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Sunday 14 April 2013

The Last Wolf

There are many traditions about the killing of the last wolf throughout the Highlands.  Here is but one example of a few taken down by Calum Maclean from the recitation of Allan MacDonald who hailed from Bunroy, Brae Lochaber, but who latterly stayed in Inverlochy, near Fort William. The recording was transcribed on the 17th of January 1951:
Tha àite shuas an Gleann Ruaidh an sin agus ’s e Achadh a’ Mhadaidh a their iad ris. Bha boireannach anns a’ mhòine a’ toirst dachaidh cliabh mòna. Dar a thog i a ceann gu falbh, bha madadh-gala is a bheul fosgailte gu bhith aic(hc)e. Chuir i a làmh a-mach ’ga chumail bhuaithe. Chuir i a lamh ’na bheul agus thachd i e. Bhrùgh i a làmh a-staigh gus an do thachd i e. Achadh a’ Mhadaidh ann an Gleann Ruaidh.
And the translation is as follows:
There’s a place up in Glenroy which they call Achadh a’ Mhadaidh [The Wolf Field]. There was a woman on the hill taking home a creel of peats. When she lifted her head to go there was a [she-]wolf with its mouth agape ready to lunge. She put her hand out to keep it at bay. She put her hand into its mouth and strangled it by thrusting her hand into it and choking it. Achadh a’ Mhadaidh in Glenroy.
Many of the traditions surrounding the killing of the last wolf contain certain motifs were the sole protagonists―in many cases this happens to be a woman―who encounter a wolf and in fear of their lives attack and kill the wolf with any weapon that they may have had to hand. A legend from Perthshire tells of the Wolf’s Bridge in Dalguise and it is said have been the last wolf to have been killed in this particular district. She is said to have encountered the wolf and managed to stab the ferocious animal.
Similar types of legends were recorded through the Highlands such as in Glassary, Argyllshire and in Strathglass, where, it is said, the last wolf met its death near St Ignatius’s Well. Other legends contend that a local hero was the one to have killed the last of the wolves such as a Lochaber tradition where a hunter-bard Dòmhnall MacFhionnlaigh nan Dàn (Donald MacKinlay of the Lays) was given the credit of doing so. A near-contemporary of this hunter-bard, and a famous wolf-slayer in his own right, was said to have been Andrew MacGillivray, Anndra Mòr nam Madadh-allaidh (Great Andrew of the Wolves) who ‘won a name and fame for himself by killing wolves.’ He is said to have been the last of the great wolf-slayers in Scotland and was born around 1600.
One of the most famous historical legends of the last wolf is connected with Sir Ewen Dubh Cameron (16291719), probably one of the most famous Highland chiefs. His biographer, John Drummond of Balhaldie, relates that: ‘His greatest diversion was hunting, whereof he was so keen, that he destroyed all the wolfs […] that infested the country. He killed […] the last wolf that was seen in the Highlands.’ It is claimed that the Cameron chief killed the last wolf at Killiecrankie in 1680. Apparently, an auction catalogue for a London Museum in 1818 had this stuffed wolf for sale, where an entry stated: ‘Wolf—a noble animal in a large case. The last wolf killed in Scotland by Sir Ewan Cameron’. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of this piece is now unknown. By the late seventeenth-century wolves in the Highlands were becoming less than a familiar sight and in all probability became extinct around 1680 after centuries of human persecution.
SSS NB 1, p. 22
Andrew Wiseman, ‘‘A Noxious Pack’: Wolves in the Scottish Highlands, History Scotland, vol. 12, no. 6 (Nov./Dec., 2012), pp. 28–34 [a popular version of the article below]
Andrew Wiseman, ‘‘A Noxious Pack’: Historical, Literary and Folklore Traditions of theWolf (Canis Lupus) in the ScottishHighlands’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 25 (2009), pp. 95–142 
Sir Ewen Cameron (1629–1719), Chief of Clan Cameron. The portrait is in Achnacarry House.

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