Step­ping back in time on Lu­ing

The Oban Times - - Community News -

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 iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

Medal pre­sented by Lord Breadal­bane in 1798 to the

Lu­ing Vol­un­teers

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