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The Lecturer., Otago Witness, Issue 1582, 18 March 1882
The Lecturer .
BALQUHIDDSK IN THE HIGH LANDS.
BALQUHIDDER, ROB ROY, &o.
Sketch suggested by a Recent Visit.
One other note on the literary history of the district will bring us back to the churchyard and parish. A horizontal tombstone covers the.mortal part of the Rev. Mr Kirke, who flourished in the latter part of the seventeenth century and towards the beginning of the eighteenth, so that he was for some time contemporary with Rob Roy. On _ tho stone, almost illegible, there are some singularly beautiful verses —
' Stones weep, though eyes be dry, Fairest flowers soonest die,' fee,
of which Mr M'Gregor had not been able to trace the authorship, though he said the style reminded him of 'Holy George Herbert.' Perhaps the author was Mr Kirke himself. For his wife, who died before him, was buried in that same grave; and the words may have been his elegy or dirge over her. In any # case, he, in that lone spot, far away from ordinary aids and stimulants to literary labour, was a laborious student and author. He prepared in Gaelic a metrical version of the Psalms, and a translation of the whole Bible, which — I have noi seen it — appears to have been simply Bishop Bidell's Irish version' turned from the Irish Celtic into the Scottish. These fruits of Kirke's labours are not widely known, having been made to give place to similar works of an authorised 1 committee, with whom the Balquhidder minister is said to have run a long race for priority in finishing the work, a race in which he must have beenheavily handicapped, as one translator against several or ma.ny. It is interesting to thmk of the quiet scholar, amid scenes suggestive of violence and terror, indulging in the pleasing pain of scattering flowers of poetry on the grave of his wife, and making his widowed solitude respectable and honourable by the long laborious endeavour to place within reach of his countrymen the means of reading in their own tongue the wonderful works of God. Quiet work like His may have had much to do with bringing, in place of that violence and terror, the happy quiet of the district in our day. ' pcus vobis haec otia fecit, may thus be the true inward history of the process which, in the desolate mountain side over against you, has brought into being, and kept in being and freshness unfading, yon beautiful stripe of green,— the sight of which fills your eye and gladdens your heart, thpugh you should not perceive the living water that trickles down beneath the green; nor even the white stone with which some grateful shepherd has marked the spring from which the living water flows perennial. The spiritual movement, which makeslifebelow thesurface, need notdelay us long. There hasnot, so ! far as I know, been in the history of religion in the district much of those' notable events, rising above tha plane of ordinary experience, which claim a place in history, the memory of the race. 'Earliest of all, as represented monumentally, Druidism has its monuments, at, the extreme south of the district in sacred Benledi, and at the kirk town in the conical mound. In connection with this mound there are two or three expressions, regarding a torch procession with white wands, regarding Samhainn or Hogmanay, regarding Bealtainn or Whitsuntide, which— in the absence of my notes made on the spot— l now do not venture to expound or reproduce. But I can here give an anecdote which illustrates more Blatters than one. In the vestry of the new church there is a large oblong box, very strongly made of black oak, and clasped with iron, and having iron rings on the lid, as if, for convenience in lowering it into a vault, and raising it thence when wanted. That formidable-looking article is now employed for the innocent purpose of keeping the communion plate of the congregation. It was purchased by an elder at a sale in Edinample House, near the head of Lochearn, where it was accidentally put up to auction among some furniture, which the Campbell family there were selling off by way of clearance. In this way they lost a. valuable relic. For it proves to have been the charter-chest of a famous Breadalbane family of Campbells— the family of Donvcha Dabh a churraichd ("Black "Duncan of the cowl"). This Duncan made, especially on neighbouring clans, in his own and following generations, a deep and enduring impression of successfxil, grasping, cunning rapacity; to which might well apply the proverbial description of a Campbell, ' fair and false.' Bui in connection with the Balquhiddor Druidical mound, he presents a more pleasing face, though not one of perfect ingenuous simplicity. The cattle on a certain farm had somehow become bewitched or diseased. For the purpose of healing, or of exorcism, a woman — I suppose the farmer's wife, or the farmeress— went from Glendochart across the watershed of Larickeelie, and down the gloomy Glenogle into Balquhidder, and brought home a bag full of the soil or the sand of that mound at the Clachan. On this account she was brought before the ecclesiastical authorities on the criminal charge of having dabbled in the 'black arts.' If you wonder at this, Dr Kennedy of Dingwall will show you, in his book on " The Days of the Fathers of Rossshire," that, as still appears on the certified records of the Court, the Protestant Presbytery of Lochcarron once had certain of the people of Lochcarron and Lochalsh under discipline for a practice of sacrificing bulls to the Virgin Mary on an island in Inch Maree (Mary's Loch). A singular mixture of Paganism and Romanism in a Protestant community ! Yes ; but what do you think of this ? About ten years ago, in Walla, of Shetland, I was told by the Free Church Minister that in a little island under his charge the people there were then in the habit of going to a witch for paid advice or assistance about the weather, as seriously as they would go for groceries to the merchant's store ; and that a neighbour of his had come to him— the minister /—for the loan of a pony to carry him to a wizard, whose advice and assistance he desired to have on account of a running sore in his leg ! On that occasion the pony showed himself a sounder divine than the minister : after the minister had granted the man's request, the pony threw him over his head, so that the nefarious j»urney did not come off. The woman's cu.se,then, was not altogether singular. Black Duncan got her off by some specious if not gracious sophistry— ' fair and false ; ' and ha dismissed her with the admonition, ' Do not bring home any moro bags of sand across Lavickoelie ' ; — ' not guilty ; but she must not doit any more.' The recent religions history, judging from the present ecclesiastical temper of the people, has probably been what is suggested by the spiritual son«s of Du°vM Buchanan and tho cantilation of Mary Sfcuaii ; that is, of the ordinary typo of Evangelical Protestantism, or Protestant Evangelism. Of Popish controversy there I do not know any incident,
unless it be the following, in which Rob Roy took a leading part, and that not discreditable, Rob himself was in later life a Romanist. From Speymouth, on the north-east coast, to Barra, remotest of the outer Hebrides, there stretches across Scotland a belt of native Romanism, which appears not to have been at any time reached and overflowed by the advancing tides of reformation, either from the north or from the south. Tho Romanists are on good terms with their Protestant neighbours, and are regarded and treated by theses simply as neighbours and friends, of tho Romish communion. Such, apparently, was the case with Rob Roy. The minister of the parish had, it was alleged, been too heavy and harsh upon the parishioners with his teinds. So Rob caught hold of him, took him to a public-house or country inn, constrained him to eat and drink at least as much as was good for him, and extracted from him a promise to be thenceforward more easy upon the people about the.tiends; Rob graciously promising that he would every year send to the manse a pair of good cows— a promise which, I understand, he faithfully fulfilled, though I have not hoard where the cows came from before he sent them.
Now let us go back far beyond good Mr Kirke, and the Reformation, and the very name of Pope and Rome, to the first introduction of Christianity into the district. The old church, now a rum, was built somewhere in thes seventeenth century, on the site of what had been a Romish church before the Reformation. The lair of Rob Roy's family is manifestly in what had been 'the foundation of the chancel. But on the same site there had previously been the chapel, or wood or turf meet-ing-house, of the Culdees. And here comes in my story. When, not many days ago, I first came in sight of New Zealand, I found myself saying to myself Beannach Aonghais. And the reason or cause of that mental ejaculation is in my present story. I have spoken of the farm of Beannach Aonghais (' Angus' Blessing '). It is on the way from King s house, within less than a mile of the clachan, and is known to geographers and other clever blockheads as Middle Auchleiskin. But Donald Maclaren and other Balquhidder 'old identities' will know it only as Beannach Aonghais. Moreover, in a field there there is a stone called Glach Aonghnis ('Angus' Stone'), in whose form they see a resemblance to tho bust of a man with arms raised up, in the attitude of blessing. And, as we shall find, the great annual fair was called Feill-Aonghais ('Angus' Festival'); as Feil-VM-chessag ('Kessog's Festival') is at this hour the name of a corresponding fair in Callander, where there is also a Tmn-mo-chcssog ('Kessog's Mound'). The exposition of all that Angus geography is this. Angus, the Culdee Evangelist, was the first man who came to Balquhidder with the Gospel. On his way westward from King's house he could not see the whole district, up to, the furthest ' Braes ' of Balquhidder, until he had reached the spot now doubly called by his name. Then and there he saw the whole scene of his' intended labours lying full in his view. And then and there ha lifted up his hands, and blessed the land to which he had devoted his life. Angus the Culdee, I learned from Dr Maclauchlan of Edinburgh, is an authentic historical personage, whose name occurs in some' of the old Irish hagiographies of Culdeeism— ' The Book' I ; think, 'of Bangor,' (or 'Deny?'). Of his having really been the Evangelist of Balquhidder there can, I suppose, be no reasonable doubt. And every one will admit that the manner of his introduction to the district, as indicated by the local tradition, was fine, with a certain heroic simplicity of longing 1 affection. lam not sorry to remember that when I first saw this land of yours my first spontaneous impulse was to say in my heart, Beannach- Aonghais.
; Of the character of the civil history, even in post-Reformation times, a significant indication is found in a row of remarkably fine plain trees. They are alone in Balquhidder, in the sense that there is no other such plantation of nearly their age. They are known to have been planted in the reign of James VI. of Scotland, before he went (in 1603) to be James I. of England. And their solitariness, in the sense explained, is a monument of the troubles of the generations following, in which men had little opportunity or heart for ornamental or useful plantation of trees. On this side of that date I will refer only to one historical anecdote, and beyond only to one other, before I go on to the grand event of the battle between the Maclarens and the Lenies.
My modern anecdote has reference to the royal name of Stuart ; and on this account I ought to come foremost. Up the southern branch of the Teith — the branch which cornea down from Glengyle through Lochs Caterin, Achray, and Vennacher to Little Leny— at the Brig of Turk, there is the mouth of Glenfinglas, which from that strikes north-west-ward, having Benledi and her spurs between it and the Balquhidder district on the east and north. In that glen there is a race of Stuarts claiming to be royal, as having sprung, no matter how, from the good Regent Murray. Some of them had at some time crossed the watershed, between the head- waters of the two branches of the Teith river, and settled in Glenbuckie, from which a mountain stream goes leaping and brawling- down into quiet, slow Balvaig, just opposite the Kirkton, beside beautiful Srbn-var. Mr Macgregor, when arranging the old church into an ornamental ruin, and digging into a family lair of the Glenbuckie Stuarts, inside the church, at the foot of the north wall,— eastfend — found a human skull, which had a hole in the solid bone, and a pistol bullet within. And thereby hangs a tale, which I will now unfold. In 1745, Stuart of Glenbuckie went away to join the rebel army of Prince Charles Stuart, then, I think, camped in and round the Castle of Doune. On his way through Menteith he went to spend the night with hi 3 friend_ Buchanan of Auchmar^who was confederate in the plot of rebellion. He did not leave that house alive. Next morning he was found dead in bed, with a hole in his skull, and an empty pistol on his pillow. On behalf of Buchanan it was suggested that the two friends had been comparing notes about the prospectsof therebellion, that Stuart had become persuaded there was no hope of success, and that his despair had driven him to suicide. But in Balquhidder the more popular theory was, that the friends had quarrelled over their cups, that Buchanan had shown some symptoms of a disposition to shrink back from the enterprise when the testing time came, that Stuart had reproached him for treacherous cowardice, perhaps threatened to inform upon him to the prince at Donne, and that therefore Buchanan had murdered his sleeping guest through revengeful terror. Buchanan did from that time shrink back. But he did not escape the consequences of his previous complicity with treason^ Though there was against him no conclusive evidence of overt rebellion, yet the complicity was proved by means of private papers of his own, which had somehow reached the King'a advocate, or public prosecutor, at Carlisle ; and he was executed as a traitor. The vivid recent resurrection of that old tragp.dy, of which lbs memory had far lapsed into oblivion, is not unimpressive.* My sinuibiiL j.ueudoleeoiKi.'ins Ul9 Mac Nabs. Their part in the history of Balquhidder was only
circumstantial. On a horizontal tombstone in the churchyard a tamily have put on record the boast, thattheyarenoblein lineage, beingsprung frqm a certain Abbot of Paisley who was a son of the Earl of Glasgow. In that case they must have been illegitimate originally, as an Abbot of Paisley could not have legitimate offspring. And so the base boast isgalliug to us pf the clan Gregor ; because those Balquhidder Mac Nabs were probably of that clan, who adopted such names of neighbouring clans as Mac Nab, Dochart, and Drummond, when their own proper name was proscribed under penalty of death. After consulting the Rev. Dr Maclauchlan 'of Edinburgh, I am established in the opinion that the paltry boast is really a mistaken one. The Mac Nabs, or children of the Abbot, really deriyed their name and lineage, not from a Romish abbot but from a Culdee abbot, who not only could have legitimate offspring, but was under a sort of obligation to marry and have children ; because the Culdee Celtic church offices, like the Levitical and priestly orders of Israel, ran in. the line of blood. Hence many Celtic names which really are only by-names, c. g., MacTaggart (priestson), and MacGregor (shepherdson), the proper name of the clan being Sliochd Albainn, ' race of Alpme.') But I must not tell only that story about the Abbotsons ; for Of all the Highland clans, Mac Nabs the maist farosh-
ious, Except the Maclntyres, MacOraws, and Macintoshes.
Here, then, is a story that will please them, or appease them. When leaving Callander westward you pass the Dreadnought Hotel, which at one tune was known as the Head Inn,- and still is literally a 'head' inn, in this sense, that over the front door there is carved a detruncated human head, under which is inscribed 'Dreadnought,' a motto of the Mac Nabs. Now come with me north to King's house, and thence eastward to Lochearn. Your way north to King's house through Strathire is like a street that leads perpendicularly on to the middle of the main street of a city. At King's house you are almost exactly at the middle of the main valley of Balquhidder. Between two lines of mountains, like the houses' on the two sides of a street, that valley stretches across the Strathire one, at right angles, about sixteen miles, eight westward to the ' Braes ' of Balquhidder proper, and eight westward to beautiful St. FiUans, at the furthest extremity of Loch Earn, in what I will call Balquhidder improper. I may mention that, corresponding to Loch Earn on the east, which' begins at Lochearnhead, about two miles from King's house, there is on the west, beginning at the Kirkton, about equally far from King's house, a series of smaller lochs, Con, Voil) and some other whose name I have forgotten. And the eastern part of the long central valley deserves to be called improper Balquhidder ; for it is not in the basin of the Balvaig, Leith, Froth, but in the basin of the Earn and the Tay. Although the watershed near King's house is nearly imperceptible in elevation; yet there it is ; so that, while at King's house all running water is on its way to Stirling and Edinburgh, a mile eastward it all running water is, on its way to Perth and Dundee. ' Now go with' me for once—in a boat —so 'far through that improper Balquhidder as to reach a little island near St. Fillans. There sleeps a memory .whose awakening will please and appease the ' faroshious ' , sons ( of the Abbot, Romish or Culdee. There there dwelt a robber, much at his ease:< because he had with him the only boat on jbhe Loch : so that when he had robbed a passing .traveller or party he had only, to slide away m his boat to his Mand, where he could enjoy the spoil at his leisure, though an army should be raging for his apprehension on the shore. But we all, know what became of the man who was too clever : he perished of spontaneous combustion, consumed by his own excessiye cleverality. Away in the north, on Loch Tay side, near the delicious Innis Bhuidh (or 'Yellow Island') of Killin, a chief of MacNab's dwelt with his seven sons. When the festive Christmas season drew near, he and they were, all in ' doleful dumps,' because the means of festivity, which they had sent for to the Lowlands, had been appropriated from its convoy by that robber on Lochearn. The old man.gave some expression of bitter scorn about the sad lot of him, who had seven stalwart sons loafing and sulking at the fireside, pusillanimously enduring insult as well as injury from a scoundrel like that. They said nothing —like King Saul— but they did a thing which pleased him and appeased him. They went to the Loch (Tay) side, found a boat there, laid it on their shoulders, carried it over the mountain and down Glentarbin (or Glenbeich ?) to Loch Earn,; and in this way were enabled to reach the robber, and cut off his head, which they carried home to ther father, who thereupon said to his children, ' Dread Nought.'
Now for the great battle between the Maclarens and. Lenys. This we shall place vaguely in the Middle Ages. It must have been very early in the clan history of those ages. For, as we shall see, it was only on the day of battle that the Macgregors were instated in Balquhidder on an equal footing with the Maclarens ; and it was onty after that day that the Buchanans came in place of the Lenys in what previously had been the country of the* Lenys —that is, down about the Pass of Leny, and between that and Callander. We have seen that the Buchanan burying-place is called Little 1 Leny. I may add that the mansion of the head Buchanan family there is called Leny, or Leny House ; and also that, up in the heart of Balquhidder, beyond Balvaie westward from King's house, at the corner wliere Strathire loses itself in the main valley, there is a Srbn-Ldnavlh (' Leny Promontory '), not unconnected with our story ; — all which goes to show that in what is now a Buchanan country, towards Callander on the south, at the time of our story there was a race of Lenys in full commanding force. Well, — One St. Kenock's fair or festival-day in Callander, a Balquhidder Maclaren, supposed to be half-witted, was grossly insulted by a Leay, then and there ' crouse like a cock on his am midden-head,' who struck the solitary stranger on the face with a switch, which he had dipped in the foul mud of the road or street. The outraged Maclaren said that no Leny would have dared to do that on FHUA6nghais"day in the clachan of Balquhidder. And so there came to be a wager of battle between the two clans, to be fought at that place and time.
The field of battle was between the elevation on which the church stands and Balvaig on the plain. The plain is here the narrow upper end of a meadowy bog which stretches the whole way from King's house to the Kirktou ; perhips two miles in length and one mile across at the broadest, and so flat that the river flowing through is dumb by nature and by name, and the two southern boundaries of firbn-Llnuiidh , opposite King's house, and Hrbji-vur, opposite the Kirkton, may have got their name of Srbn ('promontory ' : nase, or ness, or nish) from a fancied resemblance of the plain on which they abut to a little island sea. At the upper end it becomes narrowed to perhaps from 500 yards to nothing, by a bending of the church ground down n], >n the river, which at that point is no longer :i Balvaig, but comes down a rapid stream, partly from Gleubuckie on the south, and partly from an opposite glen on
the north, as well as from Loohs Con and Voil on the west. And at the very corner, at the upper end of this narrow, there is a deep, dark pool, now called the ' Pool of Corpses ' (I have forgotten the Gaelic name), from the tragic event of that day of battle. The battle was lost and won before it was f ought or begun. The Lenys, fatally bad tacticians that day, ranged themselves on > the narrow plain with their backs to the river. The Maclarens thus had doubly the advantage of the ground; not only in the downward slope for a rush of assault upon the foe, but also because, if only they could outflank them a little on their (the foe's) right, furthest down stream, and should have strength enough to push them back and roll them up into the corner with its deep, dark pool, then they (the foe) would be caught in the river as in a deadly net. The Maclarens saw the advantage, but were not able to make it available through lack of sufficient force. And so they sought the assistance of the MacGregors, who had gathered to the festival, and were Watching the battle as interested but unconcerned spectators. They gave their assistance, on this condition, that thenceforward the MacGregors should have right to enter the church and take their places there at the same time as the Maclarens—not, as hitherto, after them as their betters — a curious vindication or achievement of social equality.* The result was that the Lenys were outflanked, overmastered, pushed back upon the river, rolled up into the corner, and hurled into ' the pool of death ' (so called from that hour). There they all perished excepting two. One of the two, who escaped across the stream, was pursued by a tall and swift Macgregor, of the subriame of Ciar (' mouse brown '), who slew him on a spot, still pointed out, near Srbn-Lanaidb (which perhaps received its name from this event). The other, who somehow broke or slipped through the array of his enemies, ran what must to him have been a terrible race for life eastward along the north side of the river, through the long meadowy bog of the plain ; but he, too, was overtaken and slain, a little beyond King's house, as you turn down into Strathire. The tradition that the Lenys were in effect annihilated as a clan is completed by the representation that the Buchanans came into their place, through marriage of a Buchanan with an orphan heiress of the chief of the Lenys, slain in the great clan-fight with the Maclarens. And it is corroborated by the fact, that in what is shown by names of places to have at one time been a Leny country, while Buchanans have abounded for generations back, through these generations the Leny name of persons has been utterly unknown. But probably the ' annihilation ' was only like the ' annihilation ' of the Picts by the Scots under Kenneth Mac Alpine, a destruction of the corporate power and existence of the tribe, with a consequent disappearance of its name— the individual survivors assuming the name of those who came next into power in the country of the ' broken ' clan. ,
* N"B.— The genteel thing is, not to be late in 'entering church, and taking one's seat, but to be early.
The Lecturer., Otago Witness, Issue 1582, 18 March 1882
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