Glen­finnan : 200th an­niver­say of a world-fa­mous mon­u­ment

The Oban Times - - Community News -

THERE are very few man-made ob­jects in Scot­land which are in­stantly recog­nised the world over. The Glen­finnan Mon­u­ment, stand­ing at the head of Loch Shiel is one of them. It was built by Alexan­der Mac­Don­ald, who, when he died in 1815 aged 28, left debts amount­ing to mil­lions of pounds in to­day’s money.

The now fa­mous 65-foot tall round tower first ap­peared in the early 1800s and was built as an el­e­vated shoot­ing plat­form and ac­com­mo­da­tion block. From here Mac­Don­ald and his friends caroused, ‘cried for mad­der mu­sic and for stronger wine’ and killed the lo­cal deer and wild­fowl.

Mac­Don­ald, whose fam­ily had en­ter­tained Prince Charles Ed­ward Stu­art, was a pas­sion­ate Ja­co­bite. He be­longed to a co­terie of ro­man­tics who wor­shipped the ex­iled Stu­art monar­chy hop­ing they would re­claim the Bri­tish throne from the Hanove­ri­ans.

In 1815, Alexan­der - de­spite his mount­ing debts - rashly en­gaged a fash­ion­able and costly Ed­in­burgh ar­chi­tect, James Gillespie Graham, to give his shoot­ing lodge a make- over and trans­form it into a ro­man­tic, tar­tan totem pole. Fair play to him; per­haps he saw it as a means of pay­ing off his debts. Alas, eu­pho­ria was short-lived. Alexan­der died that year, was buried in Ed­in­burgh and the mon­u­ment, less its ac­com­mo­da­tion block, be­came his me­mo­rial. En­ter the spin- doc­tors!

A fig­ure of a kilted and bon­neted High­lander, sug­ges­tive of Bon­nie Prince Char­lie, was hoisted onto the top of the round tower and sev­eral pan­els ap­peared in an oc­tag­o­nal perime­ter wall ex­tolling the virtues of Alexan­der Mac­Don­ald and the Ja­co­bite move­ment.

In 1931, the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land was es­tab­lished and, two years later, the mon­u­ment was of­fered to them. Keen to build on its mis­sion state­ment as ‘a cab­i­net into which it can put some of its valu­able things, where they will be per­fectly safe for all time and en­joyed by ev­ery­one’ the trust ac­cepted and the danc­ing round the totem pole con­tin­ued.

How­ever, in the mid 1950s, two highly-re­spected his­to­ri­ans, Se­ton Gor­don from Skye and Don­ald B MacCul­loch, Fort Wil­liam, au­thor of Ro­man­tic Lochaber, ques­tioned the state­ment the trust had started to put out that the mon­u­ment marked the ex­act site where the Ja­co­bite Stan­dard was raised on the 19th of Au­gust 1745. They is­sued some con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence through ‘The Oban Times’ based on eye wit­ness ac­counts and other con­tem­po­rary records, that the stan­dard was raised else­where in Glen­finnan. But the trust was adamant that the words, ‘On this spot’, to be found on one of the pan­els by the mon­u­ment, meant just that.

In the 1980s, a moor­land fire burnt through a thick layer of peat on the sum­mit of a knoll about 500 yards north west of the mon­u­ment, re­veal­ing a large hor­i­zon­tal rock on which a Latin in­scrip­tion had been cut. It read: MDCCXLV IN NOMINE DO­MINI VEXILLA TAN­DEM TRIUMPHANTES CAROLI EDUARDI STU­ART ERECTA 1745 [In the name of the Lord the stan­dards of Charles Ed­ward Stu­art tri­umph­ing at last were set up. 1745].

It has been sug­gested this was the work of the Rev Don­ald Mac­Don­ald (1814-1895), one of Alexan­der’s rel­a­tives, who wanted to en­sure that the true site of the un­furl­ing would not be lost. De­spite this seem­ingly rock-solid proof that Alexan­der Mac­Don­ald did not build his shoot­ing lodge on the spot where his hero raised his stan­dard, the trust re­mained scep­ti­cal.

This year is the 200th an­niver­sary of the build­ing of the Glen­finnan Mon­u­ment as we know it. Is it not time for the trust to ac­cept that they may be wrong and ini­ti­ate an in­de­pen­dent en­quiry to ex­am­ine all the ev­i­dence and present the out­come to the public?

No one is say­ing that the mon­u­ment is in the ‘ wrong’ place - how can it be when it is a war me­mo­rial to those who lost their lives at the Bat­tle of Cul­lo­den and in the af­ter­math when the Hanove­rian army went on the rampage through­out the High­lands? Nev­er­the­less, the Na­tional Trust, if it wants to re­main true to its prin­ci­pals, has a duty to lay­out its full story not only to its mem­bers, but the tens of thou­sands of visi­tors who come to Glen­finnan each year to en­joy and learn more about one of the most fa­mous land­marks in the world.

Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­

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