The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Scottish Highlands, Highland Clans and Highland Regiments, Volume 2 (of 2)

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Title: The Scottish Highlands, Highland Clans and Highland Regiments, Volume 2 (of 2)

Editor: Sir John Scott Keltie

Contributor: Thomas Maclauchlan

John Wilson

Release date: May 18, 2019 [eBook #59469]

Language: English

Credits: E-text prepared by Brian Coe, John Campbell, Jane Robins, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team ( from page images generously made available by Internet Archive (



E-text prepared by
Brian Coe, John Campbell, Jane Robins,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
Internet Archive


Note: This volume originally was printed as four separate books (see transcriber's note below).
Images of the original pages are available through Internet Archive.
Book 5, pages 1-192:
Book 6, pages 193-384:
Book 7, pages 385-592:
Book 8, pages 593-818:


This is Volume II of a two-volume set. The first volume can be found at: .

This 1875 edition originally was published in eight separate books as a subscription publication. The Preface, Title pages, Tables of Contents and Lists of Illustrations (the Front Matter) were published in the final eighth book, and referenced books 1-4 as Volume I, and books 5-8 as Volume II. This etext follows the same two-volume structure. The relevant Front Matter has been moved to the front of each volume, and some illustrations have been moved to where the two Lists of Illustrations indicate they should be. No text was added or changed when the books were seamlessly joined to make Volume I and Volume II.

When reading this book on the web, the Index has active links to pages in both volumes. When reading on a handheld device only the internal links within this volume are active.

Footnote anchors are denoted by [number], and the footnotes have been placed at the end of each chapter.

Basic fractions are displayed as ½ ⅓ ¼ etc; other fractions are shown in the form a/b, for example 1/12 or 1/16. Regimental designations of the form a/b are unchanged, for example ‘1/4th Native Infantry’.

In Chapter XLV the English translation of Gaelic text is usually positioned side by side with that text, just as it was printed in the original book. If the window size does not allow this, the English translation follows the Gaelic passage. On handheld devices choose a small or medium size font to view these passages, to avoid a possible truncation of the column of text. Several of these passages are quite long.

Many tables in the original book (between pages 562 and 802) had } or { bracketing in some cells. These brackets are not helpful in the etext tables and have been removed to improve readability and save table space.

The two tables on page 755 were very large in width and each has been split into two parts; the left-side ‘Names’ column has been duplicated in the second part.

Many other minor changes to the text are noted at the end of the book.





original cover

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By the late Professor JOHN WILSON






[Pg iii]


XLII.Social Condition of the Highlands—Chiefs—Land Distribution—Agriculture—Agricultural Implements—Live Stock—Pasturage—Farm Servants—Harvest Work—Fuel—Food—Social Life in Former Days—Education—Dwellings—Habits—Wages—Roads—Present State of Highlands, 1
XLIII.State of Highlands subsequent to 1745—Progress of Innovation—Emigration—Pennant’s account of the country—Dr Johnson—Wretched condition of the Western Islands—Introduction of Large Sheep Farms—Ejection of Small Tenants—The Two Sides of the Highland Question—Large and Small Farms—Depopulation—Kelp—Introduction of Potatoes into the Highlands—Amount of Progress made during latter part of 18th century, 31
XLIV.Progress of Highlands during the present century—Depopulation and Emigration—Sutherland clearings—Recent State of Highlands—Means of Improvement—Population of chief Highland Counties—Highland Colonies—Attachment of Highlanders to their Old Home—Conclusion, 54
XLV.Gaelic Literature, Language, and Music. By the Rev. Thomas Maclauchlan, LL.D., F.S.A.S., 66
I.Clanship—Principle of Kin—Mormaordoms—Traditions as to Origin of Clans—Peculiarities and Consequences of Clanship—Customs of Succession—Highland Marriage Customs—Position and Power of Chief—Influence of Clanship on the People—Number and Distribution of Clans, &c., 116
II.The Gallgael or Western Clans—Lords of the Isles—The various Island Clans—The Macdonalds or Clan Donald—The Clanranald Macdonalds—The Macdonnells of Glengarry, 131
III.The Macdougalls—Macalisters—Siol Gillevray—Macneills—Maclachlans—MacEwens—Siol Eachern—Macdougall Campbells of Craignish—Lamonds, 139
IV.Robertsons or Clan Donnachie—Macfarlanes—Argyll Campbells and offshoots—Breadalbane Campbells and offshoots—Macleods, 169
V.Clan Chattan—Mackintoshes—Macphersons—Macgillivrays—Shaws— Farquharsons—Macbeans—Macphails—Gows—Macqueens—Cattanachs, 197
VI.Camerons—Macleans—Macnaughtons—Mackenricks—Macknights—Macnayers— Macbraynes—Munroes—Macmillans, 217
VII.Clan Anrias or Ross—Mackenzies—Mathiesons—Siol Alpine—Macgregors—Grants—Macnabs—Clan Duffie or Macfie—Macquarries—Macaulays, 235
VIII.Mackays—Macnicols—Sutherlands—Gunns—Maclaurin or Maclaren—Macraes—Buchanans— Colquhouns—Forbeses—Urquharts, 265
IX.Stewarts—Frasers—Menzies—Chisholms—Stewart Murray (Athole)—Drummonds—Grahams— Gordons—Cummings—Ogilvies—Fergusons or Fergussons, 297


INTRODUCTION.—Military Character of the Highlands,321
42nd Royal Highland Regiment (Am Freiceadan Dubh, “The Black Watch”),324
Appendix.—Ashantee Campaign,803
Loudon’s Highlanders, 1745–1748,451
Montgomery’s Highlanders, or 77th Regiment, 1757–1763,453
Fraser’s Highlanders, or Old 78th and 71st Regiments—
Old 78th, 1757–1763,457
Old 71st, 1775–1783,465
Keith’s and Campbell’s Highlanders, or Old 87th and 88th Regiments,475
89th Highland Regiment, 1759–1765,478
Johnstone’s Highlanders, or 101st Regiment, 1760–1763,479
71st Highland Light Infantry, formerly the 73rd or Lord Macleod’s Highlanders,479
Argyle Highlanders, or Old 74th Regiment, 1778–1783,519
Macdonald’s Highlanders, or Old 76th Highland Regiment,520
Athole Highlanders, or Old 77th Regiment, 1778–1783,522
72nd Regiment, or Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders, formerly the 78th or Seaforth’s Highlanders,524
Aberdeenshire Highland Regiment, or Old 81st, 1777–1783,565
Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, or Old 84th, 1775–1783,565
Forty Second Royal Highland Regiment, Second Battalion, now the 73rd Regiment,566
74th Highlanders,571
75th Regiment,616
78th Highlanders or Ross-shire Buffs,617
79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders,697
91st Princess Louise Argyllshire Highlanders,726
92nd Gordon Highlanders,756
93rd Sutherland Highlanders,777
Appendix to the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment (Black Watch), 1873–1875 (Ashantee Campaign),803
Fencible Corps,807




Subject.Painted byEngraved byPage
Map Showing the Districts of the Highland Clans,Editedby Dr Maclauchlan,J. Bartholomew,To face title.
View of Castle Urquhart, Loch Ness,J. Fleming,W. Forrest,296
Colonels of the 42nd Royal Highlanders,From Original Sources, H. Crickmore,325
(1.) John, Earl of Crawford.(2.) Sir George Murray, G.C.B., G.C.H.
(3.) Sir John Macdonald, K.C.B.(4.) Sir Duncan A. Cameron, K.C.B.
Lord Clyde (Sir Colin Campbell),H. W. Phillips,W. Holl,409
Monument in Dunkeld Cathedral to the 42nd Royal Highlanders,434
Colonels of the 71st and 72d Highlanders,From Original Sources,H. Crickmore,479
(1.) John, Lord Macleod.(2.) Sir Thomas Reynell, Bt., K.C.B.
(3.) Kenneth, Earl of Seaforth.(4.) Sir Neil Douglas, K.C.B., K.C.H.
Colonels of the 78th and 79th Highlanders,From Original Sources,H. Crickmore,617
(1.) F. H. Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth.(2.) Sir Patrick Grant, G.C.B., G.C.M.G.
(3.) Sir Ronald Craufurd Ferguson, G.C.B.(4.) Sir James Macdonell, K.C.B., K.C.H.
The Princess Louise,From Photograph by
Hill and Saunders,
W. Holl,726
The Marquis of Lorne,From Photograph by
Elliot and Fry,
W. Holl,726
Colonels of the 91st, 92d, and 93d Highlanders,From Original SourcesH. Crickmore,756
(1.) General Duncan Campbell of Lochnell.(2.) George, Marquis of Huntly.
(3.) Major-General W. Wemyss of Wemyss.(4.) Sir H. W. Stisted, K.C.B.
Map—Crimea, with Plan of Sebastopol,J. Bartholomew,777
Argyll Campbell,175Macgregor,243Forbes,290
Breadalbane Campbell,186Grant,250Menzies,306
74.Old Scotch plough, and Caschroim, or crooked spade,9
75.Quern, ancient Highland,18
76.A Cottage in Islay in 1774,25
77.Music, ancient Scottish, scale,106
78.Macdonald coat of arms, crest, and motto,136
79.Clanranald 153
80.Macdonnell of Glengarry   ”156
81.Macdougall 159
82.Macneill 162
83.Maclachlan 165
84.Lamond 168
85.Robertson 169
86.Macfarlane 173
87.Argyll Campbell 175
88.Breadalbane Campbell 186
89.Macleod 191
90.Mackintosh 201
91.“Mackintosh’s Lament,” bagpipe music,204
92.Dalcross Castle,209
93.Macpherson coat of arms, crest, and motto,210
94.James Macpherson, editor of the Ossianic poetry,211
95.Farquharson coat of arms, crest, and motto,215
96.Cameron 217
97.Maclean 223
98.Sir Allan Maclean,227
99.Macnaughton coat of arms, crest, and motto,229
100.Munro of Foulis 231
101.Ross 235
102.Mackenzie 238
103.Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh,240
104.Macgregor coat of arms, crest, and motto,243
105.Rob Roy,245
106.Grant coat of arms, crest, and motto,250
107.Castle Grant,254
108.Mackinnon coat of arms, crest, and motto,256
109.Macnab 258
110.[vi]The last Laird of Macnab,261
111.Macquarrie coat of arms, crest, and motto,262
112.Mackay 266
113.Sutherland 272
114.Dunrobin Castle,277
115.Gunn coat of arms, crest, and motto,278
116.Maclaurin (or Maclaren) 279
117.Macrae 280
118.Buchanan 281
119.Colquhoun 284
120.Old Rossdhu Castle,289
121.Forbes coat of arms, crest, and motto,290
122.Craigievar Castle,294
123.Urquhart coat of arms, crest, and motto,296
124.Lorn 299
125.Fraser 302
126.Bishop Fraser’s Seal,302
127.Sir Alexander Fraser of Philorth,303
128.Menzies coat of arms, crest, and motto,306
129.Chisholm 307
130.Erchless Castle (seat of “the Chisholm”),308
131.Stewart Murray (Athole) coat of arms, crest, and motto,309
132.Blair Castle, as restored in 1872,312
133.Drummond coat of arms, crest, and motto,313
134.Graham 314
135.Gordon 316
136.Gordon Castle,318
137.Cumming coat of arms, crest, and motto,318
138.Ogilvy 319
139.Crest and motto of 42nd Royal Highlanders,324
140.Farquhar Shaw of the “Black Watch” (1743),330
141.Plan of the Siege of Ticonderoga (1758),338
142.British Barracks, Philadelphia, in 1764,354
143.Sir Ralph Abercromby in Egypt, Portrait,372
144.} Regimental Medal of the 42nd Royal Highlanders,
145.}     issued in 1819,374
146.Medal to the officers of the 42nd Royal Highlanders for services in Egypt,374
147.Colonel (afterwards Major-General Sir) Robert Henry Dick,396
148.Vase presented to 42nd Royal Highlanders by the Highland Society of London,400
149.Col. Johnstone’s (42nd) Cephalonian medal,407
150.“Highland Pibroch,” bagpipe music,446
151.View of Philadelphia, U.S., as in 1763,455
152.Sir David Baird,482
153.Monument in Glasgow Cathedral to Colonel the Hon. Henry Cadogan (71st),498
154.Major-General Sir Denis Pack, K.C.B.,504
155.Monument erected by the 71st Highlanders in Glasgow Cathedral,517
156.Crest of the 72nd, Seaforth Highlanders,524
157.General James Stuart,530
158.“Cabar Feidh,” bagpipe music,533
159.Major-General William Parke, C.B.,557
160.Map of Kaffraria,564
161.Crest of the 74th Highlanders,571
162.Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell, Bart., K.C.B. (74th),572
163.Plan of Assaye, 23rd Sept. 1803,574
164.Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. Sir Robert Le Poer Trench (74th),583
165.Medal conferred on the non-commissioned officers and men of the 74th for meritorious conduct during the Peninsular campaign,591
166.Waterkloof, scene of the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce (74th),598
167.Crest of the 78th Highlanders,617
168.Facsimile of a poster issued by Lord Seaforth in Ross and Cromarty in raising the Ross-shire Buffs (78th),618
169.Plan of the Battle of Assaye,631
170.Major-General Alexander Mackenzie-Fraser,642
171.Colonel Patrick Macleod of Geanies (78th),650
172.Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, K.C.B.,664
173.Suttee Chowra Ghât, scene of the second Cawnpoor Massacre, 15th July 1857,668
174.Plan of the action near Cawnpoor, 16th July 1857,669
175.Map of the scene of Havelock’s operations in July and August, 1857,671
176.Mausoleum over the Well of the Massacre at Cawnpoor,672
177.Plan of the operations for the relief of Lucknow in September and November, 1857,677
178.Monument to the memory of the 78th Highlanders, erected on Castle Esplanade, Edinburgh,689
179.Centre Piece of Plate presented by the counties of Ross and Cromarty to the 78th, Ross-shire Buffs,691
180.Crest of the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders,697
181.Major-General Sir John Douglas, K.C.B.,711
182.Richard James Mackenzie, M.D., F.R.C.S.,715
183.Lieutenant-Colonel W. C. Hodgson (79th),719
184.Monument erected in 1857 in the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, in memory of the 79th who fell in action during the campaign of 1854–55,722
185.Crest of the 91st Princess Louise Argyllshire Highlanders,726
186.The 91st crossing the Tyumie or Chumie River,737
187.Brass Tablet erected in 1873 in Chelsea Hospital to the memory of Colonel Edward W. C. Wright, C.B. (91st),742
188.Lieutenant-Colonel Bertie Gordon (91st),744
189.Major-General John F. G. Campbell (91st),746
190.Biscuit-Box presented by the men of the 91st Princess Louise Argyllshire Highlanders to the Princess Louise on the occasion of her marriage,752
191.Crest of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders,756
192.General Sir John Moore,758
193.Coat of Arms of Col. John Cameron (92nd),762
194.Colonel John Cameron (92nd),764
195.Sir John Macdonald, K.C.B., of Dalchosnie,768
196.Major-General Archibald Inglis Lockhart, C.B. (92nd),770
197.Badge of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders,777
198.Sir Duncan M’Gregor, K.C.B.,782
199.The Hon. Adrian Hope (93rd),788
200.The Secunder Bagh,791
201.Lieutenant-Colonel Wm. M’Bean, V.C. (93rd),800
202.Centre Piece of Plate, belonging to the Officers’ Mess of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders,801
203.Map of Ashantee Country and Gold Coast,803
204.Sir Garnet J. Wolseley, K.C.M.G., C.B.,804
205.Sir John C. M’Leod, K.C.B. (42nd),805

[Pg 1]

PART FIRST—Continued.



Social condition of the Highlands—Black Mail—Watch Money—The Law—Power of the Chiefs—Land Distribution—Tacksmen—Tenants—Rents—Thirlage—Wretched State of Agriculture—Agricultural Implements—The Caschroim—The Reestle—Methods of Transportation—Drawbacks to Cultivation—Management of Crops—Farm Work—Live Stock—Garrons—Sheep—Black Cattle—Arable Land—Pasturage—Farm Servants—The Bailte Geamhre—Davoch-lands—Milk—Cattle Drovers—Harvest Work—The Quern—Fuel—Food—Social Life in Former Days—Education—Dwellings—Habits—Gartmore Papers—Wages—Roads—Present State of Highlands.

As we have already (see ch. xviii.) given a somewhat minute description of the clan-system, it is unnecessary to enter again in detail upon that subject here. We have, perhaps, in the chapter referred to, given the most brilliant side of the picture, still the reader may gather, from what is said there, some notion of what had to be done, what immense barriers had to be overcome, ere the Highlander could be modernised. Any further details on this point will be learned from the Introduction to the History of the Clans.

As might have been expected, for some time after the allaying of the rebellion, and the passing of the various measures already referred to, the Highlands, especially those parts which bordered on the Lowlands, were to a certain extent infested by what were known as cattle-lifters—Anglicé, cattle-stealers. Those who took part in such expeditions were generally “broken” men, or men who belonged to no particular clan, owned no chief, and who were regarded generally as outlaws. In a paper said to have been written in 1747, a very gloomy and lamentable picture of the state of the country in this respect is given, although we suspect it refers rather to the period preceding the rebellion than to that succeeding it. However, we shall quote what the writer says on the matter in question, in order to give the reader an idea of the nature and extent of this system of pillage or “requisition:”—

“Although the poverty of the people principally produces these practices so ruinous to society, yet the nature of the country, which is thinnely inhabitate, by reason of the extensive moors and mountains, and which is so well fitted for conceallments by the many glens, dens, and cavitys in it, does not a little contribute. In such a country cattle are privately transported from one place to another, and securely hid, and in such a country it is not easy to get informations, nor to apprehend the criminalls. People lye so open to their resentment, either for giving intelligence, or prosecuting them, that they decline either, rather than risk their cattle being stoln, or their houses burnt. And then, in the pursuit of a rogue, though he was almost in hands, the grounds are so hilly and unequall, and so much covered with wood or brush, and so full of dens and hollows, that the sight of him is almost as soon lost as he is discovered.

“It is not easy to determine the number of persons employed in this way; but it may be safely affirmed that the horses, cows, sheep, and goats yearly stoln in that country are in value equall to £5,000; that the expences lost in the fruitless endeavours to recover them will not be less than £2,000; that the extraordinary expences of keeping herds and servants to look more narrowly after cattle on account of[2] stealling, otherways not necessary, is £10,000. There is paid in blackmail or watch-money, openly and privately, £5,000; and there is a yearly loss by understocking the grounds, by reason of theifts, of at least £15,000; which is, altogether, a loss to landlords and farmers in the Highlands of £37,000 sterling a year. But, besides, if we consider that at least one-half of these stollen effects quite perish, by reason that a part of them is buried under ground, the rest is rather devoured than eat, and so what would serve ten men in the ordinary way of living, swallowed up by two or three to put it soon out of the way, and that some part of it is destroyed in concealed parts when a discovery is suspected, we must allow that there is £2,500 as the value of the half of the stollen cattle, and £15,000 for the article of understock quite lost of the stock of the kingdom.

“These last mischiefs occasions another, which is still worse, although intended as a remedy for them—that is, the engaging companys of men, and keeping them in pay to prevent these thiefts and depredations. As the government neglect the country, and don’t protect the subjects in the possession of their property, they have been forced into this method for their own security, though at a charge little less than the land-tax. The person chosen to command this watch, as it is called, is commonly one deeply concerned in the theifts himself, or at least that hath been in correspondence with the thieves, and frequently who hath occasioned thiefts, in order to make this watch, by which he gains considerably, necessary. The people employed travell through the country armed, night and day, under pretence of enquiring after stollen cattle, and by this means know the situation and circumstances of the whole country. And as the people thus employed are the very rogues that do these mischiefs, so one-half of them are continued in their former bussiness of stealling that the busieness of the other half may be necessary in recovering.”[1]

This is probably a somewhat exaggerated account of the extent to which this species of robbery was carried on, especially after the suppression of the rebellion; if written by one of the Gartmore family, it can scarcely be regarded as a disinterested account, seeing that the Gartmore estate lies just on the southern skirt of the Highland parish of Aberfoyle, formerly notorious as a haunt of the Macgregors, affording every facility for lifters getting rapidly out of reach with their “ill-gotten gear.” Still, no doubt, curbed and dispirited as the Highlanders were after the treatment they got from Cumberland, from old habit, and the assumed necessity of living, they would attempt to resume their ancient practices in this and other respects. But if they were carried on to any extent immediately after the rebellion, when the Gartmore paper is said to have been written, it could not have been for long; the law had at last reached the Highlands, and this practice ere long became rarer than highway robbery in England, gradually dwindling down until it was carried on here and there by one or two “desperate outlawed” men. Long before the end of the century it seems to have been entirely given up. “There is not an instance of any country having made so sudden a change in its morals as that of the Highlands; security and civilization now possess every part; yet 30 years have not elapsed since the whole was a den of thieves of the most extraordinary kind.”[2]

As we have said above, after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745–6, there are no stirring narratives of outward strife or inward broil to be narrated in connection with the Highlands. Indeed, the history of the Highlands from this time onwards belongs strictly to the history of Scotland, or rather of Britain. Still, before concluding this division of the work, it may be well to give a brief sketch of the progress of the Highlands from the time of the suppression of the jurisdictions down to the present day. Not that after their disarmament the Highlanders ceased to take part in the world’s strife; but the important part they have taken during the last century or more in settling the destinies of nations, falls to be narrated in another section of this work. What we shall concern ourselves with at present is the consequences of the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions (and with them the importance and power of the chiefs), on the[3] internal state of the Highlands; we shall endeavour to show the alteration which took place in the social condition of the people, their mode of life, their relation to the chiefs (now only landlords), their mode of farming, their religion, education, and other points.

From the nature of clanship—of the relationship between chief and people, as well as from the state of the law and the state of the Highlands generally—it will be perceived that, previous to the measure which followed Culloden, it was the interest of every chief to surround himself with as many followers as he could muster; his importance and power of injury and defence were reckoned by government and his neighbours not according to his yearly income, but according to the number of men he could bring into the field to fight his own or his country’s battles. It is told of a chief that, when asked as to the rent of his estate, he replied that he could raise 500 men. Previous to ’45, money was of so little use in the Highlands, the chiefs were so jealous of each other and so ready to take advantage of each other’s weakness, the law was so utterly powerless to repress crime and redress wrong, and life and property were so insecure, that almost the only security which a chief could have was the possession of a small army of followers, who would protect himself and his property; and the chief safety and means of livelihood that lay in the power of the ordinary clansman was to place himself under the protection and among the followers of some powerful chief. “Before that period (1745) the authority of law was too feeble to afford protection.[3] The obstructions to the execution of any legal warrant were such that it was only for objects of great public concern that an extraordinary effort was sometimes made to overcome them. In any ordinary case of private injury, an individual could have little expectation of redress unless he could avenge his own cause; and the only hope of safety from any attack was in meeting force by force. In this state of things, every person above the common rank depended for his safety and his consequence on the number and attachment of his servants and dependants; without people ready to defend him, he could not expect to sleep in safety, to preserve his house from pillage or his family from murder; he must have submitted to the insolence of every neighbouring robber, unless he had maintained a numerous train of followers to go with him into the field, and to fight his battles. To this essential object every inferior consideration was sacrificed; and the principal advantage of landed property consisted in the means it afforded to the proprietor of multiplying his dependants.”[4]

Of course, the chief had to maintain his followers in some way, had to find some means by which he would be able to attach them to himself, keep them near him, and command their services when he required them. There can be no doubt, however chimerical it may appear at the present day, that the attachment and reverence of the Highlander to his chief were quite independent of any benefits the latter might be able to confer. The evidence is indubitable that the clan regarded the chief as the father of his people, and themselves as his children; he, they believed, was bound to protect and maintain them, while they were bound to regard his will as law, and to lay down their lives at his command. Of these statements there can be[4] no doubt. “This power of the chiefs is not supported by interest, as they are landlords, but as lineally descended from the old patriarchs or fathers of the families, for they hold the same authority when they have lost their estates, as may appear from several, and particularly one who commands in his clan, though, at the same time, they maintain him, having nothing left of his own.”[5] Still it was assuredly the interest, and was universally regarded as the duty of the chief, to strengthen that attachment and his own authority and influence, by bestowing upon his followers what material benefits he could command, and thus show himself to be, not a thankless tyrant, but a kind and grateful leader, and an affectionate father of his people. Theoretically, in the eye of the law, the tenure and distribution of land in the Highlands was on the same footing as in the rest of the kingdom; the chiefs, like the lowland barons, were supposed to hold their lands from the monarch, the nominal proprietor of all landed property, and these again in the same way distributed portions of this territory among their followers, who thus bore the same relation to the chief as the latter did to his superior, the king. In the eye of the law, we say, this was the case, and so those of the chiefs who were engaged in the rebellion of 1715–45 were subjected to forfeiture in the same way as any lowland rebel. But, practically, the great body of the Highlanders knew nothing of such a tenure, and even if it had been possible to make them understand it, they would probably have repudiated it with contempt. The great principle which seems to have ruled all the relations that subsisted between the chief and his clan, including the mode of distributing and holding land, was, previous to 1746, that of the family. The land was regarded not so much as belonging absolutely to the chief, but as the property of the clan of which the chief was head and representative. Not only was the clan bound to render obedience and reverence to their head, to whom each member supposed himself related, and whose name was the common name of all his people; he also was regarded as bound to maintain and protect his people, and distribute among them a fair share of the lands which he held as their representative. “The chief, even against the laws, is bound to protect his followers, as they are sometimes called, be they never so criminal. He is their leader in clan quarrels, must free the necessitous from their arrears of rent, and maintain such who, by accidents, are fallen into decay. If, by increase of the tribe, any small farms are wanting, for the support of such addition he splits others into lesser portions, because all must be somehow provided for; and as the meanest among them pretend to be his relatives by consanguinity, they insist upon the privilege of taking him by the hand wherever they meet him.”[6] Thus it was considered the duty, as it was in those turbulent times undoubtedly the interest, of the chief to see to it that every one of those who looked upon him as their chief was provided for; while, on the other hand, it was the interest of the people, as they no doubt felt it to be their duty, to do all in their power to gain the favour of their chiefs, whose will was law, who could make or unmake them, on whom their very existence was dependent. Latterly, at least, this utter dependence of the people on their chiefs, their being compelled for very life’s sake to do his bidding, appears to have been regarded by the former as a great hardship; for, as we have already said, it is well known that in both of the rebellions of last century, many of the poor clansmen pled in justification of their conduct, that they were compelled, sorely against their inclination, to join the rebel army. This only proves how strong must have been the power of the chiefs, and how completely at their mercy the people felt themselves to be.

To understand adequately the social life of the Highlanders previous to 1746, the distribution of the land among, the nature of their tenures, their mode of farming, and similar matters, the facts above stated must be borne in mind. Indeed, not only did the above influences affect these matters previous to the suppression of the last rebellion, but also for long after, if, indeed, they are not in active operation in some remote corners of the Highlands[5] even at the present day; moreover, they afford a key to much of the confusion, misunderstanding, and misery that followed upon the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions.

Next in importance and dignity to the chief or laird were the cadets of his family, the gentlemen of the clan, who in reference to the mode in which they held the land allotted to them, were denominated tacksmen. To these tacksmen were let farms, of a larger or smaller size according to their importance, and often at a rent merely nominal; indeed, they in general seem to have considered that they had as much right to the land as the chief himself, and when, after 1746, many of them were deprived of their farms, they, and the Highlanders generally, regarded it as a piece of gross and unfeeling injustice. As sons were born to the chief, they also had to be provided for, which seems to have been done either by cutting down the possessions of those tacksmen further removed from the family of the laird, appropriating those which became vacant by the death of the tenant or otherwise, and by the chief himself cutting off a portion of the land immediately in his possession. In this way the descendants of tacksmen might ultimately become part of the commonalty of the clan. Next to the tacksmen were tenants, who held their farms either directly from the laird, or as was more generally the case, from the tacksmen. The tenants again frequently let out part of their holdings to sub-tenants or cottars, who paid their rent by devoting most of their time to the cultivation of the tenant’s farm, and the tending of his cattle. The following extract from the Gartmore paper written in 1747, and published in the appendix to Burt’s Letters, gives a good idea of the manner generally followed in distributing the land among the various branches of the clan:—

“The property of these Highlands belongs to a great many different persons, who are more or less considerable in proportion to the extent of their estates, and to the command of men that live upon them, or follow them on account of their clanship, out of the estates of others. These lands are set by the landlord during pleasure, or a short tack, to people whom they call good-men, and who are of a superior station to the commonality. These are generally the sons, brothers, cousins, or nearest relations of the landlord. The younger sons of famillys are not bred to any business or employments, but are sent to the French or Spanish armies, or marry as soon as they are of age. Those are left to their own good fortune and conduct abroad, and these are preferred to some advantageous farm at home. This, by the means of a small portion, and the liberality of their relations, they are able to stock, and which they, their children, and grandchildren, possess at an easy rent, till a nearer descendant be again preferred to it. As the propinquity removes, they become less considered, till at last they degenerate to be of the common people; unless some accidental acquisition of wealth supports them above their station. As this hath been an ancient custom, most of the farmers and cottars are of the name and clan of the proprietor; and, if they are not really so, the proprietor either obliges them to assume it, or they are glaid to do so, to procure his protection and favour.

“Some of these tacksmen or good-men possess these farms themselves; but in that case they keep in them a great number of cottars, to each of whom they give a house, grass for a cow or two, and as much ground as will sow about a boll of oats, in places which their own plough cannot labour, by reason of brush or rock, and which they are obliged in many places to delve with spades. This is the only visible subject which these poor people possess for supporting themselves and their famillys, and the only wages of their whole labour and service.

“Others of them lett out parts of their farms to many of these cottars or subtennants; and as they are generally poor, and not allways in a capacity to stock these small tenements, the tacksmen frequently enter them on the ground laboured and sown, and sometimes too stocks it with cattle; all which he is obliged to redeliver in the same condition at his removal, which is at the goodman’s pleasure, as he is usually himself tennent at pleasure, and for which during his possession he pays an extravagantly high rent to the tacksman.

“By this practice, farms, which one family and four horses are sufficient to labour, will[6] have from four to sixteen famillys living upon them.”[7]

“In the case of very great families, or when the domains of a chief became very extensive, it was usual for the head of the clan occasionally to grant large territories to the younger branches of his family in return for a trifling quit-rent. These persons were called chieftains, to whom the lower classes looked up as their immediate leader. These chieftains were in later times called tacksmen; but at all periods they were considered nearly in the same light as proprietors, and acted on the same principles. They were the officers who, under the chief, commanded in the military expeditions of the clans. This was their employment; and neither their own dispositions, nor the situation of the country, inclined them to engage in the drudgery of agriculture any farther than to supply the necessaries of life for their own families. A part of their land was usually sufficient for this purpose, and the remainder was let off in small portions to cottagers, who differed but little from the small occupiers who held their lands immediately from the chief; excepting that, in lieu of rent, they were bound to a certain amount of labour for the advantage of their immediate superior. The more of these people any gentleman could collect around his habitation, with the greater facility could he carry on the work of his own farm; the greater, too, was his personal safety. Besides this, the tacksmen, holding their lands from the chief at a mere quit-rent, were naturally solicitous to merit his favour by the number of their immediate dependants whom they could bring to join his standard.”[8]

Thus it will be seen that in those times every one was, to a more or less extent, a cultivator or renter of land. As to rent, there was very little of actual money paid either by the tacksmen or by those beneath them in position and importance. The return expected by the laird or chief from the tacksmen for the farms he allowed them to hold, was that they should be ready when required to produce as many fighting men as possible, and give him a certain share of the produce of the land they held from him. It was thus the interest of the tacksman to parcel out their land into as small lots as possible, for the more it was subdivided, the greater would be the number of men he could have at his command. This liability on the part of the subtenants to be called upon at any time to do service for the laird, no doubt counted for part of the rent of the pendicles allotted to them. These pendicles were often very small, and evidently of themselves totally insufficient to afford the means of subsistence even to the smallest family. Besides this liability to do service for the chief, a very small sum of money was taken as part of the rent, the remainder being paid in kind, and in assisting the tacksmen to farm whatever land he may have retained in his own hands. In the same way the cottars, who were subtenants to the tacksmen’s tenants, had to devote most of their time to the service of those from whom they immediately held their lands. Thus it will be seen that, although nominally the various tenants held their land from their immediate superiors at a merely nominal rent, in reality what was actually given in return for the use of the land would, in the end, probably turn out to be far more than its value. From the laird to the cottar there was an incessant series of exactions and services, grievous to be borne, and fatal to every kind of improvement.

Besides the rent and services due by each class to its immediate superiors, there were numerous other exactions and services, to which all had to submit for the benefit of their chief. The most grievous perhaps of these was thirlage or multure, a due exacted from each tenant for the use of the mill of the district to convert their grain into meal. All the tenants of each district or parish were thirled or bound to take their grain to a particular mill to be ground, the miller being allowed to appropriate a certain proportion as payment for the use of the mill, and as a tax payable to the laird or chief. In this way a tenant was often deprived of a considerable quantity of his grain, varying from one-sixteenth to one-eighth, and even more. In the same way many parishes were thirled to a particular smith. By these and similar exactions and contributions did the proprietors[7] and chief men of the clan manage to support themselves off the produce of their land, keep a numerous band of retainers around them, have plenty for their own use, and for all who had any claim to their hospitality. This seems especially to have been the case when the Highlanders were in their palmiest days of independence, when they were but little molested from without, and when their chief occupations were clan-feuds and cattle raids. But latterly, and long before the abolition of heritable jurisdictions, this state of matters had for the most part departed, and although the chiefs still valued themselves by the number of men they could produce, they kept themselves much more to themselves, and showed less consideration for the inferior members of the clan, whose condition, even at its best, must appear to have been very wretched. “Of old, the chieftain was not so much considered the master as the father of his numerous clan. Every degree of these followers loved him with an enthusiasm, which made them cheerfully undergo any fatigue or danger. Upon the other hand, it was his interest, his pride, and his chief glory, to requite such animated friendship to the utmost of his power. The rent paid him was chiefly consumed in feasts given at the habitations of his tenants. What he was to spend, and the time of his residence at each village, was known and provided for accordingly. The men who provided these entertainments partook of them; they all lived friends together; and the departure of the chief and his retinue never fails to occasion regret. In more polished times, the cattle and corn consumed at these feasts of hospitality, were ordered up to the landlord’s habitation. What was friendship at the first became very oppressive in modern times. Till very lately in this neighbourhood, Campbell of Auchinbreck had a right to carry off the best cow he could find upon several properties at each Martinmas by way of mart. The Island of Islay paid 500 such cows yearly, and so did Kintyre to the Macdonalds.”[9] Still, there can be no doubt, that previous to 1746 it was the interest of the laird and chief tacksmen to keep the body of the people as contented as possible, and do all in their power to attach them to their interest. Money was of but little use in the Highlands then; there was scarcely anything in which it could be spent; and so long as his tenants furnished him with the means of maintaining a substantial and extensive hospitality, the laird was not likely in general to complain. “The poverty of the tenants rendered it customary for the chief, or laird, to free some of them every year, from all arrears of rent; this was supposed, upon an average, to be about one year in five of the whole estate.”[10]

In the same letter from which the last sentence is quoted, Captain Burt gives an extract from a Highland rent-roll, of date probably about 1730; we shall reproduce it here, as it will give the reader a better notion as to how those matters were managed in these old times, than any description can. “You will, it is likely,” the letter begins, “think it strange that many of the Highland tenants are to maintain a family upon a farm of twelve merks Scots per annum, which is thirteen shillings and fourpence sterling, with perhaps a cow or two, or a very few sheep or goats; but often the rent is less, and the cattle are wanting.

“In some rentals you may see seven or eight columns of various species of rent, or more, viz., money, barley, oatmeal, sheep, lambs, butter, cheese, capons, &c.; but every tenant does not pay all these kinds, though many of them the greatest part. What follows is a specimen taken out of a Highland rent-roll, and I do assure you it is genuine, and not the least by many:—

Scots Money.English.Butter.  Oatmeal.  Muttons.
Donald mac Oil vic ille Challum£3104£0510⅛0320213⅛ and 1/16
Murdoch mac ille Christ5176099⅛0640333¼ and 1/16
Duncan mac ille Phadrick706012078103¼ and ⅛

I shall here give you a computation of the first article, besides which there are seven more of the same farm and rent, as you may perceive by the fraction of a sheep in the last column:—


The money£0510⅛Sterling.
The butter, three pounds two ounces, at 4d. per lb01
Oatmeal, 2 bushels, 1 peck, 3 lippys and ¼, at 6d. per peck04and ½
Sheep, one-eighth and one-sixteenth, at 2s00
The yearly rent of the farm is£012and 1/12.”

It is plain that in the majority of cases the farms must have been of very small extent, almost equal to those of Goldsmith’s Golden Age, “when every rood maintained its man.” “In the head of the parish of Buchanan in Stirlingshire, as well as in several other places, there are to be found 150 families living upon grounds which do not pay above £90 sterling of yearly rent, that is, each family at a medium rents lands at twelve shillings of yearly rent.”[11] This certainly seems to indicate a very wretched state of matters, and would almost lead one to expect to hear that a famine occurred every year. But it must be remembered that for the reasons above given, along with others, farms were let at a very small rent, far below the real value, and generally merely nominal; that besides money, rent at that time was all but universally paid in kind, and in services to the laird or other superior; and that many of the people, especially on the border lands, had other means of existence, as for example, cattle-lifting. Nevertheless, making all these allowances, the condition of the great mass of the Highlanders must have been extremely wretched, although they themselves might not have felt it to be so, they had been so long accustomed to it.

In such a state of matters, with the land so much subdivided, with no leases, and with tenures so uncertain, with so many oppressive exactions, with no incitements to industry or improvement, but with every encouragement to idleness and inglorious self-contentment, it is not to be supposed that agriculture or any other industry would make any great progress. For centuries previous to 1745, and indeed for long after it, agriculture appears to have remained at a stand-still. The implements in use were rude and inefficient, the time devoted to the necessary farming operations, generally a few weeks in spring and autumn, was totally insufficient to produce results of any importance, and consequently the crops raised, seldom anything else but oats and barley, were scanty, wretched in quality, and seldom sufficient to support the cultivator’s family for the half of the year. In general, in the Highlands, as the reader will already have seen, each farm was let to a number of tenants, who, as a rule, cultivated the arable ground on the system of run-rig, i.e., the ground was divided into ridges which were so distributed among the tenants that no one tenant possessed two contiguous ridges. Moreover, no tenant could have the same ridge for two years running, the ridges having a new cultivator every year. Such a system of allocating arable land, it is very evident, must have been attended with the worst results so far as good farming is concerned. The only recommendation that it is possible to urge in its favour is that, there being no inclosures, it would be the interest of the tenants to join together in protecting the land they thus held in common against the ravages of the cattle which were allowed to roam about the hills, and the depredations of hostile clans. As we have just said, there were no inclosures in the Highlands previous to 1745, nor were there for very many years after that. While the crops were standing in the ground, and liable to be destroyed by the cattle, the latter were kept, for a few weeks in summer and autumn, upon the hills; but after the crops were gathered in, they were allowed to roam unheeded through the whole of a district or parish, thus affording facilities for the cattle-raids that formed so important an item in the means of obtaining a livelihood among the ancient Highlanders.

As a rule, the only crops attempted to be raised were oats and barley, and sometimes a little flax; green crops were almost totally unknown or despised, till many years after 1745; even potatoes do not seem to have been at all common till after 1750, although latterly they became the staple food of the[9] Highlanders. Rotation of crops, or indeed any approach to scientific agriculture, was totally unknown. The ground was divided into infield and outfield. The infield was constantly cropped, either with oats or bear; one ridge being oats, the other bear alternately. There was no other crop except a ridge of flax where the ground was thought proper for it. The outfield was ploughed three years for oats, and then pastured for six years with horses, black cattle, and sheep. In order to dung it, folds of sod were made for the cattle, and what were called flakes or rails of wood, removable at pleasure, for folding the sheep. A farmer who rented 60, 80, or 100 acres, was sometimes under the necessity of buying meal for his family in the summer season.[12]

1. Old Scotch plough. 2. Caschroim, or crooked spade.

Their agricultural implements, it may easily be surmised, were as rude as their system of farming. The chief of these were the old Scotch plough and the caschroim or crooked spade, which latter, though primitive enough, seems to have been not badly suited to the turning over of the land in many parts of the Highlands. The length of the Highland plough was about four feet and a half, and had only one stilt or handle, by which the ploughman directed it. A slight mould-board was fastened to it with two leather straps, and the sock and coulter were bound together at the point with a ring of iron. To this plough there were yoked abreast four, six, and even more horses or cattle, or both mixed, in traces made of thongs of leather. To manage this unwieldy machine it required three or four men. The ploughman walked by the side of the plough, holding the stilt with one hand; the driver walked backwards in front of the horses or cattle, having the reins fixed on a cross stick, which he appears to have held in his hands.[13] Behind the ploughman came one and sometimes two men, whose business it was to lay down with a spade the turf that[10] was torn off. In the Hebrides and some other places of the Highlands, a curious instrument called a Reestle or Restle, was used in conjunction with this plough. Its coulter was shaped somewhat like a sickle, the instrument itself being otherwise like the plough just described. It was drawn by one horse, which was led by a man, another man holding and directing it by the stilt. It was drawn before the plough in order to remove obstructions, such as roots, tough grass, &c., which would have been apt to obstruct the progress of a weak plough like the above. In this way, it will be seen, five or six men, and an equal number if not more horses or cattle, were occupied in this single agricultural operation, performed now much more effectively by one man and two horses.[14]

The Caschroim, i.e., the crooked foot or spade, was an instrument peculiarly suited to the cultivation of certain parts of the Highlands, totally inaccessible to a plough, on account of the broken and rocky nature of the ground. Moreover, the land turned over with the caschroim was considerably more productive than that to which the above plough had been used. It consists of a strong piece of wood, about six feet long, bent near the lower end, and having a thick flat wooden head, shod at the extremity with a sharp piece of iron. A piece of wood projected about eight inches from the right side of the blade, and on this the foot was placed to force the instrument diagonally into the ground. “With this instrument a Highlander will open up more ground in a day, and render it fit for the sowing of grain, than could be done by two or three men with any other spades that are commonly used. He will dig as much ground in a day as will sow more than a peck of oats. If he works assiduously from about Christmas to near the end of April, he will prepare land sufficient to sow five bolls. After this he will dig as much land in a day as will sow two pecks of bere; and in the course of the season will cultivate as much land with his spade as is sufficient to supply a family of seven or eight persons, the year round, with meal and potatoes.... It appears, in general, that a field laboured with the caschroim affords usually one-third more crop than if laboured with the plough. Poor land will afford near one-half more. But then it must be noticed that this tillage with the plough is very imperfect, and the soil scarcely half laboured.”[15] No doubt this mode of cultivation was suitable enough in a country overstocked with population, as the Highlands were in the early part of last century, and where time and labour were of very little value. There were plenty of men to spare for such work, and there was little else to do but provide themselves with food. Still it is calculated that this spade labour was three times more expensive than that of the above clumsy plough. The caschroim was frequently used where there would have been no difficulty in working a plough, the reason apparently being that the horses and cattle were in such a wretched condition that the early farming operations in spring completely exhausted them, and therefore much of the ploughing left undone by them had to be performed with the crooked spade.

As to harrows, where they were used at all, they appear to have been of about as little use as a hand-rake. Some of them, which resembled hay-rakes, were managed by the hand; others, drawn by horses, were light and feeble, with wooden teeth, which might scratch the surface and cover the seed, but could have no effect in breaking the soil.[16] In some parts of the Highlands it was the custom to fasten the harrow to the horse’s tail, and when it became too short, it was lengthened with twisted sticks.

To quote further from Dr Walker’s work, which describes matters as they existed about 1760, and the statements in which will apply with still greater force to the earlier half of the century:—“The want of proper carriages in the Highlands is one of the great obstacles to the progress of agriculture, and of every improvement. Having no carts, their corn, straw, manures, fuel, stone, timber, sea-weed, and kelp, the articles necessary in the fisheries, and every other bulky commodity, must be transported from one place to another on horseback or on sledges. This must triple or quadruple the expense of their carriage. It must prevent particularly the use of the natural manures with which the country abounds, as, without[11] cheap carriage, they cannot be rendered profitable. The roads in most places are so bad as to render the use of wheel-carriages impossible; but they are not brought into use even where the natural roads would admit them.”[17]

As we have said already, farming operations in the Highlands lasted only for a few weeks in spring and autumn. Ploughing in general did not commence till March, and was concluded in May; there was no autumn or winter ploughing; the ground was left untouched and unoccupied but by some cattle from harvest to spring-time. It was only after the introduction of potatoes that the Highlanders felt themselves compelled to begin operations about January. As to the modus operandi of the Highland farmer in the olden time, we quote the following from the old Statistical Account of the parish of Dunkeld and Dowally, which may be taken as a very fair representative of all the other Highland parishes; indeed, as being on the border of the lowlands, it may be regarded as having been, with regard to agriculture and other matters, in a more advanced state than the generality of the more remote parishes:—“The farmer, whatever the state of the weather was, obstinately adhered to the immemorial practice of beginning to plough on Old Candlemas Day, and to sow on the 20th of March. Summer fallow, turnip crops, and sown grass were unknown; so were compost dunghills and the purchasing of lime. Clumps of brushwood and heaps of stones everywhere interrupted and deformed the fields. The customary rotation of their general crops was—1. Barley; 2. Oats; 3. Oats; 4. Barley; and each year they had a part of the farm employed in raising flax. The operations respecting these took place in the following succession. They began on the day already mentioned to rib the ground, on which they intended to sow barley, that is, to draw a wide furrow, so as merely to make the land, as they termed it, red. In that state this ground remained till the fields assigned to oats were ploughed and sown. This was in general accomplished by the end of April. The farmer next proceeded to prepare for his flax crop, and to sow it, which occupied him till the middle of May, when he began to harrow, and dung, and sow the ribbed barley land. This last was sometimes not finished till the month of June.”[18] As to draining, fallowing, methodical manuring and nourishing the soil, or any of the modern operations for making the best of the arable land of the country, of these the Highlander never even dreamed; and long after[19] they had become common in the low country, it was with the utmost difficulty that his rooted aversion to innovations could be overcome. They literally seem to have taken no thought for the morrow, and the tradition and usage of ages had given them an almost insuperable aversion to manual labour of any kind. This prejudice against work was not the result of inherent laziness, for the Highlander, both in ancient and modern times, has clearly shown that his capacity for work and willingness to exert himself are as strong and active as those of the most industrious lowlander or Englishman. The humblest Highlander believed himself a gentleman, having blood as rich and old as his chief, and he shared in the belief, far from being obsolete even at the present day, that for a gentleman to soil his hands with labour is as degrading as slavery.[20] This belief was undoubtedly one[12] of the strongest principles of action which guided the ancient Highlanders, and accounts, we think, to a great extent for his apparent laziness, and for the slovenly and laggard way in which farming operations were conducted.

There were, however, no doubt other reasons for the wretched state of agriculture in the Highlands previous to, and for long after, 1745. The Highlanders had much to struggle against, and much calculated to dishearten them, in the nature of the soil and climate, on which, to a great extent, the success of agricultural operations is dependent. In many parts of the Highlands, especially in the west, rain falls for the greater part of the year, thus frequently preventing the completion of the necessary processes, as well as destroying the crops when put into the ground. As to the soil, no unprejudiced man who is competent to judge will for one moment deny that a great part of it is totally unsuited to agriculture, but fitted only for the pasturage of sheep, cattle, and deer. In the Old Statistical Account of Scotland, this assertion is being constantly repeated by the various Highland ministers who report upon the state of their parishes. In the case of many Highland districts, one could conceive of nothing more hopeless and discouraging than the attempt to force from them a crop of grain. That there are spots in the Highlands as susceptible of high culture as some of the best in the lowlands cannot be denied; but these bear but a small proportion to the great quantity of ground that is fitted only to yield a sustenance to cattle and sheep. Now all reports seem to justify the conclusion that, previous to, and for long after 1745, the Highlands were enormously overstocked with inhabitants, considering the utter want of manufactures and the few other outlets there were for labour. Thus, we think, the Highlander would be apt to feel that any extraordinary exertion was absolutely useless, as there was not the smallest chance of his ever being able to improve his position, or to make himself, by means of agriculture, better than his neighbour. All he seems to have sought for was to raise as much grain as would keep himself and family in bread during the miserable winter months, and meet the demands of the laird.

The small amount of arable land was no doubt also the reason of the incessant cropping which prevails, and which ultimately left the land in a state of complete exhaustion. “To this sort of management, bad as it is, the inhabitants are in some degree constrained, from the small proportion of arable land upon their farms. From necessity they are forced to raise what little grain they can, though at a great expense of labour, the produce being so inconsiderable. A crop of oats on outfield ground, without manure, they find more beneficial than the pasture. But if they must manure for a crop of oats, they reckon the crop of natural grass rather more profitable. But the scarcity of bread corn—or rather, indeed, the want of bread—obliges them to pursue the less profitable practice. Oats and bear being necessary for their subsistence, they must prefer them to every other produce. The land at present in tillage, and fit to produce them, is very limited, and inadequate to the consumption of the inhabitants. They are, therefore, obliged to make it yield as much of these grains as possible, by scourging crops.”[21]

Another great discouragement to good farming was the multitude and grievous nature of the services demanded from the tenant by the landlord as part payment of rent. So multifarious were these, and so much of the farmer’s time did they occupy, that frequently his own farming affairs got little or none of his personal attention, but had to be entrusted to his wife and family, or to the cottars whom he housed on his farm, and who, for an acre or so of ground and liberty to pasture an ox or two and a few sheep, performed to the farmer services similar to those rendered by the latter to his laird. Often a farmer had only one day in[13] the week to himself, so undefined and so unlimited in extent were these services. Even in some parishes, so late as 1790, the tenant for his laird (or master, as he was often called) had to plough, harrow, and manure his land in spring; cut corn, cut, winnow, lead, and stack his hay in summer, as well as thatch office-houses with his own (the tenant’s) turf and straw; in harvest assist to cut down the master’s crop whenever called upon, to the latter’s neglect of his own, and help to store it in the cornyard; in winter frequently a tenant had to thrash his master’s crop, winter his cattle, and find ropes for the ploughs and for binding the cattle. Moreover, a tenant had to take his master’s grain from him, see that it was properly put through all the processes necessary to convert it into meal, and return it ready for use; place his time and his horses at the laird’s disposal, to buy in fuel for the latter, run a message whenever summoned to do so; in short, the condition of a tenant in the Highlands during the early part of last century, and even down to the end of it in some places, was little better than a slave.[22]

Not that, previous to 1745, this state of matters was universally felt to be a grievance by tenants and farmers in the Highlands, although it had to a large extent been abolished both in England and the lowlands of Scotland. On the contrary, the people themselves appear to have accepted this as the natural and inevitable state of things, the only system consistent with the spirit of clanship with the supremacy of the chiefs. That this was not, however, universally the case, may be seen from the fact that, so early as 1729, Brigadier Macintosh of Borlum (famous in the affair of 1715) published a book, or rather essay, on Ways and Means for Enclosing, Fallowing, Planting, &c., Scotland, which he prefaced by a strongly-worded exhortation to the gentlemen of Scotland to abolish this degrading and suicidal system, which was as much against their own interests as it was oppressive to the tenants. Still, after 1745, there seems to be no doubt that, as a rule, the ordinary Highlander acquiesced contentedly in the established state of things, and generally, so far as his immediate wants were concerned, suffered little or nothing from the system. It was only after the abolition of the jurisdictions that the grievous oppressive hardship, injustice, and obstructiveness of the system became evident. Previous to that, it was, of course, the laird’s or chief’s interest to keep his tenants attached to him and contented, and to see that they did not want; not only so, but previous to that epoch, what was deficient in the supply of food produced by any parish or district, was generally amply compensated for by the levies of cattle and other gear made by the clans upon each other when hostile, or upon their lawful prey, the Lowlanders. But even with all this, it would seem that, not unfrequently, the Highlanders, either universally or in certain districts, were reduced to sore straits, and even sometimes devastated by famine. Their crops and other supplies were so exactly squared to their wants, that, whenever the least failure took place in the expected quantity, scarcity or cruel famine was the result. According to Dr Walker, the inhabitants of some of the Western Isles look for a failure once in every four years. Maston, in his Description of the Western Islands, complained that many died from famine arising from years of scarcity, and about 1742, many over all the Highlands appear to have shared the same fate from the same cause.[23] So that, even under the old system, when the clansmen were faithful and obedient, and the chief was kind and liberal, and many cattle and other productions were imported free of all cost, the majority of the people lived from hand to mouth, and frequently suffered from scarcity and want. Infinitely more so was this the case when it ceased to be the interest of the laird to keep around him numerous tenants.

All these things being taken into consideration, it is not to be wondered at that agriculture in the Highlands was for so long in such a wretched condition.

They set much store, however, by their small black cattle and diminutive sheep, and appear in many districts to have put more dependence upon them for furnishing the means of existence, than upon what the soil could yield.

The live-stock of a Highland farm consisted mainly of horses, sheep, and cattle, all of them[14] of a peculiarly small breed, and capable of yielding but little profit. The number of horses generally kept by a farmer was out of all proportion to the size of his farm and the number of other cattle belonging to him. The proportion of horses to cattle often ranged from one in eight to one in four. For example, Dr Webster mentions a farm in Kintail, upon which there were forty milk cows, which with the young stock made one hundred and twenty head of cattle, about two hundred and fifty goats and ewes, young and old, and ten horses. The reason that so great a proportion of horses was kept, was evidently the great number that were necessary for the operation of ploughing, and the fact that in the greater part of the Highlands carts were unknown, and fuel, grain, manure, and many other things generally carried in machines, had to be conveyed on the backs of the horses, which were of a very small breed, although of wonderful strength considering their rough treatment and scanty fare. They were frequently plump, active, and endurable, though they had neither size nor strength for laborious cultivation. They were generally from nine to twelve hands high, short-necked, chubby-headed, and thick and flat at the withers.[24] “They are so small that a middle-sized man must keep his legs almost in lines parallel to their sides when carried over the stony ways; and it is almost incredible to those who have not seen it how nimbly they skip with a heavy rider among the rocks and large moor-stones, turning zig-zag to such places as are passable.”[25] Walker believes that scarcely any horses could go through so much labour and fatigue upon so little sustenance.[26] They were generally called garrons, and seem in many respects to have resembled the modern Shetland pony. These horses for the greater part of the year were allowed to run wild among the hills, each having a mark indicating its owner; during the severest part of winter they were sometimes brought down and fed as well as their owners could afford. They seem frequently to have been bred for exportation.

Sheep, latterly so intimately associated with the Highlands, bore but a very small proportion to the number of black cattle. Indeed, before sheep-farming began to take place upon so large a scale, and to receive encouragement from the proprietors, the latter were generally in the habit of restricting their tenants to a limited number of sheep, seldom more than one sheep for one cow. This restriction appears to have arisen from the real or supposed interest of the landlord, who looked for the money part of his rent solely from the produce of sale of the tenants’ cattle. Sheep were thus considered not as an article of profit, but merely as part of the means by which the farmer’s family was clothed and fed, and therefore the landlord was anxious that the number should not be more than was absolutely necessary. In a very few years after 1745, a complete revolution took place in this respect.

The old native sheep of the Highlands, now rare, though common in some parts of Shetland, is thus described by Dr Walker. “It is the smallest animal of its kind. It is of a thin lank shape, and has short straight horns. The face and legs are white, the tail extremely short, and the wool of various colours; for, beside black and white, it is sometimes of a bluish grey colour, at other times brown, and sometimes of a deep russet, and frequently an individual is blotched with two or three of these different colours. In some of the low islands, where the pasture answers, the wool of this small sheep is of the finest kind, and the same with that of Shetland. In the mountainous islands, the animal is found of the smallest size, with coarser wool, and with this[15] very remarkable character, that it has often four, and sometimes even six horns.

“Such is the original breed of sheep over all the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It varies much indeed in its properties, according to the climate and pasture of different districts; but, in general, it is so diminutive in size, and of so bad a form, that it is requisite it should be given up, wherever sheep-farming is to be followed to any considerable extent. From this there is only one exception: in some places the wool is of such a superior quality, and so valuable, that the breed perhaps may, on that account, be with advantage retained.”

The small, shaggy black cattle, so well known even at the present day in connection with the Highlands, was the principal live-stock cultivated previous to the alterations which followed 1745. This breed appears to have been excellent in its kind, and the best adapted for the country, and was quite capable of being brought to admirable perfection by proper care, feeding, and management. But little care, however, was bestowed on the rearing of these animals, and in general they were allowed to forage for themselves as best they could. As we have said already, the Highland farmer of those days regarded his cattle as the only money-producing article with which his farm was stocked, all the other products being necessary for the subsistence of himself and his family. It was mainly the cattle that paid the rent. It was therefore very natural that the farmer should endeavour to have as large a stock of this commodity as possible, the result being that, blind to his own real interests, he generally to a large extent overstocked his farm. According to Dr Walker,[27] over all the farms in the north, there was kept above one-third more of cattle than what under the then prevailing system of management could be properly supported. The consequence of course was, that the cattle were generally in a half-fed and lean condition, and, during winter especially, they died in great numbers.

As a rule, the arable land in the Highlands bore, and still bears, but a very small proportion to that devoted to pasture. The arable land is as a rule by the sea-shore, on the side of a river or lake, or in a valley; while the rest of the farm, devoted to pasturage, stretches often for many miles away among the hills. The old mode of valuing or dividing lands in Scotland was into shilling, sixpenny, and threepenny lands of Scotch money. Latterly the English denomination of money was used, and these divisions were termed penny,[28] halfpenny, and farthing lands. A tacksman generally rented a large number of these penny lands, and either farmed them himself, or, as was very often done, sublet them to a number of tenants, none of whom as a rule held more than a penny land, and many, having less than a farthing land, paying from a few shillings to a few pounds of rent. Where a number of tenants thus rented land from a tacksman or proprietor, they generally laboured the arable land in common, and each received a portion of the produce proportioned to his share in the general holding. The pasturage, which formed by far the largest part of the farm, they had in common for the use of their cattle, each tenant being allowed to pasture a certain number of cattle and sheep, soumed or proportioned[29] to the quantity of land he held. “The tenant of a penny land often keeps four or five cows, with what are called their followers, six or eight horses, and some sheep. The followers are the calf, a one-year-old, a two-year-old, and a three-year-old, making in all with the cow five head of black cattle. By frequent deaths among them, the number is seldom complete, yet this penny land has or may have upon it about twenty or twenty-five head of black cattle, besides horses and sheep.” The halfpenny and farthing lands seem to have been allowed a larger proportion of live stock than the penny lands, considering their size.[30] It was seldom, however, that a tenant confined himself strictly to the number for which he was soumed, the desire to have as much as possible of the most profitable commodity frequently inducing to overstock, and thus defeat his main purpose.

During summer and autumn, the cattle and other live stock were confined to the hills to prevent them doing injury to the crops, for[16] the lands were totally unprotected by enclosures. After the ground was cleared of the crops, the animals were allowed to roam promiscuously over the whole farm, if not over the farms of a whole district, having little or nothing to eat in the winter and spring but what they could pick up in the fields. It seems to have been a common but very absurd notion in the Highlands that the housing of cattle tended to enfeeble them; thus many cattle died of cold and starvation every winter, those who survived were mere skeletons, and, moreover, the farmer lost all their dung which could have been turned to good use as manure. Many of the cows, from poverty and disease, brought a calf only once in two years, and it was often a month or six weeks before the cow could give sufficient milk to nourish her offspring. Thus many of the Highland cattle were starved to death in their calf’s skin.

A custom prevailed among the Highlanders of old, common to them with other mountainous pastoral countries, e.g., Switzerland. During winter the tenants of a farm with their families, cottars, and servants, lived in the Bailte Geamhre, or winter town, in the midst of the arable land; but in summer, after all the sowing was done, about the middle of June, a general migration was made to the hills along with the cattle, the arable ground with all its appurtenances being allowed to take care of itself. The following passage, quoted from the old Statistical Account of Boleskine and Abertarff, Inverness-shire, will give a notion of the working of this practice:—

“The whole country, with two exceptions, consists of a variety of half davoch-lands, each of which was let or disponed by the Lovat family or their chamberlain to a wadsetter or principal tacksman, and had no concern with the sub-tenantry; each sub-tenant had again a variety of cottars, equally unconnected with the principal tacksman; and each of these had a number of cattle of all denominations, proportional to their respective holdings, with the produce whereof he fed and clad himself and whole family. As there were extensive sheallings or grasings attached to this country, in the neighbourhood of the lordship of Badenoch, the inhabitants in the beginning of summer removed to these sheallings with their whole cattle, man, woman, and child; and it was no uncommon thing to observe an infant in one creel, and a stone on the other side of the horse, to keep up an equilibrium; and when the grass became scarce in the sheallings, they returned again to their principal farms, where they remained while they had sufficiency of pasture, and then, in the same manner, went back to their sheallings, and observed this ambulatory course during the seasons of vegetation; and the only operations attended to during the summer season was their peats or fuel, and repairing their rustic habitations. When their small crops were fit for it, all hands descended from the hills, and continued on the farms till the same was cut and secured in barns, the walls of which were generally made of dry stone, or wreathed with branches or boughs of trees; and it was no singular custom, after harvest, for the whole inhabitants to return to their sheallings, and to abide there till driven from thence by the snow. During the winter and spring, the whole pasturage of the country was a common, and a poind-fold was a thing totally unknown. The cultivation of the country was all performed in spring, the inhabitants having no taste for following green crops or other modern improvements.”

The milk produced by the small Highland cows was, and indeed is, small in quantity, but in quality it resembles what in the Lowlands is known as cream. Of course, the butter and cheese made from such milk is unusually rich.

About the end of August or beginning of September, the cattle had generally been got into good condition by their summer feeding, the beef then, according to Captain Burt, being “extremely sweet and succulent.” It was at this time that the drovers collected their herds, and drove them to the fairs and markets on the borders of the lowlands, and sometimes so far south as the north of England. As from the want of good roads and any means of rapid conveyance, the drovers took a considerable time to reach their destination, and had in the meantime to be fed, a certain sum per head had to be paid to the owners of the territories through which they passed, for the liberty of being allowed grazing for the cattle. Burt gives the following graphic account of a scene[17] he himself witnessed on the march south of one of these herds of cattle. “I have several times seen them driving great numbers of cattle along the sides of the mountains at a great distance, but never, except once, was near them. This was in a time of rain, by a wide river, where there was a boat to ferry over the drovers. The cows were about fifty in number, and took the water like spaniels; and when they were in, their drivers made a hideous cry to urge them forwards: this, they told me, they did to keep the foremost of them from turning about; for, in that case, the rest would do the like, and then they would be in danger, especially the weakest of them, to be driven away and drowned by the torrent. I thought it a very odd sight to see so many noses and eyes just above water, and nothing of them more to be seen, for they had no horns, and upon the land they appeared like so many large Lincolnshire calves.” These drovers do not seem as a rule to have been the owners of cattle, but a class of men whose business it was to collect into one herd or drove the saleable cattle of a number of farmers, take them south to the markets and bring back the money, receiving a small commission for their trouble. As a rule they seem to have been men who, when their integrity was relied on, made it a point of honour to be able to render a satisfactory account of every animal and every farthing; although probably no one would be more ready to join in a creach or cattle-lifting expedition, which in those days was considered as honourable as warfare. The drovers “conducted the cattle by easy stages across the country in trackways, which, whilst they were less circuitous than public roads, were softer for the feet of the animals, and he often rested at night in the open fields with his herds.”[31] A good idea of the character of this class of Highlanders may be obtained from Sir Walter Scott’s Chronicles of the Canongate.[32]

All the other operations connected with or arising out of agriculture were conducted in as rude and ineffective a manner as those above mentioned. The harvest was always an anxious season with the Highlander, as from the wetness of the climate and the early period at which rain set in, their crops might never come to useful perfection, or might be swept away by floods or heavy rains before they could be gathered in.[33] Dr Walker declares that in the Hebrides and Western Highlands the people made up their minds to lose one harvest in four on account of the wetness of the climate. If the crops, however, escaped destruction from the elements, the farmers were glad to get them reaped as quickly as possible. As a rule, the common sickle seems to have been used for cutting down the grain, although it appears to have been not uncommon to tear it from the[18] earth by the roots.[34] The harvest work seems to have been generally performed by women, as is indeed the case still in some parts of Scotland. This, Burt thinks, tended much to retard the harvest, as it sometimes took a woman and a girl a fortnight to do what with the aid of a man might have been done in a couple of days.[35] So short-lived was the supply of grain, and so ill-off were the people sometimes, that it was not uncommon for them to pluck the ears as they ripened, like fruit, and even scorch the grain when green and squeeze it into an unwholesome pulp.[36]

The flail appears to have been the only article used to separate the grain from its husk, and the only winnowing it got was from the draught that passed through the rude barn, which had two doors opposite each other for the purpose.

The quern or hand-mill is the oldest machine used for grinding grain. It consisted of two stones, one above the other, the former turned round by a handle and having an opening in the top to admit the grain. This primitive kind of mill, even for long after 1745, was used all over the Highlands to convert the scanty supply of grain into meal. The quern was generally driven by two women sitting opposite each other, but it was also adapted to a rude water-wheel, the axle of which was fixed in the upper stone. This rude water-mill is still used in Shetland, and is of the very simplest construction.

Quern, from the collection of the late
Sir James Y. Simpson, Bart.

A common method of preparing the grain for the quern was called graddaning, which consisted in taking a handful of corn in the stalk, setting fire to it, and when it had burnt long enough, knocking the grain from the head by means of a stick; thus both thrashing and drying it at the same time. This of course was a wretched and most extravagant mode of procedure, blackening and otherwise spoiling the grain, and wasting the straw. This process was common in the Western Islands, where also there was a kind of very rude kiln, on the bare ribs of which were put the heads of the grain, which, when dried, were pulled down on the floor and immediately thrashed and winnowed, and stored up hot in plates, ready for the quern. Thus could a man have cut the sheaves, dry and thrash the barley, clean it for the quern, and make his breakfast thereof after it was ground.[37] Another method common in Badenoch and the central Highlands was to switch the corn out of the ear with a stick, separate it from the chaff, and put it in a pot on the fire, while a person kept stirring it[19] with a wooden spatula. “I have seen,” says a gentleman from Laggan, “the corn cut, dried, ground, baked, and eaten in less than two hours.”[38]

There must, however, have been a mill on a somewhat larger scale than either the hand or water-quern, situated in a great many of the Highland districts, as it is well known that in the Highlands as well as the Lowlands, multure and thirlage were common exactions by which the tenants were oppressed. The tenants would be no doubt glad in many cases to escape the heavy mill-dues by grinding their grain for themselves, as well as their rude contrivances would allow them. But the convenience of a well-constructed mill in a district is evident, and of course it is but fair that those who take advantage of the mill should pay for it. Moreover, in early times, when large mills were first introduced into a district by the laird or proprietor, it was natural enough that he should endeavour, either by bargain or force, to get his tenants to take their grain to the district-mill to be ground, as only by this means could the expense of building and keeping up of the mill be defrayed and a miller induced to rent it. As money was scarce in those days, and as rent and other dues were paid in kind, it was natural and fair enough that the landlord should exact a small portion of the grain taken to his mill as due to him for keeping the mill up, and also for the miller to take payment for his trouble and time by keeping to himself a certain proportion of the meal into which he had converted the grain. But like every other custom, this was liable to abuse, and did in the end turn out to be a most grievous exaction and a great hindrance to agricultural improvement. Every farmer was thirled to a particular mill, thirlage being a due payable to the landlord; and the miller, besides having a croft or small farm attached to the mill, was allowed to exact multure, or a proportion of meal, to pay himself for his trouble. Besides these there appears to have been other exactions which could be made by the miller on various pretexts, and the amount of which depended pretty much upon his own caprice. Altogether they not unfrequently amounted to an eighth or a tenth of the meal produced by the grain. Yet for long after 1745, even into the present century, did these exactions continue to be in force in many parts of the country; and an almost universal complaint by the writers of the articles on the Highland parishes in the Old Statistical Account, is the grievous nature of these and other exactions.

Almost the only fuel used by the Highlanders, not only in the early part but during the whole of last century, was peat, still used in many Highland districts, and the only fuel used in a great part of Orkney and Shetland. The cutting and preparing of the fuel, composed mainly of decayed roots of various plants, consumed a serious part of the Highlander’s time, as it was often to be found only at a great distance from his habitation; and he had to cut not only for himself but for his laird, the process itself being long and troublesome, extending from the time the sods were first cut till they were formed in a stack at the side of the farmer’s or cottar’s door, over five or six months; and after all, they frequently turned out but a wretched substitute for either wood or coal; often they were little else than a mass of red earth. It generally took five people to cut peats out of one spot. One cut the peats, which were placed by another on the edge of the trench from which they were cut; a third spread them on the field, while a fourth trimmed them, a fifth resting in the meantime ready to relieve the man that was cutting.

As would naturally be expected, the houses and other buildings of the Highlanders were quite in keeping with their agricultural implements and general mode of life. Even the tacksmen or gentlemen of the clan, the relations of the chief, lived in huts or hovels, that the poorest farmer in most parts of Scotland at the present day, would shudder to house his cattle in. In most cases they appear to have been pretty much the same as those of the small farmers or cottars, only perhaps a little larger. Burt mentions such a house belonging to a gentleman of the clan, which he visited in one of his peregrinations round Inverness. He says[39] it consisted of one long apartment without any partition, “where the family was at one end, and some cattle at the other.” The owner of this rude habitation must have been somewhat shrewd and sensible, as he[20] could not only perceive the disadvantages of this mode of life to which he was doomed, but had insight and candour enough to be able to account for his submission to them. “The truth is,” Captain Burt reports him to have said, “we are insensibly inured to it by degrees; for, when very young, we know no better; being grown up, we are inclined, or persuaded by our near relations, to marry—thence come children, and fondness for them: but above all,” says he, “is the love of our chief, so strongly is it inculcated to us in our infancy; and if it were not for that, I think the Highlands would be much thinner of people than they now are.” How much truth there is in that last statement is clearly evidenced by the history of the country after the abolition of the hereditary jurisdictions, which was the means of breaking up the old intimate relation between, and mutual dependence of, chief and people. Burt says elsewhere, that near to Inverness, there were a few gentlemen’s houses built of stone and lime, but that in the inner part of the mountains there were no stone-buildings except the barracks, and that one might have gone a hundred miles without seeing any other dwellings but huts of turf. By the beginning of last century the houses of most of the chiefs, though comparatively small, seem to have been substantially built of stone and lime, although their food and manner of life would seem to have been pretty much the same as those of the tacksmen. The children of chiefs and gentlemen seem to have been allowed to run about in much the same apparently uncared for condition as those of the tenants, it having been a common saying, according to Burt, “that a gentleman’s bairns are to be distinguished by their speaking English.” To illustrate this he tells us that once when dining with a laird not very far from Inverness—possibly Lord Lovat—he met an English soldier at the house who was catching birds for the laird to exercise his hawks on. This soldier told Burt that for three or four days after his first coming, he had observed in the kitchen (“an out-house hovel”) a parcel of dirty children half naked, whom he took to belong to some poor tenant, but at last discovered they were part of the family. “But,” says the fastidious English Captain, “although these were so little regarded, the young laird, about the age of fourteen, was going to the university; and the eldest daughter, about sixteen, sat with us at table, clean and genteelly dressed.”[40]

There is no reason to doubt Burt’s statement when he speaks of what he saw or heard, but it must be remembered he was an Englishman, with all an Englishman’s prejudices in favour of the manners and customs, the good living, and general fastidiousness which characterise his own half of the kingdom, and many of an Englishman’s prejudices against the Scotch generally and the turbulent Highlanders in particular. His letters are, however, of the utmost value in giving us a clear and interesting glimpse into the mode of life of the Highlanders shortly before 1745, and most Scotchmen at least will be able to sift what is fact from what is exaggeration and English colouring. Much, no doubt, of what Burt tells of the Highlanders when he was there is true, but it is true also of people then living in the same station in other parts of Scotland, where however among the better classes, and even among the farmers, even then, there was generally a rough abundance combined with a sort of affectation of rudeness of manner. It is not so very long ago since the son of the laird, and he might have been a duke, and the son of the hind were educated at the same parish school; and even at the present day it is no uncommon sight to see the sons of the highest Scottish nobility sitting side by side on the same college-benches with the sons of day-labourers, ploughmen, mechanics, farmers, and small shop-keepers. Such a sight is rare in the English universities; where there are low-born intruders, it will in most cases be found that they belong to Scotland. We do not make these remarks to prejudice the reader in any way against the statements of Burt or to depreciate the value of his letters; all we wish the reader to understand is that he was an Englishman, rather fond of gossip, and perhaps of adding point to a story at the expense of truth, with all the prejudices and want of enlightenment and cosmopolitanism of even educated Englishmen of 150 years ago. He states facts correctly, but from a peculiar and very un-Scottish point of view. His evidence, even when stripped of its slight colouring, is invaluable, and, even to the[21] modern Highlander, must prove that his ancestors lived in a very miserable way, although they themselves might not have realised its discomfort and wretchedness, but on the contrary, may have been as contented as the most well-to-do English squire or prosperous English farmer.

Even among the higher members of the clans, the tacksmen and most extensive farmers, the fare does not seem to have been by any means abundant, and generally was of the commonest kind. For a few months in the end of the year, when the cattle and sheep were in condition to be killed, animal food appears to have been plentiful enough, as it must also have been after any successful cattle-foray. But for the rest of the year, the food of even the gentlemen in many places must have been such as any modern farmer would have turned up his nose at. In other districts again, where the chief was well-off and liberal, he appears to have been willing enough to share what he had with his relations the higher tenants, who again would do their best to keep from want the under tenants and cottars. Still it will be seen, the living of all was very precarious. “It is impossible for me,” says Burt,[41] “from my own knowledge, to give you an account of the ordinary way of living of these gentlemen; because, when any of us (the English) are invited to their houses there is always an appearance of plenty to excess; and it has been often said they will ransack all their tenants rather than we should think meanly of their housekeeping: but I have heard it from many whom they have employed, and perhaps had little regard to their observations as inferior people, that, although they have been attended at dinner by five or six servants, yet, with all that state, they have often dined upon oat meal varied several ways, pickled herrings, or other such cheap and indifferent diet.” Burt complains much of their want of hospitality; but at this he need not have been surprised. He and every other soldier stationed in the Highlands would be regarded with suspicion and even dislike by the natives, who were by no means likely to give them any encouragement to frequent their houses, and pry into their secrets and mode of life. The Highlanders were well-known for their hospitality, and are so in many places even at the present day, resembling in this respect most people living in a wild and not much frequented country. As to the everyday fare above mentioned, those who partook of it would consider it no hardship, if indeed Burt had not been mistaken or been deceived as to details. Oatmeal, in the form of porridge and brose, is common even at the present day among the lower classes in the country, and even among substantial farmers. As for the other part of it, there must have been plenty of salmon and trout about the rivers and lochs of Inverness-shire, and abundance of grain of various kinds on the hills, so that the gentlemen to whom the inquisitive Captain refers, must have taken to porridge and pickled herring from choice: and it is well known, that in Scotland at least, when a guest is expected, the host endeavours to provide something better than common for his entertainment. Burt also declares that he has often seen a laird’s lady coming to church with a maid behind her carrying her shoes and stockings, which she put on at a little distance from the church. Indeed, from what he says, it would seem to have been quite common for those in the position of ladies and gentlemen to go about in this free and easy fashion. Their motives for doing so were no doubt those of economy and comfort—not because they had neither shoes nor stockings to put on. The practice is quite common at the present day in Scotland, for both respectable men and women when travelling on a dusty road on a broiling summer-day, to do so on their bare feet, as being so much more comfortable and less tiresome than travelling in heavy boots and thick worsted stockings. No one thinks the worse of them for it, nor infers that they must be wretchedly ill off. The practice has evidently at one time been much more common even among the higher classes, but, like many other customs, lingers now only among the common people.

From all we can learn, however, the chiefs and their more immediate dependants and relations appear by no means to have been ill-off, so far as the necessaries of life went, previous to the rebellion of 1745. They certainly had not a superfluity of money, but many of the chiefs were profuse in their hospitality, and had always abundance if not variety to eat and drink.[22] Indeed it is well known, that about 200 years before the rebellion, an enactment had to be made by parliament limiting the amount of wine and brandy to be used by the various chiefs. Claret, in Captain Burt’s time, was as common in and around Inverness as it was in Edinburgh; the English soldiers are said to have found it selling at sixpence a quart, and left it at three or four times that price. In their habits and mode of life, their houses and other surroundings, these Highland gentlemen were no doubt rough and rude and devoid of luxuries, and not over particular as to cleanliness either of body or utensils, but still always dignified and courteous, respectful to their superiors and affable to their inferiors. Highland pride is still proverbial, and while often very amusing and even pitiable, has often been of considerable service to those who possess it, stimulating them to keep up their self-respect and to do their best in whatever situation they may be placed. It was this pride that made the poorest and most tattered of the tacksmen tenants with whom Burt came in contact, conduct himself as if he had been lord of all he surveyed, and look with suspicion and perhaps with contempt upon the unknown English red-coat.

As a kind of set-off to Burt’s disparaging account of the condition of Highland gentlemen, and yet to some extent corroborating it, we quote the following from the Old Statistical Account of the parish of Boleskine and Abertarf in Inverness-shire. The district to which this account refers was at least no worse than most other Highland parishes, and in some respects must have been better than those that were further out of the reach of civilisation.[42] “Till the beginning of this century, the whole heritors and wadsetters in this parish lived in houses composed of cupple trees, and the walls and thatch made up of sod and divot; but in every wadsetter’s house there was a spacious hall, containing a large table, where he and his family and dependants eat their two[23] meals a-day with this single distinction, that he and his family sat at the one end of the table, and his dependants at the other; and it was reckoned no disparagement for the gentlemen to sit with commoners in the inns, such as the country then afforded, where one cap, and afterwards a single glass, went round the whole company. As the inhabitants experienced no want, and generally lived on the produce of their farms, they were hospitable to strangers, providing they did not attempt a settlement among them. But it was thought then disgraceful for any of the younger sons of these wadsetters to follow any other profession than that of arms and agriculture; and it is in the remembrance of many now living, when the meanest tenant would think it disparaging to sit at the same table with a manufacturer.”

The following quotation from the Statistical Account of Rannoch, in Perthshire, will give an idea of another phase of the life of Highland gentlemen in those days, as well as enable the reader to see how it was, considering the general poverty of the country, the low rent, the unproductiveness of the soil, and the low price of cattle, they were still able to keep open table and maintain more retainers than the land could support. “Before the year 1745 Rannoch was in an uncivilized barbarous state, under no check, or restraint of laws. As an evidence of this, one of the principal proprietors never could be compelled to pay his debts. Two messengers were sent from Perth, to give him a charge of horning. He ordered a dozen of his retainers to bind them across two hand-barrows, and carry them, in this state, to the bridge of Cainachan, at nine miles distance. His property in particular was a nest of thieves. They laid the whole country, from Stirling to Coupar of Angus, under contribution, obliging the inhabitants to pay them Black Meal, as it is called, to save their property from being plundered. This was the centre of this kind of traffic. In the months of September and October they gathered to the number of about 300, built temporary huts, drank whisky all the time, settled accounts for stolen cattle, and received balances. Every man then bore arms. It would have required a regiment to have brought a thief from that country.”

As to the education of the Highland gentry, in this respect they seem not to have been so far behind the rest of the country, although latterly they appear to have degenerated in this as in other respects; for, as will be seen in the Chapter on Gaelic Literature, there must have been at one time many learned men in the Highlands, and a taste for literature seems not to have been uncommon. Indeed, from various authorities quoted in the Introduction to Stuart’s Costume of the Clans, it was no uncommon accomplishment in the 16th and 17th centuries for a Highland gentleman to be able to use both Gaelic and Latin, even when he could scarcely manage English. “If, in some instances,” says Mrs Grant,[43] “a chief had some taste for literature, the Latin poets engaged his attention more forcibly than the English, which he possibly spoke and wrote, but inwardly despised, and in fact did not understand well enough to relish its delicacies, or taste its poetry.” “Till of late years,” says the same writer on[24] the same page, “letters were unknown in the Highlands except among the highest rank of gentry and the clergy. The first were but partially enlightened at best. Their minds had been early imbued with the stores of knowledge peculiar to their country, and having no view beyond that of passing their lives among their tenants and dependants, they were not much anxious for any other.... In some instances, the younger brothers of patrician families were sent early out to lowland seminaries, and immediately engaged in some active pursuit for the advancement of their fortune.” In short, so far as education went, the majority of the Highland lairds and tacksmen appear to have been pretty much on the same footing with those in a similar station in other parts of the kingdom.

From what has been said then as to the condition of the chiefs or lairds and their more immediate dependants the tacksmen, previous to 1745, it may be inferred that they were by no means ill-off so far as the necessaries and even a few of the luxuries of life went. Their houses were certainly not such as a gentleman or even a well-to-do farmer would care to inhabit now-a-days, neither in build nor in furnishing; but the chief and principal tenants as a rule had always plenty to eat and drink, lived in a rough way, were hospitable to their friends, and, as far as they were able, kind and lenient to their tenants.

It was the sub-tenants and cottars, the common people or peasantry of the Highlands, whose condition called for the utmost commiseration. It was they who suffered most from the poverty of the land, the leanness of the cattle, the want of trades and manufactures, the want, in short, of any reliable and systematic means of subsistence. If the crops failed, or disease or a severe winter killed the half of the cattle, it was they who suffered, it was they who were the victims of famine, a thing of not rare occurrence in the Highlands.[44] It seems indeed impossible that any one now living could imagine anything more seemingly wretched and miserable than the state of the Highland subtenants and cottars as described in various contemporary accounts. The dingiest hovel in the dirtiest narrowest “close” of Edinburgh may be taken as a fair representative of the house inhabited formerly in the Highlands by the great mass of the farmers and cottars. And yet they do not by any means appear to have regarded themselves as the most miserable of beings, but on the contrary to have been light-hearted and well content if they could manage to get the year over without absolute starvation. No doubt this was because they knew no better state of things, and because love for the chief would make them endure any thing with patience. Generally the houses of the subtenants and cottars who occupied a farm were built in one spot, “all irregularly placed, some one way, some another, and at any distance, look like so many heaps of dirt.” They were generally built in some small valley or strath by the side of a stream or loch, and the collection of houses on one farm was known as the “toon” or town, a term still used in Shetland in the very same sense, and in many parts of Scotland applied to the building occupied by even a single farmer. The cottages were generally built of round stones without any cement, thatched with sods, and sometimes heath; sometimes they were divided into two apartments by a slender partition, but frequently no such division was made. In the larger half resided the family, this serving for kitchen, eating, and sleeping-room to all. In the middle of this room, on the floor, was the peat fire, above which was a gaping hole to allow the escape of the smoke, very little however of this finding its way out, the surplus, after every corner of the room was filled, escaping by the door. The other half of the cottage was devoted to the use of the live-stock when “they did not choose to mess and lodge with the family.”[45] Sometimes these cottages were built of turf or mud, and sometimes of wattle-work like baskets, a common system of fencing even yet in many parts of the Highlands where young wood is abundant. As a rule these huts had to be thatched and otherwise repaired every year to keep them habitable; indeed, in many places it was quite customary every spring to remove the thatch and use it as manure.


A Cottage in Islay. From Pennant’s Voyage to the Hebrides, 1774.

Buchanan, even in the latter half of the 18th century, thus speaks of the dwellings of tenants in the Western Isles; and, in this respect at least, it is not likely they were in worse plight than those who lived in the early part of the century. “The huts of the oppressed tenants are remarkably naked and open; quite destitute of furniture, except logs of timbers collected from the wrecks of the sea, to sit on about the fire, which is placed in the middle of the house, or upon seats made of straw, like foot hassacks, stuffed with straw or stubble. Many of them must rest satisfied with large stones placed around the fire in order. As all persons must have their own blankets to sleep in, they make their beds in whatever corner suits their fancy, and in the mornings they fold them up into a small compass, with all their gowns, cloaks, coats, and petticoats, that are not in use. The cows, goats, and sheep, with the ducks, hens, and dogs, must have the common benefit of the fire, and particularly the young and tenderest are admitted next to it. This filthy sty is never cleaned but once a-year, when they place the dung on the fields as manure for barley crops. Thus, from the necessity of laying litter below these cattle to keep them dry, the dung naturally increases in height almost mid-wall high, so that the men sit low about the fire, while the cattle look down from above upon the company.” We learn from the same authority that in the Hebrides every tenant must have had his own beams and side timbers, the walls generally belonging to the tacksman or laird, and these were six feet thick with a hollow wall of rough stones, packed with moss or earth in the centre. A tenant in removing carried his timbers with him to his new location, and speedily mounted them on the top of four rude walls. But indeed the condition of many of the Western Isles both before and after 1745 and even at the present day, was frequently much more wretched than the Highlands in the mainland generally. Especially was this the case after 1745, although even before that their condition can by no means be taken as typical of the Highlands generally. The following, however, from the Statistical Account of the island of Tiree, might have applied at the time (about 1745), to almost any part of the Highlands. “About 40 years ago, a great part of the lands in this parish lay in their natural[26] uncultivated state, and such of them as were in culture produced poor starved crops. The tenants were in poor circumstances, the rents low, the farm houses contemptible. The communication from place to place was along paths which were to be known by the footsteps of beasts that passed through them. No turnips, potatoes, or cabbages, unless a few of the latter in some gardens; and a great degree of poverty, indolence, and meanness of spirit, among the great body of the people. The appearance of the people, and their mode of thinking and acting, were but mean and indelicate; their peats were brought home in creels; the few things the farmer had to sell were carried to market upon the backs of horses; and their dunghills were hard by their doors.” We have reliable testimony, however, to prove, that even the common Highland tenants on the mainland were but little better off than those in the islands; their houses were almost equally rude and dirty, and their furniture nearly as scanty. The Statistical Account of the parish of Fortingal, in Perthshire, already quoted, gives a miserable account of the country and inhabitants previous to 1745, as does also the letters of Captain Burt in reference to the district which came under his observation; and neither of these districts was likely to be in worse condition than other parts of the Highlands, further removed from intercourse with the Lowlands. “At the above period (1745), the bulk of the tenants in Rannoch had no such thing as beds. They lay on the ground, with a little heather, or fern, under them. One single blanket was all their bed-cloaths, excepting their body-cloaths. Now they have standing-up beds, and abundance of blankets. At that time the houses in Rannoch were huts of, what they called, ‘Stake and Rife.’ One could not enter but on all fours; and after entering, it was impossible to stand upright. Now there are comfortable houses built of stone. Then the people were miserably dirty, and foul-skinned. Now they are as cleanly, and are clothed as well as their circumstances will admit of. The rents of the parish, at that period, were not much above £1500, and the people were starving. Now they pay £4660 per annum, and upwards, and the people have fulness of bread. It is hardly possible to believe, on how little the Highlanders formerly lived. They bled their cows several times in the year, boiled the blood, eat a little of it like bread, and a most lasting meal it was. The present incumbent has known a poor man, who had a small farm hard by him, by this means, with a boll of meal for every mouth in his family, pass the whole year.” This bleeding of the cattle to eke out the small supply of oatmeal is testified to by many other witnesses. Captain Burt refers to it;[46] and Knox, in his View of the British Empire,[47] thus speaks of it:—“In winter, when the grounds are covered with snow, and when the naked wilds afford them neither shelter nor subsistence, the few cows, small, lean, and ready to drop down through want of pasture, are brought into the hut where the family resides, and frequently share with them their little stock of meal, which had been purchased or raised for the family only, while the cattle thus sustained are bled occasionally to afford nourishment for the children, after it has been boiled or made into cakes.”

It must be borne in mind that at that time potatoes were all but unknown in the Highlands, and even in the Lowlands had scarcely got beyond the stage of a garden root. The staple food of the common Highlander was the various preparations of oats and barley; even fish seems to have been a rarity, but why it is difficult to say, as there were plenty both in the sea and in freshwater rivers and lochs. For a month or two after Michaelmas, the luxury of fresh meat seems to have been not uncommon, as at that time the cattle were in condition for being slaughtered; and the more provident or less needy might even go the length of salting a quantity for winter, but even this practice does not seem to have been common except among the tacksmen. “Nothing is more deplorable than the state of this people in time of winter.” Then they were completely confined to their narrow glens, and very frequently night and day to their houses, on account of the severe snow and rain storms. “They have no diversions to amuse them, but sit brooding in the smoke over the fire till[27] their legs and thighs are scorched to an extraordinary degree, and many have sore eyes and some are quite blind. This long continuance in the smoke makes them almost as black as chimney-sweepers; and when the huts are not water-tight, which is often the case, the rain that comes through the roof and mixes with the sootiness of the inside, where all the sticks look like charcoal, falls in drops like ink. But, in this circumstance, the Highlanders are not very solicitous about their outward appearance.”[48] We need not wonder under these circumstances at the prevalence of a loathsome distemper, almost peculiar to the Highlands, and the universality of various kinds of vermin; and indeed, had it not been that the people spent so much of their time in the open air, and that the pure air of the mountains, and been on the whole temperate in drinking and correct in morals, their condition must have been much more miserable than it really was. The misery seems to have been apparent only to onlookers, not to those whose lot it was to endure it. No doubt they were most mercilessly oppressed sometimes, but even this oppression they do not seem to have regarded as any hardship, as calling for complaint on their part:—they were willing to endure anything at the hands of the chief, who, they believed, could do no wrong.

As a rule the chiefs and gentlemen of the clan appear to have treated their inferiors with kindness and consideration, although, at the same time, it was their interest and the practice of most of them to encourage the notions the people entertained of their duty to their chiefs, and to keep them in ignorance of everything that would tend to diminish this profitable belief. No doubt many of the chiefs themselves believed as firmly in the doctrine of clanship as their people; but there is good reason to believe, that many of them encouraged the old system from purely interested and selfish motives. Burt tells us that when a chief wanted to get rid of any troublesome fellow, he compelled him, under threat of perpetual imprisonment or the gallows, to sign a contract for his own banishment, when he was shipped off from the nearest port by the first vessel bound for the West Indies. Referring no doubt to Lord Lovat,[49] he informs us that this versatile and long-headed chief acted on the maxim that to render his clan poor would double the tie of their obedience; and accordingly he made use of all oppressive means to that end. “To prevent any diminution of the number of those who do not offend him, he dissuades from their purpose all such as show an inclination to traffic, or to put their children out to trades, as knowing they would, by such an alienation shake off at least good part of their slavish attachment to him and his family. This he does, when downright authority fails, by telling them how their ancestors chose to live sparingly, and be accounted a martial people, rather than submit themselves to low and mercenary employments like the Lowlanders, whom their forefathers always despised for the want of that warlike temper which they (his vassals) still retained, &c.” This cunning chief was in the habit, according to Dr Chambers’s Domestic Annals, of sending from Inverness and paying for the insertion in the Edinburgh Courant and Mercury of glaring accounts of feasts and rejoicings given by himself or held in his honour.[50] And it is well known that this same lord during his lifetime erected a handsome tombstone for himself inscribed with a glowing account of his heroic exploits, intended solely for the use of his clansmen. By these and similar means would crafty selfish lairds keep their tenants and cottars in ignorance of their rights, and make them resigned to all the oppressive impositions laid upon them. No doubt Lovat’s was an extreme case, and there must have been many gradations of oppressions, and many chiefs who really cared for their people, and did their best to make them happy and comfortable, although, considering their circumstances and general surroundings, it is difficult to see how they could succeed. Yet notwithstanding their miserable and filthy huts, their scanty and poor food, their tattered and insufficient clothes, their lean cattle and meagre crops, their country wet above and below, their apparent want of all amusements and of anything to lighten their cheerless condition, and the oppressive[28] exactions of their chiefs, the Highlanders as a body certainly do not seem to have been an unhappy or discontented people, or to have had any feeling of the discomfort attending their lot.[51] There seems to have been little or no grumbling, and it is a most remarkable fact that suicide was and probably is all but unknown among the Highlanders. Your genuine Highlander was never what could strictly be called a merry man; he never had any of the effervescence of the French Celt, nor of the inimitable never failing light-hearted humour of his Irish brother; but, on the other hand, under the old system, at heart he showed little or no discontent, but on the contrary seems to have been possessed of a self-satisfied, contented cheerfulness, a quiet resignation to fate, and a belief in the power and goodness of his chief, together with an ignorance and contempt for all outside his own narrow sphere, that made him feel as happy and contented as the most comfortable peasant farmer in France. They only became discontented and sorely cut up when their chiefs,—it being no longer the interest of the latter to multiply and support their retainers,—began to look after their own interests solely, and show little or no consideration for those who regarded them with reverence alone, and who thought their chief as much bound to support and care for them and share his land and his bread with them, as a father is to maintain his children. After the heritable jurisdictions were abolished, of course everything was changed; but before that there is every reason to believe that the Highland tenants and cottars were as contented and happy, though by no means so well off, as the majority of those in the same condition throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed the evils which prevailed formerly in the Highlands, like all other evils, look far worse in prospect (in this case retrospect) than they do in reality. Misery in general is least perceived by those who are in its midst, and no doubt many poor and apparently miserable people wonder what charitable associations for their relief make so much fuss about, for they themselves see nothing to relieve. Not that this misery is any the less real and fruitful of evil consequences, and demanding relief; it is simply that those who are in the midst of it can’t, very naturally, see it in its true light. As to the Highlands, the tradition remained for a long time, and we believe does so still in many parts, that under the old regime, chiefs were always kind as fathers, and the people faithful and loving as children; the men were tall and brave, and the women fair and pure; the cattle were fat and plentiful, and the land produced abundance for man and beast; the summers were always warm, and the winters mild; the sun was brighter than ever it has been since, and rain came only when wanted. In short everybody had plenty with a minimum of work and abundance of time for dancing and singing and other amusements; every one was as happy as the day was long. It was almost literally “a land flowing with milk and honey,” as will be seen from the following tradition:[52]—“It is now indeed idle, and appears fabulous, to relate the crops raised here 30 or 40 years ago. The seasons were formerly so warm, that the people behoved to unyoke their ploughs as soon as the sun rose, when sowing barley; and persons yet living, tell, that in traveling through the meadows in the loan of Fearn, in some places drops of honey were seen as the dew in the long grass and plantain, sticking to their shoes as they passed along in a May morning; and also in other parts, their shoes were oiled as with cream, going through such meadows. Honey and bee hives were then very plenty.... Cattle, butter, and cheese, were then very plenty and cheap.” This glowing tradition, we fear, must melt away before the authentic and too sober accounts of contemporaries and eye-witnesses.

As for wages to day-labourers and mechanics, in many cases no money whatever was given; every service being frequently paid for in kind;[29] where money was given, a copper or two a day was deemed an ample remuneration, and was probably sufficient to provide those who earned it with a maintenance satisfactory to themselves, the price of all necessary provisions being excessively low. A pound of beef or mutton, or a fowl could be obtained for about a penny, a cow cost about 30 shillings, and a boll of barley or oatmeal less than 10 shillings; butter was about twopence a pound, a stone (21 lbs.) of cheese was to be got for about two shillings. The following extract, from the Old Statistical Account of Caputh, will give the reader an idea of the rate of wages, where servants were employed, of the price of provisions, and how really little need there was for actual cash, every man being able to do many things for himself which would now require perhaps a dozen workmen to perform. This parish being strictly in the lowlands, but on the border of the Highlands, may be regarded as having been, in many respects, further advanced than the majority of Highland parishes.[53] “The ploughs and carts were usually made by the farmer himself; with little iron about the plough, except the colter and share; none upon the cart or harrows; no shoes upon the horses; no hempen ropes. In short, every instrument of farming was procured at small expense, wood being at a very low price. Salt was a shilling the bushel: little soap was used: they had no candles, instead of which they split the roots of fir trees, which, though brought 50 or 60 miles from the Highlands, were purchased for a trifle. Their clothes were of their own manufacturing. The average price of weaving ten yards of such cloth was a shilling, which was paid partly in meal and partly in money. The tailor worked for a quantity of meal, suppose 3 pecks or a firlot a-year, according to the number of the farmer’s family. In the year 1735, the best ploughman was to be had for L.8 Scots (13s. 4d.) a year, and what was termed a bounty, which consisted of some articles of clothing, and might be estimated at 11s. 6d.; in all L.1, 4s. 10d. sterling. Four years after, his wages rose to L.24 Scots, (L.2) and the bounty. Female servants received L.2 Scots, (3s. 4d.) and a bounty of a similar kind; the whole not exceeding 6s. or 7s. Some years after their wages rose to 15s. Men received for harvest work L.6 Scots, (10s.); women, L.5 Scots, (8s. 4d.). Poultry was sold at 40 pennies Scots, (3⅓d.) Oat-meal, bear and oats, at L.4 or L.5 Scots the boll. A horse that then cost 100 merks Scots, (L.5 : 11 : 1¾) would now cost L.25. An ox that cost L.20 Scots, (L.1 : 13 : 4) would now be worth L.8 or L.9. Beef and mutton were sold, not by weight, but by the piece; about 3s. 4d. for a leg of beef of 3½ stones; and so in proportion. No tea nor sugar was used: little whisky was drunk, and less of other spirits: but they had plenty of good ale; there being usually one malt barn (perhaps two) on each farm.”[54]

When a Highlander was in need of anything which he could not produce or make himself, it was by no means easy for him to obtain it, as by far the greater part of the Highlands was utterly destitute of towns and manufactures; there was little or no commerce of any kind. The only considerable Highland town was Inverness, and, if we can believe Captain Burt, but little business was done there; the only other places, which made any pretensions to be towns were Stornoway and Campbeltown, and these at the time we are writing of, were little better than fishing villages. There were no manufactures strictly speaking, for although the people[30] spun their own wool and made their own cloth, exportation, except perhaps in the case of stockings, seems to have been unknown. In many cases a system of merchandise somewhat similar to the ruinous, oppressive, and obstructive system still common in Shetland, seems to have been in vogue in many parts of the Highlands. By this system, some of the more substantial tacksmen would lay in a stock of goods such as would be likely to be needed by their tenants, but which these could not procure for themselves, such as iron, corn, wine, brandy, sugar, tobacco, &c. These goods the tacksman would supply to his tenants as they needed them, charging nothing for them at the time; but, about the month of May, the tenant would hand over to his tacksman-merchant as many cattle as the latter considered an equivalent for the goods supplied. As the people would seldom have any idea of the real value of the goods, of course there was ample room for a dishonest tacksman to realise an enormous profit, which, we fear, was too often done. “By which traffic the poor wretched people were cheated out of their effects, for one half of their value; and so are kept in eternal poverty.”[55]

As to roads, with the exception of those made for military purposes by General Wade, there seems to have been none whatever, only tracts here and there in the most frequented routes, frequently impassable, and at all time unsafe without a guide. Captain Burt could not move a mile or two out of Inverness without a guide. Bridges seem to have been even rarer than slated houses or carriages.

We have thus endeavoured to give the reader a correct idea of the state of the country and people of the Highlands previous to the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions. Our only aim has been to find out the truth, and we have done so by appealing to the evidence of contemporaries, or of those whose witness is almost as good. We have endeavoured to exhibit both the good and bad side of the picture, and we are only sorry that space will not permit of giving further details. However, from what has been said above, the reader must see how much had to be accomplished by the Highlanders to bring them up to the level of the rest of the country, and will be able to understand the nature of the changes which from time to time took place, the difficulties which had to be overcome, the prejudices which had to be swept away, the hardships which had to be encountered, in assimilating the Highlands with the rest of the country.

Having thus, as far as space permits, shown the condition of the Highlands previous to 1745, we shall now, as briefly as possible, trace the history down to the present day, showing the march of change, and we hope, of progress after the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions. In doing so we must necessarily come across topics concerning which there has been much rancorous and unprofitable controversy; but, as we have done in the case of other disputed matters, we shall do our best to lay facts before the reader, and allow him to form his opinions for himself. The history of the Highlands since 1745 is no doubt in some respects a sad one; much misery and cruel disappointment come under the notice of the investigator. But in many respects, and, we have no doubt in its ultimate results, the history is a bright one, showing as it does the progress of a people from semi-barbarism and slavery and ignorance towards high civilisation, freedom of action with the world before them, and enlightenment and knowledge, and vigorous and successful enterprise. Formerly the Highlanders were a nuisance to their neighbours, and a drag upon the progress of the country; now they are not surpassed by any section of her Majesty’s subjects for character, enterprise, education, loyalty, and self-respect. Considering the condition of the country in 1745, what could we expect to take place on the passing and enforcing of an act such as that which abolished the heritable jurisdictions? Was it not natural, unavoidable that a fermentation should take place, that there should be a war of apparently conflicting interests, that, in short, as in the achievement of all great results by nations and men, there should be much experimenting, much groping to find out the best way, much shuffling about by the people to fit themselves to their new circumstances, before matters could again fall into something like a settled condition, before each man would find his place in the[31] new adjustment of society? Moreover, the Highlanders had to learn an inevitable and a salutary lesson, that in this or in any country under one government, where prosperity and harmony are desired, no particular section of the people is to consider itself as having a right to one particular part of the country. The Highlands for the Highlanders is a barbarous, selfish, obstructive cry in a united and progressive nation. It seems to be the law of nature, as it is the law of progress, that those who can make the best use of any district ought to have it. This has been the case with the world at large, and it has turned out, and is still turning out to be the case with this country. The Highlands now contain a considerable lowland population, and the Highlanders are scattered over the length and breadth of the land, and indeed of the world, honourably fulfilling the noble part they have to play in the world’s history. Ere long there will be neither Highlander nor Lowlander; we shall all be one people, having the best qualities of the blood of the formerly two antagonistic races running in our veins. It is, we have no doubt, with men as with other animals, the best breeds are got by judicious crossings.

Of course it is seldom the case that any great changes take place in the social or political policy of a country without much individual suffering: this was the case at all events in the Highlands. Many of the poor people and tacksmen had to undergo great hardships during the process of this new adjustment of affairs; but that the lairds or chiefs were to blame for this, it would be rash to assert. Some of these were no doubt unnecessarily harsh and unfeeling, but even where they were kindest and most considerate with their tenants, there was much misery prevailing among the latter. In the general scramble for places under the new arrangements, every one, chief, tacksman, tenant, and cottar, had to look out for himself or go to the wall, and it was therefore the most natural thing in the world that the instinct of self-preservation and self-advancement, which is stronger by far than that of universal benevolence, should urge the chiefs to look to their own interests in preference to those of the people, who unfortunately, from the habit of centuries, looked to their superiors alone for that help which they should have been able to give themselves. It appears to us that the results which have followed from the abolition of the jurisdictions and the obliteration of the power of the chiefs, were inevitable; that they might have been brought about in a much gentler way, with much less suffering and bitterness and recrimination, there is no doubt; but while the process was going on, who had time to think of these things, or look at the matter in a calm and rational light? Certainly not those who were the chief actors in bringing about the results. With such stubbornness, bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance on one side, and such power and poverty and necessity for immediate and decided action on the other, and with selfishness on both sides, it was all but inevitable that results should have been as they turned out to be. We shall do what we can to state plainly, briefly, and fairly the real facts of the case.


[1] Gartmore MS. in Appendix to Burt’s Letters.

[2] Pennant’s Tour in Scotland.

[3] As a specimen of the manner in which justice was administered in old times in the Highlands, we give the following: In the second volume of the Spalding Club Miscellany, p. 128, we read of a certain “John MacAlister, in Dell of Rothemurkus,” cited on 19th July 1594 “before the Court of Regality of Spynie.” He was “decerned by the judge—ryplie aduysit with the action of spuilzie persewit contrane him be the Baron of Kincardine, ... to have vrongouslie intromittit with and detenit the broune horse lybellit, and thairfor to content and pay to the said Complainer the soume of threttene schillings and four pennis money.” The reader will notice the delicate manner in which what looks very like a breach of the eighth commandment is spoken of in a legal document of that period. John the son of Alister “confessed” the intromission with the brown horse, but pled in defence that he “took him away ordowrlie and nocht spulyed, but be vertue of the Act of Athell, boynd for ane better horse spuilzeat be the said persewar from the said Defender.” Whether this was the truth, or whether, though it were true, John the son of Alister was justified in seizing upon the Baron’s broune horse in lieu of the one taken by the Baron from him, or whether it was that the Baron was the more powerful of the two, the judge, it will have been noticed, decerned against the said John M’Alister, not, however, ordaining him to return the horse, but to pay the Baron “thairfor” the sum of thirteen shillings.—Memorials of Clan Shaw, by Rev. W. G. Shaw, p. 24.

[4] Observations on the Present State of Highlands, by the Earl of Selkirk, p. 13.

[5] Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 5.

[6] Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 5.

[7] Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. pp. 341-3.

[8] Beauties of Scotland, vol. v. pp. 184, 5.

[9] Old Statistical Account of North Knapdale.

[10] Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 57.

[11] Gartmore MS.

[12] Old Statistical Account, vol. ix. p. 494.

[13] “When I first saw this awkward method as I then thought it, I rode up to the person who guided the machine, to ask him some questions concerning it: he spoke pretty good English, which made me conclude he was a gentleman; and yet, in quality of a proprietor and conductor, might, without dishonour, employ himself in such a work. My first question was, whether that method was common to the Highlands, or peculiar to that part of the country? and, by way of answer, he asked me, if they ploughed otherwise anywhere else? Upon my further inquiry why the man went backwards? he stopped, and very civilly informed me that there were several small rocks, which I did not see, that had a little part of them just peeping on the surface, and therefore it was necessary his servant should see and avoid them, by guiding the horses accordingly, or otherwise his plough might be spoiled by the shock. The answer was satisfactory and convincing, and I must here take notice that many other of their methods are too well suited to their own circumstances, and those of the country, to be easily amended by such as undertake to deride them.”—Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. pp. 42, 43.

[14] Walker’s Hebrides, vol. i. p. 122.

[15] Walker’s Hebrides, vol. i. p. 127.

[16] Idem, 131.

[17] Walker’s Hebrides, vol. i. p. 133.

[18] Old Statistical Account, vol. xx. p. 74.

[19] “Nothing is more common than to hear the Highlanders boast how much their country might be improved, and that it would produce double what it does at present if better husbandry were introduced among them. For my own part, it was always the only amusement I had in the hills, to observe every minute thing in my way; and I do assure you, I do not remember to have seen the least spot that would bear corn uncultivated, not even upon the sides of the hills, where it could be no otherwise broke up than with a spade. And as for manure to supply the salts and enrich the ground they have hardly any. In summer their cattle are dispersed about the sheelings, and almost all the rest of the year in other parts of the hills; and, therefore, all the dung they can have must be from the trifling quantity made by the cattle while they are in the house. I never knew or heard of any limestone, chalk, or marl, they have in the country; and, if some of their rocks might serve for limestone, in that case their kilns, carriage, and fuel would render it so expensive, it would be the same thing to them as if there were none. Their great dependence is upon the nitre of the snow, and they lament the disappointment if it does not fall early in the season.”—Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 48-9.

[20] “An English lady, who found herself something decaying in her health, and was advised to go among the hills, and drink goat’s milk or whey, told me lately, that seeing a Highlander basking at the foot of a hill in his full dress, while his wife and her mother were hard at work in reaping the oats, she asked the old woman how she could be contented to see her daughter labour in that manner, while her husband was only an idle spectator? And to this the woman answered, that her son-in-law was a gentleman, and it would be a disparagement to him to do any such work; and that both she and her daughter too were sufficiently honoured by the alliance. This instance, I own, has something particular in it, as such; but the thing is very common, à la Palatine, among the middling sort of people.”—Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 45.

The Highlander at home is indolent. It is with impatience that he allows himself to be diverted from his favourite occupation of traversing the mountains and moors in looking after his flocks, a few days in spring and autumn, for the purposes of his narrow scheme of agriculture. It is remarked, however, that the Highlander, when removed beyond his native bounds, is found capable of abundant exertion and industry.—Graham’s Perthshire, 235.

[21] Walker’s Hebrides, &c., vol. i. p. 197.

[22] Old Statistical Account, vol. x. p. 17.

[23] See accounts of various Highland parishes in the Old Statistical Account.

[24] Walker’s Hebrides, &c., vol. ii. p. 159.

[25] Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 38.

[26] Still they would seem to have been of comparatively little use for farming operations; for Dr Walker, writing about 1760, when the breed was at least no worse than it was previous to 1745, speaks thus:—“The number of horses is by far too great upon every Highland farm. They are so numerous, because they are inefficient; and they are inefficient, because they have neither stature nor food to render them sufficiently useful. Their number has never been restrained by the authority of the landlords, like that of the sheep. For in many places, they are bred and sold off the farm to advantage, being sent in droves to the south. In this case, their numbers upon a farm may be proper. But in general, there are six, eight, or ten horses upon the smaller farms, and sixteen, twenty, or more upon the larger; without any being bred for sale, and even few for supporting the stock. None of them perform the work of a horse; even where such numbers are kept, and purely for labour, each of them, in many places, do not plough two acres of land annually. They get no food the whole year round, but what they can pick up upon the hills, and their sustenance is therefore unluckily accounted as nothing.”

[27] Hebrides, &c., vol. ii. p. 50.

[28] A penny land apparently contained about the tenth part of a davoch, i.e., about forty acres.

[29] The rule in souming seems to have been that one cow was equal to eight, in some places ten, sheep, and two cows equal to one horse.

[30] Walker’s Hebrides, &c., vol. i. p. 56.

[31] Logan’s Scottish Gael, vol. ii. p. 65.

[32] The following remarks, taken from the Gartmore MS. at the end of Burt’s Letters, gives one by no means a favourable idea of these drovers, but it must be borne in mind that the writer lived on the border of the most notorious and ill-behaved part of the Highlands, Rob Roy’s country, and that he himself was properly a Lowlander. The extract will serve to show how business transactions were conducted in the Highlands. “It is alledged, that much of the Highlands lye at a great distance from publick fairs, mercates, and places of commerce, and that the access to these places is both difficult and dangerous; by reason of all which, trading people decline to go into the country in order to traffick and deal with the people. It is on this account that the farmers, having no way to turn the produce of their farms, which is mostly cattle, into money, are obliged to pay their rents in cattle, which the landlord takes at his own price, in regaird that he must either grase them himself, send them to distant markets, or credite some person with them, to be againe at a certain profite disposed of by him. This introduced the busieness of that sort of people commonly known by the name of Drovers. These men have little or no substance, they must know the language, the different places, and consequently be of that country. The farmers, then, do either sell their cattle to these drovers upon credite, at the drovers price (for ready money they seldom have), or to the landlord at his price, for payment of his rent. If this last is the case, the landlord does again dispose of them to the drover upon credite, and these drovers make what profites they can by selling them to grasiers, or at markets. These drovers make payments, and keep credite for a few years, and then they either in reality become bankrupts, or pretend to be so. The last is most frequently the case, and then the subject of which they have cheated is privately transferred to a confident person in whose name, upon that reall stock, a trade is sometimes carried on, for their behoof, till this trustee gett into credite, and prepaire his affairs for a bankruptcy. Thus the farmers are still keept poor; they first sell at an under rate, and then they often lose alltogether. The landlords, too, must either turn traders, and take their cattle to markets, or give these people credite, and by the same means suffer.”—Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. pp. 364, 365.

[33] “The latter part of the season is often very wet; and the corn, particularly oats, suffer very much. June and August are the months which have least rain. September and October are frequently very wet: during these months, not only a greater quantity of rain falls, but it is more constant, accompanied by a cold and cloudy atmosphere, which is very unfavourable either to the ripening of grain, or drying it after it is cut. In July and August a good deal of rain falls; but it is in heavy showers, and the intervals are fine, the sun shining clear and bright often for several days together.”—Garnett’s Tour, vol. i. p. 24.

[34] Buchanan’s Travels in the Hebrides, p. 154.

[35] “In larger farms belonging to gentlemen of the clan, where there are any number of women employed in harvest-work, they all keep time together by several barbarous tones of the voice, and stoop and rise together as regularly as a rank of soldiers when they ground their arms. Sometimes they are incited to their work by the sound of a bagpipe, and by either of these they proceed with great alacrity, it being disgraceful for any one to be out of time with the sickle.” This custom of using music to enable a number of common workers to keep time, seems to have been in vogue in many operations in the Highlands. We quote the following graphic account of the process of fulling given by Burt in the same letter that contains the above quotation, (vol. ii. p. 48.) “They use the same tone, or a piper, when they thicken the newly-woven plaiding, instead of a fulling-mill. This is done by six or eight women sitting upon the ground, near some river or rivulet, in two opposite ranks, with the wet cloth between them; their coats are tucked up, and with their naked feet they strike one against another’s, keeping exact time as above mentioned. And among numbers of men, employed in any work that requires strength and joint labour (as the launching a large boat, or the like), they must have the piper to regulate their time, as well as usky to keep up their spirits in the performance; for pay they often have little, or none at all.”—Burt’s Letters.

[36] Burton’s Scotland (1689–1748), vol. ii. p. 395.—“The poverty of the field labourers hereabouts is deplorable. I was one day riding out for air and exercise, and in my way I saw a woman cutting green barley in a little plot before her hut: this induced me to turn aside and ask her what use she intended it for, and she told me it was to make bread for her family. The grain was so green and soft that I easily pressed some of it between my fingers; so that when she had prepared it, certainly it must have been more like a poultice than what she called it, bread.”—Burt’s Letters, vol. i. p. 224.

[37] Buchanan’s Hebrides, p. 156.

[38] Logan’s Gael, vol. ii. p. 97.

[39] Letters, vol. ii. p. 7.

[40] Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 96.

[41] Letters, vol. ii. p. 97.

[42] The following quotations from Mr Dunbar’s Social Life in Former Days, giving details of household furniture and expenses, may be taken as “a correct index of the comforts and conveniences” of the best off of the old Highland lairds; for as they refer to Morayshire, just on the borders of the Highlands, they cannot be held as referring to the Highlands generally, the interior and western districts of which were considerably behind the border lands in many respects:—

Sir Robert Gordon’s Allowance for his Lady and Family, from December 14th 1740 to December 14th 1741.

Imprimis, to 36 bolls malt, at 8 shillings and 4 pence per boll,1500
Item, to 36 bolls meal, at same price,1500
Item, to 10 bolls wheat, at 13 shillings and 4 pence per boll,6134
Item, to 12 beeves at £1 per piece,1200
Item, to meal to servants without doors,976
Item, to servants’ wages within and without doors,4150
Item, to cash instantly delivered,5062
Item, to be paid monthly, £4, 4s.,5080
Servants’ Wages 1741.
Imprimis to gentlewomen1000
Item, to five maids,568
Item, to two cooks,500
Item, to two porters,300
Item, to Robin’s servant,100
Item, to the groom,550
Item, to the neighbour,368
Item, to three out-servants,700
Item, to two herds,168

Inventar of Plenishing in Thunderton’s Lodging in Duffus, May 25, 1708.

Strypt Room.

“Camlet hangings and curtains, feather bed and bolster, two pillows, five pair blankets, and an Inglish blanket, a green and white cover, a blew and white chamber-pot, a blew and white bason, a black jopand table and two looking-glasses, a jopand tee-table with a tee-pat and plate, and nine cups and nine dyshes, and a tee silver spoon, two glass sconces, two little bowles, with a leam stoap and a pewter head, eight black ken chairs, with eight silk cushens conform, an easie chair with a big cushen, a jopand cabinet with a walnut tree stand, a grate, shuffle, tonges, and brush; in the closet, three piece of paper hangings, a chamber box, with a pewter pan therein, and a brush for cloaths.

Closet next the Strypt Room.

“Four dishes, two assiets, six broth plates, and twelve flesh plates, a quart flagon, and a pynt flagon, a pewter porenger, and a pewter flacket, a white iron jaculate pot, and a skellet pann, twenty-one timber plates, a winter for warming plates at the fire, two Highland plaids, and a sewed blanket, a bolster, and four pillows, a chamber-box, a sack with wool, and a white iron dripping pann.

In the farest Closet.

“Seventeen drinking glasses, with a glass tumbler and two decanters, a oil cruet, and a vinegar cruet, a urinal glass, a large blew and white posset pot, a white leam posset pat, a blew and white bowl, a dozen of blew and white leam plates, three milk dishes, a blew and white leam porenger, and a white leam porenger, four jelly pots, and a little butter dish, a crying chair, and a silk craddle.

In the Moyhair Room.

“A sute of stamped cloath hangings, and a moyhair bed with feather bed, bolster, and two pillows, six pair blankets, and an Inglish blanket and a twilt, a leam chamber-pat, five moyhair chairs, two looking-glasses, a cabinet, a table, two stands, a table cloak, and window hangings, a chamber-box with a pewter pann, a leam bason, with a grate and tongs and a brush; in the closet, two carpets, a piece of Arres, three pieces lyn’d strypt hangings, three wawed strypt curtains, two piece gilded leather, three trunks and a craddle, a chamber-box, and a pewter pann, thirty-three pound of heckled lint, a ston of vax, and a firkin of sop, and a brush for cloaths, two pair blankets, and a single blanket.

In the Dyning-Room.

“A sute of gilded hangings, two folding tables, eighteen low-backed ken chairs, a grate, a fender, a brass tongs, shuffle, brush, and timber brush, and a poring iron, and a glass kes.

In my Lady’s Room.

“Gilded hangings, standing bed, and box bed, stamped drogged hangings, feather bed, bolster, and two pillows, a pallise, five pair of blankets, and a single one, and a twilt, and two pewter chamber-pots, six chairs, table, and looking-glass a little folding table, and a chist of drawers, tonges, shuffle, porrin-iron, and a brush, two window curtains of linen; in the Laird’s closet, two trunks, two chists, and a citrena cabinet, a table, and a looking-glass, the dow holes, two carpet chairs, and a chamber-box with a pewter pan, and a little bell, and a brush for cloath.

My Lady’s Closet.

“A cabinet, three presses, three kists, and a spicerie box, a dozen leam white plates, a blew and white leam plate, a little blew butter plate, a white leam porenger, and three gelly pots, two leam dishes, and two big timber capes, four tin congs, a new pewter basson, a pynt chopen, and mutchken stoups, two copper tankers, two pewter salts, a pewter mustard box, a white iron peper and suggar box, two white iron graters, a pot for starch, and a pewter spoon, thirteen candlesticks, five pair snuffers and snuf dishes conform, a brass mortar and pistol, a lantern, a timber box, a dozen knives and a dozen forks, and a carpet chair, two milk congs, a milk cirn, and kirn staff, a sisymilk, and creamen dish and a cheswel, a neprie basket, and two new pewter chamber pots.

A Note of Plate.

“Three silver salvers, four salts, a large tanker, a big spoon, and thirteen littler spoons, two jugs, a sugar box, a mustard box, a peper box, and two little spoons.

An Account of Bottles in the Salt Cellar.

June the first 1708.

Of Sack, five dozen and one,51
Of Brandie, three dozen and three,33
Of Vinegar and Aquavitie, seven,07
Of Strong Ale, four dozen and four,44
Of other Ale, nine dozen,90
In the ale cellar, fifteen dozen and ten,1510
In the hamper, five dozen empty,50
In the wine cellar, nine with Inglish Ale,09
White Wine, ten,010
Of Brandy, three,03
With Brandy and Surop, two,02
With Claret, fifteen,13
With Mum, fifteen,13
Throw the house, nineteen,17
There is in all, forty-nine dozen and two,492
And of mutchkin bottles twenty-five,21

“Received ten dozen and one of chapen bottles full of claret. More received—eleven dozen and one of pynt bottles, whereof there was six broke in the home-coming. 1709, June the 4th, received from Elgin forty-three chopen bottles of claret.”

[43] Essays, vol. i. p. 30.

[44] There appears to have been a dreadful one just three years before ’45. See Stat. Account of various Highland parishes.

[45] Garnett’s Tour, vol. i. p. 121.

[46] Letters, vol. ii. 28.

[47] Vol. i. p. 124.

[48] Burt, ii. p. 34.

[49] Letters, vol. i. p. 51.

[50] Fraser-Mackintosh’s Antiquarian Notes, p. 1.

[51] “The manners and habits of this parish [as of all other Highland parishes] have undergone a material change within these 50 years; before that period they lived in a plain simple manner, experienced few wants, and possessed not the means, nor had any desire, of procuring any commodities. If they had salt [upon which there was a grievous duty] and tobacco, paid their pittance of rents, and performed their ordinary services to their superiors, and that their conduct in general met their approbation, it seemed to be the height of their ambition.”—Old Statistical Account of Boleskin and Abertarf, Inverness-shire (1798).

[52] Old Statistical Account of Fearn, Ross-shire.

[53] “The spades, ploughs, harrows, and sledges, of the most feeble and imperfect kinds, with all their harnessing, are made by the farmer and his servants; as also the boats, with all their tackle.—The boat has a Highland plaid for a sail; the running rigging is made of leather thongs and willow twigs; and a large stone and a heather rope serve for an anchor and cable; and all this, among a people of much natural ingenuity and perseverance. There is no fulling mill nor bleachfield; no tanner, maltster, or dyer; all the yarn is dyed, and all the cloth fulled or bleached by the women on the farm. The grain for malt is steeped in sacks in the river; and the hides are tanned, and the shoes made at home. There are, indeed, itinerant shoemakers, tailors, wrights, and masons, but none of these has full employment in his business, as all the inhabitants, in some measure, serve themselves in these trades: hence, in the royal boroughs of Inveraray, Campbelton, and Inverness, and in the considerable villages of Crieff, Callander, Oban, Maryburgh, Fort Augustus, and Stornoway, there are fewer tradesmen, and less demand for the workmanship of mechanics, than in any other places of the same size; yet these are either situated in, or are next adjacent to, a more extensive and populous country, than any other similar towns or villages in Scotland.”—Walker’s Hebrides, vol. ii. pp. 374, 5.

[54] Old Stat. Account, vol. ix. pp. 494, 5.

[55] Gartmore Paper, in Burt’s Letters, vol. ii. p. 364.


State of Highlands subsequent to 1745—Progress of Innovation—First mention of Emigration—Pennant’s account of the country—Dr Johnson—Emigration fairly commenced in 1760—The Tacksmen the first to suffer and emigrate—Consequences to those who remained—Wretched condition of the Western Islands—Introduction of large sheep-farms—Ejection of small tenants—“Mailers”—Hebrides—Real Highland grievance—Title-deeds—The two sides of the Highland Question—Truth on both sides—Excessive population—Argument of those who condemn depopulation—The sentimental and military arguments—Testimony as to wretched condition of Highlanders—Highlands admirably suited for sheep—Effect of sheep-farming on Highland scenery—Highlands unsuited to black cattle—Large and small farms—Interference—Fishing and farming cannot be successfully united—Raising rents—Depopulation—How far the landlords were to blame—Kelp—Advantages and disadvantages of its manufacture—Potatoes—Introduction into the Highlands—Their importance—Failures of Crop—Disease—Amount of progress made during latter part of 18th century.

As we have said already, the Highlanders, chiefs and people, were so confounded, and prostrated by the cruel proceedings and stringent measures which followed Culloden, that it was some time ere they could realise the new position of affairs. Little alteration appears to have, for some years, been effected[32] in the relationship subsisting between people and chiefs, the latter being now simply landlords. The gentlemen and common people of the clans continued to regard their chief in the same light as they did previous to the abolition of the jurisdictions, for they did not consider that their obedience to the head of the clan was in the least dependent upon any legislative enactments. They still considered it their duty to do what they could to support their chief, and were still as ready as ever to make any sacrifice for his sake. At the same time, their notions of the chief’s duty to his people remained unaltered; he, they thought, was bound as much as ever to see to it that they did not want, to share with them the land which belonged to the chief not so much as a proprietor, but as the head and representative of his people. The gentlemen, especially, of the clan, the tacksmen or large farmers, most firmly and sincerely believed that they had as much right to a share of the lands as the chief himself, their relation; he was as much bound to provide for them as a father is bound to make provision for his children. There is no doubt also that many of the chiefs themselves, especially the older ones, held the same belief on this matter as their subordinates, so that in many instances it was not till the old laird had passed away, and a new one had filled his place, that the full effect of the measures already described began to be felt. Of course, many of the chiefs and gentlemen who had taken part in the rebellion had been compelled to leave the country in order to save their lives, and many of the estates had been forfeited to government, which entrusted the management of them to commissioners. It was probably these estates upon which changes began to be first effected.

All the accounts we have of the Highlands from travellers and others down to the end of the 18th century, show the country in a state of commotion and confusion, resulting from the changes consequent on the rebellion, the breaking up of old relationships, and the gradual encroachment of lowland civilisation, lowland modes of life, and lowland methods of agriculture. Up to the end of the century, the positive changes do not appear to have been great or extensive, they seem more to have been of a tentative experimental kind, attempts to find out the most suitable or profitable way of working under the new regime. The result of these experiments of this unsettling of many-century-old customs and ideas, and of the consequent shifting and disturbing of the people, was for a long time much discontent and misery. The progress of change, both with regard to place and in respect of the nature of the innovations, was gradual, beginning, as a rule, with those districts of the Highlands which bordered on the lowlands, and proceeding in a direction somewhat north-west. It was these border districts which got first settled down and assimilated in all respects to the lowlands, and, although in some instances the commotion was felt in the Western Islands and Highlands a few years after 1746, yet these localities, as a rule, were longest in adjusting themselves to the new state of things; indeed, in many western districts, the commotion has not yet subsided, and consequently misery and discontent still frequently prevail. In the same way it was only little by little that changes were effected, first one old custom giving way and then another, their places being filled by others which had prevailed in the lowlands for many years before. Indeed, we think the progress made by the Highlands during the last century has been much greater than that of the lowlands during the same period; for when, in the case of the Highlands, the march of progress commenced, they were in many respects centuries behind the rest of the country, whereas at the present day, with the exception of some outlying districts above mentioned, they are in almost every respect as far forward and as eager to advance farther as the most progressive districts of the south. This is no doubt owing to the extra pressure which was brought to bear upon them in the shape of the measures which followed Culloden, without which they no doubt must have progressed, but at a much slower rate. Perhaps this is the reason why certain outlying districts have lagged behind and are still in a state of unsettlement and discontent, the people, and often the lairds, refusing to acknowledge and give way to the necessity for change, but even yet attempting to live and act in accordance with the old-fashioned clannish mode of managing men and land.


The unsettled state of the Highlands, and the fact that many Highlanders were leaving the country, attracted attention so early as about 1750. For in 1752, a pamphlet was published by a Mr John Campbell, pretending to give “A Full and Particular Description of the Highlands,” and propounding a scheme which, in the author’s estimation, would “prove effectual in bringing in the most disaffected among them.” There is little said in this book of the actual condition of the Highlanders at that time, only a few details as to their manners, funeral-customs, marriages, &c., and a lamentation, ever since repeated, that so many should be compelled to leave their native land and settle among foreigners. The author does not mention emigration to America; what he chiefly deplores is the fact that so many Highlanders, from the unkindness of their superiors at home, should have taken service in various capacities, civil and military, in other European countries, frequently fighting in foreign armies against their fellow-countrymen. However, from the general tone of his remarks, it may be gathered that he refers mainly to those who were compelled to leave the country on account of the part they took in the late rebellion, and not on account of any alterations which had yet taken place in the internal affairs of the Highlands. Still it is plainly to be inferred that already much misery and discontent prevailed in the country.

Pennant made his two tours in Scotland in the years 1769 and 1772. His travels in the Highlands were confined mainly to the Western Islands and the districts on the west coast, and his account is little else than a tale of famine and wretchedness from beginning to end. What little agriculture there was, was as bad as ever, the country rarely producing enough of grain to supply the inhabitants, and in many places he fears “the isles annually experience a temporary famine.” In the island of Islay a thousand pounds worth of meal was annually imported, and at the time of Pennant’s visit “a famine threatened.” Indeed, the normal state of the Western Highlands at least appears for long to have been one bordering on famine, or what would have been considered so in any less wretched country; and periodically many seem to have died from absolute want of food. Here is a sad picture of misery; Pennant is speaking more particularly of Skye, but his remarks might have been applied to most of the Western Islands. “The poor are left to Providence’s care; they prowl like other animals along the shores to pick up limpets and other shell-fish, the casual repasts of hundreds during part of the year in these unhappy islands. Hundreds thus annually drag through the season a wretched life; and numbers, unknown, in all parts of the Western Highlands, fall beneath the pressure, some of hunger, more of the putrid fever, the epidemic of the coasts, originating from unwholesome food, the dire effects of necessity.”[56] No change for the better to record in agriculture, the farms still overstocked with horses, black cattle and men, the fishing still all but neglected, hovels wretched as ever, and clothes as tattered and scanty—nothing in short to be seen but want and wretchedness, with apparently no inclination in the people to better their condition. Johnson, who visited the Western Islands in the autumn of 1773, has a very similar report to make. Everything seemed to be in a state of transition; old relationships were being broken up, and a spirit of general discontent and feeling of insecurity were abroad. As to the poor condition of the people generally, Johnson essentially confirms the statements of Pennant, although he hints that they did by no means appear to be unhappy, or able to realise their wretched condition.

At the time of Pennant’s and Johnson’s visits to the Highlands, the new leaven of change had fairly begun to work. Already had depopulation and emigration begun, and to some extent sheep-farming on a large scale had been introduced.

Emigration from the Highlands to America seems to have fairly commenced shortly after 1760, as, in a pamphlet[57] published in 1784, it is stated that between the years 1763 and 1775 above 20,000 Highlanders left their homes to settle on the other side of the Atlantic. The first apparently to suffer from the altered state of things in the Highlands, the decreasing value of men and the increasing value of money, were the tacksmen, or large farmers,[34] the relations of the old chiefs, who had held their farms from generation to generation, who regarded themselves as having about as much right to the land as the lairds, and who had hitherto been but little troubled about rent. After a time, when the chiefs, now merely lairds, began to realise their new position and to feel the necessity of making their land yield them as large an income as possible, they very naturally sought to get a higher rent for the farms let to these tacksmen, who, in most cases, were the only immediate holders of land from the proprietor. These tacksmen, in many cases, appear to have resented this procedure as they would a personal injury from their dearest friends. It was not that the addition to the rents was excessive, or that the rents were already as high as the land could bear, for generally the additions seem to have been trifling, and it is well known that the proprietors received nothing like the rents their lands should have yielded under a proper system of management. What seems to have hurt these gentlemen was the idea that the laird, the father of his people, should ever think of anything so mercenary as rent, or should ever by any exercise of his authority indicate that he had it in his power to give or let his farms to the highest bidders. It was bad enough, they thought, that an alien government should interfere with their old ways of doing; but that their chiefs, the heads of their race, for whom they were ready to lay down their lives and the lives of all over whom they had any power, should turn against them, was more than they could bear. The consequence was that many of them, especially in the west, threw up their farms, no doubt thinking that the lairds would at once ask them to remain on the old terms. This, however, was but seldom done, and the consequence was that many of these tacksmen emigrated to America, taking with them, no doubt, servants and sub-tenants, and enticing out more by the glowing accounts they sent home of their good fortune in that far-off land.

In some cases, the farms thus vacated were let to other tacksmen or large tenants, but in most instances, the new system was introduced of letting the land directly to what were formerly the sub-tenants, those who had held the land immediately from the ousted tacksmen. A number of these sub-tenants would take a large farm among them, sub-dividing it as they chose, and each becoming liable for his proportion of the rent. The farms thus let were generally cultivated on the run-rig system already referred to, the pasture being common to all the tenants alike.

That certain advantages followed these changes there is no doubt. Every account we have of the Highlands during the earlier part of the 18th century, agrees in the fact that the Highlands were over-peopled and over-stocked, that it was impossible for the land to yield sufficient to support the men and beasts who lived upon it. Hence, this drafting off of a considerable portion of the population gave that which remained breathing-room; fewer people were left to support, and it is to be supposed that the condition of these would be improved. Moreover, they would probably have their farms at a cheaper rent than under the old system, when the demands of both tacksmen and laird had to be satisfied, the former, of course, having let the land at a much higher rate than that at which they held it from their superior. Now, it was possible enough for the laird to get a higher rent than before, and at the same time the people might have their farms at a lower rent than they had previously given to the tacksmen. There would also be fewer oppressive services demanded of these small tenants than under the old system, for now they had only the laird to satisfy, whereas previously they had both him and the tacksman. There would still, of course, be services required by the laird from these tenants, still would part of the rent be paid in kind, still would they be thirled to particular mills, and have to submit to many similar exactions, of the oppressiveness of which, however, it was long before they became conscious; but, on the whole, the condition of those districts from which emigrations took place must to some extent have been the better for the consequent thinning of the population. Still no alteration appears to have taken place in the mode of farming, the nature of tenures, mode of paying rent, houses, clothes, food of the people. In some parts of the Highlands and islands, no alteration whatever appears[35] to have been made on the old system; the tacksmen were allowed to remain undisturbed, and the people lived and held land as formerly. But even in those districts from which emigrations were largely made, little or no improvement seems to have been the consequence, if we may trust the reports of those who saw how things stood with their own eyes. Pennant, Johnson, Buchanan,[58] Newte,[59] the Old Statistical Account, all agree that but little improvement was noticeable over the greater part of the Highlands from 1745 down till near the end of the 18th century.

One reason why perhaps emigration made so little odds in the way of improvement on the condition of those who remained in the country was, that no check was put upon the over-stocking of the farms with men and animals. In spite of emigration, the population in many districts increased instead of diminished. A common practice among those tenants who conjointly held a large farm was for a father, on the marriage of a son or daughter, to divide his share of the farm with the young couple, who either lived in the old man’s house or built a hut for themselves and tried to make a living out of the share of the pendicle allotted to them. To such an extent was this practice carried, that often a portion of land of a few acres, originally let to and sufficient to maintain one family, might in a few years be divided among six or eight families, and which, even if cultivated in the best manner possible, could not support its occupants for more than two or three months a year. On account of this ruinous practice, Skye, which in 1750 had 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom were in a condition of misery and want, in 1857, in spite of large and repeated emigrations, had a population of about 23,000. This custom was common in many Highland (chiefly western) districts down to only a few years ago, and was fruitful of many pernicious consequences—of frequent famines, the constant impoverishing of the soil, the over-stocking of pasture-land, and continual wretchedness.

In some cases, the farms vacated by the old tacksmen, instead of being let to the old subtenants, were let to whatever stranger would give the highest offer. On farms so let, the condition of the sub-tenants who were continued on the old footing, appears often to have been miserable in the extreme. These newcome tacksmen or middlemen cared nothing either for chiefs or people; they paid their rent and were determined to squeeze from those under them as large a return as possible for their outlay. In confirmation of these statements, and to show the sad condition of many parts of the Highlands in their state of transition, we quote the following passage from Buchanan’s Travels in the Hebrides, referring to about 1780. Even allowing for exaggeration, although there is no reason to believe the writer goes beyond the truth, the picture is almost incredibly deplorable:—

“At present they are obliged to be much more submissive to their tacksmen than ever they were in former times to their lairds or lords. There is a great difference between that mild treatment which is shown to sub-tenants and even scallags, by the old lessees, descended of ancient and honourable families, and the outrageous rapacity of those necessitous strangers who have obtained leases from absent proprietors, who treat the natives as if they were a conquered and inferior race of mortals. In short, they treat them like beasts of burthen; and in all respects like slaves attached to the soil, as they cannot obtain new habitations, on account of the combinations already mentioned, and are entirely at the mercy of the laird or tacksman. Formerly, the personal service of the tenant did not usually exceed eight or ten days in the year. There lives at present at Scalpa, in the Isle of Harris, a tacksman of a large district, who instead of six days’ work paid by the sub-tenants to his predecessor in the lease, has raised the predial service, called in that and in other parts of Scotland, manerial bondage, to fifty-two days in the year at once; besides many other services to be performed at different though regular and stated times: as tanning leather for brogues, making heather ropes for thatch, digging and drying peats for fuel; one pannier of peat charcoal to be carried to the smith; so many days for gathering and shearing sheep and lambs; for ferrying cattle from island to island, and other distant places, and[36] several days for going on distant errands; so many pounds of wool to be spun into yarn. And over and above all this, they must lend their aid upon any unforeseen occurrence whenever they are called on. The constant service of two months at once is performed at the proper season in the making of kelp. On the whole, this gentleman’s subtenants may be computed to devote to his service full three days in the week. But this is not all: they have to pay besides yearly a certain number of cocks, hens, butter, and cheese, called Caorigh-Ferrin, the Wife’s Portion! This, it must be owned, is one of the most severe and rigorous tacksmen descended from the old inhabitants, in all the Western Hebrides: but the situation of his sub-tenants exhibits but too faithful a picture of the sub-tenants of those places in general, and the exact counterpart of such enormous oppression is to be found at Luskintire.”

Another cause of emigration and of depopulation generally, was the introduction of sheep on a large scale, involving the junction into one of several small farms, each of which might before have been occupied by a number of tenants. These subjects of the introduction of sheep, engrossing of farms, and consequent depopulation, have occupied, and still to some extent do occupy, the attention of all those who take an interest in the Highlands, and of social economists in general. Various opinions have been passed on the matters in question, some advocating the retention of the people at all costs, while others declare that the greatest part of the Highlands is fit only for pasture, and it would be sheer madness, and shutting our eyes wilfully to the sad lessons of experience, to stock a land with people that is fit only to sustain sheep, and which at its very best contains mere specks of arable ground, which, even when cultivated to the utmost, can yield but a poor and unprofitable return.

Whatever opinion may be passed upon the general question, there can be no doubt that at first the introduction of sheep was fruitful of misery and discontent to those who had to vacate their old home and leave their native glens to find shelter they knew not well where. Many of those thus displaced by sheep and by one or two lowland shepherds, emigrated like the discontented tacksmen to America, those who remained looking with ill-will and an evil eye on the lowland intruders. Although often the intruder came from the South country, and brought his sheep and his shepherds with him, still this was not always the case; for many of the old tacksmen and even subtenants, after they saw how immensely more profitable the new system was over the old, wisely took a lesson in time, and following the example of the new lowland tenant, took large farms and stocked them with sheep and cattle, and reduced the arable land to a minimum. But, generally speaking, in cases where farms formerly subdivided among a number of tenants were converted into sheep farms, the smaller tenant had to quit and find a means of living elsewhere. The landlords in general attempted to prevent the ousted tenants from leaving the country by setting apart some particular spot either by the sea-shore or on waste land which had never been touched by plough, on which they might build houses and have an acre or two of land for their support. Those who were removed to the coast were encouraged to prosecute the fishing along with their agricultural labours, while those who were settled on waste land were stimulated to bring it into a state of cultivation. It was mainly by a number of such ousted Highlanders that the great and arduous undertaking was accomplished of bringing into a state of cultivation Kincardine Moss, in Perthshire. At the time the task was undertaken, about 1767, it was one of stupendous magnitude; but so successfully was it carried out, that in a few years upwards of 2000 acres of fine clay-soil, which for centuries had been covered to the depth of seven feet with heath and decayed vegetable matter, were bearing luxuriant crops of all kinds. In a similar way, many spots throughout the Highlands, formerly yielding nothing but heath and moss, were, by the exertions of those who were deprived of their farms, brought into a state of cultivation. Those who occupied ground of this kind were known as mailers, and, as a rule, they paid no rent for the first few years, after which they generally paid the proprietor a shilling or two per acre, which was gradually increased as the land improved[37] and its cultivation extended. For the first season or two the proprietor usually either lent or presented them with seed and implements. In the parish of Urray, in the south-east of Ross-shire, about the year 1790, there were 248 families of this kind, most of whom had settled there within the previous forty years. Still the greater number of these, both tacksmen and sub-tenants, who were deprived of their farms, either on account of the raising of the rents or because of their conversion into large sheep-walks, emigrated to America. The old Statistical Account of North Uist says that between the years 1771 and 1775, a space of only four years, several thousands emigrated from the Western Highlands and Islands alone. At first few of the islands appear to have been put under sheep; where any alteration on the state of things took place at all, it was generally in the way of raising rents, thus causing the tacksmen to leave, who were succeeded either by strangers who leased the farms, or by the old sub-tenants, among whom the lands were divided, and who held immediately from the laird. It was long, however, as we have already indicated, before the innovations took thorough hold upon the Hebrides, as even down almost to the present time many of the old proprietors, either from attachment to their people, or from a love of feudal show, struggle to keep up the old system, leaving the tacksmen undisturbed, and doing all they can to maintain and keep on their property a large number of subtenants and cottars. Almost invariably, those proprietors who thus obstinately refused to succumb to the changes going on around them, suffered for their unwise conduct. Many of them impoverished their families for generations, and many of the estates were disposed of for behoof of their creditors, and they themselves had to sink to the level of landless gentlemen, and seek their living in commerce or otherwise.

Gradually, however, most of the proprietors, especially those whose estates were on the mainland Highlands, yielded, in general no doubt willingly, to change, raised their rents, abolished small tenancies, and gave their lands up to the sheep farmers. The temptation was, no doubt, often very great, on account of the large rents offered by the lowland graziers. One proprietor in Argyleshire, who had some miles of pasture let to a number of small tenants for a few shillings yearly, on being offered by a lowlander who saw the place £300 a year, could not resist, but, however ruefully, cleared it of his old tenants, and gave it up to the money-making lowlander. It was this engrossing of farms and the turning of immense tracts of country into sheep-walks, part of which was formerly cultivated and inhabited by hundreds of people, that was the great grievance of the Highlanders during the latter part of last century. Not that it could aggravate their wretchedness to any great extent, for that was bad enough already even before 1745; it seems to have been rather the fact that their formerly much-loved chiefs should treat them worse than they could strangers, prefer a big income to a large band of faithful followers, and eject those who believed themselves to have as great a right to the occupancy of the land as the chiefs themselves. “The great and growing grievance of the Highlands is not the letting of the land to tacksmen, but the making of so many sheep-walks, which sweep off both tacksmen and sub-tenants all in a body.”[60] The tacksmen especially felt naturally cut to the quick by what they deemed the selfish and unjust policy of the chiefs. These tacksmen and their ancestors in most cases had occupied their farms for many generations; their birth was as good and their genealogy as old as those of the chief himself, to whom they were all blood relations, and to whom they were attached with the most unshaken loyalty. True, they had no writing, no document, no paltry “sheep-skin,” as they called it, to show as a proof that they had as much right to their farms as the laird himself. But what of that? Who would ever have thought that their chiefs would turn against them, and try to wrest from them that which had been gifted by a former chief to their fathers, who would have bitten out their tongue before they would ask a bond? The gift, they thought, was none the less real because there was no written proof of it. These parchments were quite a modern innovation, not even then universally[38] acknowledged among the Highlanders, to whom the only satisfactory proof of proprietorship and chiefship was possession from time immemorial. Occasionally a chief, who could produce no title-deed to his estate, was by law deprived of it, and his place filled by another. But the clan would have none of this; they invariably turned their backs upon the intruder, and acknowledged only the ousted chief as their head and the real proprietor, whom they were bound to support, and whom they frequently did support, by paying to him the rents which were legally due to the other. In some cases, it would seem,[61] the original granters of the land to the tacksmen conveyed it to them by a regular title-deed, by which, of course, they became proprietors. And we think there can be no doubt, that originally when a chief bestowed a share of his property upon his son or other near relation, he intended that the latter should keep it for himself and his descendants; he was not regarded merely as a tenant who had to pay a yearly rent, but as a sub-proprietor, who, from a sense of love and duty would contribute what he could to support the chief of his race and clan. In many cases, we say, this was the light in which chief, tacksmen, and people regarded these farms tenanted by the gentlemen of the clan; and it only seems to have been after the value of men decreased and of property increased, that most of the lairds began to look at the matter in a more commercial, legal, and less romantic light. According to Newte—and what he says is supported to a considerable extent by facts—“in the southern parts of Argyleshire, in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Moray, and Ross, grants of land were made in writing, while in Inverness-shire, Sutherlandshire, the northern parts of Argyleshire, and the Western Islands, the old mode was continued of verbal or emblematical transference. In Ross-shire, particularly, it would appear that letters and the use of letters in civil affairs had been early introduced and widely spread; for property is more equally divided in that country than in most other counties in Scotland, and than in any other of the Highlands. Agreeably to these observations, it is from the great estates on the northern and western sides of Scotland that the descendants of the original tacksmen of the land, with their families, have been obliged to migrate by the positive and unrelenting demands of rent beyond what it was in their power to give, and, indeed, in violation of those conditions that were understood and observed between the original granter and original tenant and their posterity for centuries.”[62] These statements are exceedingly plausible, and we believe to a certain extent true; but it is unnecessary here to enter upon the discussion of the question. What we have to do with is the unquestionable fact that the Highland proprietors did in many instances take advantage of the legal power, which they undoubtedly possessed, to do with their land as they pleased, and, regardless of the feelings of the old tacksmen and sub-tenants, let it to the highest bidders. The consequence was that these tacksmen, who to a certain extent were demoralised and knew not how to use the land to best advantage, had to leave the homes of their ancestors; and many of the small farmers and cottars, in the face of the new system of large sheep-farms, becoming cumberers of the ground, were swept from the face of the country, and either located in little lots by the sea-side, where they became useful as fishers and kelp-burners, or settled on some waste moor, which they occupied themselves in reclaiming from its native barrenness, or, as was frequently the case, followed the tacksmen, and sought a home in the far west, where many of them became lairds in their own right.

These then are the great results of the measures which followed the rebellion of 1745–6, and the consequent breaking up of the old clan system—extensive sheep-farming, accompanied with a great rise in the rent of land, depopulation, and emigration. As to the legality of the proceedings of the proprietors, there can be no doubt; as little doubt is there that the immediate consequence to many of the Highlanders was great suffering, accompanied by much bitterness and discontent. As to the morality or justice of the laird’s conduct, various opinions have been, and no doubt for[39] long will be, expressed. One side maintains that it was the duty of these chiefs upon whom the people depended, whom they revered, and for whom they were ready to die, at all events, to see to it that their people were provided for, and that ultimately it would have been for the interest of the proprietors and the country at large to do everything to prevent from emigrating in such numbers as they did, such a splendid race of men, for whose services to the country no money equivalent could be found. It is maintained that the system of large farms is pernicious in every respect, and that only by the system of moderate sized farms can a country be made the best of, an adequate rural population be kept up, and self-respect and a high moral tone be nourished and spread throughout the land. Those who adopt this side of the question pooh-pooh the common maxims of political economy, and declare that laws whose immediate consequences are wide-spread suffering, and the unpeopling of a country, cannot be founded on any valid basis; that proprietors hold their lands only in trust, and it is therefore their duty not merely to consider their own narrow interests, but also to consult the welfare and consult the feelings of their people. In short, it is maintained by this party, that the Highland lairds, in acting as they did, showed themselves to be unjust, selfish, heartless, unpatriotic, mercenary, and blind to their own true interests and those of their country.

On the other hand, it is maintained that what occurred in the Highlands subsequent to 1745 was a step in the right direction, and that it was only a pity that the innovations had not been more thorough and systematic. For long previous to 1745, it is asserted the Highlands were much over-peopled, and the people, as a consequence of the vicious system under which they had lived for generations, were incurably lazy, and could be roused from this sad lethargy only by some such radical measures as were adopted. The whole system of Highland life and manners and habits were almost barbarous, the method of farming was thoroughly pernicious and unproductive, the stock of cattle worthless and excessive, and so badly managed that about one half perished every winter. On account of the excessive population, the land was by far too much subdivided, the majority of so-called farmers occupying farms of so small a size that they could furnish the necessaries of life for no more than six months, and consequently the people were continually on the verge of starvation. The Highlands, it is said, are almost totally unsuited for agriculture, and fit only for pasturage, and that consequently this subdivision into small farms could be nothing else than pernicious; that the only method by which the land could be made the most of was that of large sheep-farms, and that the proprietors, while no doubt studying their own interests, adopted the wisest policy when they let out their land on this system. In short, it is maintained by the advocates of innovations, the whole body of the Highlanders were thoroughly demoralised, their number was greater by far than the land could support even if managed to the best advantage, and was increasing every year; the whole system of renting land, of tenure, and of farming was ruinous to the people and the land, and that nothing but a radical change could cure the many evils with which the country was afflicted.

There has been much rather bitter discussion between the advocates of the two sides of the Highland question; often more recrimination and calling of names than telling argument. This question, we think, is no exception to the general rule which governs most disputed matters; there is truth, we believe, on both sides. We fear the facts already adduced in this part of the book comprise many of the assertions made by the advocates of change. As to the wretched social condition of the Highlanders, for long before and after 1745, there can be no doubt, if we can place any reliance on the evidence of contemporaries, and we have already said enough to show that the common system of farming, if worthy of the name, was ruinous and inefficient; while their small lean cattle were so badly managed that about one half died yearly. That the population was very much greater than the land, even if used to the best advantage, could support, is testified to by every candid writer from the Gartmore paper[63] down almost to the[40] present day. The author of the Gartmore paper, written about 1747, estimated that the population of the Highlands at that time amounted to about 230,000; “but,” he says, “according to the present economy of the Highlands, there is not business for more than one half of that number of people.... The other half, then, must be idle and beggars while in the country.” “The produce of the crops,” says Pennant,[64] “very rarely are in any degree proportioned to the wants of the inhabitants; golden seasons have happened, when they have had superfluity, but the years of famine are as ten to one.” It is probable, from a comparison with the statistics of Dr Webster, taken in 1755,[65] that the estimate of the author of the Gartmore paper was not far from being correct; indeed, if anything, it must have been under the mark, as in 1755 the population of the Highlands and Islands amounted, according to Webster, to about 290,000, which, in 1795, had increased to 325,566,[66] in spite of the many thousands who had emigrated. This great increase in the population during the latter part of the 18th century is amply confirmed by the writers of the Statistical Accounts of the various Highland parishes, and none had better opportunities of knowing the real state of matters than they. The great majority of these writers likewise assert that the population was far too large in proportion to the produce of the land and means of employment, and that some such outlet as emigration was absolutely necessary. Those who condemn emigration and depopulation, generally do so for some merely sentimental reason, and seldom seek to show that it is quite possible to maintain the large population without disastrous results. It is a pity, they say, that the Highlander, possessing so many noble qualities, and so strongly attached to his native soil, should be compelled to seek a home in a foreign land, and bestow upon it the services which might be profitably employed by his mother country. By permitting, they say, these loyal and brave Highlanders to leave the country, Britain is throwing away some of the finest recruiting material in the world, for—and it is quite true—the Highland soldier has not his match for bravery, moral character, and patriotism.

These statements are no doubt true; it certainly is a pity that an inoffensive, brave, and moral people should be compelled to leave their native land, and devote to the cultivation of a foreign soil those energies which might be used to the benefit of their own country. It would also be very bad policy in government to lose the chance of filling up the ranks of the army with some of the best men obtainable anywhere. But then, if there was nothing for the people to do in the country, if their condition was one of chronic famine, as was undoubtedly the case with the Highlanders, if the whole productions of the country were insufficient even to keep them in bare life, if every few years the country had to contribute thousands of pounds to keep these people alive, if, in short, the majority of them were little else than miserable beggars, an encumbrance on the progress of their country, a continual source of sadness to all feeling men, gradually becoming more and more demoralised by the increasingly wretched condition in which they lived, and by the ever-recurring necessity of bestowing upon them charity to keep them alive,—if such were the case, the advocates for a thinning of the population urge, whom would it profit to keep such a rabble of half-starved creatures huddled together in a corner of the country, reaping for themselves nothing but misery and degradation, and worse than useless to everybody else. Moreover, as to the military argument, it is an almost universal statement made by the writers of the Old Statistical Account (about 1790), that, at that time, in almost all the Highland parishes it was scarcely possible to get a single recruit, so great was the aversion of the people both to a naval and military life. Besides, though the whole of the surplus population had been willing to volunteer into the army, of what value would it have been if the country had no use for them; and surely it would be very questionable policy to keep thousands of men in idleness on the bare chance that they might be required as soldiers.

The sentimental and military arguments are no doubt very touching and very convincing to[41] men in whom impulse and imagination predominate over reason and clearness of vision, and are fitting subjects for a certain kind of poetry, which has made much of them; but they cannot for one moment stand the test of facts, and become selfishly cruel, impracticable, and disastrous, when contrasted with the teachings of genuine humanity and the best interests of the Highlanders. On this subject, the writer of the Old Statistical Account of the parish of Lochgoilhead makes some remarks so sensible, and so much to the point, that we are tempted to quote them here. “It is frequent,” he says, “with people who wish well to their country, to inveigh against the practice of turning several small farms into one extensive grazing, and dispossessing the former tenants. If the strength of a country depends upon the number of its inhabitants, it appears a pernicious measure to drive away the people by depriving them of their possessions. This complaint is very just with regard to some places in Scotland; for it must be greatly against the interest of the nation to turn rich arable land, which is capable at the same time of supporting a number of people, and of producing much grain, into pasture ground. But the complaint does not seem to apply to this country. The strength of a nation cannot surely consist in the number of idle people which it maintains; that the inhabitants of this part of the country were formerly sunk in indolence, and contributed very little to the wealth, or to the support of the state, cannot be denied. The produce of this parish, since sheep have become the principal commodity, is at least double the intrinsic value of what it was formerly, so that half the number of hands produce more than double the quantity of provisions, for the support of our large towns, and the supply of our tradesmen and manufacturers; and the system by which land returns the most valuable produce, and in the greatest abundance, seems to be the most beneficial for the country at large. Still, however, if the people who are dispossessed of this land emigrated into other nations, the present system might be justly condemned, as diminishing the strength of the country. But this is far from being the case; of the great number of people who have been deprived of their farms in this parish, for thirty years past, few or none have settled out of the kingdom; they generally went to sea, or to the populous towns upon the Clyde. In these places, they have an easy opportunity, which they generally embrace, of training up their children to useful and profitable employments, and of rendering them valuable members of society. So that the former inhabitants of this country have been taken from a situation in which they contributed nothing to the wealth, and very little to the support of the state, to a situation in which their labour is of the greatest public utility. Nor has the present system contributed to make the condition of the inhabitants of the country worse than it was before; on the contrary, the change is greatly in their favour. The partiality in favour of former times, and the attachment to the place of their nativity, which is natural to old people, together with the indolence in which they indulged themselves in this country, mislead them in drawing a comparison between their past and their present situations. But indolence was almost the only comfort which they enjoyed. There was scarcely any variety of wretchedness with which they were not obliged to struggle, or rather to which they were not obliged to submit. They often felt what it was to want food; the scanty crops which they raised were consumed by their cattle in winter and spring; for a great part of the year they lived wholly on milk, and even that in the end of spring and beginning of winter was very scarce. To such extremity were they frequently reduced, that they were obliged to bleed their cattle in order to subsist for some time upon the blood; and even the inhabitants of the glens and valleys repaired in crowds to the shore, at the distance of three or four miles, to pick up the scanty provision which the shell-fish afforded them. They were miserably ill clothed, and the huts in which they lived were dirty and mean beyond expression. How different from their present situation? They now enjoy the necessaries, and many of the comforts of life in abundance: even those who are supported by the charity of the parish feel no real want. Much of the wretchedness which formerly prevailed in this and in other parishes in the Highlands, was owing to the indolence of the[42] people, and to their want of management; but a country which is neither adapted for agriculture nor for rearing black cattle, can never maintain any great number of people comfortably.”

No doubt the very men who deplore what they call the depopulation of the Highlands would advocate the advisability of emigration in the case of the unemployed surplus population of any other part of the country. If their arguments against the emigration of the Highlanders to another country, and in favour of their being retained in their own district were logically carried out, to what absurd and disastrous consequences would they lead? Supposing that all the people who have emigrated from this country to America, Australia, and elsewhere, had been kept at home, where would this country have been? There would scarcely have been standing room for the population, the great majority of whom must have been in a state of indescribable misery. The country would have been ruined. The same arguments might also be used against the emigration of the natives of other countries, many of whom are no doubt as attached to their native soil as the Highlanders; and if the principle had been rigidly carried out, what direful consequences to the world at large would have been the result. In fact, there would have been little else but universal barbarism. It seems to be admitted by all thoughtful men that the best outlet for a redundant or idle population is emigration; it is beneficial to the mother country, beneficial to the emigrants, and beneficial to the new country in which they take up their abode. Only thus can the earth be subdued, and made the most of.

Why then should there be any lamentation over the Highlanders leaving their country more than over any other class of respectable willing men? Anything more hopelessly wretched than their position at various times from 1745 down to the present day it would be impossible to imagine. If one, however, trusted the descriptions of some poets and sentimentalists, a happier or more comfortably situated people than the Highlanders at one time were could not be found on the face of the globe. They were always clean, and tidy, and well dressed, lived in model cottages, surrounded by model gardens, had always abundance of plain wholesome food and drink, were exuberant in their hospitality, doated on their chiefs, carefully cultivated their lands and tended their flocks, but had plenty of time to dance and sing, and narrate round the cheerful winter hearth the legends of their people, and above all, feared God and honoured the king. Now, these statements have no foundation in fact, at least within the historical period; but generally the writers on this side of the question refer generally to the period previous to 1745, and often, in some cases, to a time subsequent to that. Every writer who pretends to record facts, the result of observation, and not to draw imaginary Arcadian pictures, concurs in describing the country as being sunk in the lowest state of wretchedness. The description we have already given of the condition of the people before 1745, applies with intensified force to the greater part of the Highlands for long after that year. Instead of improving, and often there were favourable opportunities for improvement, the people seemed to be retrograding, getting more and more demoralised, more and more miserable, more and more numerous, and more and more famine-struck. In proof of what we say, we refer to all the writers on and travellers in the Highlands of last century, to Pennant, Boswell, Johnson, Newte, Buchanan,[67] and especially the Old Statistical Account. To let the reader judge for himself as to the value of the statements we make as to the condition of the Highlands during the latter part of last century, we quote below a longish extract from a pamphlet written by one who had visited and enquired into the state of the Highlands about the year 1780.[68] It is written[43] by one who deplores the extensive emigration which was going on, but yet who, we are inclined to believe, has slightly exaggerated the misery of the Highlanders in order to make the sin of absentee chiefs, who engross farms, and raise enormously the rents, as great as possible. Still, when compared with the statements made by other contemporary authorities, the exaggeration seems by no means great, and making allowances, the picture presented is a mocking, weird contrast to the fancies of the sentimentalist. That such a woful state of things required radical and uncompromising measures of relief, no one can possibly deny. Yet this same writer laments most pitiably that 20,000 of these wretched people had to leave their wretched homes and famine-struck condition, and the oppression of their lairds, for lands and houses of their own in a fairer and more fertile land, where independence and affluence were at the command of all who cared to bend their backs to labour. What good purpose, divine or human, could be served by keeping an increasing population in a land that cannot produce enough to keep the life in one-half of its people? Nothing but misery, and degradation, and oppression here; happiness, advancement, riches, and freedom on the other side of the water. Is there more than one conclusion?

In spite of all the emigration that has taken place from this country, no one has, we daresay, any real dread of depopulation; the population is increasing over all the land every year, not excepting the Highlands. As for soldiers, no[44] doubt plenty will be forthcoming when wanted; if not so, it is not for want of men well enough fitted for the occupation. As every one knows, there is seldom a want of willing workers in this country, but far more frequently a great want of work to do.

That by far the larger part of the surface of the Highland districts is suited only for the pasturage of sheep, is the testimony of every one who knows anything about the subject. Those who speak otherwise must either ignore facts or speak of what they do not know, urged merely by impulse and sentimentalism. True, there are many spots consisting of excellent soil suited for arable purposes, but generally where such do occur the climate is so unfavourable to successful agriculture that no expenditure will ever produce an adequate return.[69] Other patches again, not, however, of frequent occurrence, have everything in their favour, and are as capable of producing luxuriant crops as the most fertile district of the lowlands. But nearly all these arable spots, say those who advocate the laying of the whole country under sheep, it is absolutely necessary to retain as winter pasturage, if sheep-farming is to be carried on successfully. The mountainous districts, comprising nearly the whole of the Highlands, are admirably suited for sheep pasturage when the weather is mild; but in winter are so bleak and cold, and exposed to destructive storms, that unless the sheep during winter can be brought down to the low and sheltered grounds, the loss of a great part of the flocks would inevitably be the consequence. Hence, it is maintained, unless nearly the whole of the country is allowed to lie waste, or unless a sheep farmer makes up his mind to carry on an unprofitable business, the arable spots in the valleys and elsewhere must, as a rule, be retained as pasture. And this seems to be the case in most districts. It must not be imagined, however, that the surface of the Highlands is one universal expanse of green and brown fragrant heather; every tourist knows that in almost every glen, by the side of many lochs, streams, and bogs, patches of cultivated land are to be met with, bearing good crops of oats, barley, potatoes, and turnips. These productions chiefly belong to the large sheep farmers, and are intended for the use of themselves, their servants, and cattle, and but seldom have they any to dispose of. Others of these arable spots belong to small farmers, the race of whom is happily not yet extinct. But, on the whole, it would seem that so far as agricultural products are concerned, the Highlands seldom, if ever, produce sufficient to supply the wants of the inhabitants, importation being thus necessary.

A curious and interesting point connected with the introduction of sheep into the Highlands may be mentioned here:—By means of this innovation, the whole aspect of the country seems to have been changed. Previous to that, the whole country seems to have borne a universal aspect of blackness, rarely relieved by a spot of green, arising from the fact that almost the only product of the mountains was dark-brown heath. Captain Burt and others who visited the Highlands previous to the extensive introduction of sheep, indulge in none of the raptures over Highland scenery, that the most common-place and prosy tourist thinks it his duty to get into at the present day. They speak of the country almost with horror, as a black howling wilderness, full of bogs and big boulders, and almost unfit for human habitation. They could see no beauty in the country that it should be desired; it was a place to get out of as soon as possible. How far these sentiments may have been justified by facts it is impossible now to say; but it is the almost universal assertion by the writers in the Old Statistical Account, that the appearance of the Highland hills was rapidly changing, and that instead of the universal dark-brown heath which previously covered them, there was springing up the light-brown heath and short green bent or strong grass so well known to all modern tourists. If the Highland hills formerly bore anything like the aspect presented at the present day by the dreary black wet hills of Shetland, the remarks of Burt and others need not cause astonishment. But as the great outlines and peculiar features of the country must have been the same then as now, we suspect that these early English adventurers into the Highlands[45] wanted training in scenery or were determined to see nothing to admire. But, indeed, admiration of and hunting for fine scenery seem to be quite a modern fashion, and were quite unknown to our ancestors in the beginning of last century, or were confined to a few crazy poets. Men require to be trained to use their eyes in this as in many other respects. There can be no doubt that the first impulse to the admiration of the Highlands and Highlanders was given by the poems and novels of Sir Walter Scott; it was he who set the sheepish stream of tourists agoing, and indirectly to him many a Highland hotel-keeper owes a handsome fortune. The fact at all events seems unquestionable, that the extensive introduction of sheep has to a large extent changed the external aspect of the Highlands.

It must not be imagined that, previous to the changes we are speaking of, there were no sheep in the Highlands; there were always a few of a very small native breed, but the staple stock of the Highland farmer was, as we previously mentioned, black cattle. The sheep, however, have also to a very large extent superseded them, a fact which is deplored by those who lament the many innovations which have been introduced since 1745. But by all accounts much of the country is unsuited to the pasturage of black cattle, and as cattle and sheep do not thrive well together, the only alternative seems to be the introduction of sheep alone into those districts unsuited for cattle. “More than one-third of the country consists of mountains and declivities too steep and abrupt for black cattle, and the grass they produce too short and fine to afford them a tolerable pasture except in the height of summer. The greater part of the pasture is therefore lost, though it might all be beneficially consumed with sheep. A flock of sheep will thrive where cows and oxen would starve, and will go at all seasons of the year to such heights as are inaccessible to black cattle.... In a situation of this kind the very wool of a flock would amount to more than the whole profit to be obtained by black cattle.”[70] The only conclusion to be drawn from these statements is, that the wisest thing that could be done was to introduce sheep into those districts which were being wasted on black cattle.

Along with the introduction of sheep, indeed, to a great extent caused by that, was the enlargement of farms, which with the raising of rents led to the depopulation of many districts. The old system of letting farms in the Highlands has already been sufficiently explained, and the introduction of sheep seems to have rendered it necessary that this old system should be abolished, and that a large extent of country should be taken by one man. The question between large and small farms does not appear to us to be the same as between the old and new system of letting land. Under the old system, a farm of no great extent was often let to a large number of tenants, who frequently subdivided it still more, by either sub-letting part, or by sharing their respective portions with their newly-married sons and daughters. The testimony as to the perniciousness of this old system is universal; it was, and until recently continued to be, the chief source of all the misfortunes that have afflicted the Highlands. As to whether, however, this old system should have been entirely abolished, or whether some modification of it might not have been retained, has been a matter of dispute. Some maintain that the Highlands can be profitably managed only on the large farm system, and only thus can sheep be made to pay, while others assert that, though many districts are suitable for large farms, still there are others that might with great profit be divided into small holdings. By this latter method, it is said, a fair proportion of all classes would be maintained in the Highlands, noblemen, gentlemen, farmers large and small, cottars, labourers, and that only when there is such a mixture can a country be said to be prosperous. Moreover, it is held a proprietor, who in this country should be considered as a steward rather than the absolute owner of his estate, has no right to exclude the small farmer from having a chance of making a respectable living by the occupation for which he is suited; that he stands in the way of his own and his country’s interests when he discourages the[46] small farmer, for only by a mixture of the two systems can the land be made the most of; and that, to say the least of it, it is selfish and wrong in proprietors not to consider the case of the poor as well as the rich.

On the question as to the expediency of large or small farms we cannot pretend to be able to judge; we know too little of its real merits. However, it appears to us that there is no reason why both systems cannot be very well combined in many parts of the Highlands, although there are many districts, we believe, totally unsuited for anything else but sheep-farms of the largest dimensions. Were the small farms made large enough to sufficiently support the farmer and his family, and remunerate him for his outlay and labour, were precautions taken against the subdivision of these moderate-sized holdings, and were leases of sufficient duration granted to all, it seems to us that there is nothing in the nature of things why there should not be farms of a small size in the Highlands as well as farms covering many miles in extent. We certainly do think it too bad to cut out the small respectable class of farmers entirely, and put the land of the country in the hands of a sort of farmer aristocracy; it is unfair and prejudicial to the best interests of the country. But the small farmers must first show that they deserve to be considered; certainly the small farmers under the old Highland system, which we believe is not yet quite extinct in some remote districts, deserved only to have the land they so mismanaged taken from them and given to others who could make a better use of it. Some consideration, we think, ought to be had towards the natives of the country, those whose ancestors have occupied the land for centuries, and if they are able to pay as good a rent as others, and show themselves willing to manage the land as well, in all humanity they ought to have the preference. But these are matters which we think ought to be left to adjust themselves according to the inevitable laws which regulate all human affairs. Interference in any way between landlord and tenant by way of denunciation, vituperation, or legislation, seems to us only to make matters worse. It seems to us that the simplest commercial maxims—the laws of profit and loss, if they have fair play—will ultimately lead to the best system of managing the land of the Highlands and of every other district, both in the interests of the proprietors and those of the tenants. If proprietors find it most profitable to let their lands in large lots, either for agriculture, for cattle, for sheep, or for deer, there is no reason why they should not do so, and there is no doubt that in the end what is most advantageous to the proprietor is so to the tenant, and vice versa, as also to the country at large. If, on the other hand, it be found that letting land in small lots is more profitable than the other practice, few proprietors, we daresay, would hesitate to cut up their land into suitable lots. But all this, we think, must be left to experiment, and it cannot be said that the Highlands as a whole have as yet got beyond the stage of probation; changes from small to large and from large to small farms—mostly the former—and changes from sheep to deer and deer to sheep are still going on; but, no doubt, ere long both proprietors and tenants of land will find out what their real common interest is, and adjust themselves in their proper relations to each other. It is best to leave them alone and allow them to fight the battle out between themselves. Interference was attempted at the end of last century to stop emigration and to settle the ousted tenants on small lots by the sea-shore, where both fishing and farming could be carried on, but the interference did no good. Emigration was not diminished, although curiously it was the proprietors themselves, who subsequently did their best to promote emigration, that at this time attempted to stop it. The people seem generally until lately to have been quite willing and even anxious to emigrate at least those of most intelligence; not that they cared not for their country, but that, however much they loved it, there was no good in staying at home when nothing but misery and starvation stared them in the face. We say that the landlords and others, including the Highland Society, interfered, and endeavoured to get government to interfere, to prevent the great emigrations which were going on, and which they feared would ere long leave the country utterly peopleless. But the interference was of no use, and was quite[47] uncalled for. Emigration still went on, and will go on so long as there is a necessity for it; and the country will always have plenty of inhabitants so long as it can afford a decent subsistence. When men know better the laws of sociology—the laws which govern human affairs—interference of this kind will be simply laughed at.

The scheme of the landlords—who, while they raised the rents and extended their farms, were still loath to lose their numerous tenants and retainers—of settling those on the coast where they could combine farming and fishing, failed also, for the simple reason that, as it has been fairly proved, one man cannot unite successfully the two occupations in his own person. In this sense “no man can serve two masters.” “No two occupations can be more incompatible than farming and fishing, as the seasons which require undivided exertion in fishing are precisely those in which the greatest attention should be devoted to agriculture. Grazing, which is less incompatible with fishing than agriculture, is even found to distract the attention and prevent success in either occupation. This is demonstrated by the very different success of those who unite both occupations from those who devote themselves exclusively to fishing. Indeed, the industrious fisher finds the whole season barely sufficient for the labours of his proper occupation.”[71] It seems clear, then, that the Highland proprietors should be left alone and allowed to dispose of their land as they think fit, just as the owner of any other commercial commodity takes it to whatever market he chooses, and no harm accrues from it. If the Highland peasantry and farmers see it to be to their advantage to leave their native land and settle in a far-off soil where they will have some good return for hard work, we do not see that there is any call for interference or lamentation. Give all help and counsel to those who require and deserve them by all means either to stay at home or go abroad; but to those who are able to think and free to act for themselves nothing is necessary but to be left alone.

As we have already said, another cause of emigration besides sheep-farming, though to some extent associated with it, was the raising of rents. Naturally enough, when the number of tenants upon a laird’s estate ceased to make him of importance and give him power, he sought by raising his rents to give himself the importance derived from a large income. There can be no doubt that, previous to this, farms were let far below their real value, and often at a merely nominal rent; and thus one of the greatest incitements to industry was wanting in the case of the Highland tenants, for when a man knows that his landlord will not trouble him about his rent, but would rather let him go scot-free than lose him, it is too much to expect of human nature in general that it will bestir itself to do what it feels there is no absolute necessity for. Thus habits of idleness were engendered in the Highlanders, and the land, for want of industrious cultivation, was allowed to run comparatively waste. That the thinning of the population gave those who remained a better chance of improving their condition, is testified to by many writers in the Old Statistical Account, and by other contemporary authorities, including even Dr Walker, who was no friend to emigration. He says,[72] “these measures in the management of property, and this emigration, were by no means unfriendly to the population of the country. The sub-tenants, who form the bulk of the people, were not only retained but raised in their situation, and rendered more useful and independent.” It is amusing now to read Dr Walker’s remarks on the consequences of emigration from the Highlands; had his fears been substantiated,—and had they been well grounded, they ought to have been by this time, for sheep-farming, rent-raising, depopulation, and emigration have been going on rapidly ever since his time—the Highlands must now have been “a waste howling wilderness.” “If the [Highlanders],” he says,[73] “are expelled, the Highlands never can be reclaimed or improved by any other set of men, but must remain a mere grazing-field for England and the South of Scotland. By this alteration, indeed, the present rents may, no doubt, be augmented, but they must become[48] immediately stationary, without any prospect of further advancement, and will in time from obvious causes be liable to great diminution. All improvement of the country must cease when the people to improve it are gone. The soil must remain unsubdued for ever, and the progress of the Highlands must be finally stopt, while all the cultivated wastes of the kingdom are advancing in population and wealth.” How these predictions have been belied by facts, all who know anything of the progress of the Highlands during the present century must perceive. All these changes and even grievances have taken place, and yet the Highlands are far enough from anything approximating to depopulation or unproductiveness, and rents, we believe, have not yet ceased to rise.

Notwithstanding the large emigration which has been going on, the population of the Highlands at the census of 1861 was at least 70,000 greater than it was in the time of Dr Walker.[74] The emigration, especially from the west, does not seem to have been large enough, for periodically, up even to the present day, a rueful call for help to save from famine comes from that quarter. “This very year (1863) the cry of destitution in Skye has been loud as ever, and yet from no part of the Highlands has there been a more extensive emigration. From the very earliest period in the history of emigration down to this date, Skye has been largely drawn upon, and yet the body of the people in Skye were never more wretched than at this moment.”[75] Dr Walker himself states that, in spite of an emigration of about 6000 between the years 1771 and 1794 from the Hebrides and Western Highlands, the population had increased by about 40,000 during the forty years subsequent to 1750.[76] Yet though he knew of the wretched condition of the country from an over-crowded population, practical man as he was, he gives way to the vague and unjustifiable fears expressed above. It is no doubt sad to see the people of a country, and these possessing many high qualities, compelled to leave it in order to get room to breathe; but to tirade against emigration as Dr Walker and others do in the face of such woful facts as are known concerning the condition of the Highlands is mere selfish and wicked sentimentalism.

Another fact, stated by the same author, and which might have taught him better doctrines in connection with some of the border parishes, is worth introducing here. The population of seventeen parishes in Dumbartonshire, Perthshire, and Argyllshire, bordering on the low country, decreased in population between 1755 and 1795, from 30,525 to 26,748, i.e., by 3,787; these parishes having been during that time to a great extent laid out in cattle and sheep. Now, according to the Old Statistical Account (about 1795), these very parishes were on the whole among the most prosperous in the Highlands, those in which improvements were taking place most rapidly, and in which the condition of the people was growing more and more comfortable. It appears to us clear that the population of the Highlands did require a very considerable thinning; that depopulation to a certain extent was, and in some places still is, a necessary condition to improvement.

The main question is, we think, how to get these districts which are in a state of wretchedness and retrogression from over-population rid of the surplus. Unless some sudden check be put upon the rate of increase of the general population, there never will be a lack of hands to bring in the waste places when wanted, and to supply all other demands for men. No doubt, it is a pity, if it be the case, that any extensive districts which could be brought to a high style of cultivation, and would then be better employed than in pasture should be allowed to lie waste, when there is every necessity for the land being made to yield as much as possible. And if the Highlanders are willing, it certainly does seem to be better to keep them at home and employ them for such purposes rather than let them go abroad and give their services to strangers. We should fancy the larger a population there is in a country where there is room enough for them, and which can give them enough to eat and drink, the better for that country. All we maintain is, that it being proved that the population in many parts of the Highlands having been redundant,[49] so much so as to lead to misery and degradation, it was far better that the surplus should emigrate than that they should be kept at home to increase the misery and be an obstruction to the progress of the country. Keep them at home if possible; if not, permit them without any weak sentimental lamentation to go abroad. It has been said that if the Highlander is compelled to leave his native glen, he would as soon remove to a distance of 4000 as to a distance of 40 miles; and that indeed many of them, since they must move, prefer to leave the country altogether rather than settle in any part of it out of sight of their native hills. There is no doubt much truth in this, so that the outcry about keeping the Highlanders at home is to a great extent uncalled for; they don’t wish to stay at home. Still many of them have been willing to settle in the lowlands or in other parts of the Highlands. We have already referred to the great services rendered by the ousted tenants on the borders of the Perthshire and Dumbartonshire Highlands who settled in the neighbourhood of Stirling and reclaimed many thousand acres of Kincardine moss, now a fertile strath. Similar services have been rendered to other barren parts of the country by many Highlanders, who formerly spent their time in lolling idleness, but who, when thus given the opportunity, showed themselves to be as capable of active and profitable exertion as any lowland peasant or farmer. Many Highlanders also, when deprived of their farms, removed to some of our large towns, and by their exertions raised themselves and their families to an honourable and comfortable position, such as they could never have hoped to reach had they never left their native hills. By all means keep the Highlanders at home if they are willing to stay and there is work for them to do; but what purpose can be served in urging them to stay at home if the consequence be to increase the already enormous sort of pauperism?

That the landlords, the representatives of the old chiefs, were not accountable for much of the evil that flowed from the changes of which we have been speaking, no one who knows the history of the Highlands during the last century will venture to assert. Had they all uniformly acted towards their old tenants with humanity, judiciousness, and unselfishness, much misery, misunderstanding, and bitter ill-will might have been avoided. It is, we venture to believe, quite against the spirit of the British constitution as it now exists, and quite out of accordance with enlightened reason and justice, not to say humanity, that these or any other landed proprietors should be allowed to dispose of their land as they choose without any consideration for the people whose fathers have been on it for centuries, or without regard to the interests of the country to which the land belongs. Many of the Highland proprietors, in their haste to get rich, or at least to get money to spend in the fashionable world, either mercilessly, and without warning, cleared their estates of the tenants, or most unseasonably oppressed them in the matter of rent. The great fault of many of the landlords—for they were not all alike—was in bringing about too suddenly changes, in themselves, perhaps, desirable enough. Rents seem to have been too suddenly raised to such a rate as tended to inspire the tenant with despair of being able to meet it. Some also, in their desire to introduce the large farm system, swept the tenants off the ground without warning, and left them to provide for themselves; while others made a show of providing for them by settling them in hamlets by the sea-side, where, in general, they were worse off than ever. It was in their utter want of consideration for these old tenants that many of the Highland landlords were to blame. Had they raised the rents gradually, extended the size of their farms slowly, giving the old tenants a chance under the new system, and doing their best to put these necessarily ejected in a way of making a living for themselves, tried to educate their people up to the age in the matter of agriculture, social habits, and other matters; lived among them, and shown them a good example;—in short, as proprietors, rigidly done their duty to their tenants, as descendants of the old chiefs treated with some tender consideration the sons of those who worshipped and bled for the fathers of their clan, and as men, shown some charity and kindness to their poorer brethren, the improvement of the Highlands might have been brought[50] about at a much less expense of misery and rancour. That these old Highlanders were open to improvement, enlightenment, and education, when judiciously managed, is proved by what took place in some of the border and other districts, where many improvements were effected without great personal inconvenience to any one, and without any great or sudden diminution of the population. Especially in the Western and Northern Highlands and the Islands, the landlords went to extremes in both directions. Some of them acted as we have just indicated, while others again, moved by a laudable consideration for, and tenderness towards the old tenants, retained the old system of small holdings, which they allowed to be now and then still more subdivided, endeavouring, often unsuccessfully, to obtain a rise of rent. In most cases the latter course was as fatal and as productive of misery and ruin as the former. Indeed, in some cases it was more so; for not only was the lot of the tenant not improved, but the laird had ultimately to sell his estate for behoof of his creditors, and himself emigrate to the lowlands or to a foreign country. This arose from the fact that, as the number of tenants increased, the farms were diminished in size more and more, until they could neither support the tenant nor yield the landlord a rent adequate to his support. In this way have many of the old hospitable chiefs with small estates dropped out of sight; and their places filled by some rich lowland merchants, who would show little tenderness to the helpless tenantry.

But it is an easy matter now to look calmly back on these commotions and changes among the Highlanders, and allot praise or blame to chiefs and people for the parts they played, forgetting all the time how difficult these parts were. Something decisive had to be done to prevent the Highlands from sinking into inconceivable misery and barbarism; and had the lairds sat still and done nothing but allowed their estates to be managed on the old footing, ruin to themselves and their tenants would have been the consequence, as indeed was the case with most of those who did so. It was very natural, then, that they should deem it better to save themselves at the expense of their tenants, than that both land and tenants should be involved in a common ruin. They were not the persons to find out the best mode of managing their estates, so that they themselves might be saved, and the welfare of their tenants only considered. In some cases, no doubt, the lairds were animated by utter indifference as to the fate of their tenants; but we are inclined to think these were few, and that most of them would willingly have done much for the welfare of their people, and many of them did what they could; but their first and most natural instinct was that of self-preservation, and in order to save themselves, they were frequently compelled to resort to measures which brought considerable suffering upon their poor tenants. We have no doubt most did their best, according to their knowledge and light, to act well their parts, and deal fairly with their people; but the parts were so difficult, and the actors were so unaccustomed to their new situation, that they are not to be too severely blamed if they sometimes blundered. No matter how gently changes might have been brought about, suffering and bitterness would necessarily to a certain extent have followed; and however much we may deplore the great amount of unnecessary suffering that actually occurred, still we think the lasting benefits which have accrued to the Highlands from the changes which were made, far more than counterbalance this temporary evil.

What we have been saying, while it applies to many recent changes in the Highlands, refers chiefly to the period between 1750 and 1800, during which the Highlands were in a state of universal fermentation, and chiefs and people were only beginning to realise their position and perceive what were their true interests. We shall very briefly notice one or two other matters of interest connected with that period.

The only manufacture of any consequence that has ever been introduced into the Highlands is that of kelp, which is the ashes of various kinds of sea-weed containing some of the salts, potash, and chiefly soda, used in some of the manufactures, as soap, alum, glass, &c. It is used as a substitute for barilla, imported from Spain, America, and other places, during the latter part of last century, on[51] account of the American and continental wars, as well as of the high duties imposed on the importation of salt and similar commodities. The weeds are cut from the rocks with a hook or collected on the shore, and dried to a certain degree on the beach. They are afterwards burnt in a kiln, in which they are constantly stirred with an iron rake until they reach a fluid state; and when they cool, the ashes become condensed into a dark blue or whitish-coloured mass, nearly of the hardness and solidity of rock. The manufacture is carried on during June, July, and August; and even at the present day, in some parts of the Islands and Highlands, affords occupation to considerable numbers of both sexes.[77] This manufacture seems to have been introduced into some of the lowland parts of the Scottish coast early in the eighteenth century, but was not thoroughly established in the Highlands till about the year 1750. At first it was of little importance, but gradually the manufacture spread until it became universal over all the western islands and coasts, and the value of the article, from the causes above-mentioned, rose rapidly from about £1 per ton, when first introduced, to from £12 to £20 per ton[78] about the beginning of the present century. While the great value of the article lasted, rents rose enormously, and the income of proprietors of kelp-shore rose in proportion. As an example, it may be stated that the rent of the estate of Clanranald in South Uist previous to 1790 was £2200, which, as kelp increased in value, rapidly rose to £15,000.[79] While the kelp season lasted, the whole time of the people was occupied in its manufacture, and the wages they received, while it added somewhat to their scanty income, and increased their comfort, were small in proportion to the time and labour they gave, and to the prices received by those to whom the kelp belonged. Moreover, while the kelp-fever lasted, the cultivation of the ground and other agricultural matters seem to have been to a great extent neglected, extravagant habits were contracted by the proprietors, whose incomes were thus so considerably increased,—and the permanent improvement of their estates were neglected in their eagerness to make the most of an article whose value, they did not perceive, was entirely factitious, and could not be lasting. Instead of either laying past their surplus income or expending it on the permanent improvement of their estates, they very foolishly lived up to it, or borrowed heavily in the belief that kelp would never decrease in value. The consequence was that when the duties were taken off the articles for which kelp was used as a substitute in the earlier part of the 19th century, the price of that article gradually diminished till it could fetch, about 1830–40, only from £2 to £4 a ton. With this the incomes of the proprietors of kelp-shores also rapidly decreased, landing not a few of them in ruin and bankruptcy, and leading in some instances to the sale of the estates. The income above mentioned, after the value of kelp decreased, fell rapidly from £15,000 to £5000. The manufacture of this article is still carried on in the West Highlands and Islands, and to a greater extent in Orkney, but although it occupies a considerable number of hands, it is now of comparatively little importance, much more of the sea-weed being employed as manure. While it was at its best, however, the manufacture of this article undoubtedly increased to a very large extent the revenue of the West Highlands, and gave employment to and kept at home a considerable number of people who otherwise might have emigrated. Indeed, it was partly on account of the need of many hands for kelp-making that proprietors did all they could to prevent the emigration of those removed from the smaller farms, and tried to induce them to settle on the coast. On the whole, it would seem that this sudden source of large income ultimately did more harm than good to the people and to the land. While this manufacture flourished, the land was to a certain extent neglected, and the people somewhat unfitted for agricultural labour; instead of looking upon this as a temporary source of income, and living accordingly, both they and the proprietors lived as if it should never fail, so that when the value of kelp rapidly decreased, ruin and absolute poverty stared both proprietors and people in the face. Moreover, by preventing the small tenants from leaving[52] the country, and accumulating them on the coasts, the country became enormously over-peopled, so that when the importance of this source of employment waned, multitudes were left with little or no means of livelihood, and the temporary benefits which accrued to the Highlanders from the adventitious value of kelp, indirectly entailed upon them ultimately hardships and misfortunes greater than ever they experienced before, and retarded considerably their progress towards permanent improvement.

By all accounts the potato, introduced from Chili into Spain about the middle of the sixteenth century, was first introduced into Ireland by or through the instrumentality of Sir Walter Raleigh about the end of that century. From Ireland it seems shortly after to have been introduced into England, although its cultivation did not become anything like common till more than a century afterwards, and its use seems to have been restricted to the upper classes.[80] Its value as a staple article of food for the poorer classes remained for long unappreciated. According to the Old Statistical Account of Scotland, potatoes were first cultivated in the fields there in the county of Stirling, in the year 1739, although for long after that, in many parts of the country, they were planted only as a garden vegetable. According to Dr Walker, potatoes were first introduced into the Hebrides from Ireland in the year 1743, the island of South Uist being the first to welcome the strange root, although the welcome from the inhabitants seems to have been anything but hearty. The story of its introduction, as told by Dr Walker,[81] is amusing, though somewhat ominous when read in the light of subsequent melancholy facts. “In the spring of that year, old Clanronald was in Ireland, upon a visit to his relation, Macdonnel of Antrim; he saw with surprise and approbation the practice of the country, and having a vessel of his own along with him, brought home a large cargo of potatoes. On his arrival, the tenants in the island were convened, and directed how to plant them, but they all refused. On this they were all committed to prison. After a little confinement, they agreed, at last, to plant these unknown roots, of which they had a very unfavourable opinion. When they were raised in autumn, they were laid down at the chieftain’s gate, by some of the tenants, who said, the Laird indeed might order them to plant these foolish roots, but they would not be forced to eat them. In a very little time, however, the inhabitants of South Uist came to know better, when every man of them would have gone to prison rather than not plant potatoes.”

By the year 1760 potatoes appear to have become a common crop all over the country; and by 1770 they seem to have attained to that importance as a staple article of food for the common people which they have ever since maintained.[82] The importance of the introduction of this valuable article of food, in respect both of the weal and the woe of the Highlands, cannot be over-estimated. As an addition to the former scanty means of existence it was invaluable; had it been used only as an addition the Highlanders might have been spared much suffering. Instead of this, however, it ere long came to be regarded as so all-important, to be cultivated to such a large extent, and to the exclusion of other valuable productions, and to be depended upon by the great majority of the Highlanders as almost their sole food, that one failure in the crop by disease or otherwise must inevitably have entailed famine and misery. For so large a share of their food did the common Highlanders look to potatoes, that, according to the Old Statistical Account, in many places they fed on little else for nine months in the year.

The first remarkable scarcity subsequent to 1745 appears to have been in the year 1770,[83] arising apparently from the unusual severity of the weather, causing the destruction of most of the crops, and many of the cattle. That, however, of 1782–83 seems to have been still more terrible, and universal over all the Highlands, according to the Old Statistical Account. It was only the interference of government and the charity of private individuals that prevented multitudes from dying of starvation. Neither of these famines, however, seem to have been[53] caused by any failure in the potato crop from disease, but simply by the inclemency of seasons. But when to this latter danger there came subsequently to be added the liability of the staple article of food to fail from disease, the chances of frequently recurring famines came to be enormously increased. About 1838 potatoes constituted four-fifths of the food of the common Highlanders.[84] However, we are anticipating. It is sufficient to note here as a matter of great importance in connection with the later social history of the Highlands, the universal cultivation of the potato sometime after the middle of the eighteenth century. Even during the latter part of last century, potato-disease was by no means unknown, though it appears to have been neither so destructive nor so wide-spread as some of the forms of disease developed at a later period. New forms of disease attacked the root during the early part of the present century, working at times considerable havoc, but never apparently inducing anything approaching a famine. But about 1840, the potato disease par excellence seems to have made its first appearance, and after visiting various parts of the world, including the Highlands, it broke out generally in 1845, and in 1846 entailed upon the Highlands indescribable suffering and hardship. Of this, however, more shortly. One effect attributed frequently in the Old Statistical Account to the introduction and immoderate use of the potato is the appearance of diseases before unknown or very rare. One of the principal of these was dropsy, which, whether owing to the potato or not, became certainly more prevalent after it came into common use, if we may trust the testimony of the writers of the Statistical Account.

In looking back, then, by the aid of the authority just mentioned, along with others, on the progress made by the Highlands during the latter half of the eighteenth century, while there is much to sadden, still there is much that is cheering. The people generally appear in a state of ferment and discontent with themselves, and doing their best blindly to grope their way to a better position. While still there remain many traces of the old thraldom, there are many indications that freedom and a desire after true progress were slowly spreading among the people. Many of the old grievous services were still retained; still were there many districts thirled to particular mills; still were leases rare and tenures uncertain, and rents frequently paid in kind; in many districts the houses were still unsightly and uncomfortable huts, the clothing scanty, and the food wretched and insufficient. In most Highland districts, we fear, the old Scotch plough, with its four or five men, and its six or ten cattle, was still the principal instrument of tillage; drainage was all but unknown; the land was overstocked in many places with people and cattle; the ground was scourged with incessant cropping, and much of the produce wasted in the gathering and in the preparing it for food. Education in many places was entirely neglected, schools few and far between, and teachers paid worse than ploughmen! The picture has certainly a black enough background, but it is not unrelieved by a few bright and hopeful streaks.

On many parts of the border-Highlands improvements had been introduced which placed them in every respect on a level with the lowlands. Many of the old services had been abolished, leases introduced, the old and inefficient agricultural instrument replaced by others made on the most approved system. Houses, food, and clothing were all improved; indeed, in the case of the last article, there is frequent complaint made that too much attention and money were expended on mere ornamentation. The old method of constant cropping had in not a few districts been abolished, and a proper system of rotation established; more attention was paid to proper manuring and ingathering, and instead of restricting the crops, as of old, to oats and barley, many other new cereals, and a variety of green crops and grasses had been introduced. Not only in the districts bordering on the Lowlands, but in many other parts of the Highlands, the breed of sheep, and cattle, and horses had been improved, and a much more profitable system of management introduced. By means of merciful emigration, the by far too redundant population of the Highlands had been considerably reduced, the position[54] of those who left the country vastly improved, and more room and more means of living afforded to those who remained. A more rational system of dividing the land prevailed in many places, and sheep-farming—for which alone, according to all unprejudiced testimony, the greater part of the surface of the Highlands is fitted—had been extensively introduced. The want of education was beginning to be felt, and in many districts means were being taken to spread its advantages, while the moral and religious character of the people, as a whole, stood considerably above the average of most other districts of Scotland. In short, the Highlanders, left to themselves, were advancing gradually towards that stage of improvement which the rest of the country had reached, and the natural laws which govern society had only not to be thwarted and impertinently interfered with, to enable the Highlanders ere long to be as far forward as the rest of their countrymen. From the beginning of this century down to the present time they have had much to struggle with, many trials to undergo, and much unnecessary interference to put up with, but their progress has been sure and steady, and even comparatively rapid. We must glance very briefly at the state of the Highlands during the present century; great detail is uncalled for, as much that has been said concerning the previous period applies with equal force to the present.


[56] Pennant’s Tour, vol. ii. p. 305.

[57] A View of the Highlands, &c.

[58] Travels in the Western Islands.

[59] Tour in England and Scotland (1785).

[60] Newte.

[61] Newte’s Travels, p. 127.

[62] Newte’s Travels, p. 127.

[63] Burt’s Letters, Appendix.

[64] Tour, ii. 306.

[65] See Walker’s Hebrides, vol. i. pp. 24, 28.

[66] Walker, vol. i. p. 31.

[67] Western Isles.

[68] “Upon the whole, the situation of these people, inhabitants of Britain! is such as no language can describe, nor fancy conceive. If, with great labour and fatigue, the farmer raises a slender crop of oats and barley, the autumnal rains often baffle his utmost efforts, and frustrate all his expectations; and instead of being able to pay an exorbitant rent, he sees his family in danger of perishing during the ensuing winter, when he is precluded from any possibility of assistance elsewhere.

“Nor are his cattle in a better situation; in summer they pick up a scanty support amongst the morasses or heathy mountains; but in winter, when the grounds are covered with snow, and when the naked wilds afford neither shelter nor subsistence, the few cows, small, lean, and ready to drop down through want of pasture, are brought into the hut where the family resides, and frequently share with them the small stock of meal which had been purchased, or raised, for the family only; while the cattle thus sustained, are bled occasionally, to afford nourishment for the children after it hath been boiled or made into cakes.

“The sheep being left upon the open heaths, seek to shelter themselves from the inclemency of the weather amongst the hollows upon the lee-side of the mountains, and here they are frequently buried under the snow for several weeks together, and in severe seasons during two months or upwards. They eat their own and each other’s wool, and hold out wonderfully under cold and hunger; but even in moderate winters, a considerable number are generally found dead after the snow hath disappeared, and in rigorous seasons few or none are left alive.

“Meanwhile the steward, hard pressed by letters from Almack’s or Newmarket, demands the rent in a tone which makes no great allowance for unpropitious seasons, the death of cattle, and other accidental misfortunes; disguising the feelings of his own breast—his Honour’s wants must at any rate be supplied, the bills must be duly negotiated.

“Such is the state of farming, if it may be so called, throughout the interior parts of the Highlands; but as that country hath an extensive coast, and many islands, it may be supposed that the inhabitants of those shores enjoy all the benefits of their maritime situation. This, however, is not the case; those gifts of nature, which in any other commercial kingdom would have been rendered subservient to the most valuable purposes, are in Scotland lost, or nearly so, to the poor natives and the public. The only difference, therefore, between the inhabitants of the interior parts and those of the more distant coasts, consists in this, that the latter, with the labours of the field, have to encounter alternately the dangers of the ocean and all the fatigues of navigation.

“To the distressing circumstances at home, as stated above, new difficulties and toils await the devoted farmer when abroad. He leaves his family in October, accompanied by his sons, brothers, and frequently an aged parent, and embarks on board a small open boat, in quest of the herring fishery, with no other provision than oatmeal, potatoes, and fresh water; no other bedding than heath, twigs, or straw, the covering, if any, an old sail. Thus provided, he searches from bay to bay, through turbulent seas, frequently for several weeks together, before the shoals of herrings are discovered. The glad tidings serve to vary, but not to diminish his fatigues. Unremitting nightly labour (the time when the herrings are taken), pinching cold winds, heavy seas, uninhabited shores covered with snow, or deluged with rains, contribute towards filling up the measure of his distresses; while to men of such exquisite feelings as the Highlanders generally possess, the scene which awaits him at home does it most effectually.

“Having disposed of his capture to the Busses, he returns in January through a long navigation, frequently admidst unceasing hurricanes, not to a comfortable home and a cheerful family, but to a hut composed of turf, without windows, doors, or chimney, environed with snow, and almost hid from the eye by its astonishing depth. Upon entering this solitary mansion, he generally finds a part of his family, sometimes the whole, lying upon heath or straw, languishing through want or epidemical disease; while the few surviving cows, which possess the other end of the cottage, instead of furnishing further supplies of milk or blood, demand his immediate attention to keep them in existence.

“The season now approaches when he is again to delve and labour the ground, on the same slender prospect of a plentiful crop or a dry harvest. The cattle which have survived the famine of the winter, are turned out to the mountains; and, having put his domestic affairs into the best situation which a train of accumulated misfortunes admits of, he resumes the oar, either in quest of the herring or the white fishery. If successful in the latter, he sets out in his open boat upon a voyage (taking the Hebrides and the opposite coast at a medium distance) of 200 miles, to vend his cargo of dried cod, ling, &c., at Greenock or Glasgow. The produce, which seldom exceeds twelve or fifteen pounds, is laid out, in conjunction with his companions, upon meal and fishing tackle; and he returns through the same tedious navigation.

“The autumn calls his attention again to the field; the usual round of disappointment, fatigue, and distress awaits him; thus dragging through a wretched existence in the hope of soon arriving in that country where the weary shall be at rest.”—A View of the Highlands, &c., pp. 3-7.

[69] See Old and New Statistical Accounts, passim.

[70] Walker’s Hebrides and Highlands.

[71] Essay on The Fisheries of Scotland, in Highland Society Prize Essays, vol. ii.

[72] Hebrides and Highlands, vol. ii. p. 406.

[73] Idem, p. 409.

[74] Social Science Transactions for 1863, p. 608.

[75] Idem.

[76] Hebrides, &c., vol. ii. p. 401.

[77] Beauties of Scotland, vol. v. p. 95.

[78] New Statistical Account of Baray.

[79] New Stat. Account of South Uist.

[80] Rural Cyclopædia, article Potato.

[81] Hebrides and Highlands, vol. i. p. 251.

[82] Tennant’s Tour, vol. ii. p. 306.

[83] Johnson’s Tour, p. 196, and Pennant in several places.

[84] Fullarton & Baird’s Remarks on the Highlands and Islands, p. 10. 1838.


Progress of Highlands during present century—Depopulation and emigration—Questions between landlords and tenants—Hardships of the ousted tenants—Sutherland clearings—Compulsory emigration—Famines—Poorer tenants compelled to take service—Sir John M’Neill’s Report—Changes complained of inevitable—Emigration the only remedy—Large and small farms—Experiments—Highlanders succeed when left to themselves—Substitution of deer for sheep—Recent state of Highlands—Means of improvement—Increased facilities for intercourse of great value—Population of chief Highland counties—Highland colonies—Attachment of Highlanders to their old home—Conclusion.

The same causes have been at work and the same processes going on since 1800, as there were during the latter half of last century.

Taking stand at the date, about 1840, of the New Statistical Account, and looking back, the conclusion which, we think, any unprejudiced inquirer must come to is, that the Highlands as a whole had improved immensely. With the exception of some of the Western Islands, agriculture and sheep-farming at the above date were generally abreast of the most improved lowland system, and the social condition of the people was but little, if any, behind that of the inhabitants of any other part of the country. In most places the old Scotch plough was abolished, and the improved two-horse one introduced; manuring was properly attended to, and a system of rotation of crops introduced; runrig was all but abolished, and the land properly inclosed; in short, during the early half of the present century the most approved agricultural methods had been generally adopted, where agriculture was of any importance. Thirlage, multures, services, payment in kind, and other oppressions and obstructions to improvement, were fast dying out, and over a great part of the country the houses, food, clothing, and social condition of the people generally were vastly improved from what they were half a century before. Education, moreover, was spreading, and schools were multiplied, especially after the disruption of the Established Church in 1843, the Free Church laudably planting schools in many places where they had never been before. In short, one side of the picture is bright and cheering enough, although the other is calculated to fill a humane observer with sadness.

Depopulation and emigration went on even more vigorously than before. Nearly all the old lairds and those imbued with the ancient spirit of the chiefs had died out, and a young and new race had now the disposal of the Highland lands, a race who had little sympathy with the feelings and prejudices of the people, and who were, naturally, mainly anxious to increase as largely as possible their rent-roll. In the earlier part of the century at least, as in the latter half of the previous one, few of the proprietors wished, strictly speaking, to depopulate their estates, and compel the inhabitants to emigrate, but simply to clear the interior of the small farms into which many properties[55] were divided, convert the whole ground into sheep pasture, let it out in very large farms, and remove the ejected population to the coasts, there to carry on the manufacture of kelp, or engage in fishing. It was only when the value of kelp decreased, and the fishing proved unprofitable, that compulsory emigration was resorted to.

It is unnecessary to say more here on the question of depopulation and emigration, the question between Highland landlords and Highland tenants, the dispute as to whether large or small farms are to be preferred, and whether the Highlands are best suited for sheep and cattle or for men and agriculture. Most that has been written on the subject has been in advocacy of either the one side or the other; one party, looking at the question exclusively from the tenant’s point of view, while the other writes solely in the interests of the landlords. The question has scarcely yet been dispassionately looked at, and perhaps cannot be for a generation or two yet, when the bitter feelings engendered on both sides shall have died out, when both landlords and tenants will have found out what is best for themselves and for the country at large, and when the Highlands will be as settled and prosperous as the Lothians and the Carse of Gowrie. There can be no doubt, however, that very frequently landlords and their agents acted with little or no consideration for the most cherished old feelings, prejudices, and even rights, of the tenants, whom they often treated with less clemency than they would have done sheep and cattle. It ought to have been remembered that the Highland farmers and cottars were in a condition quite different from those in the lowlands. Most of them rented farms which had been handed down to them from untold generations, and which they had come to regard as much belonging to them as did the castle to the chief. They had no idea of lowland law and lowland notions of property, so that very often, when told to leave their farms and their houses, they could not realise the order, and could scarcely believe that it came from the laird, the descendant of the old chiefs, for whom their fathers fought and died. Hence the sad necessity often, of laying waste their farms, driving off their cattle, and burning their houses about their ears, before the legal officers could get the old tenants to quit the glens and hill-sides where their fathers had for centuries dwelt. It was not sheer pig-headed obstinacy or a wish to defy the law which induced them to act thus; only once, we think, in Sutherland, was there anything like a disturbance, when the people gathered together and proceeded to drive out the sheep which were gradually displacing themselves. The mere sight of a soldier dispersed the mob, and not a drop of blood was spilt. When forced to submit and leave their homes they did so quietly, having no spirit to utter even a word of remonstrance. They seemed like a people amazed, bewildered, taken by surprise, as much so often as a family would be did a father turn them out of his house to make room for strangers. In the great majority of instances, the people seem quietly to have done what they were told, and removed from their glens to the coast, while those who could afford it seem generally to have emigrated. Actual violence seems to have been resorted to in very few cases.

Still the hardships which had to be endured by many of the ousted tenants, and the unfeeling rigour with which many of them were treated is sad indeed to read of. Many of them had to sleep in caves, or shelter themselves, parents and children, under the lee of a rock or a dyke, keeping as near as they could to the ruins of their burnt or fallen cottage, and living on what shell-fish they could gather on the shore, wild roots dug with their fingers, or on the scanty charity of their neighbours; for all who could had emigrated. Many of the proprietors, of course, did what they could to provide for the ousted tenants, believing that the driving of them out was a sad necessity. Houses, and a small piece of ground for each family, were provided by the shore, on some convenient spot, help was given to start the fishing, or employment in the manufacture of kelp, and as far as possible their new condition was made as bearable as possible. Indeed, we are inclined to believe, that but few of the landlords acted from mere wantonness, or were entirely dead to the interests of the old tenants; but that, their own interests naturally being of the greatest importance to them, and some[56] radical change being necessary in the management of lands in the Highlands, the lairds thoughtlessly acted as many of them did. It was the natural rebound from the old system when the importance and wealth of a chief were rated at the number of men on his estate; and although the consequent suffering is to be deplored, still, perhaps, it was scarcely to be avoided. It is easy to say that had the chiefs done this or the government done the other thing, much suffering might have been spared, and much benefit accrued to the Highlanders; but all the suffering in the world might be spared did people know exactly when and how to interfere. It would be curious, indeed, if in the case of the Highlands the faults were all on one side. We believe that the proprietors acted frequently with harshness and selfishness, and did not seek to realise the misery they were causing. They were bound, more strongly bound perhaps than the proprietors of any other district, to show some consideration for the people on their estates, and not to act as if proprietors had the sole right to benefit by the land of a country, and that the people had no right whatever. Had they been more gentle, introduced the changes gradually and judiciously, and given the native Highlanders a chance to retrieve themselves, much permanent good might have been done, and much suffering and bitterness spared. But so long as the world is merely learning how to live, groping after what is best, so long as men act on blind unreasoning impulse, until all men learn to act according to the immutable laws of Nature, so long will scenes such as we have been referring to occur. The blame, however, should be laid rather to ignorance than to wanton intention.

Of all the Highland counties, perhaps Sutherland is better known than any other in connection with the commotions which agitated the Highlands during the early part of this century, and, according to all accounts, the depopulation is more marked there than anywhere else. The clearance of that county of the old tenants, their removal to the coast, and the conversion of the country into large sheep-farms commenced about 1810, under the Marquis of Stafford, who had married the heiress of the Sutherland estate. The clearing was, of course, carried out by Mr Sellar, the factor, who, on account of some of the proceedings to which he was a party, was tried before a Court of Justiciary, held at Inverness in 1816, for culpable homicide and oppression. Many witnesses were examined on both sides, and, after a long trial, the jury returned a verdict of “Not guilty,” in which the judge, Lord Pitmilly, completely concurred. This, we think, was the only verdict that could legally be given, not only in the case of the Sutherland clearings, but also in the case of most of the other estates where such measures were carried on. The tenants were all duly warned to remove a considerable number of weeks before the term, and as few of them had many chattels to take with them, this could easily have been done. Most of them generally obeyed the warning, although a few, generally the very poor and very old, refused to budge from the spot of their birth. The factor and his officers, acting quite according to law, compelled them, sometimes by force, to quit the houses, which were then either burnt or pulled to the ground. As a rule, these officers of the law seem to have done their duty as gently as law officers are accustomed to do; but however mildly such a duty had been performed, it could not but entail suffering to some extent, especially on such a people as many of the Highlanders were who knew not how to make a living beyond the bounds of their native glen. The pictures of suffering drawn, some of them we fear too true, are sometimes very harrowing, and any one who has been brought up among the hills, or has dwelt for a summer in a sweet Highland glen, can easily fancy with how sad a heart the Highlander must have taken his last long lingering look of the little cottage, however rude, where he passed his happiest years, nestled at the foot of a sunny brae, or guarded by some towering crag, and surrounded with the multitudinous beauties of wood and vale, heather and ferns, soft knoll and rugged mountain. The same result as has followed in the Highlands has likewise taken place in other parts of the country, without the same outcry about depopulation, suffering, emigration, &c., simply because it has been brought about gradually. The process commenced in the[57] Highlands only about a hundred years since, was commenced in the lowlands and elsewhere centuries ago; the Highlanders have had improvements thrust upon them, while the lowlanders were allowed to develope themselves.

After the decline in the price of kelp (about 1820), when it ceased to be the interest of the proprietors to accumulate people on the shore, they did their best to induce them to emigrate, many proprietors helping to provide ships for those whom they had dispossessed of their lands and farms. Indeed, until well on in the present century, the Highlanders generally seem to have had no objections to emigrate, but, on the contrary, were eager to do so whenever they could, often going against the will of the lairds and of those who dreaded the utter depopulation of the country and a dearth of recruits for the army. But about 1840 and after, compulsion seems often to have been used to make the people go on board the ships provided for them by the lairds, who refused to give them shelter on any part of their property. But little compulsion, however, in the ordinary sense of the term, seems to have been necessary, as the Highlanders, besides having a hereditary tendency to obey their superiors, were dazed, bewildered, and dispirited by what seemed to them the cruel, heartless, and unjust proceedings of their lairds.

The earliest extensive clearing probably took place on the estate of Glengarry, the traditional cause of it being that the laird’s lady had taken umbrage at the clan. “Summonses of ejection were served over the whole property, even on families most closely connected with the chief.”[85] From that time down to the present day, the clearing off of the inhabitants of many parts of the Highlands has been steadily going on. We have already spoken of the Sutherland clearings, which were continued down to a comparatively recent time. All the Highland counties to a greater or less extent have been subjected to the same kind of thinning, and have contributed their share of emigrants to America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. It would serve no purpose to enter into details concerning the clearing of the several estates in the various Highland counties; much, as we have said, has been written on both sides, and if faith can be put in the host of pamphlets that have been issued during the present century on the side of the ejected Highlanders, some of the evictions were conducted with great cruelty;[86] much greater cruelty and disregard for the people’s feelings than we think there was any need for, however justifiable and necessary the evictions and clearings were.

We have already referred to the frequent occurrence of famines during the past and present centuries in the Highlands, arising from the failure of the crops, principally, latterly, through the failure of the potatoes. These frequent famines gave a stimulus to emigration, as, of course, the people were anxious to escape from their misery, and the proprietors were glad to get quit of the poor they would otherwise have had to support. Besides the failure of the crops, other causes operated, according to Mr Tregelles, in the pamphlet already referred to, to produce the frequent occurrence of distress in the Highlands; such as the relation of landlord and tenant, the defective character of the poor-law, the excessive division and subdivision of the land, the imprudence and ignorance of some of the peasantry, inertness, also consequent on chronic poverty, want of capital. Every few years, up even to the present time, a cry of distress comes from the Highlands. Besides the famines already referred to in 1837 and 1846, a still more severe and distressing one occurred in 1850, and seems, according to the many reports and pamphlets issued, to have continued for some years after. In the one of 1837, many Highland proprietors and private gentlemen, forming themselves into an association, did what they could to assist the Highlanders, mainly by way of emigration. Not only was it for the advantage of Highland proprietors, in respect of being able to let their[58] lands at a better rent, to do what they could to enable the people to emigrate, but by doing so, and thus diminishing the number of poor on their estates, they considerably decreased the large tax they had to pay under the recent Scotch Poor-law Act. “Formerly the poor widows and orphans and destitute persons were relieved by the parish minister from the poors’ box, by voluntary subscriptions, which enabled the extremely needy to receive four or five shillings the quarter; and this small pittance was felt on all hands to be a liberal bounty. The landlord added his five or ten pound gift at the beginning of the year, and a laudatory announcement appeared in the newspaper. But the Act for the relief of the poor of Scotland now provides that a rate shall be levied on the tenant or occupier, and some of those who formerly paid £10 per annum, and were deemed worthy of much commendation, have now to pay £400 per annum without note or comment! Can we be surprised, then, that some of the landlords, with increased claims on their resources, and perhaps with diminished ability to meet such claims, should look round promptly and earnestly for a remedy? One of the most obvious and speedy remedies was emigration; hence the efforts to clear the ground of those who, with the lapse of time, might become heavy encumbrances. It need not be matter of surprise that the landlord should clear his ground of tenants who, for a series of years, had paid no rent; although perhaps a wiser and better course would have been to have sought for and found some good means of continued lucrative employment.... The lands are divided and subdivided until a family is found existing on a plot which is totally inadequate for their support; and here we see their imprudence and ignorance. Families are reared up in misery, struggling with impossibilities, producing at last that inertness and dimness of vision which result from a sick heart.”[87] Most of those who write, like Mr Tregelles, of the distress of the Highlands in 1850 and succeeding years, do so in the same strain. They declare there is no need for emigration, that the land and sea, if properly worked, are quite sufficient to support all the inhabitants that were ever on it at any time, and that the people only need to be helped on, encouraged and taught, to make them as prosperous and the land as productive as the people and land of any other part of the kingdom. While this may be true of many parts, we fear it will not hold with regard to most of the Western Islands, where until recently, in most places, especially in Skye, the land was so subdivided and the population so excessive, that under the most productive system of agriculture the people could not be kept in food for more than half the year. Even in some of the best off of the islands, it was the custom for one or more members of a family to go to the south during summer and harvest, and earn as much as would pay the rent and eke out the scanty income. “The fact is, that the working classes of Skye, for many years anterior to 1846, derived a considerable part of their means from the wages of labour in the south. Even before the manufacture of kelp had been abandoned, the crofters of some parts at least of Skye appear to have paid their rents chiefly in money earned by labour in other parts of the kingdom. When that manufacture ceased, the local employment was reduced to a small amount, and the number who went elsewhere for wages increased. The decline of the herring-fishery, which for several years had yielded little or no profit in Skye, had a similar effect. The failure of the potato crop in 1846 still further reduced the local means of subsistence and of employing labour, and forced a still greater number to work for wages in different parts of the country. From the Pentland Firth to the Tweed, from the Lewis to the Isle of Man, the Skye men sought the employment they could not find at home; and there are few families of cottars, or of crofters at rents not exceeding £10, from which at least one individual did not set out to earn by labour elsewhere the means of paying rent and buying meal for those who remained at home. Before 1846, only the younger members of the family left the district for that purpose; since that year, the crofter himself has often found it necessary to go. But young and old, crofters and cottars, to whatever distance they may have gone, return home for the winter, with[59] rare exceptions, and remain there nearly altogether idle, consuming the produce of the croft, and the proceeds of their own labour, till the return of summer and the failure of their supplies warn them that it is time to set out again. Those whose means are insufficient to maintain them till the winter is past, and who cannot find employment at that season at home, are of course in distress, and, having exhausted their own means, are driven to various shifts, and forced to seek charitable aid.”

The above extract is from the Report by Sir John M’Neill, on the distress in Highlands and Islands in 1850–51, caused by the failure of the crops. He went through most of the western island and western mainland parishes examining into the condition of the people, and the conclusion he came to was, that the population was excessive, that no matter how the land might be divided, it could not support the inhabitants without extraneous aid, and that the only remedy was the removal of the surplus population by means of emigration. Whether the population was excessive or not, it appears to us, that when the sudden, deep, and extensive distresses occurred in the Highlands, it was merciful to help those who had no means of making a living, and who were half starving, to remove to a land where there was plenty of well-paid work. Sir John believes that even although no pressure had been used by landlords, and no distresses had occurred, the changes which have been rapidly introduced into the Highlands, extending farms and diminishing population, would have happened all the same, but would have been brought about more gradually and with less inconvenience and suffering to the population. “The change which then (end of last century) affected only the parishes bordering on the Lowlands, has now extended to the remotest parts of the Highlands, and, whether for good or for evil, is steadily advancing. Every movement is in that direction, because the tendency must necessarily be to assimilate the more remote districts to the rest of the country, and to carry into them, along with the instruction, industry, and capital, the agricultural and commercial economy of the wealthier, more intelligent, and influential majority of the nation. If it were desirable to resist this progress, it would probably be found impracticable. Every facility afforded to communication and intercourse must tend to hasten its march, and it is not to be conceived that any local organisation could resist, or even materially retard it. If nothing had occurred to disturb the ordinary course of events, this inevitable transition would probably have been effected without such an amount of suffering as to call for special intervention, though no such change is accomplished without suffering. The crofter would have yielded to the same power that has elsewhere converted the holdings of small tenants into farms for capitalists; but increased facilities of communication, and increased intercourse, might previously have done more to assimilate his language, habits, and modes of living and of thinking to those of men in that part of the country to which he is now a stranger, and in which he is a foreigner.

“There would thus have been opened up to him the same means of providing for his subsistence that were found by those of his class, who, during the last century, have ceased to cultivate land occupied by themselves. But the calamity that suddenly disabled him from producing his food by his own labour on his croft, has found him generally unprepared to provide by either means for his maintenance. All the various attempts that have yet been made in so many parishes to extricate the working classes from the difficulties against which they are unsuccessfully contending, have not only failed to accomplish that object, but have failed even to arrest the deterioration in their circumstances and condition that has been in progress for the last four years. In every parish, with one or two exceptions, men of all classes and denominations concur unanimously in declaring it to be impossible, by any application of the existing resources, or by any remunerative application of extraneous resources, to provide for the permanent subsistence of the whole of the present inhabitants; and state their conviction that the population cannot be made self-sustaining, unless a portion removes from the parish.... The working classes in many parishes are convinced that the emigration of a part of their number affords the only prospect of escape from a[60] position otherwise hopeless; and in many cases individuals have earnestly prayed for aid to emigrate. Petitions numerously signed by persons desirous to go to the North American colonies, and praying for assistance to enable them to do so, have been transmitted for presentation to Parliament. In some of the parishes where no desire for emigration had been publicly expressed, or was supposed to exist, that desire began to be announced as soon as the expectation of extraneous aid was abandoned. It has rarely happened that so many persons, between whom there was or could have been no previous concert or intercourse, and whose opinions on many important subjects are so much at variance, have concurred in considering any one measure indispensable to the welfare of the community; and there does not appear to be any good reason for supposing that this almost unanimous opinion is not well founded.”[88]

These are the opinions of one who thoroughly examined into the matter, and are corroborated by nearly all the articles on the Highland parishes in the New Statistical Account. That it was and is still needful to take some plan to prevent the ever-recurring distress of the Western Highlands, and especially Islands, no one can doubt; that emigration is to some extent necessary, especially from the islands, we believe, but that it is the only remedy, we are inclined to doubt. There is no doubt that many proprietors, whose tenants though in possession of farms of no great size were yet very comfortable, have cleared their estate, and let it out in two or three large farms solely for sheep. Let emigration by all means be brought into play where it is necessary, but it is surely not necessary in all cases to go from one extreme to another, and replace thousands of men, women, and children by half-a-dozen shepherds and their dogs. Many districts may be suitable only for large farms, but many others, we think, could be divided into farms of moderate size, large enough to keep a farmer and his family comfortably after paying a fair rent. This system, we believe, has been pursued with success in some Highland districts, especially in that part of Inverness-shire occupied by the Grants.

In Sir John M’Neill’s report there are some interesting and curious statements which, we think, tend to show that when the Highlanders are allowed to have moderate-sized farms, and are left alone to make what they can of them, they can maintain themselves in tolerable comfort. In the island of Lewis, where the average rent of the farms was £2, 12s., the farmer was able to obtain from his farm only so much produce as kept himself and family for six months in the year; his living for the rest of the year, his rent and other necessary expenses, requiring to be obtained from other sources, such as fishing, labour in the south, &c. So long as things went well, the people generally managed to struggle through the year without any great hardship; but in 1846, and after, when the potato crops failed, but for the interference of the proprietor and others, many must have perished for want of food. In six years after 1846, the proprietor expended upwards of £100,000 in providing work and in charity, to enable the people to live. Various experiments were tried to provide work for the inhabitants, and more money expended than there was rent received, with apparently no good result whatever. In 1850, besides regular paupers, there were above 11,000 inhabitants receiving charitable relief. Yet, notwithstanding every encouragement from the proprietor, who offered to cancel all arrears, provide a ship, furnish them with all necessaries, few of the people cared to emigrate. In the same way in Harris, immense sums were expended to help the people to live, with as little success as in Lewis; the number of those seeking relief seemed only to increase. As this plan seemed to lead to no good results, an attempt was made to improve the condition of the people by increasing the size of their farms, which in the best seasons sufficed to keep them in provisions for only six months. The following is the account of the experiment given by Mr Macdonald, the resident factor:—“At Whitsunday 1848 forty crofters were removed from the island of Bernera, then occupied by eighty-one; and the lands thus vacated were divided among the forty-one who remained. Those[61] who were removed, with two or three exceptions, were placed in crofts upon lands previously occupied by tacksmen. Six of the number who, with one exception, had occupied crofts of about five acres in Bernera, were settled in the Borves on crofts of ten acres of arable, and hill-grazing for four cows, and their followers till two years old, with forty sheep and a horse,—about double the amount of stock which, with one exception, they had in Bernera. The exceptional case referred to was that of a man who had a ten-acre croft in Bernera, with an amount of black cattle stock equal to that for which he got grazing in the Borves, but who had no sheep. They are all in arrear of rent, and, on an average, for upwards of two years. These six tenants were selected as the best in Bernera, in respect to their circumstances. I attribute their want of success to the depreciation in the price of black cattle, and to their not having sufficient capital to put upon their lands a full stock when they entered. Their stipulated rent in the Borves was, on an average, £12. Of the forty-one who remained, with enlarged crofts, in Bernera, the whole are now largely in arrear, and have increased their arrears since their holdings were enlarged. I attribute their want of success to the same causes as that of the people in the Borves. The result of his attempt to improve the condition of these crofters, by enlarging their crofts, while it has failed to accomplish that object, has at the same time entailed a considerable pecuniary loss upon the proprietor.

“An attempt was made, at the same time, to establish some unsuccessful agricultural crofters, practised in fishing, as fishermen, on lands previously occupied by tacksmen, where each fisherman got a croft of about two acres of arable land, with grazing for one or two cows, and from four to six sheep, at a rent of from £1 to £2 sterling. This experiment was equally unsuccessful. It is doubtful whether they were all adequately provided with suitable boats and tackle, or ‘gear;’ but many of them were; and some of those who were not originally well provided were supplied with what was wanted by the destitution fund. Of these fishermen Mr Macdonald says:—‘Not one of them, since entering on the fishing croft, has paid an amount equal to his rent. The attempt to improve the condition of those men, who had previously been unsuccessful as agricultural crofters, by placing them in a position favourable for fishing, has also failed; and this experiment also has entailed a considerable pecuniary loss upon the proprietor, who is not now receiving from these fishermen one-fourth of the rent he formerly received from tacksmen for the same lands. I therefore state confidently, that in Harris the proprietor cannot convert lands held by tacksmen into small holdings, either for the purposes of agriculture or fishing, without a great pecuniary sacrifice; and that this will continue to be the case, unless potatoes should again be successfully cultivated. I cannot estimate the loss that would be entailed upon the proprietor by such a change at less than two-thirds of the rental paid by the tacksmen. The results of the experiments that have been made on this property would, in every case, fully bear out this estimate. It is my conscientious belief and firm conviction, that if this property were all divided into small holdings amongst the present occupants of land, the result would be, that in a few years the rent recoverable would not be sufficient to pay the public burdens, if the potatoes continue to fail, and the price of black cattle does not materially improve.’”[89]

Yet not one family in Harris would accept the proprietor’s offer to bear all the expense of their emigration.

The condition of Lewis and Harris, as above shown, may be taken as a fair specimen of the Western Islands at the time of Sir John M’Neill’s inquiry in 1851.

An experiment, which if properly managed, might have succeeded, was tried in 1850 and the two following years; it also proved a failure. The following is the account given in the Edinburgh Review for October 1857. The reader must remember, however, that the article is written by an advocate of all the modern Highland innovations:—A number of people in the district of Sollas in North Uist had agreed to emigrate, but “a committee in the town of Perth, which had on hand £3000 collected for the Highland Destitution Relief Fund of 1847, resolved to form these people[62] into a ‘settlement,’ Lord Macdonald assenting, and giving them the choice of any land in the island not under lease. The tenants, about sixty in number, removed to the selected place in autumn 1850, provided by the committee with an agricultural overseer. In the following spring a large crop of oats and potatoes was laid down. The oats never advanced above a few inches in height, and ultimately withered and died, and the potatoes gave little or no return. A great part of the land so dealt with has never since been touched, and it is now even of less value than before, having ceased to produce even heather. This result, however, we are bound to mention, was at the time, and perhaps still, popularly ascribed, like all Highland failures, to the fault of those in authority. A new overseer was therefore sent, and remained about a year and a half; but in 1852 a third of the people, becoming painfully impressed with the truth of the matter, went off to Australia. In 1853 a third manager was sent ‘to teach and encourage;’ but as the money was now running short, he had little to give but advice, and as the people could not subsist on that any more than on the produce of their lots, they went off to seek employment elsewhere—and so ended what was called ‘this interesting experiment,’ but of which it seems to be now thought inexpedient to say anything at all. The results were to spend £3000 in making worse a piece of the worst possible land, and in prolonging the delusions and sufferings of the local population, but also in supplying one more proof of the extreme difficulty or impossibility of accomplishing, and the great mischief of attempting, what so many paper authorities in Highland matters assume as alike easy and beneficial.”

It would almost seem, from the failure of the above and many other experiments which have been tried to improve the condition of the Highlanders, that any extraneous positive interference by way of assistance, experiments, charity, and such like, leading the people to depend more on others than on themselves, leads to nothing but disastrous results. This habit of depending on others, a habit many centuries old, was one which, instead of being encouraged, ought to have been by every possible means discouraged, as it was at the bottom of all the evils which followed the abolition of the jurisdictions. They had been accustomed to look to their chiefs for generations to see that they were provided with houses, food, and clothing; and it could only be when they were thoroughly emancipated from this slavish and degrading habit that they could find scope for all their latent energies, have fair play, and feel the necessity for strenuous exertion.

As a contrast to the above accounts, and as showing that it is perfectly possible to carry out the small or moderate farm system, even on the old principle of runrig, both with comfort to the tenants and with profit to the proprietors; and also as showing what the Highlanders are capable of when left entirely to themselves, we give the following extract from Sir J. M’Neill’s Report, in reference to the prosperity of Applecross in Ross-shire:—

“The people have been left to depend on their own exertions, under a kind proprietor, who was always ready to assist individuals making proper efforts to improve their condition, but who attempted no new or specific measure for the general advancement of the people. Their rents are moderate, all feel secure of their tenure so long as they are not guilty of any delinquency, and a large proportion of those who hold land at rents of £6 and upwards, have leases renewable every seven years. During the fifteen years ending at Whitsunday 1850, they have paid an amount equal to fifteen years’ rent. Many of the small crofters are owners, or part owners, of decked vessels, of which there are forty-five, owned by the crofters on the property; and a considerable number have deposits of money in the banks. The great majority of these men have not relied on agriculture, and no attempt has been made to direct their efforts to that occupation. Left to seek their livelihood in the manner in which they could best find it, and emancipated from tutelage and dependence on the aid and guidance of the proprietor, they have prospered more than their neighbours, apparently because they have relied less upon the crops they could raise on their lands, and have pursued other occupations with more energy and perseverance.

“Of the crofters or small tenants on this property who are not fishermen, and who are[63] dependent solely on the occupation of land, the most prosperous are those who have relied upon grazing, and who are still cultivating their arable land in ‘runrig.’ These club-farmers, as they are called, hold a farm in common, each having an equal share. They habitually purchase part of their food. They have paid their rents regularly, and several of them have deposits of money in bank. Mr Mackinnon, who has for more than fifteen years been the factor on the property, gives the following account of the club-farmers of Lochcarron:—

“‘Of the lotters or crofters paying £6 and upwards, a large proportion have long had leases for seven years, which have been renewed from time to time. Those paying smaller rents have not leases. The lots which are occupied by tenants-at-will are much better cultivated than those which are held on leases. I don’t, of course, attribute the better cultivation to the want of leases; all I infer from this fact is, that granting leases to the present occupants of lots has not made them better cultivators of their lots. The most successful of the small tenants are those who have taken farms in common, in which the grazings are chiefly stocked with sheep, and in which there happens to be a sufficient extent of arable land connected with a moderate extent of grazing to enable them to raise crops for their own subsistence. Since the failure of the potatoes, however, all the tenants of this class have been obliged to buy meal. On those farms which are held on lease, the land is still cultivated on the ‘runrig’ system. There are five such farms on Mr Mackenzie’s property in the parish of Lochcarron. One of these is let at £48, to six persons paying £8 each; another for £56, to seven men at £8 each; another for £72, to eight men at £9 each; another to eight men at £13, 10s., equal to £108; another to eight men at £15 each, equal to £120. The cultivation on all of these farms is on the ‘runrig’ system. Their sales of stock and wool are made in common,—that is, in one lot. Their stock, though not common property (each man having his own with a distinctive mark), are managed in common by a person employed for that purpose. The tenants of this class have paid their rents with great punctuality, and have never been in arrear to any amount worth mentioning. A considerable number of them have money in bank. They have their lands at a moderate rent, which is no doubt one cause of their prosperity. Another cause is, that no one of the tenants can subdivide his share without the consent of his co-tenants and of the proprietor. The co-tenants are all opposed to such subdivision of a share by one of their number, and practically no sub-division has taken place. Their families, therefore, as they grow up, are sent out to shift for themselves. Some of the children find employment at home,—some emigrate to the colonies.’”[90]

Of course it is not maintained that this is the most profitable way for the proprietor to let his lands; it is not at all improbable that by adopting the large-farm system, his rent might be considerably increased; only it shows, that when the Highlanders are left to themselves, and have fair play and good opportunities, they are quite capable of looking after their own interests with success.

A comparatively recent Highland grievance is the clearance off of sheep, and the conversion of large districts, in one case extending for about 100 miles, into deer forests. Great complaint has been made that this was a wanton abuse of proprietorship, as it not only displaced large numbers of people, but substituted for such a useful animal as the sheep, an animal like the deer, maintained for mere sport. No doubt the proprietors find it more profitable to lay their lands under deer than under sheep, else they would not do it, and by all accounts[91] it requires the same number of men to look after a tract of country covered with deer, as it would do if the same district were under sheep. But it certainly does seem a harsh, unjust, and very un-British proceeding to depopulate a whole district, as has sometimes been done, of poor but respectable and happy people, for the mere sake of providing sport for a few gentlemen. It is mere sophistry to justify the substitution of deer for sheep, by saying that one as well as the other is killed and eaten as food. For thousands whose daily food is mutton, there is not more than one who regards venison as anything else than[64] a rarity; and by many it is considered unpalatable. Landlords at present can no doubt do what they like with their lands; but it seems to us that in the long-run it is profitable neither to them nor to the nation at large, that large tracts of ground, capable of maintaining such a universally useful animal as the sheep, or of being divided into farms of a moderate size, should be thrown away on deer, an animal of little value but for sport.

As we have more than once said already, the Highlands are in a state of transition, though, we think, near the end of it; and we have no doubt that ere long both proprietors and tenants will find out the way to manage the land most profitable for both, and life there will be as comfortable, and quiet, and undisturbed by agitations of any kind, as it is in any other part of the country.

Since the date of the New Statistical Account and of Sir J. M’Neill’s Report, the same processes have been going on in the Highlands with the same results as during the previous half century. The old population have in many places been removed from their small crofts to make way for large sheep-farmers, sheep having in some districts been giving place to deer, and a large emigration has been going on. Much discontent and bitter writing have of course been caused by these proceedings, but there is no doubt that, as a whole, the Highlands are rapidly improving, although improvement has doubtless come through much tribulation. Except, perhaps, a few of the remoter districts, the Highlands generally are as far forward as the rest of the country. Agriculture is as good, the Highland sheep and cattle are famous, the people are about as comfortable as lowlanders in the same circumstances; education is well diffused; churches of all sects are plentiful, and ere long, doubtless, so far as outward circumstances are concerned, there will be no difference between the Highlands and Lowlands. How the universal improvement of the Highlands is mainly to be accomplished, we shall state in the words of Sir John M’Neill. What he says refers to the state of the country during the distress of 1851, but they apply equally well at the present day.

“It is evident that, were the population reduced to the number that can live in tolerable comfort, that change alone would not secure the future prosperity and independence of those who remain. It may be doubted whether any specific measures calculated to have a material influence on the result, could now be suggested that have not repeatedly been proposed. Increased and improved means of education would tend to enlighten the people, and to fit them for seeking their livelihood in distant places, as well as tend to break the bonds that now confine them to their native localities. But, to accomplish these objects, education must not be confined to reading, writing, and arithmetic. The object of all education is not less to excite the desire for knowledge, than to furnish the means of acquiring it; and in this respect, education in the Highlands is greatly deficient. Instruction in agriculture and the management of stock would facilitate the production of the means of subsistence. A more secure tenure of the lands they occupy would tend to make industrious and respectable crofters more diligent and successful cultivators. But the effects of all such measures depends on the spirit and manner in which they are carried out, as well as on the general management with which they are connected throughout a series of years. It is, no doubt, in the power of every proprietor to promote or retard advancement, and he is justly responsible for the manner in which he uses that power; but its extent appears to have been much overrated. The circumstances that determine the progress of such a people as the inhabitants of those districts, in the vicinity, and forming a part of a great nation far advanced in knowledge and in wealth, appear to be chiefly those which determine the amount of intercourse between them. Where that intercourse is easy and constant, the process of assimilation proceeds rapidly, and the result is as certain as that of opening the sluices in the ascending lock of a canal. Where that intercourse is impeded, or has not been established, it may perhaps be possible to institute a separate local civilization, an isolated social progress; but an instance of its successful accomplishment is not to be found in those districts.

“Whatever tends to facilitate and promote intercourse between the distressed districts[65] and the more advanced parts of the country, tends to assimilate the habits and modes of life of their inhabitants, and, therefore, to promote education, industry, good management, and everything in which the great body excels the small portion that is to be assimilated to it.”[92]

Notwithstanding the immense number of people who have emigrated from the Highlands during the last 100 years, the population of the six chief Highland counties, including the Islands, was in 1861 upwards of 100,000 more than it was in 1755. In the latter year the number of inhabitants in Argyll, Inverness, Caithness, Perth, Ross, and Sutherland, was 332,332; in 1790–98 it was 392,263, which, by 1821, had increased to 447,307; in 1861 it had reached 449,875. Thus, although latterly, happily, the rate of increase has been small compared with what it was during last century, any fear of the depopulation of the Highlands is totally unfounded.

Until lately, the great majority of Highland emigrants preferred British America to any other colony, and at the present day Cape Breton, Prince Edward’s Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and many other districts of British North America, contain a large Highland population, proud of their origin, and in many instances still maintaining their original Gaelic. One of the earliest Highland settlements was, however, in Georgia, where in 1738, a Captain Mackintosh settled along with a considerable number of followers from Inverness-shire. Hence the settlement was called New Inverness.[93] The favourite destination, however, of the earlier Highland emigrants was North Carolina, to which, from about 1760 till the breaking out of the American war, many hundreds removed from Skye and other of the Western Islands. During that war these colonists almost to a man adhered to the British Government, and formed themselves into the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, which did good service, as will be seen in the account of the Highland Regiments. At the conclusion of the war, many settled in Carolina, while others removed to Canada, where land was allotted to them by Government. That the descendants of these early settlers still cherish the old Highland spirit, is testified to by all travellers; some interesting notices of their present condition maybe seen in Mr David Macrae’s American Sketches (1869). Till quite lately, Gaelic sermons were preached to them, and the language of their forefathers we believe has not yet fallen into disuse in the district, being spoken even by some of the negroes. Those who emigrated to this region seem mostly to have been tacksmen, while many of the farmers and cottars settled in British America. Although their fortunes do not seem to have come up to the expectations of themselves and those who sent them out, still there is no doubt that their condition after emigration was in almost every respect far better than it was before, and many of their descendants now occupy responsible and prominent positions in the colony, while all seem to be as comfortable as the most well-to-do Scottish farmers having the advantage of the latter in being proprietors of their own farms. According to the Earl of Selkirk, who himself took out and settled several bands of colonists, “the settlers had every incitement to vigorous exertion from the nature of their tenure. They were allowed to purchase in fee-simple, and to a certain extent on credit. From 50 to 100 acres were allotted to each family at a very moderate price, but none was given gratuitously. To accommodate those who had no superfluity of capital, they were not required to pay the price in full, till the third or fourth year of their possession; and in that time an industrious man may have it in his power to discharge his debt out of the produce of the land itself.”[94] Those who went out without capital at all, could, such was the high rate of wages, soon save as much as would enable them to undertake the management of land of their own. That the Highlanders were as capable of hand and good labour as the lowlanders, is proved by the way they set to work in these colonies, when they were entirely freed from oppression, and dependence, and charity, and had to depend entirely on their own exertions.


Besides the above settlements, the mass of the population in Caledonia County, State of New York, are of Highland extraction, and there are large settlements in the State of Ohio, besides numerous families and individual settlers in other parts of the United States. Highland names were numerous among the generals of the United States army on both sides in the late civil war.[95]

The fondness of these settlers for the old country, and all that is characteristic of it, is well shown by an anecdote told in Campbell’s Travels in North America (1793). The spirit manifested here is, we believe, as strong even at the present day when hundreds will flock from many miles around to hear a Gaelic sermon by a Scotch minister. Campbell, in his travels in British America, mainly undertaken with the purpose of seeing how the new Highland colonists were succeeding, called at the house of a Mr Angus Mackintosh on the Nashwack. He was from Inverness-shire, and his wife told Campbell they had every necessary of life in abundance on their own property, but there was one thing which she wished much to have—that was heather. “And as she had heard there was an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence, opposite to the mouth of the Merimashee river, where it grew, and as she understood I was going that way, she earnestly entreated I would bring her two or three stalks, or cows as she called it, which she would plant on a barren brae behind her house where she supposed it would grow; that she made the same request to several going that way, but had not got any of it, which she knew would greatly beautify the place; for, said she, ‘This is an ugly country that has no heather; I never yet saw any good or pleasant place without it.’” Latterly, very large numbers of Highlanders have settled in Australia and New Zealand, where, by all accounts, they are in every respect as successful as the most industrious lowland emigrants.

No doubt much immediate suffering and bitterness was caused when the Highlanders were compelled to leave their native land, which by no means treated them kindly; but whether emigration has been disastrous to the Highlands or not, there can be no doubt of its ultimate unspeakable benefit to the Highland emigrants themselves, and to the colonies in which they have settled. Few, we believe, however tempting the offer, would care to quit their adopted home, and return to the bleak hills and rugged shores of their native land.


[85] Those who wish further details may refer to the following pamphlets:—The Glengarry Evictions, by Donald Ross; Hist. of the Hebrides, by E. O. Tregelles; Twelve Days in Skye, by Lady M’Caskill; Exterminations of the Scottish Peasantry, and other works, by Mr Robertson of Dundonnachie; Highland Clearances, by the Rev. E. J. Findlater; Sutherland as it was and is; and the pamphlet in last note. On the other side, see Selkirk on Emigration; Sir J. M’Neill’s report and article in Edin. Review for Oct. 1857.

[86] The Depopulation System in the Highlands, by an Eye-Witness. Pamphlet. 1849.

[87] Tregelles’ Hints on the Hebrides.

[88] Sir John M’Neill’s Report, pp. xxxiv.-xxxv.

[89] Sir John M’Neill’s Report, pp. xxii., xxiii.

[90] Sir John M’Neill’s Report, xxvi. xxvii.

[91] See Edin. Rev. for Oct. 1857.

[92] Sir John M’Neill’s Report, xxxviii. xxxix.

[93] The American Gazetteer. Lond. 1762. Art. Inverness, New.

[94] Selkirk on Emigration, p. 212.

[95] Dr M’Lauchlan’s paper in Social Science Transactions for 1863.




Extent of Gaelic literature—Claims of Ireland—Circumstances adverse to preservation of Gaelic literature—“The Lament of Deirdre”—“The Children of Usnoth”—“The Book of Deer”—The Legend of Deer—The memoranda of grants—The “Albanic Duan”—“Muireadhach Albannach”—Gaelic charter of 1408—Manuscripts of the 15th century—“The Dean of Lismore’s Book”—Macgregor, Dean of Lismore—“Ursgeul”—“Bas Dhiarmaid”—Ossian’s Eulogy on Fingal—Macpherson’s Ossian—“Fingal”—Cuchullin’s chariot—“Temora”—Smith’s “Sean Dana”—Ossianic collections—Fingal’s address to Oscar—Ossian’s address to the setting sun—John Knox’s Liturgy—Kirk’s Gaelic Psalter—Irish Bible—Shorter Catechism—Confession of Faith—Gaelic Bible—Translations from the English—Original prose writings—Campbell’s Ancient Highland Tales—“Maol A Chliobain”—“The man in the tuft of wool”—Alexander Macdonald—Macintyre—Modern poetry—School-books—The Gaelic language—Gaelic music.

The literature of the Highlands, although not extensive, is varied, and has excited not a little interest in the world of letters. The existing remains are of various ages, carrying us back, in the estimation of some writers, to the second century, while contributions are making to it still, and are likely to be made for several generations.

It has been often said that the literature of the Celts of Ireland was much more extensive than that of the Celts of Scotland—that the former were in fact a more literary people—that the ecclesiastics, and medical men, and historians (seanachies) of Scotland had less culture than those of the sister island, and that they must be held thus to have been a stage behind them in civilisation and progress. Judging by the remains which exist, there seems to be considerable ground for such[67] a conclusion. Scotland can produce nothing like the MS. collections in possession of Trinity College Dublin, or the Royal Irish Academy. There are numerous fragments of considerable value in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, and in the hands of private parties throughout Scotland, but there is nothing to compare with the Book of Lecan, Leabhar na h-uidhre, and the other remains of the ancient literary culture of Ireland, which exist among the collections now brought together in Dublin; nor with such remains of what is called Irish scholarship as are to be found in Milan, Brussels, and other places on the continent of Europe.

At the same time there is room for questioning how far the claims of Ireland to the whole of that literature are good. Irish scholars are not backward in pressing the claims of their own country to everything of any interest that may be called Celtic. If we acquiesce in these claims, Scotland will be left without a shred of aught which she can call her own in the way of Celtic literature; and there is a class of Scottish scholars who, somewhat more generous than discriminating, have been disposed to acquiesce but too readily in those claims. We have our doubts as to Ireland having furnished Scotland with its Gaelic population, and we have still stronger doubts as to Ireland having been the source of all the Celtic literature which she claims. A certain class of writers are at once prepared to allow that the Bobbio MSS. and those other continental Gaelic MSS. of which Zeuss has made such admirable use in his Grammatica Celtica, are all Irish, and they are taken as illustrative alike of the zeal and culture of the early Irish Church. And yet there is no evidence of such being the case. The language certainly is not Irish, nor are the names of such of the writers as are usually associated with the writings. Columbanus, the founder of the Bobbio Institution, may have been an Irishman, but he may have been a Scotchman. He may have gone from Durrow, but he may have gone from Iona. The latter was no less famous than the former, and had a staff of men quite as remarkable. We have authentic information regarding its ancient history. It sent out Aidan to Northumberland, and numerous successors after him, and there is much presumptive evidence that many of these early missionaries took their departure from Scotland, and carried with them their Scottish literature to the Continent of Europe. And the language of the writers is no evidence to the contrary. In so far as the Gaelic was written at this early period, the dialect used was common to Ireland and Scotland. To say that a work is Irish because written in what is called the Irish dialect is absurd. There was no such thing as an Irish dialect. The written language of the whole Gaelic race was long the same throughout, and it would have been impossible for any man to have said to which of the sections into which that race was divided any piece of writing belonged. This has long been evident to men who have made a study of the question, but recent relics of Scottish Gaelic which have come to light, and have been published, put the matter beyond a doubt. Mr Whitley Stokes, than whom there is no better authority, has said of a passage in the “Book of Deer” that the language of it is identical with that of the MSS. which form the basis of the learned grammar of Zeuss: and there can be no doubt that the “Book of Deer” is of Scottish authorship. It is difficult to convince Irish scholars of this, but it is no less true on that account. Indeed, what is called the Irish dialect has been employed for literary purposes in Scotland down to a recent period, the first book in the vernacular of the Scottish Highlands having been printed so lately as the middle of last century. And it is important to observe that this literary dialect, said to be Irish, is nearly as far apart from the ordinary Gaelic vernacular of Ireland as it is from that of Scotland.

But besides this possibility of having writings that are really Scottish counted as Irish from their being written in the same dialect, the Gaelic literature of Scotland has suffered from other causes. Among these were the changes in the ecclesiastical condition of the country which took place from time to time. First of all there was the change which took place under the government of Malcolm III. (Ceann-mor) and his sons, which led to the downfall of the ancient Scottish Church, and the supplanting of it by the Roman Hierarchy. Any literature existing in the 12th century would have been of the older church, and[68] would have little interest for the institution which took its place. That there was such a literature is obvious from the “Book of Deer,” and that it existed among all the institutions of a like kind in Scotland is a fair and reasonable inference from the existence and character of that book. Why this is the only fragment of such a literature remaining is a question of much interest, which may perhaps be solved by the fact that the clergy of the later church could have felt little interest in preserving the memorials of a period which they must have been glad to have seen passed away. Then the Scottish Reformation and the rise of the Protestant Church, however favourable to literature, would not have been favourable to the preservation of such literature. The old receptacles of such writings were broken up, and their contents probably destroyed or dispersed, as associated with what was now felt to be a superstitious worship. There is reason to believe that the Kilbride collection of MSS. now in the Advocates’ Library, and obtained from the family of Maclachlan of Kilbride, was to some extent a portion of the old library of Iona, one of the last Abbots of which was a Ferquhard M’Lachlan.

Besides these influences, unfavourable to the preservation of the ancient literature of the Scottish Highlands, we have the fierce raid of Edward I. of England into the country, and the carrying away of all the national muniments. Some of these were in all probability Gaelic. A Gaelic king and a Gaelic kingdom were then things not long past in Scotland; and seeing they are found elsewhere, is there not reason to believe that among them were lists of Scottish and Pictish kings, and other documents of historical importance, such as formed the basis of those Bardic addresses made by the royal bards to the kings on the occasion of their coronation? These might have been among the records afterwards intended to be returned to Scotland, and which perished in the miserable shipwreck of the vessel that bore them. These causes may account for the want of a more extensive ancient Celtic literature in Scotland, and for the more advantageous position occupied in this respect by Ireland. Ireland neither suffered from the popular feeling evoked at the Reformation, nor from the spoliations of an Edward of England, as Scotland did. And hence the abundant remains still existing of a past literature there.

And yet Scotland does not altogether want an ancient Celtic literature, and the past few years have done much to bring it to light. It is not impossible that among our public libraries and private repositories relics may be still lying of high interest and historical value, and which more careful research may yet bring into view. The Dean of Lismore’s book has only been given to the world within the last six years, and more recently still we have the “Book of Deer,” a relic of the 11th or 12th century.

On taking a survey of this literature, it might be thought most natural to commence with the Ossianic remains, both on account of the prominence which they have received and the interest and controversy they have excited, and also because they are held by many to have a claim to the highest antiquity,—to be the offspring of an age not later than the 2d or 3d century. But it is usual to associate literature with writing, and as the Gaelic language has been a written one from a very early period, we think it best to keep up this association, and to take up the written remains of the language as nearly as may be in their chronological order. The first of these to which reference may be made is

The Lament of Deirdre.

This poem is found in a MS. given to the Highland Society by Lord Bannatyne, and now in the archives of the Advocates’ Library. The date of the MS. is 1208, but there is every reason to believe that the poem is of much higher antiquity. The preserved copy bears to have been written at Glenmasan, a mountain valley in the parish of Dunoon, in Cowal. The MS. contains other fragments of tales in prose, but we shall refer only to the poetical story of Deirdre, or, as it is usually called in Gaelic, “Dàn Chloinn Uisneachain.” The tale is a famous one in the Highlands, and the heroes of it, the sons of Usnoth, have given name to Dun Mhac Uisneachain, or Dun Mac Sniochain, said to be the Roman Beregonium,[69] in the parish of Ardchattan in Argyleshire. We give the following version of the poem as it appears in the Report of the Highland Society on the Poems of Ossian (p. 298).

Do dech Deardir ar a héise ar crichibh Alban, agus ro chan an Laoidh

Inmain tir in tir ud thoir,

Alba cona lingantaibh

Nocha tiefuinn eisdi ille

Mana tisain le Naise.

Inmain Dun Fidhgha is Dun Finn

Inmain in Dun os a cinn

Inmain Inis Draignde

Is inmain Dun Sùibnei.

Caill cuan gar tigeadh Ainnle mo nuar

Fagair lim ab bitan

Is Naise an oirear Alban.

Glend Laidh do chollain fan mboirmin caoimh

Iasg is sieng is saill bruich

Fa hi mo chuid an Glend laigh.

Glend masain ard a crimh geal a gasain

Do nimais colladh corrach

Os Inbhhar mungach Masain.

Glend Eitchi ann do togbhus mo ched tigh

Alaind a fidh iar neirghe

Buaile grene Ghlind eitchi.

Mo chen Glend Urchaidh

Ba hedh in Glend direach dromchain

Uallcha feara aoisi ma Naise

An Glend Urchaidh.

Glend da ruadh

Mo chen gach fear da na dual

Is binn guth cuach

Ar cracib chruim

Ar in mbinn os Glenndaruadh

Inmain Draighen is tren traigh

Inmain Auichd in ghainimh glain

Nocha tiefuin eisde anoir

Mana tisuinn lem Inmain.

English Translation.

Deirdre looked back on the land of Alban, and sung this lay:—

Beloved is that eastern land,

Alba (Scotland), with its lakes.

Oh that I might not depart from it,

Unless I were to go with Naos!

Beloved is Dunfigha and Dunlin.

Beloved is the Dun above it.

Beloved is Inisdraiyen (Imstrynich?),

And beloved is Dun Sween.

The forest of the sea to which Ainnle would come, alas!

I leave for ever,

And Naos, on the sea-coast of Alban.

Glen Lay (Glen Luy?), I would sleep by its gentle murmur.

Fish and venison, and the fat of meat boiled,

Such would be my food in Glen Lay.

Glenmasan! High is its wild garlic, fair its branches.

I would sleep wakefully

Over the shaggy Invermasan.

Glen Etive! in which I raised my first house,

Delightful were its groves on rising

When the sun struck on Glen Etive.

My delight was Glen Urchay;

It is the straight vale of many ridges.

Joyful were his fellows around Naos

In Glen Urchay.

Glendaruadh (Glendaruel?),

My delight in every man who belongs to it.

Sweet is the voice of the cuckoo

On the bending tree,

Sweet is it above Glendaruadh.

Beloved is Drayen of the sounding shore!

Beloved is Avich (Dalavich?) of the pure sand.

Oh that I might not leave the east

Unless it were to come along with me! Beloved—

There is some change in the translation as compared with that given in the Highland Society’s Report, the meaning, however, being nearly identical in both. The tale to which this mournful lyric is attached,—the story of the children of Usnoth and their sad fate, bears that Conor was king of Ulster. Visiting on one occasion the house of Feilim, his seanachie, Feilim’s wife, was delivered of a daughter while the king was in the house. Cathbad the Druid, who was present, prophesied that many disasters should befall Ulster on account of the child then born. The king resolved to bring her up as his own future wife, and for this end enclosed her in a tower where she was excluded from all intercourse with men, except her tutor, her nurse, and an attendant called Lavarcam. It happened that in the course of time, by means of this Lavarcam, she came to see Naos, the son of Usnoth. She at once formed a warm affection for him; the affection was reciprocated, and Naos and Deirdre, by which name the young woman was called, fled to Scotland, accompanied by Ainle and Ardan, the brothers of Naos. Here they were kindly received by the king, and had lands given them for their support. It is not unlikely that these lands were in the neighbourhood of Dun Mhac Uisneachain in Lorn. Here they lived long and happily. At length Conor desired their return, and sent a messenger to Scotland, promising them welcome and security in Ireland if they would but return. Deirdre strongly objected, fearing the treachery of Conor, but she was overruled by the urgency of her husband and his brothers. They left Scotland, Deirdre composing and singing the above mournful lay. In Ireland they were at first received with apparent kindness, but soon after the house in which they dwelt was surrounded by Conor and his men, and after deeds of matchless valour the three brothers were put[70] to death, in defiance of Conor’s pledge. The broken hearted Deirdre cast herself on the grave of Naos and died, having first composed and sung a lament for his death. This is one of the most touching in the catalogue of Celtic tales; and it is interesting to observe the influence it exerted over the Celtic mind by its effect upon the topographical nomenclature of the country. There are several Dun Deirdres to be found still. One is prominent in the vale of the Nevis, near Fortwilliam, and another occupies the summit of a magnificent rock overhanging Loch Ness, in Stratherrick. Naos, too, has given his name to rocks, and woods, and lakes ranging from Ayrshire to Inverness-shire, but the most signal of all is the great lake which fills the eastern portion of the Caledonian valley, Loch Ness. The old Statistical Account of Inverness states that the name of this lake was understood to be derived from some mythical person among the old Celts; and there can be little doubt that the person was Naos. The lake of Naos (Naise in the genitive), lies below, and overhanging it is the Tower of Deirdre. The propinquity is natural, and the fact is evidence of the great antiquity of the tale.

There are other MSS. of high antiquity in existence said to be Scotch; but it is sufficient to refer for an account of these to the Appendix to the Report of the Highland Society on the Poems of Ossian, an account written by an admirable Celtic scholar, Dr Donald Smith, the brother of Dr John Smith of Campbeltown, so distinguished in the same field.

The next relic of Celtic literature to which we refer is

The Book of Deer.

This is a vellum MS. of eighty-six folios, about six inches long by three broad, discovered in the University Library of Cambridge, by Mr Bradshaw, the librarian of the University. It had belonged to a distinguished collector of books, Bishop Moore of Norwich, and afterwards of Ely, whose library was presented to the University more than a century ago. The chief portion of the book is in Latin, and is said to be as old as the 9th century. This portion contains the Gospel of St John, and portions of the other three Gospels. The MS. also contains part of an Office for the visitation of the sick, and the Apostles’ Creed. There is much interest in this portion of the book as indicative of the state of learning in the Celtic Church at the time. It shows that the ecclesiastics of that Church kept pace with the age in which they lived, that they knew their Bible, and could both write and read in Latin. The MS. belonged to a Culdee establishment, and is therefore a memorial of the ancient Celtic Church. It is a pity that we possess so few memorials of that Church, convinced as we are that, did we know the truth, many of the statements made regarding it by men of a different age, and belonging to a differently constituted ecclesiastical system, would be found to be unsupported by the evidence. It is strange that if the Culdee establishments were what many modern writers make them to have been, they should have had so many tokens of their popularity as this volume exhibits; and we know well that that Church did not fall before the assaults of a hostile population, but before those of a hostile king.

But the more interesting portion of the Book of Deer, in connection with our inquiry, will be found in the Gaelic entries on the margin and in the vacant spaces of the volume. These have all been given to the world in the recent publication of portions of the book by the Spalding Club, under the editorship of Dr John Stuart. Celtic scholars are deeply indebted to the Spalding Club for this admirable publication, and although many of them will differ from the editor in some of the views which he gives in his accompanying disquisitions, and even in some of the readings of the Gaelic, they cannot but feel indebted to him for the style in which he has furnished them with the original, for it is really so, in the plates which the volume contains. On these every man can comment for himself and form his own inferences. We have given ours in this MS.


The Legend of Deer.

Columcille acusdrostán mac cosgreg adálta tangator áhi marroalseg día doíb goníc abbordobóir acusbéde cruthnec robomormær bûchan aragínn acusessé rothídnaíg dóib ingathráig sáin insaere gobraíth ómormaer acusóthóséc. tangator asááthle sen incathráig ele acusdoráten ricolumcille sì iàrfallán dórath dé acusdorodloeg arinmormær i bédé gondas tabràd dó acusníthárat acusrogab mac dó galár iarnéré naglerêc acusrobomaréb act mádbec iarsén dochuíd inmormaer dattác naglerec gondendæs ernaede les inmac gondisád slánté dó acusdórat inedbaírt doíb uácloic intiprat goníce chlóic petti mic garnáit doronsat innernaede acustanic slante dó; larsén dorat collumcille dódrostan inchadráig sén acusrosbenact acusforacaib imbrether gebe tisaid ris nabad blienec buadacc tangator deara drostán arscartháin fri collumcille rolaboir columcille bedeár áním ó húnn ímácé.

English Translation.

Columcille and Drostan, son of Cosgreg, his pupil, came from I as God revealed to them to Aberdour, and Bede the Pict was Mormaor of Buchan before them, and it was he who gifted to them that town in freedom for ever from mormaor and toiseach. After that they came to another town, and it pleased Columcille, for it was full of the grace of God, and he asked it of the Mormaor, that is Bede, that he would give it to him, and he would not give it, and a son of his took a sickness after refusing the clerics, and he was dead but a little. After that the Mormaor went to entreat of the clerics that they would make prayer for the son that health might come to him, and he gave as an offering to them from Cloch an tiprat (the stone of the well) as far as Cloch Pit mac Garnad (the stone of Pitmacgarnad). They made the prayer, and health came to him. After that Collumcille gave that town to Drostan, and he blessed it, and left the word, Whosoever comes against it, let him not be long-lived or successful. Drostan’s tears came (Deara) on separating from Collumcille. Collumcille said, Let Deer (Tear) be its name from hence forward.

Such is the legend of the foundation of the old monastery of Deer, as preserved in this book, and written probably in the twelfth century. It was in all probability handed down from the close of the sixth or from a later period, but it must not be forgotten that a period of six hundred years had elapsed between the events here recorded and the record itself as it appears. It is hard to say whether Columba ever made this expedition to Buchan, or whether Drostan, whose name is in all likelihood British, lived in the time of Columba. The Aberdeen Breviary makes him nephew of the saint, but there is no mention of him in this or any other connection by early ecclesiastical writers, and there is every reason to believe that he belonged to a later period. It was of some consequence at this time to connect any such establishment as that at Deer with the name of Columba. There is nothing improbable in its having been founded by Drostan.

It is interesting to observe several things which are brought to light by this legend of the twelfth century. It teaches us what the men of the period believed regarding the sixth. The ecclesiastics of Deer believed that their own institution had been founded so early as the sixth century, and clearly that they were the successors of the founders. If this be true, gospel light shone among the Picts of Buchan almost as soon as among the people of Iona. It has been maintained that previous to Columba’s coming to Scotland the country had felt powerfully the influence of Christianity,[96] and the legend of Deer would seem to corroborate the statement. From the palace of Brude the king, in the neighbourhood of Inverness, on to the dwelling of the Mormaor, or Governor of Buchan, Christianity occupied the country so early as the age of Columba. But this is a legend, and must not be made more of than it is worth. Then this legend gives us some view of the civil policy of the sixth century, as the men of the twelfth viewed it. The chief governor of Buchan was Bede, the same name with that of the venerable Northumbrian historian of the eighth century. He is simply designated as Cruthnec (Cruithneach) or the Pict. Was this because there were other inhabitants in the country besides Picts at the time, or because they were Picts in contrast with the people of that day? The probability is, that these writers of the twelfth century designated Bede as a Pict, in contradistinction to themselves, who were probably of Scotic origin. Then the names in this document are of interest. Besides that of Bede, we have Drostan and Cosgreg, his father, and Garnaid. Bede, Drostan, Cosgreg, and Garnaid, are names not known in the Gaelic nomenclature of Scotland or Ireland. And there are names of places, Aberdobhoir, known as Aberdour to this day, Buchan also in daily use, Cloch in tiprat not known now, and Pit mac garnaid also[72] become obsolete. Aberdobhoir (Aberdwfr) is purely a British name; Buchan, derived from the British Bwch, a cow, is also British; Pit mac garnaid, with the exception of the Mac, is not Gaelic, so that the only Gaelic name in the legend is Cloch in tiprat, a merely descriptive term. This goes far to show what the character of the early topography of Scotland really is.

Then there is light thrown upon the civil arrangements of the Celtic state. We read nothing of chiefs and clans, but we have Mormaors (great officers), and Toiseachs (leaders), the next officer in point of rank, understood to be connected with the military arrangements of the country, the one being the head of the civil and the other of the military organisation. At this time there was a Celtic kingdom in Scotland, with a well established and well organised government, entirely different from what appears afterwards under the feudal system of the Anglo-Saxons, when the people became divided into clans, each under their separate chiefs, waging perpetual war with each other. Of all this the Book of Deer cannot and does not speak authoritatively, but it indicates the belief of the twelfth century with regard to the state of the sixth.

The farther Gaelic contents of the Book of Deer are notices of grants of land conferred by the friends of the institution. None of these are real charters, but the age of charters had come, and it was important that persons holding lands should have some formal title to them. Hence the notices of grants inscribed on the margin of this book, all without date, save that there is a copy of a Latin charter of David I., who began his reign in the year 1124.

The memoranda of grants to the monastery are in one case headed with the following blessing—Acus bennact inchomded arcecmormar acusarcectosech chomallfas acusdansil daneis. “And the blessing of the one God on every governor and every leader who keeps this, and to their seed afterwards.” The first grant recorded follows immediately after the legend given above. It narrates that Comgeall mac eda gave from Orti to Furene to Columba and to Drostan; that Moridach M’Morcunn gave Pit mac Garnait and Achad toche temni, the former being Mormaor and the latter Toiseach. Matain M’Caerill gave a Mormaor’s share in Altin (not Altere, as in the Spalding Club’s edition), and Culn (not Culii) M’Batin gave the share of a Toiseach. Domnall M’Giric and Maelbrigte M’Cathail gave Pett in muilenn to Drostan. Cathal M’Morcunt gave Achad naglerech to Drostan. Domnall M’Ruadri and Malcolum M’Culeon gave Bidbin to God and to Drostan. Malcolum M’Cinatha (Malcolm the Second) gave a king’s share in Bidbin and in Pett M’Gobroig, and two davachs above Rosabard. Malcolum M’Mailbrigte gave the Delerc. Malsnecte M’Luloig gave Pett Malduib to Drostan. Domnall M’Meic Dubhacin sacrificed every offering to Drostan. Cathal sacrificed in the same manner his Toiseach’s share, and gave the food of a hundred every Christmas, and every Pasch to God and to Drostan. Kenneth Mac meic Dobarcon and Cathal gave Alterin alla from Te (Tigh) na Camon as far as the birch tree between the two Alterins. Domnall and Cathal gave Etdanin to God and to Drostan. Cainneach and Domnall and Cathal sacrificed all these offerings to God and to Drostan from beginning to end free, from Mormaors and from Toiseachs to the day of judgment.

It will be observed that some of the words in this translation are different from those given in the edition of the Spalding Club. Some of the readings in that edition, notwithstanding its general accuracy, are doubtful. In the case of uethe na camone, unless the ue is understood as standing for from, there is no starting point at all in the passage describing the grant. Besides, we read Altin allend, as the name of Altin or Alterin in another grant. This seems to have escaped the notice of the learned translator.

These grants are of interest for various reasons. We have first of all the names of the grantees and others, as the names common during the twelfth and previous centuries, for these grants go back to a period earlier than the reign of Malcolm the Second, when the first change began to take place in the old Celtic system of polity. We have such names as Comgeall Mac Eda, probably Mac Aoidh, or, as spelt now in English, Mackay; Moridach M’Morcunn[73] (Morgan), or, as now spelt, M’Morran; Matain M’Caerill, Matthew M’Kerroll; Culn M’Batin, Colin M’Bean; Domhnall M’Girig, Donald M’Erig (Gregor or Eric?); Malbrigte M’Cathail, Gilbert M’Kail; Cathal M’Morcunt, Cathal M’Morran; Domhnall M’Ruadri, Donald M’Rory; Malcolum M’Culeon, Malcolm M’Colin; Malcolum M’Cinnatha, Malcolm M’Kenneth, now M’Kenzie. This was king Malcolm the Second, whose Celtic designation is of the same character with that of the other parties in the notice. Malcolum M’Mailbrigte, Malcolm M’Malbride; the nearest approach to the latter name in present use is Gilbert. Malsnecte M’Luloig, Malsnechta M’Lulaich. The former of these names is obsolete, but M’Lullich is known as a surname to this day. Domnall M’Meic Dubhacin (not Dubbacin), the latter name not known now. The name Dobharcon is the genitive of Dobharcu, an otter. The names of animals were frequently applied to men at the time among the Celts. The father of King Brude was Mialchu, a greyhound. Loilgheach (Lulach), a man’s name, is in reality a milch cow.

The next set of grants entered on the margin of this remarkable record are as follows:—Donchad M’Meic Bead mec Hidid (probably the same with Eda, and therefore Aoidh), gave Acchad Madchor to Christ and to Drostan and to Columcille; Malechi and Comgell and Gillecriosd M’Fingun witnesses, and Malcoluim M’Molini. Cormac M’Cennedig gave as far as Scali merlec. Comgell M’Caennaig, the Toiseach of Clan Canan, gave to Christ and to Drostan and to Columcille as far as the Gortlie mor, at the part nearest to Aldin Alenn, from Dubuci to Lurchara, both hill and field free from Toiseachs for ever, and a blessing on those who observe, and a curse on those who oppose this.

The names here are different from those in the former entry, with few exceptions. They are Duncan, son of Macbeth, son of Hugh or Ay, Malachi, Comgall, Gilchrist M’Kinnon, and Malcolm M’Millan, Comgall M’Caennaig (M’Coinnich or M’Kenzie?) In this entry we have the place which is read Altere and Alterin by Mr Whitley Stokes. It is here entered as Aldin Alenn, as it is in a former grant entered as Altin. In no case is the er written in full, so that Alterin is a guess. But there is no doubt that Aldin Alenn and Alterin alla are the same place. If it be Alterin the Alla may mean rough, stony, as opposed to a more level and smooth place of the same name. It will be observed that in this entry the name of a clan appears Clande Canan (Clann Chanain). There was such a clan in Argyleshire who were treasurers of the Argyle family, and derived their name from the Gaelic Càin, a Tax. It is not improbable that the name in Buchan might have been applied to a family of hereditary tax-gatherers.

The next series of grants entered on the margin of the “Book of Deer” are as follows:—Colbain Mormaor of Buchan, and Eva, daughter of Gartnait, his wife, and Donnalic M’Sithig, the Toiseach of Clenni Morgainn, sacrificed all the offerings to God and to Drostan, and to Columcille, and to Peter the Apostle, from all the exactions made on a portion of four davachs, from the high monasteries of Scotland generally and the high churches. The witnesses are Brocein and Cormac, Abbot of Turbruaid, and Morgann M’Donnchaid, and Gilli Petair M’Donnchaid, and Malæchin, and the two M’Matni, and the chief men of Buchan, all as witnesses in Elain (Ellon).

The names in this entry are Colban, the mormaor, a name obsolete now—although it would seem to appear in M’Cubbin—Eva, and Gartnait. The former seems to have been the Gaelic form of Eve, and the latter, the name of Eva’s father, is gone out of use, unless it appear in M’Carthy—Donnalic (it is Donnachac, as transcribed in the edition of the Spalding Club), M’Sithig or Donnalic M’Keich, the surname well known still in the Highlands—Brocein, the little badger, Cormac, Morgan, Gillepedair, Malæchin, the servant of Eachainn or Hector, and M’Matni or M’Mahon, the English Matheson. There is another instance here of a clan, the clan Morgan.

The most of these names must be understood merely as patronymic, the son called, according to the Celtic custom, after the name of his father. There is no reason to think that these were clan names in the usual sense. King Malcolm II. is called Malcolum M’Cinnatha,[74] or Malcolm the son of Kenneth, but it would be sufficiently absurd to conclude that Malcolm was a Mackenzie. And yet there are two clans referred to in these remarkable records, the clan Canan and the clan Morgan. There is no reason to believe that either the Buchanans of Stirlingshire or of Argyleshire had any connection with the tribe of Canan mentioned here; but it is possible that the Mackays of the Reay country, whose ancient name was Clan Morgan, may have derived their origin from Buchan. It is interesting to observe that the Toiseachs are associated with these clans, Comgell Mac Caennaig being called the Toiseach of Clan Canan, and Donnalic M’Sithig the Toiseach of Clan Morgan, although neither of the men are designated by the clan name. It would seem that under the Mormaors the family system existed and was acknowledged, the Mormaor being the representative of the king, and the Toiseach the head of the sept, who led his followers to battle when called upon to do so. At the same time the clan system would seem to have been in an entirely different condition from that to which it attained after the introduction of the feudal system, when the chiefs for the first time got feudal titles to their lands.

Many other inferences might be made from these interesting records. It is enough, however, to say that they prove beyond a question the existence of a literary culture and a social organisation among the ancient Celts for which they do not always get credit; and if such a book existed at Deer, what reason is there to doubt that similar books were numerously dispersed over the other ecclesiastical institutions of the country?

There is one curious entry towards the close of the MS.—“Forchubus caichduini imbia arrath in lebran colli. aratardda bendacht foranmain in truagan rodscribai ... 7,” which is thus translated by Mr Whitley Stokes:—“Be it on the conscience of every one in whom shall be for grace the booklet with splendour: that he give a blessing on the soul of the wretchock who wrote it.”

This is probably the true meaning of the Gaelic. But the original might be rendered in English by the following translation:—“Let it be on the conscience of each man in whom shall be for good fortune the booklet with colour, that he give a blessing on the soul of the poor one who wrote it.” Rath is good fortune, and li is colour, referring probably to the coloured portions of the writing, and Truaghan is the Gaelic synonym of the “miserus” or “miserimus” of the old Celtic church. Mr Whitley Stokes, as quoted by Dr Stuart, says (p. lx), “In point of language this is identical with the oldest Irish glosses in Zeuss’ Grammatica Celtica.”

The Albanic Duan.

This relic of Celtic literature might have been taken as chronologically preceding the Book of Deer, but while portions of the latter are looked upon as having been written previous to the ninth century, the former, so far as we know, is of the age of Malcolm III. It is said to have been sung by the Gaelic bard of the royal house at the coronation of Malcolm. It is transcribed here as it appears in the Chronicles of the Picts and Scots, where it is given as copied from the M’Firbis MS. in the Royal Irish Academy:—

A eolcha Alban uile,

A shluagh feuta foltbhuidhe,

Cia ceud ghabhail, au còl duibh,

Ro ghabhasdair Albanbruigh.

Albanus ro ghabh, lià a shlogh,

Mac sen oirderc Isicon,

Brathair is Briutus gan brath,

O raitear Alba eathrach.

Ro ionnarb a brathair bras,

Briutus tar muir n-Icht-n-amhnas,

Ro gabh Briutus Albain ain,

Go rinn fhiadhnach Fotudain.

Fota iar m-Briutus m-blaith, m-bil,

Ro ghabhsad Clanna Nemhidh,

Erglan iar teacht as a loing,

Do aithle thoghla thuir Conuing.


Cruithnigh ros gabhsad iarttain,

Tar ttiachtain a h-Erean-mhuigh,

.X. righ tri fichid righ ran,

Gabhsad diobh an Cruithean-chlar.

Cathluan an ced righ diobh-soin,

Aisnedhfead daoibh go cumair,

Rob e an righ degheanach dhibh

An cur calma Cusaintin.

Clanna Eathach ina n-diaigh,

Gabhsad Albain iar n-airdghliaidh,

Clanna Conaire an chaomhfhir,

Toghaidhe na treun Ghaoidhil.

Tri mec Erc mec Eachdach ait,

Triar fuair beannachtair Patraice,

Ghabhsad Albain, ard a n-gus,

Loarn, Fearghus, is Aonghus.

Dech m-bliadhna Loarn, ler bladh,

I fflaitheas Oirir Alban,

Tar es Loarn fhel go n-gus,

Seacht m-bliadhna ficheat Fearghus.

English Translation.

Ye learned of Alban altogether

Ye people shy, yellow-haired

Which was the first invasion, do ye know

That took the land of Alban?

Albanus took it, active his men,

That famous son of Isacon,

The brother of Briutus without guile

From whom Alba of the ships is said.

Briutus banished his bold brother

Over the stormy sea of Icht.

Briutus took the beautiful Alban

To the tempestuous promontory of Fotudan.

Long after Briutus the noble, the good,

The race of Neimhidh took it,

Erglan, after coming out of his ship

After the destruction of the tower of Conaing.

The Cruithne took it after that

On coming out of Erin of the plain,

Seventy noble kings of them

Took the Cruithnean plain.

Cathluan was the first king of them,

I tell it you in order,

The last king of them was

The brave hero Constantine.

The children of Eochy after them

Seized Alban after a great fight,

The children of Conair, the gentle man,

The choice of the brave Gael.

Three sons of Erc the son of Eochy the joyous,

Three who got the blessing of Patrick,

Seized Alban; great was their courage,

Lorn, Fergus, and Angus.

Ten years to Lorn, by which was renown,

In the sovereignty of Oirir Alban,

After Lorn the generous and strong

Seven and twenty years to Fergus.

Domhangart mac d’Fheargus ard,

Aireamh cuig m bliadhan m-biothgarg,

A .XXXIIII. gan troid,

Do Comghall mac Domhangoirt.

Da bhliadhan Conaing gan tair,

Tar es Comhghaill do Gobhran,

Ti bliadhna fo cuig gan roinn

Ba ri Conall mac Comhghoill.

Cethre bliadhna ficheat tall

Ba ri Aodhan na n-iol-rann,

Dech m-bliadhna fo seacht seol n-gle,

I fflaitheas Eathach buidhe.

Connchadh Cearr raithe, rel bladh,

A .XVI. dia mac Fearchar,

Tar es Ferchair, feaghaidh rainn,

.XIIII. bliadhna Domhnaill.

Tar es Domhnaill bric na m-bla,

Conall, Dunghall .X. m-bliadhna,

.XIII. bliadhna Domhnaill duinn

Tar es Dunghail is Chonail.

Maolduin mac Conaill na cereach

A .XVII. do go dlightheach,

Fearchair fadd, feagha leat,

Do chaith bliadhain thar .XX.

Da bliadhain Eachdach na-n-each,

Ro ba calma an ri rightheach,

Aoin bhliadhain ba flaith iarttain,

Ainceallach maith mac Fearchair.

Seachd m-bliadhna Dunghail dein,

Acus a ceither do Ailpen,

Tri bliadhna Muireadhiogh mhaith,

.XXX. do Aodh na ardfhlaith.

A ceathair ficheat, nir fhann,

Do bhliadhnaibh do chaith Domhnall,

Da bhliadhain Conaill, cem n-gle,

Is a ceathair Chonall ele.

Domangart, son of the great Fergus,

Had the number of five terrible years.

Twenty-four years without a fight

Were to Comghall son of Domangart.

Two years of success without contempt

After Comghall to Gobhran.

Three years with five without division

Was king Conall son of Comghall.

Four and twenty peaceful years

Was king Aodhan of many songs.

Ten years with seven, a true tale,

In sovereignty Eochy buy.

Connchadh Cearr a quarter, star
of renown,

Sixteen years to his son Ferchar,

After Ferchar, see the poems,

Thirteen years to Donald.

After Donald breac of the shouts,

Was Conall, Dungal ten years,

Thirteen years Donald Donn

After Dungal and Conall.

Maolduin, son of Conall of spoils,

Seventeen years to him rightfully.

Ferchar fadd, see you it

Spent one year over twenty.

Two years was Eochy of steeds,

Bold was the king of palaces.

One year was king after that

Aincellach the good, son of Ferchar.

Seven years was Dungal the impetuous,

And four to Ailpin.

Three years Murdoch the good,

Thirty to Aodh as high chief.

Eighty, not feeble

Years did Donald spend.

Two years Conall, a noble course,

And four another Conall.

Naoi m-bliadhna Cusaintin chain,

A naoi Aongusa ar Albain,

Cethre bliadhna Aodha ain,

Is a tri deng Eoghanain.

Triocha bliadhain Cionaoith chruaidh,

A ceathair Domhnall drechruaidh,

.XXX. bliadhain co na bhrigh,

Don churadh do Cusaintin.

Da bhliadhain, ba daor a dath,

Da brathair do Aodh fhionnscothach,

Domhnall mac Cusaintin chain,

Ro chaith bliadhain fa cheathair.

Cusaintin ba calma a ghleac,

Ro chaith a se is da fhicheat,

Maolcoluim cethre bliadhna,

Iondolbh a h-ocht airdriagla.

Seacht m-bliadhna Dubhod der.

Acus a ceathair Cuilen,

A .XXVII, os gach cloinn

Do Cionaoth mac Maolcholuim.

Seacht m-bliadhna Cusaintin cluin

Acus a ceathair Macdhuibh

Triochadh bliadhain, breacaid rainn

Ba ri Monaidh Maolcoluim.

Se bliadhna Donnchaid glain gaoith

.XVII. bliadhna mac Fionnlaoich

Tar es Mecbeathaidh go m-blaidh

.vii mis i fflaithios Lughlaigh.

Maolcholuim anosa as ri,

Mac Donnchaidh dhata dhrechbhi,

A re nocha n-fidir neach,

Acht an t-eolach as eolach

A eolcha.

Da righ for chaogad, cluine,

Go mac Donnchaidh drech ruire,

Do shiol Erc ardghlain anoir,

Gabhsad Albain, a eolaigh.


Nine years Constantine the mild,

Nine Angus over Alban,

Four years the excellent Aodh,

And thirteen Eoghanan.

Thirty years Kenneth the hardy,

Four Donald of ruddy face,

Thirty years with effect

To the hero, to Constantine.

Two years, sad their complexion,

To his brother Aodh the youthfully fair,

Donald, son of Constantine the mild,

Spent a year above four.

Constantine, bold was his conflict

Spent forty and six.

Malcolm four years.

Indulf eight in high sovereignty.

Seven years Dubhoda the impetuous,

And four Cuilen.

And twenty-seven over all the tribes

To Kenneth the son of Malcolm.

Seven years Constantine, listen,

And four to Macduff,

Thirty years, the verses mark it,

Was king of Monaidh, Malcolm.

Six years was Duncan of pure wisdom,

Seventeen years the son of Finlay,

After him Macbeth with renown,

Seven months in sovereignty Lulach.

Malcolm is now the king,

Son of Duncan the yellow-coloured,

His time knoweth no one

But the knowing one who is knowing,

Ye learned.

Two kings over fifty, listen,

To the son of Duncan of coloured face,

Of the seed of Erc the noble, in the east,

Possessed Alban, ye learned.

Although this poem is given in Gaelic as it appears in the Chronicles of the Picts and Scots,[97] the English translation differs in some places. At p. 60 Tri bliadhna fo cuig[98] is translated by Mr Skene “three years five times,” while in the same page dech m-bliadhna fo seacht is translated “ten years and seven.” There is no apparent ground for such a distinction. So in p. 61 ceathar ficheat, eighty, is translated “four and twenty,” which is at variance with the usus of the Gaelic language. The above translation seems the true one.

This poem is manifestly of great antiquity and of deep historical interest. Of the authorship little is known. It has been suggested that it is of Irish origin.[99] This is possible, for judging by the synchronisms of Flann Mainistreach, the Irish seanachies were well informed on Scottish matters. But whether Irish or not, the whole poem refers to Scotland, and is entitled to a place among the Celtic remains of the country. It is our oldest and most authentic record of the Scottish kings, and in this respect commended itself to the regard of Pinkerton, who was no friend of anything that was creditable to the Celts or helped to establish their claims.

Muireadhach Albannach.

The name of Muireadhach Albannach is well known among the literary traditions of Celtic Scotland. In a curious genealogy by Lachlan Mac Mhuireadhaich or Vuirich, usually called Lachlan M’Pherson, given in the Report of the Highland Society of Scotland on Ossian,[100] the said Lachlan traces his own genealogy back through eighteen generations to this Muireadhach or Murdoch of Scotland, and states that his ancestors were bards to M’Donald of Clanronald during the period. The original Murdoch was an ecclesiastic, and has probably given their name to the whole M’Pherson clan. There is a curious poetical dialogue given in the Dean of Lismore’s Book between him and Cathal Cròdhearg, King of Connaught, who flourished in the close of the 12th century, upon their entering at the same time on a monastic life. The poem would seem to show Murdoch to have been a man of[77] high birth, while his own compositions are evidence both of his religious earnestness and his poetical talent. Until the publication of the Dean of Lismore’s book, it was not known that there were any remains of his compositions in existence, but that collection contains several, all on religious subjects. The following is a specimen of his composition, and of the Gaelic poetry of the 12th or 13th century:—

Mithich domh triall gu tigh Pharais,

’N uair a’ ghuin gun e soirbh.

Cosnaim an tigh treun gun choire,

Gun sgeul aig neach ’eil oirnn.

Dean do sriuth ri do shagairt

’S coir cuimhne ach gu dlù umad ole.

Na beir do thigh righ gun agh

Sgeul a’s priomh ri agradh ort.

Na dean folchainn a’d pheacadh,

Ge grain ri innseadh a h-ole;

Leigeadh de’d chuid an cleith diomhar,

Mur be angair a gabhail ort.

Dean do shith ris an luchd-dreuchd,

Ge dona, ge anmhuinn le’d chor,

Sguir ri’d lochd, do ghul dean domhain,

Mu’m bi olc ri fhaighinn ort.

Mairg a threigeadh tigh an Ardrigh,

Aig ghràdh peacaidh, turagh an ni,

An t-olc ni duine gu diomhair

Iomadh an sin fiachan mu’n ghniomh.

Aig so searmoin do shiol an Adhaimh,

Mar shaoilim nach bheil se an bhreug,

Fulang a bhais seal gu seachainn

An fear nach domh gu’n teid.

Fhir a cheannaich siol an Adhaimh

D’fhuil, a cholla, ’us da chridhe,

Air a reir gu’n deanadh sealga,

Ger ge dian ri ’m pheacadh mi.

English Translation.

’Tis time for me to go to the house of Paradise

While this wound is not easily borne,

Let me win this house, famous, faultless,

While others can tell nought else of us.

Confess thyself now to thy priest,

Remember clearly all thy sins;

Carry not to the house of the spotless King

Aught that may thee expose to charge.

Conceal not any of thy sins

However hateful its evil to tell;

Confess what has been done in secret,

Lest thou expose thyself to wrath;

Make thy peace now with the clergy

That thou mayst be safe as to thy state;

Give up thy sin, deeply repent,

Lest its guilt be found in thee.

Woe to him forsook the great King’s house

For love of sin, sad is the deed;

The sin a man commits in secret

Much is the debt his sin incurs.

This is a sermon for Adam’s race,

I think I’ve nothing said that’s false,

Though men may death for a time avoid,

’Tis true they can’t at length escape.

Thou who hast purchased Adam’s race,

Their blood, their body, and their heart,

The things we cherish thou dost assail

However I may sin pursue[101]

It is not necessary to give farther specimens of Murdoch of Scotland’s poetry here, as those existing are very similar to the above; but several specimens will be found in the Dean of Lismore’s Book, from which the above is taken. The original has been difficult to read, and in consequence to render accurately, but there is little doubt that the real meaning of the poem is given. If the Book of Deer be a specimen of the Gaelic at the close of the 12th century in the east of Scotland, the above is a specimen of the same language from the west, probably from the Hebrides.

Gaelic Charter.

In 1408, Donald, Lord of the Isles, the hero of Harlaw, made a grant of lands in Islay to Brian Vicar Mackay, one of the old Mackays of the island. The charter conveying these lands still exists, and is written in the Gaelic language. As it is now published by the Record Commission, it is not necessary to give it here, but it is a document of much interest, written by Fergus M’Beth or Beaton, one of the famous Beatons who were physicians to the Lord of the Isles, and signed with the holograph of the great island chief himself. The lands conveyed are in the eastern part of the island, north of the Mull of Oa, and embrace such well-known places as Baile-Vicar, Cornabus, Tocamol, Cracobus, &c. The style of the charter is that of the usual feudal charters written in Latin, but the remarkable thing is to find a document of the kind written in Gaelic at a time when such a thing was almost unknown in the Saxon dialects of either Scotland or England.

Manuscripts of the 15th Century.

The Highlands seem to have had a large number of men of letters during the 15th century, and most of our existing manuscript materials seem to be of that age. These materials are of various kinds. They consist of short theological treatises, with traditional anecdotes of saints and others which seem to[78] have been prevalent in the church at the time. One of the theological treatises now in the library of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, has reference to the Sacrament of the Supper, and maintains the purely Protestant doctrine that the sacrament can only profit those who receive it in faith. There are anecdotes of priests, often called by the Gaelic name of maighistir, which would indicate that the priests of the period had wives, and that the doctrine of celibacy had not then entered the Scottish church.

Some of the manuscripts are genealogical, and as such are of much value to the Scottish historian. They show what the ideas of the seanachies of the thirteenth century were regarding the origin of the Highland clans. Some of these genealogical records have been published by the Iona Club, and are in this way accessible to the general reader. They are indicative of the care taken at the period to preserve memorials of family history, and were of value not only as conducing to the gratification of family pride, but to the preservation of family property, inasmuch as these were the only means in accordance with which succession to property could be determined. The consequence is, that they are not always very reliable, favour being apt to bias the recorder on one side, just as enmity and ill-will were apt to bias him on the other. It is remarkable how ready the seanachy of a hostile clan was to proclaim the line of the rival race illegitimate. This affects the value of these records, but they are valuable notwithstanding, and are to a considerable extent reliable, especially within the period where authentic information could be obtained by the writer.

A portion of these manuscripts deals with medical and metaphysical subjects, the two being often combined. We are hardly prepared to learn to how great an extent these subjects were studied at an early period in the Highlands. We are apt to think that the region was a barbarous one without either art or science. A sight of the sculptures which distinguished the 14th and 15th centuries is prone to remove this impression. We find a style of sculpture still remaining in ancient crosses and gravestones that is characteristic of the Highlands; elaborate ornaments of a distinct character, rich and well executed tracery, figures well designed and finished. Such sculptures, following upon those of the prehistoric period found still within the ancient Pictish territory, exist chiefly throughout the West Highlands, and indicate that one art, at least, of native growth, distinguished the Gaelic Celts of the Middle Ages.

The medical manuscripts existing are chiefly the productions of the famous Macbeths or Beatons, the hereditary physicians of the Lords of the Isles for a long series of years. The charter of lands in Islay, already referred to, drawn out by Fergus Beaton, is of a date as early as 1408, and three hundred years after, men of the same race are found occupying the same position. Hereditary physicians might seem to offer but poor prospects to their patients, and that especially at a time when schools of medicine were almost if not altogether unknown in the country; but the fact is, that this was the only mode in which medical knowledge could be maintained at all. If such knowledge were not transmitted from father to son, the probability was that it would perish, just as was the case with the genealogical knowledge of the seanachies. This transmission, however, was provided for in the Celtic system, and while there was no doubt a considerable difference between individuals in the succession in point of mental endowments, they would all possess a certain measure of skill and acquirement as the result of family experience. These men were students of their science as it existed at the time. The Moors were then the chief writers on medicine. Averroes and Avicenna were men whose names were distinguished, and whose works, although little known now, extended to folios. Along with their real and substantial scientific acquirements, they dived deep into the secrets of Astrology, and our Celtic students, while ready disciples of them in the former study, followed them most faithfully and zealously in the latter likewise. There are numerous medical and astrological treatises still existing written in the Gaelic language, and taken chiefly from the works of Moorish and Arabian writers. How these works reached the Scottish Highlands it is hard to say, nor is it easier to understand how the ingredients of the medical prescriptions of these practitioners could be[79] obtained in a region so inaccessible at the time. The following specimen of the written Gaelic of medical manuscripts, is taken from Dr O’Donovan’s grammar:—[102]

“Labhrum anois do leighes na h-eslainti so oir is eígin nethi imda d’fhaghbhail d’a leighes; ocus is é céd leighes is ferr do dhénamh dhi. 1. na lenna truaillighthi do glanad maille caterfusia; óir a deir Avicenna ’s an 4 Cān. co n-déin in folmhughadh na leanna loisgi d’inarbad. An 2.ní oilemhain bidh ocus dighi d’ordughadh dóibh; an tres ní, an t-adhbhar do dhileaghadh; an 4.ní a n-innarbadh go h-imlán; an 5.ní, fothraiethi do dhénum dóibh; an 6.ní, is eígin lictuber comhfhurtachta do thobhairt dóib. An 7.ní, is eígin neithi noch aentuighius riu do thobhairt dóib muna roib an corp línta do droch-leannaíbh.”

English Translation.

“Let me now speak of the cure of this disease (scurvy), for many things must be got for its cure; the first cure which is best to be made is to clean the corrupt humours with caterfusia; for Avicenna says in the fourth Canon that evacuation causes an expulsion of the burnt humours. The second thing, to order the patients a proper regimen of meat and drink; the third thing, to digest the matter; the fourth thing, to expel them completely; the fifth thing, to prepare a bath for them; the sixth, it is necessary to give them strengthening lictub. The seventh, it is necessary to give them such things as agree with them, unless the body be full of bad humours.”

This extract is taken from an Irish manuscript, but the language is identical with that in use in the writings of the Beatons. Celtic Scotland and Celtic Ireland followed the same system in medicine as in theology and poetry.

The metaphysical discussions, if they may be so called, are very curious, being characterised by the features which distinguished the science of metaphysics at the time. The most remarkable thing is that there are Gaelic terms to express the most abstract ideas in metaphysics;—terms which are now obsolete, and would not be understood by any ordinary Gaelic speaker. A perusal of these ancient writings shows how much the language has declined, and to what an extent it was cultivated at an early period. So with astrology, its terms are translated and the science is fully set forth. Tables are furnished of the position of the stars by means of which to foretell the character of future events. Whatever literature existed in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, extended its influence to the Scottish Highlands. The nation was by no means in such a state of barbarism as some writers would lead us to expect. They had legal forms, for we have a formal legal charter of lands written in Gaelic; they had medical men of skill and acquirement; they had writers on law and theology, and they had men skilled in architecture and sculpture.

The Dean of Lismore’s Book.

When the Highland Society of Scotland were engaged in preparing their report on the poems of Ossian, they thought it important to search with all possible diligence after such sources of ancient Gaelic poetry as might have been open to Macpherson, and especially for such written remains as might still be found in the country. Among others they applied to the Highland Society of London, whose secretary at the time, Mr John Mackenzie, was an enthusiastic Highlander, and an excellent Gaelic scholar. The Society furnished several interesting manuscripts which they had succeeded in collecting, and among these an ancient paper book which has since been called the “Book of the Dean of Lismore.” This book, which now lies in the library of the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, is a small quarto very much defaced, of about seven inches square, and one inch and a quarter in thickness. It is bound in a piece of coarse sheepskin, and seems to have been much tossed about. The manuscript is written in what may be called phonetic Gaelic, the words being spelled on the same principle as the Welsh and Manx, although the application of the principle is very different. “Athair,” father, is “Ayr;” “Saor,” free, is “Seyr;” “Fhuair,” found, is “Hoar;” “Leodhas,” Lewis, is “Looyss;” “iuchair,” a key, is “ewthir;” “ghràdh,” love, is “Zrau.” This principle of phonetic spelling, with a partial admission of the Irish eclipsis and the Irish dot in aspiration, distinguishes the whole manuscript, and has made it very difficult to interpret. The letter used is the English letter of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the MS. was transcribed by the late Mr Ewen M’Lachlan of Aberdeen, an admirable Gaelic scholar. But no attempt was made to transfer its contents into modern Gaelic, or to interpret them, save in the case of a few fragments which[80] were transferred and interpreted by Dr Smith for the Highland Society. Recently, however, the whole manuscript, with few exceptions, has been transcribed, presented in a modern Gaelic dress, translated and annotated, by the writer; and a historical introduction and additional notes have been furnished by Dr W. F. Skene.

The volume is full of interest, as presenting a view of the native literature of the Highlands in the 15th and 16th centuries, while it contains productions of a much earlier age. The fragments which it contains are both Scottish and Irish, showing how familiar the bardic schools were with the productions of both countries. Much of the contents consists of fragments of what is usually called Ossianic poetry—compositions by Ossian, by Fergus filidh his brother, by Conall MacEdirsceoil, by Caoilte M’Ronan, and by poets of a later age, who imitated these ancient bards, such as Allan MacRorie, Gilliecallum Mac an Olla, and others. The collection bears on one of its pages the name “Jacobus M’Gregor decanus Lismorensis,” James M’Gregor, Dean of Lismore, and it has been conjectured from this fact and the resemblance of the writing in the signature to that of the body of the manuscript, that this was the compiler of the work. That the manuscript was the work of a M’Gregor is pretty evident. It contains a series of obits of important men, most of them chiefs and other men of note of the clan Gregor, and there are among the poetical pieces of a date later than the Ossianic, numerous songs in praise of that clan. It seems, however, that M’Gregor had a brother called Dougal, who designates himself daoroglach, or “apprentice,” who had some share in making the compilation. These M’Gregors belonged to Fortingall in Perthshire, although James held office in the diocese of Argyll. He was vicar of the parish of Fortingall, and it is presumed usually resided there.

In giving specimens from M’Gregor’s collection, it may be desirable to treat of the whole of what is called the Ossianic poetry. It is in this collection that we find the earliest written specimens of it, and although Macpherson’s Ossian did not appear for two centuries later, it seems better to group the whole together in this portion of our notice. The word “ursgeul” was applied by the Highlanders to these poetical tales. This word has been translated “a new tale,” as if the ùr here meant “new” in contradistinction to older tales. But the word ùr meant “noble” or “great,” as well as “new,” and the word as so used must be understood as meaning a “noble tale” in contradistinction to the sgeulachd, or other tale of less note. From what source M’Gregor derived his materials is not said, but the probability is that he was indebted both to manuscripts and to oral tradition for them. We shall here give a specimen of the Dean’s collection as it appears in the original, with a version in regular Gaelic spelling, and an English translation. It is the poem usually called “Bàs Dhiarmaid,” or the Death of Diarmad.

A houdir so Allane M’Royree.

Glennschee in glenn so rame heive

A binn feig agus lon

Menik redeis in nane

Ar on trath so in dey agon

A glen so fa wenn Zwlbin zwrm

Is haald tulchi fa zran

Ner wanew a roythi gi dark

In dey helga o inn na vane

Estith beg ma zalew leith

A chuddycht cheive so woym

Er wenn Zulbin is er inn fail

Is er M’ezoynn skayl troyg

Gur lai finn fa troyg in shelga

Er V’ezwn is derk lei

Zwll di wenn Zwlbin di helga

In turkgi nach fadin erm zei

Lai M’ezwnn narm ay

Da bay gin dorchirre in tork

Gillir royth ba zoill finn

Is sche assne rin do locht


Er fa harlow a zail

M’ozunn graw nin sgoll

Ach so in skayll fa tursych mnaan

Gavr less di layve an tork

Zingywal di lach ni wane

Da gurri ea assi gnok

In schenn tork schee bi garv

Di vag ballerych na helve mok

Soeyth finn is derk dreach

Fa wenn zwlbin zlass in telga

Di fre dinnit less in tork

Mor in tolga a rin a shelga

Di clastich cozar ni wane

Nor si narm teach fa a cann

Ersi in a vest o swoyn

Is glossis woyth er a glenn

Curris ri faggin nin leich

In shen tork schee er freich borb

Bi geyr no ganyth sleygh

Bi traneiseygh na gath bolga

Modern Gaelic.

A h ùghdair so Ailean M’Ruadhraidh.

Gleannsìth an gleann so ri’m thaobh,

’S am binn feidh agus loin,

Is minig a rachas an Fheinn

Air an t-srath so an deigh an con.

An gleann so fa Bheinn Ghulbainn ghuirm.

Is aillidh tulcha fo’n ghréin,

Na sruthana a ruith gu dearg,

An deigh shealg o Fhionn na Feinn.

Eisdibh beag mar dh’fhalbh laoch,

A chuideachd chaoimh so uam,

Air Bheinn Ghulbainn ’us air Fionn fial,

’Us air M’ O’Dhuinn, sgeul truagh:

Gur le Fionn fa truagh an t-sealg

Air Mhac O’Dhuinn a’s deirge lith,

Dhol do Bheinn Ghulbainn do shealg

An tuire nach faodainn airm dhith.

Le Mac O’Dhuinn an airm aigh,

Do’m b’e gu’n torchradh an torc,

Geillear roimhe, bu dh’fhoill Fhinn,

Is e esan a rinn do lochd.

Fear fa tharladh an gaol,

Mac O’Dhuinn gràdh nan sgoil,

Ach so an sgeul fa tursach mnathan,

Gabhar leis do laimh an torc.

Diongal do laoch na Feinn

Do chuireadh e as a chnoc,

An seann torc Sithe bu ghairbhe,

Do fhac ballardaich na h-alla-muic.

Suidhidh Fionn is deirge dreach,

Fa Bheinn Ghulbainn ghlais an t-seilg,

Do frith dh’ imich leis an torc,

Mòr an t-olc a rinn a shealg.

Ri clàisdeachd co-ghair na Feinn

’N uair ’s an arm a teachd fa ’ceann

Eireas a bheisd o shuain,

’Us gluaiseas uath’ air a ghleann.

Cuireas ri fàgail nan laoch,

An seann torc ’us e air friodh borb,

Bu gheire no gath nan sleagh,

Bu treine a shaigh no gath bolga.

M’ozwnn ni narm geyr

Frager less in na vest olk

Wa teive reyll trom navynyth gay

Currir sleygh in dayl in turk

Brissir in cran less fa thre

Si chran fa reir er in mwk

In sleygh o wasi waryerka vlaye

Rait less nochchar hay na corp

Targir in tan lann o troyle

Di chossin mor loye in narm

Marviss M’ozunn fest

Di hanyth feyn de hess slane

Tuttis sprocht er Inn ne wane

Is soyis sea si gnok

Makozunn nar dult dayve

Olk less a hecht slane o tork

Er weith zoyth faddi no host

A durt gar wolga ri ray

Tothiss a zermit o hocht

Ga maid try sin tork so id taa

Char zult ay a chonyth finn

Olk leinn gin a heacht da hygh

Toissi tork er a zrum

M’ozunn nach trome trygh

Toiss na ye reiss

A zermit gi meine a torc

Fa lattis troygh ya chinn

A zil nin narm rim gort

Ymbeis bi hurrus goye

Agus toissi zayve in tork

Gunne i freich neive garve

Boonn in leich bi zarg in drod

Tuttis in sin er in rein

M’ O’Zwne nar eyve fealle

Na la di heive in turk

Ach sen ayd zut gi dorve

A la schai in swn fa creay

M’ O’Zwne keawe in gleacht

Invakane fullich ni wane

Sin tulli so chayme fa art

Saywic swlzorme essroye

Far la berrit boye gi ayr

In dey a horchirt la tork

Fa hulchin a chnokso a taa

Mac O’Dhuinn nan arm geur,

Freagras leis a’ bheisd olc,

O’ thaobh thriall trom, nimhneach, gath,

Cuirear sleagh an dail an tuirc.

Brisear a crann leis fa thri,

Is i a crann fa rèir air a’ mhuc,

An t-sleagh o bhos bhar-dhearg, bhlàth,

Raitleis noch char e’ na corp.

Tairngear an tan lann o’ truaill,

Do choisinn mòr luaidh an arm,

Marbhas Mac O’Dhuinn a’ bheisd,

Do thainig e féin as slàn.

Tuiteas sprochd air Fionn na Feinn,

’Us suidheas e ’s a chnoc,

Mac O’ Dhuinn nach do dhiult daimh

Olc leis a thighinn slàn o’n torc.

Air bhith dha fada ’n a thosd,

A dubhairt, ged a b’ olc ri ràdh,

Tomhais, a Dhiarmaid o’ shoc,

Cia meud troidh ’s an torc a ta.

Char dhiult e athchuinge Fhinn,

Olc leinn gun e theachd d’a thigh.

Tombaisidh an torc air a dhruim,

Mac O’Dhuinn nach trom troidh.

Tomhais ’n a aghaidh a rìs,

A Dhiarmaid gu mion an torc;

Fa leat is truagh dha chinn,

A ghille nan arm roinn ghoirt.

Imicheas, bu thurus goimh,

Agus tomhaisidh dhoibh an torc.

Guinidh a fhriogh nimh, garbh

Bonn an laoich bu gharbh an trod.

Tuiteas an sin air an raon,

Mac O’Dhuinn nior aoibh feall;

’N a luidhe do thaobh an tuirc,

Ach sin e dhuit gu doirbh.

A ta se an sin fa chreuchd

Mac O’Dhuinn caomh an gleachd;

Aon mhacan fulangach nam Fiann

’S an tulach so chitheam fa fheart.

Seabhag suilghorm Easruaidh,

Fear le’m beireadh buaidh gach àir,

An deigh a thorchairt le torc

Fa thulchain a chnuic so a ta.

Dermit M’ O’Zwne oyill

Huttom tra ead nin noor

Bi gil a wrai no grane

Bu derk a wail no blai k ...

Fa boe innis a alt

Fadda rosk barglan fa lesga

Gurme agus glassi na hwle

Maissi is cassi gowl ni gleacht

Binnis is grinnis na zloyr

Gil no zoid varzerk vlaa

Mayd agis evycht sin leich

Seng is ser no kness bayn

Coythtyc is maaltor ban

M’ O’Zwne bi vor boye

In turri char hog swle

O chorreich wr er a zroy

Immin deit eyde is each

Fer in neygin creach nar charre

Gilli a bar gasga is seith

Ach troyg mir a teich so glenn


Diarmad Mac O’Dhuinn aibheil,

A thuitcam troimh eud; mo nuar!

Bu ghile a bhràgh’d no grian,

Bu dheirge a bheul no blàth caora.

Fa buidhe innis a fhalt,

Fada rosg barghlan fa liosg,

Guirme agus glaise ’n a shùil,

Maise ’us caise cùl nan cleachd.

Binneas ’us grinneas ’n a ghlòir,

Gile ’n a dhoid bhar-dhearg bhlàth,

Meud agus éifeachd ’s an laoch


Seang ’us saor ’n a chneas bàn.

Cothaich ’us mealltair bhan,

Mac O’Dhuinn bu mhòr buaidh,

’S an t-suiridh cha thog sùil,

O chuireadh ùir air a ghruaidh.

Immirdich fhaoghaid ’us each,

Fear an éigin chreach nar char,

Gille b’fhearr gaisge ’us sitheadh,

Ach is truagh mar a theich ’s a ghleann.


English Translation.

The Author of this is Allan M’Rorie.

Glenshee the vale that close beside me lies

Where sweetest sounds are heard of deer and elk,

And where the Feinn did oft pursue the chase

Following their hounds along the lengthening vale.

Below the great Ben Gulbin’s grassy height,

Of fairest knolls that lie beneath the sun

The valley winds. It’s streams did oft run red,

After a hunt by Finn and by the Feinn.

Listen now while I detail the loss

Of one a hero in this gentle band;

’Tis of Ben Gulbin and of generous Finn

And Mac O’Duine, in truth a piteous tale.

A mournful hunt indeed it was for Finn

When Mac O’Duine, he of the ruddiest hue,

Up to Ben Gulbin went, resolved to hunt

The boar, whom arms had never yet subdued.

Though Mac O’Duine of brightest burnished arms,

Did bravely slay the fierce, and furious boar,

Yet Finn’s deceit did him induce to yield,

And this it was that did his grievous hurt.

Who among men was so belov’d as he?

Brave Mac O’Duine, beloved of the schools;

Women all mourn this sad and piteous tale

Of him who firmly grasped the murderous spear.

Then bravely did the hero of the Feinn

Rouse from his cover in the mountain side

The great old boar, him so well known in Shee,

The greatest in the wild boar’s haunt e’er seen.

Finn sat him down, the man of ruddiest hue,

Beneath Ben Gulbin’s soft and grassy side;

For swift the boar now coursed along the heath;

Great was the ill came of that dreadful hunt.

’Twas when he heard the Feinn’s loud ringing shout,

And saw approach the glittering of their arms,

The monster wakened from his heavy sleep

And stately moved before them down the vale.

First, to distance them he makes attempt

The great old boar, his bristles stiff on end,

These bristles sharper than a pointed spear,

Their point more piercing than the quiver’s shaft.

Then Mac O’Duine, with arms well pointed too,

Answers the horrid beast with ready hand;

Away from his side then rushed the heavy spear,

Hard following on the course the boar pursued.

The javelin’s shaft fell shivered into three,

The shaft recoiling from the boar’s tough hide.

The spear hurl’d by his warm red-fingered hand,

Ne’er penetrated the body of the boar.

Then from its sheath he drew his thin-leav’d sword,

Of all the arms most crowned with victory.

Mac O’Duine did then the monster kill

While he himself escaped without a wound.

Then on Finn of the Feinn did sadness fall,

And on the mountain side he sat him down;

It grieved his soul that generous Mac O’Duine

Should have escaped unwounded by the boar.

For long he sat, and never spake a word,

Then thus he spake, although’t be sad to tell;

“Measure, Diarmad, the boar down from the snout,

And tell how many feet ’s the brute in length;”

What Finn did ask he never yet refused;

Alas! that he should never see his home.

Along the back he measures now the boar,

Light-footed Mac O’Duine of active step.

“Measure it the other way against the hair,

And measure, Diarmad, carefully the boar.”

It was indeed for thee a mournful deed,

Furth of the sharply-pointed, piercing arms,

He went, the errand grievous was and sad,

And measured for them once again the boar.

The envenomed pointed bristle sharply pierced

The soul of him the bravest in the field.

Then fell and lay upon the grassy plain

The noble Mac O’Duine, whose look spoke truth;

He fell and lay along beside the boar

And then you have my mournful saddening tale.

There does he lie now wounded to the death,

Brave Mac O’Duine so skilful in the fight,

The most enduring even among the Feinn,

Up there where I see his grave.

The blue-eyed hawk that dwelt at Essaroy

The conqueror in every sore-fought field

Slain by the poisoned bristle of the boar.

Now does he lie full-stretched upon the hill,

Brave, noble Diarmad Mac O’Duine

Slain, it is shame! victim of jealousy.

Whiter his body than the sun’s bright light,

Redder his lips than blossoms tinged with red;

Long yellow locks did rest upon his head,

His eye was clear beneath the covering brow,

Its colour mingled was of blue and gray;

Waving and graceful were his locks behind,

His speech was elegant and sweetly soft;

His hands the whitest, fingers tipped with red;

Elegance and power were in his form,

His fair soft skin covering a faultless shape,

No woman saw him but he won her love.

Mac O’Duine crowned with his countless victories,

Ne’er shall he raise his eye in courtship more;

Or warrior’s wrath give colour to his cheek;

The following of the chase, the prancing steed,

Will never move him, nor the search for spoil.

He who could bear him well in wary fight,

Has now us sadly left in that wild vale.


This is, in every way, a fair specimen of the Dean’s MS., and of the story of the death of Diarmad as it existed in Scotland in the year 1512. The story is entirely a Scottish one, Glenshee being a well-known locality in the county of Perth, and Ben Gulbin a well-known hill in Glenshee. This has been called an Ossianic poem, but, according to Dean M’Gregor, it was not composed by Ossian, but by a poet obviously of more recent times;—Allan MacRorie, who was probably a composer of the 15th century. The resemblance of Diarmad to Achilles will occur at once to the classical reader, and there is no reason to doubt that[83] there were large classes in the Highlands in the middle ages well acquainted with classical literature.

Another specimen of the Dean’s poems may be given as one which the compiler attributes to Ossian. It is Ossian’s eulogy on his father Finn, or Fingal, as he is called by M’Pherson:—

Modern Gaelic.

Auctor hujus Oisian Mac Fhinn.

Sé la gus an dé o nach fhaca mi Fionn,

Cha-n fhaca ri’m ré se bu gheire leam;

Mac nighinn O’Théige, rìgh nam buillean tròm,

M’oide, ’us mo rath, mo chiall ’us mo chon.

Fa filidh fa flath, fa rìgh air ghéire,

Fionn flath, rìgh na Feinn, fa triath air gach tìr;

Fa miall mòr mara, fa leobhar air leirg,

Fa seabhag glan gaoithe, fa saoi air gach ceaird.

Fa h-oileanach ceart, fa marcaich nior mhearbh,

Fa h-ullamh air ghniomh, fa steith air gach seirm;

Fa fior, ceart, a bhreith, fa tamhaiche tuaith.

Fa ionnsaichte ’n a àigh, fa brathach air buaidh;

Fa h-e an teachdair ard, air chalm’us air cheòl,

Fa diùltadh nan daimh o dh’fhàg graidh na gloir.

A chneas mar an caile, a ghruaidh mar an ròs,

Bu ghlan gorm a rosg, ’fholt mar an t-òr.

Fa dùil daimh ’us daoine, fa aireach nan àgh,

Fa h-ullamh air ghniomh, fa mìn ri mnathaibh.

Fa h-e am miall mòr, mac muirne gach magh,

B’fhear loinneadh nan lann, an crann os gach fiodh.

Fa saoibhir an rìgh, a bhotul mòr glas,

D’fhion dhoirt gheur dhoibh, tairbh nochchar threa

. . . . . . . . . . . . broinn bhàin

. . . air an t-sluagh, fa bu chruaidh cheum,

Fa chosnadh an gniomh, fa Bhanbha nam beann

Gun d’thug am flath triochaid catha fa cheann,

Air sgraiteach dha, M’Cumhail nior cheil,

A deir fa ghò, ni clos gò ’n a bheul;

English Translation.

The Author of this is Ossian, the Son of Finn.

’Twas yesterday week I last saw Finn,

Ne’er did I feel six days so long;

Teige’s daughter’s son, a powerful king;

My teacher, my luck, my mind, and my light,

Both poet and chief, as brave as a king,

Finn, chief of the Feine, lord of all lands,

Leviathan at sea, as great on land,

Hawk of the air, foremost in arts,

Courteous, just, a rider bold,

Of vigorous deeds, the first in song,

A righteous judge, firm his rule,

Polished his mein, who knew but victory.

Who is like him in fight or song?

Resists the foe in house or field,

Marble his skin, the rose his cheek.

Blue was his eye, his hair like gold,

All men’s trust, of noble mind.

Of ready deeds, to women mild,

A giant he, the field’s delight,

Best polished spears, no wood like their shafts.

Rich was the king, his great green bottle

Full of sharp wine, of substance rich.

Excellent he, of noble form,

His people’s head, his step so firm,

Who often warred, in beauteous Banva,

There thirty battles he bravely fought.

With miser’s mind from none withheld,

Anything false his lips ne’er spoke.

Ni euradh air neach, a fhuair fear o Fhionn,

Cha robh ach rìgh gréine, rìgh riamh os a chionn.

Nior dh’fhàg beist an loch, no nathair an nimh,

An Eirinn nan naomh, nar mharbh an saor seimh.

Ni h-innisinn a ghniomh, a bhithinn gu de bhràth,

Nior innisinn uam, trian a bhuaidh ’s a mhaith.

Ach is olc a taim, an deigh Fhinn na Feinn,

Do chaith leis an fhlath, gach maith bha ’na dheigh.

Gun anghnath aoin mhòir, gun eineach glan gaoithe,

Gun òr ’us mnathaibh rìgh, ’s gun bhreith nan laoch.

Is tuirseach a taim, an deigh chiun nan ceud,

Is mi an crann air chrith, is mo chiabh air n-eug

Is mi a chno chith, is mi an t-each gun sréin,

Achadan mi an uair, is mi an tuath gun treith;

Is mi Oisian MacFhinn, air trian de’m ghnioimh,

An fhad ’s bu bheò Fionn, do bu leam gach ni.

Seachd slios air a thigh, M’Cumhail gon fleadh,

Seachd fichead sgiath chlis, air gach slios diubh sin;

Caogad uidheam olaidh an timchioll mo rìgh,

Caogad laoch gun iomagain anns gach uidheam dhiubh.

Deich bleidh bàn, ’n a thalla ri òl,

Deich eascradh gorm, deich corn de’n òr.

Ach bu mhaith an treabh, a bh’aig Fionn na Feinn,

Gun doichioll, gun drùth, gun gleois, gun gléidh.

Gun tàrchuis aun, air aon fhear d’a Fheinn,

Aig dol air gach nì, do bhì càch d’a réir.

Fionn flath an t-sluaigh, sothran air a luaidh,

Rìgh nan uile àigh, roimh dhuine nior dhiùlt.

Nior dhiùlt Fionn roimh neach, ge bu bheag a loinn,

Char chuir as a theach, neach dha’r thainig ann.

Maith an duine Fionn, maith an duine e,

Noch char thiodhlaic neach, leth dhe’r thiodhlaic se.


He never grudged, no, never, Finn;

The sun ne’er saw king who him excelled,

The monsters in lakes, the serpent by land,

In Erin of saints, the hero slew.

Ne’er could I tell, though always I lived,

Ne’er could I tell the third of his praise.

But sad am I now, after Finn of the Feinn;

Away with the chief, my joy is all fled.

No friends ’mong the great, no courtesy;

No gold, no queen, no princes and chiefs;

Sad am I now, our head ta’en away!

I’m a shaking tree, my leaves all gone;

An empty nut, a reinless horse.

Sad, sad am I, a feeble kern,

Ossian I, the son of Finn, strengthless indeed.

When Finn did live all things were mine;

Seven sides had the house of Cumhal’s son,

Seven score shields on every side;

Fifty robes of wool around the king;

Fifty warriors filled the robes.

Ten bright cups for drink in his hall,

Ten blue flagons, ten horns of gold.

A noble house was that of Finn.

No grudge nor lust, babbling nor sham;

No man despised among the Feinn;

The first himself, all else like him.

Finn was our chief, easy’s his praise;

Noblest of kings, Finn ne’er refused

To any man, howe’er unknown;

Ne’er from his house sent those who came.

Good man was Finn, good man was he;

No gifts e’er given like his so free.

’Twas yesterday week.

This is a specimen of a peculiar kind of ancient Celtic poetry. It was usually sung to music, and has a remarkable resemblance to some of the hymns of the early Latin Church.[84] There is another composition of the same kind in praise of Gaul, called usually “Rosg Ghuill,” or the War-Song of Gaul.

It is unnecessary to give further specimens of these remains of the ancient heroic poetry of the Highlands here, nor is it necessary to quote any of the more modern compositions with which the Dean of Lismore’s MS. abounds. It is enough to remark how great an amount of poetry was composed in the Highlands in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. That was indeed an age of bards when poetical genius was amply rewarded by great and liberal chiefs. It is of interest further to observe how ample the answer furnished by the Lismore MS. is to the ill-natured remarks of Dr Johnson, who maintained that there was not a word of written Gaelic in the Highlands more than a hundred years old. We shall now dismiss the Dean’s MS., but we shall exhaust the subject of Ossian’s poems by a cursory view of the other and later collections of those poems, and especially the collection of Macpherson.

Macpherson’s Ossian.

It is quite unnecessary here to enter on the question of the authenticity of the poems of Ossian, as edited by Macpherson.[103] The subject has been so largely treated in numerous publications, that we consider it better to give a short historical sketch of the publication, with such specimens as may serve to show the character of the work.

The first of Macpherson’s publications appeared in the year 1760. It is entitled, “Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language.” The first edition of this volume was immediately followed by a second, and the deepest interest was excited in the subject of Celtic literature among literary men. The work originally consisted of fifteen fragments, to which a sixteenth was added in the second edition. These are all in English, there not being one word of Gaelic in the book. Not that there is any reason to doubt that the fragments are genuine, and that Macpherson spoke what was perfectly consistent with truth when he said, as he does at the beginning of his preface, “The public may depend on the following fragments as genuine remains of ancient Scottish poetry.” Still it is to be regretted that the original Gaelic of these compositions was not given. It would have enabled the public, in the Highlands at least, to have judged for themselves on the question of their authenticity, and it would have afforded a guarantee for the accuracy of the translation. This, however, was not done, and there are none of the fragments contained in this little volume, the original of which can now be found anywhere.

In his preface to these “Fragments,” Macpherson gives the first intimation of the existence of the poem of “Fingal.” He says:—“It is believed that, by a careful inquiry, many more remains of ancient genius, no less valuable than those now given to the world, might be found in the same country where these have been collected. In particular, there is reason to hope that one work of considerable length, and which deserved to be styled an heroic poem, might be recovered and translated, if encouragement were given to such an undertaking. The subject is an invasion of Ireland by Swarthan, king of Lochlyn, which is the name of Denmark in the Erse language. Cuchulaid, the general or chief of the Irish tribes, upon intelligence of the invasion, assembles his forces; councils are held, and battles fought; but after several unsuccessful engagements the Irish are forced to submit. At length Fingal, king of Scotland, called in this poem ‘The Desert of the Hills,’ arrives with his ships to assist Cuchulaid. He expels the Danes from the country, and returns home victorious. This poem is held to be of greater antiquity than any of the rest that are preserved; and the author speaks of himself as present in the expedition of Fingal.” In the “Fragments” the opening of this poem is given, but whether from tradition or MS. is not said. It proceeds:—“Cuchulaid sat by the wall, by the tree of the rustling leaf. His spear leaned against the mossy rock. His shield lay by him on the grass. Whilst he thought on[85] the mighty Carbre, whom he slew in battle, the scout of the ocean came, Moran the son of Fithil.” In 1762 there appeared a quarto volume, edited by Macpherson, containing the poem of “Fingal” and several other compositions. The poem commences, “Cuchullin sat by Tura’s walls; by the tree of the rustling leaf. His spear leaned against the mossy rock. His shield lay by him on the grass. As he thought of mighty Carbar, a hero whom he slew in war, the scout of the ocean came, Moran the son of Fithil.” It will be seen that there are several variations in the two versions, and as we proceed these will appear to be more numerous and more marked. It is somewhat remarkable that the Garve of the earlier version should become Swaran in the second. The whole comparison is interesting, and sheds some light on the progress of the poems in the hand of the editor. It may be interesting, in juxtaposition with the above extracts, to give the Gaelic, as furnished at a later period, by the executors of Macpherson. It is as follows:—

“Shuidh Cuchullin aig balla Thura,

Fo dhùbhra craoibh dhuille na fuaim;

Dh’aom a shleagh ri carraig nan còs,

A sgiath mhòr r’a thaobh air an fheur.

Bha smaointean an fhir air Cairbre,

Laoch a thuit leis an garbh-chòmhrag,

’N uair a thàinig fear-coimhid a’ chuain,

Luath mhac Fhithil nan ceum àrd.”

The English in both the versions—that of 1760 and that of 1762—is a pretty accurate rendering of this. In some cases the Gaelic expletive is awanting, as in “garbh-chòmhrag,” and the name Moran is, in the last line, substituted for the Gaelic description, “The swift son of Fithil, of bounding steps.” These, however, are allowable liberties in such a case. The variations are, however, more considerable as the several versions proceed, but that of 1760 turns out to be a mere fragment of the first book of the great epic of 1762. The other fragments have also their representatives in the larger work. Some of them appear in the poem called “Carrickthura,” and some of them in the epic of “Fingal,” but in all these cases the later compositions are great expansions of the shorter poems given in the earlier work. A comparison of these versions is full of interest, and in the hands of fair and acute criticism, is capable, as already said, of shedding much light on the whole question of Macpherson’s Ossian. One thing is beyond question, that the names of Ossian’s heroes were familiar to the Scottish Highlanders from the earliest period; that they knew more of their deeds, and spoke more of them than of those of Wallace and Bruce; that the country was teeming with poetical compositions bearing to have these deeds as their subjects; that the topography of the country was in every quarter enriched with names drawn from Fingal and his men; and that to say that the whole of this was the invention of Macpherson, is nothing but what the bitterest national prejudice could alone receive as truth.

There are many of the pieces in Macpherson’s Ossian of marvellous power. The description of Cuchullin’s chariot in the first book of Fingal is equal to any similar composition among the great classical epics. It proceeds:—

“Carbad! carbad garbh a’ chòmhraig,

’Gluasad thar ’chomhnard le bàs;

Carbad cuimir, luath, Chuchullin,

Sàr-mhac Sheuma nan cruaidh chàs.

Tha ’earr a’ lùbadh siòs mar thonn,

No ceò mu thom nan carragh geur,

Solus chlocha-buadh mu’n cuairt,

Mar chuan mu eathar ’s an oidhche.

Dh’iubhar faileusach an crann;

Suidhear ann air chnàmhaibh caoin;

’S e tuineas nan sleagh a th’ann,

Nan sgiath, nan lann, ’s nan laoch.

Ri taobh deas a’ mhòr-charbaid

Chithear an t-each meanmnach, séidear,

Mac ard-mhuingeach, cliàbh-fharsuing, dorcha,

Ard-leumach, talmhaidh, na beinne;

’S farumach, fuaimear, a chos;

Tha sgaoileadh a dhosain shuas,

Mar cheathach air àros nan os;

Bu shoilleir a dhreach, ’s bu luath

’Shiubhal, Sithfada b’e ’ainm.

Ri taobh eile a charbaid thall

Tha each fiarasach nan srann,

Caol-mhuingeach, aiginneach, brògach,

Luath-chosach, srònach, nam beann.

Dubh-sròn-gheal a b’ainm air an steud-each.

Làn mhìle dh’iallaibh tana

’Ceangal a’ charbaid gu h-àrd;

Cruaidh chabstar shoilleir nan srian

’Nan gialaibh fo chobhar bàn;

Tha clochan-boillsge le buaidh

’Cromadh sios mu mhuing nan each,

Nan each tha mar cheò air sliabh,

A’ giùlan an triath gu chliù.

Is fiadhaiche na fiadh an colg,

Co làidir ri iolair an neart;

Tha ’m fuaim mar an geamhradh borb

Air Gorm-mheall mùchta fo shneachd.

’Sa charbad chithear an triath,

Sar mhac treun nan geur lann,

Cuchullin nan gorm-bhallach sgiath,

Mac Sheuma mu’n éireadh dan.

A ghruaidh mar an t-iubhair caoin,

A shuil nach b’fhaoin a’ sgaoileadh àrd,

Fo mhala chruim, dhorcha, chaoil;


A chiabh bhuidhe ’n a caoir m’a cheann,

’Taomadh mu ghnùis àluinn an fhir,

’S e ’tarruing a shleagh o ’chùl.

Teich-sa, shàr cheannard nan long,

Teich o’n t-sonn ’s e ’tighinn a nall,

Mar ghaillinn o ghleann nan sruth.”

It is difficult to give an English rendering of the above passage that would convey the elegance and force of the original. The admirer of Gaelic poetry cannot but regret that the English reader cannot peruse the Gaelic version, assured, as he feels, that his doing so would raise considerably his estimate of the Gaelic muse. There is not, perhaps, in any language a richer piece of poetical description than the above. Macpherson’s English version of it is as follows:—

“The car, the car of battle comes, like the flame of death; the rapid car of Cuchullin, the noble son of Semo. It bends behind like a wave near a rock; like the golden mist of the heath. Its sides are embossed with stones, and sparkle like the sea round the boat of night. Of polished yew is its beam, and its seat of the smoothest bone. The sides are replenished with spears; and the bottom is the footstool of heroes. Before the right side of the car is seen the snorting horse, the high-maned, broad-breasted, proud, high-leaping, strong steed of the hill. Loud and resounding is his hoof; the spreading of his mane above is like that stream of smoke on the heath. Bright are the sides of the steed, and his name is Sulin-sifadda. Before the left side of the car is seen the snorting horse; the thin-maned, high-headed, strong-hoofed, fleet, bounding son of the hill; his name is Dusronnal among the stormy sons of the sword. A thousand thongs bind the car on high. Hard polished bits shine in a wreath of foam. Thin thongs, bright-studded with gems, bend on the stately necks of the steeds—the steeds that, like wreaths of mist, fly over the streamy vales. The wildness of deer is in their course, the strength of the eagle descending on her prey. Their noise is like the blast of winter on the sides of the snow-headed Gormal.

“Within the car is seen the chief, the strong, stormy son of the sword; the hero’s name is Cuchullin, son of Semo, king of shells. His red check is like my polished yew. The look of his blue rolling eye is wide beneath the dark arch of his brow. His hair flies from his head like a flame, as, bending forward, he wields the spear. Fly, king of ocean, fly; he comes like a storm along the streamy vale.”

The Gaelic scholar will at once observe that the above is a free but a fair translation of the original Gaelic, and the character of the translation is such as to give no idea of imposition. It is just such a translation as a man of poetic temperament and talent would give of the passage.

In 1763 Macpherson published a second quarto containing the poem of Temora in eight books, along with several other pieces. The first book of the former had appeared in the collection of 1762, the editor saying that it was merely the opening of the poem; but the great interest about the publication of 1763 is that here for the first time we are presented with the Gaelic original of one of the books of the poem. It is not true that Macpherson never offered to publish any portion of the original until he was obliged to do so by the pressure of public opinion, for in this case he published the Gaelic original of a part of the work altogether of his own accord. In a short introductory paragraph to the Gaelic, he says that he chooses the seventh book of Temora, “not from any other superior merit than the variety of its versification. To print any part of the former collection,” he adds, “was unnecessary, as a copy of the originals lay for many months in the bookseller’s hands for the inspection of the curious.” Of this new publication, however, he sees it right to furnish a portion “for the satisfaction of those who doubt the authenticity of Ossian’s poems.” The editor adds that “though the erroneous orthography of the bards is departed from in many instances in the following specimen, yet several quiescent consonants are retained, to show the derivation of the words.” He accounts for the uncouth appearance of the language by the use of the Roman letters, which are incapable of expressing the sounds of the Gaelic. What kind of orthography Macpherson would have selected he does not say. He could not be unacquainted with the phonetic orthography of the Dean of Lismore’s book, and may, perhaps, have had it in view in the above remarks. But the orthography which he himself uses is neither the bardic nor[87] the phonetic, and is more uncouth than any orthography which the bards were in the habit of using. One thing is clear, that the Gaelic of the seventh book of Temora was never copied from any manuscript written by a bard. The book opens as follows:—

“O linna doir-choille na Leigo

Air uair, eri’ ceo taobh-ghórm nan tón;

Nuair dhunas dorsa na h’oicha

Air iulluir shuil-greina nan speur.

Tomhail, mo Lara nan sruth

Thaomas du’-nial, as doricha cruaim;

Mar ghlas-scia’, roi taoma nan nial

Snamh seachad, ta Gellach na h’oicha.

Le so edi’ taisin o-shean

An dlù-ghleus, a measc na gaoith,

’S iad leumach o osna gn osna

Air du’-aghai’ oicha nan sian.

An taobh oitaig, gu palin nan seoid

Taomas iad cëach nan speur

Gorm-thalla do thannais nach beo

Gu am eri’ fón marbh-rán nan teud.”

Translated by Macpherson thus:—

“From the wood-skirted waters of Lego ascend at times grey-bosomed mists; when the gates of the west are closed, on the sun’s eagle eye. Wide over Lara’s stream is poured the vapour dark and deep; the moon like a dim shield, is swimming through its folds. With this, clothe the spirits of old their sudden gestures on the wind when they stride from blast to blast along the dusky night. Often, blended with the gale, to some warrior’s grave, they roll the mist, a grey dwelling to his ghost until the songs arise.”

Any reader who understands the Gaelic must allow, without hesitation, that while this is a free it is a fair rendering of the original; while he will be constrained to add that in point of force and elegance the Gaelic is superior to the English version. Many of the expletives in Gaelic are not rendered in English at all, and these add largely to the poetic force and beauty of the former. The orthography of the Gaelic will be seen to be most uncouth and unphilosophical. “Linna” for “Linne” has no principle to warrant it; so with “oicha” for “oidhche,” “Gellach” for “gealach,” “cruaim” for “gruaim,” “taisin” for “taibh-sean.” Then there are no accents to guide the reader except that the acute accent is used in such extraordinary words as “tón,” “fón,” which are written for “tonn,” “fonn.” Altogether it would appear that the writer of the Gaelic of this book of Temora was to a large extent unacquainted with Gaelic orthography, and was unable to write the Gaelic language accurately. The orthography is, indeed, a mere jumble. Still the fact is an interesting and significant one as connected with the whole history of the Ossianic poetry that, at so early a period, Macpherson should have given, as a debt which he felt to be due to the public, a large specimen of the original of one of his poems. If there is any cause of regret connected with the matter, it is that he did not let the country know where he found these poems, and refer others to the sources whence he derived them himself. These have never been discovered by any body else, although numerous pieces of Ossianic poetry are well known in the Highlands to the present day.

There were various versions of Macpherson’s collection, but the most interesting of all was the Gaelic original of the whole poems published in 1807. In this edition a Latin translation was furnished by Mr Robert M’Farlane. The book is a very handsome one, and in every way creditable to its editors. Mr M’Lachlan of Aberdeen revised the Gaelic, and no man was more competent for such a duty. The introduction to the edition of 1818 is understood to have been written by an excellent Gaelic scholar, the late Rev. Dr Ross of Lochbroom, and is an eloquent and powerful composition. Several translations of Ossian’s poems have appeared, but the interest of the work is mainly associated with the name and labours of James Macpherson.

Smith’s Sean Dana.

In 1780 appeared a volume of Ossian’s Poems, translated and edited by the Rev. John Smith of Kilbrandon, afterwards the Rev. Dr Smith of Campbeltown. The volume is entitled “Gaelic Antiquities, &c.,” containing, among other things, “A Collection of Ancient Poems, translated from the Gaelic of Ullin, Ossian, &c.” Dr Smith was an admirable Gaelic scholar, as was evidenced by his translation of a portion of the Scriptures into that language, and his metrical version of the Gaelic Psalms. The work before us is a work highly creditable to Dr Smith’s talents and industry, and although he complains of the reception which his efforts on behalf of Gaelic literature met with, it is still prized by Gaelic scholars.

In the year 1787 appeared the Gaelic version of the same poems in an octavo volume, entitled, “Sean Dana le Oisian, Orran, Ulann,[88] &c.” It is a pity that the two versions did not appear simultaneously, as there have not been wanting those who have charged Dr Smith, as was done in the case of Macpherson, with composing himself much of the poetry which he gives as Ossian’s. The same has been said of another collector of the name of Kennedy, who collected a large number of poems which now lie in MS. in the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh; but it is a curious fact that some of the pieces which Kennedy is said to have acknowledged having composed, can be shown to be ancient.

Dr Smith’s collection begins with the poem called “Dan an Deirg,” the Song of Dargo, or the Red Man. It is a famous song in the Highlands, as is indicated by the proverbial saying, “Gach dàn gu dàn an Deirg,” Every song yields to the song of Dargo. It was sung to a simple, touching air, which is still known. This poem is given by Dr Smith in two sections, entitled severally, “A’ cheud chuid,” and “An dara cuid.” The song is given by the M’Callums (referred to below), but it is most perplexing that not one word of their version agrees with Dr Smith’s. Their version is manifestly of the ancient form and rhythm, with the usual summary at the head of it given by Gaelic reciters ere beginning one of their songs. None of this is found in Dr Smith’s version, which is cast very much in the mould of Macpherson’s Gaelic Ossian. Mr J. A. Campbell, in his Popular Tales of the Highlands (vol. iii., p. 51), gives a few lines of the lament of the wife of Dargo for her husband, but they do not correspond in one line with the version of Dr Smith. The same may be said of Dr Smith’s “Diarmad,” which is entirely different from all the existing versions of the same poem. The versions of the Dean of Lismore and of Gillies (mentioned below) are identical, and so are to a large extent other existing versions taken down from oral recitation, but Dr Smith’s differs largely from them in locality, matter, and rhythm. It removes the story of the death of this Fingalian hero from Glenshee to Sliabh Ghaodhail, in Kintyre. At the same time, it is quite possible that different poems existed bearing the same name; and Dr Smith’s poems are compositions of decided excellence. They add much to the stores of the Gaelic scholar, and the English translation is done with a skill little inferior to that of Macpherson himself.

Other Collections of Ossianic Poems.

The earliest collector and publisher of the poems of Ossian was Mr Jerome Stone at Dunkeld, who furnished the Scots Magazine in 1756 with a translation in rhyme of “Bàs Fhraoich,” or the Death of Fraoch. Stone did not give the Gaelic original of this or of any other of his collections, but they were found after his death, and a selection of them is printed in the Report of the Highland Society on Ossian. A Mr Hill, an English gentleman, made some collections in Argyleshire in 1780; and several pieces were published by a bookseller of the name of Gillies at Perth, who published an excellent volume of Gaelic poetry in 1786.

Gillies’s pieces have the true ring of the ancient poetry of the Highlands, and are in many cases to be found floating still among the traditional poetry of the people. The Ossianic pieces are numerous. They are—“Suiridh Oisein air Eamhair àluinn,” the Courtship of Ossian and Eviralin; “Comhrag Fhinn agus Mhanuis,” the Conflict of Fingal and Manus; “Marbhadh Chonlaoich le Cuchulain,” the Slaughter of Conlach by Cuchullin; “Aisling Mhailmhìne,” Malvina’s Dream; “Briathran Fhinn ri Oscar,” Fingal’s Address to Oscar; “Rosg Ghuill,” the War-song of Gaul; “Dàn na h-Inghin,” the Song of the Maiden, usually called “Fainesoluis;” “Conn mac an Deirg,” Conn, son of Dargo; “Duan Fhraoich,” the Song of Fraoch; “Cath righ Sorcha,” the Battle of the King of Sorcha; “Marbh-rann Oscair,” the Death-song of Oscar; “Ceardach Mhic Luinn,” the Smithy of the Son of Linn; “Duan a Mhuireartaich,” the Song of Muireartach; “Caoidh Dhéirdir,” Deirdre’s Lament, in which the poem given already from the old MS. of 1268 appears as a part of it. It is most interesting in this case to compare the written with the traditional poem; “Bàs Dhiarmaid,” the Death of Diarmad; “Dearg mac Deirg,” the Song of Dargo; “Teanntachd mòr na Feinn,” the great trial of the Fingalians; “Laoidh Laomuinn mhic an Uaimh-fhir,” the Song of Laomuinn;[89]Eairagan,” Earragon; “Na Brataichean,” the Banners; “Bàs Oscair,” the Death of Oscar; in all twenty-one fragments or whole pieces, some of them of considerable length, and almost all, if not all, taken down from oral recitation. This list is given in full, in order to show what pieces of professed Ossianic poetry could be found in the Highlands soon after the publication of Macpherson’s work by other and independent compilers. A comparison of those pieces with Macpherson’s Ossian is interesting to the inquirer in this field. The following specimen of one of Gillies’s alleged compositions of Ossian may be given here:—

Briathran Fhinn ri Oscar.

A mhic mo mhic ’s e thubhairt an righ,

Oscair, a righ nan òg fhlath,

Chunnaic mi dealradh do lainne ’s b’e m’ uaill

’Bhi ’g amharc do bhuaidh ’s a chath.

Lean gu dlù ri cliù do shinnsircachd

’S na dìbir a bhi mar iadsan.

’N uair bu bheò Treunmhor nan rath,

’Us Trathull athair nan treun laoch,

Chuir iad gach cath le buaidh,

’Us bhuannaich iad cliù gach teugbhail.

’Us mairidh an iomradh ’s an dàn

Air chuimhn’ aig na baird an déigh so.

O! Oscair, claoidh thus’ an treun-armach,

’S thoir tearmunn do’n lag-lamhach, fheumach;

Bi mar bhuinne-shruth reothairt geamhraidh

Thoirt gleachd do naimhdibh na Feinn,

Ach mar fhann-ghaoth sheimh, thlàth, shambraidh,

Bi dhoibhsan a shireas do chabhar.

Mar sin bha Treunmhor nam buadh,

S bha Trathull nan ruag ’n a dheigh ann,

S bha Fionn ’na thaic do ’n fhann

G a dhion o ainneart luchd-eucoir.

’N a aobhar shininn mo lamh,

Le failte rachainn ’n a choinnimh,

’Us gheibheadh e fasgath ’us caird,

Fo sgàil dhrithlinneach mo loinne.

English Translation.

Address of Fingal to Oscar.

Son of my son, so said the king,

Oscar, prince of youthful heroes,

I have seen the glitter of thy blade, and ’twas my pride

To see thy triumph in the conflict.

Cleave thou fast to the fame of thine ancestors,

And do not neglect to be like them.

When Treunmor the fortunate lived,

And Trathull the father of warriors,

They fought each field triumphantly,

And won the fame in every fight.

And their names shall flourish in the song

Commemorated henceforth by the bards.

Oh! Oscar, crush thou the armed hero,

But spare the feeble and the needy;

Be as the rushing winter, spring-tide, stream,

Giving battle to the foes of the Fingalians,

But as the gentle, soothing, summer breeze

To such as seek for thy help.

Such was Treunmor of victories,

And Trathull of pursuits, thereafter,

And Fingal was a help to the weak,

To save him from the power of the oppressor.

In his cause I would stretch out my hand,

With a welcome I would go to meet him,

And he should find shelter and friendship

Beneath the glittering shade of my sword.

The above is a true relic of the ancient Ossianic poetry, full of power and full of life, and indicates the existence of a refinement among the ancient Celts for which the opponents of Macpherson would not give them credit. Gillies tells us that his collection was made from gentlemen in every part of the Highlands. It is perhaps the most interesting collection of Highland song which we possess.

In 1816 there appeared a collection of Gaelic poetry by Hugh and John M’Callum. It was printed at Montrose, and the original Gaelic version and an English translation were published simultaneously. The work is called “An Original Collection of the Poems of Ossian, Orann, Ulin, and other bards who flourished in the same age.” There are twenty-six pieces altogether, and the editors give the sources whence they were all derived. These are such as Duncan Matheson in Snizort, Isle of Skye; Hector M’Phail in Torasay, Mull; Donald M’Innes, teacher, Gribun, Mull; Dr M’Donald of Killean, from whom “Teanntachd mòr na Feinn” was obtained—the Doctor maintaining, it appears, that his version was a better one than that given by Gillies; Archibald M’Callum in Killean; and others who furnish “Laoidh nan ceann,” a poem found in the collection of the Dean of Lismore, as are several others of the M’Callums’ collection.

This collection is a very admirable one, perfectly honest, and presents us with some compositions of high poetic merit. The addresses of Ossian to the sun, which Macpherson declines to give in Gaelic, substituting for one of them a series of asterisks, although he gives it in English, are here given in both languages; and the Gaelic versions are perhaps the finest compositions in the book. The address to the setting sun is here given as a specimen of the M’Callums’ collection:—


Oisian do ’n Ghrein an am Luidh.

An d’ fhàg tha gorm astar nan speur,

A mhic gun bheud a’s òr bhuidh ciabh?

Tha dorsa na h-oidhche dhuit féin,

Agus pàilliuin do chlos ’s an Iar,

Thig na tonna mu’n cuairt gu mall

’Choimhead an fhir a ’s gloine gruaidh,

A’ togail fo eagal an ceann

Ri ’d fhaicinn cho àillidh a’d shuain;

Theich iadsan gun tuar o’d thaobh.

Gabh-sa codal ann ad uaimh

A ghrian, ’us pill an tùs le h-aoibhneas.

Mar bhoillsge grein’ ’s a gheamhradh

’S e ruith ’n a dheann le raon Lena

Is amhuil laithe nam Fiann.

Mar ghrian eadar frasaibh a’ tréigsinn

Dh’ aom neoil chiar-dhubh nan speur,

’Us bhuin iad an deò aoibhinn o ’n t-sealgair,

Tha lom gheugan na coill’ a’ caoidh,

Is maoth lusrach an t-sleibh’ a’ seargadh;

Ach pillidh fathasd a’ ghrian

Ri doire sgiamhach nan geug ùra,

’Us ni gach crann ’s a Chéitean gàire

Ag amharc an àird ri mac an speura.

English Translation.

Ossian’s Address to the Setting Sun.

Hast thou left the blue course of the sky

Faultless son of golden locks?

The gates of the night are for thee,

And thy place of repose is in the west.

The waves gather slowly around

To see him of fairest countenance;

Raising their heads in fear.

As they witness thy beauty in repose,

They fled pale from thy side.

Take thou rest in thy cave,

O sun, and return with rejoicing.

As the sunbeam in the winter time

Descending quick on the slope of Lena,

So are the days of the Fingalians.

As the sun becoming darkened among showers,

The dark clouds of the sky descended

And bore away the joyous light from the huntsman.

The bare branches of the wood weep,

And the soft herbage of the mountain withers.

But the sun shall return again

To the beautiful forest of the fresh-clothed branch,

And each bough shall smile in the early summer,

Looking up to the son of the sky.

The collection of the M’Callums was a real addition to the stores of Gaelic poetry, and is most helpful in bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the whole question of the ancient Gaelic poetry of Scotland. Were there no other Gaelic compositions in existence save those pieces which this volume contains, they would be sufficient to prove the high character of the heroic poetry of the Scottish Gael for everything that constitutes true poetic power.

It would be wrong in such a sketch as this to overlook the interesting and ingenious contribution made to the discussion of the Ossianic question in the third and fourth volumes of Mr J. Campbell’s Tales of the West Highlands. The whole four volumes are full of interesting materials for the student of Gaelic literature and antiquities, but the third and fourth volumes are those in which a place is given to the ancient Ossianic poems. Mr Campbell, the representative of a distinguished Highland family, and unlike many of the class to which he belongs, an excellent Gaelic scholar, made collections on his own account all over the Highlands. He had as his chief coadjutor in the work Mr Hector M’Lean, teacher in Islay, and he could not have had a better—Mr M’Lean being possessed of scholarship, enthusiasm, and sound judgment. The result is a very remarkable collection of the oral literature of the Highlands, including selections from a large amount of poetry attributed to Ossian. This book is a truly honest book, giving the compositions collected just as they were found among the native Highlanders. We shall take occasion again to refer to the Sgeulachds, or tales, and shall only refer at present to the Ossianic remains presented to us by Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell’s collections include most of the pieces that have been brought together in the same way, with such variations, of course, as must be looked for in the circumstances. He furnishes us with a version of the Lay of Diarmad (vol. iii., 50), having peculiar features of its own, but to a large extent identical with the versions of the Dean of Lismore and of Gillies. It is of much interest to compare this version, taken down within the last few years, with one taken down one hundred years ago, and another taken down three hundred and fifty years ago. The retentive power of human memory for generations is remarkably illustrated by the comparison. Mr Campbell also gives us “The Lay of Oscar,” “The Praise of Gaul,” “The Poem of Oscar,” and several other minor compositions, some of which had never before been printed. These, with Mr Campbell’s own disquisitions, are full of interest; but for the details we must refer the reader to Mr Campbell’s volumes.

From all that has been written on the subject of these ancient Gaelic poems of Ossian, it is perfectly clear that Ossian himself is no creation of James Macpherson. His name has been familiar to the people both of the Highlands[91] and Ireland, for a thousand years and more. “Oisian an deigh na Feinn,” Ossian after the Fingalians, has been a proverbial saying among them for numberless generations. Nor did Macpherson invent Ossian’s poems. There were poems reputed to be Ossian’s in the Highlands for centuries before he was born, and poems, too, which for poetic power and interest are unsurpassed; which speak home to the heart of every man who can sympathise with popular poetry marked by the richest felicities of diction; and which entitles them justly to all the commendation bestowed upon the poems edited by Macpherson.

Modern Gaelic Literature.

It will be seen that a large proportion of the existing Gaelic literature of the early period is poetical. Not that it is so altogether, by any means; and if any large amount of it had come down to us, there is no reason for believing that so large a share of it would be poetical. But the prose MS. writings of the ancient Gael have, with the few exceptions already referred to, perished; and have left us with such poetical compositions as adhered to the national memory.

As we enter upon the era of printing, we are disposed to look for a more extensive literature, and no doubt we find it. But with the era of printing came the use of another language, and the Gaelic ceased to be the vehicle for carrying abroad the thoughts of the learned. Religion still continued to make use of its services, but it ceased to be the handmaid of science and philosophy.

The first printed Gaelic book which we find is Bishop Carsewell’s Gaelic translation of the Liturgy of John Knox. It is well known that Knox compiled a prayer-book for the use of the Scottish Reformed Church, and that it was thought desirable that this prayer-book should be translated into the Gaelic language for the use of the Highlanders. The translation was undertaken by Mr John Carsewell, who was appointed superintendent of the ancient diocese of Argyle, which office he filled for many years. The book was printed at Edinburgh, in 1567. The language is what is in modern times called Irish, but might in Carsewell’s time be called Scotch, for none other was written in Scotland in so far as Gaelic was written at all. There are but three copies of this book known to exist—an entire copy in the library of the Duke of Argyle, and two imperfect copies, one in the library of the University of Edinburgh, and one in the British Museum. This book was printed before one line of Irish Gaelic was printed. Extracts from the volume will be found in the Highland Society’s Report upon Ossian, and in M’Lauchlan’s Celtic Gleanings. The former extract is made to show that the names of Fingal and the Fingalians were well known in the Highlands at the period of the Reformation. In 1631 a translation of Calvin’s Catechism appeared, probably executed by Carsewell.

In 1659 appeared the first fifty of the Psalms of David in metre by the Synod of Argyle. It is called “An ceud chaogad do Shalmaibh Dhaibhidh a meadrachd Gaoidhilg,” the first Fifty of the Psalms of David in Gaelic Metre. The language of the original here is what is called Irish, although it is, as is the Gaelic of Carsewell, the ordinary written Gaelic of the period. This translation forms the groundwork of all the editions of the Psalms that have been used since in the Scottish Church. The rest of the Psalms followed the first fifty in 1694, and the Psalter of the Argyle Synod became then complete. The introduction to the little volume of 1659 details the difficulties which the authors met in converting the Psalms into Gaelic metre, one of which, they say, was the necessity of adapting them to the structure of the English Psalm tunes. How Gaelic congregational singing was conducted in the Highlands previous to this little book appearing, it is hard to say. The introduction concludes with the words, “Anois, a Legthora, dense dithcheall ann sann obair bhigse bhuiliughadh gu maith, agus guidh ar an Tighearna é feín do bheannughadh an tshoisgeil ann sna tirthaibh gaoidhlachsa, agus lasair shoilleir lán teasa do dheanamh don tsraid bhig do lasadh cheana ionta. Grasa maille roit.”

English Translation.

“And now, reader, strive to use this little work, and pray the Lord that He himself would bless the gospel in these Gaelic lands,[92] and that He would make a bright flame full of heat of this little spark which has been now lighted in it.”

This little volume is now scarce, but full of interest to the Gaelic student.

Alongside of the Synod of Argyle, another indefatigable labourer in the same field was at work. This was Mr Robert Kirk, minister at Balquhidder. There seems to have been no Rob Roy in the district at the time, and Mr Kirk appears to have had a quiet life in his Highland parish; more so, indeed, than other Scottish ministers of the time, for he seems to have been engaged in his translation during the heat of the persecution of the Covenanters, and it was published in 1684, four years before the Revolution. Kirk is said to have been so anxious to have precedence of the Synod of Argyle, that he invented a machine for awakening him in the morning by means of water made to fall upon his face at a certain hour. His Psalter preceded that of the Synod by a period of ten years.

Mr Kirk dedicates his volume, which is published with the sanction of the Privy Council, and with the approbation of “the Lords of the Clergy, and some reverend ministers who best understand the Irish language,” to the Marquis of Athole, &c., of whom he says that his “Lordship has been of undoubted courage and loyalty for the king, and still alongst inflexible to the persuasions or threats of frozen neutralists or flaming incendiaries in Church or State.” Kirk further states that the work was “done by such as attained not the tongue (which he calls Scottish-Irish) without indefatigable industry,” manifestly pointing to himself as one who had so acquired it.

This little volume of the minister of Balquhidder is a most interesting contribution to our Gaelic literature. The language is what many writers call Irish, although there is no reason to believe that Mr Kirk ever was in Ireland, or conversed with speakers of Irish Gaelic. He knew and used the dialect which writers of the Gaelic language had used for centuries, and used at the time. No Irish writer could use a dialect more purely Irish than that found in Kirk’s Gaelic preface. Kirk concludes his preface with the following lines:—

Imthigh a Dhuilleachain gu dàn,

Le Dan glan diagha duisg iad thall.

Cuir failte air Fonn fial na bFionn,

Ar garbh-chriocha, ’s Indseadh gall.

English Translation.

Go, little leaflet, boldly,

With pure holy songs wake them yonder,

Salute the hospitable land of the Fingalians,

The rugged borders, and the Isles of the strangers.

“The land of the Fingalians” was the Highlands generally; “the rugged borders” was the west coast of Inverness-shire and Ross-shire; and “the Isles of the Strangers” were the Hebrides, so called from being long in possession of the Norsemen.

In 1690 Mr Kirk edited in Roman letters an edition of Bedel’s Irish Bible, with O’Donnell’s New Testament, for the use of the Highlanders. Kirk says in the title-page of the work, “Nocha ta anois chum maitheas coit-cheann na nGaoidheil Albanach athruighte go hair-each as an litir Eireandha chum na mion-litir shoileighidh Romhantawhich is now for the common good of the Highlanders changed carefully from the Irish letter to the small readable Roman letter. At the close of the book there is a vocabulary of Irish words with their Gaelic equivalents. Many of the equivalents are as difficult to understand as the original Irish.

In 1694 the completed Psalm-book of the Synod of Argyle appeared. It was very generally accepted, and although some editions of Kirk’s Psalter appeared, the Synod’s Psalter became the Psalter of the Church, and was the basis of all the metrical versions of the Gaelic Psalms that have appeared since.

The Shorter Catechism was published in Gaelic by the Synod of Argyle about the same time with their first fifty Psalms. Numerous editions have been printed since, and perhaps there is no better specimen of the Gaelic language in existence than what is to be found in the common versions of it. The earlier versions are in the dialect so often referred to, called Irish. The title of the book is “Foirceadul aithghearr cheasnuighe, an dus ar na ordughadh le coimhthional na Ndiaghaireadh ag Niarmhanister an Sasgan, &c.” That may be called Irish, but it was a Scottish book written by Scottish men.

In 1725 the Synod of Argyle, who cannot be too highly commended for their anxiety to[93] promote the spiritual good of their countrymen in the Highlands, published a translation of the Confession of Faith into Gaelic. It is a small duodecimo volume printed at Edinburgh. The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Creed follow the Confession. The book is well printed, and the language is still the so-called Irish. The title runs:—“Admhail an Chreidimh, air an do reitigh air ttus coimhthionol na nDiaghaireadh aig Niarmhoinister an Sasgan; &c.... ar na chur a Ngaoidheilg le Seanadh Earraghaoidheal.” The Confession of Faith, &c., translated into Gaelic by the Synod of Argyle.

It is interesting with respect to the dialect in which all the works referred to appear, to inquire whence the writers obtained it, if it be simply Irish. Carsewell’s Prayer-book appeared before any work in Irish Gaelic was printed. The ministers of the Synod of Argyle were surely Scottish Highlanders and not Irishmen. Mr Kirk of Balquhidder was a lowland Scot who acquired the Gaelic tongue. Now these men, so far as we know, were never in Ireland, and there were no Irish-Gaelic books from which they could acquire the tongue. There might be manuscripts, but it is not very probable that men would inspect manuscripts in order to enable them to write in a dialect that was foreign to the people whom they intended to benefit. Yet these all write in the same dialect, and with the identical same orthography. Surely this proves that the Scottish Gael were perfectly familiar with that dialect as the language of their literature, that its orthography among them was fixed, that the practice of writing it was common, as much so as among the Irish, and that the people readily understood it. It is well known that the reading of the Irish Bible was common in Highland churches down to the beginning of this century, and that the letter was, from the abbreviations used, called “A’ chorra litir,” and was familiar to the people. At the same time, the language was uniformly called Irish, as the people of the Highlands were called Irish, although there never was a greater misnomer. Such a designation was never employed by the people themselves, and was only used by those who wrote and spoke English. In the title of the Confession of Faith published in Gaelic in 1725, it is said to be translated into the Irish language by the Synod of Argyle.

Gaelic Bible.

Religious works formed the staple of the literature issued from the Gaelic press from the period now spoken of to the present day. The great want for many years was the Bible. For a long time the clergy used the Irish edition reprinted for the use of the Highlands by Mr Kirk; but this was not satisfactory, from the difference of the dialect; many in consequence preferred translating from the English. This habit pervaded all classes, and it is not improbable that there are in the Highlands still persons who prefer translating the Scriptures for their own use to the common version. Certain traditional forms of translation were at one time in general use, and occasionally the translations given bordered on the ludicrous. A worthy man was once translating the phrase “And they were astonied,” and he made it “Bha iad air an clachadh,” They were stoned. It was in every way desirable that a correct translation of the Gaelic Bible should be provided for the use of the Highlands, and this was finally undertaken by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The person employed to perform the work was the Rev. James Stewart of Killin, a man fully qualified for it, and although his translation retained too much of the Irish dialect of O’Donnell’s Irish New Testament, it was welcomed as a highly creditable work, and as a great boon to the Highlands. Many minor changes have been made in the Gaelic New Testament of 1767, but it has been the basis of all subsequent editions which have sought merely to render certain portions of the work more idiomatic and pleasing to a Scottish ear. The publishing of this version of the New Testament proved a great benefit to the Highlands.

Soon after the publication of the New Testament, it was resolved that the Old Testament should be translated into Gaelic also. This work, like the former, was undertaken by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, assisted by a collection made throughout the congregations of the Church of Scotland[94] amounting to £1483. The principal translator employed was the Rev. Dr John Stewart of Luss, son of the translator of the New Testament, who translated three portions of the work, while a fourth portion, including the Prophets, was executed by the Rev. Dr Smith, of Campbellton, the accomplished editor of the Sean Dana. The whole work was completed and published in the year 1801. This work has been of incalculable service to the Highlands, and is one of the many benefits conferred upon that portion of the country by the excellent Society who undertook it. Objections have been taken to the many Irish idioms introduced into the language, and to the extent to which the Irish orthography was followed, but these are minor faults, and the work itself is entitled to all commendation.

Translations from the English.

Much of our modern Gaelic prose literature consists of translations from the English. In this the Gaelic differs from the Welsh, in which is to be found a large amount of original prose writing on various subjects. This has arisen from the demand for such a literature being less among the Highlanders, among whom the English language has made greater progress, so much so, that when a desire for extensive reading exists, it is generally attended with a sufficient knowledge of English. Translations of religious works, however, have been relished, and pretty ample provision has been made to meet the demand. The first book printed in modern Scottish Gaelic was a translation of Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, executed by the Rev. Alex. M’Farlane, of Kilninver, and published in 1750. There is much of the Irish orthography and idiom retained in this work, but it is a near approach to the modern spoken language of the Highlands. Since then many of the works of well-known religious authors have been translated and published, among which may be mentioned works by Boston, Bunyan, Brookes, Colquhoun, and Doddridge. These are much prized and read throughout the Highlands. The translations are of various excellence; some of them accurate and elegant, while others are deficient in both these qualities. Dr Smith’s version of Alleine’s Alarm is an admirable specimen of translation, and is altogether worthy of the fame of Dr Smith. The same may be said of Mr M’Farlane’s translation of The History of Joseph, which is an excellent specimen of Gaelic writing. The Monthly Visitor tract has been translated by the writer for the last twelve years, and it has a large circulation.

Original Prose Writings.

Of these Mr Reid, in his Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica, gives but a scanty catalogue. He gives but a list of ten, most of them single sermons. There are several other such writings, however, which have been added since Reid’s list was made up. Among these appears M’Kenzie’s Bliadhna Thearlaich, “Charles’s year,” a vigorous well-written account of the rebellion of 1745–6. M’Kenzie was the compiler of a volume of Gaelic poetry in which the best specimens of the works of the bards are generally given, and although having ideas of his own on the subject of orthography, few men knew the Gaelic language better. We have also a volume on astronomy by the Rev. D. Connell; and a History of Scotland by the Rev. Angus Mackenzie, both of them creditable performances. It is doubtful how far these works have been patronised by the public, and how far they have been of pecuniary benefit to their authors, but they are deserving works, and if they have not proved a remunerative investment, it is from want of interest on the part of the readers more than from want of ability on the part of the writers. In addition to these have been several magazines, the contents of which have in some instances been collected into a volume and published separately. Of these are An teachdaire Gaidhealach, “The Gaelic Messenger,” edited by the late Rev. Dr M’Leod of Glasgow, and a Free Church magazine An Fhianuis, “The Witness,” edited by the Rev. Dr Mackay, now of Harris. “The Gaelic Messenger,” An Teachdaire Gaidhealach, contained a large proportion of papers furnished by the editor, Dr M’Leod. These have been since that time collected into a volume by his son-in-law the Rev. Archibald Clerk of Kilmallie, and published under the title of Caraid nan Gaidheal, “The Friend of the Highlanders.” This is an admirable volume, containing, as it does, our best[95] specimens of racy, idiomatic Gaelic, of which Dr M’Leod was a master. It is a most interesting addition to our Gaelic literature. Besides this, Dr M’Leod produced Leabhar nan Cnoc, “The Book of the Knowes,” a school collection of prose and poetry, and several other lesser works. The Leabhar nan Cnoc is an admirable collection of fragments, well adapted for school use, and at the same time interesting to the general reader.

But the most remarkable addition that has recently been made to Gaelic prose literature is Mr J. F. Campbell’s collection of “Sgeulachdan” or ancient Highland tales. It was long known that a large amount of this kind of literature existed in the Highlands; that it formed the treasure of the reciter, a character recognised and appreciated in every small community; and that it was the staple fireside amusement of many a winter evening. Specimens of this literature appeared occasionally in print, and one of great interest, and remarkably well given, called Spiorad na h-aoise, “The Spirit of Age,” appears in Leabhar nan Cnoc, the collection already spoken of. Mr Campbell set himself to collect this literature from the traditions of the people, and he has embodied the result in four goodly volumes, which every lover of the language and literature of the Celt must prize. Many coadjutors aided Mr Campbell in his undertaking, and he was happy in finding, as has been already said, in Mr Hector M’Lean, teacher, Islay, a most efficient collector and transcriber of the tales. These tales were known among the Highlanders as “Sgeulachdan” Tales, or “Ursgeulan” Noble Tales, the latter having reference usually to stories of the Fingalian heroes. They are chiefly “Folk lore” of the kinds which are now known to pervade the world amongst a certain class as their oral literature. The Tales themselves are of various degrees of merit, and are manifestly derived from various sources. Some of them took their origin in the fertile imagination of the Celt, while others are obviously of classical origin, and are an adaptation of ancient Greek and Latin stories to the taste of the Celt of Scotland. Mr Campbell, in his disquisitions accompanying the tales, which are often as amusing and instructive as the tales themselves, traces numerous bonds of connection between them and similar legends common to almost all the European nations. He shows where they meet and where they diverge, and makes it very clear that most of them must have had a common origin. It has been maintained that many of these legends were brought to Scotland by returning Crusaders; that they were often the amusement of the camp among these soldiers of the ancient Church; and that, related among hearers of all nations, they became dispersed among those nations, and that thus Scotland came to obtain and to retain her share of them.

That Scotland felt largely the influence of the Crusades cannot be denied by any observant student of her history. Her whole political and social system was modified by them, while to them is largely due the place and power which the mediæval Church obtained under the government of David I. That Scottish literature should have felt their influence is more than likely, and it is possible, although it is hardly safe to go further, that some of these tales of the Scottish Highlands owe their existence to the wanderings of Scottish Crusaders. Be their origin, however, what it may, they afford a deeply interesting field of enquiry to the student of the popular literature of the country. In our own view, they are of great value, as presenting us with admirable specimens of idiomatic Gaelic. We transcribe one tale, making use of the ordinary orthography of the Gaelic, Mr Campbell having used forms of spelling which might serve to express the peculiarities of the dialect in which he found them couched.

Maol a Chliobain.

Bha bantrach ann roimhe so, ’us bha trì nigheanan aice, ’us thubhairt iad rithe, gu’n rachadh iad a dh’iarraidh an fhortain. Dheasaich i trì bonnaich. Thubhairt i ris an té mhòir, “Cò aca is fhearr leat an leth bheag ’us mo bheannachd, no’n leth mhòr ’s mo mhallachd?” “Is fhearr leam, ars’ ise, an leth mhòr ’us do mhallachd.” Thubhairt i ris an té mheadhonaich,[96] “Co aca’s fhearr leat an leth bheag ’us mo bheannachd, no’n leth mhòr ’us mo mhallachd.” “Is fhearr leam an leth mhòr ’us do mhallachd,” ars’ ise. Thubhairt i ris an té bhig, “Co aca ’s fhearr leat an leth mhòr ’us mo mhallachd, no’n leth bheag ’s mo bheannachd?” “Is fhearr leam an leth bheag’us do bheannachd.” Chord so r’a màthair, ’us thug i dhi an leth eile cuideachd.

Dh’ fhalbh iad, ach cha robh toil aig an dithis ’bu shine an té ’b’òige ’bhi leo, ’us cheangail iad i ri carragh cloiche. Ghabh iad air an aghaidh, ’s ’n uair a dh’amhairc iad as an déigh, co a chunnaic iad ach ise ’us a’ chreig air a muin. Leig iad leatha car treis gus an d’ràinig iad cruach mhòine, ’us cheangail iad ris a chruaich mhòine i. Ghabh iad air an aghaidh treis, ’us dh’amhairc iad ’n an déigh, ’us cò a chunnaic iad ach ise a’ tighinn, ’s a’ chruach mhòine air a muin. Leig iad leatha car tacan gus an d’ràinig iad craobh, ’us cheangail iad ris a’chraoibh i. Ghabh iad air an aghaidh treis, ’us ’n’uair a dh’amhairc iad ’n an déigh, cò a chunnaic iad ach ise a’ tighinn, ’s a’chraobh air a muin. Chunnaic iad nach robh maith bhí rithe. Dh’fhuasgail iad i ’us leig iad leo i. Bha iad a’ falbh gus an d’thàinig an oidhche orra. Chunnaic iad solus fada uatha, ’us ma b’fhada uatha, cha b’fhada bha iadsan ’g a ruigheachd. Chaidh iad a stigh. Ciod e bha so ach tigh famhair. Dh’iarr iad fuireach ’s an oidhche. Fhuair iad sin ’us chuireadh a luidhe iad le trì nigheanan an fhamhair.

English Translation.

There was a widow once of a time, and she had three daughters, and they said to her that they were going to seek their fortunes. She prepared three bannocks. She said to the big daughter, “Whether do you like best the little half with my blessing, or the big half with my curse?” “I like best,” said she, “the big half with your curse.” She said to the middle one, “Whether do you like best the big half with my curse, or the little half with my blessing?” “I like best,” said she, “the big half with your curse.” She said to the little one, “Whether do you like best the big half with my curse, or the little half with my blessing?” “I like best the little half with your blessing.” This pleased her mother, and she gave her the other half likewise.

They left, but the two older ones did not wish to have the younger one with them, and they tied her to a stone. They held on, and when they looked behind them, whom did they see coming but her with the rock on her back. They let her alone for a while until they reached a stack of peats, and they tied her to the peat-stack. They held on for a while, when whom did they see coming but her with the stack of peats on her back. They let her alone for a while until they reached a tree, and they tied her to the tree. They held on, and whom did they see coming but her with the tree on her back. They saw that there was no use in meddling with her. They loosed her, and they let her come with them. They were travelling until night overtook them. They saw a light far from them, and if it was far from them they were not long reaching it. They went in. What was this but the house of a giant. They asked to remain overnight. They got that, and they were set to bed with the three daughters of the giant.

Bha caran de chneapan òmbair mu mhuinealan nigheanan an fhamhair, agus sreangan gaosaid mu’m muinealan-san. Choidil iad air fad, ach cha do choidil Maol a’ chliobain. Feadh na h-oidhche thàinig pathadh air an fhamhar. Ghlaodh e r’a ghille maol carrach uisge ’thoirt d’a ionnsuidh. Thubhairt an gille maol carrach nach robh deur a stigh. “Marbh, ars’ esan, té de na nigheanan coimheach, ’us thoir a’m ionnsuidhse a fuil.” “Ciamar a dh’ aithuicheas mi eatorra?” ars’ an gille maol carrach. “Tha caran de chneapan mu mhuinealan mo nigheanan-sa, agus caran gaosaid mu mhuinealan chàich.” Chuala Maol a chliobain am famhar, ’us cho clis ’s a b’urrainn i, chuir i na sreanganan gaosaid a bha m’a muineal féin agus mu mhuinealan a peathraichean mu mhuinealan nigheanan an fhamhair, agus na cneapan a bha mu mhuinealan nigheanan an fhamhair m’a muineal féin agus mu mhuinealan a peathraichean, ’us luidh i sios gu samhach. Thàinig an gille maol carrach, ’us mharbh e té de nigheanan an fhamhair, ’us thug e an fhuil d’a ionnsuidh. Dh’iarr e tuilleadh a thoirt d’a ionnsuidh. Mharbh e an ath thé. Dh’iarr e tuilleadh ’us mharbh e an treas té. Dhùisg Maol a’ chliobain a’ peathraichean, ’us thug i air a muin iad, ’us ghabh i air falbh. Mhothaich am famhar dith ’us lean e i.

Na spreadan teine a bha ise ’cur as na clachan le a sàiltean, bha iad a’ bualadh an fhamhair ’s an smigead; agus na spreadan teine a bha am famhar ’toirt as na clachan le barraibh a chos, bha iad a’ bualadh Mhaol a’ chliobain an cùl a’ chinn. Is e so ’bu dual doibh gus an d’ràinig iad amhainn. Leum Maol a’ chliobain an amhainn ’us cha b’urrainn am famhar an amhainn a leum. “Tha thu thall, a Mhaol a’ chliobain.” “Tha, ma’s oil leat.” “Mharbh thu mo thrì nigheanan maola, ruagha.” “Mharbh, ma ’s oil leat.” “’Us c’uine thig thu ris?” “Thig, ’n uair bheir mo ghnothuch ann mi.”

There were turns of amber beads around the necks of the giant’s daughters, and strings of hair around their necks. They all slept, but Maol a chliobain kept awake. During the night the giant got thirsty. He called to his bald rough-skinned lad to bring him water. The bald rough-skinned lad said that there was not a drop within. “Kill,” said he, “one of the strange girls, and bring me her blood.” “How will I know them?” said the bald rough-skinned lad. “There are turns of beads about the necks of my daughters, and turns of hair about the necks of the rest.” Maol a chliobain heard the giant, and as quickly as she could she put the strings of hair that were about her own neck and the necks of her sisters about the necks of the giant’s daughters, and the beads that were about the necks of the giant’s daughters about her own neck and the necks of her sisters, and laid herself quietly down. The bald rough-skinned lad came and killed one of the daughters of the giant, and brought him her blood. He bade him bring him more. He killed the second one. He bade him bring him more, and he killed the third. Maol a chliobain wakened her sisters, and she took them on her back and went away. The giant observed her, and he followed her.

The sparks of fire which she was driving out of the stones with her heels were striking the giant in the chin, and the sparks of fire that the giant was taking out of the stones with the points of his feet, they were striking Maol a chliobain in the back of her head. It was thus with them until they reached a river. Maol a chliobain leaped the river, and the giant could not leap the river. “You are over, Maol a chliobain.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You killed my three bald red-skinned daughters.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “And when will you come again?” “I will come when my business brings me.”

Ghabh iad air an aghaidh gus an d’ràinig iad tigh tuathanaich. Bha aig an tuathanach tri mic. Dh’innis iad mar a thachair dhoibh. Ars’ an tuatha ach ri Maol a’chliobain, “Bheir mi mo mhac a’s sine do’d phiuthair a’s sine, ’us faigh dhomh cìr mhìn òir, ’us cìr gharbh airgid, a th’aig an fhamhar.” “Cha chosd e tuilleadh dhuit,” ars’ Maol a’ chliobain. Dh’fhalbh i ’us ràinig i tigh an fhamhair. Fhuair i stigh gun fhios. Thug i leatha na cìrean ’us dhalbh i mach. Mhothaich am famhar dhìth; ’us as a deigh a bha e gus an d’ràinig e an amhainn. Leum ise an amhainn ’us cha b’urrainn am famhar an amhainn a leum. “Tha thu thall, a Mhaol a’ chliobain.” “Tha, ma ’s oil leat.” “Mharbh, thu mo thrì nigheanan maola, ruagha.” “Mharbh, ma ’s oil leat.” “Ghoid thu mo chìr mhìn òir, ’us mo chìr gharbh airgid.” “Ghoid, ma ’s oil leat.” “C’ uine thig thu rìs?” “Thig, ’n uair bheir mo ghnothuch ann mi.”

Thug i na cìrean thun an tuathanaich, ’us phòs a piuthair mhòr-sa mac mòr an tuathanaich.

“Bheir mi mo mhac meadhonach do’d phiuthair mheadhonaich, ’us faigh dhomh claidheamh soluis an fhamhair.” “Cha chosd e tuilleadh dhuit,” ars’ Maol a’ chliobain. Ghabh i air falbh, ’us ràinig i tigh an fhamhair. Chaidh i suas ann an barr craoibhe ’bha os cionn tobair an fhamhair. Anns an oidhche thainig an gille maol carrach, ’us an claidheamh soluis leis, a dh’iarraidh uisge. An uair a chrom e a thogail an uisge, thainig Maol a’ chliobain a nuas, ’us phut i sios ’s an tobar e ’us bhàth i e, ’us thug i leatha an claidheamh soluis. Lean am famhar i gus an d’ràinig i an amhainn. Leum i an amhainn, ’us cha b’urrainn am famhar a leantuinn. “Tha thu thall, a Mhaol a’ chliobain.” “Tha, ma ’s oil leat.” “Mharbh thu mo thrì nigheanan maola, ruadha.” “Mharbh ma ’s oil leat.” “Ghoid thu mo chìr mhìn òir, ’s mo chìr gharbh airgid.” “Ghoid, ma ’s oil leat.” “Mharbh thu mo ghille maol carrach.” “Mharbh ma ’s oil leat.” “Ghoid thu mo chlaidheamh soluis.” “Ghoid, ma ’s oil leat.” “C’uine thig thu rìs.” “Thig, ’n uair bheir mo ghnothuch ann mi.” Ràinig i tigh an tuathanaich leis a’ chlaidheamh sholuis, ’us phòs a piuthair mheadhonach ’us mac meadhonach an tuathanaich.

They went on till they reached a farmer’s house. The farmer had three sons. They told what happened to them. Says the farmer to Maol a chliobain, “I will give my eldest son to your eldest sister, and get for me the smooth golden comb and the rough silver comb that the giant has.” “It won’t cost you more,” said Maol a chliobain. She left and reached the giant’s house. She got in without being seen. She took the combs and hastened out. The giant observed her, and[97] after her he went until they reached the river. She leaped the river, and the giant could not leap the river. “You are over, Maol a chliobain.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You killed my three bald red-skinned daughters.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You stole my smooth golden comb and my rough silver comb.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “When will you come again.” “When my business brings me.”

She brought the combs to the farmer, and the big sister married the big son of the farmer.

“I will give my middle son to your middle sister, and get for me the giant’s sword of light.” “It won’t cost you more,” says Maol a chliobain. She went away, and reached the giant’s house. She went up in the top of a tree that was above the giant’s well. In the night the bald, rough-skinned lad came for water, having the sword of light with him. When he bent over to raise the water, Maol a chliobain came down and pushed him into the well and drowned him, and took away the sword of light. The giant followed her till she reached the river. She leaped the river, and the giant could not follow her. “You are over, Maol a chliobain.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You killed my three bald red-haired daughters.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You stole my smooth golden comb and my rough silver comb.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You killed my bald rough-skinned lad.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You stole my sword of light.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “When will you come again?” “When my business brings me.” She reached the farmer’s house with the sword of light, and her middle sister married the middle son of the farmer.

“Bheir mi dhuit féin mo mhac a’s òige,” ars’ an tuathanach, “’us thoir a’m ionnsuidh boc a th’aig an fhamhar.” “Cha chosd e tuilleadh dhuit” ars’ Maol a’ chliobain. Dh’fhalbh i ’us ràinig i tigh an fhamhair, ach an uair a bha greim aice air a bhoc, rug am famhar, oirre. “Ciod e” ars’ am famhar, “a dheanadh tus’ ormsa, nan deanainn uibhir a choire ort ’s a rinn thus’ ormsa.” “Bheirinn ort gu’n sgàineadh tu thu fhéin le brochan bainne; chuirinn an sin ann am poc thu; chrochainn thu ri druim an tighe; chuirinn teine fothad; ’us ghabhainn duit le cabar gus an tuiteadh thu ’n ad chual chrionaich air an ùrlar. Rinn am famhar brochan bainne ’us thugar dhìth ri òl e. Chuir ise am brochan bainne m’ a beul ’us m’ a h-eudainn, ’us luidh i seachad mar gu’m bitheadh i marbh. Chuir am famhar ann am poc i, ’us chroch e i ri druim an tighe, ’us dh’fhalbh e fhéin ’us a dhaoine a dh’iarraidh fiodha do’n choille. Bha màthair an fhamhair a stigh.” Theireadh Maol a’ chliobain ’n uair a dh’fhalbh am famhar, “Is mise ’tha ’s an t-sòlas, is mise ’tha ’s a chaithir òir.” “An leig thu mise ann?” ars’ a’ chailleach. “Cha leig, gu dearbh.” Mu dheireadh, leig i nuas am poca; chuir i stigh a’ chailleach, ’us cat, ’us laogh, ’us soitheach uachdair; thug i leatha am boc, ’us dh’fhalbh i. An uair a thainig am famhar, thoisich e fhéin ’us a dhaoine air a’ phoca leis na cabair. Bha a’ chailleach a’ glaodhaich, “’S mi fhéin a th’ ann.” “Tha fios agam gur tu fhéin a th ’ann,” theireadh am famhar, ’us e ag éiridh air a’ phoca. Thàinig am poc’ a nuas ’n a chual’ chrionaich ’us ciod e ’bha ann ach a mhàthair. An uair a chunnaic am famhar mar a bha, thug e as an déigh Mhaol a’ chliobain. Lean e i gus an d’ràinig i an amhainn. Leum Maol a’ chliobain an amhainn ’us cha b’urrainn am famhar a leum. “Tha thu thall, a Mhaol a’ chliobain.” “Tha, ma ’s oil leat.” “Mharbh thu mo thrì nigheanan maola, ruadha.” “Mharbh, ma ’s oil leat.” “Ghoid thu mo chìr mhin òir, ’us mo chìr gharbh airgid.” “Ghoid, ma ’s oil leat.” “Mharbh thu mo ghille maol, carrach.” “Mharbh, ma ’s oil leat.” “Ghoid thu mo chlaidheamh soluis.” “Ghoid, ma ’s oil leat.” “Mharbh thu mo mhàthair.” “Mharbh, ma ’s oil leat.” “Ghoid thu mo bhoc.” “Ghoid, ma ’s oil leat.” “C’uine a thig thu rìs?” “Thig ’n uair bheir mo ghnothuch ann mi.” “Nam bitheadh tusa bhos ’us mise thall” ars’ am famhar, “Ciod e dheanadh tu airson mo leantuinn?” “Stopainn mi fhéin, agus dh’olainn gus an traoghainn, an amhainn.” Stop am famhar e fhéin, ’us dh’ òl e gus an do sgàin e. Phòs Maol a’ chliobain Mac òg an tuathanaich.

“I will give yourself my youngest son,” said the farmer, “and bring me the buck that the giant has.” “It won’t cost you more,” said Maol a chliobain. She went and she reached the giant’s house, but as she got hold of the buck, the giant laid hands upon her. “What,” said the giant, “would you do to me if I had done to you as much harm as you have done to me?” “I would make you burst yourself with milk porridge. I would then put you in a bag; I would hang you to the roof of the house; I would place fire under you; and I would beat you with sticks until you fell a bundle of dry sticks on the floor.” The giant made milk porridge, and gave it her to drink. She spread the milk porridge over her mouth and her face, and lay down as if she had been dead. The giant put her in a bag which he hung to the roof of the house, and he and his men went to the wood to get sticks. The mother of the giant was in. When the giant went away, Maol a chliobain cried, “It is I that am in comfort; it is I that am in the golden seat.” “Will you let me there?” said the hag. “No, indeed.” At length she let down the bag; she put the hag inside, and a cat, and a calf, and a dish of cream; she took away the buck, and she left. When the giant came, he and his men fell upon the bag with the sticks. The hag was crying out, “It’s myself that’s here.” “I know it is yourself that’s there,” the giant would say, striking the bag. The bag fell down a bundle of dry sticks, and what was there but his mother. When the giant saw how it was, he set off after Maol a chliobain. He followed her till she reached the river. Maol a chliobain leaped the river, but the giant could not leap the river. “You are over, Maol a chliobain.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You killed my three bald red-skinned daughters.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You stole my smooth golden comb and my rough silver comb.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You killed my bald, rough-skinned lad.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You stole my sword of light.” “Yes, if it vex[98] you.” “You killed my mother.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “You stole my buck.” “Yes, if it vex you.” “When will you come again?” “When my business brings me.” “If you were over here and I over there, what would you do to follow me?” “I would stop myself up, and I would drink until I dried the river.” The giant stopped himself up, and drunk until he burst. Maol a chliobain married the young son of the farmer.

The above is a fair specimen of these tales with which the story-tellers of the Highlands were wont to entertain their listeners, and pass agreeably a long winter evening. The versions of such tales are various, but the general line of the narrative is always the same. Scores of these tales may still be picked up in the West Highlands, although Mr Campbell has sifted them most carefully and skilfully, and given to the public those which are undoubtedly best. The following is a specimen referring to the famous Tom na h-iùbhraich, in the neighbourhood of Inverness. It was taken down by the writer from the recital of an Ardnamurchan man in Edinburgh, and has never been printed before. The resemblance of a portion of it to what is told of Thomas the Rhymer and the Eildon Hills, is too close to escape observation. These tales are valuable as preserving admirable specimens of the idioms of the Gaelic language.

Na Fiantaichean.

Fear a’ gheadain Clòimhe.

Bha fear air astar uaireigin mu thuath, a réir coslais, mu Shiorramachd Inbhirnis. Bha e a’ coiseachd là, ’us chunnaic e fear a’ buain sgrath leis an làr-chaipe. Thainig e far an robh an duine. Thubhairt e ris, “Oh, nach sean sibhse, ’dhuine, ris an obair sin.” Thubhairt an duine ris, “Oh, nam faiceadh tu m’athair, is e a’s sine na mise.” “D’athair” ars’ an duine, “am bheil d’athair beò ’s an t-saoghal fhathasd?” “Oh, tha” ars’ esan. “C’àite am bheil d’athair” ars’ esan, “am b’urrainn mi ’fhaicinn?” “Uh, is urrainn” ars’ esan, “tha e a’ tarruing dhathigh nan sgrath.” Dh’innis e an rathad a ghabhadh e ach am faiceadh e ’athair. Thàinig e far an robh e. Thubhairt e ris, “Nach sean sibhse, ’dhuine, ris an obair sin.” “Uh,” ars’ esan, “nam faiceadh tu m’ athair, is e a ’s sine na mise.” “Oh, am bheil d’athair ’s an t-saoghai fhathasd?” “Uh, tha,” ars’ esan. “C’aite am bheil e” ars’ esan, “an urrainn mi ’fhaicinn?” “Uh, is urrainn,” ars’ esan, “tha e a’ tilgeadh nan sgrath air an tigh.” Ràinig e am fear a bha ’tilgeadh nan sgrath. “Oh, nach sean sibhse, ’dhuine, ris an obair sin,” ars’ esan. “Uh, nam faiceadh tu m’athair,” ars’ esan, “tha e mòran na ’s sine na mise.” “Am bheil d’athair agam r’a fhaicinn?” “Uh, tha,” ars’ esan, “rach timchioll, ’us chi thu e a’cur nan sgrath.” Thainig e ’us chunnaic e am fear a bha ’cur nan sgrath. “Oh, a dhuine” ars’ esan, “is mòr an aois a dh’fheumas sibse a bhi.” “Oh,” ars’ esan, “nam faiceadh tu m’athair.” “An urrainn mi d’athair fhaicinn?” ars’ esan, “C’àite am bheil e?” “Mata” ars’ an duine, is òlach tapaidh coltach thu, tha mi ’creidsinn gu’m faod mi m’athair a shealltuinn duit. “Tha e,” ars’ esan, “stigh ann an geadan clòimhe an ceann eile an tighe.” Chaidh e stigh leis ’g a fhaicinn. Bha na h-uile gin diùbhsan ro mhòr, nach ’eil an leithid a nis r’a fhaotainn. “Tha duine beag an so,” ars esan, ’athair, “air am bheil coslas òlaich thapaidh, Albannach, ’us toil aige ’ur faicinn.” Bhruidhinn e ris, ’us thubbairt e, “Co as a thàinig thu? Thoir dhomh do làmh, ’Albannaich.”

English Translation.

The Fingalians.

The Man in the Tuft of Wool.

There was a man once on a journey in the north, according to all appearance in the sheriffdom of Inverness. He was travelling one day, and he saw a man casting divots with the flaughter-spade. He came to where the man was. He said to him, “Oh, you are very old to be employed in such work.” The man said to him, “Oh, if you saw my father, he is much older than I am.” “Your father,” said the man, “is your father alive in the world still?” “Oh, yes,” said he. “Where is your father?” said he; “could I see him?” “Oh, yes,” said he, “he is leading home the divots.” He told him what way he should take in order to see his father. He came where he was. He said to him “You are old to be engaged in such work.” “Oh,” said he, “if you saw my father, he is older than I.” “Oh, is your father still in the world?” “Oh, yes,” said he. “Where is your father?” said he; “can I see him!” “Oh, yes,” said he, “he is reaching the divots at the house.” He came to the man who was reaching the divots. “Oh, you are old,” said he, “to be employed in such work.” “Oh, if you saw my father,” said he, “he is much older than I.” “Is your father to be seen?” said he. “Oh, yes, go round the house and you will see him laying the divots on the roof.” He came and he saw the man who was laying the divots on the roof. “Oh, man,” said he, “you must be a great age.” “Oh, if you saw my father.” “Oh, can I see your father; where is he?” “Well,” said the man, “you look like a clever fellow; I daresay I may show you my father.” “He is,” said he, “inside in a tuft of wool in the further end of the house.” He went in with him to show him to him. Every one of these men was very big, so much so that their like is not to be found now. “There is a little man here,” said he to his father, “who looks like a clever fellow, a Scotchman, and he is wishful to see you.” He spoke to him, and said, “Where did you come from? Give me your hand, Scotchman.”

Thug a mhac làmh air seann choltair croinn a bha ’na luidhe làimh riu. Shnaim e aodach uime. “Thoir dha sin,” ars’ esan ris an Albannach, “’us na toir dha do làmh.” Rug an seann duine air a’ choltair, ’us a’ cheann eile aig an duine eile ’na làimh. An àite an coltair a bhi leathann, rinn e cruinn e, ’us dh’fhàg e làrach nan cuig meur ann, mar gu’m bitheadh uibe taois ann. “Nach cruadalach an làmh a th’agad, ’Albannaich,” ars’ esan, “Nam bitheadh do chridhe cho cruadalach, tapaidh, dh’iarrainnse rud ort nach d’iarr mi’ air fear roimhe.” “Ciod e sin, a dhuine?” ars’ esan, “ma tha ni ann a’s urrainn mise ’dheanamh, ni mi e.” “Bheirinnse dhuit” ars’ esan, “fìdeag a tha an so, agus fiosraichidh tu far am bheil Tòm na h-iùbhraich, laimh ri Inbhirnis, agus an uair a theid thu ann, chi thu creag bheag, ghlas, air an dara taobh dheth.” An uair a’ theid thu a dh’ionnsuidh na creige, chi thu mu mheudachd doruis, ’us air cumadh doruis bhige air a’ chreig. Buail sròn do choise air trì uairean, ’us air an uair mu dheireadh fosgailidh e. Dh’fhalbh e, ’us ràinig e ’us fhuair e an dorus.” Thubhairt an seann duine ris, “An uair a dh’fhosgaileas tu an dorus, seirmidh tu an fhìdeag, bheir thu tri seirmean oirre ’us air an t-seirm mu dheireadh,” ars’ esan, “eiridh leat na bhitheas stigh, ’us ma bhitheas tu cho tapaidh ’us gun dean thu siu, is fheairrd thu fhéin e ’us do mhac, ’us d’ ogha, ’us d’iar-ogha.” Thug e a’ cheud sheirm air an fhìdeag. Sheall e ’us stad e. Shin na coin a bha ’n an luidhe làthair ris na daoinibh an cosan, ’us charaich na daoine uile. Thug e an ath sheirm oirre. Dh’éirich na daoine air an uilnibh ’us dh’éirich na coin ’n an suidhe. Thionndaidh am fear ris an dorus, ’us ghabh e eagal. Tharruing e an dorus ’n a dhéigh. Ghlaodh iadsan uile gu léir, “Is miosa ’dh’fhàg na fhuair, is miosa ’dh’fhàg na fhuair.” Dh’fhalbh e ’n a ruith. Thàinig e gu lochan uisge, a bha an sin, ’us thilg e an fhìdeag anns an lochan. Dhealaich mise riu.

His son laid hold of the old coulter of a plough that lay there. He knotted a cloth around it. “Give him that,” said he to the Scotchman, “and don’t give him your hand.” The old man laid hold of the coulter, while the man held[99] the other end in his hand. Instead of the coulter being broad, he made it round, and left the mark of his five fingers in it as if it were a lump of leaven. “You have a brave hand, Scotchman,” said he. “If your heart were as brave and clever, I would ask something of you that I never asked of another.” “What is that, man?” said he; “if there is anything that I can do, I shall do it.” “I would give you,” said he, “a whistle that I have here, and you will find out where Tomnahurich is near Inverness, and when you find it you will see a little grey rock on one side of it. When you go to the rock you will see about the size of a door, and the shape of a little door in the rock. Strike the point of your foot three times, and at the third time it will open.” He went away, and he reached and found the door. “When you open the door,” the old man said, “you will sound the whistle; you will sound it thrice. At the third sounding all that are within will rise along with you; and if you be clever enough to do that, you, and your son, and your grandson, and your great-grandson, will be the better of it.” He gave the first sound on the whistle. He looked, and he stopped. The dogs that lay near the men stretched their legs, and all the men moved. He gave the second sound. The men rose on their elbows, and the dogs sat up. The man turned to the door and became frightened. He drew the door after him. They all cried out, “Left us worse than he found us; left us worse than he found us.” He went away running. He came to a little fresh water loch that was there, and he threw the whistle into the loch. I left them.

These specimens give a good idea of the popular prose literature of the Highlands. Whence it was derived it is difficult to say. It may have originated with the people themselves, but many portions of it bear the marks of having been derived even, as has been said, from an Eastern source, while the last tale which has been transcribed above gives the Highland version of an old Scottish tradition.


Gaelic poetry is voluminous. Exclusive of the Ossianic poetry which has been referred to already, there is a long catalogue of modern poetical works of various merit. Fragments exist of poems written early in the 17th century, such as those prefixed to the edition of Calvin’s Catechism, printed in 1631. One of these, Faosid Eoin Steuart Tighearn na Happen, “The Confession of John Stewart, laird of Appin,” savours more of the Church of Rome than of the Protestant faith. To this century belongs also the poetry of John Macdonell, usually called Eoin Lorn, and said to have been poet-laureate to Charles II. for Scotland. Other pieces exist of the same period, but little would seem to have been handed down to us of the poetry of this century.

We have fragments belonging to the early part of the 17th century in the introduction to “Lhuyd’s Archæologia.” These are of much interest to the Gaelic student. In 1751 appeared the first edition of Songs by Alexander Macdonald, usually called Mac Mhaighistir Alasdair. These songs are admirable specimens of Gaelic versification, giving the highest idea of the author’s poetical powers. Many editions of them have appeared, and they are very popular in the Highlands. Macintyre’s poems appeared in 1768. Macdonald and he stand at the very top of the list of Gaelic poets. They are both distinguished by the power and the smoothness of their composition. Macdonald’s highest gifts are represented in his Biorluinn Chloinn Raonuill, “Clan Ranald’s Galley,” and Macintyre’s in his Beinn Dobhrain, “Ben Douran.”

Later than Macintyre, Ronald M’Donald, commonly called Raonull Dubh, or Black Ranald, published an excellent collection of Gaelic songs. This Ranald was son to Alexander already referred to, and was a schoolmaster in the island of Eigg. His collection[100] is largely made up of his father’s compositions, but there are songs of his own and of several other composers included. Many of the songs of this period are Jacobite, and indicate intense disloyalty to the Hanoverian royal family.

Gillies’s Collection in 1786 is an admirable one, containing many of the genuine Ossianic fragments. This collection is of real value to the Gaelic scholar, although it is now difficult to be had.

In addition to these, and at a later period, we have Turner’s Collection and Stewart’s Collection, both of them containing many excellent compositions. We have, later still, M’Kenzie’s Beauties of Gaelic Poetry, and we have, besides these, separate volumes of various sizes; by the admirable religious bard, Dugald Buchanan; by Rob Donn, the Reay bard; William Ross, the Gairloch bard; and many others, who would form a long catalogue. As might be supposed, the pieces included in these collections are of various merit, but there is much really good poetry worthy of the country which has cultivated the poetic art from the earliest period of its history, and a country which, while it gave to Gaelic poetry such a name as Ossian, gave to the poetry of England the names of Thomas Campbell and Lord Macaulay.


There are no early treatises on the structure and composition of the Gaelic language, such as the ancient MS. writings which still exist on Irish Grammar. Still, so early as the middle of last century, the subject had excited notice, and demands began to exist for a grammatical treatise on the Gaelic language. The first attempt to meet this demand was made by the Rev. William Shaw, at one time minister of Ardclach, in Nairnshire, and afterwards a resident in England; the author of a Gaelic dictionary, and an associate of Johnson’s in opposing M’Pherson and his Ossian, as it was called by adversaries. Shaw’s Grammar is made of no account by Dr Stewart, in the reference which he makes to it in his excellent grammar; but the work is interesting as the first attempt made to reduce Gaelic grammar to shape at all, and as showing several indications of a fair, if not a profound scholarship. That the volume, however, is to be held in any way as a correct analysis of the Gaelic language, is out of the question. Mr Shaw presents his readers, at the end of his volume, with specimens of Gaelic writing, which he intends to settle the orthography of the language. Anything more imperfect than the orthography of these specimens can hardly be conceived—at least it is of a kind that makes the language in many of the words unintelligible to any ordinary reader. Mr Shaw’s Grammar reached a second edition, showing the interest that was taken in the subject at the time.

An abler scholar, in the person of the Rev. Dr Stewart, of Moulin, Dingwall, and the Canongate, Edinburgh, successively, took up the subject of Gaelic grammar after Mr Shaw. Mr Stewart was an eminent minister of the Scottish Church. Few ministers stood higher than he did as a preacher, and few laboured more assiduously in their pastoral work; still he found time for literary studies, and to none did he direct more of his care than to that of his native Gaelic. A native of Perthshire himself, he made himself acquainted with all the dialects of the tongue, and gives an admirable analysis of the language as it appears in the Gaelic Bible. Few works of the kind are more truly philosophical. The modesty which is ever characteristic of genius distinguishes every portion of it, while the work is of a kind that does not admit of much emendation. If it be defective in any part, it is in the part that treats of syntax. There the rules laid down comprehend but few of those principles which govern the structure of the language, and it is necessary to have recourse to other sources for information regarding many of the most important of these.

A third grammar was published about thirty years ago by Mr James Munro, at the time parish schoolmaster of Kilmonivaig. This volume is highly creditable to Mr Munro’s scholarship, and in many respects supplied a want that was felt by learners of the language. The numerous exercises with which the work abounds are of very great value, and must aid the student much in its acquisition.

A double grammar, in both Gaelic and English, by the Rev. Mr Forbes, latterly[101] minister of Sleat, presents a very fair view of the structure of the Gaelic language, while grammars appear attached to several of the existing dictionaries. There is a grammar prefixed to the dictionary of the Highland Society, another to that of Mr Armstrong, and a third to that of Mr M’Alpine. All these are creditable performances, and worthy of perusal. In fact, if the grammar of the Gaelic language be not understood, it is not for want of grammatical treatises. There are seven or eight of them in existence.

Mr Shaw, in the introduction to his grammar, says:—“It was not the mercenary consideration of interest, nor, perhaps, the expectation of fame among my countrymen, in whose esteem its beauties are too much faded, but a taste for the beauties of the original speech of a now learned nation, that induced me either to begin, or encouraged me to persevere in reducing to grammatical principles a language spoken only by imitation; while, perhaps, I might be more profitably employed in tasting the various productions of men, ornaments of human nature, afforded in a language now teeming with books. I beheld with astonishment the learned in Scotland, since the revival of letters, neglect the Gaelic as if it was not worthy of any pen to give a rational account of a speech used upwards of 2000 years by the inhabitants of more than one kingdom. I saw with regret, a language once famous in the western world, ready to perish, without any memorial; a language by the use of which Galgacus having assembled his chiefs, rendered the Grampian hills impassable to legions that had conquered the world, and by means of which Fingal inspired his warriors with the desire of immortal fame.”

That the Gaelic language is worthy of being studied, the researches of modern philologers have amply proved. For comparative philology it is of the highest value, being manifestly one of the great links in the chain of Aryan languages. Its close relation to the classical languages gives it a place almost peculiar to itself. In like manner its study throws light on national history. Old words appear in charters and similar documents which a knowledge of Gaelic can alone interpret, while for the study of Scottish topography the knowledge of it is essential. From the Tweed to the Pentland Frith words appear in every part of the country which can only be analysed by the Gaelic scholar. In this view the study of the language is important, and good grammars are of essential value for its prosecution.


At an early period vocabularies of Gaelic words began to be compiled for the benefit of readers of the language. The first of these appears attached to Mr Kirk’s edition of Bedell’s Irish Bible, to which reference has been made already. The list of words is not very extensive, and, as has been said, the equivalents of the words given are in many cases as difficult to understand as the words themselves. Mr Kirk’s object in his vocabulary is to explain Irish words in Bedell’s Bible to Scottish readers.

In 1707 Lhuyd’s Archæologia Britannica appeared. It contains a grammar of the Iberno-Scottish Gaelic, and a vocabulary which is in a large measure a vocabulary of the Gaelic of Scotland. All that this learned writer did was done in a manner worthy of a scholar. His vocabulary, although defective, is accurate so far as it goes, and presents us with a very interesting and instructive view of the state of the language in his day. Lhuyd’s volume is one which should be carefully studied by every Celtic scholar.

In 1738 the Rev. David Malcolm, minister at Duddingstone, published an essay on the antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland, with the view of showing the affinity betwixt “the languages of the ancient Britons and the Americans of the Isthmus of Darien.” In this essay there is a list of Gaelic words beginning with the letter A, extending to sixteen pages, and a list of English words with their Gaelic equivalents, extending to eight pages. Mr Malcolm brought the project of compiling a Gaelic dictionary before the General Assembly of the Scottish Church, and he seems to have had many conferences with Highland ministers friendly to his object. The Assembly appointed a committee on the subject, and they reported most favourably of Mr Malcolm’s design. Still the work never seems to have gone farther; and beyond the[102] lists referred to, we have no fruits of Mr Malcolm’s labours. Mr Malcolm calls the language Irish, as was uniformly done by English writers at the time, and spells the words after the Irish manner.

Three years after the publication of Mr Malcolm’s essay in the year 1741, the first attempt at a complete vocabulary of the Gaelic language appeared. The compiler was Alexander M’Donald, at the time schoolmaster of Ardnamurchan, known throughout the Highlands as Mac Mhaighistir Alasdair, and a bard of high reputation. The compilation was made at the suggestion of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, in whose service M’Donald was at the time. The Society submitted the matter to the Presbytery of Mull, and the Presbytery committed the matter to M’Donald as the most likely man within their bounds to execute the work in a satisfactory manner. M’Donald’s book is dedicated to the Society, and he professes a zeal for Protestantism, although he turned over to the Church of Rome himself on the landing of Charles Edward in the Highlands in 1745. The vocabulary is arranged under the heads of subjects, and not according to the letters of the alphabet. It begins with words referring to God, and so on through every subject that might suggest itself. It is upon the whole well executed, seeing that the author was the pioneer of Gaelic lexicographers; but the publishers found themselves obliged to insert a caveat in an advertisement at the close of the volume, in which they say that “all or most of the verbs in this vocabulary from page 143 to page 162 are expressed in the Gaelic by single words, though our author generally expresses them by a needless circumlocution.” M’Donald’s orthography is a near approach to that of modern Gaelic writing.

In 1780 the Rev. Mr Shaw, the author of the Gaelic grammar already referred to, published a dictionary of the Gaelic language in two volumes, the one volume being Gaelic-English, and the other English-Gaelic. This work did not assume a high place among scholars.

Following upon Shaw’s work was that of Robert M’Farlane in 1795. This vocabulary is of little value to the student.

Robert M’Farlane’s volume was followed in 1815 by that of Peter M’Farlane, a well known translator of religious works. The collection of words is pretty full, and the work upon the whole is a creditable one.

Notwithstanding all these efforts at providing a dictionary of the Gaelic language, it was felt by scholars that the want had not been really supplied. In those circumstances Mr R. A. Armstrong, parish schoolmaster of Kenmore, devoted his time and talents to the production of a work that might be satisfactory. The Gaelic language was not Mr Armstrong’s mother tongue, and he had the great labour to undergo of acquiring it. Indefatigable energy, with the genius of a true scholar, helped him over all his difficulties, and, after years of toil, he produced a work of the highest merit, and one whose authority is second to none as an exposition of the Scoto-Celtic tongue.

Mr Armstrong’s dictionary was succeeded by that of the Highland Society of Scotland, which was published in two quarto volumes in 1828. A portion of the labour of this great work was borne by Mr Ewen Maclachlan of Aberdeen, the most eminent Celtic scholar of his day. Mr Maclachlan brought the most ample accomplishments to the carrying out of the undertaking; a remarkable acquaintance with the classical languages, which he could write with facility, a very extensive knowledge of the Celtic tongues, and a mind of remarkable acuteness to discern distinctions and analogies in comparative philology. But he died ere the work was far advanced, and other scholars had to carry it through. The chief of these was the Rev. Dr M’Leod of Dundonald, aided by the Rev. Dr Irvine of Little Dunkeld, and the Rev. Alexander M’Donald of Crieff; and the whole was completed and edited under the superintendence of the Rev. Dr Mackay, afterwards of Dunoon, to whose skill and care much of the value of the work is due.

In 1831 an octavo dictionary by the Rev. Dr Macleod of Glasgow, and the Rev. D. Dewar, afterwards Principal Dewar of Aberdeen, appeared. It is drawn largely from the dictionary of the Highland Society, and is an exceedingly good and useful book.

There is a still later dictionary by Mr Neil M’Alpine, schoolmaster in Islay. It is an[103] excellent vocabulary of the Islay dialect, with some features peculiar to itself, especially directions as to the pronouncing of the words, which, from the peculiar orthography of the Gaelic, the learner requires.

It will be seen from the above list that there is no lack of Gaelic dictionaries any more than of Gaelic grammars, and that some of the dictionaries are highly meritorious. And yet there is room for improvement still if competent hands could be found. The student of Scottish topography meets with innumerable words which he feels assured are of the Scoto-Celtic stock. He applies to his dictionaries, and he almost uniformly finds that the words which puzzle him are absent. There seems to have been an entire ignoring of this source for words on the part of all the Gaelic lexicographers, and from the number of obsolete words found in it, but which an acquaintance with ancient MS. literature helps to explain, a large supply, and a supply of the deepest interest, might be found. Irish dictionaries afford considerable aid in searching this field, but Gaelic dictionaries furnish very little. At the same time it must be remembered that topography is itself a recent study, and that men’s minds have only latterly been more closely directed to these words.

We have thus given a general view of the literature of the Scottish Gael. It is not extensive, but it is full of interest. That the language was at one time subjected to cultivation cannot be doubted by any man acquainted with the literary history of the Celtic race. The MSS. which exist are enough to demonstrate the fact, of which no rational doubt can exist, that an immense number of such MSS. have perished. An old Gaelic MS. was once seen in the Hebrides cut down by a tailor to form measuring tapes for the persons of his customers. These MSS. treated of various subjects, Philology, theology, and science found a place among Celtic scholars, while poetry was largely cultivated. The order of bards ensured this, an order peculiar to the Celts. Johnson’s estimate of the extent of ancient Celtic culture was an entirely mistaken one, and shows how far prejudice may operate towards the perversion of truth, even in the case of great and good men.

Gaelic Language.

Of the Gaelic language in which this literature exists, this is not the place to say much. To know it, it is necessary to study its grammars and dictionaries, and written works. With regard to the class of languages to which it belongs, many and various opinions were long held; but it has been settled latterly without room for dispute that it belongs to the Indo-European, or, as it is now called, the Aryan class. That it has relations to the Semitic languages cannot be denied, but these are no closer than those of many others of the same class. Its relation to both the Greek and the Latin, especially to the latter, is very close, many of the radical words in both languages being almost identical. Natural objects, for instance, and objects immediately under observation, have terms wonderfully similar to represent them. Mons, a mountain, appears in the Gaelic Monadh; Amnis, a river, appears in Amhainn; Oceanus, the ocean, in Cuan; Muir, the sea, in Mare; Caballus, a horse, in Capull; Equus, a horse, in Each; Canis, a dog, in Cu; Sol, the sun, in Solus, light; Salus, safety, in Slainte; Rex, a king, in Righ; Vir, a man, in Fear; Tectum, a roof, in Tigh; Monile, a necklace, in Muineal. This list might be largely extended, and serves to bring out to what an extent original terms in Gaelic and Latin correspond. The same is true of the Greek, but not to the same extent.

At the same time there is a class of words in Gaelic which are derived directly from the Latin. These are such words as have been introduced into the service of the church. Christianity having come into Scotland from the European Continent, it was natural to suppose that with it terms familiar to ecclesiastics should find their way along with the religion. This would have occurred to a larger extent after the Roman hierarchy and worship had been received among the Scots. Such words as Peacadh, sin; Sgriobtuir, the scriptures; Faosaid, confession; aoibhrinn, mass or offering; Caisg, Easter; Inid, initium or shrove-tide; Calainn, new year’s day; Nollaig, Christmas; Domhnach, God or Dominus; Diseart, a hermitage; Eaglais, a church; Sagart, a priest; Pearsa or Pearsoin, a parson;[104] Reilig, a burying place, from reliquiæ; Ifrionn, hell; are all manifestly from the Latin, and a little care might add to this list. It is manifest that words which did not exist in the language must be borrowed from some source, and whence so naturally as from the language which was, in fact, the sacred tongue in the early church.

But besides being a borrower, the Gaelic has been largely a contributor to other languages. What is usually called Scotch is perhaps the greatest debtor to the Gaelic tongue, retaining, as it does, numerous Gaelic words usually thought to be distinctive of itself. A list of these is not uninteresting, and the following is given as a contribution to the object:—Braw, from the Gaelic Breagh, pretty; Burn, from Burn, water; Airt, from Airde, a point of the compass; Baugh, from Baoth, empty; Kebbuck, from Càbaig, a cheese; Dour, from Dùr, hard; Fey, from , a rod for measuring the dead; Teem, from Taom, to empty; Sicker, from Shicker, sure, retained in Manx; Leister, from Lister, a fishing spear, Manx; Chiel, from Gille, a lad; Skail, from Sgaoil, to disperse; Ingle, from Aingeal, fire; Arles, from Earlas, earnest; Sain, from Sean, to consecrate. This list, like the former, might be much increased, and shows how relics of the Gaelic language may be traced in the spoken tongue of the Scottish Lowlands after the language itself has retired. Just in like manner, but arising from a much closer relation, do relics of the Celtic languages appear in the Greek and Latin. The fact seems to be that a Celtic race and tongue did at one time occupy the whole of Southern Europe, spreading themselves from the Hellespont along the shores of the Adriatic, and the western curves of the Mediterranean, bounded on the north by the Danube and the Rhine, and extending to the western shores of Ireland. Of this ample evidence is to be found in the topography of the whole region; and the testimony of that topography is fully borne out by that of the whole class of languages still occupying the region, with the exception of the anomalous language of Biscay, and the Teutonic speech carried by the sword into Britain and other northern sections of it.

Mere resemblance of words does not establish identity of class among languages, such a similarity being often found to exist, when in other respects the difference is radical. It requires similarity of idiom and grammatical structure to establish the existence of such an identity. This similarity exists to a remarkable extent between the Gaelic and the Latin. There is not space here for entering into details, but a few examples may be given. There is no indefinite article in either language, the simple form of the noun including in it the article, thus, a man is fear, Latin vir, the former having in the genitive fir, the latter viri. The definite article am, an, a’, in Gaelic would seem to represent the Latin unus; thus an duine represents unus homo. The inflection in a large class of Gaelic nouns is by attenuation, while the nominative plural and genitive singular of such nouns are alike. So with the Latin, monachus, gen. monachi, nom. plur. monachi; Gaelic, manach, gen. manaich, nom. plur. manaich. The structure of the verb is remarkably similar in both languages. This appears specially in the gerund, which in Gaelic is the only form used to represent the infinitive and the present participle. The use of the subjunctive mood largely is characteristic of the Gaelic as of the Latin. The prepositions which are so variously and extensively used in Gaelic, present another analogy to the Latin. But the analogies in grammatical structure are so numerous that they can only be accounted for by tracing the languages to the same source. Another series of resemblances is to be found in the peculiar idioms which characterise both tongues. Thus, possession is in both represented by the peculiar use of the verb to be. Est mihi liber, there is to me a book, is represented in Gaelic by tha leabhar agam, which means, like the Latin, a book is to me.

But there is one peculiarity which distinguishes the Gaelic and the whole class of Celtic tongues from all others. Many of the changes included in inflection and regimen occur in the initial consonant of the word. This change is usually held to be distinctive of gender, but its effect is wider than that, as it occurs in cases where no distinction of gender is expressed. This change, usually called aspiration, implies a softening of the initial consonants[105] of words. Thus b becomes v, m becomes v, p becomes f, g becomes y, d becomes y, c becomes ch, more or less guttural, s and t become h, and so on. These changes are marked in orthography by the insertion of the letter h. This is a remarkable peculiarity converting such a word as mòr into vòr, spelled mhòr; bàs into vàs, spelled bhàs; duine into yuine, spelled dhuine. This peculiarity partly accounts for the number of letters h introduced into Gaelic spelling, loading the words apparently unnecessarily with consonants, but really serving a very important purpose.

It is not desirable, however, in a work like this to prosecute this dissertation farther. Suffice it to say, that philologists have come to class the Gaelic with the other Celtic tongues among the great family of Aryan languages, having affinities, some closer, some more distant, with almost all the languages of Europe. It is of much interest to scholars in respect both of the time and the place which it has filled, and fills still, and it is gratifying to all Scottish Celts to know that it has become more than ever a subject of study among literary men.

The Music of the Highlands.

Among the Celts, poetry and music walked hand in hand. There need be no controversy in this case as to which is the more ancient art, they seem to have been coeval. Hence the bards were musicians. Their compositions were all set to music, and many of them composed the airs to which their verses were adapted. The airs to which the ancient Ossianic lays were sung still exist, and several of them may be found noted in Captain Fraser’s excellent collection of Highland music. They are well known in some parts of the Highlands, and those who are prepared to deny with Johnson the existence of any remains of the ancient Celtic bard, must be prepared to maintain at the same time that these ancient airs to which the verses were sung were, like themselves, the offspring of modern imposition. But this is too absurd to obtain credence. In fact these airs were essential to the recitation of the bards. Deprive them of the music with which their lines were associated, and you deprived them of the chief aid to their memory; but give them their music, and they could recite almost without end.

The same is true of the poetry of the modern bards. Song-singing in the Highlands was usually social. Few songs on any subject were composed without a chorus, and the intention was that the chorus should be taken up by all the company present. A verse was sung in the interval by the individual singer, but the object of the chorus was to be sung by all. It is necessary to keep this in view in judging of the spirit and effect of Gaelic song. Sung as songs usually are, the object of the bard is lost sight of, and much of the action of the music is entirely overlooked. But what was intended chiefly to be said was, that the compositions of the modern bards were all intended to be linked with music, sung for the most part socially. We do not at this moment know one single piece of Gaelic poetry which was intended merely for recitation, unless it be found among a certain class of modern compositions which are becoming numerous, and which are English in everything but the language.

The music to which these compositions were sung was peculiar; one can recognise a Gaelic air at once, among a thousand. Quaint and pathetic, irregular and moving on with the most singular intervals, the movement is still self-contained and impressive,—to the Celt eminently so. It is beyond a question that what is called Scottish music has been derived from the Gaelic race. Its characteristics are purely Celtic. So far as the poetry of Burns is concerned, his songs were composed in many cases to airs borrowed from the Highlands, and nothing could fit in better than the poetry and the music. But Scottish Lowland music, so much and so deservedly admired, is a legacy from the Celtic muse throughout. There is nothing in it which it holds in common with any Saxon race in existence. Compare it with the common melodies in use among the English, and the two are proved totally distinct. The airs to which “Scots wha hae,” “Auld Langsyne,” “Roy’s Wife,” “O’ a’ the airts,” and “Ye Banks and Braes,” are sung, are airs to which nothing similar can be found in England. They are Scottish, and only Scottish, and can be recognised as such at once.[106] But airs of a precisely similar character can be found among all the Celtic races. In Ireland, melodies almost identical with those of Scotland are found. In fact, the Irish claim such tunes as “The Legacy,” “The Highland Laddie,” and others. So with the Isle of Man. The national air of the Island, “Mollacharane,” has all the distinctive characteristics of a Scottish tune. The melodies of Wales have a similar type. Such a tune as “The Men of Harlech” might at any time be mistaken for a Scottish melody. And if we cross to Brittany and hear a party of Bretons of a night singing a national air along the street, as they often do, the type of the air will be found to be largely Scottish. These facts go far to prove the paternity of what is called Scottish music, and show to conviction that this music, so sweet, so touching, is the ancient inheritance of the Celt.


No. 1. A C D E G A C
No. 2. A B C D E F G A B C
No. 3.

The ancient Scottish scale consists of six notes, as shown in the annexed exemplification, No. 1. The lowest note A, was afterwards added, to admit of the minor key in wind instruments. The notes in the diatonic scale, No. 2, were added about the beginning of the fifteenth century, and when music arrived at its present state of perfection, the notes in the chromatic scale, No. 3, were farther added. Although many of the Scottish airs have had the notes last mentioned introduced into them, to please modern taste they can be played without them, and without altering the character of the melody. Any person who understands the ancient scale can at once detect the later additions.

“The Gaelic music consists of different kinds or species. 1. Martial music, the Golltraidheacht of the Irish, and the Brosnachadh Catha of the Gael, consisting of a spirit-stirring measure short and rapid. 2. The Geantraidheacht, or plaintive or sorrowful, a kind of music to which the Highlanders are very partial. The Coronach, or Lament, sung at funerals, is the most noted of this sort. 3. The Suantraidheacht, or composing, calculated to calm the mind, and to lull the person to sleep. 4. Songs of peace, sung at the conclusion of a war. 5. Songs of victory sung by the bards before the king on gaining a victory. 6. Love songs. These last form a considerable part of the national music, the sensibility and tenderness of which excite the passion of love, and stimulated by its influence, the Gael indulge a spirit of the most romantic attachment and adventure, which the peasantry of perhaps no other country exhibit.”

The last paragraph is quoted from Mr Logan’s eloquent and patriotic work on the Scottish Gael,[104] and represents the state of Gaelic music when more flourishing and more cultivated than it is to-day.

The following quotation is from the same source, and is also distinguished by the accuracy of its description.

“The ancient Gael were fond of singing whether in a sad or cheerful frame of mind. Bacon justly remarks, ‘that music feedeth that disposition which it findeth:’ it was a sure sign of brewing mischief, when a Caledonian warrior was heard to ‘hum his surly hymn.’ This race, in all their labours, used appropriate songs, and accompanied their harps with their voices. At harvest the reapers kept time by singing; at sea the boatmen did the same; and while the women were graddaning, performing the luadhadh, or waulking of cloth, or at any rural labour, they enlivened their work by certain airs called luinneags. When milking, they sung a certain plaintive melody, to which the animals listened with calm attention. The[107] attachment which the natives of Celtic origin have to their music, is strengthened by its intimate connection with the national songs. The influence of both on the Scots character is confessedly great—the pictures of heroism, love, and happiness, exhibited in their songs, are indelibly impressed on the memory, and elevate the mind of the humblest peasant. The songs, united with their appropriate music, affect the sons of Scotia, particularly when far distant from their native glens and majestic mountains, with indescribable feelings, and excite a spirit of the most romantic adventure. In this respect, the Swiss, who inhabit a country of like character, and who resemble the Highlanders in many particulars, experience similar emotions. On hearing the national Ranz de vaches, their bowels yearn to revisit the ever dear scenes of their youth. So powerfully is the amor patriæ awakened by this celebrated air, that it was found necessary to prohibit its being played, under pain of death, among the troops, who would burst into tears on hearing it, desert their colours, and even die.

“No songs could be more happily constructed for singing during labour than those of the Highlanders, every person being able to join in them, sufficient intervals being allowed for breathing time. In a certain part of the song, the leader stops to take breath, when all the others strike in and complete the air with a chorus of words and syllables, generally without signification, but admirably adapted to give effect to the time.” The description proceeds to give a picture of a social meeting in the Highlands where this style of singing is practised, and refers to the effect with which such a composition as “Fhir à bhàta,” or the Boatman, may be thus sung.

Poetical compositions associated with music are of various kinds. First of all is the Laoidh, or lay, originally signifying a stately solemn composition, by one of the great bards of antiquity. Thus we have “Laoidh Dhiarmaid,” The lay of Diarmad; “Laoidh Oscair,” The lay of Oscar; “Laoidh nan Ceann,” The lay of the heads; and many others. The word is now made use of to describe a religious hymn; a fact which proves the dignity with which this composition was invested in the popular sentiment. Then there was the “Marbhrann,” or elegy. Few men of any mark but had their elegy composed by some bard of note. Chiefs and chieftains were sung of after their deaths in words and music the most mournful which the Celt, with so deep a vein of pathos in his soul, could devise. There is an elegy on one of the lairds of Macleod by a famous poetess “Mairi nighean Alasdair Ruaidh,” or Mary M’Leod, which is exquisitely touching. Many similar compositions exist. In modern times these elegies are mainly confined to the religious field, and ministers and other men of mark in that field are often sung of and sung sweetly by such bards as still remain. Then there are compositions called “Iorrams” usually confined to sea songs; “Luinneags,” or ordinary lyrics, and such like. These are all “wedded” to music, which is the reason for noticing them here, and the music must be known in order to have the full relish of the poetry.

There are several collections of Highland music which are well worthy of being better known to the musical world than they are. The oldest is that by the Rev. Peter Macdonald of Kilmore, who was a famous musician in his day. More recently Captain Simon Fraser, of Inverness, published an admirable collection; and collections of pipe music have been made by Macdonald, Mackay, and, more recently, Ross, the two latter pipers to her Majesty, all of which are reported of as good.

The secular music of the Highlands, as existing now, may be divided into that usually called by the Highlanders “An Ceol mòr,” the great music, and in English pibrochs. This music is entirely composed for the Highland bagpipe, and does not suit any other instrument well. It is composed of a slow movement, with which it begins, the movement proceeding more rapidly through several variations, until it attains a speed and an energy which gives room for the exercise of the most delicate and accurate fingering. Some of these pieces are of great antiquity, such as “Mackintosh’s Lament” and “Cogadh na Sith,” Peace or War, and are altogether remarkable compositions. Mendelssohn, on his visit to the Highlands, was impressed by them, and introduced a portion of a pibroch into one of his finest compositions. Few musicians take[108] the trouble of examining into the structure of these pieces, and they are condemned often with little real discrimination. Next to these we have the military music of the Highlands, also for the most part composed for the pipe, and now in general employed by the pipers of Highland regiments. This kind of music is eminently characteristic, having features altogether distinctive of itself, and is much relished by Scotsmen from all parts of the country. Recently a large amount of music of this class has been adapted to the bagpipe which is utterly unfit for it, and the effect is the opposite of favourable to the good name either of the instrument or the music. This practice is in a large measure confined to regimental pipe music. Such tunes as “I’m wearying awa’, Jean,” or “Miss Forbes’ Farewell to Banff,” have no earthly power of adaptation to the notes of the bagpipe, and the performance of such music on that instrument is a violation of good taste and all musical propriety. One cannot help being struck with the peculiar good taste that pervades all the compositions of the M’Crimmons, the famous pipers of the Macleods, and how wonderfully the music and the instrument are adapted to each other throughout. This cannot be said of all pibroch music, and the violation of the principle in military music is frequently most offensive to an accurate ear. This has, no doubt, led to the unpopularity of the bagpipe and its music among a large class of the English-speaking community, who speak of its discordant notes, a reflection to which it is not in the least liable in the case of compositions adapted to its scale.

Next to these two kinds follows the song-music of the Gael, to which reference has been made already. It abounds in all parts of the Highlands, and is partly secular, partly sacred. There are beautiful, simple, touching airs, to which the common songs of the country are sung, and there are airs of a similar class, but distinct, which are used with the religious hymns of Buchanan, Matheson, Grant, and other writers of hymns, of whom there are many. The dance music of the Highlands is also distinct from that of any other country, and broadly marked by its own peculiar features. There is the strathspey confined to Scotland, a moderately rapid movement well known to every Scotchman; there is the jig in 6/8th time, common to Scotland with Ireland; and there is the reel, pretty much of the same class with the Strathspey, but marked by greater rapidity of motion.

There is one thing which strikes the hearer in this music, that there is a vein of pathos runs through the whole of it. The Celtic mind is largely tinged with pathos. If a musical symbol might be employed to represent them, the mind of the Saxon may be said to be cast in the mould of the major mode, and the mind of the Celt in the minor. The majority of the ordinary airs in the Highlands are in the minor mode, and in the most rapid kinds of music, the jig and the reel, an acute ear will detect the vein of pathos running through the whole.

In sacred music there is not much that is distinctive of the Celt. In forming their metrical version of the Gaelic Psalms, the Synod of Argyll say that one of the greatest difficulties they had to contend with was in adapting their poetry to the forms of the English psalm tunes. There were no psalm tunes which belonged to the Highlands, and it was necessary after the Reformation to borrow such as had been introduced among other Protestants, whether at home or abroad. More lately a peculiar form of psalm tune has developed itself in the North Highlands, which is deserving of notice. It is not a class of new tunes that has appeared, but a peculiar method of singing the old ones. The tunes in use are only six, all taken from the old Psalter of Scotland. They are—French, Dundee, Elgin, York, Martyrs, and Old London. The principal notes of the original tunes are retained, but they are attended with such a number of variations, that the tune in its new dress can hardly be at all recognised. These tunes may not be musically accurate, and artists may make light of them, but sung by a large body of people, they are eminently impressive and admirably adapted to purposes of worship. Sung on a Communion Sabbath by a crowd of worshippers in the open air, on the green sward of a Highland valley, old Dundee is incomparable, and exercises over the Highland mind a powerful influence.[109] And truly, effect cannot be left out of view as an element in judging of the character of any music. The pity is that this music is fast going out of use even in the Highlands. It has always been confined to the counties of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, and part of Inverness. Some say that this music took its complexion from the old chants of the mediæval Church. One thing is true of this and all Gaelic psalmody, that the practice of chanting the line is rigidly adhered to, although from the more advanced state of general education in the Highlands the necessity that once existed for it is now passed away.

Connected with the Gaelic music, the musical instruments of the Celts remain to be noticed; but we shall confine our observations to the harp and to the bagpipe, the latter of which has long since superseded the former in the Highlands. The harp is the most noted instrument of antiquity, and was in use among many nations. It was, in particular, the favourite instrument of the Celts. The Irish were great proficients in harp music, and they are said to have made great improvements on the instrument itself. So honourable was the occupation of a harper among the Irish, that none but freemen were permitted to play on the harp, and it was reckoned a disgrace for a gentleman not to have a harp, and be able to play on it. The royal household always included a harper, who bore a distinguished rank. Even kings did not disdain to relieve the cares of royalty by touching the strings of the harp; and we are told by Major that James I., who died in 1437, excelled the best harpers among the Irish and the Scotch Highlanders. But harpers were not confined to the houses of kings, for every chief had his harper as well as his bard.

“The precise period when the harp was superseded by the bagpipe, it is not easy to ascertain. Roderick Morrison, usually called Ruaraidh Dall, or Blind Roderick, was one of the last native harpers; he was harper to the Laird of M’Leod. On the death of his master, Morrison led an itinerant life, and in 1650 he paid a visit to Robertson of Lude, on which occasion he composed a Port or air, called Suipeir Thighearna Leoid or The Laird of Lude’s Supper, which, with other pieces, is still preserved. M’Intosh, the compiler of the Gaelic Proverbs, relates the following anecdote of Mr Robertson, who, it appears, was a harp-player himself of some eminence:—‘One night my father, James M’Intosh, said to Lude that he would be happy to hear him play on the harp, which at that time began to give place to the violin. After supper Lude and he retired to another room, in which there was a couple of harps, one of which belonged to Queen Mary. James, says Lude, here are two harps; the largest one is the loudest, but the small one is the sweetest, which do you wish to hear played? James answered the small one, which Lude took up and played upon till daylight.’

“The last harper, as is commonly supposed, was Murdoch M’Donald, harper to M’Lean of Coll. He received instructions in playing from Rory Dall in Skye, and afterwards in Ireland; and from accounts of payments made to him by M’Lean, still extant, Murdoch seems to have continued in his family till the year 1734, when he appears to have gone to Quinish, in Mull, where he died.”

The history of the bagpipe is curious and interesting, but such history does not fall within the scope of this work. Although a very ancient instrument, it does not appear to have been known to the Celtic nations. It was in use among the Trojans, Greeks, and Romans, but how, or in what manner it came to be introduced into the Highlands is a question which cannot be solved. Two suppositions have been started on this point, either that it was brought in by the Romans or by the northern nations. The latter conjecture appears to be the most probable, for we cannot possibly imagine that if the bagpipe had been introduced so early as the Roman epoch, no notice should have been taken of that instrument by the more early annalists and poets. But if the bagpipe was an imported instrument, how does it happen that the great Highland pipe is peculiar to the Highlands, and is perhaps the only national instrument in Europe? If it was introduced by the Romans, or by the people of Scandinavia, how has it happened that no traces of that instrument in its present shape are to be found anywhere except in the Highlands? There is, indeed, some plausibility[110] in these interrogatories, but they are easily answered, by supposing, what is very probable, that the great bagpipe in its present form is the work of modern improvement, and that originally the instrument was much the same as is still seen in Belgium and Italy.

The effects of this national instrument in arousing the feelings of those who have from infancy been accustomed to its wild and warlike tunes are truly astonishing. In halls of joy and in scenes of mourning it has prevailed; it has animated Scotland’s warriors in battle, and welcomed them back after their toils to the homes of their love and the hills of their nativity. Its strains were the first sounded on the ears of infancy, and they are the last to be forgotten in the wanderings of age. Even Highlanders will allow that it is not the quietest of instruments, but when far from their mountain homes, what sounds, however melodious, could thrill round their heart like one burst of their own wild native pipe? The feelings which other instruments awaken are general and undefined, because they talk alike to Frenchmen, Spaniards, Germans, and Highlanders, for they are common to all; but the bagpipe is sacred to Scotland, and speaks a language which Scotsmen only feel. It talks to them of home and all the past, and brings before them, on the burning shores of India, the wild hills and oft-frequented streams of Caledonia, the friends that are thinking of them, and the sweethearts and wives that are weeping for them there; and need it be told here to how many fields of danger and victory its proud strains have led! There is not a battle that is honourable to Britain in which its war-blast has not sounded. When every other instrument has been hushed by the confusion and carnage of the scene, it has been borne into the thick of battle, and, far in the advance, its bleeding but devoted bearer, sinking on the earth, has sounded at once encouragement to his countrymen and his own coronach.


As connected with the literary history of the Gaelic Celts, the following lists of Gaelic and Irish manuscripts will, it is thought, be considered interesting.


1. A folio MS., beautifully written on parchment or vellum, from the collection of the late Major Maclauchlan of Kilbride. This is the oldest MS. in the possession of the Highland Society of Scotland. It is marked Vo. A. No. I. The following remark is written on the margin of the fourth leaf of the MS.:—“Oidche bealtne ann a coimhtech mo Pupu Muirciusa agus as olc lium nach marunn diol in linesi dem dub Misi Fithil acc furnuidhe na scoile.” Thus Englished by the late Dr Donald Smith:—“The night of the first of May in Coenobium of my Pope Murchus, and I regret that there is not left of my ink enough to fill up this line. I am Fithil, an attendant on the school.” This MS., which, from its orthography, is supposed to be as old as the eighth or ninth century, “consists (says Dr Smith) of a poem, moral and religious, some short historical anecdotes, a critical exposition of the Tain, an Irish tale, which was composed in the time of Diarmad, son of Cearval, who reigned over Ireland from the year 544 to 565; and the Tain itself, which claims respect, as exceeding in point of antiquity, every production of any other vernacular tongue in Europe.”[105]

On the first page of the vellum, which was originally left blank, there are genealogies of the families of Argyll and Mac Leod in the Gaelic handwriting of the sixteenth century. The genealogy of the Argyll family ends with Archibald, who succeeded to the earldom in 1542, and died in 1588.[106] This is supposed to be the oldest Gaelic MS. extant. Dr Smith conjectures that it may have come into the possession of the Maclachlans of Kilbride in the sixteenth century, as a Ferquhard, son of Ferquhard Maclachlan, was bishop of the Isles, and had Iona or I Colum Kille in commendam from 1530 to 1544.—See Keith’s Catalogue of Scottish Bishops.

To the Tain is prefixed the following critical exposition, giving a brief account of it in the technical terms of the Scots literature of the remote age in which it was written. “Ceathardha connagur in cach ealathuin is cuincda don tsairsisi na Tana. Loc di cedumus lighe Fercusa mhic Roich ait in rou hathnachd four mach Nai. Tempus umorro Diarmuta mhic Ceruailt in rigno Ibeirnia. Pearsa umorro Fergusa mhic Roich air is e rou tirchan do na hecsib ar chenu. A tucaid scriuint dia ndeachai Seanchan Toirpda cona III. ri ecces ... do saighe Cuaire rig Condacht.” That is—the four things which are requisite to be known in every regular composition are to be noticed in this work of the Tain. The place of its origin is the stone of Fergus, son of Roich, where he was buried on the plain of Nai. The time of it, besides, is that in which Diarmad, son of Cervail, reigned over Ireland. The author, too, is Fergus,[111] son of Roich; for he it was that prompted it forthwith to the bards. The cause of writing it was a visit which Shenachan Torbda, with three chief bards, made to Guaire, king of Connaught.[107]

O’Flaherty thus concisely and accurately describes the subject and character of the Tain:—“Fergusius Rogius solo pariter ac solio Ultoniæ exterminatus, in Connactiam ad Ollilum et Maudam ibidem regnantes profugit; quibus patrocinantibus, memorabile exarsit bellum septannale inter Connacticos et Ultonios multis poeticis figmentis, ut ea ferebat ætas, adornatum. Hujus belli circiter medium, octennio ante caput æræ Christianæ Mauda regina Connactiæ, Fergusio Rogio ductore, immensam bonum prœdam conspicuis agentium et insectantium virtutibus memorabilem, e Cualgnio in agro Louthiano re portavit.”[108]

From the expression, “Ut ea ferebat ætas,” Dr Smith thinks that O’Flaherty considered the tale of the Tain as a composition of the age to which it relates; and that of course he must not have seen the Critical Exposition prefixed to the copy here described. From the silence of the Irish antiquaries respecting this Exposition, it is supposed that it must have been either unknown to, or overlooked by them, and consequently that it was written in Scotland.

The Exposition states, that Sheannachan, with the three bards and those in their retinue, when about to depart from the court of Guaire, being called upon to relate the history of the Tain bho, or cattle spoil of Cuailgne, acknowledged their ignorance of it, and that having ineffectually made the round of Ireland and Scotland in quest of it, Eimin and Muircheartach, two of their number, repaired to the grave of Fergus, son of Roich, who, being invoked, appeared at the end of three days in terrific grandeur, and related the whole of the Tain, as given in the twelve Reimsgeala or Portions of which it consists. In the historical anecdotes allusion is made to Ossian, the son of Fingal, who is represented as showing, when young, an inclination to indulge in solitude his natural propensity for meditation and song. A fac simile of the characters of this MS. is given in the Highland Society’s Report upon Ossian, Plate I., fig. 1, 2, and in Plate II.

2. Another parchment MS. in quarto, equally beautiful as the former, from the same collection. It consists of an Almanack bound up with a paper list of all the holidays, festivals, and most remarkable saints’ days in verse throughout the year—A Treatise on Anatomy, abridged from Galen—Observations on the Secretions, &c.—The Schola Salernitana, in Leonine verse, drawn up about the year 1100, for the use of Robert, Duke of Normandy, the son of William the Conqueror, by the famous medical school of Salerno. The Latin text is accompanied with a Gaelic explanation, which is considered equally faithful and elegant, of which the following is a specimen:—

Caput I.—Anglorum regi scripsit schola tota Salerni.

1. As iat scol Salerni go hulidhe do seriou na fearsadh so do chum rig sag san do choimhed a shlainnte.

Si vis incolumem, si vis te reddere sanum;

Curas tolle graves, irasci crede prophanum.

Madh ail bhidh fallann, agus madh aill bhidh slan; Cuir na himsnimha troma dhit, agus creit gurub diomhain duit fearg do dhenumh.

The words Leabhar Giollacholaim Meigbeathadh are written on the last page of this MS., which being in the same form and hand, with the same words on a paper MS. bound up with a number of others written upon vellum in the Advocates’ Library, and before which is written Liber Malcolmi Bethune, it has been conjectured that both works originally belonged to Malcolm Bethune, a member of a family distinguished for learning, which supplied the Western Isles for many ages with physicians.[109]

3. A small quarto paper MS. from the same collection, written at Dunstaffnage by Ewen Macphaill, 12th October 1603. It consists of a tale in prose concerning a King of Lochlin and the Heroes of Fingal: An Address to Gaul, the son of Morni, beginning—

Goll mear mileant—

Ceap na Crodhachta—

An Elegy on one of the earls of Argyle, beginning—

A Mhic Cailin a chosg lochd;

and a poem in praise of a young lady.

4. A small octavo paper MS. from the same collection, written by Eamonn or Edmond Mac Lachlan, 1654–5. This consists of a miscellaneous collection of sonnets, odes, and poetical epistles, partly Scots, and partly Irish. There is an Ogham or alphabet of secret writing near the end of it.

5. A quarto paper MS. from same collection. It wants ninety pages at the beginning, and part of the end. What remains consists of some ancient and modern tales and poems. The names of the authors are not given, but an older MS. (that of the Dean of Lismore) ascribes one of the poems to Conal, son of Edirskeol. This MS. was written at Aird-Chonail upon Lochowe, in the years 1690 and 1691, by Ewan Mac Lean for Colin Campbell. “Caillain Caimpbel leis in leis in leabharan. 1, Caillin mac Dhonchai mhic Dhughil mhic Chaillain oig.” Colin Campbell is the owner of this book, namely Colin, son of Duncan, son of Dougal, son of Colin the younger. The above Gaelic inscription appears on the 79th leaf of the MS.

6. A quarto paper MS., which belonged to the Rev. James MacGregor, Dean of Lismore, the metropolitan church of the see of Argyle, dated, page 27, 1512, written by Duncan the son of Dougal, son of Ewen the Grizzled. This MS. consists of a large collection of Gaelic poetry, upwards of 11,000 verses. It is said to have been written “out of the books of the History of the Kings.” Part of the MS., however, which closes an obituary, commencing in 1077, of the kings of Scotland, and other eminent persons of Scotland, particularly of the shires of Argyle and Perth, was not written till 1527. The poetical pieces are from the times of the most ancient bards down to the beginning of the sixteenth century. The more ancient pieces are poems of Conal, son of Edirskeol, Ossian, son of Fingal, Fearghas Fili (Fergus the bard), and Caoilt, son of Ronan, the friends and contemporaries of Ossian. This collection also contains the works of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenurchay, who fell in the battle of Flodden, and Lady Isabel Campbell, daughter of the Earl of Argyle, and wife of Gilbert, Earl of Cassilis.[110] “The writer of this MS. (says Dr Smith) rejected the ancient character for the current handwriting of the time, and adopted a new mode of spelling conformable to the Latin and English sounds of his own age and country, but retained the aspirate mark (’).... The Welsh had long before made a similar change in their ancient orthography. Mr Edward Lhuyd recommended it, with some variation, in a letter to the Scots and Irish, prefixed to his Dictionary of their language in the Archæologia Britannica. The bishop of Sodor and Man observed it in the devotional exercises, admonition, and catechism, which he published for the use of his diocese. It was continued in the Manx translation of the Scriptures, and it has lately been adopted by Dr[112] Reilly, titular Primate of Ireland, in his Tagasg Kreesty, or Christian Doctrine. But yet it must be acknowledged to be much inferior to the ancient mode of orthography, which has not only the advantage of being grounded on a knowledge of the principles of grammar, and philosophy of language, but of being also more plain and easy. This volume of the Dean’s is curious, as distinguishing the genuine poetry of Ossian from the imitations made of it by later bards, and as ascertaining the degree of accuracy with which ancient poems have been transmitted by tradition for the last three hundred years, during a century of which the order of bards has been extinct, and ancient manners and customs have suffered a great and rapid change in the Highlands.”[111] A fac simile of the writing is given in the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society, plate III. No. 5. Since the above was written, the whole of this manuscript, with a few unimportant exceptions, has been transcribed, translated, and annotated by the Rev. Dr M’Lauchlan, Edinburgh, and an introductory chapter was furnished by W. F. Skene, Esq., LL.D. The work has been published by Messrs Edmonston & Douglas, of Edinburgh, and is a valuable addition to our Gaelic literature.

7. A quarto paper MS. written in a very beautiful regular hand, without date or the name of the writer. It is supposed to be at least two hundred years old, and consists of a number of ancient tales and short poems. These appear to be transcribed from a much older MS., as there is a vocabulary of ancient words in the middle of the MS. Some of the poetry is ascribed to Cuchulin.

8. Another quarto paper MS. the beginning and end of which have been lost. It consists partly of prose, partly of poetry. With the exception of two loose leaves, which appear much older, the whole appears to have been written in the 17th century. The poetry, though ancient, is not Fingalian. The name, Tadg Og CC., before one of the poems near the end, is the only one to be seen upon it.

9. A quarto parchment MS. consisting of 42 leaves, written by different hands, with illuminated capitals. It appears at one time to have consisted of four different MSS. bound to together and covered with skin, to preserve them. This MS. is very ancient and beautiful, though much soiled. In this collection is a life of St Columba, supposed, from the character, (being similar to No. 27,) to be of the twelfth or thirteenth century.

10. A quarto parchment medical MS. beautifully written. No date or name, but the MS. appears to be very ancient.

11. A quarto paper MS., partly prose, partly verse, written in a very coarse and indifferent hand. No date or name.

12. A small quarto MS. coarse. Bears date 1647, without name.

13. A small long octavo paper MS. the beginning and end lost, and without any date. It is supposed to have been written by the Macvurichs of the fifteenth century. Two of the poems are ascribed to Tadg Mac Daire Bruaidheadh, others to Brian O’Donalan.

14. A large folio parchment MS. in two columns, containing a tale upon Cuchullin and Conal, two of Ossian’s heroes. Without date or name and very ancient.

15. A large quarto parchment of 7½ leaves, supposed by Mr Astle, author of the work on the origin and progress of writing, to be of the ninth or tenth century. Its title is Emanuel, a name commonly given by the old Gaelic writers to many of their miscellaneous writings. Engraved specimens of this MS. are to be seen in the first edition of Mr Astle’s work above-mentioned, 18th plate, Nos. 1 and 2, and in his second edition, plate 22. Some of the capitals in the MS. are painted red. It is written in a strong beautiful hand, in the same character as the rest. This MS. is only the fragment of a large work on ancient history, written on the authority of Greek and Roman writers, and interspersed with notices of the arts, armour, dress, superstitions, manners, and usages, of the Scots of the author’s own time. In this MS. there is a chapter titled, “Slogha Chesair an Inis Bhreatan,” or Cæsar’s expedition to the island of Britain, in which Lechlin, a country celebrated in the ancient poems and tales of the Gäel, is mentioned as separated from Gaul by “the clear current of the Rhine.” Dr Donald Smith had a complete copy of this work.

16. A small octavo parchment MS. consisting of a tale in prose, imperfect. Supposed to be nearly as old as the last mentioned MS.

17. A small octavo paper MS. stitched, imperfect; written by the Macvurichs. It begins with a poem upon Darthula, different from Macpherson’s, and contains poems written by Cathal and Nial Mor Macvurich, (whose names appear at the beginning of some of the poems,) composed in the reign of King James the Fifth, Mary, and King Charles the First. It also contains some Ossianic poems, such as Cnoc an àir, &c. i. e. The Hill of Slaughter, supposed to be part of Macpherson’s Fingal. It is the story of a woman who came walking alone to the Fingalians for protection from Taile, who was in pursuit of her. Taile fought them, and was killed by Oscar. There was another copy of this poem in Clanranald’s little book—not the Red book, as erroneously supposed by Laing. The Highland Society are also in possession of several copies taken from oral tradition. The second Ossianic poem in this MS. begins thus:

Sè la gus an dè

O nach fhaca mi fein Fionn.

It is now six days yesterday

Since I have not seen Fingal.

18. An octavo paper MS. consisting chiefly of poetry, but very much defaced. Supposed to have been written by the last of the Macvurichs, but without date. The names of Tadg Og and Lauchlan Mac Taidg occur upon it. It is supposed to have been copied from a more ancient MS. as the poetry is good.

19. A very small octavo MS. written by some of the Macvurichs. Part of it is a copy of Clanranald’s book, and contains the genealogy of the Lords of the Isles and others of that great clan. The second part consists of a genealogy of the kings of Ireland (ancestors of the Macdonalds) from Scota and Gathelic. The last date upon it is 1616.

20. A paper MS. consisting of a genealogy of the kings of Ireland, of a few leaves only, and without date.

21. A paper MS. consisting of detached leaves of different sizes, and containing, 1. The conclusion of a Gaelic chronicle of the kings of Scotland down to King Robert III.; 2. A Fingalian tale, in which the heroes are Fingal, Goll Mac Morni, Oscar, Ossian, and Conan; 3. A poem by Macdonald of Benbecula, dated 1722, upon the unwritten part of a letter sent to Donald Macvurich of Stialgary; 4. A poem by Donald Mackenzie; 5. Another by Tadg Og CC, copied from some other MS.; 6. A poem by Donald Macvurich upon Ronald Macdonald of Clanranald. Besides several hymns by Tadg, and other poems by the Macvurichs and others.

22. A paper MS. consisting of religious tracts and genealogy, without name or date.

23. A paper MS. containing instruction for children in Gaelic and English. Modern, and without date.


24. Fragments of a paper MS., with the name of Cathelus Macvurich upon some of the leaves, and Niall Macvurich upon some others. Conn Mac an Deirg, a well known ancient poem, is written in the Roman character by the last Niall Macvurich, the last Highland bard, and is the only one among all the Gaelic MSS. in that character.

With the exception of the first five numbers, all the before mentioned MSS. were presented by the Highland Society of London to the Highland Society of Scotland in January, 1803, on the application of the committee appointed to inquire into the nature and authenticity of the poems of Ossian. All these MSS. (with the single exception of the Dean of Lismore’s volume,) are written in the very ancient form of character which was common of old to Britain and Ireland, and supposed to have been adopted by the Saxons at the time of their conversion to Christianity. This form of writing has been discontinued for nearly eighty years in Scotland, as the last specimen which the Highland Society of Scotland received of it consists of a volume of songs, supposed to have been written between the years 1752 and 1768, as it contains a song written by Duncan Macintyre, titled, An Taileir Mac Neachdain, which he composed the former year, the first edition of Macintyre’s songs having been published during the latter year.[112]

25. Besides these, the Society possesses a collection of MS. Gaelic poems made by Mr Duncan Kennedy, formerly schoolmaster at Craignish in Argyleshire, in three thin folio volumes. Two of them are written out fair from the various poems he had collected about sixty years ago. This collection consists of the following poems, viz., Luachair Leothaid, Sgiathan mac Sgairbh, An Gruagach, Rochd, Sithallan, Mùr Bheura, Tiomban, Sealg na Cluana, Gleanncruadhach, Uirnigh Oisein, Earragan, (resembling Macpherson’s Battle of Lora,) Manus, Maire Borb, (Maid of Craca,) Cath Sisear, Sliabh nam Beann Sionn, Bas Dheirg, Bas Chuinn, Righ Liur, Sealg na Leana, Dun an Oir, An Cu dubh, Gleann Diamhair, Conal, Bas Chiuinlaich Diarmad, Carril, Bas Ghuill (different from the Death of Gaul published by Dr Smith,) Garaibh, Bas Oscair, (part of which is the same narrative with the opening of Macpherson’s Temora,) in three parts; Tuiridh nam Fian, and Bass Osein. To each of these poems Kennedy has prefixed a dissertation containing some account of the Sgealachd story, or argument of the poem which is to follow. It was very common for the reciter, or history-man, as he was termed in the Highlands, to repeat the Sgealachds to his hearers before reciting the poems to which they related. Several of the poems in this collection correspond pretty nearly with the ancient MS. above mentioned, which belonged to the Dean of Lismore.[113]

26. A paper, medical, MS. in the old Gaelic character, a thick volume, written by Angus Connacher at Ardconel, Lochow-side, Argyleshire, 1612, presented to the Highland Society of Scotland by the late William Macdonald, Esq. of St Martins, W.S.

27. A beautiful parchment MS., greatly mutilated, in the same character, presented to the Society by the late Lord Bannatyne, one of the judges of the Court of Session. The supposed date upon the cover is 1238, is written in black letter, but it is in a comparatively modern hand. “Gleann Masain an cuige la deag do an ... Mh : : : do bhlian ar tsaoirse Mile da chead, trichid sa hocht.” That is, Glen-Masan, the 15th day of the ... of M : : : of the year of our Redemption 1238. It is supposed that the date has been taken from the MS. when in a more entire state. Glenmasan, where it was written, is a valley in the district of Cowal. From a note on the margin of the 15th leaf, it would appear to have formerly belonged to the Rev. William Campbell, minister of Kilchrenan and Dalavich, and a native of Cowal, and to whom Dr D. Smith supposes it may, perhaps, have descended from his grand-uncle, Mr Robert Campbell, in Cowal, an accomplished scholar and poet, who wrote the eighth address prefixed to Lhuyd’s Archæologia.

The MS. consists of some mutilated tales in prose, interspersed with verse, one of which is part of the poem of “Clan Uisneachan,” called by Macpherson Darthula, from the lady who makes the principal figure in it. The name of this lady in Gaelic is Deirdir, or Dearduil. A fac simile of the writing is given in the appendix to the Highland Society’s Report on Ossian. Plate iii. No. 4.

28. A paper MS. in the same character, consisting of an ancient tale in prose, presented to the Society by Mr Norman Macleod, son of the Rev. Mr Macleod of Morven.

29. A small paper MS. in the same character, on religion.

30. A paper MS. in the same character, presented to the Highland Society by James Grant, Esquire of Corymony. It consists of the history of the wars of Cuchullin, in prose and verse. This MS. is much worn at the ends and edges. It formerly belonged to Mr Grant’s mother, said to have been an excellent Gaelic scholar.


1. A beautiful medical MS. with the other MSS. formerly belonging to the collection. The titles of the different articles are in Latin, as are all the medical Gaelic MSS., being translations from Galen and other ancient physicians. The capital letters are flourished and painted red.

2. A thick folio paper MS., medical, written by Duncan Conacher, at Dunollie, Argyleshire, 1511.

3. A folio parchment MS. consisting of ancient Scottish and Irish history, very old.

4. A folio parchment medical MS. beautifully written. It is older than the other medical MSS.

5. A folio parchment medical MS. of equal beauty with the last.

6. A folio parchment MS. upon the same subject, and nearly of the same age with the former.

7. A folio parchment, partly religious, partly medical.

8. A folio parchment MS. consisting of the Histories of Scotland and Ireland, much damaged.

9. A folio parchment medical MS., very old.

10. A folio parchment MS. Irish history and poetry.

11. A quarto parchment MS., very old.

12. A long duodecimo parchment MS. consisting of hymns and maxims. It is a very beautiful MS., and may be as old as the time of St Columba.

13. A duodecimo parchment MS. much damaged and illegible.

14. A duodecimo parchment MS. consisting of poetry, but not Ossianic. Hardly legible.

15. A duodecimo parchment MS. much injured by vermin. It consists of a miscellaneous collection of history and poetry.

16. A duodecimo parchment MS. in large beautiful letter, very old and difficult to be understood.

17. A folio parchment MS. consisting of the genealogies of the Macdonalds, Macniels, Macdougals, Maclauchlans, &c.

All these MSS. are written in the old Gaelic character, and, with the exception of No. 2, have neither date nor name attached to them.


Besides those enumerated, there are, it is believed, many ancient Gaelic MSS. existing in private libraries. The following are known:—

A Deed of Fosterage between Sir Norman Macleod of Bernera, and John Mackenzie, executed in the year 1640. This circumstance shows that the Gaelic language was in use in legal obligations at that period in the Highlands. This MS. was in the possession of the late Lord Bannatyne.

A variety of parchment MSS. on medicine, in the Gaelic character, formerly in the possession of the late Dr Donald Smith. He was also possessed of a complete copy of the Emanuel MS. before mentioned, and of copies of many other MSS., which he made at different times from other MSS.

Two paper MS. Gaelic grammars, in the same character, formerly in the possession of the late Dr Wright of Edinburgh.

Two ancient parchment MSS. in the same character, formerly in the possession of the late Rev. James Maclagan, at Blair-Athole. Now in possession of his family. It is chiefly Irish history.

A paper MS. written in the Roman character, in the possession of Mr Matheson of Fearnaig, Ross-shire. It is dated in 1688, and consists of songs and hymns by different persons, some by Carswell, Bishop of the Isles. There is reason to fear that this MS. has been lost.

A paper MS. formerly in the possession of a Mr Simpson in Leith.

The Lilium Medecinæ, a paper folio MS. written and translated by one of the Bethunes, the physicians of Skye, at the foot of Mount Peliop. It was given to the Antiquarian Society of London by the late Dr Macqueen of Kilmore, in Skye.

Two treatises, one on astronomy, the other on medicine, written in the latter end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century, formerly in the possession of Mr Astle.



Three volumes MS. in the old character, chiefly medical, with some fragments of Scottish and Irish history; and the life of St Columba, said to have been translated from the Latin into Gaelic, by Father Calohoran.


A MS. volume (No. 5280) containing twenty-one Gaelic or Irish treatises, of which Mr Astle has given some account. One of these treats of the Irish militia, under Fion Maccumhail, in the reign of Cormac-MacAirt, king of Ireland, and of the course of probation or exercise which each soldier was to go through before his admission therein. Mr Astle has given a fac simile of the writing, being the thirteenth specimen of Plate xxii.


An old Irish MS. on parchment, containing, among other tracts, An account of the Conquest of Britain by the Romans:—Of the Saxon Conquest and their Heptarchy:—An account of the Irish Saints, in verse, written in the tenth century:—The Saints of the Roman Breviary:—An account of the Conversion of the Irish and English to Christianity, with some other subjects. Laud. F. 92. This book, as is common in old Irish manuscripts, has here and there some Latin notes intermixed with Irish, and may possibly contain some hints of the doctrines of the Druids.

An old vellum MS. of 140 pages, in the form of a music-book, containing the works of St Columba, in verse, with some account of his own life; his exhortations to princes and his prophecies. Laud. D. 17.

A chronological history of Ireland, by Jeffrey Keating, D.D.

Among the Clarendon MSS. at Oxford are

Annales Ultonienses, sic dicti quod precipué contineant res gestas Ultoniensium. Codex antiquissimus caractere Hibernico scriptus; sed sermone, partim Hibernico, partim Latino. Fol. membr. The 16th and 17th specimens in Plate xxii. of Astle’s work are taken from this MS., which is numbered 31 of Dr Rawlinson’s MSS.

Annales Tigernaci (Erenaci. ut opiniatur Warœus Clonmanaisensis. Vid. Annal. Ulton. ad an. 1088), mutili in initio et alibi. Liber charactere et lingua Hibernicis scriptus. Memb.

These annals, which are written in the old Irish character, were originally collected by Sir James Ware, and came into the possession successively of the Earl of Clarendon, the Duke of Chandos, and of Dr Rawlinson.

Miscellanea de Rebus Hibernicis, metricè. Lingua partim Latina, partim Hibernica; collecta per Œngusium O’Colode (fortè Colidium). Hic liber vulgò Psalter Na rann appellatur.

Elegiæ Hibernicæ in Obitus quorundam Nobilium fo. 50.

Notæ quædam Philosophicæ, partim Latiné, partim Hibernicé, Characteribus Hibernicis, fo. 69. Membr.

Anonymi cujusdàm Tractatus de varies apud Hibernos veteres occultis scribendi Formulis, Hibernicé Ogum dictis.

Finleachi O Catalai Gigantomachia (vel potiùs Acta Finni Mac Cuil, cum Prœlio de Fintra), Hibernicé. Colloquia quædam de Rebus Hibernicis in quibus colloquentes introducuntur S. Patricius, Coillius, et Ossenus Hibernicé f. 12. Leges Ecclesiasticæ Hibernicé f. 53. Membr.

Vitæ Sanctorum Hibernicorum, per Magnum sive Manum, filium Hugonis O’Donnel, Hibernigé descriptæ. An. 1532, Fol. Membr.

Calieni Prophetiæ, in Lingua Hibernica. Ejusdem libri exemplar extat in Bibl. Cotton, f. 22. b.

Extracto ex Libro Killensi, Lingua Hibernica, f. 39.

Historica quædam, Hibernicé, ab An. 130, ad An. 1317, f. 231.

A Book of Irish Poetry, f. 16.

Tractatus de Scriptoribus Hibernicis.

Dr Keating’s History of Ireland.

Irish MSS. in Trinity College, Dublin:—

Extracto ex Libro de Kells Hibernicé.

A book in Irish, treating,—1. Of the Building of Babel. 2. Of Grammar. 3. Of Physic. 4. Of Chirurgery. Fol. D. 10.

A book containing several ancient historical matters, especially of the coming of Milesius out of Spain. B. 35.

The book of Balimote, containing,—1. The Genealogies of all the ancient Families in Ireland. 2. The Uracept, or a book for the education of youth, written by K. Comfoilus Sapiens. 3. The Ogma, or Art of Writing in Characters. 4. The History of the Wars of Troy, with other historical matters contained in the book of Lecane, D. 18. The book of Lecane, alias Sligo, contains the following treatises:—1. A treatise of Ireland and its divisions into provinces, with the history of the Irish kings and sovereigns, answerable to the general history; but nine leaves are wanting. 2. How the race of Milesius came into Ireland, and of their adventures since Moses’s passing through the Red Sea. 3. Of the descent and years of the ancient fathers. 4. A catalogue of the kings of Ireland in verse. 5. The maternal genealogies and degrees of the Irish saints. 6. The genealogies of our Lady,[115] Joseph, and several other saints mentioned in the Scripture. 7. An alphabetic catalogue of Irish saints. 8. The sacred antiquity of the Irish saints in verse. 9. Cormac’s life. 10. Several transactions of the monarchs of Ireland and their provincial kings. 11. The history of Eogain M’or, Knight; as also of his children and posterity. 12. O’Neil’s pedigree. 13. Several battles of the Sept of Cinet Ogen, or tribe of Owen, from Owen Mac Neile Mac Donnoch. 14. Manne, the son of King Neal, of the nine hostages and his family. 15. Fiacha, the son of Mac Neil and his Sept. 16. Leogarius, son of Nelus Magnus, and his tribe. 17. The Connaught book. 18. The book of Fiatrach. 19. The book of Uriel. 20. The Leinster book. 21. The descent of the Fochards, or the Nolans. 22. The descent of those of Leix, or the O’Mores. 23. The descent of Decyes of Munster, or the Ophelans. 24. The coming of Muscrey to Moybreagh. 25. A commentary upon the antiquity of Albany, now called Scotland. 26. The descent of some Septs of the Irish, different from those of the most known sort, that is, of the posterity of Lugadh Frith. 27. The Ulster book. 28. The British book. 29. The Uracept, or a book for the education of youth, written by K. Comfoilus Sapiens. 30. The genealogies of St Patrick and other saints, as also an etymology of the hard words in the said treatise. 31. A treatise of several prophecies. 32. The laws, customs, exploits, and tributes of the Irish kings and provincials. 33. A treatise of Eva, and the famous women of ancient times. 34. A poem that treats of Adam and his posterity. 35. The Munster book. 36. A book containing the etymology of all the names of the chief territories and notable places in Ireland. 37. Of the several invasions of Clan-Partholan, Clan-nan vies, Firbolhg, Tu’atha de Danaan, and the Milesians into Ireland. 38. A treatise of the most considerable men in Ireland, from the time of Leogarius the son of Nelus Magnus, alias Neale of the nine hostages in the time of Roderic O’Conner, monarch of Ireland, fol. parchment. D. 19.

De Chirurgia. De Infirmitatibus Corporis humane, Hibernicé, f. Membr. C. 1.

Excerpta quædam de antiquitatibus Incolarum, Dublin ex libris Bellemorensi et Sligantino, Hibernicé.

Hymni in laudem B. Patricii, Brigidæ et Columbiæ, Hibern. plerumque. Invocationes Apostolorum et SS. cum not. Hibern. interlin. et margin. Orationes quædam excerptæ ex Psalmis; partim Latiné, partim Hibernicé, fol. Membr. I. 125.

Opera Galeni et Hippocratis de Chirurgia, Hibernicé, fol. Membr. C. 29.

A book of Postils in Irish, fol. Membr. D. 24.

Certain prayers, with the argument of the four Gospels and the Acts, in Irish (10.), ’Fiechi Slebthiensis. Hymnus in laudem S. Patricii, Hibernicé (12.), A hymn on St Bridget, in Irish, made by Columkill in the time of Eda Mac Ainmireck, cum Regibus Hibern. et success. S. Patricii (14.), Sanctani Hymnus. Hibern.

Reverendissimi D. Bedelli Translatio Hibernica S. Bibliorum.


In addition to the above, there has been a considerable collection of Gaelic MSS. made at the British Museum. They were all catalogued a few years ago by the late Eugene O’Curry, Esq. It is unnecessary to give the list here, but Mr O’Curry’s catalogue will be found an admirable directory for any inquirer at the Museum. Foreign libraries also contain many such MSS.


[96] Early Scottish Church, p. 146.

[97] P. 57.

[98] Fo here and elsewhere in the poem seems to represent fa, upon, rather than ar, as Mr Skene supposes.

[99] Chronicles of the Picts and Scots, Int. p. xxxvii.

[100] P. 275.

[101] From Dean of Lismore’s Book, with a few verbal alterations, p. 157.

[102] Irish Grammar, p. 449.

[103] This question has been recently discussed by the Rev. Archibald Clerk of Kilmallie, in his elegant edition of the Poems of Ossian, published since the above was written, under the auspices of the Marquis of Bute. We refer our readers to Mr Clerk’s treatise for a great deal of varied and interesting information on this subject.

[104] Logan on the Scottish Gael, vol. ii. 252-3.

[105] Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland on the Poems of Ossian, App. No. xix., p. 290.

[106] It is, therefore, probable that these genealogies were written about the middle of the sixteenth century. A fac simile of the writing is to be found in the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society on the authenticity of Ossian, Plate II.

[107] Report of the Committee of the Highland Society on Ossian, App. No. xix., p. 291.

[108] Ogyg., p. 275.

[109] Appendix, ut supra, No. xix.

[110] Report of the Highland Society on Ossian. p. 92.

[111] Appendix to the Highland Society’s Report, p. 300-1.

[112] Report on Ossian, Appendix, p. 312.

[113] Report on Ossian, pp. 108-9.





Clanship—Principle of kin—Mormaordoms—Traditions as to origin of Clans—Distinction between Feudalism and Clanship—Peculiarities of Clanship—Consequences of Clanship—Manrent—Customs of Succession—Tanistry and Gavel—Highland Marriage Customs—Hand-fasting—Highland gradation of ranks—Calpe—Native-men—Righ or King—Mormaor, Tighern, Thane—Tanist—Ceantighes—Toshach—“Captain” of a Clan—Ogtiern—Duine-wassels, Tacksmen, or Goodmen—Brehon—Position and power of Chief—Influence of Clanship on the people—Chiefs sometimes abandoned by the people—Number and Distribution of Clans.

The term clan, now applied almost exclusively to the tribes into which the Scottish Highlanders were formerly, and still to some extent are divided, was also applied to those large and powerful septs into which the Irish people were at one time divided, as well as to the communities of freebooters that inhabited the Scottish borders, each of which, like the Highland clans, had a common surname. Indeed, in an Act of the Scottish Parliament for 1587, the Highlanders and Borderers are classed together as being alike “dependents on chieftains or captains of clans.” The border clans, however, were at a comparatively early period broken up and weaned from their predatory and warlike habits, whereas the system of clanship in the Highlands continued to flourish in almost full vigour down to the middle of last century. As there is so much of romance surrounding the system, especially in its later manifestations, and as it was the cause of much annoyance to Britain, it has become a subject of interest to antiquarians and students of mankind generally; and as it flourished so far into the historical period, curiosity can, to a great extent, be gratified as to its details and working.

A good deal has been written on the subject in its various aspects, and among other authorities we must own our indebtedness for much of our information to Skene’s Highlanders of Scotland, Gregory’s Highlands and Isles, Robertson’s Scotland under her Early Kings, Stewart’s Sketches of the Highlanders, Logan’s Scottish Gael and Clans, and The Iona Club Transactions, besides the publications of the various other Scottish Clubs.

We learn from Tacitus and other historians, that at a very early period the inhabitants of Caledonia were divided into a number of tribes, each with a chief at its head. These tribes, from all we can learn, were independent of, and often at war with each other, and only united under a common elected leader when the necessity of resisting a common foe compelled them. In this the Caledonians only followed a custom which is common to all barbarous and semi-barbarous peoples; but what was the bond of union among the members of the various tribes it is now not easy to ascertain. We learn from the researches of Mr E. W. Robertson that the feeling of kindred was very strong among all the early Celtic[117] and even Teutonic nations, and that it was on the principle of kin that land was allotted to the members of the various tribes. The property of the land appears to have been vested in the Cean-cinneth, or head of the lineage for the good of his clan; it was “burdened with the support of his kindred and Amasach” (military followers), these being allotted parcels of land in proportion to the nearness of their relation to the chief of the clan.[114] The word clan itself, from its etymology,[115] points to the principle of kin, as the bond which united the members of the tribes among themselves, and bound them to their chiefs. As there are good grounds for believing that the original Caledonians, the progenitors of the present genuine Highlanders, belonged to the Celtic family of mankind, it is highly probable that when they first entered upon possession of Alban, whether peaceably or by conquest, they divided the land among their various tribes in accordance with their Celtic principle. The word clan, as we have said, signifies family, and a clan was a certain number of families of the same name, sprung, as was believed, from the same root, and governed by the lineal descendant of the parent family. This patriarchal form of society was probably common in the infancy of mankind, and seems to have prevailed in the days of Abraham; indeed, it was on a similar principle that Palestine was divided among the twelve tribes of Israel, the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob.

As far back as we can trace, the Highlands appear to have been divided into a number of districts, latterly known as Mormaordoms, each under the jurisdiction of a Mormaor, to whom the several tribes in each district looked up as their common head. It is not improbable that Galgacus, the chosen leader mentioned by Tacitus, may have held a position similar to this, and that in course of time some powerful or popular chief, at first elected as a temporary leader, may have contrived to make his office permanent, and even to some extent hereditary. The title Mormaor, however, is first met with only after the various divisions of northern Scotland had been united into a kingdom. “In Scotland the royal official placed over the crown or fiscal lands, appears to have been originally known as the Maor, and latterly under the Teutonic appellation of Thane.... The original Thanage would appear to have been a district held of the Crown, the holder, Maor or Thane, being accountable for the collection of the royal dues, and for the appearance of the royal tenantry at the yearly ‘hosting,’ and answering to the hereditary Toshach, or captain of a clan, for the king stood in the place of the Cean-cinneth, or chief.... When lands were strictly retained in the Crown, the Royal Thane, or Maor, was answerable directly to the King; but there was a still greater official among the Scots, known under the title of Mormaor, or Lord High Steward ... who was evidently a Maor placed over a province instead of a thanage—an earldom or county instead of a barony—a type of Harfager’s royal Jarl, who often exercised as a royal deputy that authority which he had originally claimed as the independent lord of the district over which he presided.”[116] According to Mr Skene,[117] it was only about the 16th century when the great power of these Mormaors was broken up, and their provinces converted into thanages or earldoms, many of which were held by Saxon nobles, who possessed them by marriage, that the clans first make their appearance in these districts and in independence. By this, we suppose, he does not mean that it was only when the above change took place that the system of clanship sprang into existence, but that then the various great divisions of the clans, losing their cean-cinneth, or head of the kin, the individual clans becoming independent, sprang into greater prominence and assumed a stronger individuality.

Among the Highlanders themselves various traditions have existed as to the origin of the clans. Mr Skene mentions the three principal ones, and proves them to be entirely fanciful. The first of these is the Scottish or Irish system, by which the clans trace their origin or foundation to early Irish or Scoto-Irish kings. The second is what Mr Skene terms the heroic[118] system, by which many of the Highland clans are deduced from the great heroes in the fabulous histories of Scotland and Ireland, by identifying one of these fabulous heroes with an ancestor of the clan of the same name. The third system did not spring up till the 17th century, “when the fabulous history of Scotland first began to be doubted, when it was considered to be a principal merit in an antiquarian to display his scepticism as to all the old traditions of the country.”[118] Mr Skene terms it the Norwegian or Danish system, and it was the result of a furor for imputing everything and deriving everybody from the Danes. The idea, however, never obtained any great credit in the Highlands. The conclusion to which Mr Skene comes is, “that the Highland clans are not of different or foreign origin, but that they were a part of the original nation, who have inhabited the mountains of Scotland as far back as the memory of man, or the records of history can reach; that they were divided into several great tribes possessing their hereditary chiefs; and that it was only when the line of these chiefs became extinct, and Saxon nobles came into their place, that the Highland clans appeared in the peculiar situation and character in which they were afterwards found.” Mr Skene thinks this conclusion strongly corroborated by the fact that there can be traced existing in the Highlands, even so late as the 16th century, a still older tradition than that of the Irish origin of the clans. This tradition is found in the often referred to letter of “John Elder, clerk, a Reddschanke,” dated 1542, and addressed to King Henry VIII. This tradition, held by the Highlanders of the “more auncient stoke” in opposition to the “Papistical curside spiritualite of Scotland,” was that they were the true descendants of the ancient Picts, then known as “Redd Schankes.”

Whatever may be the value of Mr Skene’s conclusions as to the purity of descent of the present Highlanders, his researches, taken in conjunction with those of Mr E. W. Robertson, seem pretty clearly to prove, that from as far back as history goes the Highlanders were divided into tribes on the principle of kin, that the germ of the fully developed clan-system can be found among the earliest Celtic inhabitants of Scotland; that clanship, in short, is only a modern example, systematised, developed, and modified by time of the ancient principle on which the Celtic people formed their tribes and divided their lands. The clans were the fragments of the old Celtic tribes, whose mormaors had been destroyed, each tribe dividing into a number of clans. When, according to a recent writer, the old Celtic tribe was deprived of its chief, the bolder spirits among the minor chieftains would gather round them each a body of partisans, who would assume his name and obey his orders. It might even happen that, from certain favourable circumstances, a Saxon or a Norman stranger would thus be able to gain a circle of adherents out of a broken or chieftainless Celtic tribe, and so become the founder of a clan.

As might be expected, this primitive, patriarchal state of society would be liable to be abolished as the royal authority became extended and established, and the feudal system substituted in its stead. This we find was the case, for under David and his successors, during the 12th and 13th centuries, the old and almost independent mormaordoms were gradually abolished, and in their stead were substituted earldoms feudally dependent upon the Crown. In many instances these mormaordoms passed into the hands of lowland barons, favourites of the king; and thus the dependent tribes, losing their hereditary heads, separated, as we have said, into a number of small and independent clans, although even the new foreign barons themselves for a long time exercised an almost independent sway, and used the power which they had acquired by royal favour against the king himself.

As far as the tenure of lands and the heritable jurisdictions were concerned, the feudal system was easily introduced into the Highlands; but although the principal chiefs readily agreed, or were induced by circumstances to hold their lands of the Crown or of low-country barons, yet the system of clanship remained in full force amongst the native Highlanders until a very recent period, and its spirit still to a certain extent survives in[119] the affections, the prejudices, the opinions, and the habits of the people.[119]

The nature of the Highlands of Scotland was peculiarly favourable to the clan system, and no doubt helped to a considerable extent to perpetuate it. The division of the country into so many straths, and valleys, and islands, separated from one another by mountains or arms of the sea, necessarily gave rise to various distinct societies. Their secluded situation necessarily rendered general intercourse difficult, whilst the impenetrable ramparts with which they were surrounded made defence easy. The whole race was thus broken into many individual masses, possessing a community of customs and character, but placed under different jurisdictions; every district became a sort of petty independent state; and the government of each community or clan assumed the patriarchal form, being a species of hereditary monarchy, founded on custom, and allowed by general consent, rather than regulated by positive laws.

The system of clanship in the Highlands,[120] although possessing an apparent resemblance to feudalism, was in principle very different indeed from that system as it existed in other parts of the country. In the former case, the people followed their chief as the head of their race, and the representative of the common ancestor of the clan; in the latter, they obeyed their leader as feudal proprietor of the lands to which they were attached, and to whom they owed military service for their respective portions of these lands. The Highland chief was the hereditary lord of all who belonged to his clan, wherever they dwelt or whatever lands they occupied; the feudal baron was entitled to the military service of all who held lands under him, to whatever race they might individually belong. The one dignity was personal, the other was territorial; the rights of the chief were inherent, those of the baron were accessory; the one might lose or forfeit his possessions, but could not thereby be divested of his hereditary character and privileges; the other, when divested of his fee, ceased to have any title or claim to the service of those who occupied the lands. Yet these two systems, so different in principle, were in effect nearly identical. Both exhibited the spectacle of a subject possessed of unlimited power within his own territories, and exacting unqualified obedience from a numerous train of followers, to whom he stood in the several relations of landlord, military leader, and judge, with all the powers and prerogatives belonging to each of those characters. Both were equally calculated to aggrandise turbulent chiefs and nobles, at the expense of the royal authority, which they frequently defied, generally resisted, and but seldom obeyed; although for the most part, the chief was less disloyal than the baron, probably because he was farther removed from the seat of government, and less sensible of its interference with his own jurisdiction. The one system was adapted to a people in a pastoral state of society, and inhabiting a country, like the Highlands of Scotland, which from its peculiar nature and conformation, not only prevented the adoption of any other mode of life, but at the same time prescribed the division of the people into separate families or clans. The other system, being of a defensive character, was necessary to a population occupying a fertile but open country, possessing only a rude notion of agriculture, and exposed on all sides to aggressions on the part of neighbours or enemies. But the common tendency of both was to obstruct the administration of justice, nurse habits of lawless violence, exclude the cultivation of the arts of peace, and generally to impede the progress of improvement; and hence neither was compatible with the prosperity of a civilised nation, where the liberty of the subject required protection, and the security of property demanded an equal administration of justice.

The peculiarities of clanship are nowhere better described than in Burt’s Letters from an Officer of Engineers to his Friend in London.[121] “The Highlanders,” he says, “are divided into tribes or clans, under chiefs or[120] chieftains, and each clan is again divided into branches from the main stock, who have chieftains over them. These are subdivided into smaller branches of fifty or sixty men, who deduce their original from their particular chieftains, and rely upon them as their more immediate protectors and defenders. The ordinary Highlanders esteem it the most sublime degree of virtue to love their chief and pay him a blind obedience, although it be in opposition to the government. Next to this love of their chief is that of the particular branch whence they sprang; and, in a third degree, to those of the whole clan or name, whom they will assist, right or wrong, against those of any other tribe with which they are at variance. They likewise owe good-will to such clans as they esteem to be their particular well-wishers. And, lastly, they have an adherence to one another as Highlanders in opposition to the people of the low country, whom they despise as inferior to them in courage, and believe they have a right to plunder them whenever it is in their power. This last arises from a tradition that the Lowlands, in old times, were the possessions of their ancestors.

“The chief exercises an arbitrary authority over his vassals, determines all differences and disputes that happen among them, and levies taxes upon extraordinary occasions, such as the marriage of a daughter, building a house, or some pretence for his support or the honour of his name; and if any one should refuse to contribute to the best of his ability, he is sure of severe treatment, and, if he persists in his obstinacy, he would be cast out of his tribe by general consent. This power of the chief is not supported by interest, as they are landlords, but by consanguinity, as lineally descended from the old patriarchs or fathers of the families, for they hold the same authority when they have lost their estates, as may appear from several instances, and particularly that of one (Lord Lovat) who commands his clan, though at the same time they maintain him, having nothing left of his own. On the other hand, the chief, even against the laws, is bound to protect his followers, as they are sometimes called, be they never so criminal. He is their leader in clan quarrels, must free the necessitous from their arrears of rent, and maintain such who by accidents are fallen to total decay. Some of the chiefs have not only personal dislikes and enmity to each other, but there are also hereditary feuds between clan and clan, which have been handed down from one generation to another for several ages. These quarrels descend to the meanest vassals, and thus sometimes an innocent person suffers for crimes committed by his tribe at a vast distance of time before his being began.”

This clear and concise description will serve to convey an idea of clanship as it existed in the Highlands, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the system was in full force and vigour. It presented a singular mixture of patriarchal and feudal government; and everything connected with the habits, manners, customs, and feelings of the people tended to maintain it unimpaired, amidst all the changes which were gradually taking place in other parts of the country, from the diffusion of knowledge, and the progress of improvement. There was, indeed, something almost oriental in the character of immutability which seemed to belong to this primitive institution, endeared as it was to the affections, and singularly adapted to the condition of the people amongst whom it prevailed. Under its influence all their habits had been formed; with it all their feelings and associations were indissolubly blended. When the kindred and the followers of a chief saw him surrounded by a body of adherents, numerous, faithful, and brave, devoted to his interests, and ready at all times to sacrifice their lives in his service, they could conceive no power superior to his; and, when they looked back into the past history of their tribe, they found that his progenitors had, from time immemorial, been at their head. Their tales, their traditions, their songs, constantly referred to the exploits or the transactions of the same tribe or fraternity living under the same line of chiefs; and the transmission of command and obedience, of protection and attachment, from one generation to another, became in consequence as natural, in the eye of a Highlander, as the transmission of blood or the regular laws of descent. This order of things appeared to him as fixed and as inviolable as the constitution[121] of nature or the revolutions of the seasons. Hence nothing could shake his fidelity to his chief, or induce him to compromise what he believed to be for the honour and interest of his clan. He was not without his feelings of independence, and he would not have brooked oppression where he looked for kindness and protection. But the long unbroken line of chiefs is of itself a strong presumptive proof of the general mildness of their sway. The individuals might change, but the ties which bound one generation were drawn more closely, although by insensible degrees, around the succeeding one; and thus each family, in all its various successions, retained something like the same sort of relation to the parent stem, which the renewed leaves of a tree in spring preserve, in point of form and position, to those which had dropped off in the preceding autumn.

Many important consequences, affecting the character of the Highlanders, resulted from this division of the people into small tribes, each governed in the patriarchal manner already described. The authority of the sovereign, if nominally recognised, was nearly altogether unfelt and inoperative. His mandates could neither arrest the mutual depredations of the clans, nor allay their hereditary hostilities. Delinquents could not be pursued into the bosom of the clan which protected them, nor could the judges administer the laws, in opposition to the will or the interests of the chiefs. Sometimes the sovereign attempted to strengthen his hands by fomenting divisions between the different clans, and entering occasionally into the interests of one, in the hope of weakening another; he threw his weight into one scale that the other might kick the beam, and he withdrew it again, that, by the violence of the reaction, both parties might be equally damaged and enfeebled. Many instances of this artful policy occur in Scottish history, which, for a long period, was little else than a record of internal disturbances. The general government, wanting the power to repress disorder, sought to destroy its elements by mutual collision; and the immediate consequence of its inefficiency was an almost perpetual system of aggression, warfare, depredation, and contention. Besides, the little principalities into which the Highlands were divided touched at so many points, yet they were so independent of one another; they approached so nearly in many respects, yet, in some others, were so completely separated; there were so many opportunities of encroachment on the one hand, and so little disposition to submit to it on the other; and the quarrel or dispute of one individual of the tribe so naturally involved the interest, the sympathies, and the hereditary feelings or animosities of the rest, that profound peace or perfect cordiality scarcely ever existed amongst them, and their ordinary condition was either a chronic or an active state of internal warfare. From opposing interests or wounded pride, deadly feuds frequently arose amongst the chiefs, and being warmly espoused by the clans, were often transmitted, with aggravated animosity, from one generation to another.

If it were profitable, it might be curious to trace the negotiations, treaties, and bonds of amity, or manrent as they were called, by which opposing clans strengthened themselves against the attacks and encroachments of their enemies or rivals, or to preserve what may be called the balance of power. Amongst the rudest communities of mankind may be discovered the elements of that science which has been applied to the government and diplomacy of the most civilised nations. By such bonds they came under an obligation to assist one another; and, in their treaties of mutual support and protection, smaller clans, unable to defend themselves, and those families or septs which had lost their chieftains, were also included. When such confederacies were formed, the smaller clans followed the fortunes, engaged in the quarrels, and fought under the chiefs, of the greater. Thus the MacRaes followed the Earl of Seaforth, the MacColls the Stewarts of Appin, and the MacGillivrays and MacBeans the Laird of Mackintosh; but, nevertheless, their ranks were separately marshalled, and were led by their own subordinate chieftains and lairds, who owned submission only when necessary for the success of combined operations. The union had for its object aggression or revenge, and extended no further than the occasion for which it had been formed; yet it served to[122] prevent the smaller clans from being swallowed up by the greater, and at the same time nursed the turbulent and warlike spirit which formed the common distinction of all. From these and other causes, the Highlands were for ages as constant a theatre of petty conflicts as Europe has been of great and important struggles; in the former were enacted, in miniature, scenes bearing a striking and amusing analogy to those which took place upon a grand scale in the latter. The spirit of opposition and rivalry between the clans perpetuated a system of hostility; it encouraged the cultivation of the military at the expense of the social virtues, and it perverted their ideas both of law and morality. Revenge was accounted a duty, the destruction of a neighbour a meritorious exploit, and rapine an honourable employment. Wherever danger was to be encountered, or bravery displayed, there they conceived that distinction was to be obtained; the perverted sentiment of honour rendered their feuds more implacable, their inroads more savage and destructive; and superstition added its influence in exasperating animosities, by teaching that to revenge the death of a kinsman or friend was an act agreeable to his manes; thus engaging on the side of the most implacable hatred and the darkest vengeance, the most amiable and domestic of all human feelings, namely, reverence for the memory of the dead, and affection for the virtues of the living.

Another custom, which once prevailed, contributed to perpetuate this spirit of lawless revenge. “Every heir or young chieftain of a tribe,” says Martin, who had studied the character and manners of the Highlanders, and understood them well, “was obliged to give a specimen of his valour before he was owned and declared governor or leader of his people, who obeyed and followed him on all occasions. This chieftain was usually attended with a retinue of young men, who had not before given any proof of their valour, and were ambitious of such an opportunity to signalise themselves. It was usual for the chief to make a desperate incursion upon some neighbour or other that they were in feud with, and they were obliged to bring, by open force, the cattle they found in the land they attacked, or to die in the attempt. After the performance of this achievement, the young chieftain was ever after reputed valiant, and worthy of government, and such as were of his retinue acquired the like reputation. This custom being reciprocally used among them, was not reputed robbery; for the damage which one tribe sustained by the inauguration of the chieftain of another, was repaired when their chieftain came in his turn to make his specimen.”[122] But the practice seems to have died out about half a century before the time at which Martin’s work appeared, and its disuse removed one fertile source of feuds and disorders. Of the nature of the depredations in which the Highlanders commonly engaged, the sentiments with which they were regarded, the manner in which they were conducted, and the effects which they produced on the character, habits, and manners of the people, an ample and interesting account will be found in the first volume of General Stewart’s valuable work on the Highlands.

It has been commonly alleged, that ideas of succession were so loose in the Highlands, that brothers were often preferred to grandsons and even to sons. But this assertion proceeds on a most erroneous assumption, inasmuch as election was never in any degree admitted, and a system of hereditary succession prevailed, which, though different from that which has been instituted by the feudal law, allowed of no such deviations or anomalies as some have imagined. The Highland law of succession, as Mr Skene observes, requires to be considered in reference, first, to the chiefship and the superiority of the lands belonging to the clan; and secondly, in respect to the property or the land itself. The succession to the chiefship and its usual prerogatives was termed the law of tanistry; that to the property or the land itself, gavel. But when the feudal system was introduced, the law of tanistry became the law of succession to the property as well as the chiefship; whilst that of gavel was too directly opposed to feudal principles to be suffered to exist at all, even in a modified form. It appears, indeed, that the Highlanders adhered strictly to succession in the male line, and that the great peculiarity which distinguished their[123] law of succession from that established by the feudal system, consisted in the circumstance that, according to it, brothers invariably succeeded before sons. In the feudal system property was alone considered, and the nearest relation to the last proprietor was naturally accounted the heir. But, in the Highland system, the governing principle of succession was not property, but the right of chiefship, derived from being the lineal descendant of the founder or patriarch of the tribe; it was the relation to the common ancestor, to whom the brother was considered as one degree nearer than the son, and through whom the right was derived, and not to the last chief, which regulated the succession. Thus, the brothers of the chief invariably succeeded before the sons, not by election, but as a matter of right, and according to a fixed rule which formed the law or principle of succession, instead of being, as some have supposed, a departure from it, occasioned by views of temporary expediency, by usurpation, or otherwise. In a word, the law of tanistry, however much opposed to the feudal notions of later times, flowed naturally from the patriarchal constitution of society in the Highlands, and was peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of a people such as we have described, whose warlike habits and love of military enterprise, or armed predatory expeditions, made it necessary to have at all times a chief competent to act as their leader or commander.

But if the law of tanistry was opposed to the principles of the feudal system, that of gavel or the succession to property amongst the Highlanders was still more adverse. By the feudal law the eldest son, when the succession opened, not only acquired the superiority over the rest of the family, but he also succeeded to the whole of the property, whilst the younger branches were obliged to push their fortune by following other pursuits. But in the Highlands the case was altogether different. By the law of gavel, the property of the clan was divided in certain proportions amongst all the male branches of the family, to the exclusion of females, who, by this extraordinary Salic anomaly, could no more succeed to the property than to the chiefship itself. The law of gavel in the Highlands, therefore, differed from the English custom of gavel-kind in being exclusively confined to the male branches of a family. In what proportions the property was divided, or whether these proportions varied according to circumstances, or the will of the chief, it is impossible to ascertain. But it would appear that the principal seat of the family, with the lands immediately surrounding it, always remained the property of the chief; and besides this, the latter retained a sort of superiority over the whole possessions of the clan, in virtue of which he received from each dependent branch a portion of the produce of the land as an acknowledgment of his chiefship, and also to enable him to support the dignity of his station by the exercise of a commensurate hospitality. Such was the law of gavel, which, though adverse to feudal principles, was adapted to the state of society amongst the Highlands, out of which indeed it originally sprang; because, where there were no other pursuits open to the younger branches of families except rearing flocks and herds during peace, and following the chief in war; and where it was the interest as well as the ambition of the latter to multiply the connexions of his family, and take every means to strengthen the power as well as to secure the obedience of his clan, the division of property, or the law of gavel, resulted as naturally from such an order of things, as that of hereditary succession to the patriarchal government and chiefship of the clan. Hence, the chief stood to the cadets of his family in a relation somewhat analogous to that in which the feudal sovereign stood to the barons who held their fiefs of the crown, and although there was no formal investiture, yet the tenure was in effect pretty nearly the same. In both cases the principle of the system was essentially military, though it apparently led to opposite results; and, in the Highlands, the law under consideration was so peculiarly adapted to the constitution of society, that it was only abandoned after a long struggle, and even at a comparatively recent period traces of its existence and operation may be observed amongst the people of that country.[123]

Similar misconceptions have prevailed regarding[124] Highland marriage-customs. This was, perhaps, to be expected. In a country where a bastard son was often found in undisturbed possession of the chiefship or property of a clan, and where such bastard generally received the support of the clansmen against the claims of the feudal heir, it was natural to suppose that very loose notions of succession were entertained by the people; that legitimacy conferred no exclusive rights; and that the title founded on birth alone might be set aside in favour of one having no other claim than that of election. But this, although a plausible, would nevertheless be an erroneous supposition. The person here considered as a bastard, and described as such, was by no means viewed in the same light by the Highlanders, because, according to their law of marriage, which was originally very different from the feudal system in this matter, his claim to legitimacy was as undoubted as that of the feudal heir afterwards became. It is well known that the notions of the Highlanders were peculiarly strict in regard to matters of hereditary succession, and that no people on earth was less likely to sanction any flagrant deviation from what they believed to be the right and true line of descent. All their peculiar habits, feelings, and prejudices were in direct opposition to a practice, which, had it been really acted upon, must have introduced endless disorder and confusion; and hence the natural explanation of this apparent anomaly seems to be, what Mr Skene has stated, namely, that a person who was feudally a bastard might in their view be considered as legitimate, and therefore entitled to be supported in accordance with their strict ideas of hereditary right, and their habitual tenacity of whatever belonged to their ancient usages. Nor is this mere conjecture or hypothesis. A singular custom regarding marriage, retained till a late period amongst the Highlanders, and clearly indicating that their law of marriage originally differed in some essential points from that established under the feudal system, seems to afford a simple and natural explanation of the difficulty by which genealogists have been so much puzzled.

“This custom was termed hand-fasting, and consisted in a species of contract between two chiefs, by which it was agreed that the heir of one should live with the daughter of the other as her husband for twelve months and a day. If in that time the lady became a mother, or proved to be with child, the marriage became good in law, even although no priest had performed the marriage ceremony in due form; but should there not have occurred any appearance of issue, the contract was considered at an end, and each party was at liberty to marry or hand-fast with any other. It is manifest that the practice of so peculiar a species of marriage must have been in terms of the original law among the Highlanders, otherwise it would be difficult to conceive how such a custom could have originated; and it is in fact one which seems naturally to have arisen from the form of their society, which rendered it a matter of such vital importance to secure the lineal succession of their chiefs. It is perhaps not improbable that it was this peculiar custom which gave rise to the report handed down by the Roman and other historians, that the ancient inhabitants of Great Britain had their wives in common, or that it was the foundation of that law of Scotland by which natural children became legitimized by subsequent marriage; and as this custom remained in the Highlands until a very late period, the sanction of the ancient custom was sufficient to induce them to persist in regarding the offspring of such marriages as legitimate.”[124]

It appears, indeed, that, as late as the sixteenth century, the issue of a hand-fast marriage claimed the earldom of Sutherland. The claimant, according to Sir Robert Gordon, described himself as one lawfully descended from his father, John, the third earl, because, as he alleged, “his mother was hand-fasted and fianced to his father;” and his claim was bought off (which shows that it was not considered as altogether incapable of being maintained) by Sir Adam Gordon, who had married the heiress of Earl John. Such, then, was the nature of the peculiar and temporary connexion, which gave rise to the apparent anomalies which we have been considering. It was a custom which had for its object, not to interrupt, but to preserve the lineal succession of[125] the chiefs, and to obviate the very evil of which it is conceived to afford a glaring example. But after the introduction of the feudal law, which, in this respect, was directly opposed to the ancient Highland law, the lineal and legitimate heir, according to Highland principles, came to be regarded as a bastard by the government, which accordingly considered him as thereby incapacitated for succeeding to the honours and property of his race; and hence originated many of those disputes concerning succession and chiefship, which embroiled families with one another as well as with the government, and were productive of incredible disorder, mischief, and bloodshed. No allowance was made for the ancient usages of the people, which were probably but ill understood; and the rights of rival claimants were decided according to the principles of a foreign system of law, which was long resisted, and never admitted except from necessity. It is to be observed, however, that the Highlanders themselves drew a broad distinction between bastard sons and the issue of the hand-fast unions above described. The former were rigorously excluded from every sort of succession, but the latter were considered as legitimate as the offspring of the most regularly solemnized marriage.

Having said thus much respecting the laws of succession and marriage, we proceed next to consider the gradation of ranks which appears to have existed amongst the Highlanders, whether in relation to the lands of which they were proprietors, or the clans of which they were members. And here it may be observed, that the classification of society in the Highlands seems to have borne a close resemblance to that which prevailed in Wales and in Ireland amongst cognate branches of the same general race. In the former country there were three different tenures of land, and nine degrees of rank. Of these tenures, the first was termed Maerdir, signifying a person who has jurisdiction, and included three ranks; the second was called Uchilordir, or property, and likewise consisted of three ranks; and the third, denominated Priodordir, or native, included that portion of the population whom we would now call tenants, divided into the degrees of yeomen, labourers, and serfs. A similar order of things appears to have prevailed in Ireland, where, in the classification of the people, we recognise the several degrees of Fuidir, Biadhtach, and Mogh. In the Highlands, the first tenure included the three degrees of Ard Righ, Righ, and Mormaor; the Tighern or Thane, the Armin and the Squire, were analogous to the three Welsh degrees included in the Uchilordir; and a class of persons, termed native men, were evidently the same in circumstances and condition with the Priodordir of Wales. These native men were obviously the tenants or farmers on the property, who made a peculiar acknowledgment, termed calpe, to the chief or head of their clan. For this we have the authority of Martin, who informs us that one of the duties “payable by all the tenants to their chiefs, though they did not live upon his lands,” was called “calpich,” and that “there was a standing law for it,” denominated “calpich law.” The other duty paid by the tenants was that of herezeld, as it was termed, which, along with calpe, was exigible if the tenant happened to occupy more than the eighth part of a davoch of land. That such was the peculiar acknowledgment of chiefship incumbent on the native men, or, in other words, the clan tribute payable by them in acknowledgment of the power and in support of the dignity of the chief, appears from the bonds of amity or manrent, in which we find them obliging themselves to pay “calpis as native men ought and should do to their chief.”

But the native men of Highland properties must be carefully distinguished from the cumerlach, who, like the kaeth of the Welsh, were merely a species of serfs, or adscripti glebæ. The former could not be removed from the land at the will of their lord, but there was no restriction laid on their personal liberty; the latter might be removed at the pleasure of their lord, but their personal liberty was restrained, or rather abrogated. The native man was the tenant who cultivated the soil, and as such possessed a recognised estate in the land which he occupied. As long as he performed the requisite services he could not be removed, nor could a greater proportion of labour or produce be exacted from him than custom or usage had fixed. It appears, therefore,[126] that these possessed their farms, or holdings, by a sort of hereditary right, which was not derived from their lord, and of which, springing as it did from immemorial usage, and the very constitution of clanship, it was not in his power to deprive them. The cumerlach were the cottars and actual labourers of the soil, who, possessing no legal rights either of station or property, were in reality absolute serfs. The changes of succession, however, occasionally produced important results, illustrative of the peculiarities above described. “When a Norman baron,” says Mr Skene, “obtained by succession, or otherwise, a Highland property, the Gaelic nativi remained in actual possession of the soil under him, but at the same time paid their calpes to the natural chief of their clan, and followed him in war. When a Highland chief, however, acquired by the operation of the feudal succession, an additional property which had not been previously in the possession of his clan, he found it possessed by the nativi of another race. If these nativi belonged to another clan which still existed in independence, and if they chose to remain on the property, they did so at the risk of being placed in a perilous situation, should a feud arise between the two clans. But if they belonged to no other independent clan, and the stranger chief had acquired the whole possessions of their race, the custom seems to have been for them to give a bond of manrent to their new lord, by which they bound themselves to follow him as their chief, and make him the customary acknowledgment of the calpe. They thus became a dependent sept upon a clan of a different race, while they were not considered as forming a part of that clan.”[125]

The gradation of ranks considered in reference to the clan or tribe may be briefly described. The highest dignitary was the righ or king, who in point of birth and station was originally on a footing of equality with the other chiefs, and only derived some additional dignity during his life from a sort of regal pre-eminence. “Among the ancient Celtæ the prince or king had nothing actually his own, but everything belonging to his followers was freely at his service;” of their own accord they gave their prince so many cattle, or a certain portion of grain. It seems probable that the Celtic chief held the public lands in trust for his people, and was on his succession invested with those possessions which he afterwards apportioned among his retainers. Those only, we are told by Cæsar, had lands, “magistrates and princes, and they give to their followers as they think proper, removing them at the year’s end.”[126] The Celtic nations, according to Dr Macpherson, limited the regal authority to very narrow bounds. The old monarchs of North Britain and Ireland were too weak either to control the pride and insolence of the great, or to restrain the licentiousness of the populace. Many of those princes, if we credit history, were dethroned, and some of them even put to death by their subjects, which is a demonstration that their power was not unlimited.

Next to the king was the Mormaor, who seems to have been identical with the Tighern[127] and the later Thane. As we have already indicated, the persons invested with this distinction were the patriarchal chiefs or heads of the great tribes into which the Highlanders were formerly divided. But when the line of the ancient mormaors gradually sank under the ascendant influence of the feudal system, the clans forming the great tribes became independent, and their leaders or chiefs were held to represent each the common ancestor or founder of his clan, and derived all their dignity and power from the belief in such representation. The chief possessed his office by right of blood alone, as that right was understood in the Highlands; neither election nor marriage could constitute any title to this distinction; it was, as we have already stated, purely hereditary, nor could it descend to any person except him who, according to the Highland rule of succession, was the nearest male heir to the dignity.

Next to the chief stood the tanist or person who, by the laws of tanistry, was entitled to succeed to the chiefship; he possessed this title during the lifetime of the chief, and, in[127] virtue of his apparent honours, was considered as a man of mark and consequence. “In the settlement of succession, the law of tanistry prevailed in Ireland from the earliest accounts of time. According to that law,” says Sir James Ware, “the hereditary right of succession was not maintained among the princes or the rulers of countries; but the strongest, or he who had the most followers, very often the eldest and most worthy of the deceased king’s blood and name, succeeded him. This person, by the common suffrage of the people, and in the lifetime of his predecessor, was appointed to succeed, and was called Tanist, that is to say, the second in dignity. Whoever received this dignity maintained himself and followers, partly out of certain lands set apart for that purpose, but chiefly out of tributary impositions, which he exacted in an arbitrary manner; impositions from which the lands of the church only, and those of persons vested with particular immunities, were exempted. The same custom was a fundamental law in Scotland for many ages. Upon the death of a king, the throne was not generally filled by his son, or daughter, failing of male issue, but by his brother, uncle, cousin-german, or near relation of the same blood. The personal merit of the successor, the regard paid to the memory of his immediate ancestors, or his address in gaining a majority of the leading men, frequently advanced him to the crown, notwithstanding the precautions taken by his predecessor.”[128]

According to Mr E. W. Robertson,[129] the Tanist, or heir-apparent, appears to have been nominated at the same time as the monarch or chief, and in pursuance of what he considers a true Celtic principle, that of a “divided authority;” the office being immediately filled up in case of the premature death of the Tanist, the same rule being as applicable to the chieftain of the smallest territory as to the chosen leader of the nation. According to Dr Macpherson, it appears that at first the Tanist or successor to the monarchy, or chiefship, was elected, but at a very early period the office seems to have become hereditary, although not in the feudal sense of that term. Mr Skene has shown that the succession was strictly limited to heirs male, and that the great peculiarity of the Highland system was that brothers invariably were preferred to sons. This perhaps arose partly from an anxiety to avoid minorities “in a nation dependent upon a competent leader in war.” This principle was frequently exemplified in the succession to the mormaordoms, and even to the kingly power itself; it formed one of the pleas put forward by Bruce in his competition for the crown with Baliol.

After the family of the chief came the ceantighes, or heads of the subordinate houses into which the clan was divided, the most powerful of whom was the toisich, or toshach, who was generally the oldest cadet. This was a natural consequence of the law of gavel, which, producing a constant subdivision of the chief’s estate, until in actual extent of property he sometimes came to possess less than any of the other branches of the family, served in nearly the same proportion to aggrandise the latter, and hence that branch which had been longest separated from the original became relatively the most powerful. The toshach, military leader, or captain of the clan, certainly appears to have been at first elected to his office among the Celtic nations, as indeed were all the dignitaries who at a later period among the Highlanders succeeded to their positions according to fixed laws.[130] As war was the principal occupation of all the early Celtic nations, the office of toshach, or “war-king,” as Mr Robertson calls him, was one of supreme importance, and gave the holder of it many opportunities of converting it into one of permanent kingship although the Celts carefully guarded against this by enforcing the principle of divided authority among their chiefs, and thus maintaining the “balance of power.” The toshach’s duties were strictly military, he having nothing to do with the internal affairs of the tribe or nation, these being regulated by a magistrate, judge, or vergobreith, elected annually, and invested with regal authority and the power of life and death. It would appear that the duties of toshach sometimes devolved on the tanist, though this appears to have seldom been the case among the Highlanders.[131] From a very early time the oldest cadet held the[128] highest rank in the clan, next to the chief; and when the clan took the field he occupied, as a matter of right, the principal post of honour. On the march he headed the van, and in battle took his station on the right; he was, in fact, the lieutenant-general of the chief, and when the latter was absent he commanded the whole clan.[132] Another function exercised by the oldest cadet was that of maor, or steward, the principal business of which officer was to collect the revenues of the chief; but, after the feudal customs were introduced, this duty devolved upon the baron-bailie, and the maor consequently discontinued his fiscal labours.

The peculiar position of the toshach, with the power and consequence attached to it, naturally pointed him out as the person to whom recourse would be had in circumstances of difficulty; and hence arose an apparent anomaly which has led to no little misconception and confusion. The difficulty, however, may easily be cleared by a short explanation. When, through misfortune or otherwise, the family of the chief had become so reduced that he could no longer afford to his clan the protection required, and which formed the correlative obligation on his part to that of fealty and obedience on theirs, then the clansmen followed the oldest cadet as the head of the most powerful sept or branch of the clan; and he thus enjoyed, sometimes for a considerable period, all the dignity, consequence, and privileges of a chief, without, of course, either possessing a right, jure sanguinis, to that station, or even acquiring the title of the office which he, de facto, exercised. He was merely a sort of patriarchal regent, who exercised the supreme power, and enjoyed prerogatives of royalty without the name. While the system of clanship remained in its original purity, no such regency, or interregnum, could ever take place. But, in process of time, many circumstances occurred to render it both expedient and necessary. In fact, clanship, in its ancient purity, could scarcely co-exist with the feudal system, which introduced changes so adverse to its true spirit; and hence, when the territory had passed, by descent, into the hands of a Lowland baron, or when, by some unsuccessful opposition to the government, the chief had brought ruin upon himself and his house, and was no longer in a condition to maintain his station and afford protection to his clan, the latter naturally placed themselves under the only head capable of occupying the position of their chief, and with authority sufficient to command or enforce obedience. In other words, they sought protection at the hands of the oldest cadet; and he, on his part, was known by the name, not of chief, which would have been considered a gross usurpation, but of captain, or leader of the clan. It is clear, therefore, that this dignity was one which owed its origin to circumstances, and formed no part of the original system, as has been generally but erroneously supposed. If an anomaly, it was one imposed by necessity, and the deviation was confined, as we have seen, within the narrowest possible limits. It was altogether unknown until a recent period in the history of the Highlands, and, when it did come into use, it was principally confined to three clans, namely, Clan Chattan, Clan Cameron, and Clan Ranald; an undoubted proof that it was not a regular but an exceptional dignity, that it was a temporary expedient, not part of a system; and that a captain differed as essentially from a chief as a regent differs from an hereditary sovereign. “It is evident,” says Mr Skene, who has the merit of being the first to trace out this distinction clearly, “that a title, which was not universal among the Highlanders, must have arisen from peculiar circumstances connected with those clans in which it is first found; and when we examine the history of these clans, there can be little doubt that it was[129] simply a person who had, from various causes, become de facto head of the clan, while the person possessing the hereditary right to that dignity remained either in a subordinate situation, or else for the time disunited from the rest of the clan.”[133]

Another title known among the ancient Highlanders was that of ogtiern, or lesser tighern, or Thane, and was applied either to the son of a tighern, or to those members of the clan whose kinship to the chief was beyond a certain degree. They appear to have to a large extent formed the class of duinewassels, or gentry of the clan, intermediate between the chief and the body of the clan, and known in later times as tacksmen or goodmen. “These, again, had a circle of relations, who considered them as their immediate leaders, and who in battle were placed under their immediate command. Over them in peace, these chieftains exercised a certain authority, but were themselves dependent on the chief, to whose service all the members of the clan were submissively devoted. As the duinewassels received their lands from the bounty of the chief, for the purpose of supporting their station in the tribe, so these lands were occasionally resumed or reduced to provide for those who were more immediately related to the laird; hence many of this class necessarily sank into commoners. This transition strengthened the feeling which was possessed by the very lowest of the community, that they were related to the chief, from whom they never forgot they originally sprang.”[134] The duinewassels were all cadets of the house of the chief, and each had a pedigree of his own as long, and perchance as complicated as that of his chief. They were, as might be expected, the bravest portion of the clan; the first in the onset, and the last to quit the strife, even when the tide of battle pressed hardest against them. They cherished a high and chivalrous sense of honour, ever keenly alive to insult or reproach; and they were at all times ready to devote themselves to the service of their chief, when a wrong was to be avenged, an inroad repressed or punished, or glory reaped by deeds of daring in arms.

Another office which existed among the old Gaelic inhabitants of Scotland was that of Brehon, deemster, or judge, the representative of the vergobreith previously referred to. Among the continental Celts this office was elective, but among the Highlanders it appears to have been hereditary, and by no means held so important, latterly at least, as it was on the continent. As we referred to this office in the former part of this work, we shall say nothing farther of it in this place.

To this general view of the constitution of society in the Highlands, little remains to be added. The chief, as we have seen, was a sort of regulus, or petty prince, invested with an authority which was in its nature arbitrary, but which, in its practical exercise, seems generally to have been comparatively mild and paternal. He was subjected to no theoretical or constitutional limitations, yet, if ferocious in disposition, or weak in understanding, he was restrained or directed by the elders of the tribe, who were his standing counsellors, and without whose advice no measure of importance could be decided on. Inviolable custom supplied the deficiency of law. As his distinction and power consisted chiefly in the number of his followers, his pride as well as his ambition became a guarantee for the mildness of his sway; he had a direct and immediate interest to secure the attachment and devotion of his clan; and his condescension, while it raised the clansman in his own estimation, served also to draw closer the ties which bound the latter to his superior, without tempting him to transgress the limits of propriety. The Highlander was thus taught to respect himself in the homage which he paid to his chief. Instead of complaining of the difference of station and fortune, or considering prompt obedience as slavish degradation, he felt convinced that he was supporting[130] his own honour in showing respect to the head of his family, and in yielding a ready compliance to his will. Hence it was that the Highlanders carried in their demeanour the politeness of courts without the vices by which these are too frequently dishonoured, and cherished in their bosoms a sense of honour without any of its follies or extravagances. This mutual interchange of condescension and respect served to elevate the tone of moral feeling amongst the people, and no doubt contributed to generate that principle of incorruptible fidelity of which there are on record so many striking and even affecting examples. The sentiment of honour, and the firmness sufficient to withstand temptation, may in general be expected in the higher classes of society; but the voluntary sacrifice of life and fortune is a species of self-devotion seldom displayed in any community, and never perhaps exemplified to the same extent in any country as in the Highlands of Scotland.[135] The punishment of treachery was a kind of conventional outlawry or banishment from society, a sort of aquæ et ignis interdictio even more terrible than the punishment inflicted under that denomination, during the prevalence of the Roman law. It was the judgment of all against one, the condemnation of society, not that of a tribunal; and the execution of the sentence was as complete as its ratification was universal. Persons thus intercommuned were for ever cut off from the society to which they belonged; they incurred civil death in its most appalling form, and their names descended with infamy to posterity. What higher proof could possibly be produced of the noble sentiments of honour and fidelity cherished by the people, than the simple fact that the breach of these was visited with such a fearful retribution?

On the other hand, when chiefs proved worthless or oppressive, they were occasionally deposed, and when they took a side which was disapproved by the clan, they were abandoned by their people. Of the former, there are several well authenticated examples, and General Stewart has mentioned a remarkable instance of the latter. “In the reign of King William, immediately after the Revolution, Lord Tullibardine, eldest son of the Marquis of Athole, collected a numerous body of Athole Highlanders, together with three hundred Frasers, under the command of Hugh, Lord Lovat, who had married a daughter of the Marquis. These men believed that they were destined to support the abdicated king, but were in reality assembled to serve the government of William. When in front of Blair Castle, their real destination was disclosed to them by Lord Tullibardine. Instantly they rushed from their ranks, ran to the adjoining stream of Banovy, and filling their bonnets with water, drank to the health of King James; then with colours flying and pipes playing, fifteen hundred of the men of Athole put themselves under the command of the Laird of Ballechin, and marched off to join Lord Dundee, whose chivalrous bravery and heroic exploits had excited their admiration more than those of any other warrior since the days of Montrose.”

The number of Highland clans has been variously estimated, but it is probable that when they were in their most flourishing condition it amounted to about forty. Latterly, by including many undoubtedly Lowland houses, the number has been increased to about a hundred, the additions being made chiefly by tartan manufacturers. Mr Skene has found that the various purely Highland clans can be clearly classified and traced up as having belonged to one or other of the great mormaordoms into which the north of Scotland was at one time divided. In his history of the individual clans, however, this is not the classification which he adopts, but one in accordance with that which he finds in the manuscript genealogies. According to these, the people were originally divided into several great tribes, the clans forming each of these separate tribes being deduced from a common ancestor. A marked line of distinction may be drawn between the different tribes, in each of which indications may be traced serving more or less,[131] according to Mr Skene, to identify them with the ancient mormaorships or earldoms.

In the old genealogies each tribe is invariably traced to a common ancestor, from whom all the different branches or clans are supposed to have descended. Thus we have—1. Descendants of Conn of the Hundred Battles, including the Lords of the Isles, or Macdonalds, the Macdougals, the Macneills, the Maclachlans, the Macewens, the Maclaisrichs, and the Maceacherns; 2. Descendants of Fearchar Fada Mac Feradaig, comprehending the old mormaors of Moray, the Mackintoshes, the Macphersons, and the Macnauchtans; 3. Descendants of Cormac Mac Oirbertaig, namely, the old Earls of Ross, the Mackenzies, the Mathiesons, the Macgregors, the Mackinnons, the Macquarries, the Macnabs, and the Macduffies; 4. Descendants of Fergus Leith Dearg, the Macleods and the Campbells; and 5. Descendants of Krycul, the Macnicols.

Whatever may be the merits or defects of this distribution, it is convenient for the purpose of classification. It affords the means of referring the different clans to their respective tribes, and thus avoiding an arbitrary arrangement; and it is further in accordance with the general views which have already been submitted to the reader respecting the original constitution of clanship. We shall not, however, adhere strictly to Mr Skene’s arrangement.


[114] Scotland under her Early Kings, Ap. D.

[115] Gaelic, clann; Irish, clann, or cland; Manx, cloan, children, offspring, tribe.

[116] Robertson’s Early Kings, i. 102, 103, 104.

[117] Highlanders, i. 16.

[118] Highlanders, p. 7, et. seq.

[119] For details concerning the practical working of the clan system, in addition to what are given in this introduction, we refer the reader to chaps. xviii., xlii., xliii., xliv. of Part First.

[120] We are indebted for much of what follows to Skene’s Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. p. 153, et seq.

[121] Letter xix., part of which has already been quoted in ch. xlii., but may with advantage be again introduced here.

[122] Description of the Western Islands. London, 1703.

[123] Skene’s Highlanders of Scotland, vol. ii. ch. 7.

[124] Skene’s Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. chap. 7, pp. 166, 167.

[125] Skene’s Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. pp. 172, 173.

[126] Logan’s Scottish Gael, i. 171.

[127] According to Dr Macpherson, Tighern is derived from two words, meaning “a man of land.”

[128] Dissertation, pp. 165-6.

[129] Early Kings.

[130] Robertson’s Early Kings, i. 24.

[131] Logan’s Gael, i. 188.

[132]Toisich,” says Dr Macpherson, “was another title of honour which obtained among the Scots of the middle ages. Spelman imagined that this dignity was the same with that of Thane. But the Highlanders, among whose predecessors the word was once common, distinguished carefully in their language the toisich from the tanistair or the tierna. When they enumerate the different classes of their great men, agreeably to the language of former times, they make use of these three titles, in the same sentence, with a disjunctive particle between them.” “In Gaelic,” he adds, “tus, tos, and tosich signify the beginning or first part of anything, and sometimes the front of an army or battle.” Hence perhaps the name toisich, implying the post of honour which the oldest cadet always occupied as his peculiar privilege and distinction. Mr Robertson, however, thinks toshach is derived from the same root as the Latin dux. (Early Kings, i. 26.)

[133] Skene’s Highlanders, vol. ii. pp. 177, 178. That the captains of clans were originally the oldest cadets, is placed beyond all doubt by an instance which Mr Skene has mentioned in the part of his work here referred to. “The title of captain occurs but once in the family of the Macdonalds of Slate, and the single occurrence of this peculiar title is when the clan Houston was led by the uncle of their chief, then in minority. In 1545, we find Archibald Maconnill, captain of the clan Houston; and thus, on the only occasion when this clan followed as a chief a person who had not the right of blood to that station, he styles himself captain of the clan.”

[134] Logan’s Gael, i. 173.

[135] “All who are acquainted with the events of the unhappy insurrection of 1745, must have heard of a gentleman of the name of M’Kenzie, who had so remarkable a resemblance to Prince Charles Stuart, as to give rise to the mistake to which he cheerfully sacrificed his life, continuing the heroic deception to the last, and exclaiming with his expiring breath, ‘Villains, you have killed your Prince.’” (Stewart’s Sketches, &c., vol. i. p. 59).


The Gallgael, or Western Clans—Fiongall and Dubhgall—Lords of the Isles—Somerled—Suibne—Gillebride Mac Gille Adomnan—Somerled in the West—Defeat and death—His children—Dugall and his descendants—Ranald’s three sons, Ruari, Donald, Dugall—Roderick—Ranald—The Clan Donald—Origin—Angus Og—His son John—His sons Godfrey and Donald—Donald marries Mary, sister of Earl of Ross—Battle of Harlaw—Policy of James I.—Alexander of the Isles—Donald Balloch—John of the Isles—Angus Og declares himself Lord of the Isles—Seizes Earl and Countess of Athole—Intrigues with England—Battle of Lagebread—Battle of Bloody Bay—Alexander of Lochalsh—Expedition of James IV.—Donald Dubh—Donald Galda—Donald Gorme—Donald Dubh reappears—Somerled’s descendants fail—The various Island Clans—The Chiefship—Lord Macdonald and Macdonald of Clan Ranald—Donald Gorme Mor—Feuds with the Macleans and Macleods—Sir Donald, fourth Baronet—Sir Alexander’s wife befriends Prince Charles—Sir James, eighth Baronet—Sir Alexander, ninth Baronet, created a peer of Ireland—Present Lord Macdonald—Macdonalds of Islay and Kintyre—Alexander of Islay’s rebellions—Angus Macdonald—Feud with Macleans—Sir James imprisoned—His lands pass to the Campbells—Macdonalds of Keppoch, or Clanranald of Lochaber—Disputes with the Mackintoshes—The Macdonalds at Culloden—Clanranald Macdonalds of Garmoran and their offshoots—Battle of Kinloch-lochy or Blar-nan-leine—Macdonalds of Benbecula, Boisdale, Kinlochmoidart, Glenaladale—Marshal Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum—Macdonalds of Glencoe—Macdonnells of Glengarry—Feud between the Glengarry Macdonalds and Mackenzie of Kintail—General Sir James Macdonnell—Colonel Alexander Ranaldson Macdonnell, last specimen of a Highland Chief—Families descended from the Macdonnells of Glengarry—Strength of the Macdonalds—Characteristic in the arms of the Coast-Gael.

The clans that come first in order in Mr Skene’s classification are those whose progenitor is said by the genealogists to have been the fabulous Irish King Conn “of the hundred battles.” They are mostly all located in the Western Islands and Highlands, and are said by Mr Skene to have been descended from the Gallgael, or Gaelic pirates or rovers, who are said to have been so called to distinguish them from the Norwegian and Danish Fingall and Dugall, or white and black strangers or rovers. Mr Skene advocates strongly the unmixed Gaelic descent of these clans, as indeed he does of almost all the other clans. He endeavours to maintain that the whole of these western clans are of purely Pictish descent, not being mixed with even that of the Dalriadic Scots. We are inclined, however, to agree with Mr Smibert in thinking that the founders of these clans were to a large extent of Irish extraction, though clearly distinguishable from the primitive or Dalriadic Scots, and that from the time of the Scottish conquest they formed intimate relationships with the Northern Picts. “From whatever race,” to quote the judicious remarks of Mr Gregory, “whether Pictish or Scottish, the inhabitants of the Isles, in the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin, were derived, it is clear that the settlements and wars of the Scandinavians in the Hebrides, from the time of Harald Harfager to that of Olave the Red, a period of upwards of two centuries, must have produced a very considerable change in the population. As in all cases of conquest, this change must have been most perceptible in the higher ranks, owing to the natural tendency of invaders to secure their new possessions, where practicable, by matrimonial alliances with the natives. That in the Hebrides[132] a mixture of the Celtic and Scandinavian blood was thus effected at an early period seems highly probable, and by no means inconsistent with the ultimate prevalence of the Celtic language in the mixed race, as all history sufficiently demonstrates. These remarks regarding the population of the Isles apply equally to that of the adjacent mainland districts, which, being so accessible by numerous arms of the sea, could hardly be expected to preserve the blood of their inhabitants unmixed. The extent to which this mixture was carried is a more difficult question, and one which must be left in a great measure to conjecture; but, on the whole, the Celtic race appears to have predominated. It is of more importance to know which of the Scandinavian tribes it was that infused the greatest portion of northern blood into the population of the Isles. The Irish annalists divide the piratical bands, which, in the ninth and following centuries infested Ireland, into two great tribes, styled by these writers Fiongall, or white foreigners, and Dubhgall, or black foreigners. These are believed to represent, the former the Norwegians, the latter the Danes; and the distinction in the names given to them is supposed to have arisen from a diversity, either in their clothing or in the sails of their vessels. These tribes had generally separate leaders; but they were occasionally united under one king; and although both bent first on ravaging the Irish shores, and afterwards on seizing portions of the Irish territories, they frequently turned their arms against each other. The Gaelic title of Righ Fhiongall, or King of the Fiongall, so frequently applied to the Lords of the Isles, seems to prove that Olave the Red, from whom they were descended in the female line, was so styled, and that, consequently, his subjects in the Isles, in so far as they were not Celtic, were Fiongall or Norwegians. It has been remarked by one writer, whose opinion is entitled to weight,[136] that the names of places in the exterior Hebrides, or the Long Island, derived from the Scandinavian tongue, resemble the names of places in Orkney, Shetland, and Caithness. On the other hand, the corresponding names in the interior Hebrides are in a different dialect, resembling that of which the traces are to be found in the topography of Sutherland; and appear to have been imposed at a later period than the first mentioned names. The probability is, however, that the difference alluded to is not greater than might be expected in the language of two branches of the same race, after a certain interval; and that the Scandinavian population of the Hebrides was, therefore, derived from two successive Norwegian colonies. This view is further confirmed by the fact that the Hebrides, although long subject to Norway, do not appear to have ever formed part of the possessions of the Danes.”[137]

As by far the most important, and at one time most extensive and powerful, of these western clans, is that of the Macdonalds, and as this, as well as many other clans, according to some authorities, can clearly trace their ancestry back to Somerled, the progenitor of the once powerful Lords of the Isles, it may not be out of place to give here a short summary of the history of these magnates.

The origin of Somerled, the undoubted founder of the noble race of the Island Lords, is, according to Mr Gregory, involved in considerable obscurity. Assuming that the clan governed by Somerled formed part of the great tribe of Gallgael, it follows that the independent kings of the latter must in all probability have been his ancestors, and should therefore be found in the old genealogies of his family. But this scarcely appears to be the case. The last king of the Gallgael was Suibne, the son of Kenneth, who died in the year 1034; and, according to the manuscript of 1450, an ancestor of Somerled, contemporary with this petty monarch, bore the same name, from which it may be presumed that the person referred to in the genealogy and the manuscript is one and the same individual. The latter, however, calls Suibne’s father Nialgusa; and in the genealogy there is no mention whatever of a Kenneth. But from the old Scottish writers we learn that at this time there was a Kenneth, whom they call Thane of the Isles, and that one of the northern mormaors also bore the same name, although it is not very easy to say what[133] precise claim either had to be considered as the father of Suibne. There is also a further discrepancy observable in the earlier part of the Macdonald genealogies, as compared with the manuscript; and besides, the latter, without making any mention of these supposed kings, deviates into the misty region of Irish heroic fable and romance. At this point, indeed, there is a complete divergence, if not contrariety, between the history as contained in the Irish Annals, and the genealogy developed in the manuscript; for, whilst the latter mentions the Gallgael under their leaders as far back as the year 856, the former connect Suibne, by a different genealogy, with the kings of Ireland. The fables of the Highland and Irish Sennachies now became connected with the genuine history. The real descent of the chiefs was obscured or perplexed by the Irish genealogies, and previously to the eleventh century neither these genealogies nor even that of the manuscript of 1450 can be considered as of any authority whatsoever. It seems somewhat rash, however, to conclude, as Mr Skene has done, that the Siol-Cuinn, or descendants of Conn, were of native origin. This exceeds the warrant of the premises, which merely carry the difficulty a few removes backwards into the obscurity of time, and there leave the question in greater darkness than ever.

From the death of Suibne till the accession of Gillebride Mac Gille Adomnan, the father of Somerled, nothing whatever is known of the history of the clan. The latter, having been expelled from his possessions by the Lochlans and the Fingalls, took refuge in Ireland, where he persuaded the descendants of Colla to espouse his quarrel and assist him in an attempt to recover his possessions. Accordingly, four or five hundred persons put themselves under his command, and at their head he returned to Alban, where he effected a landing; but the expedition, it would seem, proved unsuccessful. Somerled, the son of Gillebride, was, however, a man of a very different stamp. At first he lived retired, musing in solitude upon the ruined fortunes of his house. But when the time for action arrived, he boldly put himself at the head of the inhabitants of Morven; attacked the Norwegians, whom, after a considerable struggle, he expelled; made himself master of the whole of Morven, Lochaber, and northern Argyle; and not long afterwards added to his other possessions the southern districts of that country. In the year 1135, when David I. expelled the Norwegians from Man, Arran, and Bute, Somerled appears to have obtained a grant of those Islands from the king. But finding himself still unable to contend with the Norwegians of the Isles, whose power remained unbroken, he resolved to recover by policy what he despaired of acquiring by force of arms; and, with this view, he succeeded in obtaining (about 1140) the hand of Ragnhildis, the daughter of Olaf, surnamed the Red, who was then the Norwegian king of the Isles. This lady brought him three sons, namely, Dugall, Reginald, and Angus; and, by a previous marriage, he had one named Gillecallum.

The prosperous fortunes of Somerled at length inflamed his ambition. He had already attained to great power in the Highlands, and success inspired him with the desire of extending it. His grandsons having formerly claimed the earldom of Moray, their pretensions were now renewed, and this was followed by an attempt to put them in actual possession of their alleged inheritance. The attempt, however, failed. It had brought the regulus of Argyll into open rebellion against the king, and the war appears to have excited great alarm amongst the inhabitants of Scotland; but Somerled, having encountered a more vigorous opposition than he had anticipated, found it necessary to return to the Isles, where the tyrannical conduct of his brother-in-law, Godred, had irritated his vassals and thrown everything into confusion. His presence gave confidence to the party opposed to the tyrant, and Thorfinn, one of the most powerful of the Norwegian nobles, resolved to depose Godred, and place another prince on the throne of the Isles. Somerled readily entered into the views of Thorfinn, and it was arranged that Dugall, the eldest son of the former, should occupy the throne from which his maternal uncle was to be displaced. But the result of the projected deposition did not answer the expectations of either party. Dugall was committed to the care of Thorfinn, who undertook to conduct[134] him through the Isles, and compel the chiefs not only to acknowledge him as their sovereign, but also to give hostages for their fidelity and allegiance. The Lord of Skye, however, refused to comply with this demand, and, having fled to the Isle of Man, apprised Godred of the intended revolution. Somerled followed with eight galleys; and Godred having commanded his ships to be got ready, a bloody but indecisive battle ensued. It was fought on the night of the Epiphany; and as neither party prevailed, the rival chiefs next morning entered into a sort of compromise or convention, by which the sovereignty of the Isles was divided, and two distinct principalities established. By this treaty Somerled acquired all the islands lying to the southward of the promontory of Ardnamurchan, whilst these to the northward remained in the possession of Godred.

But no sooner had he made this acquisition than he became involved in hostilities with the government. Having joined the powerful party in Scotland, which had resolved to depose Malcolm IV., and place the boy of Egremont on the throne, he began to infest various parts of the coast, and for some time carried on a vexatious predatory warfare. The project, however, failed; and Malcolm, convinced that the existence of an independent chief was incompatible with the interests of his government and the maintenance of public tranquillity, required of Somerled to resign his lands into the hands of the sovereign, and to hold them in future as a vassal of the crown. Somerled, however, was little disposed to comply with this demand, although the king was now preparing to enforce it by means of a powerful army. Emboldened by his previous successes, he resolved to anticipate the attack, and having appeared in the Clyde with a considerable force, he landed at Renfrew, where being met by the royal army under the command of the High Steward of Scotland, a battle ensued which ended in his defeat and death (1164). This celebrated chief has been traditionally described as “a well-tempered man, in body shapely, of a fair piercing eye, of middle stature, and of quick discernment.” He appears, indeed, to have been equally brave and sagacious, tempering courage with prudence, and, excepting in the last act of his life, distinguished for the happy talent, rare at any period, of profiting by circumstances, and making the most of success. In the battle of Renfrew his son Gillecallum perished by his side. Tradition says that Gillecallum left a son Somerled, who succeeded to his grandfather’s possessions in the mainland, which he held for upwards of half a century after the latter’s death. The existence of this second Somerled, however, seems very doubtful although Mr Gregory believes that, besides the three sons of his marriage with Olave the Red, Somerled had other sons, who seem to have shared with their brothers, according to the then prevalent custom of gavelkind, the mainland possessions held by the Lord of Argyle; whilst the sons descended of the House of Moray divided amongst them the South Isles ceded by Godred in 1156. Dugall, the eldest of these, got for his share, Mull, Coll, Tiree, and Jura; Reginald, the second son, obtained Isla and Kintyre; and Angus, the third son, Bute. Arran is supposed to have been divided between the two latter. The Chronicle of Man mentions a battle, in 1192, between Reginald and Angus, in which the latter obtained the victory. He was killed, in 1210, with his three sons, by the men of Skye, leaving no male issue. One of his sons, James, left a daughter and heiress, Jane, afterwards married to Alexander, son and heir of Walter, High Steward of Scotland, who, in her right, claimed the isle of Bute.

Dugall, the eldest son of his father by the second marriage, seems to have possessed not only a share of the Isles, but also the district of Lorn, which had been allotted as his share of the territories belonging to his ancestors. On his death, however, the Isles, instead of descending immediately to his children, were acquired by his brother Reginald, who in consequence assumed the title of King of the Isles; but, by the same law of succession, the death of Reginald restored to his nephews the inheritance of their father. Dugall left two sons, Dugall Scrag and Duncan, who appear in the northern Sagas, under the title of the Sudereyan Kings. They appear to have acknowledged, at least nominally, the authority of the Norwegian king of the Hebrides; but actually they maintained an almost entire independence.[135] Haco, the king of Norway, therefore came to the determination of reducing them to obedience and subjection, a design in which he proved completely successful. In a night attack the Norwegians defeated the Sudereyans, and took Dugall prisoner.

Duncan was now the only member of his family who retained any power in the Sudereys; but nothing is known of his subsequent history except that he founded the priory of Ardchattan, in Lorn. He was succeeded by his son Ewen, who appears to have remained more faithful to the Norwegian kings than his predecessors had shown themselves; for, when solicited by Alexander II. to join him in an attempt he meditated to obtain possession of the Western Isles, Ewen resisted all the promises and entreaties of the king, and on this occasion preserved inviolate his allegiance to Haco. Alexander, it is well known, died in Kerreray (1249), when about to commence an attack upon the Isles, and was succeeded by his son Alexander III. When the latter had attained majority, he resolved to renew the attempt which his father had begun, and with this view excited the Earl of Ross, whose possessions extended along the mainland opposite to the Northern Isles, to commence hostilities against them. The earl willingly engaged in the enterprise, and having landed in Skye, ravaged the country, burned churches and villages, and put to death numbers of the inhabitants without distinction of age or sex. Haco soon appeared with a Norwegian force, and was joined by most of the Highland chiefs. But Ewen having altered his views, excused himself from taking any part against the force sent by the Scottish king; and the unfortunate termination of Haco’s expedition justified the prudence of this timely change. In the year 1263 the Norwegians were completely defeated by the Scots at the battle of Largs; and the Isles were, in consequence of this event, finally ceded to the kings of Scotland. This event, however, rather increased than diminished the power of Ewen, who profited by his seasonable defection from the Norwegians, and was favoured by the government to which that defection had been useful. But he died without any male issue to succeed him, leaving only two daughters, one of whom married the Norwegian king of Man, and the other, Alexander of the Isles, a descendant of Reginald.

The conquest and partition of Argyle by Alexander II., and the subsequent annexation of the Western Islands to the kingdom of Scotland, under the reign of his successor, annihilated the power of the race of Conn as an independent tribe; and, from the failure of the male descendants of Dugall in the person of Ewen, had the effect of dividing the clan into three distinct branches, the heads of which held their lands of the crown. These were the clan Ruari or Rory, the clan Donald, and the clan Dugall, so called from three sons of Ranald or Reginald, the son of Somerled by Ragnhildis, daughter of Olave.

Of this Ranald or Reginald, but little comparatively is known. According to the Highland custom of gavel, Somerled’s property was divided amongst all his sons; and in this division the portion which fell to the share of Reginald appears to have consisted of the island of Islay, with Kintyre, and part of Lorn on the mainland. Contemporary with Reginald there was a Norwegian king of Man and the Isles, who, being called by the same name, is liable to be confounded with the head of the Siol Conn. Reginald, after the death of his brother Dugall, was designated as Lord, and sometimes even as King, of the Isles;[138] and he had likewise the title of Lord of Argyle and Kintyre, in which last capacity he granted certain lands to an abbey that had been founded by himself at Saddel in Kintyre. But these titles did not descend to his children. He was succeeded by his eldest son Roderick,[139] who, on the conquest of Argyle, agreed to hold his lands of Rory, or the crown, and afterwards was commonly styled[136] Lord of Kintyre. In this Roderick the blood of the Norwegian rovers seems to have revived in all its pristine purity. Preferring “the good old way, the simple plan” to more peaceful and honest pursuits, he became one of the most noted pirates of his day, and the annals of the period are filled with accounts of his predatory expeditions. But his sons, Dugall and Allan, had the grace not to follow the vocation of their father, for which they do not seem to have evinced any predilection. Dugall having given important aid to Haco in his expedition against the Western Isles, obtained in consequence a considerable increase of territory, and died without descendants. Allan succeeded to the possessions of this branch of the race of Conn, and, upon the annexation of the Isles to the crown of Scotland, transferred his allegiance to Alexander III., along with the other chiefs of the Hebrides.[140]

Allan left one son, Roderick, of whom almost nothing is known, except that he was not considered as legitimate by the feudal law, and in consequence was succeeded in his lordship of Garmoran by his daughter Christina. Yet the custom or law of the Highlands, according to which his legitimacy could ‘moult no feather,’ had still sufficient force amongst the people to induce the daughter to legalise her father’s possession of the lands by a formal resignation and reconveyance; a circumstance which shows how deeply it had taken root in the habits and the opinions of the people. Roderick, however, incurred the penalty of forfeiture during the reign of Robert Bruce, “probably,” as Mr Skene thinks, “from some connection with the Soulis conspiracy of 1320;” but his lands were restored to his son Ranald by David II. Ranald, however, did not long enjoy his extensive possessions. Holding of the Earl of Ross some lands in North Argyle, he unhappily became embroiled with that powerful chief, and a bitter feud, engendered by proximity, arose between them. In that age the spirit of hostility seldom remained long inactive. In 1346, David II. having summoned the barons of Scotland to meet him at Perth, Ranald, like the others, obeyed the call, and having made his appearance, attended by a considerable body of men, took up his quarters at the monastery of Elcho, a few miles distant from the Fair City. To the Earl of Ross, who was also with the army, this seemed a favourable opportunity for revenging himself on his enemy; and accordingly having surprised and entered the monastery in the middle of the night, he slew Ranald and seven of his followers. By the death of Ranald, the male descendants of Roderick became extinct; and John of the Isles, the chief of the Clan Donald, who had married Amy, the only sister of Ranald, now claimed the succession to that principality.



The Clan Donald derive their origin from a son of Reginald, who appears to have inherited South Kintyre, and the island of Islay; but little is known of their history until the annexation of the Isles to the crown in the year 1266. According to Highland tradition, Donald made a pilgrimage to Rome to do penance, and obtain absolution for the various enormities of his former life; and, on his return, evinced his gratitude and piety by making grants of land to the monastery of Saddel, and other religious houses in Scotland. He was succeeded by his son, Angus Mor, who, on the arrival of Haco with his fleet, immediately joined the Norwegian king, and assisted him during the whole of the expedition; yet, when a treaty of peace was afterwards concluded between the kings of Norway and Scotland, he does not appear to have suffered in consequence of the[137] part which he took in that enterprise. In the year 1284 he appeared at the convention, by which the Maid of Norway was declared heiress of the crown, and obtained as the price of his support on that occasion a grant of Ardnamurchan, a part of the earldom of Garmoran,[141] and the confirmation of his father’s and grandfather’s grants to the monastery of Saddel. Angus left two sons, Alexander and Angus Og (i.e., the younger). Alexander, by a marriage with one of the daughters of Ewen of Ergadia, acquired a considerable addition to his possessions; but having joined the Lord of Lorn in his opposition to the claims of Robert Bruce, he became involved in the ruin of that chief; and being obliged to surrender to the king, he was imprisoned in Dundonald Castle, where he died. His whole possessions were forfeited, and given to his brother, Angus Og, who, having attached himself to the party of Bruce, and remained faithful in the hour of adversity, now received the reward of his fidelity and devotion. Angus assisted in the attack upon Carrick, when the king recovered “his father’s hall;” and he was present at Bannockburn, where, at the head of his clan, he formed the reserve, and did battle “stalwart and stout,” on that never-to-be-forgotten day. Bruce, having at length reaped the reward of all his toils and dangers, and secured the independence of Scotland, was not unmindful of those who had participated in the struggle thus victoriously consummated. Accordingly, he bestowed upon Angus the lordship of Lochaber, which had belonged to the Comyns, together with the lands of Durrour and Glencoe, and the islands of Mull, Tyree, &c., which had formed part of the possessions of the family of Lorn. Prudence might have restrained the royal bounty. The family of the Isles were already too powerful for subjects; but the king, secure of the attachment and fidelity of Angus, contented himself with making the permission to erect a castle or fort at Tarbet in Kintyre, a condition of the grants which he had made. This distinguished chief died early in the fourteenth century, leaving two sons, John his successor, and John Og, the ancestor of the Macdonalds of Glencoe.

Clan tartan

Angus, as we have already seen, had all his life been a steady friend to the crown, and had profited by his fidelity. But his son John does not seem to have inherited the loyalty along with the power, dignities, and possessions of his father. Having had some dispute with the Regent concerning certain lands which had been granted by Bruce, he joined the party of Edward Baliol and the English king; and, by a formal treaty concluded on the 12th of December 1335, and confirmed by Edward III. on the 5th October 1336, engaged to support the pretensions of the former, in consideration of a grant of the lands and islands claimed by the Earl of Moray, besides certain other advantages. But all the intrigues of Edward were baffled; Scotland was entirely freed from the dominion of the English; and, in the year 1341, David II. was recalled from France to assume the undisputed sovereignty of his native country. Upon his accession to the throne, David, anxious to attach to his party the most powerful of the Scottish barons, concluded a treaty with John of the Isles, who, in consequence, pledged himself to support his government. But a circumstance soon afterwards occurred which threw him once more into the interest of Baliol and the English party. In 1346, Ranald of the Isles having been slain at Perth by the Earl of Ross, as already mentioned, John, who had married his sister Amy, immediately laid claim to the succession. The government, however, unwilling to aggrandise a chief already too powerful, determined to oppose indirectly his pretensions, and evade the recognition of his claim. It is unnecessary to detail the pretexts employed, or the obstacles which were raised by the government. Their effect was to restore to the party of Baliol one of its most powerful adherents, and to enable John in the meanwhile to concentrate in his own person nearly all the possessions of his ancestor Somerled.

But ere long a most remarkable change took place in the character and position of the different parties or factions, which at that time divided Scotland. The king of Scotland now appeared in the extraordinary and unnatural character of a mere tool or partisan of Edward, and even seconded[138] covertly the endeavours of the English king to overturn the independence of Scotland. Its effect was to throw into active opposition the party which had hitherto supported the throne and the cause of independence; and, on the other hand, to secure to the enemies of both the favour and countenance of the king. But as soon as by this interchange the English party became identified with the royal faction, John of the Isles abandoned it, and formed a connection with that party to which he had for many years been openly opposed. At the head of the national party was the Steward of Scotland, who, being desirous of strengthening himself by alliances with the more powerful barons, hailed the accession of John to his interests as an extraordinary piece of good fortune, and cemented their union by giving to the Lord of the Isles his own daughter in marriage. The real aim of this policy was not for a moment misunderstood; but any open manifestation of force was at first cautiously avoided. At length, in 1366, when the heavy burdens imposed upon the people to raise the ransom of the king had produced general discontent, and David’s jealousy of the Steward had displayed itself by throwing into prison the acknowledged successor to the throne, the northern barons broke out into open rebellion, and refused either to pay the tax imposed, or to obey the king’s summons to attend the parliament.

In this state matters remained for some time, when David applied to the Steward, as the only person capable of restoring peace to the country, and, at the same time, commissioned him to put down the rebellion. The latter, satisfied that his objects would be more effectually forwarded by steady opposition to the court than by avowedly taking part with the insurgents, accepted the commission, and employed every means in his power to reduce the refractory barons to obedience. His efforts, however, were only partially successful. The Earls of Mar and Ross, and other northern barons, whose object was now attained, at once laid down their arms; John of Lorn and Gillespie Campbell likewise gave in their submission; but the Lord of the Isles, secure in the distance and inaccessible nature of his territories, refused to yield, and, in fact, set the royal power at defiance. The course of events, however, soon enabled David to bring this refractory subject to terms. Edward, finding that France required his undivided attention, was not in a condition to prosecute his ambitious projects against Scotland; a peace was accordingly concluded between the rival countries; and David thus found himself at liberty to turn his whole force against the Isles. With this view he commanded the attendance of the Steward and other barons of the realm, and resolved to proceed in person against the rebels. But the Steward, perceiving that the continuance of the rebellion might prove fatal to his party, prevailed with his son-in-law to meet the king at Inverness, where an agreement was entered into, by which the Lord of the Isles not only engaged to submit to the royal authority, and pay his share of all public burdens, but further promised to put down all others who should attempt to resist either; and, besides his own oath, he gave hostages to the king for the fulfilment of this obligation. The accession of Robert Steward or Stewart to the throne of Scotland, which took place in 1371, shortly after this act of submission, brought the Lord of the Isles into close connection with the court; and during the whole of this reign he remained in as perfect tranquillity, and gave as loyal support to the government as his father Angus had done under that of King Robert Bruce.[142] In those barbarous and unsettled times, the government was not always in a condition to reduce its refractory vassals by force; and, from the frequent changes and revolutions to which it was exposed, joined to its general weakness, the penalty of forfeiture was but little dreaded. Its true policy, therefore, was to endeavour to bind to its interests, by the ties of friendship and alliance, those turbulent chiefs whom it was always difficult and often impossible to reduce to obedience by the means commonly employed for that purpose.

The advice which King Robert Bruce had left for the guidance of his successors, in regard to the Lords of the Isles, was certainly dictated[139] by sound political wisdom. He foresaw the danger which would result to the crown were the extensive territories and consequent influence of these insular chiefs ever again to be concentrated in the person of one individual; and he earnestly recommended to those who should come after him never, under any circumstances, to permit or to sanction such aggrandisement. But, in the present instance, the claims of John were too great to be overlooked; and though Robert Stewart could scarcely have been insensible of the eventual danger which might result from disregarding the admonition of Bruce, yet he had not been more than a year on the throne when he granted to his son-in-law a feudal title to all those lands which had formerly belonged to Ranald the son of Roderick, and thus conferred on him a boon which had often been demanded in vain by his predecessors. King Robert, however, since he could not with propriety obstruct the accumulation of so much property in one house, attempted to sow the seeds of future discord by bringing about a division of the property amongst the different branches of the family. With this view he persuaded John, who had been twice married, not only to gavel the lands amongst his offspring, which was the usual practice of his family, but also to render the children of both marriages feudally independent of one another. Accordingly King Robert, in the third year of his reign, confirmed a charter granted by John to Reginald, the second son of the first marriage, by which the lands of Garmoran, forming the dowry of Reginald’s mother, were to be held of John’s heirs; that is, of the descendants of the eldest son of the first marriage, who would, of course, succeed to all his possessions that had not been feudally destined or devised to other parties. Nor was this all. A short time afterwards John resigned into the king’s hands nearly the whole of the western portion of his territories, and received from Robert charters of these lands in favour of himself and the issue of his marriage with the king’s daughter; so that the children of the second marriage were rendered feudally independent of those of the first, and the seeds of future discord and contention effectually sown between them. After this period little is known of the history of John, who is supposed to have died about the year 1380.

During the remainder of this king’s reign, and the greater part of that of his successor, Robert III., no collision seems to have taken place between the insular chiefs and the general government; and hence little or nothing is known of their proceedings. But when the dissensions of the Scottish barons, occasioned by the marriage of the Duke of Rothesay, and the subsequent departure of the Earl of March to the English court, led to a renewal of the wars between the two countries, and the invasion of Scotland by an English army, the insular chiefs appear to have renewed their intercourse with England; being more swayed by considerations of interest or policy, than by the ties of relationship to the royal family of Scotland. At this time the clan was divided into two branches, the heads of which seemed to have possessed co-ordinate rank and authority. Godfrey, the eldest surviving son of the first marriage, ruled on the mainland, as lord of Garmoran and Lochaber; Donald, the eldest son of the second marriage, held a considerable territory of the crown, then known as the feudal lordship of the Isles; whilst the younger brothers, having received the provisions usually allotted by the law of gavel, held these as vassals either of Godfrey or of Donald. This temporary equipoise was, however, soon disturbed by the marriage of Donald with Mary, the sister of Alexander Earl of Ross, in consequence of which alliance he ultimately succeeded in obtaining possession of the earldom. Euphemia, only child of Alexander, Earl of Ross, entered a convent and became a nun, having previously committed the charge of the earldom to her grandfather, Albany. Donald, however, lost no time in preferring his claim to the succession in right of his wife, the consequences of which have already been narrated in detail.[143] Donald, with a considerable force, invaded Ross, and met with little or no resistance from the people till he reached Dingwall, where he was encountered by Angus Dhu Mackay, at the head of a considerable body of men from Sutherland, whom, after a fierce conflict, he completely defeated and made their leader[140] prisoner. Leaving the district of Ross, which now acknowledged his authority, he advanced at the head of his army, through Moray, and penetrated into Aberdeenshire. Here, however, a decisive check awaited him. On the 24th of July, 1411, he was met at the village of Harlaw by the Earl of Mar, at the head of an army inferior in numbers, but composed of better materials; and a battle ensued, upon the event of which seemed to depend the decision of the question, whether the Celtic or the Sassenach part of the population of Scotland were in future to possess the supremacy. The immediate issue of the conflict was doubtful, and, as is usual in such cases, both parties claimed the victory. But the superior numbers and irregular valour of the Highland followers of Donald had received a severe check from the steady discipline and more effective arms of the Lowland gentry; they had been too roughly handled to think of renewing the combat, for which their opponents seem to have been quite prepared; and, as in such circumstances a drawn battle was equivalent to a defeat, Donald was compelled, as the Americans say, “to advance backwards.” The Duke of Albany, having obtained reinforcements, marched in person to Dingwall; but Donald, having no desire to try again the fate of arms, retired with his followers to the Isles, leaving Albany in possession of the whole of Ross, where he remained during the winter. Next summer the war was renewed, and carried on with various success, until at length the insular chief found it necessary to come to terms with the duke, and a treaty was concluded by which Donald agreed to abandon his claim to the earldom of Ross, and to become a vassal of the crown of Scotland.

The vigour of Albany restored peace to the kingdom, and the remainder of his regency was not disturbed by any hostile attempt upon the part of Donald of the Isles. But when the revenge of James I. had consummated the ruin of the family of Albany, Alexander, the son of Donald, succeeded, without any opposition, to the earldom of Ross, and thus realised one grand object of his father’s ambition. At almost any other period the acquisition of such extensive territories would have given a decided and dangerous preponderance to the family of the Isles. The government of Scotland, however, was then in the hands of a man who, by his ability, energy, and courage, proved himself fully competent to control his turbulent nobles, and, if necessary, to destroy their power and influence. Distrustful, however, of his ability to reduce the northern barons to obedience by force of arms, he had recourse to stratagem; and having summoned them to attend a parliament at Inverness, whither he proceeded, attended by his principal nobility and a considerable body of troops, he there caused forty of them to be arrested as soon as they made their appearance. Alexander, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, his mother the Countess of Ross, and Alexander MacGodfrey, of Garmoran, were amongst the number of those arrested on this occasion. Along with several others, MacGodfrey was immediately executed, and his whole possessions forfeited to the crown, and the remainder were detained in captivity. By this bold stroke, James conceived that he had effectually subdued the Highland chiefs; and, under this impression, he soon afterwards liberated Alexander of the Isles. But he seems to have forgotten that “vows made in pain,” or at least in durance, “are violent and void.” The submission of the captive was merely feigned. As soon as he had recovered his liberty, the Lord of the Isles flew to arms, with what disastrous results to himself has already been told.[144] So vigorously did the king’s officers follow up the victory, that the insular chief, finding concealment or escape equally impossible, was compelled to throw himself upon the royal clemency. He went to Edinburgh, and, on the occasion of a solemn festival celebrated in the chapel of Holyrood, on Easter Sunday 1429, the unfortunate chief, whose ancestors had treated with the crown on the footing of independent princes, appeared before the assembled court in his shirt and drawers, and implored on his knees, with a naked sword held by the point in his hand, the forgiveness of his offended monarch. Satisfied with this extraordinary act of humiliation, James granted the suppliant his life, and directed him to be forthwith imprisoned in Tantallon castle.


The spirit of clanship could not brook such a mortal affront. The cry for vengeance was raised; the strength of the clan was mustered; and Alexander had scarcely been two years in captivity when the Isles once more broke out into open insurrection. Under the command of Donald Balloch, the cousin of Alexander and chief of clan Ranald, the Islanders burst into Lochaber, where, having encountered an army which had been stationed in that country for the purpose of overawing the Highlanders, they gained a complete victory. The king’s troops were commanded by the Earls of Mar and Caithness, the latter of whom fell in the action, whilst the former saved with difficulty the remains of the discomfited force. Donald Balloch, however, did not follow up his victory, but having ravaged the adjacent districts, withdrew first to the Isles, and afterwards to Ireland. In this emergency James displayed his usual energy and activity. To repair the reverse sustained by his lieutenants, he proceeded in person to the North; his expedition was attended with complete success; and he soon received the submission of all the chiefs who had been engaged in the rebellion. Not long afterwards he was presented with what was believed to be the head of Donald Balloch; “but,” says Mr Gregory, “as Donald Balloch certainly survived king James many years, it is obvious that the sending of the head to Edinburgh was a stratagem devised by the crafty islander, in order to check further pursuit.” The king, being thus successful, listened to the voice of clemency. He restored to liberty the prisoner of Tantallon, granted him a free pardon for his various acts of rebellion, confirmed to him all his titles and possessions, and further conferred upon him the lordship of Lochaber, which, on its forfeiture, had been given to the Earl of Mar. The wisdom of this proceeding soon became apparent. Alexander could scarcely forget the humiliation he had undergone, and the imprisonment he had endured; and, in point of fact, he appears to have joined the Earls of Crawford and Douglas, who at that time headed the opposition to the court; but during the remainder of his life the peace of the country was not again disturbed by any rebellious proceedings on his part, and thus far the king reaped the reward of his clemency. Alexander died about 1447, leaving three sons, John, Hugh, and Celestine.

The opposition of Crawford, Douglas, and their associates had hitherto been chronic; but, on the death of Alexander, it broke out into active insurrection; and the new Lord of the Isles, as determined an opponent of the royal party as his father had been, seized the royal castles of Inverness, Urquhart, and Ruthven in Badenoch, at the same time declaring himself independent. In thus raising the standard of rebellion, John of the Isles was secretly supported by the Earl of Douglas, and openly by the barons, who were attached to his party. But a series of fatalities soon extinguished this insurrection. Douglas was murdered in Edinburgh Castle; Crawford was entirely defeated by Huntly; and John, by the rebellion of his son Angus, was doomed to experience, in his own territories, the same opposition which he had himself offered to the general government. Submission was, therefore, inevitable. Having for several years maintained a species of independence, he was compelled to resign his lands into the hands of the king, and to consent to hold them as a vassal of the crown. This, however, was but a trifling matter compared with the rebellion of his son, which, fomented probably by the court, proved eventually the ruin of the principality of the Isles, after it had existed so long in a state of partial independence. Various circumstances are stated as having given rise to this extraordinary contest, although in none of these, probably, is the true cause to be found. It appears, however, that Angus Og,[145] having been appointed his father’s[142] lieutenant and representative in all his possessions, took advantage of the station or office which was thus conferred on him, deprived his father of all authority, and got himself declared Lord of the Isles. How this was effected we know not; but scarcely had he attained the object of his ambition, when he resolved to take signal vengeance upon the Earl of Athole, an inveterate enemy of his house, and, at the same time, to declare himself altogether independent of the crown. With this view, having collected a numerous army, he suddenly appeared before the castle of Inverness, and having been admitted by the governor, who had no suspicion whatever of his design, immediately proclaimed himself king of the Isles. He then invaded the district of Athole; stormed and took Blair Castle; and having seized the earl and countess, carried them prisoners to Islay. The reason given by Mr Gregory for Angus’s enmity against the Earl and Countess of Athole is, that the former having crossed over privately to Islay, carried off the infant son of Angus, called Donald Dubh, or the Black, and committed him to the care of Argyle, his maternal grandfather, who placed him in the Castle of Inchconnely, where he was detained for many years. Mr Gregory places this event after the Battle of Bloody Bay. On his return to the Isles with the booty he had obtained, the marauder was overtaken by a violent tempest, in which the greater part of his galleys foundered. Heaven seemed to declare against the spoiler, who had added sacrilege to rapine by plundering and attempting to burn the chapel of St Bridget in Athole. Stricken with remorse for the crime he had committed, he released the earl and countess, and then sought to expiate his guilt by doing penance on the spot where it had been incurred.

As a proof of the sincerity of his repentance, this Angus Og next engaged in treason upon a larger scale. At the instigation of this hopeful son, his father, whom he had already deprived of all authority, now entered into a compact with the king of England and the Earl of Douglas, the object of which was nothing less than the entire subjugation of Scotland, and its partition amongst the contracting parties. By this treaty, which is dated the 18th of February 1462, the Lord of the Isles agreed, on the payment of a stipulated sum, to become the sworn ally of the king of England, and to assist that monarch, with the whole body of his retainers, in the wars in Ireland and elsewhere; and it was further provided, that in the event of the entire subjugation of Scotland, the whole of that kingdom, to the north of the Firth of Forth, should be equally divided between Douglas, the Lord of the Isles, and Donald Balloch of Islay; whilst, on the other hand, Douglas was to be reinstated in possession of those lands between the Forth and the English borders, from which he had, at this time, been excluded. Conquest, partition, and spoliation, were thus the objects contemplated in this extraordinary compact. Yet no proceeding appears to have been taken, in consequence of the treaty, until the year 1473, when we find the Lord of the Isles again in arms against the government. He continued several years in open rebellion; but having received little or no support from the other parties to the league, he was declared a traitor in a parliament held at Edinburgh in 1475, his estates were also confiscated, and the Earls of Crawford and Athole were directed to march against him at the head of a considerable force. The meditated blow was, however, averted by the timely interposition of his father, the Earl of Ross. By a seasonable grant of the lands of Knapdale, he secured the influence of the Earl of Argyll, and through the mediation of that nobleman, received a remission of his past offences, was reinstated in his hereditary possessions, which he had resigned into the hands of the crown, and created a peer of parliament, by the title of the Lord of the Isles. The earldom of Ross, the lands of[143] Knapdale, and the sheriffships of Inverness and Nairn were, however, retained by the crown, apparently as the price of the remission granted to this doubly unfortunate man.

But Angus Og was no party to this arrangement. He continued to defy the power of the government; and when the Earl of Athole was sent to the north to reinstate the Earl of Ross in his remaining possessions, he placed himself at the head of the clan, and prepared to give him battle. Athole was joined by the Mackenzies, Mackays, Frasers, and others; but being met by Angus at a place called Lagebread, he was defeated with great slaughter, and escaped with great difficulty from the field. The Earls of Crawford and Huntly were then sent against this desperate rebel, the one by sea and the other by land; but neither of them prevailed against the victorious insurgent. A third expedition, under the Earls of Argyll and Athole, accompanied by the father of the rebel and several families of the Isles, produced no result; and the two earls, who seem to have had little taste for an encounter with Angus, returned without effecting anything. John the father, however, proceeded onwards through the Sound of Mull, accompanied by the Macleans, Macleods, Macneills, and others, and having encountered Angus in a bay on the south side of the promontory of Ardnamurchan,[146] a desperate combat ensued, in which Angus was again victorious, and his unfortunate parent overthrown. By the battle of the Bloody Bay, as it is called in the traditions of the country, Angus obtained possession of the extensive territories of his clan, and, as “when treason prospers ’tis no longer treason,” was recognised as its head. Angus, some time before 1490, when marching to attack Mackenzie of Kintail, was assassinated by an Irish harper.[147]

The rank of heir to the lordship of the Isles devolved on the nephew of John, Alexander of Lochalsh, son of his brother, Celestine. Placing himself at the head of the vassals of the Isles, he endeavoured, it is said, with John’s consent, to recover possession of the earldom of Ross, and in 1491, at the head of a large body of western Highlanders, he advanced from Lochaber into Badenoch, where he was joined by the clan Chattan. They then marched to Inverness, where, after taking the royal castle, and placing a garrison in it, they proceeded to the north-east, and plundered the lands of Sir Alexander Urquhart, sheriff of Cromarty. They next hastened to Strathconnan, for the purpose of ravaging the lands of the Mackenzies. The latter, however, surprised and routed the invaders, and expelled them from Ross, their leader, Alexander of Lochalsh, being wounded, and as some say, taken prisoner. In consequence of this insurrection, at a meeting of the Estates in Edinburgh in May 1493, the title and possessions of the lord of the Isles were declared to be forfeited to the crown. In January following the aged John appeared in the presence of the king, and made a voluntary surrender of his lordship, after which he appears to have remained for some time in the king’s household, in the receipt of a pension. He finally retired to the monastery of Paisley, where he died about 1498; and was interred, at his own request, in the tomb of his royal ancestor, Robert II.[148]

With the view of reducing the insular chiefs to subjection, and establishing the royal authority in the Islands, James IV., soon after the forfeiture in 1493, proceeded in person to the West Highlands, when Alexander of Lochalsh, the principal cause of the insurrection which had led to it, and John of Isla, grandson and representative of Donald Balloch, were among the first to make their submission. On this occasion they appear to have obtained royal charters of the lands they had previously held under the Lord of the Isles, and were both knighted. In the following year the king visited the Isles twice, and having seized and garrisoned the castle of Dunaverty in South Kintyre, Sir John of Isla, deeply resenting this proceeding, collected his followers, stormed the castle, and hung the governor from the wall, in the sight of the king and his fleet. With four of his sons, he was soon after apprehended at Isla, by MacIan of Ardnamurchan, and being conveyed to Edinburgh, they were there executed for high treason.


In 1495 King James assembled an army at Glasgow, and on the 18th May, he was at the castle of Mingarry in Ardnamurchan, when several of the Highland chiefs made their submission to him. In 1497 Sir Alexander of Lochalsh again rebelled, and invading the more fertile districts of Ross, was by the Mackenzies and Munroes, at a place called Drumchatt, again defeated and driven out of Ross. Proceeding southward among the Isles, he endeavoured to rouse the Islanders to arms in his behalf, but without success. He was surprised in the island of Oransay, by MacIan of Ardnamurchan, and put to death.

In 1501, Donald Dubh, whom the islanders regarded as their rightful lord, and who, from his infancy, had been detained in confinement in the castle of Inchconnell, escaped from prison, and appeared among his clansmen. They had always maintained that he was the lawful son of Angus of the Isles, by his wife the Lady Margaret Campbell, daughter of the first Earl of Argyll, but his legitimacy was denied by the government when the islanders combined to assert by arms his claims as their hereditary chief. His liberation he owed to the gallantry and fidelity of the men of Glencoe. Repairing to the isles of Lewis, he put himself under the protection of its lord, Torquil Macleod, who had married Katherine, another daughter of Argyll, and therefore sister of the lady whom the islanders believed to be his mother. A strong confederacy was formed in his favour, and about Christmas 1503 an irruption of the islanders and western clans, under Donald Dubh, was made into Badenoch, which was plundered and wasted with fire and sword. To put down this formidable rebellion, the array of the whole kingdom north of Forth and Clyde was called out; and the Earls of Argyll, Huntly, Crawford, and Marischal, and Lord Lovat, with other powerful barons, were charged to lead this force against the islanders. But two years elapsed before the insurrection was finally quelled. In 1505 the Isles were again invaded from the south by the king in person, and from the north by Huntly, who took several prisoners, but none of them of any rank. In these various expeditions the fleet under the celebrated Sir Andrew Wood and Robert Barton was employed against the islanders, and at length the insurgents were dispersed. Carniburg, a strong fort on a small isolated rock, near the west coast of Mull, in which they had taken refuge, was reduced; the Macleans and the Macleods submitted to the king, and Donald Dubh, again made a prisoner, was committed to the castle of Edinburgh, where he remained for nearly forty years. After this the great power formerly enjoyed by the Lords of the Isles was transferred to the Earls of Argyll and Huntly, the former having the chief rule in the south isles and adjacent coasts, while the influence of the latter prevailed in the north isles and Highlands.

The children of Sir Alexander of Lochalsh, the nephew of John the fourth and last Lord of the Isles, had fallen into the hands of the king, and as they were all young, they appear to have been brought up in the royal household. Donald, the eldest son, called by the Highlanders, Donald Galda, or the foreigner, from his early residence in the Lowlands, was allowed to inherit his father’s estates, and was frequently permitted to visit the Isles. He was with James IV. at the battle of Flodden, and appears to have been knighted under the royal banner on that disastrous field. Two months after, in November 1513, he raised another insurrection in the Isles, and being joined by the Macleods and Macleans, was proclaimed Lord of the Isles. The numbers of his adherents daily increased. But in the course of 1515, the Earl of Argyll prevailed upon the insurgents to submit to the regent. At this time Sir Donald appeared frequently before the council, relying on a safe-conduct, and his reconciliation to the regent (John, Duke of Albany) was apparently so cordial that on 24th September 1516, a summons was despatched to ‘Monsieur de Ylis,’ to join the royal army, then about to proceed to the borders. Ere long, however, he was again in open rebellion. Early in 1517 he razed the castle of Mingarry to the ground, and ravaged the whole district of Ardnamurchan with fire and sword. His chief leaders now deserted him, and some of them determined on delivering him up to the regent. He, however, effected his escape, but his two brothers were made prisoners by Maclean of Dowart and Macleod of Dunvegan, who hastened to make their submission[145] to the government. In the following year, Sir Donald was enabled to revenge the murder of his father on the MacIans of Ardnamurchan, having defeated and put to death their chief and two of his sons, with a great number of his men. He was about to be forfeited for high treason, when his death, which took place a few weeks after his success against the MacIans, brought the rebellion, which had lasted for upwards of five years, to a sudden close. He was the last male of his family, and died without issue.

In 1539, Donald Gorme of Sleat claimed the lordship of the Isles, as lawful heir male of John, Earl of Ross. With a considerable force he passed over into Ross-shire, where, after ravaging the district of Kinlochewe, he proceeded to Kintail, with the intention of surprising the castle Eilandonan, at that time almost without a garrison. Exposing himself rashly under the wall, he received a wound in the foot from an arrow, which proved fatal.

In 1543, under the regency of the Earl of Arran, Donald Dubh, the grandson of John, last Lord of the Isles, again appeared upon the scene. Escaping from his long imprisonment, he was received with enthusiasm by the insular chiefs, and, with their assistance, he prepared to expel the Earls of Argyll and Huntly from their acquisitions in the Isles. At the head of 1800 men he invaded Argyll’s territories, slew many of his vassals, and carried off a great quantity of cattle, with other plunder. At first he was supported by the Earl of Lennox, then attached to the English interest, and thus remained for a time in the undisputed possession of the Isles. Through the influence of Lennox, the islanders agreed to transfer their alliance from the Scottish to the English crown, and in June 1545 a proclamation was issued by the regent Arran and his privy council against ‘Donald, alleging himself of the Isles, and other Highland men, his partakers.’ On the 28th July of that year, a commission was granted by Donald, ‘Lord of the Isles, and Earl of Ross,’ with the advice and consent of his barons and council of the Isles, of whom seventeen are named, to two commissioners, for treating, under the directions of the Earl of Lennox, with the English king. On the 5th of August, the lord and barons of the Isles were at Knockfergus, in Ireland, with a force of 4000 men and 180 galleys, when they took the oath of allegiance to the king of England, at the command of Lennox, while 4000 men in arms were left to guard and defend the Isles in his absence. Donald’s plenipotentiaries then proceeded to the English court with letters from him both to King Henry and his privy council; by one of which it appears that the Lord of the Isles had already received from the English monarch the sum of one thousand crowns, and the promise of an annual pension of two thousand. Soon after the Lord of the Isles returned with his forces to Scotland, but appears to have returned to Ireland again with Lennox. There he was attacked with fever, and died at Drogheda, on his way to Dublin. With him terminated the direct line of the Lords of the Isles.

All hopes of a descendant of Somerled again governing the Isles were now at an end; and from this period the race of Conn, unable to regain their former united power and consequence, were divided into various branches, the aggregate strength of which was rendered unavailing for the purpose of general aggrandisement, by the jealousy, disunion, and rivalry, which prevailed among themselves.

After the forfeiture of the Lords of the Isles, and the failure of the successive attempts which were made to retrieve their fortunes, different clans occupied the extensive territories which had once acknowledged the sway of those insular princes. Of these some were clans, which, although dependent upon the Macdonalds, were not of the same origin as the race of Conn; and, with the exception of the Macleods, Macleans, and a few others, they strenuously opposed all the attempts which were made to effect the restoration of the family of the Isles, rightly calculating that the success of such opposition would tend to promote their own aggrandisement. Another class, again, were of the same origin as the family of the Isles; but having branched off from the principal stem before the succession of the elder branches reverted to the clan, in the person of John of the Isles, during the reign of David II., they now appeared as separate clans. Amongst these were the Macalisters, the MacIans, and some others. The Macalisters, who are traced to Alister, a son of[146] Angus Mor, inhabited the south of Knapdale and the north of Kintyre. After the forfeiture of the Isles they became independent; but being exposed to the encroachments of the Campbells, their principal possessions were ere long absorbed by different branches of that powerful clan. The MacIans of Ardnamurchan were descended from John, a son of Angus Mor, to whom his father conveyed the property which he had obtained from the crown. The Macdonalds of Glencoe are also MacIans, being descended from John Fraoch, a son of Angus Og, Lord of the Isles; and hence their history is in no degree different from that of the other branches of the Macdonalds. A third class consisted of the descendants of the different Lords of the Isles, who still professed to form one clan, although the subject of the representation of the race soon introduced great dissensions, and all adopted the generic name of Macdonald in preference to secondary or collateral patronymics.

We shall now endeavour to give a short account of the different branches of the Macdonalds, from the time of the annexation of the Lordship of the Isles to the crown in 1540.

Since the extinction of the direct line of the family of the Isles, in the middle of the 16th century, Macdonald of Sleat, now Lord Macdonald, has always been styled in Gaelic Mac Dhonuill nan Eilean, or Macdonald of the Isles.[149]

As the claim of Lord Macdonald, however, to this distinction has been keenly disputed, we shall here lay before the reader, as clearly as possible, the pretensions of the different claimants to the honour of the chiefship of the clan Donald, as these have been very fairly stated by Mr Skene.

That the family of Sleat are the undoubted representatives of John, Earl of Ross, and the last Lord of the Isles, appears to be admitted on all sides; but, on the other hand, if the descendants of Donald, from whom the clan received its name, or even of John of the Isles, who flourished in the reign of David II., are to be held as constituting one clan, then, according to the Highland principles of clanship, the jus sanguinis, or right of blood to the chiefship, rested in the male representative of John, whose own right was undoubted. By Amy, daughter of Roderick of the Isles, John had three sons,—John, Godfrey, and Ranald; but the last of these only left descendants; and it is from him that the Clan Ranald derive their origin. Again, by the daughter of Robert II. John had four sons—Donald, Lord of the Isles, the ancestor of the Macdonalds of Sleat; John Mor, from whom proceeded the Macconnells of Kintyre; Alister, the progenitor of Keppoch; and Angus, who does not appear to have left any descendants. That Amy, the daughter of Roderick, was John’s legitimate wife, is proved, first, by a dispensation which the supreme Pontiff granted to John in the year 1337; and secondly, by a treaty concluded between John and David II. in 1369, when the hostages given to the king were a son of the second marriage, a grandson of the first, and a natural son. Besides, it is certain that the children of the first marriage were considered as John’s feudal heirs; a circumstance which clearly establishes their legitimacy. It is true that Robert II., in pursuance of the policy he had adopted, persuaded John to make the children of these respective marriages feudally independent of each other; and that the effect of this was to divide the possessions of his powerful vassals into two distinct and independent lordships. These were, first, the lordship of Garmoran and Lochaber, which was held by the eldest son of the first marriage,—and secondly, that of the Isles, which passed to the eldest son of the second marriage; and matters appear to have remained in this state until 1427, when, as formerly mentioned, the Lord of Garmoran was beheaded, and his estates were forfeited to the crown. James I., however, reversing the policy which had been pursued by his predecessor, concentrated the possessions of the Macdonalds in the person of the Lord of the Isles, and thus sought to restore to him all the power and consequence which had originally belonged to his house; “but this arbitrary proceeding,” says Mr Skene, “could not deprive the descendants of the first marriage of the feudal representation of the chiefs of the clan Donald, which now, on the failure of the issue of[147] Godfrey in the person of his son Alexander, devolved on the feudal representative of Reginald, the youngest son of that marriage.”

The clan Ranald are believed to have derived their origin from this Reginald or Ranald, who was a son of John of the Isles, by Amy MacRory, and obtained from his father the lordship of Garmoran, which he held as vassal of his brother Godfrey. That this lordship continued in possession of the clan appears evident from the Parliamentary Records, in which, under the date of 1587, mention is made of the clan Ranald of Knoydart, Moydart, and Glengarry. But considerable doubt has arisen, and there has been a good deal of controversy, as to the right of chiefship; whilst of the various families descended from Ranald each has put forward its claim to this distinction. On this knotty and ticklish point we shall content ourselves with stating the conclusions at which Mr Skene arrived ‘after,’ as he informs us, ‘a rigid examination’ of the whole subject in dispute. According to him, the present family of Clanranald have no valid title or pretension whatever, being descended from an illegitimate son of a second son of the old family of Moydart, who, in 1531, assumed the title of Captain of Clanranald; and, consequently, as long as the descendants of the eldest son of that family remain, they can have no claim by right of blood to the chiefship. He then proceeds to examine the question,—Who was the chief previous to this assumption of the captaincy of Clanranald? and, from a genealogical induction of particulars, he concludes that Donald, the progenitor of the family of Glengarry, was the eldest son of the Reginald or Ranald above-mentioned; that from John, the eldest son of Donald, proceeded the senior branch of this family, in which the chiefship was vested; that, in consequence of the grant of Garmoran to the Lord of the Isles, and other adverse circumstances, they became so much reduced that the oldest cadet obtained the actual chiefship, under the ordinary title of captain; and that, on the extinction of this branch in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the family of Glengarry descended from Alister, second son of Donald, became the legal representatives of Ranald, the common ancestor of the clan, and consequently possessed that jus sanguinis of which no usurpation could deprive them. Such are the results of Mr Skene’s researches upon this subject. Latterly, the family of Glengarry have claimed not only the chiefship of clan Ranald, but likewise that of the whole clan Donald, as being the representative of Donald, the common ancestor of the clan; and it can scarcely be denied that the same evidence which makes good the one point must serve equally to establish the other. Nor does this appear to be any new pretension. When the services rendered by this family to the house of Stuart were rewarded by Charles II. with a peerage, the Glengarry of the time indicated his claim by assuming the title of Lord Macdonnell and Aros; and although, upon the failure of heirs male of his body, this title did not descend to his successors, yet his lands formed, in consequence, the barony of Macdonnell.

Donald Gorme, the claimant of the lordship of the Isles mentioned above as having been slain in 1539, left a grandson, a minor, known as Donald Macdonald Gormeson of Sleat. His title to the family estates was disputed by the Macleods of Harris. He ranged himself on the side of Queen Mary when the disputes about her marriage began in 1565. He died in 1585, and was succeeded by Donald Gorme Mor, fifth in descent from Hugh of Sleat. This Donald Gorme proved himself to be a man of superior abilities, and was favoured highly by James VI., to whom he did important service in maintaining the peace of the Isles. “From this period, it may be observed, the family were loyal to the crown, and firm supporters of the national constitution and laws; and it is also worthy of notice that nearly all the clans attached to the old Lords of the Isles, on the failure of the more direct line in the person of John, transferred their warmest affections to those royal Stuarts, whose throne they had before so often and so alarmingly shaken. This circumstance, as all men know, became strikingly apparent when misfortune fell heavily in turn on the Stuarts.”[150]

Donald Gorme Mor, soon after succeeding his father, found himself involved in a deadly[148] feud with the Macleans of Dowart, which raged to such an extent as to lead to the interference of government, and to the passing in 1587 of an act of parliament, commonly called “The general Bond” or Band for maintaining good order both on the borders and in the Highlands and Isles. By this act, it was made imperative on all landlords, bailies, and chiefs of clans, to find sureties for the peaceable behaviour of those under them. The contentions, however, between the Macdonalds and the Macleans continued, and in 1589, with the view of putting an end to them, the king and council adopted the following plan. After remissions under the privy seal had been granted to Donald Gorme of Sleat, his kinsman, Macdonald of Islay, the principal in the feud, and Maclean of Dowart, for all crimes committed by them, they were induced to proceed to Edinburgh, under pretence of consulting with the king and council for the good rule of the country, but immediately on their arrival they were seized and imprisoned in the castle. In the summer of 1591, they were set at liberty, on paying each a fine to the king, that imposed on Sleat being £4,000, under the name of arrears of feu-duties and crown-rents in the Isles, and finding security for their future obedience and the performance of certain prescribed conditions. They also bound themselves to return to their confinement in the castle of Edinburgh, whenever they should be summoned, on twenty days’ warning. In consequence of their not fulfilling the conditions imposed upon them, and their continuing in opposition to the government, their pardons were recalled, and the three island chiefs were cited before the privy council on the 14th July 1593, when, failing to appear, summonses of treason were executed against them and certain of their associates.

In 1601, the chief of Sleat again brought upon himself and his clan the interference of government by a feud with Macleod of Dunvegan, which led to much bloodshed and great misery and distress among their followers and their families. He had married a sister of Macleod; but, from jealousy or some other cause, he put her away, and refused at her brother’s request to take her back. Having procured a divorce, he soon after married a sister of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail. Macleod immediately assembled his clan, and carried fire and sword through Macdonald’s district of Trotternish. The latter, in revenge, invaded Harris, and laid waste that island, killing many of the inhabitants, and carrying off their cattle. “These spoliations and incursions were carried on with so much inveteracy, that both clans were brought to the brink of ruin; and many of the natives of the districts thus devastated were forced to sustain themselves by killing and eating their horses, dogs, and cats.” The Macdonalds having invaded Macleod’s lands in Skye, a battle took place on the mountain Benquillin between them and the Macleods, when the latter, under Alexander, the brother of their chief, were defeated with great loss, and their leader, with thirty of their clan, taken captive. A reconciliation was at length effected between them by the mediation of Macdonald of Islay, Maclean of Coll, and other friends; when the prisoners taken at Benquillin were released.[151]

In 1608, we find Donald Gorme of Sleat one of the Island chiefs who attended the court of Lord Ochiltree, the king’s lieutenant, at Aros in Mull, when he was sent there for the settlement of order in the Isles, and who afterwards accepted his invitation to dinner on board the king’s ship, called the Moon. When dinner was ended, Ochiltree told the astonished chiefs that they were his prisoners by the king’s order; and weighing anchor he sailed direct to Ayr, whence he proceeded with his prisoners to Edinburgh and presented them before the privy council, by whose order they were placed in the castles of Dumbarton, Blackness, and Stirling. Petitions were immediately presented by the imprisoned chiefs to the council submitting themselves to the king’s pleasure, and making many offers in order to procure their liberation. In the following year the bishop of the Isles was deputed as sole commissioner to visit and survey the Isles, and all the chiefs in prison were set at liberty, on finding security to a large amount, not only for their return to Edinburgh by a certain fixed day, but for their active concurrence, in the meantime,[149] with the bishop in making the proposed survey. Donald Gorme of Sleat was one of the twelve chiefs and gentlemen of the Isles, who met the bishop at Iona, in July 1609, and submitted themselves to him, as the king’s representative. At a court then held by the bishop, the nine celebrated statutes called the “Statutes of Icolmkill,” for the improvement and order of the Isles, were enacted, with the consent of the assembled chiefs, and their bonds and oaths given for the obedience thereto of their clansmen.[152]

In 1616, after the suppression of the rebellion of the Clanranald in the South Isles, certain very stringent conditions were imposed by the privy council on the different Island chiefs. Among these were, that they were to take home-farms into their own hands, which they were to cultivate, “to the effect that they might be thereby exercised and eschew idleness,” and that they were not to use in their houses more than a certain quantity of wine respectively. Donald Gorme of Sleat, having been prevented by sickness from attending the council with the other chiefs, ratified all their proceedings, and found the required sureties, by a bond dated in the month of August. He named Duntulm, a castle of his family in Trotternish, Skye, as his residence, when six household gentlemen, and an annual consumption of four tun of wine, were allowed to him; and he was once-a-year to exhibit to the council three of his principal kinsmen. He died the same year, without issue, and was succeeded by his nephew, Donald Gorme Macdonald of Sleat.

On July 14th 1625, after having concluded, in an amicable manner, all his disputes with the Macleods of Harris, and another controversy in which he was engaged with the captain of Clanranald, he was created a baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles I., with a special clause of precedency placing him second of that order in Scotland. He adhered to the cause of that monarch, but died in 1643. He had married Janet, commonly called “fair Janet,” second daughter of Kenneth, first Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, by whom he had several children. His eldest son, Sir James Macdonald, second baronet of Sleat, joined the Marquis of Montrose in 1645, and when Charles II. marched into England in 1651, he sent a number of his clan to his assistance. He died 8th December 1678.

Sir James’ eldest son, Sir Donald Macdonald, third baronet of Sleat, died in 1695. His son, also named Sir Donald, fourth baronet, was one of those summoned by the Lord Advocate, on the breaking out of the rebellion of 1715, to appear at Edinburgh, under pain of a year’s imprisonment and other penalties, to give bail for their allegiance to the government. Joining in the insurrection, his two brothers commanded the battalion of his clan, on the Pretender’s side, at Sheriffmuir; and, being sent out with the Earl Marischal’s horse to drive away a reconnoitring party, under the Duke of Argyll, from the heights, may be said to have commenced the battle. Sir Donald himself had joined the Earl of Seaforth at his camp at Alness with 700 Macdonalds. After the suppression of the rebellion, Sir Donald proceeded to the Isle of Skye with about 1000 men; but although he made no resistance, having no assurance of protection from the government in case of a surrender, he retired into one of the Uists, where he remained till he obtained a ship which carried him to France. He was forfeited for his share in the insurrection, but the forfeiture was soon removed. He died in 1718, leaving one son and four daughters.

His son, Sir Alexander Macdonald, seventh baronet, was one of the first persons asked by Prince Charles to join him, on his arrival off the Western Islands, in July 1745, but refused, as he had brought no foreign force with him. After the battle of Preston, the prince sent Mr Alexander Macleod, advocate, to the Isle of Skye, to endeavour to prevail upon Sir Alexander Macdonald and the laird of Macleod to join the insurgents; but instead of doing so, these and other well-affected chiefs enrolled each an independent company for the service of government, out of their respective clans. The Macdonalds of Skye served under Lord Loudon in Ross-shire.

After the battle of Culloden, when Prince Charles, in his wanderings, took refuge in Skye, with Flora Macdonald, they landed near Moydhstat,[150] or Mugstot, the seat of Sir Alexander Macdonald, near the northern extremity of that island. Sir Alexander was at that time with the Duke of Cumberland at Fort Augustus, and as his wife, Lady Margaret Montgomerie, a daughter of the ninth Earl of Eglinton, was known to be a warm friend of the prince. Miss Macdonald proceeded to announce to her his arrival. Through Lady Margaret the prince was consigned to the care of Mr Macdonald of Kingsburgh, Sir Alexander’s factor, at whose house he spent the night, and afterwards departed to the island of Rasay. Sir Alexander died in November 1746, leaving three sons.

His eldest son, Sir James, eighth baronet, styled “The Scottish Marcellus,” was born in 1741. At his own earnest solicitation he was sent to Eton, on leaving which he set out on his travels, and was everywhere received by the learned with the distinction due to his unrivalled talents. At Rome, in particular, the most marked attention was paid to him by several of the cardinals. He died in that city on 26th July 1766, when only 25 years old. In extent of learning, and in genius, he resembled the admirable Crichton. On his death the title devolved on his next brother, Alexander, ninth baronet, who was created a peer of Ireland, July 17, 1776, as Baron Macdonald of Sleat, county Antrim. He married the eldest daughter of Godfrey Bosville, Esq. of Gunthwaite, Yorkshire, and had seven sons and three daughters. Diana, the eldest daughter, married in 1788 the Right Hon. Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster. His lordship died Sept. 12, 1795.

His eldest son, Alexander Wentworth, second Lord Macdonald, died unmarried, June 9, 1824, when his brother, Godfrey, became third Lord Macdonald. He assumed the additional name of Bosville. He married Louise Maria, daughter of Farley Edsir, Esq.; issue, three sons and seven daughters. He died Oct. 13, 1832.

The eldest son, Godfrey William Wentworth, fourth Lord Macdonald, born in 1809, married in 1845, daughter of G. T. Wyndham, Esq. of Cromer Hall, Norfolk; issue, Somerled James Brudenell, born in 1849, two other sons and four daughters.

The Macdonalds of Isla and Kintyre, called the Clan Ian Vor, whose chiefs were usually styled lords of Dunyveg (from their castle in Isla) and the Glens, were descended from John Mor, second son of “the good John of Isla,” and of Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II. From his brother Donald, Lord of the Isles, he received large grants of land in Isla and Kintyre, and by his marriage with Marjory Bisset, heiress of the district of the Glens in Antrim, he acquired possessions in Ulster. He was murdered before 1427 by an individual named James Campbell, who is said to have received a commission from King James I. to apprehend him, but that he exceeded his powers by putting him to death. His eldest son was the famous Donald Balloch. From Ranald Bane, a younger brother of Donald Balloch, sprang the Clanranaldbane of Largie in Kintyre.

Donald Balloch’s grandson, John, surnamed Cathanach, or warlike, was at the head of the clan Ian Vor, when the lordship of the Isles was finally forfeited by James IV. in 1493. In that year he was among the chiefs, formerly vassals of the Lord of the Isles, who made their submission to the king, when he proceeded in person to the West Highlands. On this occasion he and the other chiefs were knighted.

Alexander of Isla was with Sir Donald of Lochalsh when, in 1518, he proceeded against the father-in-law of the former, MacIan of Ardnamurchan, who was defeated and slain, with two of his sons, at a place called Craiganairgid, or the Silver Craig in Morvern. The death of Sir Donald soon after brought the rebellion to a close. In 1529 Alexander of Isla and his followers were again in insurrection, and being joined by the Macleans, they made descents upon Roseneath, Craignish, and other lands of the Campbells, which they ravaged with fire and sword. Alexander of Isla being considered the prime mover of the rebellion, the king resolved in 1531 to proceed against him in person, on which, hastening to Stirling, under a safeguard and protection, he submitted, and received a new grant, during the king’s pleasure, of certain lands in the South Isles and Kintyre, and a remission to himself and his followers for all crimes committed by them during the late rebellion.


In 1543, on the second escape of Donald Dubh, grandson of John, last lord of the Isles, and the regent Arran’s opposing the views of the English faction, James Macdonald of Isla, son and successor to Alexander, was the only insular chief who supported the regent. In the following year his lands of Kintyre were ravaged by the Earl of Lennox, the head of the English party.

After the death of Donald Dubh, the islanders chose for their leader James Macdonald of Isla, who married Lady Agnes Campbell, the Earl of Argyll’s sister, and though the most powerful of the Island chiefs, he relinquished his pretensions to the lordship of the Isles, being the last that assumed that title.

A dispute between the Macleans and the clan Ian Vor, relative to the right of occupancy of certain crown lands in Isla, led to a long and bloody feud between these tribes, in which both suffered severely. In 1562 the matter was brought before the privy council, when it was decided that James Macdonald of Isla was really the crown tenant, and as Maclean refused to become his vassal, in 1565 the rival chiefs were compelled to find sureties, each to the amount of £10,000, that they would abstain from mutual hostilities.

James having been killed while helping to defend his family estates in Ulster, Ireland, his eldest son, Angus Macdonald, succeeded to Isla and Kintyre, and in his time the feud with the Macleans was renewed, details of which will be found in the former part of this work. In 1579, upon information of mutual hostilities committed by their followers, the king and council commanded Lauchlan Maclean of Dowart and Angus Macdonald of Dunyveg or Isla, to subscribe assurances of indemnity to each other, under the pain of treason, and the quarrel was, for the time, patched up by the marriage of Macdonald with Maclean’s sister. In 1585, however, the feud came to a height, and after involving nearly the whole of the island clans on one side or the other, and causing its disastrous consequences to be felt throughout the whole extent of the Hebrides, by the mutual ravages of the contending parties, government interfered, and measures were at last adopted for reducing to obedience the turbulent chiefs, who had caused so much bloodshed and distress in the Isles.

James Macdonald, son of Angus Macdonald of Dunyveg, had remained in Edinburgh for four years as a hostage for his father, and early in 1596 he received a license to visit him, in the hope that he might be prevailed upon to submit to the laws, that the peace of the Isles might be secured. He sent his son, who was soon afterwards knighted, back to court to make known to the privy council, in his father’s name and his own, that they would fulfil whatever conditions should be prescribed to them by his majesty. At this time Angus made over to his son all his estates, reserving only a proper maintenance for himself and his wife during their lives. When Sir William Stewart arrived at Kintyre, and held a court there, the chief of Isla and his followers hastened to make their personal submission to the king’s representative, and early in the following year he went to Edinburgh, when he undertook to find security for the arrears of his crown rents, to remove his clan and dependers from Kintyre and the Rinns of Isla, and to deliver his castle of Dunyveg to any person sent by the king to receive it.

Angus Macdonald having failed to fulfil these conditions, his son, Sir James, was in 1598 sent to him from court, to induce him to comply with them. His resignation of his estates in favour of his son was not recognised by the privy council, as they had already been forfeited to the crown; but Sir James, on his arrival, took possession of them, and even attempted to burn his father and mother in their house of Askomull in Kintyre. Angus Macdonald, after having been taken prisoner, severely scorched, was carried to Smerbie in Kintyre, and confined there in irons for several months. Sir James, now in command of his clan, conducted himself with such violence, that in June 1598 a proclamation for another royal expedition to Kintyre was issued. He, however, contrived to procure from the king a letter approving of his proceedings in Kintyre, and particularly of his apprehension of his father; and the expedition, after being delayed for some time, was finally abandoned.

In August of the following year, with the view of being reconciled to government, Sir[152] James appeared in presence of the king’s comptroller at Falkland, and made certain proposals for establishing the royal authority in Kintyre and Isla; but the influence of Argyll, who took the part of Angus Macdonald, Sir James’s father, and the Campbells, having been used against their being carried into effect, the arrangement came to nothing, and Sir James and his clan were driven into irremediable opposition to the government, which ended in their ruin.

Sir James, finding that it was the object of Argyll to obtain for himself the king’s lands in Kintyre, made an attempt in 1606 to escape from the castle of Edinburgh, where he was imprisoned; but being unsuccessful, was put in irons. In the following year a charter was granted to Argyll of the lands in North and South Kintyre, and in the Isle of Jura, which had been forfeited by Angus Macdonald, and thus did the legal right to the lands of Kintyre pass from a tribe which had held them for many hundred years.[153]

Angus Macdonald and his clan immediately took up arms, and his son, Sir James, after many fruitless applications to the privy council, to be set at liberty, and writing both to the king and the Duke of Lennox, made another attempt to escape from the castle of Edinburgh, but having hurt his ancle by leaping from the wall whilst encumbered with his fetters, he was retaken near the West Port of that city, and consigned to his former dungeon. Details of the subsequent transactions in this rebellion will be found in the former part of this work.[154]

After the fall of Argyll, who had turned Roman Catholic, and had also fled to Spain, where he is said to have entered into some very suspicious dealings with his former antagonist, Sir James Macdonald, who was living there in exile, the latter was, in 1620, with MacRanald of Keppoch, recalled from exile by King James. On their arrival in London, Sir James received a pension of 1000 merks sterling, while Keppoch got one of 200 merks. His majesty also wrote to the Scottish privy council in their favour, and granted them remissions for all their offences. Sir James, however, never again visited Scotland, and died at London in 1626, without issue. The clan Ian Vor from this period may be said to have been totally suppressed. Their lands were taken possession of by the Campbells, and the most valuable portion of the property of the ducal house of Argyll consists of what had formerly belonged to the Macdonalds of Isla and Kintyre.

The Macdonalds of Garragach and Keppoch, called the Clanranald of Lochaber, were descended from Alexander, or Allaster Carrach, third son of John, Lord of the Isles, and Lady Margaret Stewart. He was forfeited for joining the insurrection of the Islanders, under Donald Balloch, in 1431, and the greater part of his lands were bestowed upon Duncan Mackintosh, captain of the clan Chattan, which proved the cause of a fierce and lasting feud between the Mackintoshes and the Macdonalds. It was from Ranald, the fourth in descent from Allaster Carrach, that the tribe received the name of the Clanranald of Lochaber.

In 1498, the then chief of the tribe, Donald, elder brother of Allaster MacAngus, grandson of Allaster Carrach, was killed in a battle with Dougal Stewart, first of Appin. His son John, who succeeded him, having delivered up to Mackintosh, chief of the clan Chattan, as steward of Lochaber, one of the tribe who had committed some crime, and had fled to him for protection, rendered himself unpopular among his clan, and was deposed from the chiefship. His cousin and heir-male presumptive, Donald Glas MacAllaster, was elected chief in his place. During the reign of James IV., says Mr Gregory, this tribe continued to hold their lands in Lochaber, as occupants merely, and without a legal claim to the heritage.[155] In 1546 Ranald Macdonald Glas, who appears to have been the son of Donald Glas MacAllaster, and the captain of the clan Cameron, being present at the slaughter of Lord Lovat and the Frasers at the battle of Kinloch-lochy, and having also supported all the rebellions of the Earl of Lennox, concealed themselves in Lochaber, when the Earl of Huntly entered that district with a considerable force and laid it waste,[153] taking many of the inhabitants prisoners. Having been apprehended by William Mackintosh, captain of the clan Chattan, the two chiefs were delivered over to Huntly, who conveyed them to Perth, where they were detained in prison for some time. They were afterwards tried at Elgin for high treason, and being found guilty, were beheaded in 1547.

Allaster MacRanald of Keppoch and his eldest son assisted Sir James Macdonald in his escape from Edinburgh Castle in 1615, and was with him at the head of his clan during his subsequent rebellion. On its suppression, he fled towards Kintyre, and narrowly escaped being taken with the loss of his vessels and some of his men.

In the great civil war the Clanranald of Lochaber were very active on the king’s side. Soon after the Restoration, Alexander Macdonald Glas, the young chief of Keppoch, and his brother were murdered by some of their own discontented followers. Coll Macdonald was the next chief. Previous to the Revolution of 1688, the feud between his clan and the Mackintoshes, regarding the lands he occupied, led to the last clan battle that was ever fought in the Highlands. The Mackintoshes having invaded Lochaber, were defeated on a height called Mulroy. So violent had been Keppoch’s armed proceedings before this event that the government had issued a commission of fire and sword against him. After the defeat of the Mackintoshes, he advanced to Inverness, to wreak his vengeance on the inhabitants of that town for supporting the former against him, if they did not purchase his forbearance by paying a large sum as a fine. Dundee, however, anxious to secure the friendship of the people of Inverness, granted Keppoch his own bond in behalf of the town, obliging himself to see Keppoch paid 2000 dollars, as a compensation for the losses and injuries he alleged he had sustained from the Mackintoshes. Keppoch brought to the aid of Dundee 1000 Highlanders, and as Mackintosh refused to attend a friendly interview solicited by Dundee, Keppoch, at the desire of the latter, drove away his cattle. We are told that Dundee “used to call him Coll of the cowes, because he found them out when they were driven to the hills out of the way.” He fought at the battle of Killiecrankie, and, on the breaking out of the rebellion of 1715, he joined the Earl of Mar, with whom he fought at Sheriffmuir. His son, Alexander Macdonald of Keppoch, on the arrival of Prince Charles in Scotland in 1745, at once declared for him, and at a meeting of the chiefs to consult as to the course they should pursue, he gave it as his opinion that as the prince had risked his person, and generously thrown himself into the hands of his friends, they were bound, in duty at least, to raise men instantly for the protection of his person, whatever might be the consequences.

At the battle of Culloden, on the three Macdonald regiments giving way, Keppoch, seeing himself abandoned by his clan, advanced with his drawn sword in one hand and his pistol in the other, but was brought to the ground by a musket shot. Donald Roy Macdonald, a captain in Clanranald’s regiment, followed him, and entreated him not to throw away his life, assuring him that his wound was not mortal, and that he might easily rejoin his regiment in the retreat, but Keppoch, after recommending him to take care of himself, received another shot, which killed him on the spot. There are still numerous cadets of this family in Lochaber, but the principal house, says Mr Gregory,[156] if not yet extinct, has lost all influence in that district. Latterly they changed their name to Macdonnell.




The Clanranald Macdonalds of Garmoran are descended from Ranald, younger son of John, first Lord of the Isles, by his first wife, Amy, heiress of the MacRorys or Macruaries of Garmoran. In 1373 he received a grant of the North Isles, Garmoran, and other lands, to be held of John, Lord of the Isles, and his heirs. His descendants comprehended the families of Moydart, Morar, Knoydart, and Glengarry, and came in time to form the most numerous tribe of the Clandonald. Alexander Macruari of Moydart, chief of the Clanranald, was one of the principal chiefs seized by James I. at Inverness in 1427, and soon after beheaded. The great-grandson of Ranald, named Allan Macruari, who became chief of the Clanranald in 1481, was one of the principal supporters of Angus, the young Lord of the Isles, at the battle of Bloody Bay, and he likewise followed Alexander of Lochalsh, nephew of the Lord of the Isles, in his invasion of Ross and Cromarty in 1491, when he received a large portion of the booty taken on the occasion.[157] In 1495, on the second expedition of James IV. to the Isles, Allan Macruari was one of the chiefs who made their submission.

During the whole of the 15th century the Clanranald had been engaged in feuds regarding the lands of Garmoran and Uist; first, with the Siol Gorrie, or race of Godfrey, eldest brother of Ranald, the founder of the tribe, and afterwards with the Macdonalds or Clanhuistein of Sleat, and it was not till 1506, that they succeeded in acquiring a legal title to the disputed lands. John, eldest son of Hugh of Sleat, having no issue, made over all his estates to the Clanranald, including the lands occupied by them. Archibald, or Gillespock, Dubh, natural brother of John, having slain Donald Gallach and another of John’s brothers, endeavoured to seize the lands of Sleat, but was expelled from the North Isles by Ranald Bane Allanson of Moydart, eldest son of the chief of Clanranald. The latter married Florence, daughter of MacIan of Ardnamurchan, and had four sons—1. Ranald Bane; 2. Alexander, who had three sons, John, Farquhar, and Angus, and a daughter; 3. Ranald Oig; and 4. Angus Reochson. Angus Reoch, the youngest son, had a son named Dowle or Coull, who had a son named Allan, whose son, Alexander, was the ancestor of the Macdonells of Morar.

In 1509 Allan Macruari was tried, convicted, and executed, in presence of the king at Blair-Athol, but for what crime is not known. His eldest son, Ranald Bane, obtained a charter of the lands of Moydart and Arisaig, Dec. 14, 1540, and died in 1541. He married a daughter of Lord Lovat, and had one son, Ranald Galda, or the stranger, from his being fostered by his mother’s relations, the Frasers.

On the death of Ranald Bane, the fifth chief, the clan, who had resolved to defeat his son’s right to succeed, in consequence of his relations, the Frasers, having joined the Earl of Huntly, lieutenant of the north, against the Macdonalds, chose the next heir to the estate as their chief. This was the young Ranald’s cousin-german, John Moydartach, or John of Moydart, eldest son of Alexander Allanson, second son of Allan Macruari, and John was, accordingly, acknowledged by the clan captain of Clanranald. Lovat, apprised of the intentions of the clan against his grandchild, before their scheme was ripe for execution, marched to Castletirrim, and, by the assistance of the Frasers, placed Ranald Galda in possession of the lands. The Clanranald, assisted by the Macdonalds of Keppoch and the Clan Cameron, having laid waste and plundered the districts of Abertarf and Stratherrick, belonging to Lovat, and the lands of Urquhart and Glenmoriston, the property of the Grants, the Earl of Huntly, the king’s lieutenant in the north, to drive them back and put an end to their ravages, was obliged to raise a numerous force. He penetrated as far as Inverlochy in Lochaber, and then returned to his own territories. The battle of Kinloch-lochy, called Blar-nan-leine, “the field of shirts,” followed, as related in the account of the clan Fraser. The Macdonalds being the victors, the result was that John Moydartach was maintained in possession of the chiefship and estates, and transmitted the same to his descendants. On the return of Huntly with an army, into Lochaber, John Moydartach fled to the Isles, where he remained for some time.

The Clanranald distinguished themselves[155] under the Marquis of Montrose in the civil wars of the 17th century. At the battle of Killiecrankie, their chief, then only fourteen years of age, fought under Dundee, with 500 of his men. They were also at Sheriffmuir. In the rebellion of 1745, the Clanranald took an active part. Macdonald of Boisdale, the brother of the chief, then from age and infirmities unfit to be of any service, had an interview with Prince Charles, on his arrival off the island of Eriska, and positively refused to aid his enterprise. On the following day, however, young Clanranald, accompanied by his kinsmen, Alexander Macdonald of Glenaladale and Æneas Macdonald of Dalily, the author of a Journal and Memoirs of the Expedition, went on board the prince’s vessel, and readily offered him his services. He afterwards joined him with 200 of his clan, and was with him throughout the rebellion.

At the battles of Preston and Falkirk, the Macdonalds were on the right, which they claimed as their due, but at Culloden the three Macdonald regiments of Clanranald, Keppoch, and Glengarry, formed the left. It was probably their feeling of dissatisfaction at being placed on the left of the line that caused the Macdonald regiments, on observing that the right and centre had given way, to turn their backs and fly from the fatal field without striking a blow.

At Glenboisdale, whither Charles retreated, after the defeat at Culloden, he was joined by young Clanranald, and several other adherents, who endeavoured to persuade him from embarking for the Isles, but in vain. In the act of indemnity passed in June 1747, young Clanranald was one of those who were specially excepted from pardon.

The ancestor of the Macdonalds of Benbecula was Ranald, brother of Donald Macallan, who was captain of the Clanranald in the latter part of the reign of James VI. The Macdonalds of Boisdale are cadets of Benbecula, and those of Staffa of Boisdale. On the failure of Donald’s descendants, the family of Benbecula succeeded to the barony of Castletirrim, and the captainship of the Clanranald, represented by Reginald George Macdonald of Clanranald.

From John, another brother of Donald Macallan, came the family of Kinlochmoidart, which terminated in an heiress. This lady married Colonel Robertson, who, in her right, assumed the name of Macdonald.

From John Oig, uncle of Donald Macallan, descended the Macdonalds of Glenaladale. “The head of this family,” says Mr Gregory, “John Macdonald of Glenaladale, being obliged to quit Scotland about 1772, in consequence of family misfortunes, sold his Scottish estates to his cousin (also a Macdonald), and emigrating to Prince Edward’s Island, with about 200 followers, purchased a tract of 40,000 acres there, while the 200 Highlanders have increased to 3000.”

One of the attendants of Prince Charles, who, after Culloden, embarked with him for France, was Neil MacEachan Macdonald, a gentleman sprung from the branch of the Clanranald in Uist. He served in France as a lieutenant in the Scottish regiment of Ogilvie, and was father of Stephen James Joseph Macdonald, marshal of France, and Duke of Tarentum, born Nov. 17, 1765; died Sept. 24, 1840.

The Macdonalds of Glencoe are descended from John Og, surnamed Fraoch, natural son of Angus Og of Isla, and brother of John, first Lord of the Isles. He settled in Glencoe, which is a wild and gloomy vale in the district of Lorn, Argyleshire, as a vassal under his brother, and some of his descendants still possess lands there. This branch of the Macdonalds was known as the clan Ian Abrach, it is supposed from one of the family being fostered in Lochaber. After the Revolution, MacIan or Alexander Macdonald of Glencoe, was one of the chiefs who supported the cause of King James, having joined Dundee in Lochaber at the head of his clan, and a mournful interest attaches to the history of this tribe from the dreadful massacre, by which it was attempted to exterminate it in February 1692. The story has often been told, but as full details have been given in the former part of this work, it is unnecessary to repeat them here.

The Macdonalds of Glencoe joined Prince Charles on the breaking out of the rebellion in 1745, and General Stewart, in his Sketches of the Highlanders, relates that when the[156] insurgent army lay at Kirkliston, near the seat of the Earl of Stair, grandson of Secretary Dalrymple, the prince, anxious to save his lordship’s house and property, and to remove from his followers all excitement and revenge, proposed that the Glencoe-men should be marched to a distance, lest the remembrance of the share which his grandfather had in the order for the massacre of the clan should rouse them to retaliate on his descendant. Indignant at being supposed capable of wreaking their vengeance on an innocent man, they declared their resolution of returning home, and it was not without much explanation and great persuasion that they were prevented from marching away the following morning.



The Glengarry branch of the Macdonalds spell their name Macdonnell. The word Dhonuill, whence the name Donald is derived, is said to signify “brown eye.” The most proper way, says Mr Gregory, of spelling the name, according to the pronunciation, was that formerly employed by the Macdonalds of Dunyveg and the Glens, who used Macdonnell. Sir James Macdonald, however, the last of this family in the direct male line, signed Makdonall.[158]

The family of Glengarry are descended from Alister, second son of Donald, who was eldest son of Reginald or Ranald (progenitor also of the Clanranald), youngest son of John, lord of the Isles, by Amy, heiress of MacRory. Alexander Macdonnell, who was chief of Glengarry at the beginning of the 16th century, supported the claims of Sir Donald Macdonald of Lochalsh to the lordship of the Isles, and in November 1513 assisted him, with Chisholm of Comer, in expelling the garrison and seizing the Castle of Urquhart in Loch Ness. In 1527 the Earl of Argyll, lieutenant of the Isles, received from Alexander Macranald of Glengarry and North Morar, a bond of manrent or service; and in 1545 he was among the lords and barons of the Isles who, at Knockfergus in Ireland, took the oath of allegiance to the king of England, “at the command of the Earl of Lennox.” He married Margaret, eldest daughter of Celestine, brother of John Earl of Ross, and one of the three sisters and coheiresses of Sir Donald Macdonald of Lochalsh. His son, Angus or Æneas Macdonnell of Glengarry, the representative, through his mother, of the house of Lochalsh, which had become extinct in the male line on the death of Sir Donald in 1518, married Janet, only daughter of Sir Hector Maclean of Dowart, and had a son, Donald Macdonnell of Glengarry, styled Donald MacAngus MacAlister.

In 1581 a serious feud broke out between the chief of Glengarry, who had inherited one half of the districts of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and Lochbroom in Wester Ross, and Colin Mackenzie of Kintail, who was in possession of the other half. The Mackenzies, having made aggressions upon Glengarry’s portion, the latter, to maintain his rights, took up his temporary residence in Lochcarron, and placed a small garrison in the castle of Strone in that district. With some of his followers he unfortunately fell into the hands of a party of the Mackenzies, and after being detained in captivity for a considerable time, only procured his release by yielding the castle of Lochcarron to the Mackenzies. The other prisoners, including several of his near kinsmen, were put to death. On complaining to the privy council, they caused Mackenzie of Kintail to be detained for a time at Edinburgh, and subsequently in the castle of Blackness. In 1602, Glengarry, from his ignorance of the laws, was, by the craft of the clan Kenzie, as Sir[157] Robert Gordon says, “easalie intrapped within the compass thereof,” on which they procured a warrant for citing him to appear before the justiciary court at Edinburgh. Glengarry, however, paid no attention to it, but went about revenging the slaughter of two of his kinsmen, whom the Mackenzies had killed after the summons had been issued. The consequence was that he and some of his followers were outlawed, and Kenneth Mackenzie, who was now lord of Kintail, procured a commission of fire and sword against Glengarry and his men, in virtue of which he invaded and wasted the district of North Morar, and carried off all the cattle. In retaliation the Macdonalds plundered the district of Applecross, and, on a subsequent occasion, they landed on the coast of Lochalsh, with the intention of burning and destroying all Mackenzie’s lands, as far as Easter Ross, but their leader, Allaster MacGorrie, having been killed, they returned home. To revenge the death of his kinsman, Angus Macdonnell, the young chief of Glengarry, at the head of his followers, proceeded north to Lochcarron, where his tribe held the castle of Strone, now in ruins. After burning many of the houses in the district, and killing the inhabitants, he loaded his boats with the plunder, and prepared to return. In the absence of their chief, the Mackenzies, encouraged by the example of his lady, posted themselves at the narrow strait or kyle which separates Skye from the mainland, for the purpose of intercepting them. Night had fallen, however, before they made their appearance, and taking advantage of the darkness, some of the Mackenzies rowed out in two boats towards a large galley, on board of which was young Glengarry, which was then passing the kyle. This they suddenly attacked with a volley of musketry and arrows. Those on board in their alarm crowding to one side, the galley overset, and all on board were thrown into the water. Such of them as were able to reach the shore were immediately despatched by the Mackenzies, and among the slain was the young chief of Glengarry himself. The rest of the Macdonnells, on reaching Strathaird in Skye, left their boats, and proceeded on foot to Morar. Finding that the chief of the Mackenzies had not returned from Mull, a large party was sent to an island near which he must pass, which he did next day in Maclean’s great galley, but he contrived to elude them, and was soon out of reach of pursuit. He subsequently laid siege to the castle of Strone, which surrendered to him, and was blown up.

In 1603, “the Clanranald of Glengarry, under Allan Macranald of Lundie, made an irruption into Brae Ross, and plundered the lands of Kilchrist, and others adjacent, belonging to the Mackenzies. This foray was signalized by the merciless burning of a whole congregation in the church of Kilchrist, while Glengarry’s piper marched round the building, mocking the cries of the unfortunate inmates with the well-known pibroch, which has been known, ever since, under the name of Kilchrist, as the family tune of the Clanranald of Glengarry.”[159] Eventually, Kenneth Mackenzie, afterwards Lord Kintail, succeeded in obtaining a crown charter to the disputed districts of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and others, dated in 1607.

Donald MacAngus of Glengarry died in 1603. By his wife, Margaret, daughter of Alexander Macdonald, Captain of Clanranald, he had, besides Angus above mentioned, two other sons, Alexander, who died soon after his father, and Donald Macdonnell of Scothouse.

Alexander, by his wife, Jean, daughter of Allan Cameron of Lochiel, had a son, Æneas Macdonnell of Glengarry, who was one of the first in 1644 to join the royalist army under Montrose, and never left that great commander, “for which,” says Bishop Wishart, “he deserves a singular commendation for his bravery and steady loyalty to the king, and his peculiar attachment to Montrose.”[160] Glengarry also adhered faithfully to the cause of Charles II., and was forfeited by Cromwell in 1651. As a reward for his faithful services he was at the Restoration created a peer by the title of Lord Macdonnell and Aross, by patent dated at Whitehall, 20th December 1660, the honours being limited to the heirs male of his body. This led him to claim not only the chiefship of Clanranald, but likewise that of the whole Clandonald, as[158] being the representative of Donald, the common ancestor of the clan: and on 18th July 1672, the privy council issued an order, commanding him as chief to exhibit before the council several persons of the name of Macdonald, to find caution to keep the peace.

The three branches of the Clanranald engaged in all the attempts which were made for the restoration of the Stuarts. On 27th August 1715, Glengarry was one of the chiefs who attended the pretended grand hunting match at Braemar, appointed by the Earl of Mar, previous to the breaking out of the rebellion of that year. After the suppression of the rebellion, the chief of Glengarry made his submission to General Cadogan at Inverness. He died in 1724. By his wife, Lady Mary Mackenzie, daughter of the third Earl of Seaforth, he had a son, John Macdonnell, who succeeded him.

In 1745, six hundred of the Macdonnells of Glengarry joined Prince Charles, under the command of Macdonnell of Lochgarry, who afterwards escaped to France with the prince, and were at the battles of Preston, Falkirk, and Culloden. The chief himself seems not to have engaged in the rebellion. He was however arrested, and sent to London.

General Sir James Macdonnell, G.C.B., who distinguished himself when lieut.-col. in the guards, by the bravery with which he held the buildings of Hougomont, at the battle of Waterloo, was third son of Duncan Macdonnell, Esq. of Glengarry. He was born at the family seat, Inverness-shire, and died May 15, 1857.

Colonel Alexander Ranaldson Macdonnell of Glengarry, who, in January 1822, married Rebecca, second daughter of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, baronet, was the last genuine specimen of a Highland chief. His character in its more favourable features was drawn by Sir Walter Scott, in his romance of Waverley, as Fergus MacIvor. He always wore the dress and adhered to the style of living of his ancestors, and when away from home in any of the Highland towns, he was followed by a body of retainers, who were regularly posted as sentinels at his door. He revived the claims of his family to the chiefship of the Macdonalds, styling himself also of Clanranald. In January 1828 he perished in endeavouring to escape from a steamer which had gone ashore. As his estate was very much mortgaged and encumbered, his son was compelled to dispose of it, and to emigrate to Australia, with his family and clan. The estate was purchased by the Marquis of Huntly from the chief, and in 1840 it was sold to Lord Ward (Earl of Dudley, Feb. 13, 1860,) for £91,000. In 1860 his lordship sold it to Edward Ellice, Esq. of Glenquoich, for £120,000.

The principal families descended from the house of Glengarry, were the Macdonnells of Barrisdale, in Knoydart, Greenfield, and Lundie.

The strength of the Macdonalds has at all times been considerable. In 1427, the Macdonnells of Garmoran and Lochaber mustered 2000 men; in 1715, the whole clan furnished 2820; and in 1745, 2330. In a memorial drawn up by President Forbes of Culloden, and transmitted to the government soon after the insurrection in 1745, the force of every clan is detailed, according to the best information which the author of the report could procure at the time. This enumeration, which proceeds upon the supposition that the chieftain calculated on the military services of the youthful, the most hardy, and the bravest of his followers, omitting those who, from advanced age, tender years, or natural debility, were unable to carry arms, gives the following statement of the respective forces of the different branches of the Macdonalds:—

Macdonald of Sleat,700
Macdonald of Clanranald,700
Macdonell of Glengarry,500
Macdonell of Keppoch,300
Macdonald of Glencoe,130
In all,2330

Next to the Campbells, therefore, who could muster about 5000 men, the Macdonalds were by far the most numerous and powerful clan in the Highlands of Scotland.

“The clans or septs,” says Mr Smibert,[161] “sprung from the Macdonalds, or adhering to and incorporated with that family, though bearing subsidiary names, were very numerous.[159] One point peculiarly marks the Gael of the coasts, as this great connection has already been called, and that is the device of a Lymphad or old-fashioned Oared Galley, assumed and borne in their arms. It indicates strongly a common origin and site. The Macdonalds, Maclachlans, Macdougals, Macneils, Macleans, and Campbells, as well as the Macphersons, Mackintoshes, and others, carry, and have always carried, such a galley in their armorial shields. Some families of Macdonald descent do not bear it; and indeed, at most, it simply proves a common coast origin, or an early location by the western lochs and lakes.”


[136] Chalmers’ Caledonia, vol. i. p. 266.

[137] Western Highlands, p. 7.

[138] “Both Dugall and Reginald were called Kings of the Isles at the same time that Reginald, the son of Godred the Black, was styled King of Man and the Isles; and in the next generation we find mention of these kings of the Isles of the race of Somerled existing at one time.” The word king with the Norwegians therefore corresponds to Magnate.—Gregory, p. 17.

[139] “The seniority of Roderick, son of Reginald, has not been universally admitted, some authors making Donald the elder by birth. But the point is of little moment, seeing that the direct and legitimate line of Roderick, who, with his immediate progeny, held a large portion of the Isles, terminated in a female in the third generation, when the succession of the house of Somerled fell indisputably to the descendants of Donald, second grandson of Somerled, and head of the entire and potent clan of the Macdonalds.”—Smibert, p. 20.

[140] In the list of the Barons who assembled at Scone in 1284 to declare Margaret, the Maid of Norway, heiress to the crown, he appears under the name of Allangus filius Roderici.

[141] “The Lordship of Garmoran (also called Garbh-chrioch) comprehends the districts of Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, and Knoydart.”—Gregory, p. 27.

[142] The properties of Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, and Knoidart, on the mainland, and the isles of Uist, Barra, Rum, Egg, and Harris, were assigned and confirmed to him and his heirs by charter dated at Scone March 9, 1371–2.

[143] For details, see vol. i., p. 69, et seq.

[144] See vol. i. p. 73.

[145] “The authority of Mr Skene is usually to be received as of no common weight, but the account given by him of this portion of the Macdonald annals does not consist with unquestionable facts. As such, the statements in the national collections of Foedera (Treaties), and the Records of Parliament, ought certainly to be regarded; and a preference must be given to their testimony over the counter-assertions of ancient private annalists. Some of the latter parties seem to assert that John II., who had no children by Elizabeth Livingston (daughter of Lord Livingston), had yet ‘a natural son begotten of Macduffie of Colonsay’s daughter, and Angus Og, his legitimate son, by the Earl of Angus’s daughter.’ No mention of this Angus’ marriage occurs in any one public document relating to the Lords of the Isles, or to the Douglases, then Earls of Angus. On the other hand, the acknowledged wife of John of the Isles, Elizabeth Livingston, was certainly alive in 1475, at which date he, among other charges, is accused of making ‘his bastard son’ a lieutenant to him in ‘insurrectionary convocations of the lieges;’ and Angus could therefore come of no second marriage. He indubitably is the same party still more distinctly named in subsequent Parliamentary Records as ‘Angus of the Isles, bastard son to umquhile John of the Isles.’ The attribution of noble and legitimate birth to Angus took its origin, without doubt, in the circumstance of John’s want of children by marriage having raised his natural son to a high degree of power in the clan, which the active character of Angus well fitted him to use as he willed.”—Smibert’s Clans pp. 23, 24.

[146] Gregory (p. 52) says this combat was fought in a bay in the Isle of Mull, near Tobermory.

[147] See Gregory’s Highlands, p. 54.

[148] Gregory, p. 581.

[149] Gregory’s Highlands, p. 61.

[150] Smibert’s Clans, p. 25.

[151] Gregory’s Highlands, p. 297.

[152] Gregory’s Highlands, p. 330.

[153] Gregory’s Highlands and Isles, p. 312.

[154] Vol. i., chap. x.

[155] Highlands and Isles, p. 109.

[156] Highlands and Isles, p. 415.

[157] Gregory’s Highlands and Isles, page 66.

[158] Highlands and Isles, p. 417, Note.

[159] Gregory’s Highlands, pp. 301-303.

[160] Memoirs, p. 155.

[161] Clans, 29.


The Macdougalls—Bruce’s adventures with the Macdougalls of Lorn—The Brooch of Lorn—The Stewarts acquire Lorn—Macdougalls of Raray, Gallanach, and Scraba—Macalisters—Siol Gillevray—Macneills—Partly of Norse descent—Two branches of Barra and Gigha—Sea exploits of the former—Ruari the Turbulent’s two families—Gigha Macneills—Macneills of Gullochallie, Carskeay, and Tirfergus—The chiefship—Macneills of Colonsay—Maclauchlans—Kindred to the Lamonds and MacEwens of Otter—Present representative—Castle Lachlan—Force of the clan—Cadets—MacEwens—Macdougall Campbells of Craignish—Policy of Argyll Campbells—Lamonds—Massacred by the Campbells—The laird of Lamond and MacGregor of Glenstrae.


according to others, Bell Heath.

The next clan that demands our notice is that of the Macdougalls, Macdugalls, Macdovals, Macdowalls, for in all these ways is the name spelled. The clan derives its descent from Dugall, who was the eldest son of Somerled, the common ancestor of the clan Donald; and it has hitherto been supposed, that Alexander de Ergadia, the undoubted ancestor of the clan Dugall, who first appears in the year 1284, was the son of Ewen de Ergadia, who figured so prominently at the period of the cession of the Isles. This opinion, however, Mr Skene conceives to be erroneous; first, because Ewen would seem to have died without leaving male issue; and, secondly, because it is contradicted by the manuscript of 1450, which states that the clan Dugall, as well as the clan Rory and the clan Donald, sprung not from Ewen, but from Ranald, the son of Somerled, through his son Dugall, from whom indeed they derived their name. Mr Smibert’s remarks, however, on this point are deserving of attention. “It seems very evident,” he says, “that they formed one of the primitive branches of the roving or stranger tribes of visitants to Scotland of the Irish, or at least Celtic race. Their mere name puts the fact almost beyond doubt. It also distinguishes them clearly from the Norsemen of the Western Isles, who were always styled Fion-galls, that is, Fair Strangers (Rovers, or Pirates). The common account of the origin of the Macdougalls is, that they sprung from a son or grandson of Somerled, of the name of Dougal. But though a single chieftain of that appellation may have flourished in the primitive periods of Gaelic story, it appears most probable, from many circumstances, that the clan derived their name from their descent and character generally. They were Dhu-Galls, ‘black strangers.’ The son or grandson of Somerled, who is said to have specially founded the Macdougall clan, lived in the 12th century. In the 13th, however, they were numerous and strong enough to oppose Bruce, and it is therefore out of the question to suppose that the descendant of Somerled could do more than consolidate or collect an already existing tribe, even if it is to be admitted as taking from him its name.”[162]

Clan tartan

The first appearance which this family makes in history is at the convention which was held in the year 1284. In the list of those who[160] attended on that occasion, we find the name of Alexander de Ergadia, whose presence was probably the consequence of his holding his lands by a crown charter; but from this period we lose sight of him entirely, until the reign of Robert Bruce, when the strenuous opposition offered by the Lord of Lorn and by his son John to the succession of that king, restored his name to history, in connection with that of Bruce. Alister having married the third daughter of the Red Comyn, whom Bruce slew in the Dominican church at Dumfries, became the mortal enemy of the king; and, upon more than one occasion, during the early part of his reign, succeeded in reducing him to the greatest straits.

Bruce, after his defeat at Methven, on the 19th of June 1306, withdrew to the mountainous parts of Breadalbane, and approached the borders of Argyleshire. His followers did not exceed three hundred men, who, disheartened by defeat, and exhausted by privation, were not in a condition to encounter a superior force. In this situation, however, he was attacked by Macdougall of Lorn, at the head of a thousand men, part of whom were Macnabs, who had joined the party of John Baliol; and, after a severe conflict, he was compelled to abandon the field. In the retreat from Dalree, where the battle had been fought, the king was hotly pursued, and especially by three of the clansmen of Lorn, probably personal attendants or henchmen of the Macdougalls, who appear to have resolved to slay the Bruce or die. These followed the retreating party, and when King Robert entered a narrow pass, threw themselves suddenly upon him. The king turning hastily round, cleft the skull of one with his battle-axe. “The second had grasped the stirrup, and Robert fixed and held him there by pressing down his foot, so that the captive was dragged along the ground as if chained to the horse. In the meantime, the third assailant had sprung from the hillside to the back of the horse, and sat behind the king. The latter turned half round and forced the Highlander forward to the front of the saddle, where ‘he clave the head to the harns.’ The second assailant was still hanging by the stirrup, and Robert now struck at him vigorously, and slew him at the first blow.” Whether the story is true or not, and it is by no means improbable, it shows the reputation for gigantic strength which the doughty Bruce had in his day. It is said to have been in this contest that the king lost the magnificent brooch, since famous as the “brooch of Lorn.” This highly-prized trophy was long preserved as a remarkable relic in the family of Macdougall of Dunolly, and after having been carried off during the siege of Dunolly Castle, the family residence, it was, about forty years ago, again restored to the family.[163] In his day of adversity the Macdougalls were the most persevering and dangerous of all King Robert’s enemies.

But the time for retribution at length arrived. When Robert Bruce had firmly established himself on the throne of Scotland, one of the first objects to which he directed his attention, was to crush his old enemies the Macdougalls,[164] and to revenge the many injuries he had suffered at their hands. With this view, he marched into Argyleshire, determined to lay waste the country, and take possession of Lorn. On advancing, he found John of Lorn and his followers posted in a formidable defile between Ben Cruachan and Loch Awe, which it seemed impossible to force, and almost hopeless to turn. But having sent a party to ascend the mountain, gain the heights, and threaten the[161] enemy’s rear, Bruce immediately attacked them in front, with the utmost fury. For a time the Macdougalls sustained the onset bravely; but at length, perceiving themselves in danger of being assailed in the rear, as well as the front, and thus completely isolated in the defile, they betook themselves to flight. Unable to escape from the mountain gorge, they were slaughtered without mercy, and by this reverse, their power was completely broken. Bruce then laid waste Argyleshire, besieged and took the castle of Dunstaffnage, and received the submission of Alister of Lorn, the father of John, who now fled to England. Alister was allowed to retain the district of Lorn: but the rest of his possessions were forfeited and given to Angus of Isla, who had all along remained faithful to the king’s interests.

When John of Lorn arrived as a fugitive in England, King Edward was making preparations for that expedition, which terminated in the ever-memorable battle of Bannockburn. John was received with open arms, appointed to the command of the English fleet, and ordered to sail for Scotland, in order to co-operate with the land forces. But the total defeat and dispersion of the latter soon afterwards confirmed Bruce in possession of the throne; and being relieved from the apprehension of any further aggression on the part of the English kings he resolved to lose no time in driving the Lord of Lorn from the Isles, where he had made his appearance with the fleet under his command. Accordingly, on his return from Ireland, whither he had accompanied his brother Edward, he directed his course towards the Isles, and having arrived at Tarbet, is said to have caused his galleys to be dragged over the isthmus which connects Kintyre and Knapdale. This bold proceeding was crowned with success. The English fleet was surprised and dispersed; and its commander having been made prisoner, was sent to Dumbarton, and afterwards to Lochleven, where he was detained in confinement during the remainder of King Robert’s reign.

In the early part of the reign of David II., John’s son, John or Ewen, married a grand-daughter of Robert Bruce, and through her not only recovered the ancient possessions of his family, but even obtained a grant of the property of Glenlyon. These extensive territories, however, were not destined to remain long in the family. Ewen died without male issue; and his two daughters having married, the one John Stewart of Innermeath, and the other his brother Robert Stewart, an arrangement was entered into between these parties, in virtue of which the descendants of John Stewart acquired the whole of the Lorn possessions, with the exception of the castle of Dunolly and its dependencies, which remained to the other branch of the family; and thus terminated the power of this branch of the descendants of Somerled. The chieftainship of the clan now descended to the family of Dunolly, which continued to enjoy the small portion which remained to them of their ancient possessions until the year 1715, when the representative of the family incurred the penalty of forfeiture for his accession to the insurrection of that period; thus, by a singular contrast of circumstances, “losing the remains of his inheritance to replace upon the throne the descendants of those princes, whose accession his ancestors had opposed at the expense of their feudal grandeur.” The estate, however, was restored to the family in 1745, as a reward for their not having taken any part in the more formidable rebellion of that year. In President Forbes’s Report on the strength of the clans, the force of the Macdougalls is estimated at 200 men.

The Macdougalls of Raray, represented by Macdougall of Ardencaple, were a branch of the house of Lorn. The principal cadets of the family of Donolly were those of Gallanach and Soraba. The Macdougalls still hold possessions in Galloway, where, however, they usually style themselves Macdowall.


A clan at one time of considerable importance, claiming connection with the great clan Donald, is the Macalisters, or MacAlesters, formerly inhabiting the south of Knapdale, and the north of Kintyre in Argyleshire. They are traced to Alister or Alexander, a son of Angus Mor, of the clan Donald. Exposed to the encroachments of the Campbells, their principal possessions became, ere long, absorbed by different branches of that powerful clan. The[162] chief of this sept of the Macdonalds is Somerville MacAlester of Loup in Kintyre, and Kennox in Ayrshire. In 1805 Charles Somerville MacAlester, Esq. of Loup, assumed the name and arms of Somerville in addition to his own, in right of his wife, Janet Somerville, inheritrix of the entailed estate of Kennox, whom he had married in 1792.

From their descent from Alexander, eldest son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles and Kintyre in 1281, the grandson of Somerled, thane of Argyle, the MacAlesters claim to be the representatives, after MacDonell of Glengarry, of the ancient Lords of the Isles, as heirs male of Donald, grandson of Somerled.

After the forfeiture of the Lords of the Isles in 1493, the MacAlesters became so numerous as to form a separate and independent clan. At that period their chief was named John or Ian Dubh, whose residence was at Ard Phadriuc or Ardpatrick in South Knapdale. One of the family, Charles MacAlester, is mentioned as steward of Kintyre in 1481.

Alexander MacAlester was one of those Highland chieftains who were held responsible, by the act “called the Black Band,” passed in 1587, for the peaceable behaviour of their clansmen and the “broken men” who lived on their lands. He died when his son, Godfrey or Gorrie MacAlester, was yet under age.

In 1618 the laird of Loup was named one of the twenty barons and gentlemen of the shire of Argyle who were made responsible for the good rule of the earldom during Argyll’s absence. He married Margaret, daughter of Colin Campbell of Kilberry, and though, as a vassal of the Marquis of Argyll, he took no part in the wars of the Marquis of Montrose, many of his clan fought on the side of the latter.

The principal cadet of the family of Loup was MacAlester of Tarbert. There is also MacAlister of Glenbarr, county of Argyle.

Siol Gillevray.

Under the head of the Siol or clan Gillevray, Mr Skene gives other three clans said by the genealogists to have been descended from the family of Somerled, and included by Mr Skene under the Gallgael. The three clans are those of the Macneills, the Maclauchlans, and the Macewens. According to the MS. of 1450, the Siol Gillevray are descended from a certain Gillebride, surnamed King of the Isles, who lived in the 12th century, and who derived his descent from a brother of Suibne, the ancestor of the Macdonalds, who was slain in the year 1034. Even Mr Skene, however, doubts the genealogy by which this Gillebride is derived from an ancestor of the Macdonalds in the beginning of the 11th century, but nevertheless, the traditionary affinity which is thus shown to have existed between these clans and the race of Somerled at so early a period, he thinks seems to countenance the notion that they had all originally sprung from the same stock. The original seat of this race appears to have been in Lochaber. On the conquest of Argyle by Alexander II., they were involved in the ruin which overtook all the adherents of Somerled; with the exception of the Macneills, who consented to hold their lands of the crown, and the Maclauchlans, who regained their former consequence by means of marriage with an heiress of the Lamonds. After the breaking up of the clan, the other branches appear to have followed, as their chief, Macdougall Campbell of Craignish, the head of a family, which is descended from the kindred race of MacInnes of Ardgour.


Badge.—Sea Ware.

The Macneills consisted of two independent branches, the Macneills of Barra and the Macneills of Gigha, said to be descended from brothers. Their badge was the sea ware, but[163] they had different armorial bearings, and from this circumstance, joined to the fact that they were often opposed to each other in the clan fights of the period, and that the Christian names of the one, with the exception of Neill, were not used by the other, Mr Gregory thinks the tradition of their common descent erroneous. Part of their possessions were completely separated, and situated at a considerable distance from the rest.

The clan Neill were among the secondary vassal tribes of the lords of the Isles, and its heads appear to have been of Norse or Danish origin. Mr Smibert thinks this probable from the fact that the Macneills were lords of Castle Swen, plainly a Norse term. “The clan,” he says,[165] “was in any case largely Gaelic, to a certainty. We speak of the fundamental line of the chiefs mainly, when we say that the Macneills appear to have at least shared the blood of the old Scandinavian inhabitants of the western islands. The names of those of the race first found in history are partly indicative of such a lineage. The isle of Barra and certain lands in Uist were chartered to a Macneill in 1427; and in 1472, a charter of the Macdonald family is witnessed by Hector Mactorquil Macneill, keeper of Castle Swen. The appellation ‘Mac-Torquil,’ half Gaelic, half Norse, speaks strongly in favour of the supposition that the two races were at this very time in the act of blending with one people. After all, we proceed not beyond the conclusion, that, by heirs male or heirs female, the founders of the house possessed a sprinkling of the blood of the ancient Norwegian occupants of the western isles and coasts, interfused with that of the native Gael of Albyn, and also of the Celtic visitants from Ireland. The proportion of Celtic blood, beyond doubt, is far the largest in the veins of the clan generally.”

About the beginning of the 15th century, the Macneills were a considerable clan in Knapdale, Argyleshire. As this district was not then included in the sheriffdom of Argyle, it is probable that their ancestor had consented to hold his lands of the crown.

The first of the family on record is Nigellus Og, who obtained from Robert Bruce a charter of Barra and some lands in Kintyre. His great-grandson, Gilleonan Roderick Muchard Macneill, in 1427, received from Alexander, Lord of the Isles, a charter of that island. In the same charter were included the lands of Boisdale in South Uist, which lies about eight miles distant from Barra. With John Garve Maclean he disputed the possession of that island, and was killed by him in Coll. His grandson, Gilleonan, took part with John, the old Lord of the Isles, against his turbulent son, Angus, and fought on his side at the battle of Bloody Bay. He was chief of this sept or division of the Macneills in 1493, at the forfeiture of the lordship of the Isles.

The Gigha Macneills are supposed to have sprung from Torquil Macneill, designated in his charter, “filius Nigelli,” who, in the early part of the 15th century, received from the Lord of the Isles a charter of the lands of Gigha and Taynish, with the constabulary of Castle Sweyn, in Knapdale. He had two sons, Neill his heir, and Hector, ancestor of the family of Taynish. Malcolm Macneill of Gigha, the son of Neill, who is first mentioned in 1478, was chief of this sept of the Macneills in 1493. After that period the Gigha branch followed the banner of Macdonald of Isla and Kintyre, while the Barra Macneills ranged themselves under that of Maclean of Dowart.

In 1545 Gilliganan Macneill of Barra was one of the barons and council of the Isles who accompanied Donald Dubh, styling himself Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, to Ireland, to swear allegiance to the king of England. His elder son, Roderick or Ruari Macneill, was killed at the battle of Glenlivet, by a shot from a fieldpiece, on 3d Oct. 1594. He left three sons—Roderick, his heir, called Ruari the turbulent, John, and Murdo. During the memorable and most disastrous feud which happened between the Macleans and the Macdonalds at this period, the Barra Macneills and the Gigha branch of the same clan fought on different sides.

The Macneills of Barra were expert seamen, and did not scruple to act as pirates upon occasion. An English ship having been[164] seized off the island of Barra by Ruari the turbulent, Queen Elizabeth complained of this act of piracy. The laird of Barra was in consequence summoned to appear at Edinburgh, to answer for his conduct, but he treated the summons with contempt. All the attempts made to apprehend him proving unsuccessful, Mackenzie, tutor of Kintail, undertook to effect his capture by a stratagem frequently put in practice against the island chiefs when suspecting no hostile design. Under the pretence of a friendly visit, he arrived at Macneill’s castle of Chisamul (pronounced Kisimul), the ruins of which stand on an insulated rock in Castlebay, on the south-east end of Barra, and invited him and all his attendants on board his vessel. There they were well plied with liquor, until they were all overpowered with it. The chief’s followers were then sent on shore, while he himself was carried a prisoner to Edinburgh. Being put upon his trial, he confessed his seizure of the English ship, but pleaded in excuse that he thought himself bound by his loyalty to avenge, by every means in his power, the fate of his majesty’s mother, so cruelly put to death by the queen of England. This politic answer procured his pardon, but his estate was forfeited, and given to the tutor of Kintail. The latter restored it to its owner, on condition of his holding it of him, and paying him sixty merks Scots, as a yearly feu duty. It had previously been held of the crown. Some time thereafter Sir James Macdonald of Sleat married a daughter of the tutor of Kintail, who made over the superiority to his son-in-law, and it is now possessed by Lord Macdonald, the representative of the house of Sleat.

The old chief of Barra, Ruari the turbulent, had several sons by a lady of the family of Maclean, with whom, according to an ancient practice in the Highlands, he had handfasted, instead of marrying her. He afterwards married a sister of the captain of the Clanranald, and by her also he had sons. To exclude the senior family from the succession, the captain of the Clanranald took the part of his nephews, whom he declared to be the only legitimate sons of the Barra chief. Having apprehended the eldest son of the first family for having been concerned in the piratical seizure of a ship of Bourdeaux, he conveyed him to Edinburgh for trial, but he died there soon after. His brothers-german, in revenge, assisted by Maclean of Dowart, seized Neill Macneill, the eldest son of the second family, and sent him to Edinburgh, to be tried as an actor in the piracy of the same Bourdeaux ship; and, thinking that their father was too partial to their half brothers, they also seized the old chief, and placed him in irons. Neill Macneill, called Weyislache, was found innocent, and liberated through the influence of his uncle. Barra’s elder sons, on being charged to exhibit their father before the privy council, refused, on which they were proclaimed rebels, and commission was given to the captain of the Clanranald against them. In consequence of these proceedings, which occurred about 1613, Clanranald was enabled to secure the peaceable succession of his nephew to the estate of Barra, on the death of his father, which happened soon after.[166]

The island of Barra and the adjacent isles are still possessed by the descendant and representative of the family of Macneill. Their feudal castle of Chisamul has been already mentioned. It is a building of hexagonal form, strongly built, with a wall above thirty feet high, and anchorage for small vessels on every side of it. Martin, who visited Barra in 1703, in his Description of the Western Islands, says that the Highland Chroniclers or sennachies alleged that the then chief of Barra was the 34th lineal descendant from the first Macneill who had held it. He relates that the inhabitants of this and the other islands belonging to Macneill were in the custom of applying to him for wives and husbands, when he named the persons most suitable for them, and gave them a bottle of strong waters for the marriage feast.

The chief of the Macneills of Gigha, in the first half of the 16th century, was Neill Macneill, who was killed, with many gentlemen of his tribe, in 1530, in a feud with Allan Maclean of Torlusk, called Ailen nan Sop, brother of Maclean of Dowart. His only daughter, Annabella, made over the lands of Gigha to her natural brother, Neill. He sold Gigha to[165] James Macdonald of Isla in 1554, and died without legitimate issue in the latter part of the reign of Queen Mary.

On the extinction of the direct male line, Neill Macneill vic Eachan, who had obtained the lands of Taynish, became heir male of the family. His descendant, Hector Macneill of Taynish, purchased in 1590 the island of Gigha from John Campbell of Calder, who had acquired it from Macdonald of Isla, so that it again became the property of a Macneill. The estates of Gigha and Taynish were possessed by his descendants till 1780, when the former was sold to Macneill of Colonsay, a cadet of the family.

The representative of the male line of the Macneills of Taynish and Gigha, Roger Hamilton Macneill of Taynish, married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Hamilton Price, Esq. of Raploch, Lanarkshire, with whom he got that estate, and assumed, in consequence, the name of Hamilton. His descendants are now designated of Raploch.

The principal cadets of the Gigha Macneills, besides the Taynish family, were those of Gallochallie, Carskeay, and Tirfergus. Torquil, a younger son of Lachlan Macneill Buy of Tirfergus, acquired the estate of Ugadale in Argyleshire, by marriage with the heiress of the Mackays in the end of the 17th century. The present proprietor spells his name Macneal. From Malcolm Beg Macneill, celebrated in Highland tradition for his extraordinary prowess and great strength, son of John Oig Macneill of Gallochallie, in the reign of James VI., sprung the Macneills of Arichonan. Malcolm’s only son, Neill Oig, had two sons, John, who succeeded him, and Donald Macneill of Crerar, ancestor of the Macneills of Colonsay, now the possessors of Gigha. Many cadets of the Macneills of Gigha settled in the north of Ireland.

Both branches of the clan Neill laid claim to the chiefship. According to tradition, it has belonged, since the middle of the 16th century, to the house of Barra. Under the date of 1550, a letter appears in the register of the privy council, addressed to “Torkill Macneill, chief and principal of the clan and surname of Macnelis.” Mr Skene conjectures this Torkill to have been the hereditary keeper of Castle Sweyn, and connected with neither branch of the Macneills. He is said, however, to have been the brother of Neill Macneill of Gigha, killed in 1530, as above mentioned, and to have, on his brother’s death, obtained a grant of the non-entries of Gigha as representative of the family. If this be correct, according to the above designation, the chiefship was in the Gigha line. Torquil appears to have died without leaving any direct succession.

The first of the family of Colonsay, Donald Macneill of Crerar, in South Knapdale, exchanged that estate in 1700, with the Duke of Argyll, for the islands of Colonsay and Oronsay. The old possessors of these two islands, which are only separated by a narrow sound, dry at low water, were the Macduffies or Macphies. Donald’s great-grandson, Archibald Macneill of Colonsay, sold that island to his cousin, John Macneill, who married Hester, daughter of Duncan Macneill of Dunmore, and had six sons. His eldest son, Alexander, younger of Colonsay, became the purchaser of Gigha. Two of his other sons, Duncan, Lord Colonsay, and Sir John Macneill, have distinguished themselves, the one as a lawyer and judge, and the other as a diplomatist.


Badge.—Mountain Ash.

Maclachlan, or Maclauchlan, is the name of another clan classified by Skene as belonging to the great race of the Siol Conn, and in the MS., so much valued by this writer, of 1450, the Maclachlans are traced to Gilchrist, a grandson of that Anradan or Henry, from whom all[166] the clans of the Siol Gillevray are said to be descended. They possessed the barony of Strathlachlan in Cowal, and other extensive possessions in the parishes of Glassrie and Kilmartin, and on Loch Awe side, which were separated from the main seat of the family by Loch Fyne.

They were one of those Gaelic tribes who adopted the oared galley for their special device, as indicative of their connection, either by residence or descent, with the Isles. An ancestor of the family, Lachlan Mor, who lived in the 13th century, is described in the Gaelic MS. of 1450, as “son of Patrick, son of Gilchrist, son of De dalan, called the clumsy, son of Anradan, from whom are descended also the clan Neill.”

Clan tartan

By tradition the Maclachlans are said to have come from Ireland, their original stock being the O’Loughlins of Meath.

According to the Irish genealogies, the clan Lachlan, the Lamonds, and the MacEwens of Otter, were kindred tribes, being descended from brothers who were sons of De dalan above referred to, and tradition relates that they took possession of the greater part of the district of Cowal, from Toward Point to Strachur at the same time; the Lamonds being separated from the MacEwens by the river of Kilfinan, and the MacEwens from the Maclachlans by the stream which separates the parishes of Kilfinan and Strath Lachlan. De dalan, the common ancestor of these families, is stated in ancient Irish genealogies to have been the grandson of Hugh Atlaman, the head of the great family of O’Neils, kings of Ireland.

About 1230, Gilchrist Maclachlan, who is mentioned in the manuscript of 1450 as chief of the family of Maclachlan at the time, is a witness to a charter of Kilfinan granted by Laumanus, ancestor of the Lamonds.

In 1292, Gilleskel Maclachlan got a charter of his lands in Ergadia from Baliol.

In a document preserved in the treasury of Her Majesty’s Exchequer, entitled “Les petitions de terre demandees en Escoce,” there is the following entry,—“Item Gillescop Macloghlan ad demandi la Baronie de Molbryde juvene, apelle Strath, que fu pris contre le foi de Roi.” From this it appears that Gillespie Maclachlan was in possession of the lands still retained by the family, during the occupation of Scotland by Edward I. in 1296.[167]

In 1314, Archibald Maclachlan in Ergadia, granted to the Preaching Friars of Glasgow forty shillings to be paid yearly out of his lands of Kilbride, “juxta castrum meum quod dicitur Castellachlan.” He died before 1322, and was succeeded by his brother Patrick. The latter married a daughter of James, Steward of Scotland, and had a son, Lachlan, who succeeded him. Lachlan’s son, Donald, confirmed in 1456, the grant by his predecessor Archibald, to the Preaching Friars of Glasgow of forty shillings yearly out of the lands of Kilbride, with an additional annuity of six shillings and eightpence “from his lands of Kilbryde near Castellachlan.”[168]

Lachlan, the 15th chief, dating from the time that written evidence can be adduced, was served heir to his father, 23d September 1719. He married a daughter of Stewart of Appin, and was killed at Culloden, fighting on the side of Prince Charles. The 18th chief, his great-grandson, Robert Maclachlan of Maclachlan, convener and one of the deputy-lieutenants of Argyleshire, married in 1823, Helen, daughter of William A. Carruthers of Dormont, Dumfries-shire, without issue. His brother, the next heir, George Maclachlan, Esq., has three sons and a daughter. The family seat, Castle Lachlan, built about 1790, near the old and ruinous tower, formerly the residence of the chiefs, is situated in the centre of the family estate, which is eleven miles in length, and, on an average, a mile and a half in breadth, and stretches in one continued line along the eastern side of Loch Fyne. The effective force of the clan previous to the rebellion of 1745, was estimated at 300 men. Their original seat, according to Mr Skene, appears to have been in Lochaber, where a very old branch of the family has from the earliest period been settled as native men of the Camerons.

In Argyleshire also are the families of Maclachlan of Craiginterve, Inchconnell, &c.,[167] and in Stirlingshire, of Auchintroig. The Maclachlans of Drumblane in Monteith were of the Lochaber branch.


Upon a rocky promontory situated on the coast of Lochfyne, may still be discerned the vestige of a building, called in Gaelic Chaistel Mhic Eobhuin, or the castle of MacEwen. In the Old Statistical Account of the parish of Kilfinnan, quoted by Skene, this MacEwen is described as the chief of a clan, and proprietor of the northern division of the parish called Otter; and in the manuscript of 1450, which contains the genealogy of the Clan Eoghan na Hoitreic, or Clan Ewen of Otter, they are derived from Anradan, the common ancestor of the Maclauchlans and the Macneills. This family soon became extinct, and their property gave title to a branch of the Campbells, by whom it appears to have been subsequently acquired, though in what manner we have no means of ascertaining.

Siol Eachern.

Under the name of Siol Eachern are included by Mr Skene the Macdougall Campbells of Craignish, and the Lamonds of Lamond, both very old clans in Argyleshire, and supposed to have been originally of the same race.

Macdougall Campbells of Craignish.

“The policy of the Argyll family,” says Mr Skene, “led them to employ every means for the acquisition of property, and the extension of the clan. One of the arts which they used for the latter purpose was to compel those clans which had become dependant upon them to adopt the name of Campbell; and this, when successful, was generally followed at an after period, by the assertion that that clan was descended from the house of Argyll. In general, the clans thus adopted into the race of Campbell, are sufficiently marked out by their being promoted only to the honour of their being an illegitimate branch; but the tradition of the country invariably distinguishes between the real Campbells, and those who were compelled to adopt their name.” Of the policy in question, the Campbells of Craignish are said to have afforded a remarkable instance. According to the Argyll system, as here described, they are represented as the descendants of Dugall, an illegitimate son of a Campbell, who lived in the twelfth century. But the common belief amongst the people is, that their ancient name was MacEachern, and that they were of the same race with the Macdonalds; nor are there wanting circumstances which seem to give countenance to this tradition. Their arms are charged with the galley of the Isles, from the mast of which depends a shield exhibiting some of the distinctive bearings of the Campbells; and, what is even more to the purpose, the manuscript of 1450 contains a genealogy of the MacEacherns, in which they are derived from a certain Nicol MacMurdoch, who lived in the twelfth century. Besides, when the MacGillevrays and MacIans of Morvern and Ardgour were broken up and dispersed, many of their septs, although not resident on the property of the Craignish family, acknowledged its head as their chief. But as the MacGillevrays and the MacIans were two branches of the same clan, which had separated as early as the twelfth century; and as the MacEacherns appear to have been of the same race, Murdoch, the first of the clan, being contemporary with Murdoch the father of Gillebride, the ancestor of the Siol Gillevray; it may be concluded that the Siol Eachern and the MacIans were of the same clan; and this is further confirmed by the circumstance, that there was an old family of MacEacherns which occupied Kingerloch, bordering on Ardgour, the ancient property of the MacIans. That branch of the Siol Eachern which settled at Craignish, were called Clan Dugall Craignish, and obtained, it is said, the property known by this name from the brother of Campbell of Lochow, in the reign of David II.[169] The lands of Colin Campbell of Lochow having been forfeited in that reign, his brother, Gillespie Campbell, appears to have obtained a grant of them from the[168] crown; and it is not improbable that the clan Dugall Craignish acquired from the latter their right to the property of Craignish. After the restoration of the Lochow family, by the removal of the forfeiture, that of Craignish were obliged to hold their lands, not of the crown, but of the house of Argyll. Nevertheless, they continued for some time a considerable family, maintaining a sort of independence, until at length, yielding to the influence of that policy which has already been described, they merged, like most of the neighbouring clans, in that powerful race by whom they were surrounded.[170]


Badge.—Crab-Apple Tree.

It is an old and accredited tradition in the Highlands, that the Lamonds or Lamonts were the most ancient proprietors of Cowal, and that the Stewarts, Maclauchlans, and Campbells obtained possession of their property in that district by marriage with daughters of the family. At an early period a very small part only of Cowal was included in the sheriffdom of Upper Argyle, the remainder being comprehended in that of Perth. It may, therefore, be presumed that, on the conquest of Argyle by Alexander II., the lord of Lower Cowal had submitted to the king, and obtained a crown charter. But, in little more than half a century after that event, we find the High Steward in possession of Lower Cowal, and the Maclauchlans in possession of Strathlachlan. It appears, indeed, that, in 1242, Alexander the High Steward of Scotland, married Jean, the daughter of James, son of Angus MacRory, who is styled Lord of Bute; and, from the manuscript of 1450, we learn that, about the same period, Gilchrist Maclauchlan married the daughter of Lachlan MacRory; from which it is probable that this Roderic or Rory was the third individual who obtained a crown charter for Lower Cowal, and that by these intermarriages the property passed from his family into the hands of the Stewarts and the Machlauchlans. The coincidence of these facts, with the tradition above-mentioned, would seem also to indicate that Angus MacRory was the ancestor of the Lamonds.

After the marriage of the Steward with the heiress of Lamond, the next of that race of whom any mention is made is Duncan MacFercher, and “Laumanus,” son of Malcolm, and grandson of the same Duncan, who appear to have granted to the monks of Paisley a charter of the lands of Kilmore, near Lochgilp, and also of the lands “which they and their predecessors held at Kilmun” (quas nos et antecessores nostri apud Kilmun habuerunt). In the same year, “Laumanus,” the son of Malcolm, also granted a charter of the lands of Kilfinnan, which, in 1295, is confirmed by Malcolm, the son and heir of the late “Laumanus” (domini quondam Laumanis). But in an instrument, or deed, dated in 1466, between the monastery of Paisley and John Lamond of Lamond, regarding the lands of Kilfinan, it is expressly stated, that these lands had belonged to the ancestors of John Lamond; and hence, it is evident, that the “Laumanus,” mentioned in the previous deed, must have been one of the number, if not indeed the chief and founder of the family. “From Laumanus,” says Mr Skene, “the clan appear to have taken the name of Maclaman or Lamond, having previously to this time borne the name of Macerachar, and Clan Mhic Earachar.”

The connection of this clan with that of Dugall Craignish, is indicated by the same circumstances which point out the connection of other branches of the tribe; for whilst the Craignish family preserved its power it was followed by a great portion of the Clan Mhic Earachar, although it possessed no feudal right[169] to their services. “There is one peculiarity connected with the Lamonds,” says Mr Skene, “that although by no means a powerful clan, their genealogy can be proved by charters, at a time when most other Highland families are obliged to have recourse to tradition, and the genealogies of their ancient sennachies; but their antiquity could not protect the Lamonds from the encroachments of the Campbells, by whom they were soon reduced to as small a portion of their original possessions in Lower Cowal, as the other Argyleshire clans had been of theirs.”[171] The Lamonds were a clan of the same description as the Maclauchlans, and, like the latter, they have, notwithstanding “the encroachments of the Campbells,” still retained a portion of their ancient possessions. The chief of this family is Lamond of Lamond.

According to Nisbet, the clan Lamond were originally from Ireland, but whether they sprung from the Dalriadic colony, or from a still earlier race in Cowal, it is certain that they possessed, at a very early period, the superiority of the district. Their name continued to be the prevailing one till the middle of the 17th century. In June 1646, certain chiefs of the clan Campbell in the vicinity of Dunoon castle, determined upon obtaining the ascendency, took advantage of the feuds and disorders of the period, to wage a war of extermination against the Lamonds. The massacre of the latter by the Campbells, that year, formed one of the charges against the Marquis of Argyll in 1661, although he does not seem to have been any party to it.

An interesting tradition is recorded of one of the lairds of Lamond, who had unfortunately killed, in a sudden quarrel, the son of MacGregor of Glenstrae, taking refuge in the house of the latter, and claiming his protection, which was readily granted, he being ignorant that he was the slayer of his son. On being informed, MacGregor escorted him in safety to his own people. When the MacGregors were proscribed, and the aged chief of Glenstrae had become a wanderer, Lamond hastened to protect him and his family, and received them into his house.


[162] Clans, 44, 45.

[163] Mr Smibert (Clans, p. 46) thus describes this interesting relic:—“That ornament, as observed, is silver, and consists of a circular plate, about four inches in diameter, having a tongue like that of a common buckle on the under side. The upper side is magnificently ornamented. First, from the margin rises a neatly-formed rim, with hollows cut in the edge at certain distances, like the embrasures in an embattled wall. From a circle within this rim rise eight round tapering obelisks, about an inch and a quarter high, finely cut, and each studded at top with a river pearl. Within this circle of obelisks there is a second rim, also ornamented with carved work, and within which rises a neat circular case, occupying the whole centre of the brooch, and slightly overtopping the obelisks. The exterior of this case, instead of forming a plain circle, projects into eight semi-cylinders, which relieve it from all appearance of heaviness. The upper part is likewise carved very elegantly, and in the centre there is a large gem. This case may be taken off, and within there is a hollow, which might have contained any small articles upon which a particular value was set.”

[164] In referring to this incident in the first part of this work (p. 63), the name “Stewart” (which had crept into the old edition) was allowed to remain instead of that of “Macdougall.” The Stewarts did not possess Lorn till some years after.

[165] Clans, p. 84.

[166] Gregory’s Highlands and Isles, p. 346.

[167] See Sir Francis Palgrave’s Scottish Documents, vol. i. p. 319.

[168] Munimenta Fratrum Predicatorum de Glasgu. Maitland Club.

[169] “Nisbet, that acute heraldist,” says Smibert, “discovered an old seal of the family, on which the words are, as nearly as they can be made out, S(igillum) Dugalli de Craignish, showing that the Campbells of Craignish were simply of the Dhu-Gall race. The seal is very old, though noticed only by its use in 1500. It has the grand mark upon it of the bearings of all the Gael of the Western Coasts, namely, the Oared Galley.”

[170] Skene’s Highlanders.

[171] Skene’s Highlanders, vol. ii. part ii. chap. 4.


Robertsons or Clan Donnachie—Macfarlanes—Campbells of Argyll and offshoots—Royal Marriage—Campbells of Breadalbane—Macarthur Campbells of Strachur—Campbells of Cawdor, Aberuchill, Ardnamurchan, Auchinbreck, Ardkinglass, Barcaldine, Dunstaffnage, Monzie—The Macleods of Lewis and Harris—Macleods of Rasay.


Badge.—Fern or Brackens.

Besides the clans already noticed, there are other two which, according to Skene, are set down by the genealogists as having originally belonged to the Gallgael or Celts of the Western Isles; these are the Robertsons or clan Donnachie, and the Macfarlanes.

Tradition claims for the clan Donnachie a descent from the great sept of the Macdonalds, their remote ancestor being said to have been Duncan (hence the name Donnachie) the Fat, son of Angus Mor, Lord of the Isles, in the reign of William the Lion. Smibert thinks this is certainly the most feasible account of their origin. Skene, however, endeavours to trace their descent from Duncan, King of Scotland, eldest son of Malcolm III., their immediate ancestor, according to him, having been Conan, second son of Henry, fourth and last of the ancient Celtic Earls of Athole. This Conan, it is said, received from his father, in the reign of Alexander II., the lands of Generochy, afterwards called Strowan, in Gaelic Struthan—that is, streamy. Conan’s great-grandson, Andrew, was styled of Athole, de Atholia, which was the uniform designation of[170] the family, indicative, Mr Skene thinks, of their descent from the ancient Earls of Athole. According to the same authority, it was from Andrew’s son, Duncan, that the clan derived their distinctive appellation of the clan Donnachie, or children of Duncan. Duncan is said to have been twice married, and acquired by both marriages considerable territory in the district of Rannoch. By his first wife he had a son, Robert de Atholia.

As it is well known that Mr Skene’s Celtic prejudices are very strong, and as his derivation of the Robertsons from Duncan, king of Scotland, is to a great extent conjectural, it is only fair to give the other side of the question, viz., the probability of their derivation from the Celts of the Western Isles. We shall take the liberty of quoting here Mr Smibert’s judicious and acute remarks on this point. “There unquestionably exist doubts about the derivation of the Robertsons from the Macdonalds; but the fact of their acquiring large possessions at so early a period in Athole, seems to be decisive of their descent from some great and strong house among the Western Celts. And what house was more able so to endow its scions than that of Somerled, whose heads were the kings of the west of Scotland? The Somerled or Macdonald power, moreover, extended into Athole beyond all question; and, indeed, it may be said to have been almost the sole power which could so have planted there one of its offshoots, apart from the regal authority. Accordingly, though Duncan may not have been the son of Angus Mor (Macdonald), a natural son of the Lord of the Isles, as has been commonly averred, it by no means follows that the family were not of the Macdonald race. The proof may be difficult, but probability must be accepted in its stead. An opposite course has been too long followed on all sides. Why should men conceal from themselves the plain fact that the times under consideration were barbarous, and that their annals were necessarily left to us, not by the pen of the accurate historian, but by the dealers in song and tradition?”

Referring to the stress laid by Mr Skene upon the designation de Atholia, which was uniformly assumed by the Robertsons, Mr Smibert remarks,—“In the first place, the designation De Atholia can really be held to prove nothing, since, as in the case of De Insulis, such phrases often pointed to mere residence, and were especially used in reference to large districts. A gentleman ‘of Athole’ is not necessarily connected with the Duke; and, as we now use such phrases without any meaning of that kind, much more natural was the custom of old, when general localities alone were known generally. In the second place, are the Robertsons made more purely Gaelic, for such is partly the object in the view of Mr Skene, by being traced to the ancient Athole house? That the first lords of the line were Celts may be admitted; but heiresses again and again interrupted the male succession. While one wedded a certain Thomas of London, another found a mate in a person named David de Hastings. These strictly English names speak for themselves; and it was by the Hastings marriage, which took place shortly after the year 1200, that the first house of Athole was continued. It is clear, therefore, that the supposition of the descent of the Robertsons from the first lords of Athole leaves them still of largely mingled blood—Norman, Saxon, and Gaelic. Such is the result, even when the conjecture is admitted.

“As a Lowland neighbourhood gave to the race of Robert, son of Duncan, the name of Robertson, so would it also intermingle their race and blood with those of the Lowlanders.”[172]

It is from the grandson of Robert of Athole, also named Robert, that the clan Donnachie derive their name of Robertson. This Robert was noted for his predatory incursions into the Lowlands, and is historically known as the chief who arrested and delivered up to the vengeance of the government Robert Graham and the Master of Athole, two of the murderers of James I., for which he was rewarded with a crown charter, dated in 1451, erecting his whole lands into a free barony. He also received the honourable augmentation to his arms of a naked man manacled under the achievement, with the motto, Virtutis gloria merces. He was mortally wounded in the head near the village of Auchtergaven, in a[171] conflict with Robert Forrester of Torwood, with whom he had a dispute regarding the lands of Little Dunkeld. Binding up his head with a white cloth, he rode to Perth, and obtained from the king a new grant of the lands of Strowan. On his return home, he died of his wounds. He had three sons, Alexander, Robert, and Patrick. Robert, the second son, was the ancestor of the Earls of Portmore, a title now extinct.

The eldest son, Alexander, was twice married, his sons becoming progenitors of various families of Robertsons. He died in, or shortly prior to, 1507, and was succeeded by his grandson, William. This chief had some dispute with the Earl of Athole concerning the marches of their estates, and was killed by a party of the earl’s followers, in 1530. Taking advantage of a wadset or mortgage which he held over the lands of Strowan, the earl seized nearly the half of the family estate, which the Robertsons could never again recover. William’s son, Robert, had two sons—William, who died without issue, and Donald, who succeeded him.

Donald’s grandson, 11th laird of Strowan, died in 1636, leaving an infant son, Alexander, in whose minority the government of the clan devolved upon his uncle, Donald. Devoted to the cause of Charles I., the latter raised a regiment of his name and followers, and was with the Marquis of Montrose in all his battles. After the Restoration, the king settled a pension upon him.

His nephew, Alexander Robertson of Strowan, was twice married. By his second wife, Marion, daughter of General Baillie of Letham, he had two sons and one daughter, and died in 1688. Duncan, the second son by the second marriage, served in Russia, with distinction, under Peter the Great.

Alexander, the elder son of the second marriage, was the celebrated Jacobite chief and poet. Born about 1670, he was destined for the church, and sent to the university of St Andrews; but his father and brother by the first marriage dying within a few months of each other, he succeeded to the family estate and the chiefship in 1688. Soon after, he joined the Viscount Dundee, when he appeared in arms in the Highlands for the cause of King James; but though he does not appear to have been at Killiecrankie, and was still under age, he was, for his share in this rising, attainted by a decreet of parliament in absence in 1690, and his estates forfeited to the crown. He retired, in consequence, to the court of the exiled monarch at St Germains, where he lived for several years, and served one or two campaigns in the French army. In 1703, Queen Anne granted him a remission, when he returned to Scotland, and resided unmolested on his estates, but neglecting to get the remission passed the seals, the forfeiture of 1690 was never legally repealed. With about 500 of his clan he joined the Earl of Mar in 1715, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Sheriffmuir, but rescued. Soon after, however, he fell into the hands of a party of soldiers in the Highlands, and was ordered to be conducted to Edinburgh; but, with the assistance of his sister, he contrived to escape on the way, when he again took refuge in France. In 1723, the estate of Strowan was granted by the government to Margaret, the chief’s sister, by a charter under the great seal, and in 1726 she disponed the same in trust for the behoof of her brother, substituting, in the event of his death without lawful heirs of his body, Duncan, son of Alexander Robertson of Drumachune, her father’s cousin, and the next lawful heir male of the family. Margaret died unmarried in 1727. Her brother had returned to Scotland the previous year, and obtaining in 1731 a remission for his life, took possession of his estate. In 1745 he once more “marshalled his clan” in behalf of the Stuarts, but his age preventing him from personally taking any active part in the rebellion, his name was passed over in the list of proscriptions that followed. He died in his own house of Carie, in Rannoch, April 18, 1749, in his 81st year, without lawful issue, and in him ended the direct male line. A volume of his poems was published after his death. An edition was reprinted at Edinburgh in 1785, 12mo, containing also the “History and Martial Achievements of the Robertsons of Strowan.” He is said to have formed the prototype of the Baron of Bradwardine in “Waverley.”

The portion of the original estate of Strowan[172] which remained devolved upon Duncan Robertson of Drumachune, a property which his great-grandfather, Duncan Mor (who died in 1687), brother of Donald the tutor, had acquired from the Athole family. As, however, his name was not included in the last act of indemnity passed by the government, he was dispossessed of the estate in 1752, when he and his family retired to France. His son, Colonel Alexander Robertson, obtained a restitution of Strowan in 1784, and died, unmarried, in 1822. Duncan Mor’s second son, Donald, had a son, called Robert Bane, whose grandson, Alexander Robertson, now succeeded to the estate.

The son of the latter, Major-general George Duncan Robertson of Strowan, C.B., passed upwards of thirty years in active service, and received the cross of the Imperial Austrian order of Leopold. He was succeeded by his son, George Duncan Robertson, born 26th July 1816, at one time an officer in the 42d Highlanders.

The force which the Robertsons could bring into the field was estimated at 800 in 1715, and 700 in 1745.

Of the branches of the family, the Robertsons of Lude, in Blair-Athole, are the oldest, being of contemporary antiquity to that of Strowan.

Patrick de Atholia, eldest son of the second marriage of Duncan de Atholia, received from his father, at his death, about 1358, the lands of Lude. He is mentioned in 1391, by Wyntoun (Book ii. p. 367) as one of the chieftains and leaders of the clan. He had, with a daughter, married to Donald, son of Farquhar, ancestor of the Farquharsons of Invercauld, two sons, Donald and Alexander. The latter, known by the name of Rua or Red, from the colour of his hair, acquired the estate of Straloch, for which he had a charter from James II. in 1451, and was ancestor of the Robertsons of Straloch, Perthshire. His descendants were called the Barons Rua. The last of the Barons Rua, or Red, was Alexander Robertson of Straloch, who died about the end of the last century, leaving an only son, John, who adopted the old family soubriquet, and called himself Reid (probably hoping to be recognised as the chief of the Reids). John Reid entered the army, where he rose to the rank of General, and died in 1803, leaving the reversion of his fortune (amounting to about £70,000) for the endowment of a chair of music, and other purposes, in the University of Edinburgh. This ancient family is represented by Sir Archibald Ava Campbell, Bart.

Donald, the elder son, succeeded his father. He resigned his lands of Lude into the king’s hand on February 7, 1447, but died before he could receive his infeftment. He had two sons: John, who got the charter under the great seal, dated March 31, 1448, erecting the lands of Lude into a barony, proceeding on his father’s resignation; and Donald, who got as his patrimony the lands of Strathgarry. This branch of Lude ended in an heiress, who married an illegitimate son of Stewart of Invermeath. About 1700, Strathgarry was sold to another family of the name of Stewart.

The Robertsons of Inshes, Inverness-shire, are descended from Duncan, second son of Duncan de Atholia, dominus de Ranagh, above mentioned.

The Robertsons of Kindeace descend from William Robertson, third son of John, ancestor of the Robertsons of the Inshes, by his wife, a daughter of Fearn of Pitcullen. He obtained from his father, in patrimony, several lands about Inverness, and having acquired great riches as a merchant, purchased, in 1615, the lands of Orkney, Nairnshire, and in 1639, those of Kindeace, Ross-shire; the latter becoming the chief title of the family.

The Robertsons of Kinlochmoidart, Inverness-shire, are descended from John Robertson of Muirton, Elginshire, second son of Alexander Robertson of Strowan, by his wife, Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Athole.

The fifth in succession, the Rev. William Robertson, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, was father of Principal Robertson, and of Mary, who married the Rev. James Syme, and had an only child, Eleonora, mother of Henry, Lord Brougham. The Principal had three sons and two daughters.



Badge.—Cloudberry bush.

Of the clan Macfarlane, Mr Skene gives the best account, and we shall therefore take the liberty of availing ourselves of his researches. According to him, with the exception of the clan Donnachie, the clan Parlan or Pharlan is the only one, the descent of which from the ancient earls of the district where their possessions were situated, may be established by the authority of a charter. It appears, indeed, that the ancestor of this clan was Gilchrist, the brother of Maldowen or Malduin, the third Earl of Lennox. This is proved by a charter of Maldowen, still extant, by which he gives to his brother Gilchrist a grant “de terris de superiori Arrochar de Luss;” and these lands, which continued in possession of the clan until the death of the last chief, have at all times constituted their principal inheritance.

But although the descent of the clan from the Earls of Lennox be thus established, the origin of their ancestors is by no means so easily settled. Of all the native earls of Scotland, those of this district alone have had a foreign origin assigned to them, though, apparently, without any sufficient reason. The first Earl of Lennox who appears on record is Aluin comes de Levenox, who lived in the early part of the 13th century; and there is some reason to believe that from this Aluin the later Earls of Lennox were descended. It is, no doubt, impossible to determine now who this Aluin really was; but, in the absence of direct authority, we gather from tradition that the heads of the family of Lennox, before being raised to the peerage, were hereditary seneschals of Strathearn, and bailies of the Abthanery of Dull, in Athole. Aluin was succeeded by a son of the same name, who is frequently mentioned in the chartularies of Lennox and Paisley, and who died before the year 1225. In Donald, the sixth earl, the male branch of the family became extinct. Margaret, the daughter of Donald, married Walter de Fassalane, the heir male of the family; but this alliance failed to accomplish the objects intended by it, or, in other words, to preserve the honours and power of the house of Lennox. Their son Duncan, the eighth earl, had no male issue; and his eldest daughter Isabella, having married Sir Murdoch Stuart, the eldest son of the Regent, he and his family became involved in the ruin which overwhelmed the unfortunate house of Albany. At the death of Isabella, in 1460, the earldom was claimed by three families; but that of Stewart of Darnley eventually overcame all opposition, and acquired the title and estates of Lennox. Their accession took place in the year 1488; upon which the clans that had been formerly united with the earls of the old stock separated themselves, and became independent.

Of these clans the principal was that of the Macfarlanes, the descendants, as has already been stated, of Gilchrist, a younger brother of Maldowen, Earl of Lennox. In the Lennox charters, several of which he appears to have subscribed as a witness, this Gilchrist is generally designated as frater comitis, or brother of the earl. His son Duncan also obtained a charter of his lands from the Earl of Lennox, and appears in the Ragman’s roll under the title of “Duncan Macgilchrist de Levenaghes.” From a grandson of this Duncan, who was called in Gaelic Parlan, or Bartholomew, the clan appears to have taken the surname of Macfarlane; indeed the connection of Parlan both with Duncan and with Gilchrist is clearly established by a charter granted to Malcolm Macfarlane, the son of Parlan, confirming to him the lands of Arrochar and others; and hence Malcolm may be considered as the real founder of the clan. He was succeeded by his son Duncan, who obtained from the Earl of Lennox a charter of the lands of Arrochar[174] as ample in its provisions as any that had been granted to his predecessors; and married a daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow, as appears from a charter of confirmation granted in his favour by Duncan, Earl of Lennox. Not long after his death, however, the ancient line of the Earls of Lennox became extinct; and the Macfarlanes having claimed the earldom as heirs male, offered a strenuous opposition to the superior pretensions of the feudal heirs. Their resistance, however, proved alike unsuccessful and disastrous. The family of the chief perished in defence of what they believed to be their just rights; the clan also suffered severely, and of those who survived the struggle, the greater part took refuge in remote parts of the country. Their destruction, indeed, would have been inevitable, but for the opportune support given by a gentleman of the clan to the Darnley family. This was Andrew Macfarlane, who, having married the daughter of John Stewart, Lord Darnley and Earl of Lennox, to whom his assistance had been of great moment at a time of difficulty, saved the rest of the clan, and recovered the greater part of their hereditary possessions. The fortunate individual in question, however, though the good genius of the race, does not appear to have possessed any other title to the chiefship than what he derived from his position, and the circumstance of his being the only person in a condition to afford them protection; in fact, the clan refused him the title of chief, which they appear to have considered as incommunicable, except in the right line; and his son, Sir John Macfarlane, accordingly contented himself with assuming the secondary or subordinate designation of captain of the clan.

From this time, the Macfarlanes appear to have on all occasions supported the Earls of Lennox of the Stewart race, and to have also followed their banner in the field. For several generations, however, their history as a clan is almost an entire blank; indeed, they appear to have merged into mere retainers of the powerful family, under whose protection they enjoyed undisturbed possession of their hereditary domains. But in the sixteenth century Duncan Macfarlane of Macfarlane appears as a steady supporter of Matthew, Earl of Lennox. At the head of three hundred men of his own name, he joined Lennox and Glencairn in 1544, and was present with his followers at the battle of Glasgow-Muir, where he shared the defeat of the party he supported. He was also involved in the forfeiture which followed; but having powerful friends, his property was, through their intercession, restored, and he obtained a remission under the privy seal. The loss of this battle forced Lennox to retire to England; whence, having married a niece of Henry VIII., he soon afterwards returned with a considerable force which the English monarch had placed under his command. The chief of Macfarlane durst not venture to join Lennox in person, being probably restrained by the terror of another forfeiture; but, acting on the usual Scottish policy of that time, he sent his relative, Walter Macfarlane of Tarbet, with four hundred men, to reinforce his friend and patron; and this body, according to Holinshed, did most excellent service, acting at once as light troops and as guides to the main body. Duncan, however, did not always conduct himself with equal caution; for he is said to have fallen in the fatal battle of Pinkie, in 1547, on which occasion also a great number of his clan perished.

Andrew, the son of Duncan, as bold, active, and adventurous as his sire, engaged in the civil wars of the period, and, what is more remarkable, took a prominent part on the side of the Regent Murray; thus acting in opposition to almost all the other Highland chiefs, who were warmly attached to the cause of the queen. He was present at the battle of Langside with a body of his followers, and there “stood the Regent’s part in great stead;” for, in the hottest of the fight, he came up with three hundred of his friends and countrymen, and falling fiercely on the flank of the queen’s army, threw them into irretrievable disorder, and thus mainly contributed to decide the fortune of the day. The clan boast of having taken at this battle three of Queen Mary’s standards, which, they say, were preserved for a long time in the family. Macfarlane’s reward was not such as afforded any great cause for admiring the munificence of the Regent; but that his vanity at least might he conciliated, Murray bestowed upon him the crest of a[175] demi-savage proper, holding in his dexter hand a sheaf of arrows, and pointing with his sinister to an imperial crown, or, with the motto, This I’ll defend. Of the son of this chief nothing is known; but his grandson, Walter Macfarlane, returning to the natural feelings of a Highlander, proved himself as sturdy a champion of the royal party as his grandfather had been an uncompromising opponent and enemy. During Cromwell’s time, he was twice besieged in his own house, and his castle of Inveruglas was afterwards burned down by the English. But nothing could shake his fidelity to his party. Though his personal losses in adhering to the royal cause were of a much more substantial kind than his grandfather’s reward in opposing it, yet his zeal was not cooled by adversity, nor his ardour abated by the vengeance which it drew down on his head.

Although a small clan, the Macfarlanes were as turbulent and predatory in their way as their neighbours the Macgregors. By the Act of the Estates of 1587 they were declared to be one of the clans for whom the chief was made responsible; by another act passed in 1594, they were denounced as being in the habit of committing theft, robbery, and oppression; and in July 1624 many of the clan were tried and convicted of theft and robbery. Some of them were punished, some pardoned; while others were removed to the highlands of Aberdeenshire, and to Strathaven in Banffshire, where they assumed the names of Stewart, M’Caudy, Greisock, M’James, and M’Innes.

Of one eminent member of the clan, the following notice is taken by Mr Skene in his work on the Highlands of Scotland. He says, “It is impossible to conclude this sketch of the history of the Macfarlanes without alluding to the eminent antiquary, Walter Macfarlane of that ilk, who is as celebrated among historians as the indefatigable collector of the ancient records of the country, as his ancestors had been among the other Highland chiefs for their prowess in the field. The family itself, however, is now nearly extinct, after having held their original lands for a period of six hundred years.”

Of the lairds of Macfarlane there have been no fewer than twenty-three. The last of them went to North America in the early part of the 18th century. A branch of the family settled in Ireland in the reign of James VII., and the headship of the clan is claimed by its representative, Macfarlane of Hunstown House, in the county of Dublin. The descendants of the ancient chiefs cannot now be traced, and the lands once possessed by them have passed into other hands.

Under the head of Garmoran, Mr Skene, following the genealogists, includes two western clans, viz., those of Campbell and Macleod. We shall, however, depart from Mr Skene’s order, and notice these two important clans here, while treating of the clans of the western coasts and isles. Mr Skene,[173] on very shadowy grounds, endeavours to make out that there must have been an ancient earldom of Garmoran, situated between north and south Argyle, and including, besides the districts of Knoydart, Morar, Arisaig, and Moydart (forming a late lordship of Garmoran), the districts of Glenelg, Ardnamurchan, and Morvern. He allows, however, that “at no period embraced by the records do we discover Garmoran as an efficient earldom.” As to this, Mr E. W. Robertson[174] remarks that “the same objection may be raised against the earldom of Garmoran which is urged against the earldom of the Merns, the total silence of history respecting it.”



The name Campbell is undoubtedly one of considerable antiquity, and the clan has for long[176] been one of the most numerous and powerful in the Highlands, although many families have adopted the name who have no connection with the Campbells proper by blood or descent. The Argyll family became latterly so powerful, that many smaller clans were absorbed in it voluntarily or compulsorily, and assumed in course of time its peculiar designation. The origin of the name, as well as of the founder of the family, remains still a matter of the greatest doubt. The attempt to deduce the family from the half-mythical King Arthur, of course, is mere trifling.

The name is by some stated to have been derived from a Norman knight, named de Campo Bello, who came to England with William the Conqueror. As respects the latter part of the statement, it is to be observed that in the list of all the knights who composed the army of the Conqueror on the occasion of his invasion of England, and which is known by the name of the Roll of Battle-Abbey, the name of Campo Bello is not to be found. But it does not follow, as recent writers have assumed, that a knight of that name may not have come over to England at a later period, either of his reign or that of his successors.

Clan tartan

It has been alleged, in opposition to this account, that in the oldest form of writing the name, it is spelled Cambel or Kambel, and it is so found in many ancient documents; but these were written by parties not acquainted with the individuals whose name they record, as in the manuscript account of the battle of Halidon Hill, by an unknown English writer, preserved in the British Museum; in the Ragman’s Roll, which was compiled by an English clerk, and in Wyntoun’s Chronicle. There is no evidence, however, that at any period it was written by any of the family otherwise than as Campbell, notwithstanding the extraordinary diversity that occurs in the spelling of other names by their holders, as shown by Lord Lindsay in the account of his clan; and the invariable employment of the letter p by the Campbells themselves would be of itself a strong argument for the southern origin of the name, did there not exist, in the record of the parliament of Robert Bruce held in 1320, the name of the then head of the family, entered as Sir Nigel de Campo Bello.

The writers, however, who attempt to sustain the fabulous tales of the sennachies, assign a very different origin to the name. It is personal, say they, “like that of some others of the Highland clans, being composed of the words cam, bent or arched, and beul, mouth; this having been the most prominent feature of the great ancestor of the clan, Diarmid O’Dubin or O’Duin, a brave warrior celebrated in traditional story, who was contemporary with the heroes of Ossian. In the Gaelic language his descendants are called Siol Diarmid, the offspring or race of Diarmid.”

Besides the manifest improbability of this origin on other grounds, two considerations may be adverted to, each of them conclusive:—

First, It is known to all who have examined ancient genealogies, that among the Celtic races personal distinctives never have become hereditary. Malcolm Canmore, Donald Bane, Rob Roy, or Evan Dhu, were, with many other names, distinctive of personal qualities, but none of them descended, or could do so, to the children of those who acquired them.

Secondly, It is no less clear that, until after what is called the Saxon Conquest had been completely effected, no hereditary surnames were in use among the Celts of Scotland, nor by the chiefs of Norwegian descent who governed in Argyll and the Isles. This circumstance is pointed out by Tytler in his remarks upon the early population of Scotland, in the second volume of the History of Scotland. The domestic slaves attached to the possessions of the church and of the barons have their genealogies engrossed in ancient charters of conveyances and confirmation copied by him. The names are all Celtic, but in no one instance does the son, even when bearing a second or distinctive name, follow that of his father.

Skene, who maintains the purely native origin of the Campbell, does so in the following remarks:—

“We have shown it to be invariably the case, that when a clan claims a foreign origin, and accounts for their possession of the chiefship and property of the clan by a marriage with the heiress of the old proprietors, they can be proved to be in reality a cadet of that older house who had usurped the chiefship,[177] while their claim to the chiefship is disputed by an acknowledged descendant of that older house. To this rule the Campbells are no exceptions, for while the tale upon which they found a Norman descent is exactly parallel to those of the other clans in the same situation, the most ancient manuscript genealogies deduce them in the male line from that very family of O’Duin, whose heiress they are said to have married, and the Macarthur Campbells, of Strachur, the acknowledged descendants of the older house, they have at all times disputed the chiefship with the Argyll family. Judging from analogy, we are compelled to admit that the Campbells of Strachur must formerly have been chiefs of the clan, and that the usual causes in such cases have operated to reduce the Strachur family, and to place that of Argyll in that situation, and this is confirmed by the early history of the clan.”

We shall take the liberty of quoting here some ingenious speculations on the origin of the name and the founder of the clan, from the pen of a gentleman, a member of the clan, who, for several years, has devoted his leisure to the investigation of the subject, and has placed the results of his researches at our disposal. He declares that the name itself is the most inflexible name in Scotland. In all old documents, he says, in which it occurs, either written by a Campbell, or under his direction, it is spelled always Campbell, or Campo-Bello; and its southern origin he believes is past question. It has always seemed to him to have been the name of some Roman, who, after his countrymen retired from Britain, had settled among the Britons of Strath-Clyde. “I am not one,” he continues, “of those who suppose that the fortunes of Campbell depended entirely on the patrimony of his wife. As a family who had been long in the country, the chief of the name (it is improbable that he was then the sole owner of that name, although his family is alone known to history), as a soldier, high in his sovereign’s favour, was likely to have possessed lands in Argyle before his marriage took place. Men of mark were then necessary to keep these rather wild and outlandish districts in subjection, and only men high in royal favour were likely to have that trust,—a trust likely to be so well rewarded, that its holder would be an eligible match for the heiress of Paul In-Sporran.

“It is also quite likely that Eva O’Duin was a king’s ward, and on that account her hand would be in the king’s gift; and who so likely to receive it as a trusted knight, connected with the district, and one whose loyalty was unquestioned?

“Again, we put little stress on the Celtic origin of the name,—from the crooked mouth of the first chief, as if from cam, bent or crooked, and beul, mouth. No doubt this etymology is purely fanciful, and may have been invented by some one anxious to prove the purely Celtic origin of the family; but this seems really unnecessary, as a Celtic residence, Celtic alliances, and Celtic associations for nearly 800 years, is a Celtic antiquity in an almost unbroken line such as few families are able to boast of; indeed, no clan can boast of purer Celtic blood than the Campbells, and their present chief.”

The conclusion which, we think, any unprejudiced reader must come to, is, that the question of the origin of the Campbells cannot, until further light be thrown upon it, be determined with certainty at the present day. It is possible that the story of the genealogists may be true; they declare that the predecessors of the Argyll[175] family, on the female side, were possessors of Lochow or Lochawe in Argyleshire, as early as 404 A.D. Of this, however, there is no proof worthy of the name. The first of the race, who comes prominently into notice is one Archibald (also called Gillespie) Campbell, as likely as not, we think, to be a gentleman of Anglo-Norman lineage, who lived in the 11th century. He acquired the lordship of Lochow, or Lochawe, by marriage with Eva, daughter and heiress of Paul O’Duin, Lord of Lochow, denominated Paul Insporran, from his being the king’s treasurer. Another Gillespic is the first of the house mentioned in authentic history, his name occurring as a witness of the charter of the lands of the burgh of Newburgh by Alexander III. in 1246.


Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow, the real founder of the family, sixth in descent from the first Gillespic, distinguished himself by his warlike actions, and was knighted by King Alexander the Third in 1280. He added largely to his estates, and on account of his great prowess he obtained the surname of Mohr or More (“great”); from him the chief of the Argyll family is in Gaelic styled Mac Chaillan More.[176]

Sir Colin Campbell had a quarrel with a powerful neighbour of his, the Lord of Lorn, and after he had defeated him, pursuing the victory too eagerly, was slain (in 1294) at a place called the String of Cowal, where a great obelisk was erected over his grave. This is said to have occasioned bitter feuds betwixt the houses of Lochow and Lorn for a long period of years, which were put an end to by the marriage of the daughter of the Celtic proprietor of Lorn, with John Stewart of Innermeath about 1386. Sir Colin married a lady of the name of Sinclair, by whom he had five sons.

Sir Niel Campbell of Lochow, his eldest son, swore fealty to Edward the First, but afterwards joined Robert the Bruce, and fought by his side in almost every encounter, from the defeat at Methven to the victory at Bannockburn. King Robert rewarded his services by giving him his sister, the Lady Mary Bruce, in marriage, and conferring on him the lands forfeited by the Earl of Athole. His next brother Donald was the progenitor of the Campbells of Loudon. By his wife Sir Niel had three sons,—Sir Colin; John, created Earl of Athole, upon the forfeiture of David de Strathbogie, the eleventh earl; and Dugal.

Sir Colin, the eldest son, obtained a charter from his uncle, King Robert Bruce, of the lands of Lochow and Artornish, dated at Arbroath, 10th February 1316, in which he is designated Colinus filius Nigelli Cambel, militis. As a reward for assisting the Steward of Scotland in 1334 in the recovery of the castle of Dunoon, in Cowal, Sir Colin was made hereditary governor of the castle, and had the grant of certain lands for the support of his dignity. Sir Colin died about 1340. By his wife, a daughter of the house of Lennox, he had three sons and a daughter.

The eldest son, Sir Gillespic or Archibald, who added largely to the family possessions, was twice married, and had three sons, Duncan, Colin, and David, and a daughter, married to Duncan Macfarlane of Arrochar. Colin, the second son, was designed of Ardkinglass, and of his family, the Campbells of Ardentinny, Dunoon, Carrick, Skipnish, Blythswood, Shawfield, Rachan, Auchwillan, and Dergachie are branches.

Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochow, the eldest son, was one of the hostages in 1424, under the name of Duncan, Lord of Argyll, for the payment of the sum of forty thousand pounds (equivalent to four hundred thousand pounds of our money), for the expense of King James the First’s maintenance during his long imprisonment in England, when Sir Duncan was found to be worth fifteen hundred merks a-year. He was the first of the family to assume the designation of Argyll. By King James he was appointed one of his privy council, and constituted his justiciary and lieutenant within the shire of Argyll. He became a lord of parliament in 1445, under the title of Lord Campbell. He died in 1453, and was buried at Kilmun. He married, first, Marjory or Mariota Stewart, daughter of Robert Duke of Albany, governor of Scotland, by whom he had three sons,—Celestine, who died before him; Archibald, who also predeceased him, but left a son; and Colin, who was the first of Glenorchy, and ancestor of the Breadalbane family. Sir Duncan married, secondly, Margaret, daughter of Sir John Stewart of Blackhall and Auchingown, natural son of Robert the Third, by whom also he had three sons, namely, Duncan, who, according to Crawford, was the ancestor of the house of Auchinbreck, of whom are the Campbells of Glencardel, Glensaddel, Kildurkland, Kilmorie, Wester Keams, Kilberry, and Dana; Niel, progenitor, according to Crawford, of the Campbells of Ellengreig and Ormadale; and Arthur or Archibald, ancestor of the Campbells of Ottar, now extinct. According to some authorities, the Campbells of Auchinbreck and their cadets, also Ellengrieg[179] and Ormadale, descend from this the youngest son, and not from his brothers.

The first Lord Campbell was succeeded by his grandson Colin, the son of his second son Archibald. He acquired part of the lordship of Campbell in the parish of Dollar,[177] by marrying the eldest of the three daughters of John Stewart, third Lord of Lorn and Innermeath. He did not, as is generally stated, acquire by this marriage any part of the lordship of Lorn (which passed to Walter, brother of John, the fourth Lord Innermeath, and heir of entail), but obtained that lordship by exchanging the lands of Baldunning and Innerdunning, &c., in Perthshire, with the said Walter. In 1457 he was created Earl of Argyll. In 1470 he was created baron of Lorn, and in 1481 he received a grant of many lands in Knapdale, along with the keeping of Castle Sweyn, which had previously been held by the Lord of the Isles. He died in 1493.

By Isabel Stewart, his wife, eldest daughter of John, Lord of Lorn, the first Earl of Argyll had two sons and seven daughters. Archibald, his elder son, became second earl, and Thomas, the younger, was the ancestor of the Campbells of Lundie, in Forfarshire. Another daughter was married to Torquil Macleod of the Lewis.

Archibald, second Earl of Argyll, succeeded his father in 1493. In 1499 he and others received a commission from the king to let on lease, for the term of three years, the entire lordship of the Isles as possessed by the last lord, both in the Isles and on the mainland, excepting only the island of Isla, and the lands of North and South Kintyre. He also received a commission of lieutenancy, with the fullest powers, over the lordship of the Isles; and, some months later, was appointed keeper of the castle of Tarbert, and bailie and governor of the king’s lands in Knapdale. From this period the great power formerly enjoyed by the Earls of Ross, Lords of the Isles, was transferred to the Earls of Argyll and Huntly; the former having the chief rule in the south isles and adjacent coasts. At the fatal battle of Flodden, 9th September 1513, his lordship and his brother-in-law, the Earl of Lennox, commanded the right wing of the royal army, and with King James the Fourth, were both killed. By his wife, Lady Elizabeth Stewart, eldest daughter of John, first Earl of Lennox, he had four sons and five daughters. His eldest son, Colin, was the third Earl of Argyll. Archibald, his second son, had a charter of the lands of Skipnish, and the keeping of the castle thereof, 13th August 1511. His family ended in an heir-female in the reign of Mary. Sir John Campbell, the third son, at first styled of Lorn, and afterwards of Calder, married Muriella, daughter and heiress of Sir John Calder of Calder, now Cawdor, near Nairn.

According to tradition, she was captured in childhood by Sir John Campbell and a party of the Campbells, while out with her nurse near Calder castle. Her uncles pursued and overtook the division of the Campbells to whose care she had been intrusted, and would have rescued her but for the presence of mind of Campbell of Inverliver, who, seeing their approach, inverted a large camp kettle as if to conceal her, and commanding his seven sons to defend it to the death, hurried on with his prize. The young men were all slain, and when the Calders lifted up the kettle, no Muriel was there. Meanwhile so much time had been gained that farther pursuit was useless. The nurse, just before the child was seized, bit off a joint of her little finger, in order to mark her identity—a precaution which seems to have been necessary, from Campbell of Auchinbreck’s reply to one who, in the midst of their congratulations on arriving safely in Argyll with their charge, asked what was to be done should the child die before she was marriageable? “She can never die,” said he, “as long as a red-haired lassie can be found on either side of Lochawe!” It would appear that the heiress of the Calders had red hair.

Colin Campbell, the third Earl of Argyll, was, immediately after his accession to the earldom, appointed by the council to assemble an army and proceed against Lauchlan Maclean of Dowart, and other Highland chieftains, who had broken out into insurrection,[180] and proclaimed Sir Donald of Lochalsh Lord of the Isles. Owing to the powerful influence of Argyll, the insurgents submitted to the regent, after strong measures had been adopted against them. In 1517 Sir Donald of Lochalsh again appeared in arms, but being deserted by his principal leaders, he effected his escape. Soon after, on his petition, he received a commission of lieutenancy over all the Isles and adjacent mainland.

For some years the Isles had continued at peace, and Argyll employed this interval in extending his influence among the chiefs, and in promoting the aggrandisement of his family and clan, being assisted thereto by his brothers, Sir John Campbell of Calder, so designed after his marriage with the heiress, and Archibald Campbell of Skipnish. The former was particularly active. In 1527 an event occurred, which forms the groundwork of Joanna Baillie’s celebrated tragedy of “The Family Legend.” It is thus related by Gregory:—“Lauchlan Cattanach Maclean of Dowart had married Lady Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of Archibald, second Earl of Argyll, and, either from the circumstance of their union being unfruitful, or more probably owing to some domestic quarrels, he determined to get rid of his wife. Some accounts say that she had twice attempted her husband’s life; but, whatever the cause may have been, Maclean, following the advice of two of his vassals, who exercised a considerable influence over him from the tie of fosterage, caused his lady to be exposed on a rock, which was only visible at low water, intending that she should be swept away by the return of the tide. This rock lies between the island of Lismore and the coast of Mull, and is still known by the name of the ‘Lady’s Rock.’ From this perilous situation the intended victim was rescued by a boat accidentally passing, and conveyed to her brother’s house. Her relations, although much exasperated against Maclean, smothered their resentment for a time, but only to break out afterwards with greater violence; for the laird of Dowart being in Edinburgh, was surprised when in bed, and assassinated by Sir John Campbell of Calder, the lady’s brother. The Macleans instantly took arms to revenge the death of their chief, and the Campbells were not slow in preparing to follow up the feud; but the government interfered, and, for the present, an appeal to arms was avoided.”[178]

On the escape of the king, then in his seventeenth year, from the power of the Douglases, in May 1528, Argyll was one of the first to join his majesty at Stirling. Argyll afterwards received an ample confirmation of the hereditary sheriffship of Argyleshire and of the offices of justiciary of Scotland and master of the household, by which these offices became hereditary in his family. He had the commission of justice-general of Scotland renewed 25th October 1529. He died in 1530.

By his countess, Lady Jane Gordon, eldest daughter of Alexander, third Earl of Huntly, the third Earl of Argyll had three sons and a daughter. His sons were, Archibald, fourth Earl of Argyll; John, ancestor of the Campbells of Lochnell, of which house the Campbells of Balerno and Stonefield are cadets; and Alexander, dean of Moray.

Archibald, the fourth Earl of Argyll, was, on his accession to the title in 1530, appointed to all the offices held by the two preceding earls. A suspicion being entertained by some of the members of the privy council, which is said to have been shared in by the king himself, that many of the disturbances in the Isles were secretly fomented by the Argyll family, that they might obtain possession of the estates forfeited by the chiefs thus driven into rebellion, and an opportunity soon presenting itself, the king eagerly availed himself of it, to curb the increasing power of the Earl of Argyll in that remote portion of the kingdom. Alexander of Isla, being summoned to answer certain charges of Argyll, made his appearance at once, and gave in to the council a written statement, in which, among other things, he stated that the disturbed state of the Isles was mainly caused by the late Earl of Argyll and his brothers, Sir John Campbell of Calder, and Archibald Campbell of Skipnish. The king made such an examination into the complaints of the islanders as satisfied him that the family of Argyll had been acting more for their own benefit than for the welfare[181] of the country, and the earl was summoned before his sovereign, to give an account of the duties and rental of the Isles received by him, the result of which was that James committed him to prison soon after his arrival at court. He was soon liberated, but James was so much displeased with his conduct that he deprived him of the offices he still held in the Isles, some of which were bestowed on Alexander of Isla, whom he had accused. After the death of James the Fifth he appears to have regained his authority over the Isles. He was the first of the Scotch nobles who embraced the principles of the Reformation, and employed as his domestic chaplain Mr John Douglas, a converted Carmelite friar, who preached publicly in his house. The Archbishop of St Andrews, in a letter to the earl, endeavoured to induce him to dismiss Douglas, and return to the Romish church, but in vain, and on his death-bed he recommended the support of the new doctrines, and the suppression of Popish superstitions, to his son. He died in August 1558. He was twice married. By his first wife, Lady Helen Hamilton, eldest daughter of James, first Earl of Arran, he had a son, Archibald, fifth Earl of Argyll. His second wife was Lady Mary Graham, only daughter of William, third Earl of Menteith, by whom he had Colin, sixth earl, and two daughters.

Archibald, fifth Earl of Argyll, was educated under the direction of Mr John Douglas, his father’s domestic chaplain, and the first Protestant Archbishop of St Andrews, and distinguished himself as one of the most able among the Lords of the Congregation. In the transactions of their times the earl and his successors took prominent parts; but as these are matters of public history, and as so much the history of the Highlands, in which the Argylls took a prominent part, has been already given in the former part of this work, we shall confine our attention here to what belongs to the history of the family and clan.

The earl had married Jean, natural daughter of King James the Fifth by Elizabeth daughter of John, Lord Carmichael, but he does not seem to have lived on very happy terms with her, as we find that John Knox, at the request of Queen Mary, endeavoured, on more occasions than one, to reconcile them after some domestic quarrels.[179] Her majesty passed the summer of 1563 at the earl’s house in Argyleshire, in the amusement of deer-hunting.

Argyll died on the 12th of September 1575, aged about 43. His countess, Queen Mary’s half-sister, having died without issue, was buried in the royal vault in the abbey of Holyrood-house; and he married, a second time, Lady Johanna or Joneta Cunningham, second daughter of Alexander, fifth Earl of Glencairn, but as she also had no children, he was succeeded in his estates and title by his brother.

On the 28th of January 1581, with the king and many of the nobility, the sixth earl subscribed a second Confession of Faith. He died in October 1584, after a long illness. He married, first, Janet, eldest daughter of Henry, first Lord Methven, without issue; secondly, Lady Agnes Keith, eldest daughter of William, fourth Earl Marischal, widow of the Regent Moray, by whom he had two sons, Archibald, seventh Earl of Argyll, and the Hon. Sir Colin Campbell of Lundie, created a baronet in 1627.

In 1594, although then only eighteen, the seventh Earl of Argyll was appointed king’s lieutenant against the popish Earls of Huntly and Errol, who had raised a rebellion. In 1599, when measures were in progress for bringing the chiefs of the isles under subjection to the king, the Earl of Argyll and his kinsman, John Campbell of Calder, were accused of having secretly used their influence to prevent Sir James Macdonald of Dunyveg and his clan from being reconciled to the government. The frequent insurrections which occurred in the South Isles in the first fifteen years of the seventeenth century have also been imputed by Mr Gregory to Argyll and the Campbells, for their own purposes. The proceedings of these clans were so violent and illegal, that the king became highly incensed against the Clandonald, and finding, or supposing he had a right to dispose of their possessions both in Kintyre and Isla, he made a grant of them to the Earl of Argyll and the Campbells. This gave rise to a number of bloody conflicts between the Campbells and[182] the Clandonald, in the years 1614, 1615, and 1616, which ended in the ruin of the latter, and for the details of which, and the intrigues and proceedings of the Earl of Argyll to possess himself of the lands of that clan, reference may be made to the part of the General History pertaining to this period.

In 1603, the Macgregors, who were already under the ban of the law, made an irruption into the Lennox, and after defeating the Colquhouns and their adherents at Glenfruin, with great slaughter, plundered and ravaged the whole district, and threatened to burn the town of Dumbarton. For some years previously, the charge of keeping this powerful and warlike tribe in order had been committed to the Earl of Argyll, as the king’s lieutenant in the “bounds of the clan Gregor,” and he was answerable for all their excesses. Instead of keeping them under due restraint, Argyll has been accused by various writers of having from the very first made use of his influence to stir them up to acts of violence and aggression against his own personal enemies, of whom the chief of the Colquhouns was one; and it is further said that he had all along meditated the destruction of both the Macgregors and the Colquhouns, by his crafty and perfidious policy. The only evidence on which these heavy charges rest is the dying declaration of Alister Macgregor of Glenstrae, the chief of the clan, to the effect that he was deceived by the Earl of Argyll’s “falsete and inventiouns,” and that he had been often incited by that nobleman to “weir and truble the laird of Luss,” and others; but these charges ought to be received with some hesitation by the impartial historian. However this may be, the execution of the severe statutes which were passed against the Macgregors after the conflict at Glenfruin, was intrusted to the Earls of Argyll and Athole, and their chief, with some of his principal followers, was enticed by Argyll to surrender to him, on condition that they would be allowed to leave the country. Argyll received them kindly, and assured them that though he was commanded by the king to apprehend them, he had little doubt he would be able to procure a pardon, and, in the meantime, he would send them to England under an escort, which would convey them off Scottish ground. It was Macgregor’s intention, if taken to London, to procure if possible an interview with the king; but Argyll prevented this; yet, that he might fulfil his promise, he sent them under a strong guard beyond the Tweed at Berwick, and instantly compelled them to retrace their steps to Edinburgh, where they were executed 18th January 1604. How far there may have been deceit used in this matter,—whether, according to Birrel, Argyll “keipit are Hielandman’s promise; in respect he sent the gaird to convey him out of Scottis grund, but thai were not directit to pairt with him, but to fetch him bak agane;” or whether their return was by orders from the king, cannot at the present time be ascertained.

In 1617, after the suppression by him of the Clandonald, Argyll obtained from the king a grant of the whole of Kintyre. For some years Argyll had been secretly a Catholic. His first countess, to whom Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Stirling, inscribed his “Aurora” in 1604, having died, he had, in November 1610, married a second time, Anne, daughter of Sir William Cornwall of Brome, ancestor of the Marquis Cornwallis. This lady was a Catholic, and although the earl was a warm and zealous Protestant when he married her, she gradually drew him over to profess the same faith with herself. After the year 1615, as Gregory remarks, his personal history presents a striking instance of the mutability of human affairs. In that year, being deep in debt, he went to England; but as he was the only chief that could keep the Macdonalds in order, the Privy Council wrote to the king urging him to send him home; and in his expedition against the clan Donald he was accompanied by his son, Lord Lorn. In 1618, on pretence of going to the Spa for the benefit of his health, he received from the king permission to go abroad; and the news soon arrived that the earl, instead of going to the Spa, had gone to Spain; that he had there made open defection from the Protestant religion, and that he had entered into very suspicious dealings with the banished rebels, Sir James Macdonald and Alister MacRanald of Keppoch, who had taken refuge in that country. On the 16th of February he was openly declared rebel and traitor, at the market cross of[183] Edinburgh, and remained under this ban until the 22d of November 1621, when he was declared the king’s free liege. Nevertheless, he did not venture to return to Britain till 1638, and died in London soon after, aged 62. From the time of his leaving Scotland, he never exercised any influence over his great estates; the fee of which had, indeed, been previously conveyed by him to his eldest son, Archibald, Lord Lorn, afterwards eighth Earl of Argyll. By his first wife he had, besides this son, four daughters. By his second wife, the earl had a son and a daughter, viz., James, Earl of Irvine, and Lady Mary, married to James, second Lord Rollo.

Archibald, eighth Earl and first Marquis of Argyll, after his father, went to Spain, as has been above said, managed the affairs of his family and clan. So full an account of the conspicuous part played by the first Marquis of Argyll, in the affairs of his time, has been already given in this work, that further detail here is unnecessary. Suffice it to say, that in 1641 he was created Marquis, and was beheaded with the “Maiden,” at the cross of Edinburgh, May 27, 1661; and whatever may be thought of his life, his death was heroic and Christian. By his wife, Lady Margaret Douglas, second daughter of William, second Earl of Morton, he had three daughters and two sons. The eldest son Archibald, became ninth Earl of Argyll, the second was Lord Niel Campbell, of Ardmaddie.

On the death of the eighth earl, his estates and title were of course forfeited, but Charles II., in 1663, sensible of the great services of Lord Lorn, and of the injustice with which he had been treated, restored to him the estates and the title of Earl of Argyll. The trivial excuse for the imprisoning and condemning him to death, has been already referred to, and an account has been given of the means whereby he was enabled to make his escape, by the assistance of his step-daughter, Lady Sophia Lindsay. Having taken part in Monmouth’s rebellion, he was taken prisoner, and being carried to Edinburgh, was beheaded upon his former unjust sentence, June 30, 1685. Argyll was twice married; first to Lady Mary Stuart, eldest daughter of James, fifth Earl of Moray; and secondly, to Lady Anna Mackenzie, second daughter of Colin, first Earl of Seaforth, widow of Alexander, first Earl of Balcarres. By the latter, he had no issue; but by the former he had four sons and three daughters. He was succeeded by his son Archibald, tenth Earl and first Duke of Argyll, who was an active promoter of the Revolution, and accompanied the Prince of Orange to England. He was one of the commissioners deputed from the Scots Parliament, to offer the crown of Scotland to the Prince, and to tender him the coronation oath. For this and other services, the family estates, which had been forfeited, were restored to him. He was appointed to several important public offices, and in 1696, was made colonel of the Scots horse-guards, afterwards raising a regiment of his own clan, which greatly distinguished itself in Flanders.

On the 21st of June 1701, he was created, by letters patent, Duke of Argyll, Marquis of Lorn and Kintyre, Earl of Campbell and Cowal, Viscount of Lochow and Glenila, Baron Inverary, Mull, Morvern, and Tiree. He died 28th September, 1703. Though undoubtedly a man of ability, he was too dissipated to be a great statesman. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Lionel Tollmash, by whom he had two sons, the elder being the celebrated Duke of Argyll and Greenwich.

John, second Duke of Argyll, and also Duke of Greenwich, a steady patriot and celebrated general, the eldest son of the preceding, was born October 10, 1678. On the death of his father in 1703, he became Duke of Argyll, and was soon after sworn of the privy council, made captain of the Scots horse-guards, and appointed one of the extraordinary lords of session. He was soon after sent down as high commissioner to the Scots parliament, where, being of great service in promoting the projected Union, for which he became very unpopular in Scotland, he was, on his return to London, created a peer of England by the titles of Baron of Chatham, and Earl of Greenwich.

In 1706 his Grace made a campaign in Flanders, under the Duke of Marlborough, and rendered important services at various sieges and battles on the continent, and on December 20, 1710, he was installed a knight of the Garter. On the accession of George I., he was[184] made groom of the stole, and was one of the nineteen members of the regency, nominated by his majesty. On the king’s arrival in England, he was appointed general and commander-in-chief of the king’s forces in Scotland.

At the breaking out of the Rebellion in 1715, his Grace, as commander-in-chief in Scotland, defeated the Earl of Mar’s army at Sheriffmuir, and forced the Pretender to retire from the kingdom. In March 1716, after putting the army into winter quarters, he returned to London, but was in a few months, to the surprise of all, divested of all his employments. In the beginning of 1718 he was again restored to favour, created Duke of Greenwich, and made lord steward of the household. In 1737, when the affair of Captain Porteous came before parliament, his Grace exerted himself vigorously and eloquently in behalf of the city of Edinburgh. A bill having been brought in for punishing the Lord Provost of that city, for abolishing the city guard, and for depriving the corporation of several ancient privileges; and the Queen Regent having threatened, on that occasion, to convert Scotland into a hunting park, Argyll replied, that it was then time to go down and gather his beagles.

In April 1740, he delivered a speech with such warmth against the administration, that he was again deprived of all his offices. To these, however, on the resignation of Sir Robert Walpole, he was soon restored, but not approving of the measures of the new ministry, he gave up all his posts, and never afterwards engaged in affairs of state. This amiable and most accomplished nobleman has been immortalised by Pope in the lines,

“Argyle, the state’s whole thunder born to wield,

And shake alike the senate and the field.”

He was twice married. By his first wife, Mary, daughter of John Brown, Esq. (and niece of Sir Charles Duncombe, Lord Mayor of London in 1708), he had no issue. By his second wife, Jane, daughter of Thomas Warburton of Winnington, in Cheshire, one of the maids of honour to Queen Anne, he had five daughters. As the duke died without male issue, his English titles of Duke and Earl of Greenwich, and Baron of Chatham, became extinct, while his Scotch titles and patrimonial estate devolved on his brother. He died October 4, 1743; and a beautiful marble monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey.

Archibald, third Duke of Argyll, the brother of the preceding, was born at Ham, Surrey, in June 1682, and educated at the university of Glasgow. In 1705 he was constituted lord high treasurer of Scotland; in 1706 one of the commissioners for treating of the Union between Scotland and England; and 19th October of the same year, for his services in that matter, was created Viscount and Earl of Isla. In 1708 he was made an extraordinary lord of session, and after the Union, was chosen one of the sixteen representative peers of Scotland. In 1710 he was appointed justice-general of Scotland, and the following year was called to the privy council. When the rebellion broke out in 1715, he took up arms for the defence of the house of Hanover. By his prudent conduct in the West Highlands, he prevented General Gordon, at the head of three thousand men, from penetrating into the country and raising levies. He afterwards joined his brother, the duke, at Stirling, and was wounded at the battle of Sheriffmuir. In 1725 he was appointed keeper of the privy seal, and in 1734 of the great seal, which office he enjoyed till his death. He excelled in conversation, and besides building a very magnificent seat at Inverary, he collected one of the most valuable private libraries in Great Britain. He died suddenly, while sitting in his chair at dinner, April 15, 1761. He married the daughter of Mr Whitfield, paymaster of marines, but had no issue by her grace.

The third Duke of Argyll was succeeded by his cousin, John, fourth duke, son of the Hon. John Campbell of Mamore, second son of Archibald, the ninth Earl of Argyll (who was beheaded in 1685), by Elizabeth, daughter of John, eighth Lord Elphinstone. The fourth duke was born about 1693. Before he succeeded to the honours of his family, he was an officer in the army, and saw some service in France and Holland. When the rebellion of 1745 broke out, he was appointed to the command of all the troops and garrisons in the west of Scotland, and arrived at Inverary, 21st December of that year, and, with his eldest son joined the Duke of Cumberland at[185] Perth, on the 9th of the following February. He died 9th November 1770, in the 77th year of his age. He married in 1720 the Hon. Mary Bellenden, third daughter of the second Lord Bellenden, and had four sons and a daughter.

John, fifth Duke of Argyll, born in 1723, eldest son of the fourth duke, was also in the army, and attained the rank of general in March 1778, and of field-marshal in 1796. He was created a British peer, in the lifetime of his father, as Baron Sundridge of Coomb-bank in Kent, 19th December 1766, with remainder to his heirs male, and failing them to his brothers, Frederick and William, and their heirs male successively. He was chosen the first president of the Highland Society of Scotland, to which society, in 1806, he made a munificent gift of one thousand pounds, as the beginning of a fund for educating young men of the West Highlands for the navy. He died 24th May 1806, in the 83d year of his age. He married in 1759, Elizabeth, widow of James, sixth Duke of Hamilton, the second of the three beautiful Miss Gunnings, daughters of John Gunning, Esq. of Castle Coote, county Boscommon, Ireland. By this lady the duke had three sons and two daughters.

George William, sixth Duke of Argyll, was born 22d September 1768. He married, 29th November 1810, Caroline Elizabeth, daughter of the fourth Earl of Jersey, but had no issue. His Grace died 22d October 1839.

His brother, John Douglas Edward Henry (Lord John Campbell of Ardincaple, M.P.) succeeded as seventh duke. He was born 21st December 1777, and was thrice married; first, in August 1802, to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of William Campbell, Esq. of Fairfield, who died in 1818; secondly, 17th April, 1820, to Joan, daughter and heiress of John Glassel, Esq. of Long Niddry; and thirdly, in January 1831, to Anne Colquhoun, eldest daughter of John Cunningham, Esq. of Craigends. By his second wife he had two sons and a daughter, namely, John Henry, born in January 1821, died in May 1837; George Douglas, who succeeded as eighth duke; and Lady Emma Augusta, born in 1825. His Grace died 26th April 1847.

George John Douglas, the eighth duke, born in 1823, married in 1844, Lady Elizabeth Georgina (born in 1824), eldest daughter of the second Duke of Sutherland; issue, John Douglas Sutherland, Marquis of Lorn (M.P. for Argyleshire), born in 1845, and other children. His Grace has distinguished himself not only in politics, but in science; to geology, in particular, he has devoted much attention, and his writings prove him to be possessed of considerable literary ability. He is author of “An Essay on the Ecclesiastical History of Scotland since the Reformation,” “The Reign of Law,” &c. He was made Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, 1851; Lord Privy Seal, 1853; Postmaster-general, 1855–8; Knight of the Thistle, 1856; again Lord Privy Seal, 1859; Secretary of State for India, 1868. The Duke of Argyll is hereditary master of the queen’s household in Scotland, keeper of the castles of Dunoon, Dunstaffnage, and Carrick, and heritable sheriff of Argyleshire.

It has been foretold, says tradition, that all the glories of the Campbell line are to be renewed in the first chief who, in the hue of his locks, approaches to Ian Roy Cean (John Red Head, viz., the second duke). This prophecy some may be inclined to think, has been royally fulfilled in the recent marriage of the present duke’s heir, the Marquis of Lorn, with the Princess Louise, daughter of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. This event took place on the 21st March 1871, amid the enthusiastic rejoicings of all Scotchmen, and especially Highlandmen, and with the approval of all the sensible portion of Her Majesty’s subjects. Her Majesty conferred the honour of knighthood on the Marquis of Lorn, after the ceremony of the marriage, and invested him with the insignia of the Order of the Thistle.

There are a considerable number of important offshoots from the clan Campbell, the origin of some of which has been noticed above; it is necessary, however, to give a more particular account of the most powerful branch of this extensive clan, viz., the Breadalbane Campbells.




As we have already indicated, the ancestor of the Breadalbane family, and the first of the house of Glenurchy, was Sir Colin Campbell, the third son of Duncan, first Lord Campbell of Lochow.

In an old manuscript, preserved in Taymouth Castle, named “the Black Book of Taymouth” (printed by the Bannatyne Club, 1853), containing a genealogical account of the Glenurchy family, it is stated that “Duncan Campbell, commonly callit Duncan in Aa, knight of Lochow (lineallie descendit of a valiant man, surnamit Campbell, quha cam to Scotland in King Malcolm Kandmoir, his time, about the year of God 1067, of quhom came the house of Lochow), flo