Wednesday 28 March 2012

A Powder Horn and a Red Pebble from Coll

A great thing about the Carmichael Watson Collection is that you can never quite be sure what will turn up next. Here’s a transcription of CW503 fos.143–5, a short piece written by Carmichael, probably in the 1880s or 1890s, about two objects connected with the Macleans of Coll, more specifically with Donald Maclean, ‘Young Coll’, the son and heir of Hugh, thirteenth laird of Coll, who was drowned in the Sound of Ulva on Sunday 25 September 1774. Maclean had won a name for himself far beyond the Highlands for having taken Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell under his wing during their tour to the Hebrides, between 23 September and 17 October 1773.

We are still trying to locate the Macleans’ red quartz pebble, but the powder horn has already been the subject of a blog just a few months ago. Carmichael’s essay turns our previous conclusions on their head! The powder horn is given what appears to be a fairly trustworthy provenance, suggesting that it wasn’t just described as being from that island because there happened to be a stray mention of a Coll powder horn in a waulking song.

The donor of the red quartz pebble was Mary MacInnes (c. 1816–1903), Taigh a’ Ghearraidh, North Uist, the daughter of Angus MacInnes, cottar, and Ann née MacDonald. She gave Carmichael Fenian material as well – the tale A’ Bhruighin Chaorainn (CW104/17 [fos.39–40v]), and probably a version of Laoidh Fhraoich (CW104/18 [fos.40v–42]) – on 3 April 1866. We aren’t told what her service was to the member of the Macleans of Coll, though it’s interesting that she appears as a ‘nurse or domestic servant’ in the household of Donald MacAulay, innkeeper at Taigh a’ Ghearraidh, in the 1871 census, and as a ‘fever nurse’ in the 1891 census.

We don’t know – yet, at least – who the anonymous woman from Smearcleit, South Uist, who donated the powder horn might have been. Interestingly enough, the one informant we have record of in Carmichael’s papers from that township was also a MacInnes (though surely of a quite different family), Angus MacInnes (c. 1798–1871), son of John MacInnes, crofter, and Ann née Steele.

We don’t know why Alexander Carmichael compiled so many short essays like this one. They may have been written as brief and hitherto unlocated articles for periodicals or newspapers. On the other hand, they may have been put together as ‘show and tell’ talks for local Highland societies in the Lowlands, or even for Carmichael’s own friends and acquaintances.

                                                     [later hand: Clach bheag nan tursanan]

                                                                                            Various [later hand: Frìth]

The writer has a small pebble of red quartz
that was used in making the frith and other forms
of occult sciences. It is called Clach Bheag
nan tursanan – the little stone of the quests.
   The pebble belonged to the Macleans of Coll
by whom it was much prized and sacredly kept.
It came down to them through remote antiquity.
I got the stone from Mary Macinnes, cottar,
Taigh-a-ghearruidh, North Uist. She got it from
a member of the Coll family to whom she
had been of great service in her day.
   This pebble of red quartz had been used
in the frith in discovering the body of Donald
Maclean of Coll when he was drowned in
the sound of Ulva. Donald Maclean
was engaged to one of the two daughters of
Sir Hector Maclean of Innis Choinnich. He
was on his way to Innis Choinnich and along
with him several friends among them an
English gentleman. Among others in the boat
was [blank] Maclean of [blank]
who quarrelled with Donald Maclean
over Sir Hector’s daughters. The much
overladen boat was upset and sank beneath
their feet only one man escaping. He climbed
up the mast the top of which was above water,
Maclean of Lochbuie demanded the man
to come down and give place to his better.
Bha thusa bhos mo chionns an de agus
tha mis os do chionns an diugh, ars an duine.
Bha thu fada gu leoir os mo chionn anns
an t-saoghal seo. Bithidh sinn cothram [del: anns
an ath] [addition above: ’s an] shaoghal [addition: thall]
   The only man saved was [blank
                     ] He lived till a good old age
but he was wisely reticent over the drowning
but indicated that there had been foul play
in the boat.
   The death of Donald Maclean of Coll
made a great sensation all over the [del: whole]
British Isles to whom he was known and
endeared through Dr. Johnson and Boswell.
He greatly endeared himself to all who knew
him and very specially so to his own people of Coll.
   The writer has also the pow[d]er horn that
belonged to Donald Maclean. It was found
upon his body. It was taken possession
of by a man from South Uist living in Coll.
The man brought the horn to Uist and
I got it from his great grand daughter at
Smearcleit South Uist.
   The pow[d]erhorn is now plain the silver
mounting having been taken off. The initials
of Donald Maclean are on the side of the horn
                     A. Carmichael

CW503 fos.143–5.

Donald Maclean's powder horn.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]