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The Lion Rampant

 

The Duart Murder - Lismore in Alba

Rev Ian Carmichael, DSO, MC

"Duncan Stewart of Appin was murdered by the Macleans of Duart in about 1519. It appears that there had been a bitter feud between the two clan chiefs. The Duke of Argyll's daughter, (see Lady 's Rock) who was married to Maclean, used her influence with both parties and effected a reconciliation. What the nature of the quarrel between the two was is not clear, but apparently, in order to ratify the new friend- ship, it was arranged that the Stewart go to Duart. As his visit was friendly, he went unarmed and accompanied by one man only Sorley or Sombairle MacColl, who was an outstanding athlete and accomplished swordsman. MacColl in relation to his duties to the chief was Gille- cas-fluich (the servant of the wet feet). The name arose from the practice of chiefs having the equivalent of batmen, part of whose duties was to carry their masters over streams. On arrival at Duart, it was found the Macleans had arranged sports for the entertainment of their guest, the Stewart.

MacColl took part in the sports and established such a great superiority over the local athletes that their jealousy and displeasure was aroused to such an extent that they attacked the Stewart's servant and killed him. Maclean of Duart tried to pass off this grave breach of hospitality by a light remark which referred in some way to the appearance of MacColl as he lay dead at their feet. The Stewart angrily replied that the appearance of MacColl alive or dead could not be otherwise than good for "it was not on the white roots of wild skirret, nor on the black whelks of the Mull shore that my gille was fed." This remark so enraged the Macleans that they killed the Stewart also and hanged his body from the battlements of Duart Castle. Tradition has two versions of what happened to the body thereafter. The better known relates how news was brought to Lismore to the Baron of Bachull (Livingstone) who was a great friend of the murdered man. He set out immediately for Duart with his two red-haired daughters and managed to recover the body. As they were on the point of returning to Lismore, however, the Macleans discovered their presence and gave chase.

Good as the red-haired daughters of Livingstone were with the oars, they were no match for four Macleans in the boat that followed and caught up on them at Buinne-nam-Biodag. But the old Baron was equal to the situation. He threw the helm over hard to starboard and sent the boat between two skerries washed by the sea. The pursuers endeavoured to do the same but a wave swung them round too far and they were thrown on to one of the skerries and there were held fast. The Livingstones escaped to shore, where they left the body concealed in the shingle, until the following day when a party took it and buried it in the Church of Kilmoluag."

An earlier account published in The Celtic Review April 15 1909, pp 356-375 by Alexander Carmichael goes:

It is not quite clear whether a fostership or a marriage connection or both existed between the Stewarts of Appin and the Livingstones of Lismore, but the friendship between them was strong and enduring. A Gaelic proverb says: 'Cairdeas gu caogad co-altas gu ceud'- relationship to fifty, fostership to a hundred. The following incident throws a lurid light upon life in the Highlands - and indeed in the Lowlands also - in the first decade of the sixteenth century. There had been wolfish feuds about lands between the Stewarts of Appin and the Macleans of Duart.

The Earl of Argyll - whose daughter Elizabeth - the subject of Campbell's poem of 'Glenara'- was married to Maclean-brought about a reconciliation, and Stewart went to Duart to ratify the peace. There were games and feats of strength and arms, in all of which Sollamh Mac Colla, Solomon Maccoll, the gille cas fliuch of Stewart, was victorious. The Macleans were 'neither to haud nor to bind,' and they fell upon the luckless gille cas fluich, and beat him to death.

Then they jeered at the body, saying, 'nach ann ann a tha an smior chnamh ; nach ann ann a tha an ola dhonn! ' ' Is it not in him that the bone marrow is? is it not in him that the neatsfoot oil is?' and other taunting terms, as if they had a newly killed cow before them.

Stewart was grieved at the death of his trusted man, and riled at the taunts of his slayers, and he replied with more warmth than wisdom, 'Cha b'e brisgeanan ban an raoin agus faochagan dubh a chladaich idir teachd-an-tir mo ghille-sa.' 'The pale silverweed of the field, and the black whelk of the strand were not at all the sustenance of my man.' The insinuation - perhaps all the more from the latent truth it contained - roused the Macleans to red heat, and twenty Duart swords came down on the hapless head of Appin.

Not content with slaying Stewart, the Macleans suspended his corpse against the wall of their castle, and threatened death to any who would dare to take it down.

The men of Appin fled for their lives, landing on the nearest point of Lismore, nor did they rest till they placed that island and the sea on either side of it between them- selves and Mull.

Livingstone of Bachuill was grieved when he beard of the death of his good friend Stewart of Appin. He said nothing, however, but when night came, he and 'his two red-haired daughters went away in their skiff, nor were they long in reaching Duart. Livingstone and his daughters miraculously managed to 'bring the body of the Lord of Appin to their skiff, and to put to sea before they were discovered, but they had hardly left the shore when the Macleans came rushing down with wild tumult and wilder imprecations.

They immediately launched their 'boats and leapt into them, but as hurriedly leapt out of them again, amidst yells of execration, for boat after boat filled with water and sank beneath their feet. The wise Baron had been before them and driven auger-holes through their boats. Ultimately they managed with much difficulty to launch a sixteen-oared war galley less damaged than the rest, that had brought home to Duart many a 'creach' from distant island and near mainland.
After a terrible struggle, amidst the swirling currents of Boinne nam Biodag,' the Macleans came up to the Livingstones in running through the narrow shallow strait that separates the small islet of Musdal from the main island of Lismore.

Just as a crowd of Macleans - a tithe of whom would have sent it to the bottom - was about to jump down into the little skiff of the Livingstones, a swift, swirling current threw the large galley on a sunken rock, on which it was left hard and fast by the rapidly receding tide, while the same rapid river-like current rushed the little skiff of the Livingstones far beyond reach.
They rowed their hardest, and soon reached a creek, where they landed, and hurriedly buried the body in the shingle of the beach. The people of Lismore and Appin gathered, and carrying the body of Stewart to Clachan, buried it in the cathedral church of Saint Moluag.

And there in the 'dim religious light' of the old fane the tombstone of the Lord of Appin is still to be seen, and the story of the good Baron of Bachuill and his two brave daughters is still told.

The creek where the Livingstones landed and buried the body is called 'Port Chailleach,' the port of the women.

Even yet the mention of the two red-haired daughters of the Baron of Bachuill brings a flush to the face of a Maclean!

Last updated 22 May, 2008