Historical Tales and Legends of the Highlands
TALES AND LEGENDS
EDITOR OF THE “CELTIC MAGAZINE,”
AUTHOR OF THE “HISTORY OF THE CLAN MACKENZIE,”
THE “PROPHECIES OF THE BRAHAN SEER,” &c., &c.
A. & W. MACKENZIE, CELTIC MAGAZINE OFFICE
EDINBURGH: MACLACHLAN & STEWART.
These Tales and Legends werevery favourably received by a wide circle of readers, and by the Pressgenerally, as they appeared from month to month in the CelticMagazine. They are now published in a collected form at the requestof many who have previously perused them. I would like to present thepublic with the names of their authors; but as one of them—the “Norman”and “Torquil” of the Celtic Magazine—objects to have his name madepublic, although he has written the greater number of them, I mustcontent myself now by taking advantage of this opportunity to thankhim, “Mac Iain,” and the others who supplied the Tales and Legends, themerits of which—especially those for which I may be held personallyresponsible—I propose to leave to the tender mercies of an indulgent public.
Celtic Magazine Office, Inverness,
|The Spell of Cadboll||7|
|Prince Charlie and Mary Macleod||17|
|James Macpherson, the famous Musician|
|The First Gauger in Skye||32|
|The Raid of Cilliechriost||75|
|Lachlan Og Mackinnon and the Skye Factor||83|
|James Grant of Carron||88|
|John Mackay of Farr||94|
|The Cummings of Badenoch||100|
|Glengarry and his Favourite||108|
|Castle Urquhart and the Fugitive Lovers||114|
|The Fairies and Donald Duaghal Mackay||122|
|Young Glengarry, the Black Raven||128|
|A Legend of Invershin||137|
|The Bonnie Earl of Moray||143|
|The Rout of Moy||160|
|A Legend of Loch-Maree||165|
|Allan Donn and Annie Campbell||189|
|Mary Macleod of Marrig||199|
HISTORICAL TALES & LEGENDS
OF THE HIGHLANDS.
We are in a West Coast village or township, cut off from allcommunication with the outer world, without Steamers, Railways, evenRoads. We grow our own corn, produce our own beef, our mutton, ourbutter, our cheese, and our wool. We do our own carding, our spinning,and our weaving. We marry and are taken in marriage by, and among,our own kith and kin. In short, we are almost entirely independentof the more civilized and more favoured South. The few articles wedo not produce—tobacco and tea—our local merchant, the only one ina district about forty square miles in extent, carries on his back,once a month or so, from the Capital of the Highlands. We occasionallyindulge in a little whisky at Christmas and the New Year, at our[Pg 2]weddings and our balls. We make it, too, and we make it well. TheSalmon Fishery Acts are, as yet, not strictly enforced, and we canoccasionally shoot—sometimes even in our gardens—and carry home,without fear of serious molestation, the monarch of the forest. We arenot overworked. We live plainly but well, on fresh fish, potatoes andherring, porridge and milk, beef and mutton, eggs, butter, and cheese.Modern pickles and spices are as unknown as they are unnecessary. True,our houses are built not according to the most modern principles ofarchitecture. They are, in most cases, built of undressed stone andmoss (coinneach), thatched with turf or divots, generally covered overwith straw or ferns held on by a covering of old herring nets, straw,and rope, or siaman.
The houses are usually divided into three apartments—one door in thebyre end leading to the whole. Immediately we enter, we find ourselvesamong the cattle. A stone wall, or sometimes a partition of clay andstraw separates the byre from the kitchen. Another partition, usuallyof a more elegant description, separates the latter from the “culaist,”or sleeping apartment. In the centre of the kitchen a pavement of threeor four feet in diameter is laid, slightly raised towards the middle,on which is placed the peat fire. The smoke, by a kind of instinctpeculiar to peat smoke, finds its way to a hole in the roof calledthe “falas,” and makes its escape. The fire in the centre of the roomwas almost a necessity of the good old Ceilidh days. When the peoplecongregated in the evening, the circle could be extended to the fullcapacity of the room, and occasionally it became necessary to havea circle within a circle. A few extra peats on the fire would, atany time, by the additional heat produced, cause an extension of thecircle, and at the same time send its warming influences to the utmost[Pg 3]recesses of the apartment. The circle became extended by merely pushingback the seats, and this arrangement became absolutely necessary in thehouses which were most celebrated as the great Ceilidh centres of thedistrict.
The Ceilidh rendezvous is the house in which all the folk-lore of thecountry, all the old “sgeulachdan,” or stories, the ancient poetryknown to the bards, or Seanachaidhean, the old riddles and proverbsare recited from night to night by old and young. All who took aninterest in such questions congregated in the evening in these centresof song and story. They were also great centres of local industry.Net-making was the staple occupation, at which the younger members ofthe circle had to take a spell in turn. Five or six nets were attachedin different corners of the apartment to a chair, a bedstead, or to apost set up for the purpose, and an equal number of young gossippersnimbly plied their fingers at the rate of a pound of yarn a-day. Thus,a large number of nets were turned out during the winter months, theproceeds of which, when the nets were not made for the members of thehousehold, went to pay for tobacco and other luxuries for the older andmost necessitous members of the circle.
We shall now introduce the reader to the most famous Ceilidh housein the district. It is such as we have above described. The good-manis bordering on five-score. He is a bard of no mean order, oftendelighting his circle of admiring friends with his own compositions,as well as with those of Ossian and other ancient bards. He holds aresponsible office in the church, is ground-officer for the laird aswell as family bard. He possesses the only Gaelic New Testament in thedistrict. He lives in the old house with three sons whose ages rangefrom 75 to 68, all full of Highland song and story, especially the[Pg 4]youngest two—John and Donald. When in the district, drovers fromLochaber, Badenoch, and all parts of the Highlands find their way tothis noted Ceilidh house. Bards, itinerants of all sorts, travelingtinkers, pipers, fiddlers, and mendicants, who loved to hear ortell a good story, recite an old poem or compose a modern one, allcome and are well received among the regular visitors in the famousestablishment. In the following pages strangers and local celebritieswill recite their tales, those of their own districts, as also thosepicked up in their wanderings throughout the various parts of the country.
It was a condition never deviated from, that every one in the housetook some part in the evening’s performance, with a story, a poem,a riddle, or a proverb. This rule was not only wholesome, but onewhich almost became a necessity to keep the company select, and thehouse from becoming overcrowded. A large oak chair was placed in aparticular spot—“where the sun rose”—the occupant of which had tocommence the evening’s entertainment when the company assembled, theconsequence being that this seat, although one of the best in thehouse, was usually the last occupied; and in some cases, when the housewas not overcrowded, it was never occupied at all. In the latter case,the one who sat next to it on the left had to commence the evening’sproceedings.
It was no uncommon thing to see one of the company obliged to coinsomething for the occasion when otherwise unprepared. On one occasionthe bard’s grandson happened to find himself in the oak chair, and wascalled upon to start the night’s entertainment. Being in his own househe was not quite prepared for the unanimous and imperative demand madeupon him to carry out the usual rule, or leave the room. After some[Pg 5]hesitation, and a little private humming in an undertone, he commenced,however, a rhythmical description of his grandfather’s house, whichis so faithful that, we think, we cannot do better than give it. Thepicture was complete, and brought down the plaudits of the house uponthe “young bard” as he was henceforth designated.