20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Macbain, Alexander / The Celtic Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1875 A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Literature, History, Antiquities, Folk Lore, Traditions, and the Social and Material Interests of the Celt at Home and Abroad
(This file was
produced from images


No. II. DECEMBER 1875.


IN controversy about Ossian, the man on the affirmative side has an
immeasurable advantage over all others; and, with an average practical
acquaintance with the subject, may exhaust any antagonist. The contents,
the connection, and the details; the origin, the tradition, the
translation; the poetry, the sentiment, the style; the history, the
characters, the _dramatis personæ_; the aspects of nature represented,
the customs and manners of the people; the conflicting nationalities
introduced, the eventful issues, the romantic incidents; the probable
scenes, the subsequent changes; the philosophy and the facts, and
multiplied revelations of humanity--all these, and many more such themes
inseparably connected with Ossian, if a man rightly understands and
believes in them, would enable him to maintain his position in actual
controversy, with integrity and ease, for a twelvemonth. The man, on the
other hand, who does not believe in the authenticity of Ossian must
forego all these advantages in succession, and will reduce himself to
straits in an hour. He dare not expatiate or admire, or love, or
eulogise, or trust, or credit, or contemplate, or sympathise with
anything; or admit a fact, or listen to a word, or look at an argument,
on the peril of immediate discomfiture. He must simply shut the book.
His only stronghold is denial; his sole logic is assertion; his best
rhetoric is abuse; his _ultima ratio_ is to create distrust, and to
involve both himself and everybody else in confusion. Genius, for
example, he declares without hesitation to be trickery; poetry to be
bombast; pathos, monotonous moaning; the tenderest human love to be
sham; the most interesting natural incidents, contemptible inventions;
the plainest statistical information, a deliberate act of theft; the
sublimest conceptions of human character, a fudge; the details of human
history for three hundred years, a melodramatic, incredible fiction; and
what cannot now be found anywhere else recorded, a dream; accidental
coincidence he speaks of as detected dishonesty; imaginary resemblance,
as guilty adaptation; a style suitable to the subject, as plagiarism;
occasional inspiration he calls a lie; translation, a forgery; and the
whole, if not a "magnificent mystification," then, in Procurator-Fiscal
phrase, a "wilful falsehood, fraud, and imposition." But all this,
without proof--and nothing like proof is ever advanced--may be said in
an hour, and the argument would remain as it is. Such, in point of fact,
has been the sum total of assault, reiterated by every new antagonist
with increasing boldness for a century, till reasonable readers have
become callous to it, and only ignorant or prejudiced listeners are
impressed. To be "hopelessly convinced" by it, is perhaps the latest
phase of incredulity; to be edified or enlightened by it is impossible.

But, besides the advantage of being able to speak with freedom of an
author like Ossian, from any natural point of view, an almost infinitely
higher advantage still is to be obtained by actually verifying his text;
by realising his descriptions, ascertaining his alleged facts, and
localising the scenes of his narrative. Whatever is truly grand in
Ossian may thus be identified with nature, if it has a counterpart
there; and what seems only an imaginary outline at first may be filled
up and fixed for ever as among her own still extant properties. A new
sense, coherent and intelligible, may thus be imparted to the most
familiar figures; and not an allusion to earth or sky, to rock or river,
will be lost after such a process. Nay, a certain philosophic
significance, amounting to scientific revelation, may be honestly
associated with some of his loftiest figures; and what the translator
himself apologises for as extravagant, may be thus converted into
dreamful intuitions of hidden fact and poetic forecasting of future
discoveries. Mr Arnold, in his _Celtic Literature_, seems to glance at
such a capacity in Celtic man--"His sensibility gives him a peculiarly
near and intimate feeling of nature, and the life of nature; here, too,
he seems in a special way attracted by the secret before him, the secret
of natural beauty and natural magic, and to be close to it, to
half-divine it," p. 108. But Mr Arnold does not seem to include in this
capacity the intuitions of natural science, at least not for Ossian; yet
nothing can be more certain than that Ossian and his fellow-countrymen
enjoyed them.

That verification to such an extent, however, both of facts and
localities, and ideas--philosophic or imaginative, in the text of
Ossian, was possible, has scarcely hitherto been believed by any one; it
has certainly never been attempted. A sort of vagueness in many of his
descriptions ill-understood, and a similarity in poetic figures that
might be indiscriminately applied; and an occasional apparent conflict
or confusion of details seem to have deterred almost all readers from
the study we now recommend. But all these difficulties, of verification
and interpretation alike, are only on the surface; and not even there,
if it has been looked at attentively. Let any intelligent reader, with
the poems which refer to Scotland in his hand, survey the Clyde, the
Kelvin, and the Carron, and trace the still remaining footsteps of
nature and of civilization through distant centuries on their banks, and
he will see that Ossian has been there. Let him look steadily even at
the cloud-drifts from the Atlantic, as they troop or roll along in a
thousand fantastic forms, converging all to a certain inland range, and
he will understand that the author of these poems must have seen and
studied them so. Let him proceed then to Arran, and he will discover
there, if he looks and listens, not only scenes and traditions, and
monuments of sepulture, still associated with the names of Oscar and
Malvina, Fingal and Ossian--in literal confirmation of what has been
stated in the text concerning them; but the only reliable account, by
survey and tradition also, of the Fingalian expeditions from Morven to
Ireland. Let him then, by direct communication, which is occasionally
possible from Arran; or by any circuit he pleases, disembark in the Bay
of Larne "with its bosom of echoing woods," as Fingal himself must have
done; and there, with _Fingal_ and _Temora_ in hand, let him survey the
entire region between Larne and Belfast. Let him march with his eyes
open by the pass of Glenoe, and try to ascend it on the old track--by
the "narrow way at the stream of the battle of thousands," round the
double-headed rock there by moonlight, or in the misty dawn; and before
attempting this, let him look carefully around among the limestone
cliffs for any other reasonable opening; and if he does not begin to
suspect, at least, that it was here Cuchullin stood, and Calmar fell,
against the invading Norse, he must be "hopelessly convinced" to the
contrary, indeed. Onwards let him prosecute his journey, looking
backwards occasionally to the sea, where the ships of Fingal should be
appearing--onwards among marshy Lenas, open Straths, half cultivated
Heaths--with an occasional monolith among the enclosures, testifying to
what has once been done there; onwards, with his eye now to the ridges
on the left--on one of which, below Carneal or thereabouts, the
head-quarters of Fingal must have been before the campaigns
began--onwards until he touches the source of the Six-Mile-Water above
Ballynure; and there, looking steadily westward down the strath where
the river winds, let him recall the very words of the text in his
hand--"Nor settled from the storm is Erin's sea of war; they glitter
beneath the moon, and, low-humming, still roll on the field. Alone are
the steps of Cathmor, before them on the heath; he hangs forward with
all his arms on Morven's flying host.... They who were terrible were
removed: Lubar winds again in their host":--and then ask himself
deliberately if the whole scene, with the relative changes of position
in the contending armies, the retreat of the one that had been
advancing, the pursuit of the other that had been retreating, the
recrossing of the stream by both over some of its hundred links, and the
temporary pause of battle in that valley, with hosts on either side of
the river which now flowed through the ranks of one of them, whilst the
other was in retreat up the ridge--could have been more truly described
by poet or geographer than it has been in these few words of Ossian?
Onward let him proceed, if he pleases, by Ballynure and Ballyclare to
Lough Neagh; or let him return again across the valley to the north, in
a line at right angles to the road between Larne and Connor. But before
he moves from the spot let him glance round for a moment to the south,
in the direction of Carrickfergus--"where a valley spreads green behind
the hill [literally spreads] with its three blue streams. The sun is
there in silence; [that touch is wonderful--no war, as yet, is there]
and the dun mountain roes come down." Let him search there at leisure,
if he pleases, and he will find the stream of the Noisy Vale, where poor
Sulmalla saw the vision of Cathmor's ghost, and "the lake of roes,"
where Lady Morna died, still Loch Mourne, a little farther east on the
mountain. But if this should be inconvenient, then by a step or two
forward to the top of the ridge on the right he will come in view of the
northern branch of the Six-Mile-Water; and now let him steadily consider
what he sees. From east to west before him, lies the Drumadarragh range;
between himself and which lies the valley of the Deer Park, intersected
by the river, whereabouts, in all probability, the assassination of
Oscar took place. Beyond the ridge and through the pass just visible,
rises the Glenwherry Water; near the head of which, as has been fully
explained, both in "Ossian and the Clyde" and elsewhere, should be found
a cave in some rocky cliff, with oaks, or the remains of oaks, before
it; whilst the river, in its sheltered course or _Cluna_, glides below.
"Crommal, with woody rocks and misty top, the field of winds, pours
forth to the light blue Lubar's streamy roar. Behind it rolls
clear-winding Lavath, in the still vale of deer. A cave is dark in a
rock; above it strong-winged eagles dwell; broad-headed oaks before it,
sound in Cluna's wind. Within, in his locks of youth, is Ferad-Artho,
blue-eyed king, the son of broad-shielded Cairbar, from Ullin of the
roes. He listens to the voice of Condan, as grey he bends in feeble
light. He listens, for his foes dwell in the echoing halls of Temora. He
comes at times abroad, in the skirts of mist, to pierce the bounding
roes. When the sun looks on the field, nor by the rock nor stream is he!
He shuns the race of Bolga, who dwell in his father's hall." Let him
march then to Ferad-Artho's hiding place, across the intervening
valley--taking leisurely note, as he goes, of every monolith or cairn on
his track; and either up the face of the hill, or through the pass on
his right, where the high road now runs, and so on to the hamlet of
Maghgerabane; above which, on the Skerry--a gloomy, low-browed, basaltic
precipice before him--like a dark porch or portico, in the very face of
the rock, halfway up, he will descry the cave in question. He should now
cross the Glenwherry at the village, in its grassy gorge, and draw
nearer to the portico on the hillside beyond it, keeping a steady
look-out for the roots of oaks, for they are still to be discovered
there, as he ascends the cliff. Three of them in a row, about twenty
feet below the cave, but directly in front of it, although now
overwhelmed with ruins, still send up shoots; and two more, a little
farther up to the west of it, are equally conspicuous. He will find the
cave itself half-ruined already, by the continual fall of basaltic
masses from the mountain; and in attempting to scale the rock at the
door of the cave, he should be as circumspect as possible, lest a worst
thing than the breaking of a bone befals him. He need not, however, be
afraid of "strong-winged eagles," for they are gone; nor need he look
for "bounding roes" in the valley, for they are probably exterminated;
but he may still look westward on one of the sweetest and stillest vales
in the bounds of the Island; and when he remembers that he is now within
a few miles of Connor, which is the Temora of Ossian, he will have no
difficulty in understanding how Ferad-Artho was brought for shelter and
for safety to the cave just above him; or how easily the boy-king could
be discovered there by his friends in Fingal's camp to the south, who
knew exactly where to find him. Such explorations are but the one-half
of what may still be made from the text of Ossian, in this very region;
but these will occupy at least three days of a week in summer, and are
long enough for present detail in the columns of the _Celtic_. There are
other regions however, far beyond Ireland, not so accessible to ordinary
tourists, which may be examined nevertheless, with equal certainty by
geological survey and geographical report; and to these, on some future
occasion, we may take an opportunity of directing the reader's

In the meantime, by way of bringing our present argument to a point,
would the reader believe that Macpherson, by whose text alone hitherto
we have been guided, was himself more ignorant of these very scenes than
a school boy; that he never, in fact, saw them, and did not know where,
in Scotland or in Ireland, they were to be found? Yet such is the case.
Of the Clyde, of which he could not help knowing something, he knew
nevertheless very little--yet not much less than some of our modern
geologists; but of localities on the Clyde, or between the Forth and the
Clyde, as described in Ossian, he knew nothing. The Kelvin, in like
manner, as an Ossianic river, was utterly unknown to him; he does not
even attempt to translate its name. All that pertains to Arran, and
still so distinctly traceable there by the help of his own text in
_Berrathon_--for which Gaelic no longer exists--he transfers in his
ignorance to the wilds of Morven. As for Ireland, all that he knows, or
seems to know, is that Ullin is Ulster; but the very scenes which are
most conspicuous in Ulster he transfers to Leinster--from Antrim, for
example, to Meath; and the rest to some undistinguishable point between
Londonderry and Armagh. He brings Sulmalla and her forefathers from
Wales instead of Wigtonshire, into Wicklow instead of Ardglass; and he
lands both Swaran and Cuchullin and Fingal in Lough Foyle apparently,
instead of in the Bay of Larne or Belfast? In such circumstances, of
what use is it for critics any longer to go on squabbling over Gaelic
editions, collecting and collating mediæval Gaelic ballads, and
asserting with hopeless fatuity that he was the author of these poems,
or that he stole them from the Irish? The Irish themselves are as
ignorant of the subject as he is; and yet in spite of all this ignorance
on his part and theirs, the text of his translation has received on
every page of it the unequivocal countersign of Nature, which can
neither be forged nor forfeited. Taking all which into account, does it
not now begin to be plain to unprejudiced readers that the whole of this
Ossianic controversy has been hitherto on wrong ground; and that if the
truth of it is to be arrived at, at all, it must be removed to other
ground--from questionable MSS. and mediæval ballads, to the region of
facts and the domain of reality? We do not assert that the sort of facts
now adduced by us, and elsewhere systematised and elaborated, are the
only facts, or the only kind of facts to be considered in such a
controversy; but we do assert that their importance is supreme, and that
they have never hitherto been admitted in the controversy. It is to
facts however, and to facts like these, that the attention of Ossianic
students ought now to be directed; and at every step, if we are not
greatly deceived, they will multiply and reiterate their testimony in so
decided a fashion, that it will be impossible for any critic, or for any
collector in the world, to disregard or dispose of them. All farther
serious controversy on the subject, in short, is destined to be of this
character--common-sense and practical; and the sooner we prepare
ourselves, as honest enquirers, to engage in it after this fashion and
in this spirit, the better.




WE are in a west coast village or township, cut off from all
communication with the outer world, without Steamers, Railways, or even
Roads. We grow our own corn, and produce our beef, our mutton, our
butter, 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 independent of the
more civilized and more favoured south. The few articles we do not
produce--tobacco and tea,--our local merchant, the only one in a
district about forty square miles in extent, carries on his back, once a
month or so, from the Capital of the Highlands. We occasionally indulge
in a little whisky at Christmas and the New Year, at our weddings and
our balls. We make it too, and we make it well. The Salmon Fishery Acts
are, as yet, not strictly enforced, and we can occasionally
shoot--sometimes even in our gardens--and carry home, without fear of
serious molestation, the monarch of the forest. We are not overworked.
We live plainly but well, on fresh fish, potatoes and herring, 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 of architecture. They
are, in most cases, built of undressed stone and moss (_coinneach_),
thatched with turf or divots, generally covered over with 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 the
byre end leading to the whole. Immediately we enter we find ourselves
among the cattle. A stone wall, or sometimes a partition of clay and
straw separates the byre from the kitchen. Another partition, usually of
a more elegant description, separates the latter from the _Culaist_ or
sleeping apartment. In the centre of the kitchen a pavement of three or
four feet in diameter is laid, slightly raised towards the middle, on
which is placed the peat fire. The smoke, by a kind of instinct peculiar
to peat smoke, finds its way to a hole in the roof called the _falas_,
and makes its escape. The fire in the centre of the room was almost a
necessity of the good old _Ceilidh_ days. When the people congregated in
the evening, the circle could be extended to the full capacity of the
room, and occasionally it became necessary to have a circle within a
circle. A few extra peats on the fire would, at any time, by the
additional heat produced, cause an extension of the circle, and at the
same time send its warming influences to the utmost recesses of the
apartment. The circle became extended by merely pushing back the seats,
and this arrangement became absolutely necessary in the houses which
were most celebrated as the great _Ceilidh_ centres of the district.

The _Ceilidh_ rendezvous is the house in which all the Folk-lore of the
country, all the old _sgeulachdan_ or stories, the ancient poetry known
to the bards or _Seanachaidhean_, and old riddles and proverbs are
recited from night to night by old and young. All who took an interest
in such questions congregated in the evening in these centres of song
and story. They were also great centres of local industry. Net-making
was the staple occupation, at which the younger members of the circle
had to take a spell in turn. Five or six nets were attached in different
corners of the apartment to a chair, a bedstead or post set up for the
purpose, and an equal number of young gossipers nimbly 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, the proceeds of which,
when the nets were not made for the members of the household, went to
pay for tobacco and other luxuries for the older and most necessitous
members of the circle.

With these preliminary remarks we shall now introduce the readers of the
_Celtic Magazine_ to the most famous _Ceilidh_ house in the district,
and ask them to follow us from month to month while we introduce the
principal members of the celebrated circle. We shall make each re-appear
in these pages to repeat their old stories, recite old poems, never
published elsewhere, propound riddles, and in this way we shall be able
to lay before our readers a vast amount of the legends, clan feuds, and
traditional family history, connected with the Highlands, a large amount
of unpublished poetry, _duans_, riddles, proverbs, and Highland customs.
It will be necessary to give a great part in the original Gaelic,
especially the poetry; but translations of the legends, riddles, and
proverbs, will be given when convenient.

The house is such as we have above described. The good-man is bordering
upon five-score. He is a bard of no mean order, often delighting his
circle of admiring friends with his own compositions, as well as with
those of Ossian and other ancient bards. He holds a responsible office
in the church, is ground-officer for the laird as well as family bard.
He possesses the only Gaelic New Testament in the district. He lives in
the old house with three sons whose ages range from 75 to 68, all full
of Highland song and story, especially the youngest two--John and
Donald. When in the district, drovers from Lochaber, Badenoch, and all
parts of the Highlands find their way to this noted _Ceilidh_ house.
Bards, itinerants of all sorts, travelling tinkers, pipers, fiddlers,
and mendicants, who loved to hear or tell a good story, recite an old
poem or compose a modern one--all come and are well received among the
regular visitors in the famous establishment. As we proceed, each of the
strangers and local celebrities will recite their own tales, not only
those of their own districts but also those picked up in their
wanderings throughout the various parts of the country.

It was a condition never deviated from, that every one in the house took
some part in the evening's performance, with a story, a poem, a riddle,
or a proverb. This rule was not only wholesome, but one which became
almost a necessity to keep the company select, and the house from
becoming overcrowded. A large oak chair was placed in a particular
spot--"where the sun rose"--the occupant of which had to commence the
evening's entertainment when the company assembled, the consequence
being that this seat, although one of the best in the house, was usually
the last occupied; and in some cases, when the house was not
overcrowded, it was never taken up at all. In the latter case the one
who sat next to it on the left, had to commence the evening's

It was no uncommon thing to see one of the company obliged to coin
something for the occasion when otherwise unprepared. On one occasion
the bard's grandson happened to find himself in the oak chair, and was
called upon to start the night's entertainment. Being in his own house
he was not quite prepared for the unanimous and imperative demand made
upon him to carry out the usual rule, or leave the room. After some
hesitation, and a little private humming in an undertone, he commenced,
however, a rhythmical description of his grandfather's house, which is
so faithful that, we think, we cannot do better than give it here,
although chronologically it should be given further on. The picture was
complete, and brought down the plaudits of the house upon the "young
bard" as he was henceforth designated.


An cuala sibh riamh mu'n tigh aig I----r
'S ann air tha'n deanamh tha ciallach ceart
'S iomadh bliadhua o'n chaidh a dheanamh
Ach 's mor as fhiach e ged tha e sean
Se duine ciallach chuir ceanna-crioch air
'S gur mor am pianadh a fhuair a phears
Le clachan mora ga'n cuir an ordugh,
'S _Sament_ da choinntich ga'n cumail ceart.

Tha dorus mor air ma choinneamh 'n-otraich
'Us cloidhean oir air ga chumail glaist
Tha uinneag chinn air ma choinneamh 'n teintean
'Us _screen_ side oirre 'dh-fhodar glas;
Tha'n ceann a bhan deth o bheul an fhalais
A deanamh baithach air son a chruidh
'S gur cubhraidh am faladh a thig gu laidir
O leid, na batha 'sa ghamhuinn duibh.

Tha catha 's culaist ga dheanamh dubailt
'S gur mor an urnais tha anns an tigh
Tha seidhir-ghairdean da dharach laidir
'Us siaman bàn air ga chumail ceart,
Tha lota lair ann, da ghrèbhail cathair
'S cha chaith 's cha chnamh e gu brath n' am feasd
Tha carpad mor air da luath na moine
'S _upstairs_ ceo ann le cion na _vent_.

Tha sparan suithe o thaobh gu taobh ann
'Us ceangail luibte gan cumail ceart
Tha tuthain chaltuinn o cheann gu ceann deth
'Us maide slabhraidh 's gur mor a neart,
Tha lathais laidir o bheul an fhail air,
Gu ruig am falas sgur mor am fad,
Tha ropan siamain 'us pailteas lion air
'S mar eil e dionach cha 'n eil mi ceart.

On one occasion, on a dark and stormy winter's night, the lightning
flashing through the heavens, the thunder clap loud and long, the wind
blowing furiously, and heavy dark ominous clouds gathering in the
north-west, the circle had already gathered, and almost every seat was
occupied. It was the evening of the day of one of the local cattle
markets. Three men came in, two of them well-known drovers or cattle
buyers who had visited the house on previous occasions, the other a
gentleman who had, some time previously, arrived and taken up his
quarters in the district. No one knew who he was, where he came from, or
what his name was. There were all sorts of rumours floating amongst the
inhabitants regarding him; that he had committed some crime, and escaped
from justice; that he was a gentleman of high estate, who had fallen in
love with a lowly maiden and run away to spite his family for objecting
to the alliance; and various other surmises. He was discovered to be a
gentleman and a scholar, and particularly frank and free in his
conversation with the people about everything except his own history and
antecedents, and was a walking encyclopædia of all kinds of legendary
lore connected with the southern parts of the country. His appearance
caused quite a flutter among the assembled rustics. He was, however,
heartily welcomed by the old bard and members of the circle, and was
offered a seat a little to the left of the oak arm chair. It was soon
found that he was a perfect master of Gaelic as well as English. It was
also found on further acquaintance, during many subsequent visits, that
he never told a story or legend without a preliminary introduction of
his own, told in such a manner as to add immensely to the interest of
the tale.

"_Coinnichidh na daoine ri cheile ach cha choinnich na cnuic_"--(Men
will meet each other, but hills will never meet), said _Ruairidh Mor a
Chnuic_, who, on this occasion, found himself in the Oak Chair. "Very
true," said the next man to the left. "_Cuiridh an teanga snaim nach
t-fhuasgail an fhiacaill_"--(The tongue will tie a knot which the tooth
cannot loosen). "Let some one give us a story." "_Cha robh sgialach nach
robh briagach_"--(He who is a good story-teller is also a good retailer
of lies), says Callum a Ghlinne, or Malcolm of the Glen, an excellent
story-teller when he liked. "I'll give you a riddle though, and perhaps
we may get a _sgeulachd_ from the stranger, the gentleman, on my left,"
"_An rud nach eil 's nach robh, 's nach bi' sin do laimh 'us chi thu
e_"--(What is not, never was, and never will be, stretch forth your hand
and you'll see it). This was soon answered by the younger members--"_Bar
na meur uileadh an aon fhad_"--(The points of the fingers the same
length). It now comes the turn of the romantic stranger, who shall in
these pages be known as "Norman of the Yacht." He was in no way put out,
consented; and immediately began the Legend, of which, and his
introductory remarks, the following is a translation:--


In olden days the east coast of Scotland was studded with fortresses,
which, like a crescent chain of sentinels, watched carefully for the
protection of their owners and their dependents. The ruins remain and
raise their hoary heads over valley and stream, river bank and sea
shore, along which nobles, and knights, and followers "boden in
effeyre-weir" went gallantly to their fates; and where in the Highlands
many a weary drove followed from the foray, in which they had been
driven far from Lowland pastures or distant glens, with whose
inhabitants a feud existed. Could the bearded warriors, who once
thronged these halls awake, they would witness many a wonderful change
since the half-forgotten days when they lived and loved, revelled, and
fought, conquered, or sustained defeat. Where the bearer of the
Crann-tara or fiery cross once rushed along on his hasty errand, the
lightning of heaven now flashes by telegraphic wires to the farthest
corners of the land. Through the craggie passes, and along the level
plains, marked centuries ago with scarce a bridle path, the mighty steam
horse now thunders over its iron road; and where seaward once swam the
skin _curach_, or the crazy fleets of diminutive war galleys, and tiny
merchant vessels with their fantastic prows and sterns, and carved
mast-heads, the huge hull of the steam propelled ship now breasts the
waves that dash against the rugged headlands, or floats like a miniature
volcano, with its attendant clouds of smoke obscuring the horizon.

The Parish of Fearn in Easter Ross contains several antiquities of very
distant date. One of these shattered relics, Castle Cadboll, deserves
notice on account of a singular tradition regarding it, once implicitly
credited by the people--namely, that although inhabited for ages no
person ever died within its walls. Its magical quality did not, however,
prevent its dwellers from the suffering of disease, or the still more
grievous evils attending on debility and old age. Hence many of the
denizens of the castle became weary of life, particularly the Lady May,
who lived there centuries ago, and who being long ailing, and longing
for death, requested to be carried out of the building to die.

Her importunity at length prevailed; and according to the tradition, no
sooner did she leave it than she expired.

Castle Cadboll is situated on the sea shore, looking over the broad
ocean towards Norway. From that country, in the early ages of Scottish
history, came many a powerful Jarl, or daring Vikingr, to the coasts,
which, in comparison with their own land, seemed fertile and wealthy.
There is a tradition of a Highland clan having sprung from one of those
adventurers, who with his brother agreed that whoever should first touch
the land would possess it by right.

The foremost was the ultimate ancestor of the tribe; his boat was almost
on shore, when the other, by a vigorous stroke, shot a-head of him; but
ere he could disembark, the disappointed competitor, with an exclamation
of rage, cut off his left hand with his hatchet, and flinging the bloody
trophy on the rocks, became, by thus "first touching Scottish ground,"
the owner of the country and founder of the clan. The perfect accuracy
of this story cannot now be vouched for; but it is an undeniable fact
that the clan MacLeod have successfully traced their origin to a
Norwegian source; and there is a probability that the claim is correct
from the manifestly Norwegian names borne by the founders of the Clan
_Tormod_ and _Torquil_, hence the _Siol Tormod_--the race of Tormod--the
MacLeods of Harris; and the _Siol Torquil_, the race of
_Torquil_--MacLeods of Lewis--of whom came the MacLeods of Assynt, one
of whom betrayed Montrose in 1650, and from whom the estates passed away
in the end of the seventeenth century to the Mackenzies.

The MacLeods of Cadboll are cadets of the house of Assynt. But to what
branch the Lady May of the legend belonged it is difficult to decide, so
many changes having occurred among Highland proprietors.

The cliffs of this part of Ross-shire are wild and precipitous, sinking
with a sheer descent of two hundred feet to the ocean. The scenery is
more rugged than beautiful--little verdure and less foliage. Trees are
stunted by the bitter eastern blast, and the soil is poor. Alders are,
however, plentiful, and from them the parish has derived its name of
Fearn. There is a number of caves in the cliffs along the shore towards
Tarbet, where the promontory is bold, and crowned with a lighthouse,
whose flickering rays are now the only substitute for the wonderful gem
which was said of yore to sparkle on the brow of one of these eastern
cliffs,--a bountiful provision of nature for the succour of the
wave-tossed mariner.

During the reign of one of the early Stuart kings, _which_ is of little
moment, Roderick MacLeod ruled with a high and lordly hand within the
feudal stronghold of Cadboll. He was a stout and stern knight, whose
life had been spent amidst the turmoil of national warfare and clan

Many a battle had he fought, and many a wound received since first he
buckled on his father's sword for deadly combat. Amid the conflicting
interests which actuated each neighbouring clan--disagreement on any one
of which rendered an immediate appeal to arms, the readiest mode of
solving the difficulty--it is not to be wondered at that Cadboll, as a
matter of prudence, endeavoured to attach to himself, by every means in
his power, those who were most likely to be serviceable and true.
MacLeod had married late in life, and his wife dying soon after, while
on a visit to her mother, left behind her an only daughter, who was dear
as the apple of his eye to the old warrior, but, at the same time, he
had no idea of any one connected with him having any freedom of will or
exercise of opinion--save what he allowed--nor did he believe women's
hearts were less elastic than his own, which he could bend to any
needful expedient. About the period our story commences the Lady May was
nearly eighteen years of age, a beautiful and gentle girl, whose hand
was sought by many a young chief of the neighbouring clans; but all
unsuccessfully, for the truth was she already loved, and was beloved, in
secret, by young Hugh Munro from the side of Ben Wyvis.

The favoured of the daughter was not the choice of her father, simply
because he was desirous to secure the aid of the Macraes, a tribe
occupying Glenshiel, remarkable for great size and courage, and known in
history as "the wild Macraes." The chief--Macrae of Inverinate, readily
fell in with the views of MacLeod, and as the time fixed for his
marriage with the lovely Lady May drew nigh, gratified triumph over his
rival Munro, and hate intense as a being of such fierce passions could
feel, glowed like a gleaming light in his fierce grey eyes.

"Once more," he said, "I will to the mountains to find him before the
bridal. There shall be no chance of a leman crossing my married life,
and none to divide the love Inverinate shall possess entire. By my
father's soul, but the boy shall rue the hour he dared to cross my
designs. Yes, rue it, for I swear to bring him bound to witness my
marriage, and then hang him like a skulking wild cat on Inverinate

It was nightfall as he spoke thus. Little he knew that at the same
moment Hugh Munro was sitting beneath the dark shadows of the alder
trees, which grew under the window of the little chamber where May
MacLeod was weeping bitterly over the sad fate from which she could see
no way of escape. As she sat thus the soft cry of the cushat fell upon
her ears. Intently she listened for a few moments, and when it was
repeated stepped to the window and opened it cautiously, leaning forth
upon the sill. Again the sound stole from among the foliage, and May
peered down into the gloom, but nothing met her gaze save the shadows of
the waving branches upon the tower wall.

"It is his signal," she whispered to herself as the sound was repeated
once more. "Ah me! I fear he will get himself into danger on account of
these visits, and yet I cannot--I cannot bid him stay away."

She muffled herself in a dark plaid, moved towards the door, opened it
cautiously, and listening with dread, timidly ventured down to meet her

"I must and will beg him to-night to stay away in future" continued she,
as she tripped cautiously down the narrow winding stair--"and yet to
stay away? Ah me, it is to leave me to my misery; but it must be done,
unkind as it may be, otherwise he will assuredly be captured and slain,
for I fear Macrae suspects our meetings are not confined to the day and
my father's presence."

After stealing through many dark passages, corridors, and staircases, in
out-of-the-way nooks, she emerged into the open air, through a neglected
postern shadowed by a large alder, opposite the spot from which the
sound proceeded.

Again she gazed into the shadow, and there leaning against a tree
growing on the edge of the crag she saw a tall slender figure. Well she
knew the outlines of that form, and fondly her heart throbbed at the
sound of the voice which now addressed her.

"Dearest," said the young Munro in a low tone, "I thought thou wouldst
never come. I have been standing here like a statue against the trunk of
this tree for the last half-hour watching for one blink of light from
thy casement. But it seems thou preferrest darkness. Ah May, dear May,
cease to indulge in gloomy forebodings."

"Would that I could, Hugh," she answered sadly. "What thoughts but
gloomy ones can fill my mind when I am ever thinking of the danger you
incur by coming here so often, and thinking too of the woeful fate to
which we are both destined."

"Think no more of it" said her lover in a cheerful tone. "We have hope

"Alas, there is no hope. Even this day my father hath fixed the time
for--to me--this dreaded wedding? And thou Hugh, let this be our last
meeting--_Mar tha mi!_ our last in the world. Wert thou caught by
Inverinate, he so hates thee, he would have thy life by the foulest

"Fear not for that dearest. And this bridal! Listen May, before that
happen the eagle will swoop down and bear thee away to his free
mountains, amid their sunny glens and bosky woods, to love thee darling
as no other mortal, and certainly none of the Clan-'ic-Rathmhearlaich
has heart to do."

"Ah me!" sighed May, "would that it could be so. I cannot leave my
father until all other hope is gone, and yet I fear if I do not we are
fated to be parted. Even this may be the last time we may meet. I warn
thee, Hugh, I am well watched, and I beg you will be careful. Hush! was
that a footfall in the grove below the crag?" and she pointed to a clump
of trees at some distance under where they were standing, and on the
path by which he would return.

"By my troth it may be so," said he. "Better, dear May, retire to your
chamber and I shall remain here till you bid me good night from your

Again they listened, and again the rustling met their ears distinctly.
It ceased, and the maiden bidding her mountain lover a fond good night,
ascended to her chamber, while he disdaining to be frightened away by
sound, moved to his former position below the alder tree. Seating
himself at its root, with his eyes fixed on the window, in a voice low
but distinct, he sang to one of the sweet sad lays of long ago, a ditty
to his mistress, of which the following paraphrase will convey an

"Oh darling May, my promised bride,
List to my love--come fly with me,
Where down the dark Ben Wyvis side
The torrent dashes wild and free.
O'er sunny glen and forest brake;
O'er meadow green and mountain grand;
O'er rocky gorge and gleaming lake--
Come,--reign, the lady of the land.

Come cheer my lonely mountain home,
Where gleams the lake, where rills dance bright;
Where flowers bloom fair--come dearest come
And light my dark and starless night.
One witching gleam from thy bright eye
Can change to halls of joy my home!
One song, one softly uttered sigh,
Can cheer my lone heart--dearest come."

The moment the song ceased the fair form of May MacLeod appeared at the
casement overhead, she waved a fond farewell to her mountain minstrel
and closed the window; but the light deprived of her fair face had no
charm for him--he gazed once more at the pane through which it beamed
like a solitary star, amid the masses of foliage, and was turning away
when he found a heavy hand laid on his shoulder.

"Stay," exclaimed the intruder in a deep stern voice, whose tone the
young chief knew but too well.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Macbain, Alexander -> The Celtic Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1875 A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Literature, History, Antiquities, Folk Lore, Traditions, and the Social and Material Interests of the Celt at Home and Abroad