Saturday, 7 February 2015
Two battles took place at Inverlochy that lies just north-east of Fort William, Lochaber. The more famous of the two took place in 1645 and the earlier one some two centuries before in 1431. The battle was fought after Alexander of Islay, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, had been imprisoned by King James I. Donald Ballach, Alexander’s cousin, led a force of mainly MacDonald clansmen who defeated the Royalist forces led by the Earls of Mar and Caithness. After the battle, the MacDonalds took their revenge upon the Clan Cameron and Clan Chattan, who betrayed their loyalty to the Lord of the Isle and sided with the king. Soon afterwards, King James I led and army into the Highlands ostensibly to quench any further rebellions and also to reinforce his dominion over some of the more recalcitrant and disaffected Highland clans.
The following historical anecdote was recorded and transcribed shortly afterwards by Calum Maclean on 21st of January 1951 from the recitation of John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber.
Blàr Inbhir Lòchaidh
Bha blàr gu math fuilteach aig Inbhir Lòchaidh, dar a thàinig Iarla Mhàr a thachairt air Dòmhnall Dubh Ballach. Domhnall Dubh Ballach ’s e sin Dòmhnall Dòmhnallach às an Eilean Sgitheanach. Agus chaidh an ruaig a chur air Iarla Mhàr aig Inbhir Lòchaidh. Bha sin anns a’ bhliadhna 1431. Theich e agus ghabh e an àirde feadh na dùthachadh agus e a’ fuireach falach air an latha a’ siubhal air an oidhche. Thàinig e mach madainn a bha seo gu taigh agus dh’iarr e air cailleach a bha sin an robh dad idir de bhiadh aice, gun robh an t-acras air:
“Chan eil,” thuirt i, “biadh mòr sam bith. Ach bheir mi dhut rudan beag de mhin eòrna.”
Fhuair e sin is dh’fhalbh e. Agus a’ chiad alltan beag gus an d’ràinig e, chuir e dheth a’ bhròg agus chuir e min ann an sàil na bròige. Agus dh’ith e e le bioran. Cha robh rud eile aige. Cha robh forfhais air spàin. Agus thuirt e an uair seo is e ga ithe:
“Is math an còcaire an t-acras,
Is mairg a dhèanadh tàire air a’ bhiadh,
Fuarag eòrna à sàile mo bhròige,
Am biadh na b’ fheàrr a fhuair mi riamh.”
Chum e air agus chaidil e dar a thàinig a’ mhaduinn air adhart, chaidil e gus an tàinig an oidhche. Agus an ath-mhadainn rinn e air taigh a bha gu h-àrd an Gleann Ruaidh, taigh Iribhinn. Agus thug an duine a bha sin a-staigh e. Agus cha robh mòran biadh aige. Ach mharbh e an aon mhart a bh’ aige. Agus chuir e Iarla Mhàr na laighe air leabaidh fraoich agus seiche mhairt ga chòmhdach. Agus laigh e an sin airson latha na dhà a’ cur dheth a sgìos. Thuirt e ris an duine a bha seo dar a bha e a’ falbh.
“Latha math leat. Ma tha thu a’ smaointeachadh gum bidh gamhlas na rud sam bith aig na coimhearsnaich nad aghaidh airson mise a dh’fhuireach an seo, theirg a dh’ionnsaigh an t-àite agam-sa agus nì mise glè mhath riut.”
Dh’fhalbh e. Smaointich e gun robh coimhearnsaich na aghaidh. Is dar a ràinig e an t-àite a bha seo, bha duine na sheasamh aig a’ gheata. Bha e a’ cumail a h-uile coigreach agus fear fuadain gun a dhol suas rathad an taighe. Dar a ràinig an duineachan lapach, bochd a bha seo agus coltas truagh air, smèid am fear a bha shuas ris an aig an doras, Iarla Mhàr, an duine e leigeil a-staigh. Bu mhòr iongnadh nuair a chunnaic e an duine seo a’ dol an àird ’un an taighe agus an crathadh làmh càirdeil, coibhneil a rinn Iarla Mhàr ris. Agus thuirt e ris:
“Thig a-staigh dha mo thaigh agus gheibh thu an seòmar is fheàrr a th’ ann agus am biadh is fheàrr is urrainn domh a thoirt dut, an rud a fhuair mise na do thaigh-sa. Agus mura h-eil thu toileach a dhol air ais a Ghleann Ruaidh, fuirighidh tu agam-sa. Agus bheir mi dhut pìos fearainn ags bidh mi gu math dhut cho fad is a bhios tu beò.”
Agus ’s e sin a rinn e. Cha do thill an duine tuillidh.
And the translation goes something like the following:
The Battle of Inverlochy
There was quite a bloody battle at Inverlochy when the Earl of Mar met with Donald Dubh Balloch who was Donald MacDonald from the Isle of Skye. And the Earl of Mar was defeated at Inverlochy. That happened in 1431. He fled and then travelled through the country taking it in turns to hide during daylight and travel unseen at night. He came to a house one morning and he asked the old woman there whether she had any food for he was hungry:
“No,” she replied, “there’s not much food at all. But I can give you a wee bit of oatmeal.”
He got that and set off. And the first burn he came to he took off his shoe and he placed the oatmeal in the heel of the shoe. He ate it with a twig as he had nothing else. There was no sign of a spoon. And he said as he ate:
“Hunger is a good cook,
Foul fall the man who scorns his food
Cold barley gruel from the heel of my shoe
The finest meal I have ever had.
He kept on and he slept when the morning came; he slept until nightfall. And the next morning he headed to a house at the upper end of Glenroy, O’Brien’s house. And the man took him in. But he had little by way of food so he slaughtered the only cow he had. And he placed the Earl of Mar on a heather bed and covered him with the cow hide. He lay there for a day or two to regain his strength. He said to this man when he was setting off:
“A good day to you. If you ever thing that any of your neighbours hate you or anything like that for putting me up here, come to my place and I’ll be very good to you.”
He set off. He [O’Brien] though that his neighbours were against him. And when he arrived at this place there was man standing on guard at the gate. He was there to keep strangers and enemies away from going anywhere near the house. When this poor little man who had a wretched appearance arrived he waved up to the man, the Earl of Mar, to let him in. He [the guard] was surprised when he saw this man going up to the door when the Earl of Mar gave him a friendly and kind shake of the hand. And he said to him:
“Come in to my home and you’ll get the best room and the best of food that I can offer you, the very thing that I received from you in your own house. And if you do not wish to return to Glenroy, you’ll stay with me. I’ll give you a piece of land and I’ll be good to you for as long as you live.”
And that was the very thing that he did. The man never returned home.
The very same story, and arguably a superior version, was recorded again only a year or so later. As would perhaps be expected both versions are rendered in more or less the same way. The great advantage of recording the same material from any given reciter is that a better overall picture may be gleaned of how they not only perform such material over the years but any differences may lead to an insight of how any given story or song may change, or indeed remain substantially the same, between intervening recordings. The following was also recorded by Calum Maclean in 1952 and the transcription and following translation were made by his colleagues Alan J. Bruford and Donald Archie MacDonald:
Iarla Mhàrr agus an Fhuarag Eòrna
Bha [Dòmhnallach nan Eilean]...Mac Dhòmhnaill nan Eilean, ’s e Dòmhnall Dubh Ballach a theireadh 'ad ris, agus bha [e] feachd làidir aige do na Gàidheil cho math ’s a thacharadh air duin’ ann an astar mìos.
Agus gu dè smaointich a thigeadh ’ad...a thigeadh a thoirt tarraing air agus baiteal a bhith aca, ach Iarla Mhàrr a thàinig a-null à Bràigh Mhàrr, eadar sin agus Peairt.
’S c’à ’n do thachair ’ad ach aig Inbhir Lòchaidh thar am bheil an taigh-beairt air chur an àird an-diugh mar a their ’ad “an fhactory.”
Bha sin ann [anns a’] anns na ceithir cheud deug agus a h-aon deug thar an fhichead. Agus ’s e Dòmhnall Dubh Ballach a choisinn ’s chuir e ’n ruaig air Iarla Mhàrr.
Theich Iarla Mhàrr agus ghabh e ’n àirde mar a tha Lianachan agus an suas na caran sin gos na ràinig e air Gleann Ruaidh. Agus mar a bha e ’teannadh an suas [air] air àit’ ris an abair ’ad Coire Choingligh, chaidh e ’staigh thar an robh cailleach agus dh’iarr e biadh oirre.
“Chan eil biadh agam, ach ma dh’fhanas tu tacan,” thuirt i, “nì mi biadh deiseil dhut.”
“Chan eil ùin’ agam air,” thuirt e, “agus an ruaig ’s mo dheaghaidh, ach thoir dhòmh-sa deanntag bheag do mhin agus nì mi fhìn biadh an àiteigin.”
’S e seo a rinn i. Fhuair e ’mhin agus a’ chiad allt gos an d’thàinig e ’s e smaoineachdainn gun robh e sàbhailte chuir e [’n fhuarag]...chuir e ’mhin ann an sàil a bhròig’ agus dileag de dh’uisge agus dh’ith e e le bioran.
Agus thubhairt e:
“’S math an còcaire ’n t-acras
’S mairg a dhèanadh tàir air a’ bhiadh
Fuarag eòrna à sàil mo bhròige
’m biadh a ‘'fheàrr a fhuair mi riamh.”
Agus rinn e gu...le ’s gur h-e beul na h-oidhche a bh’ ann rinn e eadar sin ’s mhadainn an suas air Gleann Ruaidh agus dar a bha fàireadh na madainn a’ tighinn, ’s nach fhaicheadh feadhainn e, fhuair e ’staigh ann an taigh duin’ ann an sin ris an abrar ’ad Ó Brian, agus cha robh mòran biadh san taigh ’s an t-acras air an duine:
“Ach innsidh mi dè nì riut,” thuirt e. Marbhaidh mi ’n aon mhart a th’ againn, agus gheibh thu i h-ith.”
Agus ’s e sin a chaidh a dhèanadh. Dh’fhuirich e trì latha th’ ann an sin agus e na chadal air leabhaidh fraoich agus ’s e ’m brat a bha thairis air na na cuibhrige, mar a theireadh ’ad seiche ’mhairt. ’S dar a fhuair e ’sgìos a chuir dheth dh’fhalbh e ’beul na h-oidhche ’s e dèanadh air an àit’ aige fhèin dhachaigh. Agus thuirt e ris:
“Ma bhios tu ’smaoineachdainn gum bheil ’faotainn coire dhut na gamhlas aig daoine riut gun do shàbhail thu mo bheatha-sa, dèan air an àit’ agam-sa agus nì mise dith-beatht’ thu.”
’S ann mar seo a bha. Bha e ’smaoineachdainn na bheachd fhèin gun robh ’ad na aghaidh mar a shàbhail e ’n duine agus dh’fhalbh e chun an àit’ aige [ann a...] aig Iarla Mhàrr. Agus mar a bha e ’teannadh air an àite agus dorsair a-mach ann an sin aig cachaileith mhòr agus nach robh duine ri leigeil a-staigh air an àite sin mura bhiodh e air a smèideadh bhon taigh na sanail a thoirt da bhon dorast.
Thàinig a duineachan abalach a bha seo air adhart agus ghabh e fìor iongantas dar a chunnaic e ’n t-Iarla ’g iarraidh air a dhol an àird thun an taighe agus b’ionganadh leis an crathadh-làmh a bha shuas an sin agus cho dith-beathte ’s a chaidh a dhèanamh.
Thuirt an t-Iarla ris:
“Thig a-staigh dha'n taigh agam-sa agus gheibh thu ’n seòmar as fheàrr a th’ ann agus am biadh as fheàrr a th’ agam mar a fhuair mise bhuat-sa agus mura h-eil thu toileach a dhol air ais a Ghleann Ruaidh, gheibh thu talamh air an oighreachd agam agus bidh thu ann cho fad’ ’s a bhios tu beò.”
Agus ’s ann mar seo a bha. Thàinig am bodach go co-dhùnadh gun robh e cho math dha fuireach anns an àit’ ud gun tilleadh a Ghleann Ruaidh ’s cha d’fhuair ’ad forfhais tuillidh air ’s dh’fhuirich e air an talamh aig Iarla Mhàrr.
And the translation goes something like this:
The Earl of Mar and the Cold Barley Gruel
This…son of MacDonald of the Isles, he was known as Domhnall Dubh Ballach and he had a powerful host of Highlanders as fine as a man could meet in a month’s travel. And who should decide to come…to come and attack him and bring him to battle by the Earl of Mar, and he came over from the Braes of Mar, between there and Perth. And where did they meet but at Inverlochy, where the factory has been built today…This was in 1431. And Domhnall Dubh Ballach won the battle, and he put the Earl of Mar to flight. The Earl of Mar fled, and he went up by Lianachan and up that way until he reached Glen Roy. And when he was near a place they call Corriechoillie he went into an old woman’s house and asked her for food.
‘I haven’t any food ready, but if you’ll wait a moment,’ said she, ‘I’ll get you something.’
‘I haven’t time for that,’ said he, ‘they’re on my heels. But give me a little pinch of meal and I’ll make myself a meal somewhere.’
She did what she asked. He got the meal, and at the first burn he got to, once he thought he was safe, he put the meal into the heel of his shoe with a splash of water and ate it with a twig. And he said:
‘Hunger is a good cook:
Foul fall the man who scorns his food.
Cold barley gruel from the heel of my shoe―
The finest meal I have ever had.’
And he went….Sine night was falling then―between then and the morning he travelled up Glen Roy, and when dawn began to break, in case he should be seen he managed to get into a house belonging to a man they call O’Brien. And there wasn’t much food in the house and the stranger was hungry―
‘But I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you,’ said he. ‘I’ll kill our only cow and you can have it, to eat.’ And that was what was done.
He stayed three days there, sleeping on a bed of heather, and the blanket or, as they said, the coverlet that was over him was the cow’s hide. And when he had rested and recovered, he left at nightfall, heading for home, his own place. And he told him: ‘If you think you are being blamed or anyone bears a grudge against you for saving my life, come to my place and I will make you welcome.’
That was what happened. He [O’Brien] felt as he saw it that they were down on him for saving the man, and he went to his place…the Earl of Mar’s. And as he came up to the place there was a porter out there at a great gate, and nobody was to be let into that place unless he was given a sign from the house or a word from the doorway. This wretched little man came along, and he was most astonished to see the Earl inviting him to come on up to the house, and surprised at the shaking of hands there was up there and how welcome he was made.
The Earl said to him: ‘Come into my house, and you shall have the best room in it and the best food I can give you, just as I got from you; and if you’re not wanting to go back to Glen Roy, you shall have lands on my estate, and you can stay there as long as you live.;
That was what happened. The old man decided that he was as well to stay there and never to go back to Glen Roy, and they never heard of him again there: he lived on the Earl of Mar’s lands.
A very similar tradition was also collected by Calum Maclean on the 7th of March 1951 and transcribed shortly thereafter from the recitation of Archibald MacInnes from Achluachrach, Brae Lochaber:
Iarla Mhàr agus Ó Biorain
A’ chiad bhaiteal a bha aig Inbhir Lòchaidh eadar Dòmhnall Ballach agus Iarla Mhàr, bha Iarla Mhàr air an ruigeadh is e a’ dol a-mach ri Gleann Ruaidh. Ràinig e fear ris an abradh iad Ó Bioran as a’ Bhriagach.
“Thug mi oidhche na thaigh,” thubhairt e
“Air mòran bidhidh is air bheagan aodaich.
Is math an còcaire an t-acras,
Is mairg a dhèanadh tailleas air biadh,
Fuarag eòrna à sàil mo bhròige
Am biadh as fheàrr a fhuair mi riamh.”
Glè choltach gun do mharbh Ó Bioran mart. Nuair a ràinig an duine feadh na h-oidhche, bha e ga marbhadh. Fhuair e am pailteas de bhiadh. Bha am mart mòr. Agus chuir e a chadal anns an t-seiche a’ mhart e. Agus ’s ann mar sin a labhair e na briathran. Cha robh mòran aodaich air. Rinn e an uair sin gu dhachaigh. Thug e cuireadh don duine uair sam bith a bhiodh nìthean a dhìth air a dhol a choimhead air-san. Duine sam bith a chaidh an rathad a bhuineadh dhan àite, bha e uamhraidh mòr man deidhinn an dèidh na tìm sin.
And the translation goes something like the following:
The Earl of Mar and O’ Biorain
The first Battle of Inverlochy was fought between Donald Balloch and the Earl of Mar, and the Earl of Mar was fleeing and he made his way up Glen Roy. He met a man called O’ Bio rain who belonged to Breagach.
“I spent a night in his house”, he said,
“With lots of food but little clothing
Hunger is a good cook
Foul fall the man who disparages food
Cold barley gruel from the heel of my shoe
The best meal I have had.”
It’s very likely that O’ Bioran slaughtered a cow. When he met the man during the night he was half dead. He got plenty of food. It was a large cow. And he placed him in the cow hide and that is when he recited the verse. He didn’t have much clothing. He then set off for home. He invited the man that anytime he need anything to come and see him or anyone else who came that way that belonged to the place, he was very kindly to them after that time.
In summary, then, the Earl managed to escape to Glen Roy where on the point of starvation and exhaustion he pleaded for food from an old woman. She gave him some oatmeal which he then mixed in water from a burn (said to have been called Allt a’ Beathaich) and ate from his shoe, and proclaimed an extempore verse which has since become proverbial:
’S maith an còcaire ’n t-acras,
’S mairg ’ni an tarcuis air a’ bhiadh;
Fuarag eòrn à sàil’ mo bhròige,
Biadh a b’ fheàrr a fhuair mi riamh.
After this little sustenance the Earl of Mar made his way, doubtless under the cover of darkness, to the Briagach, a town-ship halfway up Glen Roy, where he begged food and shelter from a man called Ó Biorain Cameron. The none too wealthy Cameron is said to have killed his last cow, which he and the Earl fed themselves on. He then gave the cow’s hide to the Earl for clothing. The next day, the Earl of Mar revealed his identity to Cameron and promised him that if he was ever in any hardship his castle would always be welcome to him. When the pursuing MacDonald host heard that Cameron had sheltered the Earl he and his family had to remove themselves to the Braes of Mar. When the wretched Ó Bioran and his family reached the Earl’s Castle they received a warm welcome with the following words:
’S ionmhuinn am fìrean a-muigh,
Obirinn as a’ Bhreugaich,
Bha mi oidhche ’na thigh
Air mhòran bìdh, ach beag eudaich.
It is said that the progeny of Ó Biorain (O'Brien) Cameron are still left in this area of Highland Aberdeenshire, which lends credence to the folk tradition. According to Somerled MacMillan, Mar granted him the land of Brucks. An Alasdair Cam Forbes of Drimonvir and of Brucks married O’ Bryne’s only child, and their descendants retained the property down to the latter part of the nineteenth century. Perhaps, then, there might well be a kernel of truth in the above traditions.
Alan J. Bruford & Donald A. MacDonald, Scottish Traditional Tales (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1994), pp. 422–24
Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional (Glasgow: Privately printed, 1971), p. 111
Iain Dìleas MacShomhairle, ‘Legend of Stewart, Earl of Mar; Sgeul air Alasdair Stiùbhart Iarla Màr’, Cuairter nan Gleann, no. 3 (May, 1840), pp. 65–67. Later reprinted and abridged in W. J. Watson (ed.), as ‘Iarla Mhàrr agus Fear na Briagach,’ Rosg Gàidhlig: Specimens of Gaelic Prose (Glasgow: An Comunn Gàidhealach, 2nd. ed., 1929), pp. 99–102
SSS NB 1, pp. 68–70
SSS NB 3, pp. 252–54
Inverlochy Castle, original steel engraving by T. Allom, and engraved by H. Griffiths, 1836