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Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Most Powerful Witch of All: Great Gormula of Moy

Witchcraft in all its multifarious forms still has the ability to lure and intrigue. Of all the witches in the Highlands and Islands, Gormshùil Mhòr na Maighe (Great Gormula of Moy) from Lochaber is the most famous and consequently has become the subject of a fair few legendary accounts, especially regarding her alleged dealings with Cameron chiefs.

A few such anecdotes concerning this Lochaber witch were recorded and later transcribed by Calum Maclean on the 16th January, the 18th February and again on the 11th March from John MacDonald of Highbridge. The first of which remains one of the most popular legendary accounts to which she has become attached:

GORMSHÙIL MHÒR NA MAIGHE
’S e NicFhionghuin a bh’ innte. Thachair i air Loch Iall. Dh’fharraid i cà ’n a bha e a’ dol:
“Tha mi a’ dol a thachairt ri Diùc Athall airson nan crìochan a chur ceart eadar Loch Abar agus Siorrachd Pheairt.”
“Chan eil thu falbh leat fhèin?”
"Ach, tha," thuirt e.
“Till,” thuirt ise, “is thoir leat daoine.”
Thill e. Thug e leis còig fhir fichead. Dh’fhalbh Muireach Mòr à Muir Sìorlaich còmhla ris, duine sgairteil. Dar a ràinig iad an Coire Odhar, thuirt Loch Iall riutha:
“Falaichidh sibh fhèin cùl nan clachan gu h-àrd. Ma bhios feum agam-s’ oirbh tionndaidhidh mo sheacaid. Cuiridh mi dhìom agus tionndaidhidh mi mo sheacaid.
Thachair Loch Iall air Diùc Athall:
“Nì sinn a’ chrìoch ann an seo,” thuirt Loch Iall.
Thuirt Diùc Athall:
“Air ais, air ais, air ais pios mòr às,” thuirt e.
Thuirt Loch Iall nach rachadh e air ais.
Thuirt Diùc Athall ris:
“Air ais. Feumaidh tu a dhol air ais.”
“Cha tèid mi air ais,” thuirt Loch Iall.
Thog Diùc Athall a làmh. Thàinig na h-Athallaich a-staigh am bruthach nan ruith.
Thuirt Loch Iall:
“Gu dè tha sin?” thuirt e.
Thuirt an Diùc:
“Na muilt Athallach tighinn a dh’ithe feur Loch Abar.”
Chuir Loch Iall an t-seacaid dheth agus tionndaidh e i. Thàinig na daoine a-staigh am bruthach. Dh’fharraid an Diùc:
“Dè tha sin?” thuirt e.
Thuirt Loch Iall:
“Na coin Abrach a’ tighinn a dh’ithe feòl nam molt Athallach.”
Sin agad e.

GREAT GORMULA OF MOY
She was a MacKinnon. She met Cameron of Lochiel and asked him where he was going:
“I’m going to meet the Duke of Atholl in order to put the borders right between Lochaber and Perthshire.”
“Are you going alone?”
“But yes,” he said.
“Return,” she advised, “and take your men.”
He returned and took twenty-five men with him. Big Muireach – a strong man – from Muirsearlach set off with him. When they reached Corour, Lochiel said to them:
“Hide yourselves behind those boulders up there. If I need you then I’ll turn my jacket. I’ll take it off and turn my jacket.”
Lochiel met with the Duke of Atholl.
“We’ll set the border here,” said Lochiel.
The Duke of Atholl said:
“Back, back, back a good piece yet,” said he.
Lochiel said he wouldn’t go back.
Atholl said to him:
“Back – you must go back.”
“I’ll not go back,” said Lochiel.
Atholl lifted his hand. The Atholl men came running along a slope.
Lochiel said:
“What’s that?” he asked.
The Duke replied:
“The Atholl wethers coming to graze the Lochaber grass.”
Lochiel took his coat off and turned it. His men came from along the slope. The Duke asked:
“What’s that?” he asked.
Lochiel replied:
“The Lochaber dogs coming to eat the flesh of the Atholl wethers.”
That’s it.

Undoubtedly the most famous legend to which she has a strong a connection concerns the sinking of the Spanish Galleon in Tobermory, Isle of Mull, said to have been a survivor of the storm-thrashed Spanish Armada:

AN LONG SPÀINNTEACH AN TOBAR MHOIRE
Nuair a bha an long Spàinnteach a’ tighinn a-staigh a Thobar Mhoire, bha e gu math ciùin air an t-slighe. Agus bha an caiptean a bha seo e fhèin gu math annasach agus beagan de thaidhseachd aige. Agus thàinig crathadh uamhasach sa chrann.
“Thoiribh sùil, ’illean, dè tha siud?”
“O, tha ròcas mhòr dhubh ann.”
“Ma-tà,” thuirt e, “’s e an Doideag Mhuileach a tha sin.”
Thug i droch chrathadh air. Thàinig an seo crathadh eile oirre. Thàinig an tè a bha an Ìle agus tè a Tiriodh ann. Agus bha an long a’ falbh gu math domhain an uair sin agus coltas call ann agus stoirm a’ tighinn. Ach mu dheireadh thall thàinig crathadh uamhasach trom oirre. Agus sgàin a h-uile ball a bhuineadh dhan bhàta. Agus dh’fhaighnichd e dè bha sa chrann. Dh’innis iad dè ’n coltas a bha sa chrann.”
“’S e sin Gormshùil Mhòr na Maighe. Agus tha sinne deis agus tha sinn caillte.”
Agus ’s ann mar sin a thachair.
Chaidh i fodha. Agus tha i aig Tobar Mhoire gus an latha an-duigh. Thachair sin anns na 1588. Agus tha i na sìneadh an sin fhathast aig Tobar Mhoire.

THE SPANISH GALLEON IN TOBERMORY
When the Spanish galleon was entering Tobermory it was calm in its wake. The captain himself was quite unusual as he had some magic powers. And then the mast gave a terrible shudder.
“Take a look, lads, to see what that was?”
“Oh, it’s a big, black crow.”
“Well,” he said, “that’s the Doideag Mhuileach.”
She shook it some more. And then there was yet another shake. A witch came from Islay and another from Tiree. The galleon’s draft was quite deep then and it appears that she was going to sink with the coming storm. And then, at last, a huge, heavy shudder shook her and every part of the ship’s ropes split. And he asked what was in the mast. They described what they saw in the mast.
“That’s Great Gormula of Moy. And we’re done for and we’re all going to die.”
And that’s what happened.
She sank. And she lies at Tobermory to this very day. That happened in 1588 and she lies there yet at Tobermory.

Another tradition recorded about her is the unusual way in which she is said to have met her death:

MAR A CHAIDH GORMSHÙIL A BHÀTHADH
Cò nach cuala mu Ghormshùil Mhòr na Maighe agus Donnshùil a bha as an Fhearsaid. Ach ’s e Gormshùil Mhòr na Maighe an tè bu chumhachdaiche de na bana-bhuidsichean air a bheil forfhais againn. Agus bha i daonnan a’ siubhal air ais ’s air adhart nam bruachan, agus cha bu toigh leithe neach sam bith a chìtheadh i i a bhith a’ tighinn an rathad. Cha robh bò a chailleadh am bainne na maighdeann a chailleadh a leannan, na bò a rachadh le creag na rud sam bith a bha a’ tachairt, ’s e Gormshùil Mhòr na Maighe a rinn siud. Ach bha i fhèin agus bana-chompach a bh’ aice a’ dol a-nunn rathad Achadh an Caraidh agus:
“O! bradan,” thuirt i.
Is ruith i sìos thar an robh sruthan crìon anns an allt. Agus chaidh greim a dhèanamh oirre ann an sin ach cha bhàthadh e piseag, an lod anns an deach a bàthadh. Is chan fhaca a bana-chompach bradan na rud eile san allt. Agus bha an drochaid ann an sin gu bhith aig Achadh na Caraidh. Agus their iad Drochaid Ghormshùil rithe gus an latha an-diugh. Agus ’s ann an sin a chaidh Gormshùil a bhàthadh agus b’ e sin an deireadh. Agus bha iad a’ dèanadh dheth gur h-e an t-Àibhstear a bha sa bhradan a chum ’s ann allt i leis cha bhàthadh e piseag. Agus ’s aithne dhomh-sa an t-allt a bh’ ann. Agus a’ chiad troip a chunna mi an t-allt sin, ’s anns na h-1894, a chunna mi an toiseach e. Agus tha mi eòlach gu leòr air. Is chan eil aon duine a tha a’ dol a-nunn a dh’Achadh na Caraidh nach eil fios aca air Drochaid Ghormshùil.

THE WAY IN WHICH GORMULA DROWNED
Who has not heard of Great Gormula of Moy and Donnshuil who stayed in Fersit. Great Gormula of Moy was the most powerful witch that we know of. She was always roving hither and thither over the hills and no one liked to see her or to see her making her way over towards them. There was not a cow that lost her milk, a maiden who lost her sweetheart, or a cow that fell over a rock or anything like that which happened that was not blamed upon Great Gormula of Moy. She and her friend were going over to Achnacarry:
“Oh, a salmon,” she said.
And she ran down to where the burn was shallow. And she was caught there in a place that would not drown a kitten, the puddle in which she drowned. And her companion never saw a salmon or anything else in the burn. And a bridge was going to be built at Achnacarry which is called Gormula’s Bridge to this very day. That is how Gormula drowned and that was the end of her life. And they say that the salmon was the Devil which kept her in the burn that couldn’t even drown a kitten. And I know this burn: the very first time I saw the burn was in 1894. And I know it well enough. Nobody that goes over to Achnacarry doesn’t know Gormula’s Bridge.

Elsewhere, other traditions about Gormula were published in a short article by the Lochaber bardess, Mary Mackellar. Regarding the MacKinnons of Moy, she had the following to say:

We find in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. XIV, 1889–1890. Mary Mackellar, the Lochaber bardess saying:―

“These Camerons [a family who had come from Callart] had Wester Moy, whilst a family of the name of MacKinnon Easter Moy. The ancestor of these MacKinnons had come from Skye with a lady who married into the Lochiel family, and when MacKinnon married he got a place called Ardnois, in the Giubhsach, or great forest at Loch Airceag. Afterwards his family got Easter Moy; but to this day they are known in Lochabet as ‘Sliochd Iain Maidh na Giuthsaich.’ These MacKinnons frequently intermarried with the Camerons of Wester Moy. Among others, young Gormshuil Cameron became the wife of one of those MacKinnons. She was a strong, brave young am full of sagest wisdom, and very high-spirited, and she had no objection to being considered uncanny, as it gave her power over her fellow men. People shook their heads and said, ‘Tha tuille ’s a paidir aig Gormshuil’, hinting that she knew more than her Paternoster; but she heeded them not.”

This Gormshuil Cameron. or MacKinnon, was the famous Lochaber Witch, or Wise Woman, known as Gormshuil Mhor na Maighe (great Gormshuil of Moy), about whom uncanny stories are told in Lochaber. One old Highlander said of her, “She had the knowing.” Mary MacKellar says that Gormshuil was a common name among the Irish and Scottish Celts, and that it was frequent in Lochaber before the time of Gormshuil Mhor but was dropped after her time.

Gormshuil Mhor is said to have been associated with the sinking of the Spanish Armada ship in Tobermory Bay, Isle of Mull, in 1588, and one version of the story is told by Dr Norman MacLeod, in Reminiscences of a Highland Parish. This story however is obviously just fiction because there is historical evidence in Mull regarding the sinking of the galleon, and we shall give some evidence presently to indicate that Gormshuil was probably not born when the galleon was sunk.

Gormshuil seem to have lived during part of the chiefship of Alan, usually styled sixteenth chief of Clan Cameron, who died about 1647, and during part of the chiefship of Alan’s successor as chief, Sir Ewen Dubh. In her article on the MacKinnons of Moy and Gormshuil, Mary MacKellar quotes the words of a waulking song attributed to Gormshuil in which the chief of Clan Cameron at that time is mentioned as being Alan. Gormshuil’s death, however, is said to have occurred when she was walking home at Moy to Achnacarry to plead with Lochiel for her son following a promise made to her by Lochiel after she had warned him about going to meet the Earl of Atholl to settle a boundary dispute at a little lochan, since that time Lochan a’ Chlaidheimh (little loch of the sword), where the counties of Argyll, Inverness, and Perthshire meet on Rannoch Moor.

If the promise was made to Gormshuil by a chief who lived at Achnacarry, then that chief was Sir Ewen Dubh because his predecessor, Alan, never lived at Achnacarry but at the old Cameron home of Tor Castle. It was Sir Ewen who built a new home at Achnacarry, sometime after 1665, to which he moved from Tor Castle. If Gormshuil was able to walk from her home in Moy to Achnacarry sometime after 1665, and if we allow her to have been even eighty years old at that time, then she was probably not born when the Spanish galleon was sunk in Tobermory Bay.

From the evidence, Gormshuil seems to have been born about the end of sixteenth century or the beginning of the seventeenth century, and she lived until well into the second half of the seventeenth century. Her death is said to have been caused by drowning in a stream, or burn called, Allt Coire Choille-ros, sometimes called Allt Gormshuil, or Allt a’ Bhradain, by local people, which flows into the west side of Loch Lochy about one mile north of Gairlochy. The burn was in spate, and there would be no bridge over it at that time, when she was on her way to Achnacarry to have an important talk with Lochiel about her son.

Tradition says that Gormshuil’s body was found and buried close to her home. As her home was at Moy and her name, by marriage, was MacKinnon, surely she would be buried in the old MacKinnon burial ground behind the present Moy farmhouse. Perhaps this farmhouse is on the site of her home as it is only about one hundred yards from the burial ground. Close to the opposite side of the burial ground is the Caledonian Canal, and when the canal was planned its course in this vicinity was drawn straight for several miles but this would have necessitated cutting through part of the burial ground. In order to do so, it was suggested that some of the bodies should be exhumed and reinterred elsewhere, but the workmen refused to touch the burial ground, perhaps fearing the wrath of Gormshuil’s ghost, so at this point the canal was given a bend, as can still be seen, to avoid encroachment on this little God’s Acre. As mentioned when referring to the burial ground at Strone, after the MacKinnon burial ground at Moy became full, some of the MacKinnon descendants were buried in the Strone burial ground.

Mary MacKellar says, “There are several of Gormshuil’s descendants among the MacKinnons in the Lochaber district, but they do not like to be reminded of their most famous ancestress.”

If Mary MacKellar’s statement is correct about Gormshuil having married one of the MacKinnons of Moy, this would indicate that the MacKinnons settled in Lochaber sometime before or during the lifetime of Alan, chief of Clan Cameron, who lived from about 1560 until about 1647. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find definite information as to when the MacKinnons lirst came to Lochaber, but the late Ewen MacKinnon, whom I have already mentioned in this chapter, told me that according to his family traditions, when the MacKinnon lady from Skye married into the Lochiel family, to which we have referred in Mary MacKellar’s account, she was accompanied not by one MacKinnon clansman, as stated by Mary MacKellar, but by two or three of her clansmen. According to an old Highland custom, these clansmen were allowed to remain in Lochaber where they became very useful as they were expert drystone-dykers. These clansmen, said my friend, were the first MacKinnons to settle in Lochaber, which really agrees with that part of Mary MacKellar’s account, but he could not tell me when that settlement took place.

In olden times, when a prominent Highland lady married into a district far from her native district, she took with her two or more of her family followers who were allowed to settle in her adopted district and remain as a kind of bodyguard, considering themselves always at her command. I have seen several mentions of this old custom, but the only one I can recall at present is the one given in Reminiscences of a Highland Parish, by the Rev. Dr Norman MacLeod, when he tells the tale about Gormshuil and the Spanish galleon in Tobermory Bay.

It is also interesting to note that a spaidsearachd or flyting has been ascribed to two witches, one of whom was Gormula and the other a witch from Glengarry. This is probably unique. It makes its appearance in a collection of Gaelic poetry and song collated by Donald Campbell MacPherson, a native of Bohuntine, who not infrequently wrote under the pen-name of Abrach:

Luadhadh nam Bana-Bhuidseach: Gormshùil agus a’ Bhana-Gharannach

Gormshùil
Hì hiù O! siud gun cluinneam,
Hì hiù O! gar am faiceam,
Hì hiù O! gar am bitheam,
Hì hiù O! beò ach seachdain.
Hì hiù O! creach an t-Sìthein,
Hì hiù O! creach an Lagain,
Hì hiù O! creach Chuilidh Rois,
Hì hiù O! ’S Bhaile Magh Ghlastair.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, fuaim na clèithe.

Hì hiù O! mhollachd bò dhubh,
Hì hiù O! no bò ghuailfhionn,
Hì hiù O! eadar Ladaidh,
Hì hiù O! ’s Gairidh Ghualach,
Hì hiù O! nach toir Ailean,
Hì hiù O! donn air ruaig leis.
Hì hiù O! cò chuireadh tu,
Hì hiù O! gan toirt uaithe?
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, fuaim na clèithe.

A’ Bhan-Gharannach
Hì hiù O! Gheibhteadh siud ann
Hì hiù O! ’n Doch an Fhasaidh,
Hì hiù O! bodaich bheaga,
Hì hiù O! chroma, chairtidh;
Hì hiù O! cuarain laoicinn,
Hì hiù O! stocaidh chraicinn,
Hì hiù O! breacain liathglas,
Hì hiù O! dronnag bhradach.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, fuaim na clèithe.

Gormshùil
Hì hiù O! com’ gun tubhairt,
Hì hiù O! chaile bhradach,
Hì hiù O! gun robh Ailean
Hì hiù O! donn gun chaiseart.
Hì hiù O! cha ruigeadh i leas e,
Hì hiù O! bha iad aige;
Hì hiù O! brògan mìn dubh,
Hì hiù O! ciaraidh, cairtidh.
Hì hiù O! stocaidh den t-sròl
Hì hiù O! dhearg mu chasan.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, fuaim na clèithe.

Hì hiù O! ruaig a’ chaorain,
Hì hiù O! leis an abhainn;
Hì hiù O! ’S a’ ghràin eòrna,
Hì hiù O! ’m beul na brathann;
Hì hiù O! air na tha beò
Hì hiù O! chinne t’ athar;
Hì hiù O! eadar chlann òg,
Hì hiù O! ’s mhnathan taighe.
Hì hiù O! ’s Eilean Droighneachain,
Hì hiù O! bhith na lasair.
Hì hiù O! mur creid thu siud,
Hì hiù O! seall a-mach air.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, fuaim na clèithe.

Bha siud na bhuidealaich; agus sgàin a’ Bhana-Gharannach air a’ chlèith leis an fheirg

The Witches’ Fulling: Gormula and the Glengarry Witch

Gormula
Hì hiù O! let it be heard
Hì hiù O! let it be seen
Hì hiù O! let it happen
Hì hiù O! even if alive for a week
Hì hiù O! the raid of Sìthean
Hì hiù O! the raid of Laggan
Hì hiù O! the raid of Culross
Hì hiù O! and Balmaglastar
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, the sound of the wattle.

Hì hiù O! curse the black cow,
Hì hiù O! and the white-shouldered cow,
Hì hiù O! between Laddie,
Hì hiù O! and Garry Gualach,
Hì hiù O! will not brown-haired
Hì hiù O! Allan be sent on his way,
Hì hiù O! who would you send
Hì hiù O! to prize it from him?
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, the sound of the wattle.

Glengarry woman
Hì hiù O! You’d get that
Hì hiù O! in Dochanassie,
Hì hiù O! the little old men,
Hì hiù O! bent and tanned;
Hì hiù O! with tawny pampooties,
Hì hiù O! with hide-made stockings,
Hì hiù O! light-blue plaids,
Hì hiù O! hunchbacked thieves.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, the sound of the wattle.

Gormula
Hì hiù O! Why would you say,
Hì hiù O! o thievish hussy,
Hì hiù O! that Brown-haired Allan
Hì hiù O! is not without footwear,
Hì hiù O! as he need not bother,
Hì hiù O! as he has them already,
Hì hiù O! smooth black brogues,
Hì hiù O! dusky and tanned,
Hì hiù O! stockings of silk,
Hì hiù O! red about the calves.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, the sound of the wattle.

Hì hiù O! the ash will go,
Hì hiù O! with the current;
Hì hiù O! And the barley grain,
Hì hiù O! Is in the quern’s opening;
Hì hiù O! for those who are alive,
Hì hiù O! your father’s kin;
Hì hiù O! between the young children,
Hì hiù O! and the housewives,
Hì hiù O! and Eilean Droighneachain,
Hì hiù O! is on fire.
Hì hiù O! and if you don’t believe that,
Hì hiù O! then look out for it.
Hiro, hàro, hòro, èile,
Hiro, hàro, the sound of the wattle.

And was on fire; and the Glengarry woman let go of the waulking wattle as she was so angry.

Or as put by Mackellar: “The Glengarry witch looked out, as she was asked to do, and her home was on fire. In the blaze of her wrath, she burst on the waulking wattle, and Gormshuil was triumphant.”

A useful summary of most of the above traditions was published in An Gaidheal by the redoubtable Alistair Cameron or as he was better known by his pen-name North-Argyll:

Bha an t-ainm-baistidh, Gormshuil, cumanta gu leoir am measg Gaidheil na h-Alba agus Eireann aig aon am. Is e Gormshuil a b’ainm do’n mhnaoi mhì-chneasda a bha aig Brian Boroimhe, agus is i a thug cuireadh do na ceannardan Lochlannach, Sigurd agus Brodir, tighinn a chogadh ’na aghaidh. Bha an t-ainm cumanta cuideachd am measg nan Camshronach gus an do chuir Gormshuil Mhór ’nam beachd dìmeas air.

Tha e air a ràdh gu robh teaghlach na Maighe, no Camshronaich na Maighe; mar a theireadh cuid, a mach á seann Taigh Challairt. Fada bhuaithe chaidh bean de’n dream seo le dithis mhac, Teàrlach agus Gilleasbaig, a dh’ iarraidh dìon bho an naimhdean gu ruig Loch-Iall do’n Torra-chaisteil. Thug esan dhi a’ chuid ìochdarach de’n Mhaighe. Is ann bho Theàrlach seo a thàinig teaghlach na Maighe, agus bha e air a ràdh gu robh an t-ainm, Teàrlach, ri fhaotainn air am feadh air son iomadh linn.

Bha teaghlach de Chloinn Mhic Fhionghuin anns a’ Mhaigh Uachdarach a thàinig as an Eilean Sgitheanach. Thàinig a’ cheud aon dhiubh seo do Airdanois anns a’ Ghiùthsaich taobh Loch Airceig. Mar sin, is e a theireadh muinntir Lochabair riutha “Sliochd Iain Maigh na Giùthsaich.” Is e a h-aon diubh seo a phòs Gormshuil. A reir innseadh sgeòil, is e boireannach làidir gramail a bha an Gormshuil—geur-shuileach agus geur-thuigseach—seadh, cho tuigseach agus cho fad-léirsinneach is gun canadh cuid gu robh “tuilleadh ’s am Paidir aig Gormshuil.”

Bha am beachd seo ’na fàbhar. Cha rachadh sealgair do’n fhrìth no iasgair gu linne nach tigeadh a chur ceist am biodh soirbheachadh orra agus a dh’fhaotainn a beannachd. Is iomadh deagh dhinneir sìdhinn agus gad math éisg a fhuair i air a thàillibh.

Tha naidheachd ann mar a theasairg a fad-léirsinn Loch-Iall, an uair a chaidh e a ghleidheadh coinneamh ri Diùc Adhaill mu thimcheall ionaltradh na Beinne-brice, ri fhaotainn ann an leabhraichean Beurla (mar a tha “Lochaber in War and Peace”, le Kilgour), agus leis a sin chan aithris mi an sgeul sin an seo. Their cuid gur ann aig a’ choinneamh seo a chluich pìobaire Loch-Iall am port, “Thigibh an seo, chlanna nan con, is gheibh sibh feoil,” agus gur e Sir Eóghann ceann-feadhna nan Camshronach aig an ám. Co-dhiubh tha e fìor mu’n phort ’s nach ’eil, chan ’eil mise dol a ràdh, ach cha chreid mi gur e Sir Eóghann a bha ann. Bho’n bha Gormshuil beò aig ám an Armada, tha e na’s coltaiche gur e seanair Shir Eóghainn, Ailean Mac Iain Duibh, a bha ann.

Ged bha Gormshuil fad-léirsinneach air ciod a bha ri teachd, cha do shàbhail sin a beatha bho bhàs ceann-adhairt. Is e a bàthadh an Allt Choille Rois, agus i a’ feuchainn ri bradan a ghlacadh, a bu deireadh dhi. Seo agaibh an naidheachd mar a bha i aig Màiri Nic Ealair.

An uair a bha Loch-Iall a’ tilleadh dhachaigh bho’n turus a dh’ainmich mi, thadhail e air Gormshuil a thoirt taing dhi is a ghealltainn fàbhar sam bith a dh’iarradh i air uair sam bith. Thubhairt i ris, ged bha e a’ toirt a’ gheallaidh sin, gun crochadh e fhathast mac leatha. Fhreagair esan nach tachradh sin idir, a chionn, ged bhiodh e a’ dol a dheanamh a leithid, nach robh aice ach dol far an robh esan is an gealladh a chur ’na chuimhne, agus ciod sam bith cho airidh is a bhiodh a mac air a chrochadh, cha rachadh a dheanamh.

Bliadhnachan as déidh seo bha mac do Ghormshuil, gille eile, agus aon mhac bantraich, a mach anns a’ mhonadh. Throid mac na bantraich agus an gille eile. Thug mac na bantraich buille do’n ghille seo a mharbh e. Bha a’ bhantrach bhochd ann an droch staid. Chuimhnich Gormshuil air a’ ghealladh a thug Loch-Iall dhi, agus dh’aontaich i gun toireadh a mac suas e féin air son a’ mharbhaidh. Is ann mar seo a bha. Chuir Loch-Iall e anns a’ phrìosan anns a’ chaisteal aige. Air son a bheatha a shaoradh thog Gormshuil oirre a dh’fhaicinn Loch Iall ach an uair a ràinig i Allt Choille an Rois chunnaic i bradan ann an linne bheag. Chaidh i g’a ghlacadh, ach mun d’fhuair i seo a dheanamh, thàinig beum sléibhe a staigh an gleann a dh’at an t-allt a tiota. Ghlac an tuil Gormshuil agus chaidh a bàthadh. Chaidh a mac a chrochadh, a chionn cha robh fios aig Loch-Iall gur e mac dhi a bha ann gus an déidh-làimhe.

As a baptismal name Gormula was once common enough among the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland. It was the name of Brian Buro’s despicable wife who invited the Scandinavian leaders, Sigurd and Brodir to come over to fight him. It was a common name among the Camerons until Great Gormula made them look upon it with disfavour.

It is said that the family of Moy, or the Camerons of Moy, as some say, came from the stock of the old House of Callart. A long time ago a woman of that race went with two sons, Charles and Archibald, to seek protection from enemies to Lochiel at Torcastle. He gave to her the lower part of Moy. It was from Charles that the family of Moy came from, and it is said that the name Charles was to found among them for several generations.

There was a family of MacKinnons who had come from the Isle of Skye in Upper Moy. The first one of them came to Airdanois in Giuthsaich besides Loch Arkaig. There the Lochaber folk referred to them as Sliochd Iain Maigh na Giùthsaich [The Progeny of John of Giuthsaich Moy]. It was one of them who married Gormula. According to the tale, Gormsula was a powerful and brawny woman―keenly observant and highly intelligent―indeed, she was so clever and so perceptive that some would say that she know more than her Paternoster.

This view benefited her. No hunter would go to the hill and no angler would go to the loch that wouldn’t ask how successful they’d be and to get her blessing. And because of that she has many a good dinner of venison as well as a switch full of good fish.

There is a story of how her perceptive ability managed to save Lochiel, when he went to meet with the Duke of Atholl about the grazings of Ben Breck, which can be found in English books (such as Lochaber in War and Peace by Kilgour) and so I will not bother telling that story here. According to some folk it was at this very meeting that Lochiel’s piper played the tune “Thigibh an seo, chlanna nan con, is gheibh sibh feoil,” [Come hither, children of the hounds, and you’ll get flesh] and that Sir Ewen Dubh was the chief of the Camerons at that time. Whether that is true about the tune or not I cannot say, but I don’t believe it could have been Sir Ewen. Gormshula was alive at the time of the Armada, and so it’s more likely to have been Sir Ewen’s grandfather, Ailean Mac Iain Duibh [Allan Cameron].

Although Gormula had the ability to tell future events this did not save her from her own death. She was drowned in Allt Choille Rois as she tried to catch a salmon. That was her end. Here’s the story as related by Mary Mackellar.

When Lochiel was returning home from his journey which I mentioned earlier, he visited Gormula to offer his thanks and to grant her any favour that she wished for at any time. She said to him that although he gave his word, that he would yet hang her son. He replied that this would never happen for although he could do such a thing that she only needed to remind him of the promise he had made, and even though her son might deserve to be hanged, it would not be carried out.

Many years after this, Gormula’s son, another lad and a widow’s son were out on the hill. The widow’s son and the other one argued. The widow’s son struck the other lad and killed him. The poor widow was in a terrible state. Gormula recalled the promise that Lochiel had made to here, and so she’d put her give up her son son for the murder. That’s how things turned out. Lochiel had him put in prison in his castle. So that she could save his life Gormusla went to see Lochiel but when she got as far as Allt Choille Rois she caught sight of a salmon in a shallow pool. She went to catch it, but before this could be done, a landslide fell into the glen and the burn flooded. Gormula was caught by the flood and was drowned. And so her son was hanged because Locheil did not know that it was her son until it was too late.

If there is any truth to the last anecdote then it was a double tragedy, although thankfully Gormula did not live to learn of her son’s execution.

References:
NB SSS 1, pp. 1516
NB SSS 4, p. 365
NB SSS 10, pp. 919920
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Image:
The Spanish Armada