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Tuesday 14 July 2015

The Grey Dog of Meoble

No part of the Highlands and Islands seems to have a shortage of supernatural legends, some of which have a connection with animals. The following story was recorded from John MacLeod, Glenfinnan, and transcribed shortly afterwards by Calum Maclean on the 15th of May 1951.

Cù Glas Mheòbail

Ann an làithean m’ òige gu sònraichte agus gus an latha a-diugh is minig a dh’airich mi feadhainn a’ bruidhinn air Cù Glas Mheòbail. A-nise b’ aithne dhomh-sa gràinne dhaoine, daoine tùrail ’s daoine sgilear is daoine foghainteach a bha glan-chinnteach gum faca iad fhèin an cù glas. Seo agaibh mar a dh’airich mis a thòisich an eachdraidh seo. Bha chionn iomadh bliadhna bha duine ann am Meòbal, taobh Loch Mòrair. Agus bha gràinne mhial-choin aige. Thuit dà gun d’fhalbh e fairis agus dh’fhàg e as a dheaghaidh gala dhe na mial-choin nach b’ urrainn da greim fhaighinn oirre mun d’fhalbh e, leis chuir e as do chàch air fad. As deaghaidh dhi falbh, dh’fhalbh a’ ghala a bha seo agus shnàmh i a-nunn do dh’ eilean a th’ ann an loch fos cionn Taigh Cheann Loch Beòraid their iad ris an lochan sin Lochan a’ Choin Ghlais. A-nise bha cuain chuileinean aice anns an eilean. Cha robh iad a’ cur mòran dragh air duine na beothach airson bhliadhnaichean. Ach thuit dhan duine a bha seo gun do thill e nall, agus nuair a thàinig e a Mheòbal, dh’innis iad dà gu robh a’ ghala is a’ chuain aice anns an eilean. Cha dèanadh nitheann an gnothach ach gu rachadh esan a choimhead. Ràinig e an lochan agus rinn e an fhead a b’ àbhaist dà a dhèanadh ris a’ ghala. Shnàmh ise air tìr is rinn i sog is mearag ris an duine a bha mòr. Ach comabh-se, an ceann tacain thàinig a dhà na trì dhen chuain air tìr. Agus is duilich leam a ghràdhainn gur a h-ann a stiall iad an duine as a chèile. Agus mharbh iad ann an sin e taobh an eilein. Tha an seann-sluagh a’ gràdhainn.
Feumas e a bhith gur h-e sin is coireach Cù Glas Mheòbail a bhith a’ leanailt Cloinn ’ic Dhùghaill gus an latha an-diugh, leis ’s e Mac ’ic Dhùghaill a bh’ anns an duine a thug iad as a chèile taobh an loch.

And the translation goes something like the following:

The Grey Dog of Meoble

In the days of my youth especially even up to this day I’ve often heard folk speak about the Grey Dog of Meoble. Now I knew a great deal of intelligent, skilful and brave folk who believed implicitly that they had seen the grey dog. Well, this is how I first heard of the beginning to this historical narrative. Many years ago there was a man in Meoble, besides Loch Morar. He owned a great many greyhounds. It so happened that he went overseas and he left behind him a greyhound bitch that he couldn’t get hold off before he went off, which then killed all the others. After he went off, the bitch swam over to an island in a loch above the house at the head of Loch Beoraid which they call the Little Loch of the Grey Dog. Now she gave birth to a litter of puppies on the island. They didn’t harm any man or beast for many years. But it so happened that this man returned and when he arrived at Meoble they told him about the bitch and her litter on the island. There was nothing for it but for him to go over and take a look. He got the loch and whistled as usual to the bitch. She swam over to him and greatly delighted and happy to see him. But never mind that, in a while two or three of the litter came to the shore. And I’m sorry to say that they tore this man to pieces. And they killed him there near the island. That’s what the old folks say. It must be that this is why the Grey Dog of Meoble follows Clan Dugald (MacDonalds) to this very day, as this man was a MacDugald that was torn to pieces by the lochside.

During the mid-1950s, Calum Maclean visited Morar and the surrounding area and took the opportunity to record many traditions then still current including the story about the Grey Dog of Meoble. Included is a summary of the above narrative:

The district of Morar is extremely pretty with its white sands and hill clad with birch. Loch Morar is reputed to be the deepest fresh-water loch in the British Isles. The loch is now a North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board reservoir, and although there is a dam and power-station at its western end, the beauty of it remains unaffected. Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat of the ’Forty-five was captured on one of the wooded islands on the loch and from there made his way to his execution in London. There is a roadway up for a couple of miles on the northern shore of the loch, while there are only one or two scattered houses on the southern shore. I met a young shepherd who lived alone at Meoble miles away from anyone. He never felt lonely and seemed to enjoy life very much. He was accustomed to walking long distances to Morar and Arisaig. He laughed heartily on being asked if he were afraid that he might encounter the legendary Grey Dog of Meoble. The Grey Dog of Meoble makes its appearance when any one of the MacDonalds of Morar, the seed of Dugald, is about to die. There are several people still living who maintain that they have really seen the mysterious dog. It appears only before the death of members of that particular branch of the MacDonalds. Over two hundred years ago a MacDonald of Meoble had a greyhound. He had to leave home to take part in some campaign and at the time of his leaving, the hound was in pup. When he left, the bitch swam out to an island on Loch Morar and there gave birth to a litter. Months went by and MacDonald returned home again, but his greyhound was missing. He happened to go to the very island where the bitch had her litter. The pups had now grown up into huge dogs, and not recognising their master, attacked and killed him before the mother appeared on the scene. Ever since that time the Grey Dog has appeared as an omen of death.
Writing in an article about the Grey Dog of Meoble, Iain Thornber took the opportunity to collect as much material from knowledgeable locals as Charlie MacFarlane of the Glenfinnan House Hotel:

It was he that told me the following tale concerning an old Highland lady who lived in Glasgow in the early 1900’s and whose family were closely related to the MacDonalds of Meoble.
She lived alone and had been confined to her room for many years but a friend who lived across the street was in the habit of calling each day to attend her needs. On once occasion as the friend was leaving the flat, a large dog, of a type she had never seen before, passed her on the stairs. She thought no more about it until the following day when much to her surprise she saw it again, this time lying on the old lady’s doorstep. With difficulty she pushed it aside and went in. In the course of conversation she happened to mention the dog. Her friend sat bolt upright, her eyes alight. “Describe it to me,” she said in a low voice. “Well,” replied the other, “It was very big―about the size of a Shetland pony, grey in colour with a long curly tail.” “Ah!” exclaimed the old lady with a contented smile on her lips, “The faithful friend ― she came at last,” and with that sank and passed peacefully away.

Other instances of the Grey Dog have been noted some as far afield as Cape Breton where many of the MacDonalds of Meoble settled after first arriving in Prince Edward Island. It would seem also that a sighting of the Grey Dog portended a major family event such as a birth or a death although the latter connection seems well entrenched in this particular legend. A slightly similar legend that contains a death portent is also associated with the Clan Donald of Keppoch in which a grey bird appears. It may be added that the late Alistair MacLeod, a hugely talented writer from Cape Breton, was influenced by the legend which he reworked into a short story entitled “As Birds Bring Forth the Son.”

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (London: Batsfords, 1959), p. 67
SSS, NB 8, pp. 766–67
Iain Thornber, ‘The Legend of the Grey Dog’, The Scots Magazine, vol. 117, no. 2 (1982), pp 133–40
¾¾¾. ‘An Cù Glas Mheobail – The Grey Dog of Meobale’, in Sàr Ghàidheal: Essays in Memory of Rory Mackay (Inverness: An Comunn Gàidhealach and The Gaelic Society of Inverness, 1986), pp. 106–12

A Scottish wolfhound
Lochan Mhic Dhùghaill from Meith Bheinn, Morar

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