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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter IV.—Ewan Mac Gabhar, the Son of the Goat

ON the north-eastern shore of Loch Maree, about three miles above the place where the river Ewe leaves the loch, is situated Ardlair, than which no lovelier spot can be found in all the range of Highland scenery. There are groves of different kinds of trees, and a belt of them skirts the shingly shore of the loch ; smooth grassy glades are interspersed among the woods, behind which rise a series of marvellous precipices, unclimbable, except in two or three places, save by sure-footed deer or goats. Below the steep background lie here and there great masses of rock, which ages ago have fallen from the cliffs above. About a quarter of a mile to the southeast of the present Ardlair House, and rather nearer to the house than a small tarn nestling there beneath the cliffs, is a large cairn or assemblage of enormous rocks, heaped and piled upon each other in fantastic confusion. Ash trees and wild roses, heather and ferns, grow in tangled medley among the debris, and, concealing the interstices, render access extremely difficult. But the persevering searcher will discover a roomy cave, formed by a mighty block of rock lying slant ways over other fallen blocks. The entrance to the cave is well concealed, and can only be got at by climbing on to a ledge that forms a narrow platform in front of it. After groping two or three yards along a low narrow passage a dark chamber is reached in which one can stand upright. The floor is level, and perfectly dry. The cairn is about a hundred and fifty yards from the shore of Loch Maree. This cave is called by old Gairloch people now living " The cave of the king's son," a name that it owes to the following story, the opening scene of which is laid here. No date can be assigned to the events narrated, but they cannot have occurred later than in the thirteenth or fourteenth century.


A worthy old woman named Oighrig (Euphemia) lived near Letterewe with her only son Kenneth. They had a pet goat called Earba {i.e. a roe). The goat failing to yield the usual supply of roilk was watched by Kenneth, who with much trouble and difficulty traced her at length to " the cave of the king's son," about three miles distant from their home. Here the goat held possession of the small platform in front of the entrance, and would not allow Kenneth to climb to it. He went for a rope, and throwing it over the goat's horns secured the animal. A beautiful little boy now appeared on the scene, and uttering sympathetic cries hugged the struggling goat. At first Kenneth thought that the child was a fairy, but he soon discovered his mistake. A young lady of great beauty came forth from the cave on hearing the cries of the little boy. It now appeared that the couple had taken refuge in this cave, where they would have perished from hunger had they not enticed the friendly Earba to supply them with her milk. Kenneth reported all the circumstances to his mother, who seeing that the helpless couple in the cave must ultimately die of want and cold if they remained there, went and persuaded them to come and live at the humble cottage near Letterewe. The young lady's name was Flora, and she told them that the boy's Christian name was Eoghan, or Ewan, but she would not reveal either of their surnames, so the boy was called Eoghan Mac Gabhar, Le. Ewan the son of the goat, to his dying day. They all lived happily together. Earba brought them kids of her own, which the little Ewan herded and fed. Flora grew more lovely than ever, and Kenneth astonished even his own mother by his success in hunting and fishing for the maintenance of the increased family. Kenneth naturally fell in love with the beautiful Flora, though his mother strongly dissuaded him from his suit, pointing out that Flora was doubtless of royal lineage, being probably, though much older, the sister of Ewan, who from the sword and mantle that Flora with much care preserved for him, was probably the son of a king. The mantle was a robe of state of scarlet velvet bound and fringed with pure gold, and the sword had a hilt of gold and ivory, and some mystic characters engraved upon it. As young Ewan grew, his lordly disposition and commanding presence confirmed the belief that he was of royal birth.

Matters continued thus until one day the great lord of Kintail came from Eileandonain Castle to hunt the mountains of Letterewe. He came unexpectedly to Oighrig's cottage, and entering without ceremony jocosely blamed Kenneth, who was one of his foresters, for not being at the hunt. Then seeing Flora and Ewan he began to inquire who they were. Evasive answers were returned, and Kenneth and Flora pretended they were man and wife. The lord of Kintail on hearing the name Ewan Mac Gabhar exhibited surprise and even alarm, for he recalled a well-known prophecy about " the son of the goat," which had been erroneously interpreted as unfavourable to the destinies of the house of Kintail. Failing in persuading Flora to go away with him, his lordship left his kinsman Hector Dubh to watch the family. Flora and Ewan growing anxious under such circumstances soon afterwards resumed their concealment in the cave. On this Hector, suspecting that he was duped, hastened home with the news to Kintail. Fearing Lord Mackenzie's sleuth-hounds, the whole family decamped and went down to Poolewe, and Earba followed with her two kids. Next evening a vessel came to Poolewe and sent a boat ashore. Kenneth and Flora went down hand in hand to ask for a passage to the islands. As the boat approached they saw by their tartan that the crew were from Eilean-donain Castle. They fled like deer, but the ground was rough for Flora, and they were soon overtaken, captured, and carried off in the vessel.

Oighrig and Ewan remained disconsolate, protected by friends near Poolewe; their store comprised the three goats, three baskets, and a small locked chest containing Ewan's sword and mantle and a few jewels. The captain of a vessel, which shortly came in to Poolewe, promised to take them to Eileandonain, where Oighrig wished to go in search of her son; but, whether by chance or design, the hapless pair were conveyed instead to the country of a great chief named Colin Mor Gillespie.

Oighrig and Ewan were there taken ashore. The captain searched their baggage, and found the mantle of state and the royal sword. Oighrig told him all the tale, and he repeated it to Colin Mor, who placed Oighrig in a hut beside his castle, provided well for her goats, and gave her a cow. He took Ewan to his castle, and brought him up with his own sons as a warrior and a gentleman. Meanwhile Kenneth, after gaining the favour of the lord of Kintail by his prowess in warfare, had found means to escape from Eileandonain with Flora; they married, and ultimately discovered Oighrig, who lived with them to a good old age.
As for Ewan Mac Gabhar, he grew up a strong brave man, and none could match him in warlike exercises. Orders came from the Scottish king for the prosecution of a great war against a realm which included the island of Mull, and was then under the rule of the queen widow of Olamh Mor, who had been the renowned monarch of that land. Colin Mor was joined by the lord of Kintail in this great enterprise, and with their allies they mustered an army of twenty thousand men. Ewan Mac Gabhar was all fire and eagerness for the glorious war, and was entrusted with the command of a thousand men. During the. bustle of preparation a Highlander came and proffered his services to Ewan as page. Ewan at first rejected the offer, on the ground of the slender form and small stature of the man; but every day the page was in waiting, and proved so handy, that Ewan at last engaged him and entrusted him with his baggage.

The invading army succeeded in taking possession of the whole of the large island of Mull, which they plundered and burned. They then proceeded to the mainland in a vast fleet of vessels, and anchored in a long arm of the sea that extended twenty miles into the country, apparently Loch Sunart. Here they anchored, and the soldiery immediately began to burn and plunder without opposition. .

At night the chiefs and some of their followers returned to the fleet as a safe and comfortable retreat. The main body of the army encamped at a considerable distance, having seen no appearance of a foe. But before daybreak the forces of the queen, who had quietly entered the loch in the night, surrounded the fleet of the invaders, and boarding the vessels, made prisoners of all the chiefs and of such of their followers as were with them, except a small number who were slain in a fruitless attempt at resistance. Colin Mor was taken, with two of his sons and Ewan Mac Gabhar. The lord of Kintail and three of his brothers, with sixty other gentlemen, were also made prisoners. The army on shore was surprised at the same time, and routed with great slaughter.

The nobles and chiefs were taken before the gallant and ruthless queen, who made a vehement speech charging them with being the slaves of a tyrant and with having persecuted and destroyed her royal race. She declared for vengeance, and in accordance with the savage usages of the times, ordered that next morning at nine o'clock the whole of the prisoners should be brought into her presence and hanged by sevens at a time, beginning with the youngest, so that the fathers might behold the dying throes of their sons.

The hour arrived, and the seven youngest prisoners were led forth to make their obeisance to the queen before their execution. When the queen saw them she began to shew signs of emotion, her colour went and came, her lips quivered, and she shrieked out, "O God! what do I see? Stop the execution! stop!" and then she fell down in a swoon. Her maids came to her assistance, and now a hundred shouts rent the air, "Mac Olamh Mhor! Mac Olamh Mhor! " (the son of Olaf the Great); and instantly all the queen's chiefs and kinsmen were kneeling round one of the condemned prisoners. He was a tall and goodly youth, clothed in his father's royal robe and with his father's ancient sword of state girded by his side. The reader will have guessed the name of the young king; he was none other than Ewan Mac Gabhar! Soon the enthusiastic shouts of the people seemed to rend the rocks, and Ewan was borne aloft on the shoulders of his kinsmen and seated on his father's throne. When the queen recovered, she began to doubt the sentiments of her own heart, and required proof that Ewan was indeed her beloved child who had long ago, as she believed, been foully murdered in his bed, along with her own sister, by the conspirators who had planned the destruction of her royal seed. The evidence was soon forthcoming. Ewan's page was none other than Flora, who was herself the youngest sister of the queen. She had, unrecognised, accompanied Ewan to the war, and, having charge of the mantle and the sword, had that morning arrayed him as his father was wont to be, certain of the effect. She explained how at the time of the conspiracy she had given up her bed to the wife and child of one of the conspirators who had intended to slay her and the infant Ewan. but who in the darkness had murdered the others instead; and how she had then escaped with her precious charge to "the cave of the king's son" at Ardlair on Loch Maree.

Thus Ewan Mac Gabhar was established in his kingdom. His first act of authority was to release all his condemned associates, whose joy and astonishment may well be conceived. He entertained them gallantly at his castle for many days, and a friendly league was formed that long preserved the peace and tranquillity of those realms. Ewan was greatly assisted in his kingdom by Kenneth, who had become a renowned warrior, and who with his beloved Flora came and resided at Ewan's castle. Ewan married Mary, youngest daughter of Mackenzie lord of Kintail, and by his friendship helped to increase the dominions of that great house, so that the old prophecy about the son of the goat (already referred to) was literally fulfilled :—

"The son of the goat shall triumphantly bear The mountain on flame and the horns of the deer,— From forest of Loyne to the hill of Ben Croshen, From mountain to vale, and from ocean to ocean."


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