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

Notes on the Parish of Alness
By Roderick MacLean

28th MARCH, 1888

At the meeting held on this date the following were elected ordinary members of the Society, viz., Mr D. Cargill, accountant, Royal Bank, Inverness ; Mr John Campbell, jr., Inspector of Poor, Kingussie; Miss Helen Mackenzie, 7 Palace Road, Surbiton, Surrey; Mr George Macpherson Grant, Ballindalloch; and Mr Ronald Macdonald, teacher, Central School, Inverness. Thereafter Mr Roderick Maclean, Ardross, read a paper entitled “Notes on the Parish of Alness.” Mr Maclean’s paper was as follows:—


Two years ago I had the honour of reading before this Society a paper on the topography of the Parish of Rosskeen, in which some friends in the Parish of Alness were so much interested that they wished me to prepare a similar paper on their Parish, which I have done, and now take the liberty of reading. I hope those friends and others will find a few things in it which will interest them.

The Parish of Alness lies to the north of the Cromarty Firth, extends in a north-westerly direction a distance of 16 miles—its greatest length ; and its greatest breadth is 7 miles. It comprises an area of 72 square miles. Except comparatively small portions south and east of Fyrish, at Boath and at Glenglass, the whole is pastoral and mountainous. Several ot the hills reach elevations of from 2000 to 2700 feet. By the Ordnance Survey of 1881, the extent of arable land is 3050 acres, and of moor, wood, &c. 43,297 acres.

The Rev. Mr Angus Bethune, Minister of Alness, in his statistical account of the Parish published in 1797, gives the origin of the name thus:—“Alness signifies the Promontory, a headland of the river or brook, being composed of the words Auilt, brook, or Amhain, river; and Ness, a headland, which is the termination of many places where there is a headland or promontory.” I cannot agree with Mr Bethune in this derivation. There is a headland where the river enters the sea, but the Norse have not left their mark at all in place names in that district. The promontory immediately West of the mouth of Alness river is called a “rudha,” and the promontory immediately East thereof, at Invergordon, is also called a “rudha” (Celtic); and all the old place names, both along the shore and inland, from Dingwall to Nigg, are Celtic, so that I conclude we must take Alness to be derived from Celtic words. When I was a boy, old people pronounced the word “Anes”—the “e” being silent, so that I feel I must adhere to the same derivation as I gave in my former paper on Rosskeen, “Ath an Innis,” the ford at the island or flat land at the river side. The river Alness is a rapid one, and its banks, along the greater part of its course, are precipitous till it reaches to within half-a-mile of the sea, where it leaves the conspicuous terrace (from 70 to 80 feet high) along the northern shore of the firth. At the foot of this terrace there is a pool called "Poll-a-charachaidh,”—“the turning pool"—where, before the present through channel was cut in 1846-7, the river frequently changed its course to the west, to the cast, and in different directions between. Several traces of the channel are to be seen below Teaninich House on the west side, and towards Dalmore on the east side. A small stream flowing by the church of Alness, half-a-mile west of the river, is, at its lower end, called “wrest ford,” indicating that it entered a branch of the river there, that there existed an east ford, and that there was an island or islands between. Here, then, was the easiest place to ford the river, and the old road that passed that way can still be traced. From recent archeological discoveries, this place was centuries ago more populous than the surrounding places. The first Christian place of worship was built near the ford, and, before the County was divided into parishes, it is quite natural to suppose the name given to the church would have been Eatjlais Ath-an-Innis—“the church at the island ford latterly the parish named after the church, shortened to “Anes,” and corrupted to “Alness.”

Commencing with the names of the places next the seashore, I take them successively inland.

Teaninich—Tiyh-an-Aonaich. The house of the market-place, or of the assembly of people. The flat at the ford here was a very suitable place for a market-stance. The markets are now held at the east side of the river in the Parish of Rosskeen. The present bridge crossing the Alness from Teaninich to Obsdale was erected in the beginning of the present century.

In 1799 the former bridge was swept away during a great flood in the river. It stood immediately north of the present bridge, and its foundations can still be traced. In the eastern abutment there was a cell for criminals. About 1750, the last prisoner who occupied it managed, with the assistance of a friend, to make his escape by wrenching off the iron grated door during night, a few hours after he was incarcerated. On the terrace immediately west of the bridge can still be traced the remains of the entrenchment occupied by Sir Robert Munro of Fowlis and a strong body of men to guard the passage of the bridge during the rebellion of 1745-46. Sir Robert Munro, and his brother Duncan, who was the surgeon accompanying Sir Robert’s regiment, were both killed at the battle of Falkirk, on 16th January, 1746, and are buried there.

Baile chreagain—The town of the little rock. The last of this little rock was removed by the present tenant three years ago. It was situated to the west of the Parish Church.

The original village of Alness, composed of a number of scattered houses, stood on this farm, south and east of the Parish Church. The Alehouse was at the east side of the Church-yard, its back wall forming part of the enclosure of the Church-yard. In it parties watching newly-buried bodies lest they should be lifted by doctors spent more of their time over the ale stoup than watching their charge.

The present village was laid off about the beginning of this century, on leases of 999 years. It is told of one man who, on receiving his lease from Captain Munro, the proprietor, about 70 years ago, asked would he get a renewal of his lease on the expiry of the present one. The Captain said to him, “When your present term expires come you to me and I will renew it.” The man, quite satisfied, said, “Well, Captain, you were always a gentleman of your word, and I will take you at your word.” In the middle of the 17th century the farm of Balachraggan was part of the estate which belonged to the famous Rev. Mr Mackilligan, Minister of the Parish of Fodderty, who was ousted for nonconformity to Prelacy. The estate came into his possession by his wife, who was a lady of the Fowlis family. I am indebted to the Rev. Dr Aird, Creich, for several interesting reminiscences relating to this eminent man which are worthy of being recorded, and I here give them.

Mr Mackilligan was admitted to Fodderty 26th February, 1656; deprived by Act of Parliament and Privy Council, June and October, 1662 ; deposed May, 1663. He removed to his wife’s property, below the church of Alness. I heard my father say that the wood to the south-east of the old toll-bar used to be called "Coille Mhic Caolagan.’

“Mr Mackilligan was the leader at the conventicle which was held at Obsdale, near the sea-shore, and about a mile east of the river Alness, in the month of September, 1675. Bishop Paterson was then Bishop of Ross. His feelings towards Mackilligan were bitter, and he was constantly on the watch to find cause for Mr Mackilligan’s apprehension. At last he was informed of the pn> posal to hold this meeting, and to dispense the sacrament—the only Communion said to have been held in the Presbyterian Church north of Nairn from 1662 to 1689. Wodrow (Vol. II., page 285, edition 1829) says—“The design of this solemnity (Communion at Obsdale) having taken air, the Sheriff-depute, Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Findon, a moderate gentleman if left to himself, by the instigation of the Bishop sent a party to apprehend Mr Mackilligan. Expecting the solemnity would have been dispensed at Alness, the soldiers came there, and, not finding him, they fell a-pillaging his orchard, which kept them so long that the forenoon’s work at Obsdale was over before they reached.”

Records do not apparently agree as to the very spot on which the Communion was held. Wodrow says—“The holy ordinance was administered in the house of the Dowager of Fowlis.” Another author, whose name has escaped my memory, says that it was held in a sheltered place among bushes, and it is traditional among the people of Rosskeen and Alness that it was held at an old fir tree, now in the last stages of decay, in a garden immediately above the farm-house of Dalmore.

I believe that the three accounts are parts of a true whole, for I have a map of Obsdale, dated 1791, which shews the dowager’s house, waste land covered with bushes, and the tree, all on a small area of ground. My impression is that during the service the minister stood at the tree, the congregation sat, sheltered by the bushes, close to the tree, and that when they were warned of the approach of the soldiers they dispersed. Mr Mackilligan, being the only one wanted, took refuge in the dowager lady’s house, and there dispensed the sacrament to the lady and friends who were in the house with her. In his search for Mr Mackilligan, the officer in command of the party of soldiers entered the dowager lady’s house while Mr Mackilligan was there, and I here give, in Dr Aird’s words, how he escaped:—“There was in the house when the officer entered the famous Sir John Munro of Fowlis, son of Sir Robert. Sir John was a famous soldier, and an eminently godly man. He married Ann, daughter of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, first Baronet of Coul. He was very portly; if he lay flat on the ground it would take four men to help him up. When the officer appeared near the house, Sir John covered himself with his military cloak, and having taken Mackilligan under the cloak, hid him behind his immense legs.”

Wodrow states that “after the soldiers left the ministers and people met again in the afternoon and had no more disturbance,” but he does not state where they met. The tradition is that they met in a hollow north of Fyrish hill, not on the same afternoon, but on the following day. “After 1687,” says Dr Aird, “Mr Mackilligan was allowed to preach on his own estate. He summoned Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Findon to law for the damage his orchard sustained from the raid his soldiers perpetrated, and got large damages. With these damages he built a meeting-house on his estate, where the people assembled peaceably under his preaching until the Revolution. Owing to an ailment under which he laboured he required to be near a surgeon, and could not return to Fodderty, his old Parish, which he was entitled to do, but went to Inverness, preached there to such as would come to hear him, but not in the High Church, as the Magistrates and many of the people were so prelatic that they would suffer none to enter the pulpit but an Episcopalian, for about ten years after the Revolution. He died in Inverness 8th June, 1689, and his dust lies buried there.”

The present Parish Church was built in 1782, and the Manse in 1795. The Church was repaired in 1875, and the Manse having been accidentally destroyed by fire, except the walls, in 1869, was renewed the following year.

Culcraggie (Cvl-a-chreagain)—Behind the little rock. The farm lying immediately north of Balachraggan, and probably formed part of Mr Mackilligan’s estate.

Coulhill (Cnoc-na Cuil)—The hill of the nook, from one of the nooks at the base of the hill near the river Alness.

Clais-nambuidktag—The hollow of the yellow flowers. In the time of the Rev. James Fraser, who died in 1770, this place was noted for pious women, and it has been said that the minister, though a man of great learning and ability, often feared to preside at meetings held by the old women for discussion, lest they should bring forward points too weighty for him to grapple with. Dr Aird has in his possession an ivory snuff-box which belonged to this eminent divine.

Contullich (Ceann-nan-tulaich)—The end of the hillocks. A small castle stood here, which was replaced by the present farmhouse about the end of the last century. In the beginning of the last century the eastle was occupied by a wild character known by the name of Eachiann Odhar na mort—Dun Hector of the murders. Ilis proper name was Hector Munro. He had a brother at New Tarbat, in Easter Ross, who was almost as ferocious as himself. Hector was appropriately named “the murderer,” for any man from the heights of the parish passing along the road, a little to the east of his castle, who would not take off his bonnet, and place it under his arm, would be shot. He killed many. One man from Kildermorry, who, in passing by, unfortunately omitted to take of! his bonnet, immediately met his fate ; and on the report reaching Kildermorrie, a cousin of the murdered man, Ross by name, but better known as  An Liosac'* (iille-Iosa), vowed he would put an end to Hector’s career. The following day he carefully loaded a sure Spanish musket, and proceeded to Contullich. As he approached the castle he concealed his musket, by keeping it peipendicular at his off side. Ho observed Hector landing at an open window, and took off his bonnet, but soon replaced it, which roused the ire of Hector, who rushed for his gun, came to the window, and aimed, but, before he could fire, the Kildermorrie man shot him dead, thus ending his murderous career. He had a vault into which he placed the bodies of his victims, and only opened for each fresh victim. It is but natural to suppose that after Hector’s death the ghosts of the murdered would be disturbing the peace and quietness of Hector’s successors in the castle. Almost every night footsteps were heard ascending to, and descending from, one of the rooms, known as "Macleod s room,” in which was placed the window from which he shot most of his victims. On one occasion a ghost was so daring as to thrust its hand through the jamb of the kitchen fire-place and take away a bannock of barley bread from a girdle on the fire.

The ghost disturbances came to an end by Thomas Macdonald, the tenant of the farm, about the end of the last century, opening the vault and removing the bones—six earn loban loads, some say sixteen loads—to Alness churchyard. I knew a man who, when a boy, saw the bones removed.

Other wild stories are told of Hector, among them that when he went out to dine he had a naked footman with a fox’s tail bound behind him, running before his horse. On a cold wintry night, with snow and severe drift, his cattleman, who, w'hile feeding the cattle, and Hector present, said, “It is cold to-night on Druim-na-gaoithe” (the windy hill). “You will experience that,” said Hector, and immediately ordered him to make up a burden of straw, and carry it on his back, over the “ windy” and other hills, to Easter Fearn, on the southern shore of the Dornoch Firth, a distance of thirteen miles ; and he did it.

At the time of the Rebellion of 1745-46, there lived at Contullich a very strong man. On the retreat of the rebels from the skirmish at the Little Ferry in Sutherlandshire, a few of them passed through this district. One was so severely w'ounded that when they came to the Dalneich ford of the river Alness he could proceed no further. His comrades took possession of a horse belonging to a crofter there to carry him. The remonstrances of the owner of the horse w ere repelled, and his life threatened if he persisted in trying to retain his property. Consequently, unknown to the rebels, whose way led by Contullich, he crossed the river by another ford, and reached Contullich before them. He found the strong man turning over his dung heap with a croman, who, on having heard of his friend's loss, coolly went to meet the rebels, cronian in hand, and demanded the horse. On being firmly refused, he belaboured them with his uncouth weapon, put them to flight, and restored the horse to its owner.

Novar (Tigh-an-Fhamhair)—The giant’s house. Tradition has failed to record who this giant was.

Cnoc Fyrish (Cnoc Faire)—The watching hill. One of the chain of beacon hills from Fairburn (Faire braigh cimhuinn)—the watching place above the river—to Cnoc-na-h-aire, the watching hill in the parish of Tarbet, Easter Ross. There is a curious monument 011 the top of Fyrish, which attracts the attention of strangers. It consists of three arches, and two obelisks on each side of the arches, gradually increasing in height towards the ccntre. It, as well as two other monuments on the neighbouring hills, was built by General Sir Hector Munro of Novar in the end of the last century. I sawr in Boath one of the buckets used in carrying on horseback prepared mortar to the top of the hill for the building.

Gleann Glais—The glen of the stream. “Glais” is obsolete Irish for a stream. Hence, anything of the colour of water is called “glas” by Gaelic-speaking people.

Moultavie ( Maol-dubh)—The black, bare place. The heather here is black and stunted.

Ducharie (Dubh<har)—The black turn, or bend, in the valley between Cnoc Fyrish and Cnoc Ducharie.

Ardoch (Ard-acliadh)—The high field.

Caishlan—-'The name given to a hill once famous for its cheese-producing herbage.

Druim-nan-damh—The ridge of the stags.

Meall-an-tuirc—The hill of the wild boar.

Beinn-na-diollaide—The saddle-backed hill.

Cnoe-liath-fad—The long grey hill.

Lealty (Leth A lit dubh)—One side of the black burn. This small estate was bought by the late Sir Alexander Matheson of the Munros of Lealty in 1846. The extent of arable was small at the time of purchase, but it is now all improved as far as practicable. There is to be seen at Lealty House the lifting-stone of the old Munros of Lealty. It is of granite, globular, 2 feet in diameter, and weighs 7 cwt. It is said, 011 an occasion of the sons of one of the lairds of Lealty and the heir of the laird of Tollie, on the opposite side of the river, trying feats of strength, that the heir of Tollie injured his spine in trying to lift the stone. His father complained to the laird of Lealty, who, during the following night, got the stone removed to Lealty burn and sunk it into a deep pool. His sons, having missed the stone the following morning, made a quiet search for it, restored it to its former place, and there it now rests, bidding all observers defiance to lift it. There is a vein of iron ore on this estate. A sample of it, which, in the end of the last century, was sent to the Carron Company at their own request, produced 70 per cent, of iron. In 1849, a Birmingham Company sampled it with the same result.

Cnoc Alasdair—Alexander’s Hill. This hill is situated West of Lealty. On its south-west slope the remains of seven ancient British houses are to be seen. They are circular, about thirteen yards diameter, and the entrance facing the south-east. I cut a section through one of them, and found in the centre what I took to be decomposed charcoal. The fire-place was evidently there.

Boath (Both)—A hut. The name is said to be derived from the hut built by the first occupant of the place. This must have been very long ago. On the farm of Ach-a-cairn—the field of the cairns—are the remains of several tumuli. These were entire a century ago, but, within the last 70 years, were removed for building houses and enclosures. Two of the cairns were large and vaulted. One had a rude stair descending to the floor, and it had been the temporary abode of a noted cateran from Lochaber. In 1745 a scene took place near these Cairns which I believe to be true. It is, that big Donald Cameron from Laggan-na-Drama, Lochaber—the leafier of a band of caterans who were pillaging the country—seized a horse which belonged to Donald Fraser, one of the Boath Crofters. Fraser having observed this, ran to his house for his musket, which was loaded, met Cameron, who was armed with a loaded musket and pistol, and demanded the restoration of his horse. Cameron, qualifying his language with a volley oc oatlis, declared he would shoot Fraser if he persisted in his claim, and, raising his musket, fired, but the powder flashed in the pan. He thereupon drew his pistol, but before he could discharge it Fraser shot him in the breast and he fell. The great-grandmother (then a little girl) of one of my informants w*as present herding cattle, and she saw Cameron rise and fall several times during the few minutes he lived after having received the mortal wound. When dead he was stripped of his clothing, and his shirt, which was of fine linen, was divided among a few who were attracted to the spot by the reports of the muskets—the girl getting her share. His shoes were of home-tanned leather, and so large that he had a bannock of barley bread wrapped around his foot in each shoe. Some of his upper clothing was again w rapped around his body, and he was buried in a hole dug at the east side of one of the big Cairns. The rest of the gang having heard of the murder, mustered to the spot, and burnt Fraser^ house. They further threatened to bum every house in Boath, but Murdo Mackenzie, laird of Ardross, who was in favour of the rebellion, interceded, and saved the dwellings of the Boath people. Shortly thereafter Fraser left the place and never returned. I knew an ole woman who was said to have been his grand-daughter.

This same girl who was present at the shooting of the Lochaber man, about the same time observed a stranger for several days roaming through the district immediately surrounding Boath, collecting peculiar looking stones, and having collected a quantity of them, bought several loads of peats, which he built into a compact stack, with the stones in the centre. He set the peats on tire, and when they were consumed his trouble was rewarded by the ashes producing a lump of gold the size of a small hen’s egg. If this be true, there are more gold-producing stones in Boath, and these inhabitants should search for them.

The Lairg—Sloping ground, south of the arable lands of Boath in the pass to Glenglass, is the place to which the raiders brought the sheep in August, 1792, when they were dispersed by soldiers, as reported in the paper on the “year of the sheep,” in the Transactions of this Society, 1876-77.

Kildermorrie (Cille-Mhnire)—St Mary’s Chapel, a ruin at the west end of Loch Moire. This place of worship gave the name to the loch and to the glen—Kildermorrie. There is a holy well near the Chapel, which has now lost its former virtue for curing diseases. Tradition gives another origin to the name of the glen —Glam Moire. Long ago a young man and his newly-married wife, natives of the West Coast of Ross-shire, migrated to a place where success would most attend them, and, according to the superstition of the time, submitted their fate to the falling of a load from the back of a horse. They therefore put the creels, loaded with household necessaries, in the ordinary way on the back of their pony, which they drove before them. The pony retained his load till they came to this glen, when it fell off, and there the young couple settled, prospered, and were blessed with five stalwart sons. It happened that on a snowy day the mother went in search of the cattle, and she not having appeared at the expected time, her husband and sons got alarmed about her safety, and went in search. The youngest of them becoming fatigued, sat down upon a slight elevation to rest. On rising some of the snow was removed from his seat, whereby he noticed that the seat he occupied was the dead body of his mother. Her name was Mary, and in consequence of this incident the glen has been called Glenn Moire, or Mary’s glen. They w ere said to be the first occupants of the glen.

Glen Morie could not have been at any time populous, as the extent of old arable land is small and the elevation high, the loch being 622 feet above the sea. In the end of the last century there were only about half-a-dozen crofters. The astonishment is that a place of worship should have been erected there. It could not have been for the inhabitants of the glen only, as they could not support a priest. The only conclusion that can be come to is that this was a central station for all the glens in the neighbourhood. The priests introduced char into the loch, and they are still numerous.

In the month of May, 1792, Capt. Alexander Cameron and his brother Allan Cameron, natives of Lochaber, became tenants of the grazings of Kildermorrie, which they stocked with sheep. The crofters who occupied the glen were dispossessed, and they removed; but two men, who had part of the hill grazings from year to year, marching with the lands of Mackenzie of Ardross and Munro of Teaninich, and took in cattle at a price per head for summering, were by mistake omitted to be legally warned out, in consequence of which they retained possession, and, as on former occasions, took in cattle to graze. These same lands having been let to the Messrs Cameron, they quite naturally ordered the cattle to be removed, which the graziers declined. The result was that the Camerons poinded the cattle in a fank. The graziers wTent to the owners of the cattle and told what the Camerons had done. The owners and their friends mustered in strong force, and wfent to relieve the cattle. The Camerons having seen them approach, mustered their shepherds to assist them in defending the fank. Both the Camerons were armed, Alexander with a single-barrelled gun, and Allan with a double-barrelled gun and dirk. One of his shepherds was armed with a clip, made for taking foxes out of their holes, and the rest with bludgeons. The people demanded their cattle, but were refused, whereupon the most powerful man of the owners of the cattle, Alexander Wallace by name, alias “Big Wallace,” an Ardross man, rushed upon Allan Cameron, seized his gun, and having overpowered him, took it, as well as the dirk, from him. James Munro, commonly called “Craggan,” disarmed Alexander Cameron, and Finlay Munro took the clip from the shepherd. The Camerons and their party were now overpowered and submissive. An old woman, mother of one of the shepherds, then attacked the party with stones, whereupon one of them pushed her over a cairn, and broke her arm. The Camerons now got their choice of two evils, either to quit the place at the following Whitsunday, or to suffer themselves to be bound, laid on their backs in the back door, and the cattle to be forced out over them. They chose the first—to remove—which Allan did, but Alexander was allowed to finish his lease in peace. Several of the party were tried, but only two, Alexander Wallace and Finlay Bain, were considered sufficiently guilty to be tried at the assize, eight weeks thereafter, during which time they were lodged in jail. The» evidence brought out that both the Camerons had their guns loaded with buckshot and ball, and as the parties at the bar did them no harm, but only disarmed them, they were not found guilty. Not having been found guilty, they got 4id a day each as compensation for the time they were in jail. In the following August took place the famous sheep raid, already taken notice of before this Society. The glen is now a deer forest, and has been so for the last 50 years.

There is not much of traditional interest connected with the other place names in the parish, but I may name a few of them, so as to give their meaning.

Loneroid—The wild myrtle bush.
Knocklea—The grey hill.
Ba 1-a-vihu il inn—M illtown.
Balhne— The marshy town.
Cnoc-na-Sroine—The hill of the nose; above the junction of the Ainoss and Rusdale rivers.
Lent had Riabhach—The greyish slope.
An Claigionn—The skull.
MeaU-toil-a-chom—The hill of the dog’s hole.
Meall-mor—The large hill.
Cn achrv-nansgadan—The bare mountain summit of the herrings.
Mmll-nun-bo—The hill of the cows.
Cam Sonraichte—The notable cairn.
Coire-nan-Sgulan—The cony of wicker baskets.
Loch-a-chaoruinn—The loch of the rowan trees.
Feur-fochan—The grassy loch.
Loch Magharach—The loch having much fishing bait or spawn (trout are numerous).
Bad-asgailich—The shading clump of trees.
Coirena gaoithe—The windy corry.

As may be expected, many more superstitious tales than those I have already mentioned are still told by old people, though, thanks to an enlightened age, they are not believed in. I here give three, and a few others of local interest.

Corji-crc—A form of human body made of clay. About the close of the last century the powers of the wizard were not extinct in the Parish, for they were exercised on the heir-apparent to an estate in the upper reaches of the Parish. The young gentleman showed symptoms of decline, and no medical aid could avail him

A man whose surname was Mason lived in the neighbourhood, and it being whispered among the natives that he had communion with the nether world, suspicion fell upon him that he was exercising his cantrips on the young gentleman. No counter-wizard of sufficient powTer could be found nearer than the famous Willox of Strathspey. He was sent for, and, on examination, perceived that the decline was owing to a Corp-ere. It was necessary to find out the author, of whom Willox gave a description so like Mason that there was no doubt of him being the mischief-maker. A member of the family wTent to Mason’s house and bribed one of his children, a girl, to give information about some things she saw her father do. Among others, she told of the Corp-crfc, which she saw her father place in a neighbouring burn. She pointed out the spot, the dicoverer went home, informed Willox, who went to have it removed, but to the grief of the family Wrillox said the clay body was too far gone to remove the charm, and the young gentleman must die ; but Willox said that for a suitable reward, if the family wished, he could transfer the decline from the young man to his father, who would die instead of his son. This was agreed to; the old man in a few days became insane, and shortly thereafter his earthly career came to an end. The young man was quickly restored to health, and he lived to a good old age.

At Clais-nam-buidheag a man coming home late from a smuggling bothy observed a woman standing at one of the windows of his house in the act of receiving something that was being pushed out through the window. The woman having seen the man, ran away, whereupon he rushed forward and caught hold of the object, which, to his astonishment, was his own child about being carried away by the fairies. He entered his house quietly and found his wife sound asleep in bed with a babe beside her. The man lay down in another bed close to where his wife lay, and took the rescued child in with him. In a short time his wife awoke, and found the child she had lying on her arm dead. “My child is dead,” she called to her husband, in a state of alarm. “But mine is living,” said the man, and then told her what happened. The report soon spread, and the following day many came to see the dead child, but none could tell whose it was. They feared to bury it, but, on the recommendation of the Solomon of the place, it was laid on a gravestone in Alness Church-yard, where it was exposed for six weeks, to give the fairies an opportunity of claiming it, and they having not done so, the remains of the body were committed to the earth.

The girl mentioned above, who saw the Lochaber cateran shot at Boath, was taken late on a Saturday night by her master to assist him in spearing salmon on the river Alness. He was very successful that night, more so than ever he was. The fish came rushing towards the light of his torch, and none missed his spear ; each fish as flung ashore was added by the girl to the heap. Midnight passed, when, to his astonishment, a tremendous fish came slowly on, its enormous eyes flashing brightly in the rays of the torch. “The mermaid!” he called out, and moved backward, keeping the spear advanced, till he reached the bank of the river, when he sprang ashore and ran home, accompanied by the terrified girl. He, however, returned to the fishing scene when daylight appeared, and took home the fish; but he never thereafter went a-fishing late on a Saturday night.

Past generations were not far advanced in religious knowledge in the upper parts of the Parish. I will give two examples. During the incumbency of the Rev. James Fraser, about 150 years ago, a Kildcrmorric crofter called upon him for baptism. The minister found the man very ignorant. He asked him where he was brought up. “I was born,” said he “at Bad-a-sgailich, and I was brought up at Thig-a-$tae (both in the glen). My education consisted not in a knowledge of God and religion, but in the milking of cows, the curdling of milk, the grazing of stots, and, ho! ho! on with them.'’ “Man, do you know there is a God!” said the minister. “Do you know' yourself there is a God?" was the man’s reply; “if there were not a God how could a foal come from a mare, a calf from a cow, or a child from a woman.”

My next story shews a degree of cleverness that is worthy of being recorded. Rev. Alexander Flyter was translated to the parish of Alness in, I think, 1821. He was a very gentle and earnest man in religious matters, and did all that lay in his powder to instruct the people under his care. In one of his earliest visits to the upper part of the parish, he held a diet of catechising at Kinloch (Ceann-an-loch), the east end of Loch Morie, at the house of Donald Ross (Mac Eachuinn). Donald was a famous smuggler, and a prince of flatterers. He had no great desire for the minister's visit, which was announced from the pulpit on the previous Sabbath, on account of the break it would make in his smuggling operations that day, but he resolved to be courteous and affable towards his minister. There were no roads suitable for springed conveyances in Boath in those days, so that the minister made the journey on horseback. When he came, accompanied by the catechist of the district, in sight of the house, Donald went forth in haste to meet him, with his bonnet under his arm, and uttered as a salutation, “ Lord bless you, what a pretty man you are!” They shook hands, the minister dismounted, and Donald put the horse in charge of one of his sons, with the instruction to put him into the barn that he might get his bellyful of com from the heap. “Do not that,” said the minister; “the horse would injure himself. Just give him water and a feed of com.” Donald now conducted the minister and catechist into his house, but immediately turned back to order his son to give the horse a wisp of straw only. On his return the catechising commenced. “Donald,” said the minister, “I always begin with the head of the family; what is effectual calling?” “And what is effectual calling]” said Donald. “I want you to answer the question,” said the minister. “Indeed, Mr Flyter,” said he, “it would be a great shame for me to open my mouth on such a subject in your presence. There was never a blessing on this parish till you came to it. You are so pretty and so peaceable; you are not like wild Mr Carment, who is this day catechising on the other side of the river, frightening all his people; you draw the people, and they love you. I’ll not open my mouth; you are the man to put a question and to answer a question; repeat the answrer yourself.” Mr Flyter acquired his knowledge of Gaelic after he was licensed to preach, and was not at the time referred to so fluent in the language as afterwards, so that he took up the Gaelic catechism and read the answer. “Indeed,” said Donald, “you read it well.” The minister was not satisfied with the knowledge of Donald’s children, and gently reproved him. Donald’s excuse was the great distance from a school and his inability to pay for a tutor, which resulted in the minister, at his own expense, sending a tutor for a year to instruct Donald’s children. Highland hospitality in those days would not be hospitality without the whisky bottle. A bottle was produced, but the quality of the whisky did not please Donald. Another and another was sampled till the right stuff was got. When the minister tasted the whisky he suspected it was of Donald’s own distilling, and seriously counselled him, showing him the great evils resulting from the practice of smuggling. “Do you advise me,” said Donald, “to stop it?” “Oh, yes I do,” said the minister, who was delighted to get the reply—“Well, I’ll never put a black pot over a fire again since you say I should not but no sooner was the minister out of sight on his return journey than Donald sent one of his sons to turn the malt and another to kindle the fire under the black pot.

There are many stories told of Donald how he cheated the "gaugers,” but I must dispense with them at present, as I would occupy too much time.

One story more and I am done. Mr Flyter was on another occasion catechising at Lealty, when John Holme, who resided there, had put to him the question, “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?" He answered correctly. In questioning him on the answer, the minister said, “Now, John, do believers rest in their graves?” John replied naively, “There was a day when they would rest, but now the doctors will not allow them.”

Return to Scottish Historical Articles


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