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Braemar Highlands
Part the Second - Chapter IV

M‘Gregor—M‘Donald—M'Intosh—Cumming, etc.—Destruction of Kindroket Castle.

BESIDES the fore-mentioned surnames, which may be looked upon in the light of local antiquities, there is another class or order of names which fixed themselves in Braemar under peculiar circumstances.

Foremost amongst these names is Groig-airich-na-smuide—McGregors of the Smoke—so called from the circumstance that a fugitive McGregor, whose history will be briefly related, built a little shieling in a wood, the smoke proceeding from which was the first visible for a long stretch of road before reaching Castleton. This circumstance gave rise to the phrase na-smuide.

The history of the McGregors’ entree to Braemar was related to me as follows :—

Sir Alexander McGregor, chief of his clan, had a feud with Sir John Colquhoun, which one time issued in a great battle. One M‘Murrich, i.e. M‘Pherson,

I was standard-bearer to Sir A. M‘Gregor, and^ by the way, had a secret grudge at his chief on account of neglect shown him on some public occasion. There was a school at Dumbartonattended by the sons of many great men; and Sir Alexander was very anxious that these young men should be kept from the scene of battle, lest, taking part in the fray, there should be any fresh cause for bloodshed. So he set M'Murrich to watch at the school, to prevent any one for a time having egress. M‘Murrich kept watch, but it was a black one; for when the young men appeared he cut them down, and threw their bodies behind a gate or wall, I forget which. Sir A. M‘Gregor and his people were the victors; and his great anxiety after the battle was to know how M‘Murrich had managed, and if all the young men were safe. At the earliest opportunity he questioned M‘Murrich, who answered that he could pledge his word that not one of them had seen the battle, as his sword had done for every one that attempted to pass the gate.

‘Waes me' said Sir Alexander; ‘I was a prood man that I had gained the battle, but it’s the blackest day for my puir clan that ever the sun shone on.’ And so it was: the country was raised against the M'Gregors ; the whole clan was outlawed, and had to flee, followed by fire and sword. Thus M‘Murrich had his revenge.

A son of Sir Alexander’s escaped by the way of Athole, a poor fugitive, and took refuge in the hills and woods between Crathie and Kindroket. From skulking in the wood he got the length of building a shieling, the smoke of which being visible from the road, gave rise to the cognomination, McGregor of the Smoke.    .

There was another race of M‘Gregors in Braemar, the Gillean-ruadh, or red loons, who were a terrible pest to the people. About Culblean and Easter Morven were their haunts for a time; the ‘Vat Cave’ is still pointed out as an occasional retreat of the famous Rob Roy M'Gregor, their leader. An extensive forest at Culblean is said to have been burned by them, and the inhabitants harried without mercy. At length one of them, getting a little more civilised, settled down, and from him sprang the second race of McGregors, still found in Braemar.

There are also two races of M'Donalds in Braemar, each with their own distinctive legend. One of them states that a little boy of the name of McDonald was carried away by a wolf—wolves being at that time very plentiful. After carrying him off, the wolf did not destroy him, but treated him instead as one of her own cubs. So he grew up a veritable wild man of the woods, and not unfrequently joined the wolves in their predatory expeditions.

With such companionship and designs, he often visited the house of his mother, and was hounded off by the dogs. By some means it was discovered who he was ; and his relations, having traced him out to his lair, succeeded in communicating the circumstances of his birth and abduction. They prevailed on him also to leave his sylvan life, and settle down in a somewhat tamer manner.

He never would return to his mother, however, being apparently unable to get over the fact that she had hounded him off with dogs; and he often reproached her, it is said, in some Gaelic rhyme, which is a little too coarse for translation or insertion here. He married at length, and from him proceeded the race known as the Sliochd a Mhadaidh Alluidh, i.e. the Race of the Wolf.

The first thing that drew my attention to this story' said the old man who related the legend, was being at the marriage of a relation of mine to one of the Wolf MlDonaldsI mind weel, though I was but a laddie, o’ hearing my uncle say to the bridegroom, 'Weel, but ye hae gotten a bonnie wifie, though she be come o’ the race o’ the wolf.' That raised my boyish curiosity, and I didna rest till I had a’ the story of the wolf, just as you’ve gotten’t the day.’

The other race are called the Gruthais or Fir M'Donalds. The legend respecting them is, that a man of the name of McDonald having killed another of the name of Grant, had to flee from his own country, Strathspey. The chief of the Grants and several men followed in pursuit. It was continued for a considerable time with no success ; so the chief and his men, wearied out, lay down on the heather one day and fell asleep. McDonald, who had seen them, crept up to the chief stealthily, and laid his sword across his throat. Then he retired to a height at some distance, and cried loud enough to be heard. All started to their feet, and were amazed to see the fugitive at a little distance. The chief, charmed at the forbearance of his foe, called .on him to approach, shook hands with him, and so the pursuit ended., M'Donald did not, however, return to Strathspey, but settled down in Braemar; and from having skulked so long among the woods, he was called Seumas Ghiuthais, James of the Fir, and his descendants the Giuthas, or Fir M'Donalds.

There are also two races of M'Intoshes : the Tir Igny and the Mariech. The legend of the Tir Igny M'Intoshes accounts also for the name of Cumming i being found in Braemar. I give it briefly; but be- j fore doing so, let me notice the origin of the name M'Intosh itself:—

Many hundreds of years ago, when strife and dis- I cord were the rule of the day in the Highlands, the Clan Chattan split themselves into various families, or septs, each assuming a distinctive patronymic, and acknowledging a separate head, or chieftain,—the result of which was a continued series of struggles for the supremacy.

In order, if possible, to remove the cause of this continual strife, the Scottish Government enacted that one special chief, or captain, should be appointed by warrant of the king to the supreme headship of the confederacy, and that all branches of the clan should acknowledge him as their chief, and be bound to obey and be led by him in the day of battle.

This dignity was conferred upon Shaw M'Duff, brother of Duncan third Earl of Fife. Shaw had married Eva, only daughter and heiress of Donald Dale, who had previously been considered as the hereditary chief. Shaw having thus obtained the leadership of the Clan Chattan, assumed the name of Toiseach, or First Man.

About the fourteenth century the Tir Igny MTn-toshes held an estate of that name near Blair-Athole. The Cummings, who ruled with a rod of iron, were lords superior. One of them is said to have killed sixteen lairds in one day, who lived on the stream of the Tarf\ in order to get possession of their lands! But he was himself killed that same day by a fall from his horse as he rode through Glen Tilt. Cruelty was not the only ugly trait of the Cumming character; another one is perpetuated by the Gaelic couplet:

‘While in the wood there is a tree,
A Cumming will deceitful be.'

The ‘Big Cumming,’ son of the laird who was killed, on going, according to the usual custom, the round of his retainers at Christmas for the annual gift, got on one occasion from M'lntosh of Tir Igny the unusually large one of a bull and several cows. This only excited the cupidity of Cumming; and with a body of his retainers he returned that night, and put all the M'Intoshes to death, in order to add the lands of Tir Igny to his estate of Blair.

The nurse, however, escaped with the youngest child, and made her way to its mother’s relations. On growing up to manhood, young Tir Igny and a party of his relations attacked the Cummings unexpectedly, who, being defeated, fled with their leader up Glen Tilt. Many of them fell during the pursuit; and at last the Big Cumming. escaped alone by the way of Loch Lochin, while young Tir Igny followed hard, determined to revenge the death of his family. As they were on different sides of the loch, Cumming sat down on a stone to rest for a moment; and as he wiped the perspiration from his brow, an arrow from the bow of Tir Igny pierced his temples, and he fell dead. A cairn is said still to mark the spot. Some of thŁ vanquished Cummings found their way into Braemar, and from them are descended the Cummings still found there.

Tir Igny again settled in his father’s lands ; but he had not enjoyed them long ere he fell again into the hands of the Cummings, and was killed. His friends then fled to Braemar, and having settled there, are still known as the Tir Igny M'Intoshes.

The other race of the M‘Intoshes claim descent from Shaw, laird of Glen Markie, Invermarkie, and Glen Feshie, who having during a feud killed a MTherson of some note, the whole clan turned out to revenge it. Shaw with his people fled by the way of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy. At the head of the river Nethy they made a stand, but were defeated. Shaw escaped alone, and entered Braemar by the way of the Larig Rn, and assumed the name of M‘Intosh to avoid detection. The descendants of Shaw are still known as the Mariech M'Intoshes. They were a poetical race, as they became afterwards the bards of the Farquharsons of Inverey.

A fitting sequel to these legends will be found in one still more quaint, respecting the destruction of the old castle of Kindrocket. At a period somewhat indefinite, the ‘Galar Mor,’ or Great Disease, ravaged Scotland. Braemar, despite all the purity and strength of its mountain air, was not exempted ; on the contrary, it seemed to rage there with intense virulence. Not only were its terrible effects felt, but the destroyer assumed a visible appearance, and hovered in the air like a blue 'haesp' ever, and anon lowering itself on some particular spot, bringing with it certain destruction. They adopted a very summary mode of dealing with it, on the principle, I suppose, that desperate diseases require desperate remedies. No sooner was it known that the Galar Mor’ had broken out in any house, than it was battered down, and all the inmates, infected or otherwise, buried in the ruins.

Unfortunately it broke out in the castle; and as there was no respect of persons with the disease, so there could be none made in their mode of dealing with it. The doom of the castle was therefore sealed. A company of artillery was ordered from Blair Castle; they came up through Athole. Roads had to be cut in some places for their cannon (the cuttings, it is even said, are still visible in Glen Fernat, and at the Coldrach, etc., but I have not seen them). They went on to Corrimulzie, and turned down Cornam-muc, a hollow in the side of Morrone, and were placed in position for operation on a small ridge on Tomintoul, called Scra-vechty, which fully commands the castle and plain.

When the work of destruction began, a lady stood at the castle door combing her hair. 'Aye' said my informant, ‘it was a gowden came’ (golden comb). The first round brought a part of the walls down about her. Not one within escaped; and thus the castle of Ceann Drochciide was levelled to the ground.

Several extravagant stories are also extant about the old ruins. For example: many ages after the destruction of the castle, when the soldiers were stationed at Braemar, one of them was prevailed upon for a sum of money to explore the vaults. There was one hole open like a flue ; its mouth is still to be seen, into which when a stone was thrown, it could be heard descending a flight of steps for a very long way. Down this hole he was lowered by a rope to the first steps, whence he proceeded, torch in hand, on his adventure.

In a short time the signal was given, and pale and trembling he was brought to the upper surface. On recovering a little, he declared that nothing would ever induce him to go back, he had seen such dreadful things. For instance, he had come upon one room or vault, in which was a ghastly company sitting round it in life-like position, dressed in a strange costume, but silent, motionless, and dead.

Here is another story, in which there is also a touch of the supernatural: About the end of the eighteenth century, the Watsons, a family who had the inn at Castleton, began to clear out the ruins, and found numbers of old coins, broken vessels, iron doors, smashed gratings, etc., with immense quantities of deers’ horns, and bones of other animals. But a little old man with a red cap appeared, and bade them desist, if they valued their own welfare, etc.

The amount of truth in this story I was able to ascertain correctly, as an old man, William Gruer, still lives in the village who was at the clearing out of the ruins. He has no recollection of the ‘iron doors’ or ‘gratings/ etc., but he found a rusty old sword, very large, with two edges ; and a large silver brooch, such as are used in fastening the plaids. There was also an enormous quantity of deers’ horns of great size; while everything they came upon seemed to have undergone the action of fire. Some eighty-two cart-loads of rubbish were at the time taken from the ruins, but no little old man with a red cap interfered; only the carting was stopped by the laird of Invercauld's orders.

Subterranean passages are supposed really to exist. One stair there was, also leading down to a considerable depth; and as boys, he said, they used to amuse themselves by throwing down stones, to hear the noise they made in rattling over the steps.

About twenty years ago or more, an old woman had a cottage close to the ruins, built over one of these subterranean passages, and through some crevice about her fireplace the wind used to come rushing with great force, and on windy nights especially it would make her fire burn very brightly; and the young people gathered round used to remark jocularly, that ‘ Malcolm was blowing his bellows.’

That cottage, by the command of the late proprietor, was taken down, as it marred the picturesque appearance of the ruins. From that time they remained intact, until the erection of two prosaic shops has greatly interfered with them.

This part of the legends may now be fitly concluded by a brief sketch of the Earls of Mar, into whose hands the castle of Kindrocket fell when it ceased to be a Royal residence.

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