to-day); I'll stake them, subject to redemption within forty days, on this game." It is over. M'Cai-lein rises: his brow is flushed; he grasps the gambler's hand, making the blood start at the nails; his voice sounds as a muffled drum, or like the ghost of the storm. "The home of my fathers is yours, and may the devil give you joy of it. But when taking possession, encase yourself in steel. The land is yours; but, mark me, the men are mine. A Saxon cowherd may be baron. God forbid he can be chief. Adieu!"

The time was short, money scarce, and, however willing, M'Cailein's friends were unable, within the appointed period, to raise the sum necessary. Sir Duncan is said to have been applied to in vain. The crest-fallen Laird returned to Edinburgh empty-handed. When about entering the gambling-house, to see what was going on, the servant-maid took him aside, and asked (in Gaelic) whether he was the gentleman that, a month' before, lost, his property at cards. Being answered in the affirmative, she said: "Well, I am sorry for you, and will do all I can to help you. Don't enter just now; go somewhere, and disguise yourself. Return, and when I tell you, enter. You will find the room empty; place yourself in the chair opposite the mirror. You shall see in it what cards your opponent holds. He'll dare not ask you to leave his chair; and it's hard if I can't trump up a story to make him play at any venture". M'Cailein did as directed, and won one game after another. The gambler refused to play any longer, as his money was all lost. "Come," said M'Cailein, "I leave Edinburgh tomorrow. I'll stake my whole gains on the next game." "I have nothing," said the other, "but the title-deeds of a Highland property, which I won the other day, and are subject to redemption." "What is the name of the place?" "Glenlyon, I think." "Glenlyon and M'Cailein! I know them well. Make sieves of your parchments at the first opportunity; the glen people are real devil's bairns. Set up a claim against M'Cailein, and you'll have a dozen dirks in your body ere night." "But you accept the stake, I hope?" "Well, I do, though it is throwing bread upon the water." Red Duncan was again the winner; and, as he pocketed his money and papers, he told his astonished opponent who he was. Coming home, he met his relative Sir Duncan, en route for Edinburgh, to buy Glenlyon for himself.

Duncan M'Cailein died at an advanced age, about 1640. I find no trace of it in local tradition, but he, more probably than any of his ancestors—certainly than any of his descendants—was the hero of the old ballad—

"Bonnie Babby Livingstane
Gaed oot tae see the kye,
And she has met with Glenlyon,
Who has stolen her away.

"He took frae her her sattin coat,
But an her silken gown,
Syne row'd her in his tartan plaid,
And happ'd her roun' an' roun'."

Return to Contents Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus