Journeying in MacDougall Country
Journeying in MacDougall Country 2nd Edition
Review by Scott MacDougald (originally published in The Somerled Spring 2008 Edition.)
Down the centuries the lore and traditions of the Scottish Highlanders were passed on to each new generation as the old tales were retold around the hearth. The story tellers would speak of travels and places far and near. Others would tell of battles where the hereditary standard bearers of the clan invoked holy support by displaying the relics of saints before the battle began. Nowadays standard bearers are scarce and saints even rarer. However we still have our story tellers and Walter Macdougall, Past President of the Clan MacDougall Society of North America, is one of our best.
The old Gaelic admonition says: “Cuimhnich air na daoine o’n d’ thàinig thu” - “Remember the men from whom you sprang.” Accordingly, Walter journeyed to Argyll in 1981 to visit the old clan lands in Lorn and to meet friends and clansmen. There he gathered a treasury of knowledge which he recorded in a journal. His clear and colorful prose became a very readable account of his travels in the scenic land of Lorn where the past and present intertwine in humble ruins and proud estates. The resulting book was called “Journeying in MacDougall Country”.
Unfortunately, since that time his book went out of print and was in danger of being lost to newer generations of readers. Now, with the assistance of a very able and dedicated editor, Suzanne O. McDougal, Walter has brought out a new edition of his book. While preserving the original material, this second edition includes new content gathered during subsequent journeys to Argyll.
The book opens with the trip by train from Glasgow to Oban. It soon becomes a journey through nature as well as a very useful geography lesson. Every place has a richly descriptive Gaelic name with a story waiting to be told. Then the narrative softly transitions to the stories of how many of those rugged hills, glens, and lochs form a part of clan history. Many of these tales are illustrated with diagrams or sketches.
At Dunollie Manor we meet Coline MacDougall of MacDougall, then the 30th Chief of Clan MacDougall. We hear of her family, and the old family history in the manor house, before climbing the upward path to Dunollie Castle. It is now battered and empty but the stories of Dunollie’s past populate it again with Chiefs, children, music - and with besieging attackers who had not come for the panoramic view from the battlements.
Every day is a new journey to view the land as our ancestors did. We walk with Walter along the old footpaths and learn the old names. We learn the answers to more questions.
How did our ancestors live their domestic lives? Where is the cave in which Chief Iain Ciar hid from redcoat soldiers by day, and left by night to visit his wife Mary?
Guided by a hundred year old map we walk the old cattle drove roads, the highways over the land of yesteryear. On the next day we sail to Iona past ancient Hebrides islands whose names ring of history - Kerrera, Mull, Lismore, Staffa, Iona. These were the stepping stones of the high prowed galleys of our seagoing clan. On another day we sail Loch Awe to see all the beauty and fierce history around its isles.
We journey in all directions. Northward to Ardchattan Priory, built by a MacDougall Chief long ago, and site of the last parliament of Scotland conducted in Gaelic. Later we visit Glen Etive’s isolated grandeur and hear of the old Celtic tales that linger there. We travel circuitously through Southern Lorn, where bloody clan warfare flared for centuries. There the old MacDougall families of Raera, Corrielorne, Degnish and others once ruled, and some yet remain. Here lie stone circles and ancient Dunadd, the Dalriadic fort, where the kings of the Scotti were invested.
We walk the isle of Kerrera as Walter describes it as it was. Picture the drovers arriving on the now vanished ferries from other isles, unloading their cattle, marching their herds along the drove road across the island, then swimming them to the mainland where they paid their “mail” to clan Chiefs for their use of the grass and track. This was a strong cattle economy for centuries before the sheep walks pushed out so many other clans in the decades after the ‘45. Visit Gylen, the little gem of a castle watching the sea while guarding the drove road and its revenue. It was from Gylen that the Brooch of Lorn was stolen by burning and looting Covenanters in 1647, then hidden from the clan for almost two centuries.
As you journey to all these places there is comfort in knowing the book contains a “Lore of Lorn” section filled with supporting notes, details, and maps. There you can search out detailed information about things such as omens, lamps, saints, our clan names and more. If you need to learn more about geography, or Chiefs, or flowers, or architecture, or family branches, this is where to look. If you require more scholarly information Walter has provided clear little footnotes to the text and an extensive bibliography to lead you to additional expert sources.
Over the centuries many people have left the Highlands, but the fortunate do come back. Whether you are returning or just remembering from where you sprang, you would be well served to have this book in your hand to read, and to guide your journeys.
Walter’s book is now available in soft cover, and in electronic format, but a hard cover edition would be a welcome addition for those of us who know the value of “Journeying in MacDougall Country”.
Return to "Journeying in MacDougall Country" on books page.