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Home Life of the Highlanders 1400 - 1746
By Neil Munro LL.D

IT has been a cherished fancy of the dreamer and storyteller in all ages that, on this side of the horizon, by magic or fairy influence, there might possibly be found, above the flood of time and change, some little island where remnants of an ancient folk survived with all the customs of the early world, untouched by modern history and proof against the assault of years. Even unprofessional dreamers have indulged this fantasy in regard to Pict or Celt in Britain. They have sometimes thought that in the remoter Highlands there might possibly still be seen survivals of the old life and thought which Culloden is usually considered to have for ever dispelled—not a purely mechanic survival, as the lingering quern, the cas-chrom, or the cruisie; the shieling ballad, the tradition or the tartan; but a relic subtle in essence, the genuine Celtic soul. The men who came out of the mist one hundred and sixty-six years ago and marched between English meadows, wearing moccasins and bearing shields, more like creatures of mythology than actual beings in the eyes of their English observers, have not all, surely, been swallowed up in the mist whereto the adventurous clans returned. Some glen, we like to fancy, yet retains a remnant, or at least one phantom who cannot forget. When the train hoots across Rannoch or along Locheil, or the "Clansman" slips at sunset between the Western Isles, there must be, somewhere on the hill or on the shore, a figure silent, listening and wistful, his plaid drawn to his chin, his bonnet to his eye-brows, his arms upon his breast, the type of a race as isolate in sentiment and experience from that new world whose shapes he sees as was the pelt-clad aboriginal looking from the breckan at the Roman legionary pacing his earthen wall.

But the searcher for more than a material Gael, for something profounder than tartan, language, and ethnological signs, will go to many Highland markets now before he comes on that which he desires. It is possible to find this phantom type at long intervals in the Outer Isles where so many people have never seen a tree, and even in rare mainland hamlets, but never in sufficient numbers to populate a Clachan. The password that was whispered before Harlaw is forgotten, and we must be half-lowland to be able to batter ourselves into an emotional acceptance of summer kilts, clan societies, and "Gatherings" as satisfactory evidence of the persistence of the Gaol per se. It is possible, however, for the curious to reconstitute in the imagination that byegone state by seeing its still-surviving domestic features represented at an Exhibition and by reading of those other features—tribal, feudal, predatory, or martial—which, for some centuries, more manifestly distinguished the Gael from the Lowlander. The Clachan is obviously and inevitably incomplete, since it represents only the domestic and pacific side of a people who are most notable in history for other arts and ideals than the domestic or pacific. For complete realism, the Clachan should have pikes and fire-arms in the thatch, and should ring occasionally with slogans. But frays are out of fashion, and the inquirer into this side of the Home Life of the old Highlanders must be content to learn of it from the writers of the following pages.

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