La­ment for an old deer-hunter gored to death by antlered stag

The Oban Times - - Districts - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­

WHAT Cairn Toul is to the Cairn­gorms, Sgurr Dhomh­nuill is to Lochaber.

At just un­der 3,000ft, this con­spic­u­ous peak lies be­tween Stron­tian and Ard­gour and, al­though it lacks the crags and precipices of lofty Ben Ne­vis, 17 miles to the east, it is one of the grand­est moun­tains in Scot­land.

Its Gaelic name means ‘Don­ald’s Rocky Peak’ and is named in hon­our of Don­ald Maclean, the first Chief of Ard­gour who was killed by a stag when hunt­ing in its foothills more than 600 years ago. Don­ald was the nat­u­ral son of Lach­lan Maclean of Duart and Mar­garet Maclean of Kin­gair­loch.

The story of how he and his hench­men, the Boyds, in­vaded Ard­gour in 1410 is well told by the late Sir Fitzroy Maclean in his won­der­ful book, West High­land

Tales. From this source we know that Don­ald was of­fered a char­ter of Ard­gour, Kin­gair­loch and the is­land of Carna by the Lord of the Isles at Ard­tor­nish Cas­tle, Loch Aline, if he repa­tri­ated a fam­ily of MacMasters who had set­tled there some­time pre­vi­ously.

Don­ald mar­ried the girl next door who was a daugh­ter of Cameron of Lochiel. He loved hunt­ing deer and foxes in the sur­round­ing glens and for this be­came known in Gaelic as ‘Dhomh­nuill na Seal­gair’, Don­ald the Hunter. His son Ewen must have been a renowned archer as he was called ‘Ewen of the Feath­ers’, in ref­er­ence to the flights of the ar­rows.

Long ago deer were not stalked and shot with ri­fles as they are to­day. In­stead they were driven into turf and stone en­clo­sures called,’ Tigh n Sealg’, lit­er­ally, ‘hunt­ing houses, where they were slaugh­tered by the wait­ing chief and his guests us­ing dirks, ar­rows and spears. Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, it was on one such oc­ca­sion, high in Glen Scad­dle on the eastern slopes of Sgurr Dhomh­nuill, that Don­ald was fa­tally wounded. The de­tails are un­known but it is likely that he slipped and was gored by an antlered stag.

He was laid to rest in the an­cient grave­yard of St Mo­dan’s Church at the foot of Beinn na Cille where his de­scen­dants are still buried and such was his pop­u­lar­ity, his name was given to the hill on which he died.

Some­time in the early 1880s the song-writer Harold Boul­ton (1859-1935), who gave the world the fa­mous Ja­co­bite song, Over the Sea to Skye, passed through Ard­gour and heard an old Gaelic poem about Don­ald the Hunter. So taken was he by the leg­end that he trans­lated it into English and in­cluded it in his Songs

of the North, call­ing it The La­ment for the Maclean of Ard­gour.

The present chief, who is 18th in di­rect line from Don­ald the Hunter, still lives there sur­rounded by numer­ous mem­bers of the Boyd clan.

The old chief has left the high ground to the whip­per­snap­pers and has re­placed his ri­fle, knife and deer hound with a labrador, a trusty stick and a pair of binoc­u­lars. Al­though he still takes an in­ter­est in the plea­sures of his an­ces­tor through the stalk­ing ad­ven­tures of his sib­lings, his sport­ing and nat­u­ral his­tory ac­tiv­i­ties are con­fined now to some se­date pheas­ant shoot­ing on the stub­ble-fields of Mo­ray, hunt­ing foxes in the Kin­gair­loch woods, or adder-watch­ing at the foot of Glen Gour.

‘ Wail loudly ye women, your coro­nach dole­ful, la­ment him ye pipers, tread solemn and slow; mown down like a flower is the chief of Ard­gour, and the hearts of the clans­men are weary with woe.

‘In peace­time, he ruled like a fa­ther amongst us, un­con­quered in bat­tle was the blade that he bore, but the chase was the glory and pride of his man­hood, strong Don­ald the Hunter, Macgillian More (The son of the Big Maclean).

‘Low down by yon burn that’s half hid­den with heather he lurked like a lion in the lair he knew well; ’twas there sobbed the red deer to feel his keen dag­ger, their pierced by his ar­row the cailzie- cock fell. How oft when at e’ven he would watch for the wild fowl, like lightening his cor­a­cle sped from the shore; but still, and for aye, as we cross the lone lochan, is Don­ald the Hunter, Macgillian More.

‘Once more let his war- cry re­sound in the moun­tains, MacDon­alds shall hear it in eerie Glen­coe, its echoes shall float o’er the Braes of Lochaber, till Ste­warts in Ap­pin that slo­gan shall know; and borne to the wa­ters beyond the Loch Linnhe, ’twixt Morvern and Mull where the tide ed­dies roar, Macgillians shall hear it and mourn for their kins­men, for Don­ald the Hunter, Macgillian More.

‘Then here let him rest in the lap of Sgurr Dhomh­nuill, the wind for his watcher, the mist for his shroud, where the green and the grey moss will weave their wild tar­tans, a cover­ing meet for a chief­tain so proud. For, as free as the ea­gle, these rocks were his eyrie, and free as the ea­gle his spir­its shall soar, o’er the crags and the cor­ries that erst knew the foot­fall of Don­ald the Hunter, Macgillian More’.

The 18th chief of the Ma­cleans of Ard­gour.

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