The forgotten histories…

Kilmore Chapel, Strathlachlan

Michaela spent a few days out at Castle Lachlan, the other side of the Cowal peninsula. They are doing a lot of work to reveal the history of their castles, including the romantic ruined one, and as part of this they had a festival, full of Lachlans from the world over, all back to soak themselves in the ancient bloodlines of their ancestors. And hopefully to buy a few local arts and crafts…

craft tent

Castle Lachlan was apparently wrecked by a ship sent to cannonade it after the Battle of Culloden- the Lachlan clan having picked the wrong side. We know little about what actually happened, because history is told by the victors, and then mostly only about the rich and powerful.

I was reminded about this again as today I was playing cricket this side of Cowal- at the site of another pair of castles- again an old ruined one and a replacement Victorian one. This was Castle Toward. Here we are in front of the new Castle;


We all know about one Highland Massacre- the one in Glencoe in which 38 people were killed after offering hospitality to their murderers. Most have heard nothing of the one that was perpetrated on the men women and children of Toward in the brutal years around the 1745 rebellion;

Sir John Lamont, 14th chief, who had been knighted by King Charles; was pressured into joining Argyll, the Campbell chief and his Covenanting army in opposition against the King during the 17th century wars of Montrose. After the defeat of Campbell forces at Inverlochy, Sir John was taken prisoner and later switched sides opting to support Montrose and his general, Alastair MacDonald (MacColla), a bitter enemy of the Campbells. MacDonald along with Highlanders and Irish mercenaries, crossed Loch Long in boats provided by the Lamonts and landed at the Point of Strone. After defeating a Campbell force, Macolla’s army mustered at Toward and then decended on the Campbell lands. The Lamonts had their share in killing and plundering particularly in Strachur and Kilmun before returning home to Toward. 

In England the King surrendered and ordered his supporters to lay down their arms and cease hostilities. The Campbells took this opportunity to surround the Lamont castles of Toward and Ascog. Unable to withstand a long seige and with no hope of reprieve, Sir James surrendered the castles, having apparently reached honourable terms. The Campbells later ignored the terms of capitulation accusing the lamonts of being traitors, unworthy of terms.
The Lamonts where bound and kept within the castle, during this time several women were murdered. The survivors were taken by boats to Dunoon and in the church were sentenced to death. A large number of Lamont men, women and children, were shot or stabbed to death and they did ‘cause hang upon ane tree near the number of thirty six persons most of them being special gentlemen of the name of Lamont and vassals to Sir James’. the half-hanged men, both dead and dying were buried in pits. Sir James and his brothers were kept prisoner for five years and it would be 16 years before the ringleaders of the massacre were brought to justice and Sir Colin Campbell beheaded. 

The exact number of people who died is not known, but it is thought to be well over 200.

It strikes you- the uses we put our history to. It is a matter of how we employ it, who controls how we see it.

There is a lot of history being conjured up at the moment, because of the independence debate. The grubby awfulness of these fracture lines that are just below the surface of the Highland/Lowland relatively recent history are not relevant to these debates because they can not be easily applied to a binary Scotland/England simplistic version of history.

I fear these simplistic histories. They tend to ignore the small people, and the mess that power mongers make of it all. We are diminished by them.

So the next time we stand in the romantic ruins of a castle, perhaps it is worth remembering that we are still building them, and others are planning to knock them down. Small people will probably get hurt, but no one will remember their names.

Castle Toward community buy out hopes…

I am this years captain of our local cricket team- Innellan Cricket Club. Here we are in front of Toward Castle, which is the rather splendid location of our home ground;

team photo, Innellan Cricket Club, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh CC


There has been a lot of uncertainty about whether we will be able to continue to play at Castle Toward, as it has been up for sale for some time. In one of those typical stories, the Castle was gifted to the local council for use for the recreation of local people. It operated as an outdoor centre for a while, until maintenance costs meant that it was placed on the open market. It was almost bought by a holiday company who planned to turn it into a spa hotel, but this fell apart along with all sorts of allegations of dodgy dealings.

Step forward some brave locals who have worked incredibly hard to put together a bid for a community buy out of the estate, under Scottish ‘right to buy’ legislation- the same law that has enabled island communities like those on Coll and Gigha to bring their islands in to collective ownership.

There is a website telling the story of the bid here.

It is fair to say that local opinion is divided as to the viability of this bid- at least in part because of the huge sums of money needed to run the estate at stand still. Figures of £100K per annum have been mentioned just to maintain the security of the site.

There are always skeptics when plans like this are drawn up. For my part, I am a believer. Stately homes like this one are symbols of power, elitism and inequality. If they can be brought back to use and ownership be locals then this seems to me to be something rather wonderful.

And if we get to continue playing cricket there, all the better!

There was some coverage on BBC Alba recently. Non Gaelic speakers will just have to look at the pretty pictures;