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Thursday 25 April 2013

Tom an Dealachaidh – The Hill of Parting

Folk etymologies of place-names are a fairly common genre that collectors often come across. Calum Maclean was no exception as here is an example recorded on the 7th of August 1952 from James Dunbar, styled Seamus Barrach, a fifty-year old farmer, who belonged to Tomatin in Strathdearn. The following story has as its background the Jacobite Rising of 1715 which started with the raising of the royal banner in Braemar and which ended somewhat inconclusively at the Battle of Sheriffmuir which would sound the death-knell for the Jacobite cause at that time:
That’s the hill further down there. It’s supposed to be that there where Lochiel and the Earl of Mar parted after the Rebellion of 1715. Now the Earl of Mar was very hungry and we heard that seemingly Lochiel got meal from the mill and he had no place to cook it, but he took his shoe, put water in the shoe and put meal, barley meal, into the shoe and Earl of Mar said that it was the best food that he ever tasted.
Now there’s a Gaelic poem, a verse:
“Is math on còcair’ an t-acras:
Có dhèanadh tàir air a’ bhiadh?
Fuarag min eòr’ as sàil a’ bhròg
Am biadh a b’ fhearr a fhuair Morair Màr riamh.”
Now there’s another story told about that when some other Cameron parted hundreds of years before that. But it means Tom an Dealachaidh, the Hill of the Parting. And there was another story told about it that it was the parting between the peaceable men of this country, of this parish and then down. But it’s only tradition, of course. Well, there’s a stone on the top and it is called Séithir Morair Màr [The Earl of Mar’s Seat], as they say in this country. It is supposed to be that the Earl of Mar sat on that stone watching a battle of the clans down at Tom an Tuirc [The Hill of The Boar], between Tom an Dealachaidh and Tom an Tuirc. My father was a good story teller. I don’t know the quarter of what he knew.
This story of the Earl of Mar here been conflated with the first Battle of Inverlochy that took place in 1431 which saw a victory for Clan Donald, led by Donald Balloch, against the combined forces of the Earls of Mar and Caithness who had tried to check the ascendency of the Lordship of the Isles. The forfeiture of the Lordship eventually came in 1491.
This story was once well-known in Lochaber and a version was recorded from Archibald MacInnes, a seventy-year old pensioner from Achluachrach, Brae Lochaber, by Calum Maclean on the 7th of September 1951:
A’ chiad bhaiteal a bha aig Ionbhar Lòchaidh eadar Dòmhnall Ballach agus Iarla  Mhàrr, bha Iarla Mhàrr air an ruaigeadh is e a’ dol a-mach ri Gleann Ruaidh. Ràinig e fear ris an abradh iad Ó Biorain a bha a’s a’ Bhriagaich:
“Thig mi oidhche ’na thaigh,” thuirst e:

“Air mhóran bidhidh is air bheagan aodaich,
Is math an còcaire an t-acras,
Is mairig a dheànadh tailceas air biadh,
Fuarag eòrna sàil mo bhròige
Am biadh is fheàrr a fhuair mi riamh.”

Glé choltach gun do mharbh Ó Biorain marst. ’N uair a ràinig an duine feadh na h-oidhche, bha e ’ga marabhadh. Fhuair e am pailteas de bhiadh. Bha a’ marst mór. Agus chuir e a chadal ann an t-seiche a mharst e. Agus ’s ann mar sin a labhair e na briathan. Cha robh móran aodaich air. Rinn e an uair san ga dhachaidh. Thug e cuireadh do’n duine uair ’s am bith a bhitheadh nicheann a dhìth air a dhol a choimhead air-san. Duine ’s am bith a chaidh an rathad a bhuineadh dha’n àite, bha e uamharaidh mór man déidhinn an deadhaidh na tìm sin.
And the translation goes something like this:
The first battle of Inverlochy was fought between Donald Balloch and the Earl of Mar in which the Earl was defeated and he fled to Glenroy. He arrived at a place called Briagach and met a man they called Ó Biorain.
“I’ll stay the night in his house,” he said:
“Plenty of food but scanty of clothing
Hunger is a good cook
Woe to him who disdains food
Barley brose from the heel of my shoe –
The best meal I ever got.”
It’s more than likely than Ó Biorain slaughtered the cow. When the man came in during the middle of the night, he was in the process of slaughtering it. He got plenty of food as it was a large cow. He went to sleep in the cow hide. And that is why he spoke these words. He had but little clothing on. He then made for home. He invited the man that if he ever needed anything then he should go and see him. Anyone who belonged to this place, he was very pleased to see them after that.
When the pursuing MacDonald host heard that Cameron had sheltered the Earl he and his family had to remove themselves to the Braes o’ Mar. When the wretched Ó Biorain and his family reached the Earl of Mar’s Castle at Kildrummy they received a warm welcome with the following words:
               ’S ionmhuinn am fìrean a-muigh,
                Ó Biorain às a’ Bhreugaich,
                Bha mi oidhche ’na theach
                Air mhóran bìdh, ach beag aodaich. 
Outside is the loveable little man
O’ Bryne [Cameron] from Briagach
I was a night in his house
With plenty food but scanty of clothing.
It is said that the progeny of Ó Biorain Cameron are still left in this area of Highland Aberdeenshire, which lends credence to the folk tradition. According to Somerled MacMillan, Mar granted him the land of Brucks.  Alasdair Cam Forbes of Drimonvir and of Brucks married O’ Bryne’s only child, and their descendants retained the property down to the latter part of the nineteenth century.
SSS NB 5, pp. 396–97
SSS NB 16, pp. 1442–43
Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional.  Glasgow: K. & R. Davidson, 1971), p. 112
Iain Dìleas MacShomhairle, ‘Legend of Stewart; Sgeul air Alasdair Stiùbhart Iarla Màr’, Cuairtear nan Gleann, no. 3 (May, 1840), pp. 65–67; later reprinted and abridged as ‘Iarla Mhàrr agus Fear na Briagach’ in W. J. Watson (ed.), Rosg Gàidhlig: Specimens of Gaelic Prose (Glasgow: An Comunn Gàidhealach, 2nd. ed., 1929), pp. 99–102
Kildrummy Castle, Strathdon, near Braemar

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