Clan Warfare & Local Clans
The power and influence of the Clan Campbell, as many know, was a force to be reckoned with in Scotland from the sixteenth century onwards. Their ancestral seat was at Inverary in Argyllshire and is situated close by the town of that name as well as bonnie Loch Awe.
They were both a prolific and cunning lot. Their progeny was considerable. The basic philosophy was safety in numbers, but furthermore, through their numbers, acquisitions, whether legal or otherwise, could be transacted. They also saw the value in having property secured with a wee “scrap” of paper, or sheepskin or parchment, which stated that they were the legal owners of this or that property. They valued the use of law and many “took silk” and went to work with a vengeance in the courts in Edinburgh, and latterly London. After all if you make the law who can question it? Their activities in these areas suggest that self-interest was high on their agenda. Through deliberate planning based on greed and “lebensraum”, thought through carefully by many of their clan chiefs, they sought continuously to increase their land ownership. By the time they became a force to be reckoned with in Strathearn they had made considerable headway. They eventually owned and controlled almost half a million acres!
They had acquired all of Breadalbane consisting of both sides of Loch Tay right up to and into Argyllshire in the west, and to the lands of Atholl in the east as well as south towards Crieff. In reality they owned the land virtually from the outskirts of the City of Perth following the course of the River Tay to beyond the watershed at Crianlarich, and on to the west coast. Their influence in Strathearn started about the middle of the sixteenth century when they saw opportunities to be had, and reasonably rich pickings. At this time they had strategic castles, keeps and strongholds located throughout Glen Dochart at Crianlarich, Finlarig Castle in Killin, Balloch Castle now called Taymouth Castle in Kenmore, and others in Glen Lyon at Carnbane and Meggernie castles.
Crossing over into Strathearn they set up shop at Edinample, Aberuchill, Lawers and Monzie and on down to Castel Campbell at Dollar. If one traces a line of these fortified houses one can see that they criss-crossed the Highland divide. Their lands in Edinample shouldered MacLaren and MacGregor country in Strathyre, and the Braes of Balquhidder on the west and south. The south-east side neighboured the Stewart lands at Ardvorlich which was squeezed between the Campbells of Aberuchill and Edinample. Further to the north-east at Lawers and Monzie they brushed up against Ochtertyre Murray lands. If you can’t beat them, surround them or is it; surround them …and then beat them!
This building is relatively unique in shape and configuration. It is situated at the west end of Loch Earn set in a hollow beside the Ample Burn. It is tube-like being circular with thick walls about sixty feet high. It was constructed about 1600 and was built for defence and aggression, and not for esthetic features. Flagstone stairs lead from one level to another round the interior walls and must have been a cold and drafty place. I knew a lady a long time ago who claimed she had worn out her knees cleaning the stone stairs of the place!
It was built by that rather ferocious character, Black Duncan of the Cowl, who was a prodigious castle builder. He hailed from Killin and he did not like the MacGregors one whit. I don’t really think he liked anyone else either! Probably his dislike of them in particular was hereditary as they kept pinching his cattle and creating other trouble(s)! When it became a popular blood sport to hunt down the MacGregors after their several proscriptions several lesser lights took a hand. One Laird of Edinample was such a brave soul...unless the tables were turned. He considered it his bounded duty to harry the MacGregors and surrounded himself with armed men hoping to hear about the whereabouts of any MacGregor. On one occasion he heard that five of them were drinking in an establishment in Lochearnhead and immediately rounded up his posse of seventeen men and headed for the location. He set his men up in and around the hostelry, and went into the house to gain the lie of the land.
Not being recognised by the MacGregors they invited him to join them and have a glass of whisky. Lying on the floor was the carcass of a deer which the MacGregors had caught and they told him of their successful hunt. One glass followed another and eventually one of the MacGregors went outside and found the Edinample party. Inviting them in to a nearby barn he gave them all a good glass of whisky to warm them from the cold of the night and then slipped out the door locking it behind him.
Returning to the hostelry he asked the landlord the name of their guest and what he had on his mind. By this time Edinample was quite enjoying himself and had no idea what had transpired and was astonished when the returned MacGregor accused him of treachery. On hearing the full story some of the MacGregors were all in favour of puting him to death on the spot. Others, however, felt that this act would be inflammatory. A vote was taken and it was decided that he was to go along with them carrying the deer on his back. This, he exclaimed, was beneath his station and his dignity. A mind, however, can be changed when faced with cold steel, and he complied. Setting off on the snowy path to Balquhidder the Laird stumbled several times. A deer is quite a heavy animal to carry, you know!
Close by the Kingshouse at the entry to the path leading into Balquhidder they decided to let him go...but without his clothes. Much as he protested about this further indignity they held fast and the man was stripped and left to find his own way home, no doubt a wiser man!
These edicts and proscriptions against the MacGregors remained in effect for over a hundred years with periodic renewals. Until Rob Roy MacGregor (Campbell) came along the lot of the MacGregors was not a happy one! Close by the castle is the burying ground of the Campbells of Monzie.
The castle was built in 1602 under the direction of John Forbes, an architect and builder of some note, on behalf of the land owner who was a minor Campbell chief, Colin Campbell of Lawers, Lochtayside. He had acquired the Estate in 1592 from James Sixth of Scotland and First of England, known to history as “the wisest fool in Christendom.” There are two oak trees on the estate appropriately named the “King” oak and the “Queen” oak. It is conceivable that they were planted in 1603 to celebrate the accession of James the Sixth to the throne of England, or possibly in 1625 to celebrate the accession of Charles 1 to the throne, or possibly later to celebrate the restoration of the Stewarts as Kings of Great Britain. They are amongst the oldest trees in Strathearn. John Forbes, “Maister Masoune in Aberichill” is buried in the Comrie churchyard and his tombstone dated 1602 states that he was “ane honest man.”
The Aberuchill Campbells were involved in the planning and implementation of the “Massacre of the MacDonalds” of Glencoe in 1692. This massacre had been in the making for quite some time and was masterminded by Sir John Dalrymple, the Earl of Stair, in Edinburgh. It was said that the instructions to proceed were marked on the back of a nine of diamonds playing card. As essentially this was a Campbell plot to reduce the power of the McDonalds, decisions were made and taken and put into effect. The MacDonalds, like all Scottish clans, had been asked to swear allegiance to King William. They had been very slow in complying and the Clan Campbell, with all its legal power in Edinburgh, saw an opportunity to reduce them. This became known as “slaughter under trust” and the story is well known. However, what is not well known is that it could all have been stopped by the Campbell Laird at Aberuchill Castle. The loyalty petition did make its way to Aberuchill where it could have been accepted however, by looking the other way they decided to pass it along to their masters in faraway Edinburgh. This act further delayed its recognition and the massacre occurred on the cold and snowy night of Saturday, the 13th February, 1692. The world stood still for a while and absorbed the shock. It has never forgotten this event; neither has it forgiven the Campbells!
Written Order which Triggered the Massacre of the MacDonalds in Glencoe in February 1692.
You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old Fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution at fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I'll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692
For their Majesties service
To Capt. Robert Campbell
(signed) R. Duncanson
Transliteration of the Order
James Hamilton (1884) - The Glencoe Massacre
Glencoe 1692 - John Blake McDonald (c 1879)
Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell often visited Aberuchill castle. Oddly enough he was a “straight shooter.” He would always give you a choice. He would suggest that, for a fee, he would ensure that your cattle did not disappear. If the fee was paid then not one single head of hair of the cattle would be out of place. If, on the other hand, the fee was not paid the cattle would disappear overnight and never be seen again. And you can be assured that no-one heard a thing! He brought the art of blackmail to an exquisitely high level! On one occasion the Campbells detained him in the castle and put him in a side room on the second floor. Outside the window were the spreading branches of an oak tree. It did not take him long to throw a chair through the window and shimmy down the tree and ran up Ben Halton behind the castle! Sadly, some forty odd years ago, one of the owners chopped down the tree! Achoan, achoan!
In 1704, the Campbells disposed of the estate to people who took the name of “Drummond of Comrie.” These Drummonds were among the early land improvers employing many people from the village and surrounding district to build drainage ditches which added to the land value and reduced the devastation created when the Ruchill (in particular) and the Earn were in spate. The burial grounds of this Drummond family lie in a soggy wood on the Estate. The cemetery is completely surrounded by barbed wie so access for a few photogrpahs is not possible!
They, in their turn, sold the Castle back to the Campbells. Keeping up with their traditions they had a hand in the infamous trial of “Gentle James Stewart” who was “framed” for the Appin murder of Colin Campbell, the “Red Fox” of Glenure in 1752. James was convicted in Inverary by a stacked jury made up almost entirely of his Campbell enemies. For those interested in the more macabre aspects of this event it can be clearly stated that James was entirely innocent. He never stood a chance and was hung at Ballachulish overlooking the new bridge. When his skeleton fell off the scaffold it was rewired and re-hung, there to rot in the breeze for over two years.
Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Poet, with his friend Wille Nicol, visited it in late August, 1787, recording in his journal that he had received a “cold reception!”
Afterwards the Aberuchill estate was bought by the Dewhursts in 1853. They were thread manufacturers. As such their factories required an immense amount of bobbins, and the Pirn Mill located on the Back Road came in to existence. This was a sawmill situated on the banks of the River Earn, and the Sawdust road (aptly named, came into being). This handsome building has recently been refurbished and offers superb self catering accommodation.
The Pirn Mill, now the Bobbin Mill
The Ross became, in its own right, a thriving community with good feelings between the owners and the local people. On its lands were the clachans of Montillie, the Ross, Dalrannoch, and various farms and farm-touns like Carshalton, Blairmore, Tominour and the Ross farm. Ross farm changed its name to Craggish and sadly was demolished by the estate soon after the death of the last farmer, John Sinclair.
Aberuchill Castle was set alight by the Suffragettes in 1914 however the fire was put out by the maids and others from the village. It was thought that the Suffragettes may have been after the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, at the time. Various other people since then have owned the property and, in recent years, the Castle was opened for a day for the local people. It was bought by an American oil drilling company and used for business entertainment purposes - shooting hand-fed and hand-raised pheasants! Sadly it was badly damaged by fire in February 1994, although its then owners rebuilt it. The castle has passed through many hands in its time and is currently owned by a Russian billionaire. To see the daffodils in bloom in the springtime at Aberuchill is to behold a gift of nature.
The Campbells of Lawers set up their stall just to the east of Comrie around 1610. They had acquired lands in Glen Lednock which stretched from Lawers, Strathearn, over to Ardeonaig on Loch Tay. They were closely related by blood to the Campbells of Aberuchill, Edinample and Breadalbane. In keeping with the times they built a fortified house and hung any MacGregors who happened to suit their fancy. On one occasion the MacGregors decided they had had enough and decided to fix the Laird of Lawers “good and proper.”
They attacked Lawers House and succeeded in capturing the incumbent, Colonel Campbell. They decided to hang him and the Colonel, no doubt somewhat upset by this turn of events, snivelled that he wanted to say a prayer in the family chapel before moving onwards to meet his maker. The MacGregors, who must have been a wee bit on the thick side, and certainly gullible, agreed to this request. On the way to the chapel the Colonel mentioned that if they did not kill him he would agree to pay 10,000 merks which he would deliver to them at Balquhidder. This was a tidy sum and not to be sniffed at and the MacGregors fell for it. When they showed up at the meeting point there was the good Colonel accompanied by a troop of cavalry. The MacGregors were quickly taken and transported to Edinburgh where they were tried, probably by Campbell judges, and then promptly hanged. Possibly one should consider that “a bird in the hand is always better than two in the bush!”
The ruins of the chapel lie to the south-west of the now grand house and its gable end is still standing. It is encompassed by a grove of yew trees of great age. Some, surrounding the chapel, were cut down. Sometime shortly thereafter one of the household members died, and the trees were replanted. It did not bring the dead back to life though!
Lawers became famous for its trees with a grand oak avenue and at one time was home to the largest Scots fir in the world. Sadly it was blown down in 1850 and when measured had a girth of 17 feet 7 inches. Near its tiny waterfall another two Scots firs measured in girth, one foot from the ground, 17 feet 6 inches and 17 feet 4 inches respectively. In the great Tay Bridge gale of 1881 the “Queen of the Planes” was bowled over - its girth was 38 feet! In 1893 a tornado struck and decimated many ancient trees on the estate. It caused catastrophic disaster to the trees on top of nearby Turleum on the Drummond Estate. Until then, Turleum, had been classified as the “most heavily wooded hill in Scotland” However after the big storm it was stripped bare and today almost no trees grow on its slopes. The storm was known locally as “the big blaw.” Ironically the name Turleum means “rounded,” as it is!