Stepping back in time on Luing
LAST week, I visited the island of Luing in the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan to meet local historian, Christine Mackay, who has a wealth of oral tradition and historical facts about the community.
Miss Mackay’s family have lived on Luing for more than 200 years.
One of them was a volunteer in the Earl of Breadalbane’s 2nd Fencible Regiment raised in 1793 to repel the French when they threatened to invade the UK. A few years later when the regiment was reduced in numbers, Lord Breadalbane gave to each of the Luing men who had served with him a medal and, more importantly, a job, a croft or a house and garden as a means of making a living. ,
High on my list of things to see on Luing was a well near Ardinamar called in Gaelic, Tobar na Suil - ‘The Well of the Eye’.
According to local tradition, its water was used for curing diseases of the eye. This strange feature is a small, hollowed- out stone set just below the surface and seemingly never dries out, even although it has no obvious cracks to allow water to get into it from below.
In 1896, a sample was taken by a visiting chemist and archaeologist called Ivison Macadam, professor of chemistry, New Veterinary College, Edinburgh. His analysis showed that, although the water contained small quantities of saline, chlorine, sodium, sulphate and ammonia, it did not contain any particular medicinal properties.
The stone, which looks like an early baptismal font, resembles an eyeball from which shape it may have taken its name. Once called, the hypothetical curative properties may have followed.
In keeping with many other wells, we found a large number of coins lying about it, mostly of low denomination and modern - evidence that someone locally still believes in its charms if not magical properties.
On our way to Kilchattan graveyard near Toberonochy, we passed through a small glen called Dubh Leitir which means ‘the black half-land’, usually applied to a long, steep face of land, the half part of a glen.
Here we halted to examine Easan Frogach - ‘ the waterfall of the bewitched’, a small burn encircling a supernatural mound where fairies were thought to live. It was customary, up until about the beginning of the 20th century, for every passer-by to pull a thread out of his or her clothing and put it on the mound as a peace offering to them.
Not wishing to risk causing any offence to the early inhabitants, I left a bit of my shirt and we carried on to the fast crumbling ruin of the old parish church of Kilchattan church.
A number of outer facing stones bear some interesting graffiti showing ships, initials and other forms of hieroglyphics low to the ground giving rise to the theory that the carvings were made by children which seems unlikely. A search for a gravestone to a man who lived for 1001 years was unsuccessful. The tale goes that the deceased died aged 101 but the mason cutting the inscription, spoke only Gaelic and mistook the instructions given to him in English.
On the road to Toberonochy, it was a pleasure to meet Coll MacDougall, a native of Morvern, now retired, who along with his late father, Angus, had been associated with the Cadzow family and their famous Luing cattle for most of their lives.
Mr MacDougall’s ancestors came to Morvern from Lorn in the 1700s and were large and trusted tenant-farmers and tacksmen to the Dukes of Argyll.
When George, the sixth Duke, sold most of his lands in Morvern in 1826, the MacDougalls, in order to stay in their homes, were forced to become shepherds and cattlemen for the new southern owners.
The 2011 national census records that the population of the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan was 808.
In 1837 it was three times greater, indicated by the following incident.
About 9am on July 14 a large pod of whales appeared stranded in shallow water. Their presence soon attracted the attention of many local men, including the minister, who arrived with axes, slashing knives and claymores belonging to their forefathers which had not been drawn in earnest since the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The battle began at 9am and lasted for 13 hours - longer than the Battle of Waterloo - during which an incredible 192 beasts, about 100 of whom were from 30 to 50 foot in length, were allegedly killed.
The author of the report concluded: ‘The prowess of one of the mountaineers - Sinclair by name - must not be allowed to pass unchronicled. A whale, about 50 foot long, struggled hard to retreat. This individual, with a degree of gallantry worthy of his gallant clan, leaped on its back, and with a hatchet belaboured and hewed the animal, till exhausted by the loss of blood, it was compelled to surrender at discretion. A very copious supply of oil is expected from this unlooked-for source. According to one authority, the proceeds will be divided among the captors; according to another, they are to be applied for the benefit of the parish.’ Iain Thornber firstname.lastname@example.org
Medal presented by Lord Breadalbane in 1798 to the