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Clan Grewar

“From hill, stream and moor came the seed of the Clan Gruer of Mar”

According to tradition, the Grewars came north to Braemar with Malcolm Canmore in the latter part of the 11th Century where on some occasion he visited his hunting seat there – Kindrochit Castle.  For a very long period they resided there, some of them becoming of considerable substance and importance.

The name carries a number of different spellings such as Grewar, Grewer,Gruer, Gruar and historically Grower and Guruir.  Standardised spelling is a modern phenomenon and the Clan draws no distinction between those who bear the name in any of its variant spellings. 

A gravestone in Braemar burying ground bears testimony to our long held connections with Braemar.  The gravestone of James Gruer of Tominrau, who died in 1807 states the following verse:-

“400 years have now wheeled round with half a century more, since this has been the burying ground belonging to the Gruers”.

If this inscription is true, the Gruers have been buried on this site in Mar since at least 1357 and as the Reverend John Grant Michie proclaims his authoritative work, Records of Invercauld, are “one of the oldest families connected with Braemar”.

The grave of James Gruer of Tominrau, who died in 1807

A series of so called ‘definitive clan texts’, state that the name Grewar is derived from MacGrudaire or ‘Son of the Brewer’ and in this they share a history with other names so derived, such as MacGruer, MacGruther and MacCrowther.  Although this is a credible origin of the name, the name MacGruer which hails from around Boleskine in Invernesshire is a Bun Sloinne or Sept name and does not appear to originate in this way.  A tradition exists amongst the Braemar Gruers that the name means either ‘greyhound’ or ‘fleet of foot’ as the Gruers were great runners. 

The children of the Clan Gruer are taught from an early age to this day that during the reign of perhaps our greatest King, King Malcolm Canmore that he wished to find the fittest of his subjects.  To do this the king held a great games and a race to the top of Craig Conneach, a hill overlooking Braemar.   This was the first ever Braemar Gathering.  The prize was a splendid baldric and sword.  All the contestants were on the starting line and ready to run and King Malcolm gave the signal to start by hitting his shield with his sword.   After they started to run, a late entrant, asked the King to be permitted to run.  The King considering the poor soul did not have much of a chance, granted this request.   To the amazement of the other spectators, the youth took off with impressive speed and before long was making considerable ground on the other competitors.  Before long he overtook his middle brother and caught up on eldest brother.  After a grueling run, the youth eventually won the race and due to his speed, was nicknamed the Greyhound or Goather or Gruer in the Gaelic dialect of the time.  One tradition states that the Gruers of Braemar are said to descend from the champion of Craig Conneach.

Another oral tradition handed down to us from the Gruers of Tominrau family who held lands in Braemar until the 19th century informs us that the Gruers held the lands of Cluny near Ballochbuie to the east of Braemar since ancient times, and lost when the Farquharsons took them by force, probably at the end of 15th Century.   

During the period following the 16th Century, Mar was not owned in the feudal sense and was held by the Crown as a Royal hunting forest.   No-one owned the land but rather each of the primary occupiers were Royal tenants.  The distance of Mar from the Crown centers of the south and the warring nature of the Clans, meant that the extent of each Royal tenants lands were dictated by how well these were held by the Sword rather than by the feu charter.  No leases or feu charters existed and during this period, an opportunity was given to Clans on the make, who managed to grow their numbers and military strength.  The Earls of Mar who were granted the lands during the 16th century were absentee landowners from the lowlands and were quite happy for a dominant local Chieftain wishing to keep law and order for them, while increasing their own wealth.  By the beginning of the 16th century this balance of power beteeen the Farquharsons and Gruers was to change out of all recognition and against the Gruers.   The Farquharsons, who descended from a humble basket weaver on the Braes of Angus “Farquhar of the Wands”, married the heiress to the tenancy of Invercauld and his son Finlay Mor was eventually to rise to great power.   

Craig Conneach, in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

His rise was at the expense of the Gruers.  For centuries, we enjoyed a powerful position in the area, and according to Clan tradition, held the Castle of Invercauld and the lands at Cluny, east of Braemar.  During the 16th Century.  Clan Gruer tradition tells us that the Farquharsons took the ancient Gruer lands by force and deposed the Gruers while feasting.

The list of Royal tenants of 1539 survives and states that Finlay Mor, Farquhar’s son was the occupier of Cluny and the Gruers did not receive a mention.  Our lands were lost and all records of our Chiefs were destroyed.  The great or Muckle Stane of Cluny, known by us as the Gruerstone or in the Gaelic language, the Clach Nan Gruerach, was the ancient border or march stone of the ancient clan lands of Cluny and has been to this day adopted as the sacred gathering place of the Clan.   Although once a proud and powerful Clan within Mar and our clansfolk now dispersed across the world, to all Grewers of name or blood our sacred stone remains as the hearth of our race.

The Gruerstane or Muckle Stane o' Cluny

Following the loss of Cluny during the 15th century a bitter feud erupted between the Gruers and Farquharsons.   This ended in 1621 with a marriage between Isobel Farquharson and John Gruer, our first recorded Chief.  Isobel, was the granddaughter of the elder brother of Finlay Mor, the virtual founder of the Clan Farquharson.  During the early part of the 17th century, the ownership of Mar changed, as the Great Earldom of Mar, held by the Crown for centuries, was bestowed upon the Erskine family.

The Earls sought to give land grants to the existing royal tenants and important officers of the area. The Farquharsons of Invercauld and John Gruer and his wife Isobel Farquharson were one such family. They received a feu charter for the lands of Auchallater, in Glen Clunie to the south of Braemar in 1632.   As such the Auchallater family became feudal vassals of the Earls of Mar and bound in giving them military service in return for their lands.

The Gruer Chiefs held their lands in relative peace and harmony for around a century, until 1715 when the Earls of Mar, raised the Standard of King James VIII in Braemar and as vassals of the Earl, Alexander Gruer and his eldest son and heir Donald fought for the Earl.  The Gruers were in attendance at the Earls ‘great hunting match’ intended to plan the rebellion.  Later they fought valiantly at Sheriffmuir and then returned to Auchallater on the defeat of the Jacobite forces. 

During the period which followed, the Earls of Mar had their lands forfeited and predominantly Catholic Mar was regarded as a rebel stronghold and as such came under occupation by government troops.   The Earls had their lands forfeited by the Crown for leading the rebellion and this had such an effect on the Gruers of Auchallater and the general population, that the Gruers did not rise for Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1745.   During the years immediately following the 1745 rebellion, the populace of the area was in constant fear of being identified or accused of rebel activities, and planning another rising. Many sought to show their loyalties to the Prince by the wearing of tartan, a simple chequed cloth, considered so subversive by the government of the time, that it was made illegal in 1746.  A John Gruer resident in Inverey outside Braemar, was one such subject who almost fell foul of the act, when he was arrested and later released in 1755 for wearing  a tartan coat.   The social and economic conditions of the area, deteriorated after 1745 and a long trail of the inhabitants were said to have taken the long walk down strathdee, behind a piper playing “lochaber no more”, they were heading to coastal regions to sail to the new world of Canada and Australia and many were to move south to the more fertile lowlands for a better life.  

During the early part of the 18th Century, the Clan decided that the eldest son should acquire Tominrau and the second son retain Auchallater.  Alexander, the second son of Donald Gruer of Auchallater, held onto these lands until 1777 despite, his involvement in the Jacobite rebellion.  During this year, Alexander sought to raise finance for a dowry for his only daughter May and spoke to his distant cousin, Farquharson of Invercauld to raise the required sums.  Invercauld agreed to the request but asked that he use Auchallater as security, which Invercauld desired as it lay on the borders of his own lands. 

During Alexander’s ride home he is said to have heard a cuckoo cry ‘Gowk you’ or fool you and he later became ill.  His brother, James Gruer of Tominrau, whom had been granted the lands of Tominrau from his father some years earlier, sought to help meet the re-payments, but he could not.  The Gruers lost Auchallater and the family died out in the male line in 1777.

The line of Auchallater however continued in the Tominrau family with James Gruer of Tominrau who had a large family.  James son William inherited Tominrau and the story of Clan Gruer comes full circle, in that William was one of the three founding members of the Royal Braemar Highland Society which founded the modern Highland games and William’s third son John Gruer, in 1859 won first place in the hill race at the games and was presented with a splendid ornamental dirk in a mahogany display case by Queen Victoria herself, bearing the inscription 'Presented By Queen Victoria To John Gruer. Braemar For Foot Race at Balmoral Castle, 22nd September 1859.” In this, the Gruers continued their tradition as great runners and being “fleet of foot” since the days of King Malcolm Canmore.

Auchallater in Glen Clunie, today

Tominrau continued to pass down the Male line from William to James, and to James son William who sold the lands and moved to the Orkney islands, in the far north of Scotland.  William’s eldest son Harold, later moved to India and became a High Court Appeals Judge.  Harold’s younger brother Edward, on returning from Malaysia, where he had made his fortune, as owner of a rubber plantation, acquired the estate of Erigmore near Birnham, Perthshire with its impressive Victorian mansion house. 

Erigmore House

Various branches of the Clan existed in Aberdeenshire and Angus and from as early as the 16th Century a branch of the Braemar family moved to Forter at the head of Glenisla and acquired the lands of Dalvanie, by feu charter from Lord Airlie.   This cadet branch is immortalized in legend as great warriors and when their cattle were stolen by a band of caterans, or highland  reivers, five of the Grewar brothers and their step father Mudie, a veteran soldier in the Scots army and expert swordssman, awoke one day at their home of Crandart at the head of Glenisla to find a band of Caterans or highland reivers had stolen their entire heard of cattle.  Mudie and the five young Grewars set off in pursuit of the Caterans and headed to Caenlochan further up Glen Isla in pursuit of the thieves.  On reaching a shieling near Glas Maol, Mudie asked that the young Grewars take their positions armed with Claymores around the Shieling so that none could escape.  Mudie confronted the Caterans through the door and killed all but one.  The last of the Caterans punched a hole in the earth roof and escaped into the mist. 

A year or so later, three of the young Grewars were hunting in Caenlochan, when they saw a band of Caterans approaching from the distance.  The brothers agreed to run in separate directions.  One of the brothers proceeded to the Corrie of Caenlochan and on turning round to view his pusuers, slipped on the ice and fell to his death.  The second ran over the summit and escaped via Glas Maol.  The third headed over the top of the corrie and while in close pursuit jumped a wide stretch of the Allt eotch burn and escaped into the mist with his life.   The former place where the young Grewar died, is now called Grewar’s gutter and the place where his brother jumped, Grewar’s leap, the names are said to have been bestowed by the Caterans themselves.

During the early part of the 17th Century, the Clan lost their lands at Dalvanie, and remained there as tenants.  By at least 1610 a member of this family, Finlo Grewar acquired Wester Inverharity also at the northern reaches of Glenisla.  These lands were held for several hundred years, until the end of the 19th Century.   The name Grewar was relatively common in Glenisla from the 16th Century until the 20th Century.  Other branches who descend from the upper Glenisla branch of the Clan include the Gruars of Eastercraig in Glenisla and the Grewars of Lochbank, in Perthshire.

A view towards Caenlochan and Monega, at the head of Glenisla

The Grewars of Dalnamer descend from the Dalvanie branch and became the Bards of the Clan.  Alexander Grewar was known as the Bard of Glenisla and continued the highland oral bardic tradition.  His brother James later acquired South Persie in Strathearn and later in 1909 his family published his work “Lays of the Grampians”, poems chiefly in the Scottish dialect.  Another member of this family David Steele Grewar, FSA scot was the author of “The Story of Glenisla” (pub 1926), an important work on the history of the Glen.

Other branches of the name exist elsewhere in Scotland.  In Menteith and the parish of Kilmadock some MacCruers, MacGrewars, MacGrewers changed their names to Grewar and Cruer.  Many of this branch moved south the Loch Katrine area and further to Glasgow and Edinburgh from as early as the 16th Century.  The MacGruers owned the lands of Boleskine and Foyers, which they took from the Grants by force during the 15th century.  The MacGruers of this area descend from or were followers of a Gruer Mor Fraser, and Gruer Mor and his heirs were hereditary standard bearers to the Chiefs of the Highland Clan Fraser.   The MacGruers were almost annihilated during the battle of Blar na Leine, where they fought bravely with their Fraser kinsman against the MacDonalds and Camerons.  Any connection between these branches and the Gruers of Braemar and Glenisla, if any exists, was from a very early and distant period, of which no written records now remain.

A member of the clan from Glenisla, William Grewar moved to Edinburgh during the 18th century and became Deputy Secretary to the Lord Robert Kerr, Lord Lyon, King of Arms as Secretary to the Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.  During the twentieth Century, Melanie Gruer was Chief Spokesperson to the Prime Minister of Canada and Doug Grewar was appointed Depute Director-General of National Intelligence for South Africa.  Geoff Grewar is a Member of Parliament for Western Australia.

Following the loss of many of its ancient clan lands and the dispersal of its clansfolk to the four corners of the world, largely to England, Canada, South Africa and Australia, the Clan is being largely rebuilt and still maintains its traditions including clan ‘trysts’ at its ancient gathering place at the Gruerstone, east of Braemar, and its members still maintain their links with their Clan Country by patronising the Highland games of Glenisla and Braemar annually.  The Clan Grewar Society, which was established in 2008 to support the Clan, now includes many hundreds of members who are Grewers by both name and blood across the world.   Despite the Clan enjoying an ancient, colourful and noble history and being recognized the world over, none of the Clan gentry sought to matriculate armorial bearings since this requirement was imposed in 1672 until the modern period. As such the Clan remains, as yet unrecognized by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

Note: All photographs are copyright of Michael Grewar 2008

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