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Wednesday 28 August 2013

MacGregors in Tirandrish

Legion are the stories about the MacGregors especially once their very name had been proscribed. The story of how this came about is too long to give here other than to say that it came about in the aftermath of the Battle of Glenfruin fought in 1603. The MacGregors had already earned themselves an unenviable reputation even before that when they were accused of the murder of John Drummond of Drummond-Ernoch. The actual murder had been committed in 1589 as an act of vengeance by some of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. The personal affront to King James earned the MacGregors, who, it would seem, were found guilty by association—and on whom the blame for the murder was firmly pinned, despite the fact that they had not taken any part in it—the extreme displeasure of the Privy Council:
The Lordis of Secrete Counsaill being credibillie informeit of the cruell and mischievous procedings of the wicked Clan Gregour, sa lang continewing in blude, slauchtaris, heirshippis, manifest reiffis and stouthis, commit upoun his Hienes peceable and gude subjectis inhabiting the cuntreyis ewest the Brayis of the Hielandis…
Indeed, ‘the wicked Clan Gregour’, following the Battle of Glenfruin, suffered a political disaster: not only were they outlawed, but their name very name was proscribed and under such conditions they became a broken clan, many of whom were reduced to being caterans. This brief historical sketch provides a bit of context for the following short historical anecdote which was taken down by Calum Maclean from the recitation of John MacDonald, Highbridge, Brae Lochaber, on the 20th of January 1951:
A’s an àm san robh Cloinn ’ic Griogair air an ruaig, thàinig seachdnar aca a dh’ ionnsaigh àite ris an abair iad Tìr an Dris ann an Loch Abar. Chum am fear a bha an Tìr an Dris iad. ’S e Dòmhnallach a b’ ainm dhà. Chum e ann an uamhaidh bheag iad air cùl an taighe fad seachd bliadhna. Is ’n uair a bha na seachd bliadhna suas, dh’fhàs na Griogaraich car ladarna dhiubh fhèin. Agus bha e coltach gum biodh an t-àite aca dhaibh fhèin. Dè bh’ ann ach gun do dh’fhalbh am bodach agus gun do bhrath e iad, an Dòmhnallach. Agus thàinig feadhainn air adhart agus chaidh am marbhadh. Agus tha iad air an tìodhlacadh beagan bhon taigh air Tìr an Dris gus an latha an-diugh, an seachdnar dhiubh. Agus tha suaicheantas aca anns a’ chladh bheag a tha seo, an giuthas. Mar sin tha gràinne mhòr bhliadhnaichean bhuaith agus bha an uair seo am bodach a’ faicinn samhladh a’ tighinn a-staigh dhan taigh. Bha e a’ gabhail iongantas dè an samhladh a bha seo a bha a’ tighinn a-staigh. Agus bha an ceann dheth agus bhiodh fèileadh air. Agus bha an t-ath-shealladh aige agus bha fhios aige air duine anns an àite aig an robh an t-ath-shealladh na b’ fheàrr na e fhèin. Dh’innis e dha an rud a bha e a’ faicinn a’ tighinn a-staigh dhan taigh, an samhladh a bha seo:
“An tig thu còmh’ rium a-nochd?”
“Thig,” thuirt e.
Dh’fhuirich iad is aig an aon àm sònraichte a bha seo, thàinig an samhladh a bha sin a-staigh. Agus bha iad a’ coimhead air. Thuirt Fear Tìr an Dris ris a’ choigreach eile:
“A bheil thu ga aithneachdainn?”
Dh’fhuirich e sàmhach na thosd:
“Innis cò th’ ann,” thuirt e, “ged a b’ e mi fhìn a bhiodh ann.”
“Is tu fhèin a th’ ann,” thuirt e. “Agus bi air do shìor-fhaiceall,” thuirt e. “’S ann o thaobh do chùil a thèid an ceann a thoirt dhìot.”
Agus dh’fhuirich iad sàmhach. Agus beagan an deaghaidh sin, theagamh sia miosan, thàinig daoine an rathad, coltas daoine eireachdail, uasal, bàidheil orra. Agus ghabh am bodach aoibh riutha agus thug e don taigh iad. Is dh’fhuirich iad leis fad na h-oidhche. Is leis cho coibhneil is a bha e dh’fhalbh e sa mhadainn, mar a bha e na chleachdadh anns an dùthaich seo am measg nan Gàidheal gu rachadh iad ceum leis a’ choigreach. Agus dh’fhuirich fear dhiubh air deireadh mar gum biodh e a’ dol a dhùnadh a bhròg. Agus thàinig e air adhart agus càch a’ cumail bruidhinn ris agus chuir e an ceann don bhodach leis a’ chlaidheamh. Bha iad a’ gabhail iongantais aig an taigh nach robh an duine a’ tighinn. Is dh’fhalbh iad. Fhuair iad marbh e mu leth-mhìle seachad air an taigh. Chaidh càrn a thogail ann. Agus tha e ann gus an latha an-diugh. Ach tha e furasda gu leòr an uaigh aig na Griogaraich fhaicinn. Anns a’ chladh bheag a tha sin.
And the translation goes something like this:
At the time when the MacGregors were on the run, seven of them came to  a place called Tirandrish in Lochaber. The tacksman of Tirandrish looked after them. He was a MacDonald. He kept them in a small cave at the back of the house for seven years. And when the seven years had passed, the MacGregors had become rather impudent. It looked as if they would get the place to themselves. It so happened that that old man set out and he betrayed them. A posse came and killed them. And they are buried not far from Tirandrish house where they remain to this very day, the seven of them. And they have their emblem – the pine – to mark their graves in the small cemetery. Many years afterward the old man saw a ghost entering his house. It was headless and was wearing a kilt. He possessed the second-sight but he knew another man in the district who had the second-sight even better than himself. He told him the thing that he saw entering his house, this ghost:
“Will you accompany me tonight?”
“Yes,” he said.
They stayed in and at the appointed time, the ghost entered. They looked at it. The Tirandrish man said to the other stranger:
“Do you recognise him?”
He remained quiet contemplating:
“Tell me who it is,” he asked, “even if it’s myself.”
“It’s you,” he answered. “And you’ll have to be very much on your guard,” he said, “for your heard will be cut off from behind.”
And they remained silent. A short time afterwards, perhaps six months or so, a few men came by the way who were handsome, noble and kindly. And the old man made them welcome and took them back to his house. They stayed with him overnight. Seeing that they were so kindly he accompanied them in the morning, following a Highland habit to walk part of the way with a stranger. And one of them lurked behind pretending to tie his shoelaces. He came forward and whilst the others kept him talking he cut off the old man’s heard with the blow of his sword. They were worried back at the house that the old man had not returned. They set off. They found him dead about half-a-mile from the house. They built a cairn where he remains to this day. But it is easy to make out the MacGregor graves in the small cemetery.
Writing in his book The Highlands (1959), Calum Maclean gives a brief mention of the story which in all likelihood stems from the above source: “A wealth of tradition has sprung up around the unfortunate Clan Gregor. MacDonell of Tirandrish in Lochaber sheltered seven MacGregors for many years. Finally he became so afraid of incurring the ire of the authorities and a ruinous fine that he had them dispatched. In a spot about a mile east of Spean Bridge and right on the banks of the river there are, or were, seven pine trees to mark the graves of the MacGregors. Some of the trees were recently cut down, much to the annoyance of the older people in the area.” Another and a fuller version of the story was printed some forty years previously in a book entitled Glen-Albyn or Tales and Truths of the Central Highlands and is here reproduced in full:
One well-known tale which brings the Macgregors before us in a very honourable light may be worth recording here. The son of Macgregor of Glen Strae out hunting one day fell in with the young laird of Lamont and a companion travelling towards Inverlochy. They passed the day together and in the evening sat down to dinner. During the course of the meal a quarrel arose, dirks were drawn, and young Macgregor was slain. Lamont at once leapt out of the room and fled, closely pursued by some of the slain man’s retainers. Fleet of foot he outstripped his foes, and by chance ran for protection to the very house of Glen Strae where young Macgregor’s father dwelt. Without stating whom he had slain, Lamont implored Glen Strae’s assistance. At once the old chief passed his word to protect him as far as in him lay. Almost directly after up rushed the members of the clan in hot pursuit, and angrily cried out for the murderer to be delivered up to them in atonement for the blood he had shed. But the brave old chief on learning whom he had captured, cried out, “Not a hair of his head shall be touched while he is under my roof-tree. Glen Strae has pledged his honour, and never shall it be said that a Macgregor went back on his word.” Later the chief himself secretly escorted the youth out of the Macgregor country to his own land, and bidding him farewell said, “Lamont, you are safe now upon your own ground. I cannot and will not protect you any further. Keep away from my people, and may God forgive you for what you have done!” Lamont was not ungrateful, and shortly afterwards when Glen Strae with his family was proscribed, destitute, and a wanderer, the young man received them into his house and for a time protected them from their enemies. But the Philistines were too strong, and the honest old chief was treacherously “done to death” by Argyle, and hanged at the Market Cross in Edinburgh.
The little band who had fled to Lochaber, and who had for a time eluded the pursuit by drowning the dogs…lived in a cave at the back of Tir na Dris, about a mile from Spean Bridge. They were finally hunted down by relentless foes, and a clump of trees marks the spot where the three made their last gallant stand. Some years ago a gentleman of the district, anxious to prove the truth of the tradition, dug up the grave and found three skeletons. He then removed them to the banks of the burn on the east side of Tir na Dris, about a hundred yards below where the bridge on the high road crosses the stream. Three fir trees – the badge of the clan – mark the spot where they now lie buried.
A few months later John MacDonald showed Calum Maclean the very place in which the MacGregors were said to have been buried, as related in the following diary entry:
Didòmhnaich, 13 A’ Chèitean 1951
Chaidh mi dhan Aifreann tràth sa mhadainn an-diugh agus ghabh mi air mo shocair a’ chuid eile den latha gus an tàinig Iain MacDhòmhnaill a-nuas mu chòig uairean. Thug sinn uair na dhà air na naidheachdan an uair sin agus chuir e an àireamh suas gu ceithir cheud is a deich air fhichead. Bha feasgar brèagha ann agus chòisich Iain agus mi fhìn a-mach air sràid. Chaidh sinn suas gu Tìr na Drise a choimhead air an àite anns an deach na Griogaraich a thìodhlacadh. Bha seachdnar dhiubh ann agus iad air fògradh. Chum Fear Thìr na Dris iad fad sheachd bliadhna ann an uamhaidh. Bhràth e mu dheireadh iad. Chaidh am marbhadh agus an cur còmhla an cladh beag shìos ri taobh na h-aibhne. Dh’fhàs craobhan giuthais, suaicheantas nan Griogarach air an uaigh. Chaidh trì dhe na craobhan a ghearradh am bliadhna. Thill sinn air ais a Dhrochaid Aonachain agus thug sinn greis eile a’ còmhradh mun deach sinn dhachaigh.
Sunday, 13 May 1951
I attended Mass early this morning and was at my leisure for the remaining part of the day until John MacDonald arrived at five o’ clock. We spent an hour or two on the stories then and made the running total up to four hundred and thirty. It was a beautiful evening when John and I went out to take a walk. We went up to Tirandrish to take a look at the place where the MacGregors were buried. Seven of them were on the run and MacDonald of Tirandrish kept them hidden for seven years in a cave. He eventually betrayed them. They were murdered and placed in a little cemetery beside the river. Pine trees, the symbol of the MacGregors, grew on their grave. Three of the trees were cut down this year. We returned to Spean Bridge and we spent a while conversing before we went home.
SSS NB 1, pp. 55–57
Andrew J. Macdonald, Glen-Albyn or Tales and Truths of the Central Highlands (Fort Augustus: The Abbey Press, 1920), pp. 4–5
Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (London: Batsford, 1959)
Pine trees, a MacGregor symbol

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