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Saturday 10 August 2013

The Beast of Barrisdale II

The previous account of the Beast of Barrisdale may be supplemented by another version printed in The Oban Times, and reproduced in full here, by Creagan an Fhithich in 1906. The same eye-witnesses are mentioned and it is clear that the account was written by Fr Andrew MacDonell using the pen-name Creagan an Fhithich for he had strong connections with Glengarry:
Some year ago I was staying at Inverie in Knoydart. I then heard for the first time the story of the “Wild Beast” of Barrisdale. Barrisdale, on Loch Hourn (popularly said to mean the Loch of Hell), is one of the wildest spots of the Rough Bounds i.e., the west coast of Inverness-shire, from Lochsheil on the south to Glenelg on the north.
My first introduction to the story of the “Beast” was on a journey from Inverguseran to Inverie. Whilst riding on the mountain path I was accompanied by old Allan Mòr MacMaster as guide. According to my usual wont on such occasions, I tried to get all the folklore and other history, if any, connected with the locality. In a short time Allan brought out the story of the “Wild Beast” and gave his own personal experiences. I was interested; and proceeded to make all possible inquiry amongst gamekeepers and others who would be likely to know about this animal, which was said to have been both seen and very much heard in Barrisdale and its neighbourhood.
After lengthened investigations, I arrived at the following facts. It may be as well to give the matter in full detail. Allan MacDonald, a native of Arnisdale, who live at Kyleakin, in the Isle of Skye, and followed the trade of shoemaker there, told me a short time before his death that he remembered well the time when the “Beast” first came into the country. As a lad of 15 he was helping a party of men to launch a boat on Loch Hourn, when suddenly a most terrifying howl was heard on the hill behind them. This was about the year 1845, and with intervals of greater of less duration the animal has been heard up to the year 1900.
About the year 1866 the country was very much disturbed by our animal. For a period of some years at this time it seemed particularly active. People were afraid to go out of their houses except in company, and the most dire necessity alone would force men to go out at night.
On a day in November Ronald MacMaster, keeper at Barrisdale, now retired at Raoneval, set out for the top of Sgur a Choire Bheithe to shoot ptarmigan. He left the house some two or three hours before daybreak that he might be at the hill-top at dawn─the best time to get a safe shot at ptarmigan. When just arriving at the top he heard the “snoring” of the birds at a short distance, and cautiously pausing, he stepped aside to the shelter of an overhanging rock. It had begun to snow. He knew that as soon as the snow stopped the dawn would come, and he could have a shot at the ptarmigan.
In a few minutes, however, up flew the birds with a terrified scream and made away. Whilst bewailing his ill-luck, he wondered what would have frightened them. He thought it must be a fox, but determined to wait for dawn and make sure by observing the track left by the animal. The ground was covered by about half an inch of snow.
In about ten minutes the snowing ceased and day appeared. As there was now no need for concealment, the keeper walked out from his sheltering rock, and made for the place whence he had heard the birds. They had most surely been frightened, but how? There were clear tracks in the snow, with freshly fallen flakes upon them─they had fallen since the tracks were made─but they were not the tracks of a fox or a dog or of any other animal known to the keeper. Of all men in Scotland, keepers are the most acute observers of the tracks and other traces of the animals and birds inhabiting the hills, and they seldom or never mistake the tracks of one animal for those of another.
MacMaster immediately surmised that the “béist mhor” (big beast), as it was known, had just passed by. With his gun ready he followed the track, observing that like the fox this animal placed the hind foot into the track of the fore-foot, so that it might almost appear that it was only two-legged. The keeper followed up the spoor until he came to a long rocky ledge rising up in front of him to a height of from 12 to 14 feet, and there on the top were clearly imprinted the mark of four large paws. Without any evident signs of hesitation the animal had leaped clear to the top, and continued in its course. Ronald had had enough for one day; he made his way homewards.
On the lower slopes he came within hail of a shepherd who was engaged in sending his sheep out of the hollows and corries in the hillside lest they should get smothered in snow. On seeing Ronald, the shepherd called out to him that the “béist mhor,” if he wished see or shoot it, had just disappeared into the birch wood on the left. MacMaster, however, did not feel equal to hunting it in the wood, so made straight for home.
The description of the tracks given by the keeper is interesting. The marks left on the snow were almost round, and about 4 inches in diameter, and gave the impression of a very heavy animal. There were indications of four toes in the circumference, but most remarkable of all there was no central pad─instead there was left a somewhat flat cone of snow, much as is left when a bottle is put down and lifted straight.
To add to its mysterious nature, at a distance of about four inches behind the impression of the paw there was the mark of a long powerful claw, which having penetrated the snow pulled up pieces of peat moss and sprinkled the same on the snow.
Having given this account of his actual experience, MacMaster proceeded to explain the roaring of the “Beast.”
“By your leave, Sir, it was just like this,─you may have seen a tin pail put away on the top of a stone wall, the wind strikes it half side-ways and whistles through it, and the sound of the animal’s roar was like that, Sir, but as loud as the steam whistle of the Claymore or the Clansman within a hundred yards of you.”
This description was corroborated in every particular by several others who have heard the roar of this animal at widely different periods.
Allan Mòr, already alluded to, gave a graphic description of how the “beast” put to unwonted silence for a whole day─no light feat─the inveterate seannachies of a smearing house. They were from twenty to thirty men smoking their pipes after dinner, and standing and chatting on the green at the end of the smearing house.
They heard the “wild beast” as if at a distance, then almost on the instant quite close, and every man bolted for the shelter of the shed. There was a final roar so close that it shook the very building, and almost paralysed the men with fear. To like effect was the tale of Mrs R. MacMaster. She was ill in bed. There were several women in the house. Her husband had gone for the doctor and had not yet returned. Whilst anxiously waiting for the doctor, the women were much alarmed to hear the roar of the “beast” in the distance. It was evidently far up Glen Barrisdale, but coming nearer and nearer until it seemed at the very door; then it passed on its way up a shoulder of “Ladhar Bheinn.” I was told the story twenty year ago; but even after the lapse of time her manner was sufficient evidence of the alarm and terror of Mrs MacMaster and her companions on the morning as they huddled for mutual protection into one little upstairs room.
On another occasion, when the inhabitants of the village of Airor were engaged in the daily avocations, the animal paid them and unlooked for visit. It did not actually appear; but it made its presence felt. Men were in boats fishing in front of the village, others were engaged on their crofts, the women were about their housework─the cattle on the hilly slopes above the crofts. Suddenly the blood curdling roars were heard from a hillock behind the village─the whole place was in a tumult─the cattle all gathered into one crowd─the larger and horned ones forming a ring round the younger animals─all bellowing in terror. The men hastened to their houses to give protection of their presence to their women folk. Not for many years was that day forgotten in Airor, and one to whom I have spoken was mentally deranged for a period of 10 years by the fright of that day.
Creagan-an-Fhithich [Fr Andrew MacDonell], ‘The Wild Beast of Barrisdale’, The Oban Times (1906)
Andrew MacDonell, ‘The Beast of Barrisdale’, Tocher, vol. 56 (Summer, 2000), pp. 407–11
Barrisdale, Knoydart

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