Morvern Lines with Iain Thornber

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Old Oban Times reports

Some years back, a few of my columns were made up of extracts from old copies of The Oban Times. As they appeared to be of wide interest, here are a few more for this week.

Mull Lairds at loggerheads – amusing proceedings

A most amusing affair, which recalls the old days of Highland clanship, has occurred in Mull within the past few days.

Mr Dugald Cameron MacLachlan of Oban, who has recently bought the estate of Aros, thought he could claim the rocky ‘Glaseiler’ [now called Eileanan Glasa] in the Sound of Mull, which, as far as the longest memory, or perhaps the oldest tradition proves, has followed the estate of Pennygowan.

In order to justify his claim, the proprietor of Aros commanded his men to take possession of the ‘debateable’ island. Some sheep belonging to Colonel Gardyne of Glenforsa, the proprietor of Pennygowan, were accordingly ferried away and replaced by a number of sheep from Aros estate.

Upon hearing of this forcible occupation of his ‘territories’, the gallant colonel despatched his men immediately to the spot. Mr MacLachlan’s sheep were taken off, and the former ‘blackfaces’ set back.

Mr MacLachlan retaliated by taking Colonel Gardyne’s sheep off a second time, but the colonel continued the campaign, to the no small amusement of the neighbourhood, by driving the invaders away once more.

Then, for the third time, Mr MacLachlan’s men took possession of the island, and signified their intention to ‘hold the fort’ by firing six defiant shots from a rifle.

The matter has caused intense amusement throughout Mull, and reminds people of the old clan feuds with which their folklore is so replete. The whole proceedings have arrived at a stage which cannot be adjusted out of the law courts.

It is said that neither party can produce documentary evidence to substantiate his claim, and that both rely on tradition alone for proof, but the long time that the island has been in possession of Colonel Gardyne is a strong point in his favour, though it is alleged that the estate which has the shallower intervening water can claim the property. [April
1900.]

Mary MacFie’s dog

‘Sir – your issue of the 19th inst [Oct] contains a communication from the pen of “Historicus” in reference to Mary MacFie’s dog. Historicus could not have seen the remains of Mary’s dog before it was too far advanced in decay to distinguish, or form a correct judgement, as to whether they were the bones of a dog or a cat.

‘Without the shadow of a doubt, the skeleton on the rock shelf near Mary’s cave, was that of her favourite and only companion, her dog “Sonnachan”. [When the dog died, Mary had its remains pickled in whisky and placed on a ledge at the entrance to her abode which was near Cameron Farm on the West shore of Lochbuie.]

‘My recollection of the matter dates back to 1840. My home at that time was well within half a mile of the cave, consequently I had often a peep at the remains. At the time referred to, the dog was in a fair state of preservation, with the hair almost intact, but when I left the district in 1854 it was rapidly decaying.

‘The animal was once blamed for pilfering and eating some herring-net buoys, made out of sheep skins. Mary resented the accusation by composing some doggerel verses clearing her favourite character from the unfounded charge.

‘One of the verses was afterwards set to lively dance music by the then Mrs Maclaine of Lochbuie, the present laird’s grandmother.’ [Letter, May
1907]

Old mansion house dismantled

Another of the old Morvern mansions – Lochaline House – has been  dismantled by the proprietor, Mr T Valentine Smith of Ardtornish.

This house was built in the year 1819 by Mr John Sinclair, proprietor of the Tobermory Distillery, who had shortly before then bought the Lochaline Estate from the Duke of Argyll.

It is interesting to remember that Mr Sinclair was married to a sister of Dr MacLachlan of Rahoy, perhaps the sweetest singer among our modern Gaelic bards. On Mr Sinclair’s death, the property passed into the hands of a Mrs Paterson, in whose times nearly all the crofters on the estate were evicted.

Several years ago, the property was bought by Mr Smith. The fate which now befalls Lochaline House happened several years ago in the case of Ardtornish House, which was for a time the home of the Sellars of Sutherland-shire clearance notoriety.

Near it is the ruined castle of Ardtornish, built over 500 years ago by the Lord of the Isles, and which for a long time was the recognised seat of the Clan Donald chiefs. [Report 1899].

Iain Thornber

iain.thornber@btinternet.com