Strath Nairn Notes
By Mr Hugh Barron
The following article, from Volume 51 of The Transactions of The Gaelic Society of Inverness,
is reproduced here by kind permission of the Author, Mr Hugh Barron, Inverness.
The stories were collected from old copies of Highland newspapers.
Tordarroch Bridge and the wooded slopes of Creag an Soilleir – scene of much activity following the Battle of Culloden
The Chief of theMacGillivrays (Alasdair Ruadh Na Feile) on his return from the night march to Nairn [on the eve of the Battle of Culloden], retired to the house of his mother (who was at the time living in Inverness) to have some rest but soon woke in great perturbation because of some presentiment. His mother offered to hide him but to this he would not agree. Before he fell in the fight at Culloden, at the head of Clan Chattan, with several halberds having been thrust into him, he personally killed a number of the enemy.
A day or two before the battle, MacBean of Faillie applied to one MacKintosh, his tenant at Tigh an t-Sluichd, to accompany him to the battle. He declined to go and suggested to MacBean that he should approach his brother, Iain Mor, as one who could take his place. MacBean, knowing that Iain was rather foolish, said that he did not think he was a suitable man for the battle. However, he went with MacBean and in the battle he was able to help MacBean who found himself in a tight corner and afterwards had a higher respect for Iain.
During the flight from the field, at the North of Dun Daviot, two dragoons were chasing Iain but because of the roughness of the ground he was able to keep ahead of them and was nearing his brother’s house. When he came within hearing distance, his brother, seeing that he was in danger, called out that he should make for the sandbanks (steep banks on the north side of the River Nairn near Faillie). But Iain, being very hungry, dashed into the house and snatched some food. On coming out he met one dragoon at the door and, pulling him from his horse, dispatched both horse and rider. The other dragoon, hearing the death cry of his comrade, made off. Both rider and horse were buried where they fell and two of the horseshoes were found many years afterwards. One was retained at the Daviot smiddy, the other at Moy Hall.
At a dinner held on the centenary of the battle, Charles MacKintosh of Aberarder told how his father was an infant being reared in a cottage near the field of battle. After the battle some Redcoats set fire to the cottage but a faithful servant who was hiding until the soldiers were past rushed into the flames and rescued the child who bore the marks of burning all his life.
On his flight from Culloden, Prince Charles passed through the ford at Tordarroch and by way of Dunlichity and through the Corrie of Brin with his party bore down on Dunmaglass. As they entered the corrie the pursuing party of Redcoats had reached Crask where they were offered refreshment by a MacKintosh family and were delayed, thus enabling the Prince to gain valuable time.
A number of Redcoats halted at Flichity where they killed two men who were hiding under straw in a barn. At Aberarder a number of the people avoided death or ill-treatment by taking to the hills. Two men of the district were making their way to Culloden, unaware that the battle had already been fought. East of Tordarroch, they were met by some troopers who fired on them, killing one and wounding the other who eventually recovered and attained the age of over a hundred years. From him are descended the Frasers of Achraman (Achraman may be a misprint of Achvaneran where there were Frasers last century).
It is not known if James Fraser, Civil Engineer in Inverness, was of these Frasers. His father, Charles Fraser, had the farm Mains of Faillie. James, who was an apprentice with Joseph Mitchell, had an exceptionally long and active career in Inverness and district and died in 1925 aged 95. He was one of the original members of The Gaelic Society of Inverness which he supported well for almost sixty years and a paper which he compiled, “Strathnairn in the Olden Times”, was published in Volume 10 of “The Transactions of The Gaelic Society of Inverness”. A number of papers by him appear in the Inverness Field Club Transactions. To many in Inverness he was known as “Jimmy Civil” and a number of stories used to be told of his amazing physical agility.
The “Highlander” of 30th December 1876 contains – “Death of a Seannachaidh – We record today the death of one of those who are dropping off so rapidly around us and whom we shall miss still more bye and bye when numbers among us become alive to the value of the lore we are thus losing. Mr Hugh Shaw, latterly of Shore Street, Inverness, died on 24th December aged seventy-nine. He was a native of Milton of Brin where his ancestors occupied land and the mill for about 300 years. He was Huisdean mac Alasdair ‘ic Iain ‘ic Alasdairean which goes back ten generations. The first of the family who settled were of the Shaws of Tordarroch. The lands of Brin then belonged to a childless lady of the Clan Chattan who said she would have an heir (meaning the mill) which would be there when none of the neighbouring lairds would have a representative. The mill was erected by Shaw who was a millwright and miller and the family is still there (1876). Hugh Shaw was a repository of tradition, genealogy and had a most accurate recollection of names and dates together with a ready flow of speech. He was one who was most willing to impart his information.”
The stone in Dunlichity Churchyard which bears the following inscription is on the grave of one of Hugh Shaw’s ancestors. “Alexander Shaw, Miller, Brin, died 1782 aged 77 and his spouse Mary Mc(Coilchynie)* died 1792 aged 52.” [*spelling appears to be so].
Bishop Forbes in his second Journal, 1770, refers to Tordarroch and Mr Shaw’s miller who is described as “a sensible, sagacious fellow” and having no English.
East of Dunlichity is the Priest’s Stone (Clach an t-Sagairt) a boulder with deep cup marks. Its water is said to possess healing properties. It had to be visited early in the morning.
Along with Rev. Duncan MacKenzie, Episcopal clergyman at Tullich, Mr John Rose, schoolmaster at Croachy, was well known in his time as a Gaelic scholar. John Rose translated several religious works, such as those of Bunyan, Boston and Watson, into Gaelic and was the author in 1851 of “Metrical Reliques of the Men”. Of the three copies of Bishop Carswell’s book, “The Book of Common Order”, which have survived to modern times, the copy in the British Museum at one time belonged to John Rose. It is related that he used to summon his pupils into school by blowing on a cow’s horn. The horn was later in possession of some of the family in the vicinity of Craggie and is now with a descendant in Canada.
After the Revolution Settlement the Episcopalians in the district had a meeting place at Druim Liath, opposite Brin Rock. The next building was on the north side of the river at Cnoc nan Cnaimhseag. A church was built in the 1830’s at Croachy and the present building there dates from 1869.
At the time of the Education Act of 1872 there were these schools – one at Daviot, two at Farr and one at Croachy which was attended by the Episcoplians who were mainly in that part of the parish. Donald MacGillivray was teacher in the Parish School at Farr and Donald Kennedy at the Free Church school at Dalvourn near there. There was also a Gaelic Schools Society school at Bunachton which was attended by children from that end of Dores Parish as well. The teacher at Bunachton for many years was Neil MacInnes.
As a result of the Act of 1872 the School Board was to provide four schools, at Daviot, Farr, Croachy and Dunmaglass and about 1877 the work of building was completed. About this time singing classes and psalmody were taught in the upper part of the Strath by Donald MacPherson, a Stratherrick man. The following teachers were on record in the 1880’s – Daviot, David Cameron; Nairnside, Mr Martin; Farr, Mr MacBeth; Dunmaglass, Mr Duncan Davidson; Episcopal School at Croachy, Mr MacGillivray.
In Rev. Roderick MacCowan’s “Men of Skye”, there is a piece of verse “Turus do Strathnaran” by Donald Macdonald, Earlish. In it the bard refers to the district thus:-
“Sud far bheil an duthaich tharbhach,
Duthaich bheann is ghleann is gharbhlach.”
The loch at Farr is an artificial one formed in 1877. There was a natural hollow there (about fifteen feet deep and extending over about fifty acres), Am Feith’ Ghlas (Feyglass), the grey bog.
At Balvonie of Leys was a changehouse kept by an old woman known as Cailleach nan Diugan (jugs). This establishment was often frequented by Strath Nairn men on their way home from markets etc., in Inverness.
The following information has been given by Mr William MacQueen, Balloan, Farr, some of whose ancestors, Smiths, were at Balloan for many generations. Bishop Forbes in his journal of 1770 tells of meeting one of them, Andrew Smith, Blacksmith.
The ghostly battles near Buail’ a’ Chomhrag have been seen by a number of people in the district including Mr Thomas MacKintosh, tenant at Midtown, Duntelchaig. The sight is usually seen in frosty weather.
Bunachton – A tenant on arriving there ploughed and sowed with oats the part which was the old churchyard. Hearing that it was ground which had been used for burial, he did not harvest the crop. The famous Gillies MacBean [hero of Culloden] who was tacksman here in 1745 also had the farm at Free, Am Fhrith, Tomatin.
It was said that Scatraig was the place where some of the clans finally broke up and dispersed after the Battle of Culloden.
Carn Ghriogair is believed to have got its name from a little boy who lived on a croft at Achvraid near the foot of these hills. He was sent to bring home the cows from the hill and went missing. Some months later his bones were found on top of the hill.
Sputan Gorm – This little stream flows down over rocks about the centre of Brin Farm and enters the River Nairn opposite Achnabeachan.
Beside the march between Dunlichity and Balloan there is a circular hollow, quite deep, known as Lag na Ba, the hollow of the cow, as it was a place where cattle sheltered. It is believed that people collected here for worship in the days of the famous preacher, Rev. Robert Bruce, who was banished to Inverness early in the seventeenth century. Several hundred people could be accommodated in the hollow.
West of Balloan, Farr, is Cnoc Buidhe and west of that is Tigh an Lochain where there was a croft. A tenant there, Domhnall a’ Mhuillear, was one who engaged in smuggling. He was an elder in the church and gave up smuggling, not because he believed it to be wrong, but because it sometimes entailed working seven days a week.
There was a tradition in the district that the church was originally intended to have been built at Cnoc Buidhe and that the work was begun but, as the tools of the masons were every morning found at Dunlichity, it was decided to build there.
Two brothers in the district, who did everything contrary to other people, arranged that they would be buried facing westwards instead of, as is usual, facing eastwards. The tombstone in Dunlichity can be seen.
In Volume XLIX of the “Transactions of The Gaelic Society of Inverness”, there are two papers on the parish by the Rev. John MacPherson, M.A. These are “Place Names in the Parish of Daviot and Dunlichity” and “Daviot and Dunlichity”. Rev. Dr. MacPherson told the present writer that a good deal of information on the district was obtained from Mr Farquhar Smith who was for many years tenant in Achnahillin and from Mrs Donald Forbes whose family had been in Dunlichity for over two hundred years.