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Donald Mor

In Grant’s “Legends of the Braes o’ Mar" reference is made to Donald Mor, who was one of the last of the freebooting leaders to ply his unlawful vocation in the district where the contiguous counties of Aberdeen, Perth, and Forfar meet. Donald’s proper name is probably unrecorded, but there is little reason to doubt that he hailed from the wikis of Lochaber, and that he was there regarded as a person of some social standing, despite his spoliative proclivities. Although it may be presumed that he conducted not a few creaghs, the record of only two has been kept alive. Both are mentioned in the “Legends,” but in the last case I have been able to augment Grant’s account from oral and apparently reliable traditional accounts supplied by the descendants of those who took part in the foray, and subsequent events.

In the first of the two expeditions Donald succeeded in “lifting” almost all the cattle in Glen Cluny. His depredation was, however, almost immediately discovered, and a hot pursuit began. A large body of men followed close on the heels of the raider, and so hopeless did the situation ultimately appear that his followers advised the abandonment of their spoil, and the seeking of personal safety in flight. Donald, not so. easily daunted, knew that where physical force failed, subterfuge often succeeded. He was now well on his way up Glen Cluny, and, as it still wanted some hours of daybreak, he resolved to mislead his pursuers as to his route, so that he might retain the spoil.

Ordering his men to strike off to the westward, to keep in a body, and to drive the cattle with all possible speed, he elected to remain as rearguard himself, undertaking to give timeous notice of the approach of danger. His piper he detached from the main body, and after instructing him how to act, sent him off in the direction of Glenshee, which for some distance ahead was the route which he (Donald) would be considered likely to take. This last was the masterstroke which saved the situation.

Shortly after Donald had made his dispositions, the pursuing Braemar men were gratified to hear the “pibroch of Donald Dubh” sounding but a short distance ahead up the Cairnwell road. Judging that this must proceed from the oateran band, who were presumably unconscious of pursuit, they people rated their pace in hope of speedily recovering their stolen property. Soon the music ceased, but only to re-commence a little later. Again and again it stopped and started, but on each succeeding occasion the sounds became fainter and fainter. The pursuers were evidently being outdistanced. The reason of this was that the piper, acting on Donald’s orders, after playing a measure at one place, ran on ahead before he re-commenced, and thus gained on his pursuers. Why they should thus be outdistanced rather surprised the Braemar men but their consternation increased when, on reaching the top of the Cairnwell, they heard the pibroch sounding along the road leading down to Glenshee. Why the caterans had taken this route they could not understand, but they paused not to consider, never doubting but that their stolen cattle were in front of them. Down into the glen passed the piper, but daybreak had now supervened, and soon his further progress was arrested by the Glenshee men. When the pursuers came up he was handed over to them. Infuriated at being tricked, they demanded of him which way Donald and the cattle had gone. The piper, with true Highland fidelity, refused to tell, even though told that his life was the penalty of refusal, so with summary justice ho was shot on the spot. By his ruse, however, Donald succeeded in getting clear away with the cattle.

According to Grant, when tidings of the piper’s death reached Lochaber, Donald was greatly incensed against the Glenshee men, for what he characterised as their treachery in handing over his retainer to the pursuers. Tie vowed vengeance on Glenshee and at once set about organising an expedition for that purpose. His followers, however, objected to such prompt measures. They urged that their previous raid was so recent that the Glenshee men would expect reprisals, and consequently be on their guard. Immediate action they held would be fraught with great danger, and therefore counselled delay. Donald would not however, be persuaded, and the result was that with only seven or eight of the most daring spirits he set out on what proved to be his last foray.

Donald found Glenshee unsuspecting and unguarded, consequently he had no difficulty in seizing his spoil and making off. Needless to say, all such enterprises were carried out under cover of darkness, and by daybreak tho raiders found themselves clear of the inhabited district, and unmolested by pursuit. Guided by previous experience, Donald did not take the usual route but turned abruptly to the westward. Shortly after dawn a dense mist fell, and the robber chief, now considering himself safe, decided to rest and refresh both cattle and men before proceeding further. A halt was therefore called, and a fire kindled in a hollow in Corrie Shith, in the basin of the Shoe.

Meanwhile the hue and cry had been raised. The men of Glenshee turned out; assistance was sought and obtained from Glenisla, and the combined force took up the pursuit. The slots of the cattle formed their guide, but on the harder ground of the hillside these were more difficult to determine. Then to add to their difficulties came the dense fog. A consultation was then held as to whether it was better to go on or to abandon the pursuit. Many thought further effort useless, others dreaded falling into an ambuscade, and the result was that the greater part turned back. A small party, mostly Glenisla. men, however, held on. At last the dull red glow of the cateran’s fire suddenly came in sight. There wore only a few figures seated round it, and fearing to charge these, lest other and unseen enemies might close in on their rear, such of them as had guns took aim and tired. Two of the figures dropped by the fire, the rest rose and fled. When the pursuers advanced. they found one of the dead men to be Donald Mor. That the party had been refreshing was evidenced from the fact that the mouths of the dead men wore filled with bread and cheese.

When news of the death of Donald reached Lochaber, a deputation was despatched to urge that instead of burying him where he had fallen, his remains should be interred in consicrated ground. This the highly decorous conduct of the deputation effected, and the remains of Donald and his follower were laid to rest in Glenshee Churchyard

Thus the story is told in Grant’s “Legends,” but there are certain points that seem to be far from clear. Although Grant does not state so probably did not know the man who shot Donald was Ogilvy of Holl. How did he come to be there? Holl is in the Backwater district of Lintrathen, many miles from where Donald met his death, and the Ogilvy family wore located there for a long number of years. The most probable explanation seems to be that Ogilvy happened to be in Glenisla when the croagh took place, and joined in tho pursuit.

Again, did Donald raid Glenisla as well as Glenshee, or did he confine, his attentions to the latter glen alone? A very bitter feeling was engendered between the inhabitants of tho two glens at the Battle of the Cairnwell, and this feeling was far from having died out at the time of Donald’s raid. It therefore seems doubtful if the Glenshee men would have sought assistance from those against whom they cherished such feelings of resentment. The Glenisla men also appear to have taken the leading part in the pursuit. Would they have done this if they had not had something to gain thereby, for they well know that pursuit of the caterans was anything but a safe game. It may well be that Glenisla suffered as well as Glenshee, but I think it improbable that Backwater was raided, as tho distance would be too great, though the presence of Ogilvy would scorn to indicate as much.

In addition to these considerations, by sending a messenger from Glenehee to Glenisla munch time would be lost, but if the latter district had been raided the pursuers might not have been far behind the pursued.

Grant’s statement that a deputation came from Lochaber to secure burial for the remains of Donald in consecrated ground seems also doubtful. It must be remembered that the discomfited kerne had to travel from Glenshee to far-away Lochaber, and that the deputation had to return from thence. This must have occupied some days at least. That the bodies lay on the hillside all this time is hardly to be believed. The burial of caterans was effected as soon after death as possible, and generally where they fell. But lawless though those men wore, they liked their remains to lie in consecrated ground. To attain this end many of those who could afford it decorated their coats with silver buttons of a value considered sufficient to defray the cost of decent interment. Donald’s coat was so decorated. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that Donald’s remains were interred in Glenshee Churchyard before the arrival of the deputation, and that, as only one of his followers fell with him, he was buried alongside hie chief.

Well aware of the revengeful propensities of the caterans, Ogilvy of Holl lived in something like a state of terror ever after having shot Donald. He never went afield without being armed, and started in a threatening or defensive manner when suddenly- accosted. At home he always sat facing the door, with a loaded gun within arm’s reach. As far as I am aware, no attempt way ever made on his life.

To show that the above events are not ancient history, the following incident may be related. In the course of conversation the writer once referred to the subsequent conduct of the man who shot Donald. He was somewhat taken aback when one of his hearers remarked, “That was my grandfather.”

Another incident may be also worth recording. Formerly it was not uncommon for dealers to bring droves of horses from the Highlands for sale at the various markets in the lower districts. A Glenisla smallholder bought one of those “shelties” from a dealer, who assured him the animal had been bred in Lochaber. The man took the pony home, and subsequently turned it out to pasture. On going to fetch it tho horse was not to be found. On making inquiries he found out the direction it had taken, and as these wore not the davs of fences, ho had no doubt but his purchase had returned to its native place. Unwilling to bear the loss, the man set off in pursuit, and duly reached Lochaber. Knocking at the door of what appeared to be a bettor house than most, he made his purpose known, and asked for shelter for the night. “Where do you come fixun?” asked the woman who replied to his knock, and who was clad in widow's weeds. On being told she replied, “I have heard of the return of the pony, and you can have it back with you. You can also have food and shelter here as long as you may, for, believe me, I am only too glad to be able to bestow any favour upon one who comes from a district. which bestowed Christian burial upon the stranger dead.” She was the widow of Donald Mor!

David Gurwar

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