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Origin of the Black Isle Camerons
by John MacLean

MacKenzies of Redcastle

This branch of the clan M'Kenzie, at one time numerous and powerful, may now be said to be extinct.  In former days when violence, rapine, and war, was the all-absorbing business of men, the Mackenzies of Redcastle, occupied the southern portion of the County of Ross, and possessed in the frith of Beauly (which bounded their estate on the south) a natural barrier of great importance to protect them from sudden invasion or surprise, commanding a view of an extensive portion of the country of the Frasers and the Mackintoshes, were well situated to act as the scouts and warders of their clan, to communicate information to their chief and his adherents, and to harass and delay, if they could not effectually oppose, a hostile and invading army.  In their capacity as sentinels of the clan, they were distinguished by watchfulness and bravery, and rendered important services to their friends.  In times of peace, they were, however, characterised by a spirit of tranquillity, humanity, and benevolence, which was seldom evinced in the turbulent times in which they lived.

The period at which the Mackenzies became the proprietors and took possession of the estate of Redcastle, is very remote, and not known to the author.  In the year 1590, Kenneth Mackenzie, then laird of Redcastle, a gentleman of great worth, and endeared to his friends, tenants, and dependants, by his amiable and engaging qualities, resided in the family Castle at Chapeltown, situated a few hundred yards north of where the present Castle stands.  From his peaceable and impartial conduct to all with whom he came in contact, he obtained a character for integrity, intelligence, and justice, and the disputes of his more quarrelsome neighbours were referred to his decision.  Not only was he esteemed and respected by the lairds and chiefs in his own county and immediate neighbourhood, but his acquaintance and friendship were solicited by many at a distance.  He was particularly intimate, and a great favourite with the then chief of the clan Cameron, and on the invitation of the chief, paid frequent visits to the residence of Lochiel in Lochaber.

In the year 1598, the Earl of Huntly, created Marquis in the latter part of that year by James the VI., went on a hunting excursion to the wilds of Lochaber.  The Marquis was a keen sportsman, and devoted much of his time to that noblest of British, or perhaps of any sports, deer stalking, then pursued with an ardour and on a scale of greater extent and danger than in these degenerate days, although of late years something of the spirit and enthusiasm of the olden times seem to be reviving, among those who devote themselves to this glorious pursuit.  To receive so important a personage as the Marquis of Huntly with suitable respect, and to enable him to follow his favourite amusement on an extended and splendid scale, Lochiel, invited to his castle, not only the gentlemen of his own clan, but several lairds and chiefs far and near, and amongst them Kenneth Mackenzie, Laird of Redcastle.  The sport was carried on for several days with all the ardour, skill and success of practiced sportsmen, and great was the destruction which the numerous party made, among the antlered monarchs, of the braes of Lochaber and the surrounding country.

On the return of the party one evening, after a fatiguing day's sport through hill and dale, the worthy chief as usual threw open his castle gates, and admitted the almost worn out party.  They were received with the highest courtesy, and treated with the greatest respect; and on the pressing solicitation of Lochiel, Huntly and the other guests consented to pass the night under the chieftain's hospitable roof, for whom a splendid feast was ordered to be speedily prepared, to which a few of Lochiel's most respectable neighbours were hastily summoned.  At the groaning board, on the right of Huntly, sat their brave and hospitable host and son, and on his left Lochiel's lady and her lovely daughter.  The piper, as customary, played during the repast, some family airs.  All, with one exception, were as joyful and happy as could be; the ruby cup passed round, relieved with some of Ossian's songs bursting powerfully and melodiously on the ear, and at times the piobrach's stirring strains, resounded through the banqueting-hall.  But there was one individual present for whom the cup held out no enticement, or the rapturous songs, delight, nor could the wild and marshal notes of the great bagpipe arouse him from his reverie.  This solitary exception was Redcastle's son, who, from the first glance he got of Lochiel's beautiful daughter, became desperately in love with her; and although his father, who was surprised at his unusual silence, would now and then gently chide him, it had no effect in awakening him from his contemplative mood.  Next morning as the guests were leaving the hospitable mansion, under the roof of which such an agreeable and happy night had been passed, each and all of them shook Lochiel and the rest of the family heartily by the hand; and among the last to perform this mark of friendship was the Laird of Redcastle's son.  He shook Lochiel and his lady with the accustomed cordiality and respect, but upon approaching Miss Cameron, the chief's daughter, to take his leave of her, there was a hesitation in his manner, his hand trembled, his cheek was flushed, and in the expression of his eye, there was an eloquence which told the throbbings of his heart, although his tongue was mute.  The young lady was also much fluttered, her colour came and went, and she hung down her eyes upon the ground, until their hands separated, and the young Laird was about to depart, when she ventured to raise them, and they encountered his as they were taking a last lingering loving look of the object of his affections.  The declaration on either part, although not a word was spoken, was inexpressibly intelligent-the eyes spoke unutterable things, and the bond of mutual attachment was sealed.  The young Laird departed in melancholy silence, and quickly rejoined his party, and a few more days saw himself and his father in safety at Redcastle.

Since the morning he had left Lochiel's, the young man was never known to be happy, and if he did smile, it was the smile of one who was a stranger to cheerfulness-a sort of melancholy seemed to have taken possession of his mind, and settled there.  This state of matters could not long remain concealed from the eye of a fond and anxious parent, who became greatly alarmed, when he discovered traces of a decline in his son's countenance, and pressed him hard to know the cause.  To his father's entreaties to be informed of the change in his manner, he at last yielded, and informed him of his attachment to Miss Cameron, and that without her he could not survive much longer, at the same time requesting his father to intercede for him with Lochiel.  Finding that his son's affections were irretrievably fixed on Miss Cameron, Redcastle, like a wise and prudent parent, entered into the feelings of his son, and instantly despatched a trusty messenger with a letter to Lochiel, acquainting him with the distressed condition of his son, stating, at the same time, that nothing on earth would give him greater pleasure than that that chieftain would condescend to bestow his daughter on his son, and pointing out the disastrous results to himself (Redcastle,) in the event of his refusing to do so.  Lochiel found his daughter in much the same state as Redcastle his son, and the sooner the youthful pair were united, the better.  Great was the joy of the son when Redcastle informed him of the import of the letter, and even the worthy parent could not refrain, from participating in his beloved son's happiness, at the approaching alliance with the daughter of the chief of a powerful clan.

Redcastle and his son, accompanied with a good many relatives, and a numerous body of followers, lost no time in setting out for the castle of Lochiel, where, in a few days after their arrival, the young and loving pair were united.  In the evening of that eventful day, and for many after, the halls of Lochiel's castle overflowed with guests, all hearts joining in wishing happiness to the youthful couple, for which the latter seemed to entertain no fears for a bright future.  During the marriage feast, the visitors were delighted with music, resounding through the extensive hall; while their followers, forgetting old animosities, betook themselves to sports and games upon the green, and were amply refreshed with plenty of home-brewed ale, &c.

After spending some weeks at Lochiel Castle, the happy pair, accompanied by their friends and followers, returned to Redcastle; Lochiel sending along with his daughter, his faithful and trusty valet, Donald Cameron, an gille maol dhu, or the bonnetless lad.  Valets then, did not, as now, wear fine hats with gold and silver bands around them, neither were they dressed in any other livery than their plain clan tartan, and were not only bonnetless but shoeless.  Now, although Donald Cameron held this menial situation under his chief, he was a member of one of the most respectable families in Lochaber, and nearly allied to the chief himself.  It was not generally the poorest who held the situation of their chief's gille maol dhu. and Donald being a stately, fine looking, powerful and faithful man, possessed no small share of Lochiel's confidence.  Although Lochiel was overjoyed at his daughter's marriage with Redcastle's son, he had yet his fears for her safety, owing to an old feud that existed between the Black Isle people and those of Lochaber, especially the Glengarry men, and the horrible tragedy at the church of Gilchrist not being yet effaced from the memory of the Black Islanders.  What still more increased his apprehensions was, that some time previous to this, they were repeatedly harassed by a lawless band of cattle lifters from Lochaber-the Bains, or Macbeans, headed by their savage leader, Bengie Macbean, whose son, whilst quite a youth, became so disgusted with the barbarous life his father and his adherents led, that he fled from, and never returned to them again, but afterwards became one of the brightest ministers that Scotland could boast of since the days of the great Mr Welsh.  As already stated, Lochiel being aware of a deep-rooted, prejudice existing in the minds of the Black Isle people towards the Lochaber men, made him the more anxious of sending with his daughter the gille maol dhu, knowing full well that this trusty adherent, sword in hand, would die in defence of his young and beautiful mistress.  The party at length, without the least occurrence worth mentioning, arrived in safety at Redcastle, where a sumptuous banquet was prepared, to which all the neighbouring gentry and farmers were invited, and a cordial welcome the young pair received to their future home from those assembled.  The surrounding hills were all in flames, every knowe showed its bonfire in honour of the occasion, and as the blaze was reflected from the Beauly and Moray Firths, Donald Cameron was convinced, that for his young mistress, no danger need be apprehended from the Black Islanders, from this display of their attachment to the house of Redcastle.  Donald was soon presented with a more civilised dress, with the additional appendages of bonnet and shoes.  Being a remarkably good-looking young man, he attracted the attention of the housekeeper, who was also young and pretty.  Honest Donald being aware of the bonnie damsel's partiality for him, like a good and true knight, could not suffer any lady to die for love of him, and they were soon united.  Having now possessed himself of an agreeable and happy companion, Donald was resolved to return to "Lochaber no more," but fix his residence in the Black Isle, and by the kindness of his amiable mistress and her lord, he was enabled to enter into possession of the farm of Mulchalch in Ferrintosh, but was not long tenant of it when he was deprived of his wife-who left him, however, a legacy of seven beautiful daughters.  Donald soon married again, and his second wife bore him seven sturdy sons, who grew up and married, so that the Black Isle was well supplied with the race of the gille maol dhu.  He lived himself to a great age, and was interred in the church-yard of Ferrintosh, where also repose the ashes of many of his descendants.  The descendants of the gille maol dhu were not only to be found in the Black Isle, but Ross-shire in general, and not a few of them are to be found in the shires of Sutherland and Moray, and even in various parts of the globe, holding prominent stations in society, while a good many respectable and sturdy sons are yet to be found in Ferrintosh, their original soil.

Editor's Notes:  From MacLean's "Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families and of the Highlands."

This story has been told for generations in the Black Isle, near Beauly, Inverness-shire.  The facts, in regard to the years cited, and the reference to Huntley and Lochiel, confirm known historic details.  The one mystery behind MacLean's rendition of this oral tale is the statement regarding Lochiel's daughter.  Based on the year, 1598, this marriage would have been during the time of Allan "McIlduy" Cameron of Lochiel, XVI Chief of Clan Cameron.  Allan may have been in his early thirties at that time, so it is conceivable that he had a daughter old enough to "fit" the one in the story.  The only problem with this is that of his four known children (two sons and two daughters) the daughters married other gentlemen.  Jean married Alastair Dearg, eldest son of MacDonald of Glengarry.  Her son would become the 9th chief of Glengarry.  The other daughter, Marjory, is said to have "probably" married Ewen Bodach Cameron of Erracht.  There is the possibility that Allan had other children, whose existence has gone unmentioned, which would be fitting for this era of poor record keeping and explain the third, unnamed daughter.