A Village History – Killin

8 years ago Articles

The Clans of Breadalbane

The Campbells of Glenorchy

The history of Breadalbane and of Killin is of necessity inextricably interwoven with that of the Campbells of Glenorchy who became Barons of Finlarig, and later, in the 17th century, Earls of Breadalbane. They entered Breadalbane as landowners in the 15th century and established themselves at Finlarig on the north bank of the river Lochay near the head of Loch Tay. Later they “birsed yont” as one of their Chiefs expressed it, and built Taymouth Castle at the eastern end of Loch Tay and settled there, in the year 1580. A favourite hunting ground of the Scottish Kings, the forest of Mamlorn lay in the upper reaches of Glen Lyon and Glen Lochay, and the Glenorchy Campbells became Forest Wardens, so winning Royal favour and gradually by fair means, by trickery or by out-and-out violence they amassed an Estate which finally stretched across Scotland for a hundred miles, from the Atlantic in the west to Aberfeldy in the East. Finlarig was a strongly fortified Castle, and from there successive Chiefs exercised the “power of pit and gallows”! The Campbells were always namely as being “great justicians”, but in the majority of cases it proved to be rough justice indeed! Only a small part of the wall of Finlarig Castle now remains standing, but the beheading stone, with its hollow for the head, and groove to drain away the blood can still be seen. Only the gentry had the privilege of being beheaded, the “commonality” were hanged on a nearby tree. The Burial place of the Breadalbane family is also at Finlarig, but the Mausoleum is in a ruinous state. In it rest the remains of all the Chiefs with the exception of the founder of Finlarig who fell with “the Flowers of the Forest” at Flodden. After the middle of the 18th century, when the Breadalbanes had established themselves, and were no longer obsessed with the acquisition of land and power, they proved in the majority of cases to be wise and benevolent landlords who did much to improve the conditions of their dependents. On the death of Gavin, 3rd Marquis in 1922, death duties and taxation necessitated the sale of a large part of the Estate, and since then it has gradually dwindled until now the once powerful family are known no more in their own country.

The Clan Macnab

As long ago as the 12th century there are records of grants of land to the Macnabs – Clann – an – Abba – the sons of the Abbot, descended from the lay Abbot of Glendochart. Prior to the 17th century their stronghold was at Ellanryne on the east bank of the river Lochay, but this was destroyed by General Monk’s orders in 1654, and thereafter they established themselves at Kinnell House on the south bank of the river Dochart. They were a hardy, warlike Clan, of whose exploits many tales are told, perhaps the best known being that of the vengeance wrought on the clan MacNeish, who lived on an island in Loch Earn, by “Smooth John” Macnab and his eleven brothers. Some Macnab retainers had been sent by the Chief to Crieff to fetch home some delicacies for the Christmas celebrations and on the way home they were waylaid and robbed by the MacNeishes, who proceeded at once to devour the spoil. When the old Chief of the Macnabs was told of it he looked round at his twelve sons and intoned “the night was the night if the lads were the lads”. The lads were! Headed by the eldest, Smooth John, they filed out and down to Loch Tay where their boat lay; lifting it upon their shoulders they carried it across the hills to Lochearnside, a distance of 8 or 9 miles as the crow flies, but a good deal further over the rough hill tracks, launched it on Lochearn and rowed out to the island stronghold of the MacNeishes. They broke down the doors, slew all the MacNeises with the exception of one small boy, who contrived to hide himself. They then returned the same way, carrying in triumph the gory head of the slain Chieftain. And since that day the crest of the clan Macnab consists of a bearded head surmounted by a boat and the motto “Dreadnought”. Virtually the last of the old Chiefs was Francis, the subject of Raeburn’s wellknown portrait “The Macnab”, he was a riotously extravagant man, living in the old feudal manner ignoring alike mountainous debts and clamouring creditors. When at last he died in 1824 at a ripe old age, his successor, a nephew, was forced to emigrate to Canada where many of his clansmen followed him. The estate was claimed by the then Lord Breadalbane, the principal creditor. The recent history of the clan, however, is happier than that of the Breadalbanes, as their former lands were bought back in 1949 by the present Chief Archibald Corrie Macnab of Macnab C.I.E., so Kinnell has once more a Macnab laird.

The Clan Gregor

The clan which is reckoned to be the oldest in Scotland, Clan Alpine, had a close connection with the district, but they early fell foul of the Campbells, and their courage was no match for the Campbell guile, with the result that one by one their lands fell into the hand of the spoiler, till finally their very name was proscribed and they became in very sooth “Children of the Mist”. Seven miles up Glendochart there stands near the road the gable-end of a house which was once the home of Rob Roy and from which for a time he carried on his trade of droving. Also, inspite of old enmities, he acted for a time as bailiff on the Argyllshire estates of the first Lord Breadalbane. The appointment however did not last long, and Rob took to less peaceable occupations, but he must have been a familiar figure in his day to the folks of Killin and its neighbourhood.

Clan Feuds and Cattle Lifting

When we look at our Village and the country around from the viewpoint of this our Welfare State, it is hard to imagine what life must have been like in those far-off days; but of one thing we may be sure – our forbears must have been well immured to hardship and insecurity – but this bred in them that spirit of courage, loyalty and love of freedom which has always characterised the hill-folk of every country the world over. Breadalbane has always been of necessity more of a pastoral than an agricultural region, and the ruggedness of much of the country meant that such crops as were grown in the days before the coming of the iron plough were meager and hardly won. Much of the low ground was marshy and badly drained so that it was mostly on the higher ground that the cultivated patches were situated. Barley and oats were the chief crops and harvests were often late and scanty. Horses were bred in considerable numbers, but the chief product was black cattle, and as these were considered fair game to the clan with the courage and initiative to seize and drive them off, many are the tales of bloody battles fought to recover their stock and exact vengeance. On one occasion, the Campbells were celebrating a wedding at Finlarig when word was received that the Macdonalds of Keppoch and Glencoe had lifted a “creach” of cattle from Loch Tayside and were returning home over the shoulder of Stron-a-clachain (the hill behind Killin) driving their booty before them. Fired with the spirit of the feast, the Campbells rushed pell-mell up the hill to do battle, but they were in no state to fight and consequently suffered a severe defeat with heavy casualties. Next day, however, having secured reinforcements brought overnight from Taymouth, they set off again in pursuit of the marauders and overtook them in Glenlochay; in the ensuing battle the young Chief of Keppoch was slain along with many of his clansmen. One of the finest laments in the Gaelic language, which is surely the language of sorrow, was composed for him by Iain Lom, the bard of Keppoch. This was but one incident in the long feud between Clan Donald and Clan Campbell which culminated in the horror of Glencoe. Life must have been especially hard for the women and children in the 17th and 18th centuries and only the hardiest survived. Their dwellings being very primitive, the winter must have been grim. The woman’s lot was to bear and rear sons to serve the Chief in peace and war. To her also fell most of the toil around the homestead, whilst her menfolk engaged in more warlike pursuits. Summer brought some alleviation as then women and children would move to the shielings on the high ground. Each little community had its own shieling-ground allotted to it, and in early summer the migration took place. Headed by a piper the procession would start off, the sheep and cattle driven in front, followed by pack-ponies loaded with gear; the cries of the animals, barking of dogs and excited voices of the children almost drowning the skirl of the pipes! The utensils for the making of the winter’s supply of butter and cheese went with them, together with their spinning wheel and “rocks” or distaffs and a supply of wool and raw flax to ensure that there should be no idle moments. They had roughly built shelters thatches with turf, and there they herded the stock as they grazed on the sweet grasses of the mountain corries. The ewes were milked as well as the cows, to make ewe-milk cheese which was considered a great delicacy. It was a happy carefree life in the shielings, and many songs have come down to us which were composed as they herded the cattle – songs that for countless years have been sung beside the peatfires when the winter storms roared down the glens.

The Jacobite Risings

The various wars and risings which rent Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries brought their share of trouble to Breadalbane. In 1645, the time of the Civil War, Montrose and the wild host that followed him swept through the country with fire and sword, leaving devastation behind them. Later in 1654 General Monk, fulfilling his mission of quelling the rebellion in the Highlands, placed garrisons in Finlarig and Taymouth. In 1715 the men of Breadalbane “came out” on the side of the Stuarts and played a gallant part at the Battle of Sherriffmuir: but at the time of the ’45 any tendency to rally again to the Stuart cause was sternly suppressed by Lord Glenorchy, son of the aged 2nd Earl, and as a consequence Breadalbane escaped the cruel reprisals imposed on those parts of the Highlands where the clansmen had supported Bonnie Prince Charlie.

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