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‘Dewarland’ is what we on The Dewar Project like to call the territory covered by Dewar’s stories (shown on the map on our Home Page, but extending north to Skye and east to Bannockburn) during the time covered by Dewar’s stories and Dewar’s lifetime (which, put together, we may describe as 1306–1872). On this page we plan to present the wider world of Dewarland through images old and new, showing the points of connection with Dewar’s stories as far as we can. We would be delighted to receive images for this page. Please send them to us at info@dewarproject.com

Iain U. Connon, Colintraive, has sent us two wonderful images of Nanny Brown’s cottage by the side of Loch Striven, Cowal, from the Campbell of South Hall collection in the Argyll Papers, Inveraray, by permission of the archivist, Alison Diamond.

The date is unknown, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. Except for the neatly glazed window, these is nothing in this picture that is likely to have changed much between 1306 and 1872. Nanny’s house is at the foot of a high hill, which would have afforded protection from the wind, allowing her very ample roof-space, so she probably had room up there for humans to sleep, as well as chickens. She has no chimney however, so she must have had her fire in the middle of the floor, leaving the smoke to find its way out the door. Note that the door is at one end, so that the draught would not put the fire out. As you see in the second picture, there was plenty of wood to be had, which was what allowed her to have long timbers and a high roof.

 

And here we have Nanny’s cow! There is much in Dewar’s stories, and in Gaelic tradition generally, about aona bhó na cailliche, ‘the old woman’s only cow’. There was a dreadful kind of death-duty called the bó ursainn or ‘doorpost cow’, by which Highland chiefs and other proprietors of land claimed the right to deprive a widow of her only cow, her last remaining means of subsistence. It was called the calp, heriot or herezeld in Scots, and was outlawed by Act of Parliament in 1617, but it continued to be exacted by the more rapacious landowners or their bailies (factors) right down to the eighteenth century. Dewar says of a man called Donald MacEwen, Domhnall Ballach, who was factor of Colonsay around 1650, and may have been an Islayman:

Bha Domhnul Ballach cruaidh air sluagh Cholasa mu na màil. Mur bitheadh na màil aca dh’a air latha àraidh a’ mhàil, cha tugadh e dàil dhoibh, ach rachadh e air ball agus bheireadh e luach a’ mhàil de sprèidh uapa. Agus nam b’e neach aig nach robh ach aon bhó bhiodh ann, nam bitheadh laogh ann, bheireadh e leis an laogh, ach mur bitheadh laogh ann, bheireadh e a’ bhó fein leis, agus cha sòradh e a’ bhó a dobhair [= thoirt] o bhanntraich ged robh clann òg aice. Agus b’ iomadh mallachd a chaidh ghuidh air.

 

(“Domhnall Ballach was particularly hard on the Colonsay folk over the rents. If they didn’t have the rents for him on the specified rent-day, he’d give them no postponement, but would immediately go and take from them the value of the rent in cattle, and if it was a person who only had one cow, if there were a calf, he’d take the calf, but if there were no calf, he’d take away the cow itself, and he wouldn’t hesitate to take away a widow’s cow even if she had young children. Many a curse was wished upon him.”)

 

 

 

Andreas Wolff, Lochawe, has taken the following beautiful picture of Loch Avich for us. On the island in the loch, hidden by the trees, are the ruins of Caisteal na h-Ighinne Ruaidhe (see ‘Castle of the Red-Haired Maiden’ in our Story-List). The story, which is a long one, will be told in John Dewar’s Appin and Lorn. Briefly, a great local magnate called Mungan MacFhiachair decided to have a castle built in the loch. The man he chose to build it was a famous Irish stonemason called Gobha Bànsaor (‘Free Fair Smith’), elsewhere called Goban Saor (‘Beaky the Wright’). The Gobha, or Goban, brought his son with him, and his son found himself a secret lover in the form of a red-haired girl who was a maidservant in Mungan’s house.

When the castle was nearly finished, the red-haired girl found out that instead of paying the bill, Mungan was planning to put the masons to death. Naturally she told her sweetheart, who told his father, who told Mungan that he needed to go back to Ireland to fetch some tools so that he could finish the job. Mungan insisted on his own son going instead, with the result that his son was taken hostage in Ireland, while his henchmen were sent back to Scotland with the message that he’d be kept there until the masons came home. So Mungan had to pay the masons in full, and they went away without finishing the castle – in fact it was never finished, because Mungan had no money left. Unfortunately he and his family had a pretty good idea who had betrayed them.

Ghabh iad fearg ris an ighean ruagh, thug iad i dh’ionnsaidh a’ chaisteil, cheangail iad ròp ri a falt, agus chuir iad i an crochadh ri a falt thair balladh a’ chaisteil. Sgread agus ghlaodh an ighean ruadh agus chualas i thair astar mór den dùthaich, gidheadh cha do rinn Clann Fhiachair bàigh air bhith rithe. Chaidh a fàgail an crocha air fhalt ri balladh a’ chaisteal a’ fulang péin mhór gus an d’eug i, agus chaidh i fàgail an crocha ris a’ chaisteal gus an do lobh i, gu’n d’thainig a falt ás a bhun, ’s gu’n do thuit i. Tha e iar a ràdh nach deach Clann Fhiachair riamh a chòmhnuidh don chaisteal leis an eagal a bh’ aca romh thaibhse na h-ighean ruadh, agus tha iomaradh gun robh taibhse na h-ighin ruadh a’ tuineadh anns a’ chaisteal re tiom fhada.

 

(“Fixing their anger on the red-haired girl, they brought her to the castle, tied a rope to her hair, and so hung her by the hair over the castle wall. The red-haired girl screamed and cried until she’d been heard over a large stretch of the countryside, but the Clann Fhiachair showed her no mercy. She was left hanging from the castle wall by her hair, suffering enormous pain until she died, and her body was left hanging from the castle until it rotted, her hair came out by its roots, and it fell. It’s said that the Clann Fhiachair never went to live in the castle for fear of the ghost of the red-haired girl, and that the ghost of the red-haired girl haunted the castle for a long time.”)

 

 

 

'Highland Raid' by French artist Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899). In the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC.

John Dewar’s stories are full of cattle-raids. In fact not only cattle were stolen, but also horses, sheep and anything else that could be driven or carried away, so the word invariably used is simply creach, ‘plunder’. Perhaps the nearest we will ever get to an illustration of this is The Highland Raid by the French animal painter Rosa Bonheur (1822–99). It was painted in 1860, when John Dewar was still collecting stories for J. F. Campbell’s Popular Tales of the West Highlands. How authentic is it? We put that question to Iain Thornber, Keills, Morvern. He replied: “As it happens, I am a great admirer of Rosa Bonheur and have several of her prints framed and hanging on my wall. My interest arose through her friendship with a Mr Duncan, sugar refiner, who owned Benmore estate in Cowal with its well-known garden, but more interestingly for me, Glensanda estate adjoining Kingairloch and Ardtornish in Morvern. See Philip Gaskell, Morvern Transformed (1984). When Duncan sold his pedigree herd of Highland cattle it was walked over the hill to Thomas Valentine Smith of Ardtornish, which became the nucleus in turn of his well-known herd of prizewinning cattle. His manager was a Macfarlane from Lismore. I corresponded with and later met his son, whom I brought to Glensanda. Rosa paid for old Macfarlane to go with the Highlanders to the great Paris Exhibition to look after the beasts while she painted them. He was there for some months herding them at her chateau.

“She was definitely in Argyll. The two prints I have by her are of swimming cattle across Loch Leven at Ballachulish and of two wherries carrying sheep from either Ardgour or Glencoe down Loch Linnhe to Appin. The topographical detail is accurate – she must have sketched it. I would say the animals in The Highland Raid are entirely accurate – they were varied in colour in these days. Sheep too in the picture OK.”

Iain has since drawn our attention to the following article: Frances Fowle, ‘Picturing the Highlands: Rosa Bonheur’s Grand Tour of Scotland’, in Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, vol. 18 (2013), pp. 40–48. Read it here:

https://www.academia.edu/6419321/Picturing_the_Highlands_Rosa_Bonheurs_Grand_Tour_of_Scotland

He has also sent us the following article in his ‘Morvern Lines’ series in The Oban Times, 29 August 2013, in which he speaks of Rosa Bonheur’s enthusiasm for Highland cattle in 1878:

Morvern Lines.pdf

 

'Boeufs traversant un lac devant Ballachulish (Ecosse)'. By Rosa Bonheur, in the Musée d'Orsay, but not on display.

 

 

Eas nan Con

Neill Malcolm transcribed the story Domhnall nan Ord (‘Donald of the Hammers’) for us. It’s in D9.23–44, but there’s also a tidied-up version in D2.131–73. Neill sent us two beautiful pictures of Eas nan Con (‘the Dogs’ Ravine’), which features in the story. It’s near his home in the village of Duror. First we’ll give one of the pictures, then the passage about the ravine (in translation only, because it’s quite long), then the other picture, then Neill’s two e-mails in which he tells us about it. Finally we’ll appeal for some intrepid photographer to go into the ravine and get us some pictures of the cave!

The passage is from ff. 35r–36r. Donald of the Hammers, Donald Stewart of Invernahyle, is called Domhnall Òg here, because he’s still a child, and hasn’t been given his nickname yet. He’s a fugitive, pursued by men sent out by his stepmother to kill him so that her own son can inherit instead.

 

The three men to whose care the heir to Invernahyle had been entrusted made off and reached Glen Duror, where they went to live in a cave that they’d found in Eas nan Con (‘the Dogs’ Ravine’) above Ach’ na h-Àtha (‘the Field of the Kiln’). The cave is in a steep rock face, and the path that leads to it, on stakes, goes diagonally up the face of the rock in such a way that one person who’d be standing at the entrance to the cave with a sword in his hand could keep a thousand men out of it.


There were cattle in the glen, and the three men chose nine cows that had been two years without a calf, and set dogs on them, up and down a piece of sloping land called Lurg a’ Chlachainn (‘the Stony Slope’), until they’d made the cows cast their calves so that they’d come into milk, with the aim of having milk to give to Domhnall Òg, the heir to Invernahyle.


One of the men would stay in the cave along with the little lad, Domhnall Òg, while the other two went off to hunt. They’d be killing deer and roe, and bringing them home as food for themselves. They’d break the bones and give Domhnall Òg bone marrow and milk until they’d put good growth into his own bones. And when they couldn’t find any deer or roe to hunt, they wouldn’t hesitate, if they came across a sheep or a good fat goat, or even a good fat beef cow, to bring them along as food for themselves without asking who they belonged to.


In addition to the three men who lived in the cave with Domhnall Òg of Invernahyle, there were others in the district who looked after him. They’d bring word to the three men who were living in the cave with him about all the news they were hearing. But whenever they talked about him, they wouldn’t call him by his own name at all, but by ‘the Gill’ Odhar’. Whenever they asked after him, the sort of thing they’d say was, “When did you hear about the Gill’ Odhar?” Or: “When did you see the Gill’ Odhar?” Or: “Have you seen the Gill’ Odhar today?” That was the way they’d ask about him, so that if anyone else who didn’t belong to the conspiracy happened to be listening to them, they wouldn’t understand who was being referred to, but would imagine that it was somebody of no importance they were talking about. And ‘the Gill’ Odhar’ continued to be his by-name for a long time after that.


They were in the cave of Eas nan Con in Glen Duror for a long time in that manner. But there was someone in the district who wasn’t friendly to Domhnall Òg, the heir to Invernahyle, and who went ahead and betrayed him.


The three men who’d been entrusted with the heir of Invernahyle found out that information had been given about him, and that it wouldn’t be long till the pursuit came on their trail, so they spread a report around the country that he’d died and been buried. Then they sent him back to the Moidart Smith in Moidart, while they themselves went home to their own houses. And with the report that had been spread around the country that the Moidart woman’s son, the heir to Invernahyle, had died, the pursuit slackened on their trail, and he spent a while in Moidart living with the Moidart Smith.

 

 

Neill’s first e-mail, 11.12.22:

Eas a choin is found on the first and second OS maps running through a steep sided ravine. At the bottom of the ravine is the farm of Lagnaha (Hollow of the Kiln or Ford). This is shown on Pont’s map as Laggannaha. There must have been some ford over the burn here. I am not aware of any corn drying kiln but I have never explored the area closely. I do not know of any nearby fields now having any names. It is really in the strath of Duror than Glen Duror.


The cave must be what the OS map call Stewart’s Cave but usually referred to as Ardsheal’s Cave. This is where Charles Stewart of Ardsheal hid after the ‘45. Very hard to access it. Possibly the old access was destroyed by quarrying nearby. I went there once as a teenager but never since. I was told a few years ago that someone had left a mattress there!

Neill’s second e-mail, 22.12.22:

Here are my best wishes for Christmas and New Year along with two photos of Eas na Con along with Lagnaha farmhouse. The cave (Ardsheal’s or Stewart’s after Charles Stewart of Ardsheal in 1756) is situated a little below the tree line. To get there nowadays one has to walk outside the fence on the forested side until you reach a blue rope attached to a stob – are they still there? I don’t know. I wouldn’t attempt it unless you are very young, very fit or very foolish!

Message to all keen photographers: if you are very young, very fit, or very foolish, could you get into Eas nan Con and take some pictures of the cave for us please? By the way, we’re always especially interested in pictures that back up what Dewar tells us. For example, is there any evidence of ‘the path that leads to it, on stakes,’ that ‘goes diagonally up the face of the rock’?

The above is a typical example of the challenge presented to the Dewar Project by caves. We don’t just need photographers, we need a keen speleologist to take on the challenge more generally. See the appeal at the foot of the ‘Dewar Team’ page, and the article on caving by Ken Wardrop on the ‘Commentaries’ page.