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Thanks to reports in recent issues of the Oban and Lochaber Times, the 100th anniversary celebrations at Fort William’s West Highland Museum this year may, hopefully, rekindle an interest in the 1745 Rising in Lochaber. It will for some, but not I suspect, a younger generation?
Of course, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobite Movement, Glenfinnan, Culloden and the ‘shock and awe’ which came in the aftermath, actually happened. They cannot be air-brushed out any more than the slave trade and the putting up of statues of public figures when they were famous which are now being toppled under the guise of political correctness. I cannot help thinking though the Jacobite Movement has been high-jacked by a devil-me-care tourist industry and peppered with romance and drivel to suit. It is important that we stick to the facts. Where better to look than in the areas they had a presence and where stories of them continued to be handed down from father to son. The late Calum Iain Maclean of The School of Studies in Edinburgh, wrote in his well-known book, The Highlands (1958): ‘It may be argued that oral tradition is not documentary evidence, but, more often than not, it is the completely faithful and irrefutable reiteration of the evidence of living witnesses’.
Moidart has been fortunate to have had a local historian in the 1960s called Alasdair Cameron, writing in this newspaper under the pen name North Argyll on the oral traditions of Moidart – see Morvern Lines, March 22, 2018 – otherwise known as The Cradle of the ‘45. It was a time when stories relating to that era were still known locally by an indigenous population. What follows is an excellent example of Alasdair’s knowledge and erudition and is a truism of the old Gaelic saying that the weakest ink is better than the strongest memory.
‘The district which the new road from Kinlochmoidart to Kinlochailort will pass through can justly be termed a part of the cradle of the ’45. According to his itinerary account it is said that Prince Charles Stuart first landed in Moidart at Forsy on the south side of Loch Ailort from which he walked across the Glenuig hill to Caolas, and then went by boat to Kinlochmoidart, landing at Creagan Dubh..
‘His visit to Moidart is well commemorated. There is a pipe tune by Macintyre the Clanranald piper, Thainig mo Righ air tir a Muideart (My King has landed in Moidart), the reel The Eight Men of Moidart, and a row of beech trees of the same name in praise of the number of colleagues who accompanied the prince from France. The story connected with the reel is that a few men from Glenuig met other locals at Kinlochmoidart and gave them the news of the prince’s arrival. They were all so overjoyed that right there and then they danced the reel which has come down to us under the above name.
‘Some 40 years ago, an old lady in Moidart told me the following story in connection with it. The Caolas men were peat-cutting, but as there were only seven in the party, they stuck a turf-cutting spade in the ground to complete the set.
‘In addition to all this there is the so-called Prince Charlie Cave, which may be damaged by the construction of the new road. I have been to this cave – if it can justifiably be called such – and tramps did at times stay in it, but I am indeed very doubtful if it was ever occupied by the prince. What necessity had the Young Chevalier to hide in a cave when he was at Kinlochmoidart under the protection of MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart himself and a bodyguard of Clanranald men? At this time, also, his presence in the country was hardly known to the Government, even though MacLeod of MacLeod, following a visit to young Clanranald and Allan MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart, did sent a secret letter to Lord President Forbes on August 3. Indeed, it was August 13 before the Lord President went to Inverness to rally supporters to the Government side.
‘News of the prince’s landing was conveyed to London through the governor of Mingary Castle, in Ardnamurchan, who passed it on to Campbell of Airds, the factor for the Duke of Argyll in Morvern. He forwarded it to Inveraray, and from there it was sent to Edinburgh and thence to London. There is a list of persons from the Glenuig district who served in the prince’s army, but its completeness is open to question.
‘The inhabitants of the district did, however, escape the severity of punishment inflicted on those of Lochaber, though the hated Captain Ferguson of Furnace did some damage and Kinlochmoidart House was set on fire by Cumberland’s troops.
‘There is a story current in the district that old Mrs MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart, Peggy Lochiel, died as a result of the fire. The Kinlochmoidart papers – now in the Register House, Edinburgh – and the Forfeited Estates papers show, however, that she lived for years after the fire. She died at Irine (Roshven), in the house of her son, Ronald Og, who gained the admiration of many a youngster of my generation through the well-known picture which shows him throwing his bonnet in the air and declaring, “I will follow Charlie”.
‘According to tradition and the bardic works of Alexander Macdonald – Alasdair MacMhaighster, the Jacobite poet – the kindlier treatment given to the district by the Government forces was due to the leniency of a commander of the Argyll Militia. Captain Duncan Campbell, who afterwards became Captain of Edinburgh City Guard. The high terms in which MacDonald refers to him leave little doubt that he was a good friend to the local folk in their hour of need, Tha’n Saighdean agus an Criosdaidh An aon phearse ghrinn a Chaiptin (The soldier and the Christian are in the pretty person of the Captain). Another who no doubt contributed to the leniency shown would have been the parish priest, William Harrison, who by his prudence and cautious diplomacy, gained the approbation of both sides during that difficult period, though not apparently that of Macdonald the bard.
‘For some years after the ‘45, Macdonald lived at Eignaig, where his near neighbour was Father Harrison who, I believe had a chapel at Caolas. Macdonald was on very bad terms with the priest and no doubt contributed to the feelings which inspired his poem Dispraise of Eignaig, which depicts it as barren, stony, unproductive, and so on.
‘Reflecting on this one August morning as I partook of the hospitality of the Eignaig Boys, the late Archie and Angus Macdougall, it was borne in on me that this unfavourable picture was due to the bard’s irascible temper rather than to the nature of Eignaig and its surroundings.
‘When the new road is completed, visitors will no doubt follow in some places between Kinlochmoidart and Forsay the same route as the Prince took when he walked across to Caolas. But there will be a difference – a much reduced native population. With emigration and migration, it would be difficult to find in the Glenuig area today sufficient descendants of those who followed the prince to make a set for The Eight Men of Moidart.’
Alasdair Cameron (North Argyll), Moidart’s historian (1896-1973)
Jacobite monument at Glen Finnan. Will it be demolished because its funder has been associated with the American slave trade? (Photograph Iain Thornber)
Old Kinlochmoidart House. Replaced the original burnt in 1746 by the Government troops searching for Prince Charles Edward Stuart. (Photograph Mrs Nino Stewart, Kinlochmoidart)
Dalilea House, near Loch Shiel, where according to local tradition the Jacobite standard was made shortly before it was raised at Glenfinnan.
Hugh Macdonald (the ‘Gamie) a native of Moidart whose forbears fought at Culloden for Bonnie Prince Charlie (Photograph Iain Dumbell)