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Story of Padrig Mac-an-Ts'agairt Cameron and Cameron of Mugachmore
by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder
from The Great Floods of August 1829 in the Province of Moray and Adjoining Districts

Near the Hamlet of Carr, on the right bank, a slate rock has been laid bare, which, if properly wrought, might turn out to some account.  About 150 yards to the westward of the houses, there is a small patch of land surrounded by a few stunted birches, called Croft-na-croich, or the Gallows Croft, having the following story attached to it:-

Near the end of the 17th century, there lived a certain notorious freebooter, a native of Lochaber, of the name of Cameron, but who was better known by his cognomen of Padrig Mac-an-Ts'agairt, Peter the Priest's son.  Numerous were the creachs or robberies of cattle on the great scale, driven by him from Strathspey.  But he did not confine his depredations to that country; for, some time between the years 1690 and 1695, he made a clean sweep of the cattle from the rich pastures of The Aird, the territory of the Frasers.  That he might put his pursuers on a wrong scent, he did not go directly towards Lochaber, but, crossing the River Ness at Lochend, he struck out over the mountains of Strathnairn and Strathdearn, and ultimately encamped behind a hill above Duthil, called, from a copious spring on its summit, Cairn-an-Sh'uaran, or The Well Hill.  But notwithstanding all his precautions, the celebrated Simon, Lord Lovat, then chief of the Frasers, discovered his track, and dispatched a special messenger to his father-in-law, Sir Ludovick Grant of Grant, begging his aid in apprehending Mac-an-Ts'agairt, and recovering the cattle.

It so happened, that there lived, at this time, on the laird of Grant's ground, a man also called Cameron, surnamed Mugachmore, of great strength and undaunted courage; he had six sons and a stepson, whom his wife, formerly a woman of light character, had before her marriage with Mugach, and as they were all brave.  Sir Ludovick applied to them to undertake the recapture of the cattle.  Sir Ludovick was not mistaken in his man.  The Mugach no sooner received his orders, than he armed himself and his little band, and went in quest of the freebooter, who he found in the act of cooking a dinner from part of the spoil.  Mugach called on Padrig and his men to surrender, and they, though numerous, dreading the well-known prowess of their adversary, fled to the opposite hills, their chief threatening bloody vengeance as he went.  The Mugach drove the cattle to a place of safety, and watched them there till their owners came to recover them.

Padrig Mac-an-Ts'agairt did not utter his threats without the fullest intention of carrying them into effect.  In the latter end of the following spring, he visited Strathspey with a strong party, and waylaid the Mugach, as he and his sons were returning from working at a small patch of land he had on the brow of a hill, about half-a-mile above his house.  Mac-an-Ts'agairt and his party concealed themselves in a thick covert of underwood, through which they knew that the Mugach and his sons must pass; but seeing their intended victims well armed, the cowardly assassins lay still in their hiding-place, and allowed them to pass, with the intention of taking a move favourable opportunity for their purpose.  That very night they surprised and murdered two of the sons, who, being married, lived in separate houses, at some distance from their father's, and having thus executed so much of their diabolical purpose, they surrounded the Mugach's cottage.

No sooner was his dwelling attacked, than the brave Mugach, immediately guessing who the assailants were, made the best arrangements for defence that time and circumstances permitted.  The door was the first point attempted, but it was strong, and he and his four sons placed themselves behind it, determined to do bloody execution the moment it should be forced.  Whilst thus engaged, the Mugach was startled by a noise above the rafters, and looking up, he perceived, in the obscurity, the figure of a man half through a hole in the wattled roof.  Eager to despatch his foe as he entered, he sprang upon a table, plunged his sword into his body, and down fell - his stepson ! whom he had ever loved and cherished as one of his own children.  The youth had been cutting his way through the roof, with the intention of attacking Padrig from above, and so creating a diversion in favour of those who were defending the door.  The brave young man lived no longer than to say, with a faint voice, "Dear father, I fear you have killed me!"  For a moment the Mugach stood petrified with horror and grief, but rage soon usurped the place of both.  "Let me open the door!" he cried, "and revenge his death, by drenching my sword in the blood of the villain!"  His sons clung around him, to prevent what they conceived to be madness, and a strong struggle ensued between desperate bravery and filial duty; whilst the Mugach's wife stood gazing  on the corpse of her first-born son, in an agony of contending passions, being ignorant, from all she had witnessed, but that the young man's death had been wilfully wrought by her husband.  "Hast thou forgotten our former days of dalliance?" cried the wily Padrig, who saw the whole scene through a crevice in the door; "How often hast thou undone thy door to me, when I came on an errand of love, and wilt thou not open it now to give me way to punish him, who has, but this moment, so foully slain thy beloved son?"  Ancient recollections, and present affliction, conspired to twist her to his purpose.  The struggle and altercation between Mugach and his sons continued.  A frenzy seized on the unhappy woman.  She flew to the door - undid the bolt - and Padrig and his assassins rushed in.  The infuriated Mugach no sooner beheld his enemy enter, than he sprang at him like a tiger, grasped him by the throat, and dashed him to the ground.  Already was his vigorous sword-arm drawn back, and his broad claymore was about to fund a passage to the traitor's heart, when his faithless wife, coming behind him, threw over it a large canvas winnowing sheet, and, before he could extricate the blade from the numerous folds, Padrig's weapon was reeking in the best heart's blood of the bravest Highlander that Strathspey could boast of.  His four sons, who witnessed their mother's treachery, were paralyzed.  The unfortunate woman herself, too, stood stupified and appalled; but she was quickly recalled to her senses by the active clash of the swords of Padrig and his men.  "Oh, my sons! my sons!" she cried, "spare my boys!"  But the tempter needed her services no longer - she had done his work.  She was spurned to the ground, and trampled under foot, by those who soon strewed the bloody floor around her with the lifeless corpses of her brave sons.

Exulting in the full success of this expedition of vengeance, Mac-an-Ts'agairt beheaded the bodies, and piled the heads in a heap on an oblong hill, that runs parallel to the road, on the east side of Carr Bridge, from which it is called Tom-nan-Cean, The Hill of the Heads.  Scarcely was he beyond the reach of danger, than his butchery was known at Castle Grant, and Sir Ludovick immediately offered a great reward for his apprehension, but Padrig, who had anticipated some such thing, fled to Ireland, where he remained for seven years.  But the relentlessness of the murderer is well known, and Padrig felt it in all its horrors.  Leaving his Irish retreat, he returned to Lochaber.  By a strange accident, a certain Mungo Grant of Muckrach, having had his cattle and horses carried away by some thieves from that quarter, pursued them hot foot, recovered them, and was on his way returning with them, when, to his astonishment, he met Padrig Mac-an-Ts'agairt, quite alone, in a narrow pass, on the borders of his native country.  Mungo instantly seized and made him a prisoner of him.  But his progress with his beasts was tedious; and, as he was entering Strathspey at Lag-na-caillich, about a mile to the westward of Aviemore, he espied 12 desperate men, who, taking advantage of his slow march, had crossed the hills to gain the pass before him, for the purpose of rescuing Padrig.  But Mungo was not to be daunted.  Seeing them occupying the road in his front, he grasped his prisoner with one hand, and brandishing his dirk with the other, he advanced in the midst of his people and animals, swearing potently, that his first motion at an attempt at rescue by any one of them, should be the signal for his dirk to drink the life's blood of Padrig Mac-an-Ts'agairt.  They were so intimidated by his boldness, that they allowed him to pass without assault, and left their friend to his fate.  Padrig was forthwith carried to Castle Grant.  But the remembrance of the Mugach's murder had been by this time much obliterated, by many events little less strange, and the laird, unwilling to be troubled with the matter, ordered Mungo and his prisoner away.

Disappointed and mortified, Mungo and his party were returning with their felon captive, discussing, as they went, what they had best do with him.  "A fine reward we have had for all our trouble!" said one.  "The laird may catch the next thief her's nanesel for Donald!" said another.  "Let's turn him looose!" said a third.  "Aye, aye, said a fourth, "what for wud we be plaguing oursel's more wi' him!"  "Yes, yes! brave generous men!" said Padrig Mac-an-Ts'agairt, roused by a sudden hope of life from the moody dream of the gallows-tree, in which he had been plunged, whilst he was courting his mournful muse to compose his own lament, that he might die with a effect striking, as all the events of his life had been; "Yes, brave men! free me from these bonds! it is unworthy of Grants to to triumph over a fallen foe!  Those whom I killed were no clansmen of thine, but recreant Camerons, who betrayed a Cameron!  Let me go free, and that reward of which you have been disappointed shall be quadrupled for sparing my life!"  Such words as these, operating on minds so much prepared to receive them favourably, had well nigh worked their purpose.  But, "No!" said Muckrach sternly, "it shall never be said that a murderer escaped from my hands.  Besides, it was just so that he fairly spake to the Mugach's false wife.  But did he spare her sons on that account?  If ye let him go, my men, the fate of the Mugach may be ours; for what bravery can stand against treachery and assassination?"  This opened an entirely new view of the question to Padrig's rude guards, and the result of the conference was, that they resolved to take him to Inverness, and to deliver him up to the Sheriff.

As they were pursuing their way up the south side of the river Dulnan, the hill of Tom-nan-cean appeared on that opposite to them.  At sight of it, the whole circumstances of Padrig's atrocious deed came fresh into their minds.  It seemed to cry on them for justice, and, with one impulse, they shouted out, "Let him die on the spot where he did the bloody act!"  Without a moment's farther delay, they resolved to execute their new resolution.  But on their way across the plain, they happened to observe a large fir tree, with a thick horizontal branch growing at right angles from the trunk, and of a sufficient height from the ground to suit their purpose, and doubting if they might find so convenient a gallows where they were going, they at once determined that here Padrig should finish his mortal career.  The neighbouring birch thicket supplied them with materials for making a withe, and, whilst they were twisting it, Padrig burst forth in a flood of Gaelic verse, which his mind had been accumulating by the way.  His song, and the twig rope that was to terminate his existence, were spun out and finished at the same moment, and he was instantly elevated to a height equally beyond his ambition and his hopes.  No one would touch his body, so it hung swinging in the wind for some twelve months or more after his execution; and, much as he had been feared when alive, he was infinitely more a cause of terror now that he was a lifeless corpse.  None dared to approach that part of the heath after it was dark; but in daylight people were bolder.

The schoolboys of Duthil, who, like the frogs in the fable, gradually began to have less and less apprehension for him, actually bragged one another on so far one day, that they ventured to pelt him with stones.  A son of Delrachney, who happened to aim better that the rest, struck the birchen withe, by this time become rotten, severed it, and down came the wasted body with a terrible crash.  As the cause of its descent was hardly perceptible to any of them, the terrified boys ran off, filled with the horrible belief that the much-dreaded Padrig was pursuing them.  So impressed was poor young Delrachney with this idea, that, through terror and haste, he birst a blood-vessel, and died in two hours afterwards.  Padrig's bones were buried about 100 yards to the north of the Bridge of Carr, but, as if they were doomed never to have rest, the grave was cut through about thirty-five years ago, when the present Highland road was made, and they were re-interred immediately behind the inn garden.  Should any idlers, who may wander after dusk along the road leading by the base of the Tom-nan-cean, see strange sights cross his path, let him recall the story I have narrated, and it may furnish him with some explanation of what he beholds.