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Wednesday 1 May 2013

More on the Lochaber Strongman: A. A. Cameron

Following on from a recent blog, here is more material about the redoubtable Lochaber athlete. Both of these anecdotes were recorded from John MacDonald of Highbridge and transcribed by Calum Maclean on the 4th and the 25th of January 1951 respectively. The first anecdote is as follows:
Tha fhios gun cuala sibh uile ma dhéidhinn a’ fear ris an abradh iad A. A. Cameron, Magh Comair. Bu mhath a b’ aithne dhomh an duine. Bha e trip a siod aig cleasan. Agus bha duine ann a sin agus bearst aige. Agus bha thu a’ cur do chasan air a’ bhearst. Agus ’ga slaodadh fiach dé an cuideam a thogadh tu. Bha làmh a’ dol m’an cuairst. Cha robh e toileach seo fhiachainn ach thug feadhainn eile air fhiachainn. Agus ’n uair a dh’ fhiach e seo, ’s ann a shlaod e às an amhaich uile gu léir e. Agus bha e briste. Ach shìn e m’an cuairst an ad agus thrus e móran airigead do’n bhodach a bha a’ deànadh fhorstan air daoine làidir, fiach dé neart a thogadh iad.
Bha e turas eile ann a Siorrachd Pheairst. Bha clach mhór ann a sin aig taobh gàrradh agus theireadh iad gur h-e duine foghainteach a thogadh idir i: a chuireadh gaoth eadar i is talamh. Ach dh’fhalabh Alasdair agus rug e air a’ chlach (F624.2.) agus thilig e taobh eile a’ ghàrraidh i agus bha i a siod gus an latha an-diugh. Na bu có an duine a bheireadh às i, chan ’eil fora(fh)ais fhathast.
And the translation goes something like this:
I know that you have all heard about the man they call A. A. Cameron, Mucomir. I knew the man well. He was once at the Highland games. And there was man was there who had a loom. You put your feet on the loom and you pulled it to see how much weight you could lift. There was a handle that went round. He wasn’t willing to try it but a few others made him give it a go. When he tried this, he put it completely out of joint and it was broken. But he put a hat around and he collected a lot of money for the old man who made a fortune from strongmen who tried their strength out in trying to lift it.
He was another time in Perthshire. There was a big boulder besides a dyke and they said that only a powerfully built man would be able to lift it. Alexander went and lifted the boulder and threw it over the dyke where it lies to this very day. I’ve no idea who would be able to move it now. 
The second anecdote concerns A. A’s grandfather, a well-known strongman in his own right:
Bha bodach gu math làidir (F610.) anns an dùthaich seo. B’ e sin seanair do’n duine fhoghainteach air an robh mi a’ bruidheann, A. A. Cameron, cho foghainteach is a bha ’s an dùthaich  (F610.). Agus ’n uair a bhitheadh e a falabh ’am cheàrdaich le crann, chuireadh e air a’ ghualainn e…Ach co dhiubh chuireadh e air a ghualainn e agus aige ri tighinn ochd mìle do’n cheàrdaich (H1562.2.). Agus nam bitheadh e a’ dol ’an Ghearasdan ’s a each is cairst a a’ tighinn leis. Thiligeadh e aig doras na ceàrdaich e agus dh’ fhalaadh e ’n Ghearasdan. Ach bha e a’ latha a bha seo a’ toirst dachaidh mòine agus chaidh a chairst ann an àite bog agus i fodha cho fad is a rachadh i. Cha b’ urrainn do’n each a slaodadh às aig cho seòlta is a bha iad ag obair air. Ach ’s ann a smaointich e gun dugadh e an t-each, gu fuaisgealadh e as a’ chairst e, agus leis an t-seòltachd agus an draghadh a bh’ aige fhéin oirre, thug e às i (H1562.2.). Agus thuirst e:
“Och, chan ’eil mi’ gabhail iongantas ’s a’ bith ged nach b’ urrainn do’n each a chairst a thoirst às an toll,” thuirst e. “Thug e gu leòr dhomh fhìn a dhèanadh!” 
And the translation goes something like this:
There was quite a strong old man in this district. He was the grandfather of the strongman, A. A. Cameron, who I’ve been talking about, a man who was as powerfully built as there has even been here. He’d go to the smithy with a plough, he’d carry it on his shoulder…and anyway he’d carry it on his shoulder and had to walk eight miles to the smithy. And if he had to go to Fort William he would take his horse and cart. He would throw it down at the smithy door and then leave for Fort William. But on this day he was taking home some peat and his cart went into a bog and sank down as far as it would go. The horse couldn’t pull it free no matter how skilfully they worked. Then he thought to himself that if he was to take the horse out of the harness that he would tie himself to the cart, and with his dexterity and tugging he managed to free it. And he said:
“Och, I’m not surprised at all that the horse couldn’t pull the cart free from the hole,” he said. “It took enough out of me to manage it myself!”
The Rev. Somerled MacMillan in his book Bygone Lochaber references A. A. Cameron on two occasions. It is likely that he got the following anecdotes from John MacDonald of Highbridge as the Bard – as he was sometimes referred to – is acknowledged in his preface:
Mucomir farm was once the home of Alexander Anthony Cameron, the world-famous athlete and heavy-weight champion. His father was quite a strong man but was better known locally for his skill as a fiddler. It is said that once an athlete named MacGregor complained to old Mucomir about his song lifting all the main prizes at the different Highlands Games. The old man treated the matter light-heartedly and remarked quite casually that he had a daughter who could beat either of them if he cared to meet her. Kate, the daughter was a match for any man of strength. It was the writer’s privilege to meet her when she was an old woman. She declared that she and her famous brother inherited their strength from their mother’s father─big Sandy MacMillan, one time tenant of Moy farm. After their father’s death, A. A. Cameron and his brother tenanted Mucomir from for a time.
The Big Sandy mentioned above is the subject of the second anecdote:
Big Sandy MacMillan, one time tenant of Moy farm, was one of the strongest men in Lochaber. His daughter was the mother of A. A. Cameron, the world-famous athlete, and it is believed that the latter inherited his strength from his maternal grandfather.
One day Sandy’s horse and cart got stuck in a bog at Gairlochy. Not in the least perturbed, he unyoked the beast and pulled it clear, then, taking the trams, he pulled the cart out of the quagmire. After this amazing feat of strength he made this casual remark: “I make no wonder the poor beast couldn’t do it when it took my all my time to do it myself!”
On another occasion his plough needed minor repairs and so he lifted it up with one hand, placed it on his shoulder, and carried it from Moy to the blacksmith’s shop at Spean Bridge, a distance of five miles.
Several years ago there used to be Annual Games held at Achnacarry, when local stalwarts took part. Sandy had never competed before but his friends persuaded him to enter for putting the stone. Taking it up in his hand, he looked at it and asked, “Are you allowed to throw it as far as you like?” When told that this was so he hurled it farther than the rest of the competitors, including the renowned MacDonald brothers of Cranachan. The fact this inexperienced competitor had beaten the favourites caused surprise among the judges, who, in order to save the would-be champions from embarrassment, disqualified MacMillan on the flimsy pretext that he had not thrown the stone in a straight line.
Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber: History and Traditional (Glasgow: Privately Published, 1971), pp. 26–27; 93–94
SSS NB 3, p. 204
SSS NB 6, pp. 503–04
A. A. Cameron, c. 1890s.

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