Duncan of the Castles

Sir Duncan Campbell, 1st Baronet Campbell of Glenorchy, co. Perth (in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia), and 7th Laird of Glenorchy, as depicted in the Black Book of Taymouth.
Sir Duncan Campbell, 1st Baronet Campbell of Glenorchy, co. Perth (in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia), and 7th Laird of Glenorchy, as depicted in the Black Book of Taymouth.

MacGregor’s Lullaby

The bridge at Kenmore on the River Tay.
The bridge at Kenmore on the River Tay.

EARLY on a Lammas morning,
With my husband was I gay;
But my heart got sorely wounded
Ere the middle of the day.

Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Though I cry my child with thee–
Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Now he hears not thee nor me.

Malison on judge and kindred,
They have wrought me mickle woe;
With deceit they came about us,–
Through deceit they laid him low.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Had they met but twelve Macgregors,
With my Gregor at their head;
Now my child had not been orphaned,
Nor these bitter tears been shed.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

On an oaken block they laid him,
And they spilt his blood around;
I’d have drunk it in a goblet
Largely, ere it reached the ground.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Would my father then had sickened–
Colin, with the plague been ill;
Though Rory’s daughter in her anguish,
Smote her palms and cried her fill.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

I could Colin shut in prison,
And Black Duncan put in ward,–
Every Campbell now in Bealach,
Bind with handcuffs, close and hard.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

When I reached the plain of Bealach,
I got there nor rest nor calm;
But my hair I tore in pieces,–
Wore the skin from off each palm!
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Oh! could I fly up with the skylark–
Had I Gregor’s strength in hand;
The highest stone that’s in yon castle,
Should lie lowest on the land.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Would I saw Finlarig blazing,
And the smoke of Bealach smelled,
So that fair, soft-handed Gregor
In these arms once more I held.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

While the rest have all got lovers
Now a lover have I none;
My fair blossom, fresh and fragrant,
Withers on the ground alone.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

While all other wives the night-time
Pass in slumber’s balmy bands,
I, upon my bedside weary,
Never cease to wring my hands.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Far, far better be with Gregor
Where the heather’s in its prime,
Than with mean and Lowland barons
In a house of stone and lime.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Greatly better be with Gregor
Where the herds stray o’er the vale,
Than with little Lowland barons
Drinking of their wine and ale.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Greatly better be with Gregor
In a mantle rude and torn,
Than with little Lowland barons
Where fine silk and lace are worn.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Though it rained and roared together,
All throughout the stormy day,
Gregor in a crag could find me
A kind shelter where to stay,
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Bahu, bahu, little nursling–
Oh! so tender now and weak;
I fear the day will never brighten
When revenge for him you’ll seek.
Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Though I cry, my child, with thee–
Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Yet he hears not thee nor me!

Black Duncan of the Cowl and Buchanan of Bochastle

West rampart of Bochastle Roman fort, with Ben Ledi (left) and the Pass of Leny (centre) in the background.
West rampart of Bochastle Roman fort, with Ben Ledi (left) and the Pass of Leny (centre) in the background.

Once when Black Duncan of the Cowl was in the house of Buchanan of Bochastle (Bochaisteil), the food that was customary at the time was put before him — milk, bread, and cheese. Black Duncan liked the cheese well, and he said to Buchanan, “Where was this cheese grown (made), laird of Bochastle?”

“It grew among the broom in these yellow braes and hollows,” replied Bochastle.

In a short time thereafter Black Duncan observed, “I should like to see your title-deeds. I am sure they are good.”

“I have no written title-deeds,” rejoined Bochastle; and he went to his armoury, got a sword and a target, stood before Black Duncan with these, and said, “These are the title-deeds of the land of Bochastle, and there are none but these.”

“Oh, very good — very good. Lay them by — lay them by;” and the laird of Bochastle went and laid by his sword and target. There was nothing further about this for the time being.

Black Duncan went home, and the laird of Bochastle did not in the least suspect that he himself and Black Duncan were not on amicable terms.

It happened some time after this affair that the laird of Bochastle went to Edinburgh, and Black Duncan of the Cowl was there at the same time.

They met one another at the same inn. Black Duncan had sent Green Colin1 with a large force of men to plunder Bochastle; but Buchanan was not aware of this, and Black Duncan felt inclined to give him a hint of the matter. So he said to Buchanan, “Would not this be a fine day to carry off a cattle-spoil from Bochastle?”

“It would be equally as good a day for turning back the cattle,” answered Buchanan. Nevertheless the latter did not know that Black Duncan had sent a force of men to carry off a spoil, and the two were speaking to one another as though they were in jest.

When Green Colin had reached Bochastle, the people of the place did not expect that he was coming for pillaging purposes, till the men who were with him began taking away the cattle. The people of Bochastle did not know that Black Duncan was not at peace with them; but Colin took away the cattle of the district, and went with them up the Strath of Balquhidder and the way of Lairig Eirinn (Pass of Eirinn or Erne). The laird of Bochastle had five sons, who were called the Red-haired Lads of Bochastle: these went and raised all the men in Bochastle and Lenny (Làinidh), who went after the cattle-spoil to turn it back.

There was a man at Lenny (Làinidh) who had been fishing on the river. He killed a trout, with which he went home. He spoke of the excellence of the trout, and a woman who was in said —

“It does not signify much to you; you shall never eat a bit of it.”

“It is a lie,” he said; “I will eat a part of it.” He cut a piece off the trout and put it on the fire to roast it, but before it was ready the cry came for armed men to turn back the cattle-spoil.

This man went out and went away with the rest. He was slain at the battle of Lairig Eirinn (Pass of Erne), and never returned.

They overtook the plunderers at Lairig Eirinn. Green Colin turned back towards the pursuers and said, “Let the best man among you hold up his hand!”

The eldest son of the laird of Bochastle held up his hand. Green Colin let fly an arrow at him, and the arrow pierced his armpit.

Green Colin cried, “Bring home that spike to the women of Lenny (Làinidh), that they may see how good the aim was.”

“Well now,” said Bochastle’s eldest son, “let the best among you hold up his hand.”

Green Colin scorned to decline to lift his hand himself, and he lifted his hand. Bochastle’s eldest son put an arrow in his bow: he shot it at Green Colin, and the arrow went in at his mouth and out at the back of his head; and the laird of Bochastle’s eldest son cried, “Bring that spike home with you, that the women of Lorne may see how good the aim has been.” A battle then began between the plunderers and pursuers, and the battle went against the plunderers. The latter were scattered, and six of the sons of Black Duncan of the Cowl were slain that day. Black Duncan’s force had to flee, and the red-haired lads of Bochastle turned back the cattle.

Black Duncan, as has been said, was at the time in Edinburgh, and the Baron of Bochastle along with him. A messenger was sent to Edinburgh to inform Black Duncan of the affair of the cattle-spoil, and of how the battle went. The messenger arrived in Edinburgh, and the Baron of Bochastle met him in the street, and knew by his dress that he was from the land of the Campbells.2

So he inquired of him, “What is your news? I perceive that you come with intelligence to the Black Knight.”

“I come to the Black Knight with the intelligence,” replied the messenger, “that the cattle-spoil which his men were taking away from Bochastle was turned back; that a battle was fought; that Green Colin was slain, and his men slaughtered.”

The laird of Bochastle continued his inquiries until he ascertained all the particulars, and he then said to the messenger, “You would be the better of a drink after your journey. Come into the inn, and I will give you a drink.”

They went in. The laird of Bochastle called for a bottle of ale. They gave a drink to the messenger, and said to him, “Stay here till I come back. I will go and get the Black Knight and bring him home.”

The messenger sat where he was, and the laird of Bochastle went out quietly, got the messenger’s horse, and rode home before Black Duncan could obtain information concerning the battle, and then get men and send him (Bochastle) to jail. The messenger sat in the inn till his patience was exhausted, and he had thereafter to search for Black Duncan in the best way he could.

— From the Dewar MSS. Given to the Editor by Lord Lorne, for whom and the Duke of Argyll the tales were collected in 1870-1871. Translated by Mr. Hector MacLean, Islay; Lord Archibald Campbell’s Records of Argyll: Legends, Traditions, and Recollections of Argyllshire Highlanders, Collected Chiefly from the Gaelic, with Notes on the Antiquity of the Dress, Clan Colours, or Tartans, of the Highlanders (1885).

1 “Green Colin” must have been a natural son, as he cannot be Black Duncan’s eldest lawful son Colin, who succeeded as 8th Laird and 2nd Baronet of Glenorchy.

2 This is perhaps an important early reference to district (tartan) dress.

Black Duncan of the Cowl

Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy (1545–1631), by unknown artist, 1619; National Galleries of Scotland.
Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy (1545–1631), by unknown artist, 1619; National Galleries of Scotland.

The seventh laird [of Glenorchy], Sir Duncan, our author’s patron [i.e. the author of the The Black Book of Taymouth], is a person on whose history we dwell with more pleasure. Bowie records a glorious list of conquests of lands and church possessions, and the provisions he bestowed on his children, legitimate and illegitimate. But we have interest of another kind in Black Duncan — Donacha dim na curich, as he is called from the cowl in which he is represented in his picture at Taymouth. He was, if not the first of Scotchmen, the very foremost of Highland proprietors, to turn his attention to the rural improvement of his country. His predecessors had indeed built rude dwellings and places of defence, round which time and decay have thrown a picturesqueness little thought of in their erection. But we find no signs of these earlier lords appreciating their beautiful country, or trying to increase its comforts or its productiveness. It cannot be said that Sir Duncan himself had taste for the picturesque, but he knew the profit as well as the beauty that might accrue from clothing the hill-side with timber and securing shelter round his mansion. He had some feeling for art also “with chapel and painterie.” He built the tower of Achalladour, repaired Ilankeilchurn, built the house of Lochdochart, a great house at Barcaldine in Benderloch, (between Loch Etive and Loch Criran,) defended the grounds of Balloch against the river by a great embankment. He built or repaired the Church “of Glenurchy, and built a bridge over the water of Lochy, contentment and weal of the country.” He was enterprising enough to travel abroad and passed to the courts of England and France, and in 1602, thought good to take a view of Flanders and of the wars. He took measures for enforcing an old Scotch law which enjoined the planting of a few trees about every tenant’s and cottar’s dwelling, and on the greater scale which became the landlord, he “caused make parks in Balloch, Finlarg, Glenloquhay, and Glenurquhay, and caused sow acorns and seed of fir therein, and planted in the same young fir and birch.” He seems to have imitated his cousin, William Earl of Gowrie, in introducing trees of foreign growth, and tradition points to him as the planter of the venerable chestnut and walnut trees at Finlarg and Taymouth. He was probably the first of Scotchmen who brought in fallow deer, for our chronicler tells us that in 1614 he took a lease of the Isle of Inchesaile from the Earl of Argyll, and in 1615 “put fallow deir and cunnyngis” therein. In another department of rural policy, it is not so certain that he was first, but it is of him that we have the first evidence, in connexion with the rearing of horses. In one bloody foray the M’Gregors slew forty of Sir Duncan’s brood mares in the Cosche of Glenurchy, and at the same time a blood horse,– “ane fair cursour sent to him from the Prince out of London.” The horse had come to an untimely end even before his royal master was taken away, but the stud went on increasing under the careful eye and vigorous management of Black Duncan.

Duncan Campbell, 7th Laird of Glenorchy, engraving by W. Forrest after original painting (1619) in the Breadalbane Apartments, Holyrood.
Duncan Campbell, 7th Laird of Glenorchy, engraving by W. Forrest after original painting (1619) in the Breadalbane Apartments, Holyrood.

We have abundant evidence that the seventh laird was a man of affairs, and well maintained his place in that age of unscrupulous politicians. In his own territories, castles, and family, he practised a very vigorous personal control and the most methodical administration. The estate books and books of household accounts and inventories kept under his direction give us the earliest picture we have of the life of a great Highland lord. It is not so easy to imagine the rough chieftain cultivating literature: yet grim as he stands in the picture [above] the black Duncan had a taste for books, read history and romance, and is not quite free from the suspicion of having dabbled in verse himself. Several of his books are still preserved at Taymouth, where the frequent inscriptions in his own hand shew he took pleasure in them; and we must remember that book collecting was not yet a fashion. One of his favourites, in which he evidently much delighted, was “The Buike of King Alexander the Conqueroure,” a ponderous romance in MS. Some original verses, mostly moral and religious, written on the blank leaves of his books, would be worth preserving, if it were possible more satisfactorily to establish their authorship. The influence of Sir Duncan Campbell extended over an unusual length of time. He was forty-eight years lord of the family estates, and was eighty-six years old when he died in 1631.

— From the Preface of Cosmo Nelson Innes’ The Black Book of Taymouth, Edinburgh, 1855.