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Friday 3 May 2013

Rob Roy on the Run

Another historical anecdote about Rob Roy MacGregor was transcribed by Calum Maclean on the 25th of January 1951 from the recitation of John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber:
Bha Rob Ruadh MacGriogair air an ruaig agus e a’ fuireach falach agus e air cùl an taighe a’ bristeadh fiodh. Agus thàinig ceathrar a dheadhaidh agus fhuair iad air cùl an taighe e. Agus dh’ aithnich e gun robh e air a ghlac(hc)adh. Bha e gun aramachd, gun rud eile.
“Tha thu trang, a Rob,” thuirst iad.
“Tha sinne ’gad iarraidh agus feuma’ tu tighinn linn.”  
“Nì mi sin ann an tiotadh, ’n uair a sgoilteas mi a’ maide a tha seo. Agus ma chuireas si-se, ma tha sibh ’nar daoine foghainteach: cuiribh ’n-ur làmhan a-staigh ’s an sgoilteadh a tha sin agus slaodaibh bho chéile a ’maide agus ’s ann is aichiorra a gheibh mise libh.”
“Nì sinn sin.”
Chuir iad an làmhan a-staigh anns an sgàineadh a bh’ ann ’s a’ mhaide. Agus ’n uair a fhuair Rob na làmhan a(hc)a a-staigh anns an sgaineadh, thilig e na geinein a-mach às a’ mhaide is bha iad air an glac(hc)adh ann a siod air mheòir (K1111.). Agus dh’ fhalabh e an uair sin a-staigh. Agus thill e. Agus chuir e an ceann dhiubh. Agus cha robh comas ac(hc)a an làmhan a thoirst às an fhiodh  (K500.). Bha e furasda gu leòr do Rob an grõthach a dhèanadh orra. 
And the translation goes something like this:
Rob Roy MacGregor was on the run and was keeping himself hidden when he was cutting wood behind the house. And four men came after him and found him at the back of the house. He knew that he had been caught. He was unarmed without any weapon at all.
“You’re busy, Rob,” they said.
“We want you and you’ll have to come with us.”
“I’ll do that presently when I’ve split this stick. And if you place, if you think that you’re brave enough men: put your hands in the gap there and if you pull it away from the stick then you’ll get me all the quicker.”
“We’ll do that.”
They placed their hands in the split in the stick and when Rob had their hands in the split he threw the wedges out of the stick and they were caught by their fingers. He then went inside [to get a sword] and returned and he then decapitated them all. They had no way of getting their hands free from the wood. It was easy enough for Rob to have done this. 
Such an anecdote is certainly fitting of Rob Roy’s character as he had to rely upon his wits in order that he could get out of any scrapes or messy business that he seems to have encountered rather more frequently than would have been to his liking. The above anecdote, however, would seem to have been grafted onto the Rob Roy legend for it has an old connection with the supposed Highland ancestor of Robert Burns. Here, for instance, is a version of the story as noted down by Alexander Carmichael which involves the well-known band of merry pranksters known as Cliar Sheanchain or Senchan’s Company:
Walter Campbell felled a tree in a place known since then as ‘Glac-a-Chlamhain,’ the dell of the harrier, and ‘Glac nan cliar,’ the dell of the satirists. The dell scoops across a high ridge of glacial drift. It is narrow and confined on the south at the upper end, broadening on the north and expanding downwards to a wide plain. Walter Campbell asked the satirists to come out and help him to rend the tree, and they came. He placed half the satirists on one side of the tree, and the other half on the other side. He drove a wedge into the bole of the tree, and rent the bole along the line of the stem. Then he asked the men to place their hands in the rent, and to pull against one another, while he drove in the wedge. The men placed their hands as directed. Walter Campbell struck the wedge not in, but out, however, and the two sides of the rent tree sprang together like the sides of a steel trap, holding the hands of the satirists as securely as if in a strong vice. Walter Campbell, the son of the ‘deor,’ lost control of his pent-up anger, and he fell upon the satirists with great fury, and scourged them and maimed them, killing some and wounding others fatally.
The upshot being that Walter Campbell had to flee for his life as he had broken the unspoken law of hospitality and he eventually ended up in the Mearns of Kincardine. Carmichael continues with his (rather unfeasible) supposition that, ‘Walter Campbell found people of the names of Burness, singularly like his own familiar cognomen of Burn-house at home in Muckairn; and as a slight disguise, he called himself by this designation of Burnhouse, dropping his clan name of Campbell. It was an easy transition from Walter Burnhouse to Walter Burness, Brunus, Burnes, Burns.’
Alexander Carmichael, ‘The Land of Lorne and the Satirists of Taynuilt’, Evergreen, vol. I (Spring, 1895), pp. 110–15
────, ‘Traditions of the Land of Lorne and the Highland Ancestry of Robert Burns’, The Celtic Review, vol. VIII (1912), pp. 314–33
John Shaw, ‘What Alexander Carmichael Did Not Print: The Cliar Sheanchain, ‘Clanranald's Fool’ and Related Traditions’, Béaloideas, vol. 70 (2002), pp. 99126
SSS NB 6, pp. 580–81
Engraving of Rob Roy MacGregor, c. 1820s

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