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The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 2

WE leap over several centuries. In the early times, land was not of so much consequence in the eyes of a chief as men. The "following" was his hereditary property ; the land the prize of his sword. The strong clan dispossessed the weak, and it again one weaker than itself The boast of physical superiority on the part of the conquerors, as well as the wresting from the conquered of the lands of their habitation, and their means of existence, embittered and prolonged the feuds of the Highlands. We are often perplexed by sudden and unexplained changes of inhabitants, and the introduction of new names, in the early annals of Scotland, which, no doubt, were mostly owing to the practical application of Coir a Chlaidheamh—i.e., right of the sword.

Glenlyon passed through many hands. According to popular belief, the successive dynasties of lairds were divided into sevens—thus, seven M'Gregors, seven Campbells, and so to continue to the end of time. Towards the end of the reign of David Bruce, a great chief, named lain Dubh nan lann—black John of the spears—was laird. At this time, from some domestic feud in the family of the Knight of Lochawe, his widowed daughter-in-law, the wife of his eldest son—so tradition says—and her infant son, were forced to abandon their native halls, and flee for refuge to Glenlyon. Black John married the widow, and had by her a family of seven sons. The young Campbell, his dalta, or step-son, was carefully nurtured. A neighbouring priest, probably the prior of Sibilla's Island, in Lochtay, instructed him in the knowledge of the times. Though deprived of his inheritance, the adage that "knowledge is power," being never more true than in a barbarous age, he found himself superior to most of the rude chiefs, and was looked upon by them as an oracle—advantages which, by-and-bye, he turned to account.

Probably before the time that Donald of the Isles raised such commotions in the north—certainly during the regency of Albany—the Chisholm, chief of that period, made a foray to Glenlyon. The fiery cross was sent round the glen. All able to carry arms met at Tom-na-cuartaig, the hillock of the circle, near the chieftain's abode. The place is yet seen on the hill of Kerrumore, near the bridge of Balgie. It is an artificial mound of no great compass, circular, and level at top, save where a broad belt stretches round the edge, like a walk round a flower-plot. It seems to have been the general muster-place, probably, too—the folkmote or place of meeting for settling any dispute that might arise among the people. Near it are some ruins called Tigh Iain Dnibh nan lann—"Black John of the Spear's house." It may be, a little excavation here would tell tales of other days. On ' the muster-ground, John and his men resolved to meet the foe. Chisholm and his cearnaich crossed the river, and were marching up the ascent. Black John prepared for immediate battle. For his Leichteach or body-guard he had his seven sons—four on the right, and three on the left ; and, to make up the odd number, and equalise both sides, a very manly fellow, a cobbler, who was, when summoned, busied in cutting buskins from the skins of slaughtered deer for the men of war—M'Callum by name—was called out, and stationed with the three on the left. The day was sultry. Chisholm was oppressed by the "weight of mailed armour with which, as chief, he had invested himself. He raised his visor, and put up his hand to wipe the blinding sweat from his forehead. M'Callum—or, as he is better known, the Greusaiche Riabhach—observed the movement. He raised his bow; the string twanged; the Chisholm fell from his horse, his right hand clinched to his bleeding forehead by the fatal arrow. Black John's men, with a wild iolach, dashed upon the amazed foe, fiercely attacked them by the claymore, and left few or none to bring to the north country the mournful tidings of their chieftain's fate.

Bruce, by endeavouring—though unsuccessfully—to institute a quo warranto inquiry, alarmed while he irritated the spirit of the chiefs and nobles. Henceforward they prized more than formerly title-deeds and written documents. Campbell, the dalta oilain Dubh, one day asked the latter by what right he held his lands. The aged chief pointed to his sword and armour. "Oh," says he, "but there are surer safeguards than that. Age may tame the warrior's strength; misfortune may snap his bow; the foe-man's sword may deprive his people of their trust: then the right goes as it came. But take my advice, and apply to the king for a charter, which will not be refused, and the royal sword and Scotland's laws become the pledge of your security. More, you can rule your people and their possessions from the grave; for, according to your will shall your descendants succeed for ever." "My dalta," replied John, "you speak the words of wisdom. See and obtain the parchment; though, after all, I do not understand why the sword is not a better guard than the sheep's skin." It was obtained accordingly ; and, after his own seven sons and their issue, Campbell's name was inserted as next in succession. During the troubled regency of Albany, all Iain Dubh's sons but one perished by the sword. He succeeded his father, but soon after died by an accident when hunting, and left the property to the Campbells, in terms of the charter.

The name of the first laird of the family of Campbell was Archibald. We have reason to believe he was not John Dubh's dalta, but the dalta's heir. He lived during the first part of the sixteenth century. He was a wise man, and fully conciliated the people to whose rule he had succeeded. The M'Gregors of Roro, who appear to have been in some way closely connected with the family of Iain Dubh, did not dispute his rights; they received him as the heir of the chieftain—a kindness afterwards well repaid by the Campbells of Glenlyon.

The second laird of the Campbell family was "Donnachadh Ruadh na Feileachd "—Red Duncan of the hospitality. He died in the year 1580. His profuse hospitality gained for him a name not yet forgotten. Bands of Irish harpers came to Scotland in his days. As the dispensers of fame, they exacted good treatment and attendance to such a degree, that any great bore is still called Cleadh-sheandiain, which was the name given to these musical bands. The band was composed of a doctor of song and twelve scholars. In the earliest times, the bards, as a subordinate class in the order of Druids, were upheld by the resources of their more mighty sacerdotal brethren. Druidism fell; but how could heroes live without their fame ? The clans maintained bards at their own expense; and the chiefs, as representatives of the clans, kept open hall for each strolling chief bard and his band a twelvemonth and a day, should it not happen that one of the chief's retainers could excel the band in song, for in that case the hospitality was at an end. This, as the first example of Cain, or tax, was named the ancient kain; and the bards, as instructors of the age, cleire, or clergy. When, in course of time, cowled monks and priests assumed the mantle of instruction, and, under higher authority, exacted heavier dues, the old musical teachers were denominated Cleire-sheanchain, or, corrupted, cleadh-sheanchain—that is, "clergy of the ancient tax."

The bard of Gorrie, an Irish chief, made his way to Glen-lyon. Red Duncan's hospitality was already celebrated, and his reception of the bard and his band did not put his well-earned fame to shame. A fat bullock, and six wethers, with red deer and other game, were daily provided for his hall. The bard, highly pleased, took his farewell at last. The chief accompanied him part of the way. The bard all at once complained that his linen was completely worn, and unfit to be seen; Duncan stripped, and unhesitatingly accommodated him with his own underclothing. When in this nude state, his lady happening to look forth from the loop-holes of Carnban Castle—Red Duncan's home— and seeing a white figure in the distance, which she took for one of the winged creation, she exclaimed: "Oh, such a large white goose!" From that the place received a name.

After a friendly convoy, Duncan returned, and ordered his gillies to double everything for to-morrow's entertainment; "for," says he, "the bard suspects I have furnished my board only for his sake; his departure, is a sham; he will return to-morrow." It happened as anticipated. To his astonishment, the bard found the hospitable board better replenished than ever. Some time after, he took his departure in real earnest, and when his own employer, Gorrie, inquired about Red Duncan, and put it to him if strangers fared not better with himself, the bard promptly replied:

"Molar Gorrie thar a mhuir
Is gach duine na thir fein;
Ach na coimisear duine do t-sluagh
Ri Donnachadh Ruadh ach e fein.''

"Let Gorrie be praised over the sea, and each man in his own country; but let none of the race of men be compared to Red Duncan but himself." Gorrie, indignant at this extremely plain reply, dismissed the bard, who, wending his way back to Scotland, received from Red Duncan a piece of land still called Croit a Bhaird—the bard's croft.

Carnban Castle, where Duncan resided, is built on a steep conical hillock, about three miles beyond the entrance of the glen. It was defended by a ditch and drawbridge. The ruins are in good condition. It was a square, or rather oblong, tower, vaulted and loopholed, with a wide hospitable-looking chimney in the west gable, and a round tower with a cork-screw stair butting out from the adjacent side. It commands a noble view of the bend of the glen between Innervar on the west, and the pass of Chesthill on the east. It was towards the latter end of autumn I was last there The wind was soughing down the leaves in the surrounding woods ; the hill sides had put on their russet garb; and the sun, peeping through a chink of the opposite mountain top, made the black slimy rocks of Dericambus glitter like glass. The ruins were profusely covered with the pretty wall-fern, and a young squirrel gambolled in a plantain tree that had stuck its roots in the floor of the once hospitable hall. The hold was ruined soon after Red Duncan's death by a party of Lochaber men, who forayed the glen, and, in passing, shot from the opposite side of the river an arrow, to which a piece of burning lint was attached ; the dry heath thatching caught the flame, and so Red Duncan's tower shared the fate of Troy.

The gratitude of the tuneful confraternity was not bought in vain. "He is as hospitable as Donnachadh Ruadh na feileachd" is yet a byword; his laudations survive in the poetry both of Ireland and Scotland.

Duncan was succeeded by his son Colin. He married a sister of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, the true founder of the Breadalbane family. In his latter days, when far from old, he lost his reason, and this gained him the epithet of "gorach," or mad. But there was method in his madness. A party of Lochaber men (by-the-bye, they called all beyond the Moss of Rannoch and the Blackmount Lochaber men in those days), headed by Dougal,the second son of the chief of Muidart, forayed a part of the estate of Glenlyon, when on their way with, I believe, stolen cattle to one of the southern trysts. Two of Colin's tenants, making opposition to the spoilers, were slain. Before the Glenlyon men could muster, they had escaped with their prey. An ambuscade was laid against their return. Colin's eldest son, Duncan, and a strong party, encountered Dougal and his men at the head of Glendochart, and made them prisoners. They were brought to Meggernie Castle, and put in durance vile. Duncan went immediately to Edinburgh to give them up to Government. He sent a message to his father, telling him there was every prospect of the prisoners getting off free, through court interest. Mad Colin became ten times more mad than before. "Pardon!" says he; "pardon men taken red-handed in the act of murdering my tenants! By the might of Mary! it shall not be so." The captives, said to be thirty-six in number, were taken out and strung up to so many trees, about a mile to the east of Meggernie Castle, on the brae side, called Leachd nan Abrach—Lochabermen's brae. Dougal, the leader, is said to have been shot by Colin himself. His body subsequently received the rites of burial at the hands of a follower more humane than his master. Cam Dughail i.e., Dougal's cairn, is a stonecast above the bridge of Balgie.

Duncan was horrified on his return to hear of the summary proceedings of his father. The Muidart family represented the matter at Edinburgh in a very strong light. Colin and his son were both outlawed. That was all. Strong in the fidelity of his followers, and the friendship of neighbouring chiefs, who were mostly hostile to the government, the mad laird of Glenlyon put king and council to defiance.

When his vagaries became extravagant, his son, on the plea of his father's madness, made peace with the government, and was himself appointed administrator of the estate. Yet the mad laird was left at large, and, with Finlay, his attendant, wandered as far and widely among the hills, in pursuit of game, as his heart could desire. Many stories are told of their wanderings and doings. I may give one. They were after the deer, the chase was unsuccessful, and Colin's mood was chafed. On the brow of Stuic-an-lochain —a huge rock beetling over a deep circular mountain tarn —they encountered a flock of goats. Mad Colin and his man forced them over the precipice. When surveying their work from the top of the cliff, Colin unexpectedly came behind Finlay, and ordered him, in a threatening voice, to jump over. He knew it was useless to resist. He said quietly, and as a matter of course: "I will, Glenlyon; but," looking at a grey stone behind them, "I would just like to say my prayers at yon stone first; it is so like an altar." Colin mused, looked at the stone, and, letting go his hold, bade him go, and be back immediately. Finlay reached the stone, knelt down, muttered whatever came uppermost, and every now and then took a sly look at his master. Colin stood yet on the edge of the cliff, and kept looking on the mangled bodies of the goats. He seemed to become horrified at his own mad work. Finlay lost not his opportunity. He stealthily crept behind his master, grasped him by the shoulders, and shouted, in a thundering voice: "Leap after the goats." The unhappy lunatic supplicated for mercy, in vain. Finlay's grasp was like a vice; and he so held him over the precipice, that if let go he could not recover himself, but inevitably fall over. "Let me go this once," supplicated Colin. "Swear, first, you shall not circumvent me again." "By Mary?" "Nay, by your father's sword." "By my father's sword, I swear." "That will do; now we go home."

Mad Colin built the Castle of Meggernie, probably about 1582. It was enlarged and altered by his great-grandson, of unhappy memory, the Commander at Glencoe.

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