The Search for the “Children of the Mist”
Clan Gregor’s roots are traceable at least back to the 1300s, in the area around Glen Orchy and Glen Strae near the head of Loch Awe. The subsequent move eastward to Loch Lomondside and the Central Highlands came in part through an alliance between MacGregors and Campbells; the former providing the muscle and settling on newly-acquired farms and the latter as feudal overlords, beginning with the reign of Robert Bruce. After 1603, the clan faced intense proscription, on top of vying with the ever-spreading Campbells of Breadalbane and of Argyll in power struggles and over land claims. Having become virtually ”landless” in Glen Orchy and Glen Strae by 1624 through burnings and privations, the “Children of the Mist” would come to possess little of the original buildings in their homelands, including our Chief’s fortified house at Stronmilchan. This presented the challenge of attempting to uncover archaeological evidence of those past buildings and the people who lived there, but it has not deterred us from trying.
For the past 5 years, the Clan Gregor Society has been working with Northlight Heritage and it’s team of archaeologists to investigate three sites associated with MacGregors of Glen Strae. The original project focused on Dalmally church where the line of MacGregor chiefs and related families were said to be buried. Through extensive research we were able to discover the foundations of the first medieval church within the walls of today’s third church. By further discovering the burial sites in situ of these people, as described by the Dean of Lismore centuries before, and actually identifying the carved medieval stones in the graveyard, we have illuminated an important piece of MacGregor history. Now it has become our task to repatriate the stones with their owners back inside the church. Additionally the Clan Gregor Society is seeking to find remains of their significant houses and homesteads in the glen.
This is stimulating work which has taken place in all weather conditions – the infamous “good Scottish weather.” It has been funded entirely by donations and legacies from clan members, with our American cousins being extremely generous. Special thanks goes to members of the Dalmally Historical Association and to Dalmally church itself. Our sincere thanks to everyone who gave, and continues to give of their time and resources in the cause of Clan Gregor.
Bothan na Dige
Ground penetrating radar, aerial photography and carbon dating, have all been used in the task of seeking our ancestors. Our second project began by investigating the site of a possible fortified manor house, called Bothan na Dige (‘house of the ditch, or moat’), by the banks of the River Orchy in an area called Stronmilchan. No evidence of any structure was found, which may confirm the folktales that it was hauled away, but the dig provided excellent archaeological training for participating members through cold rain and blistering heat.
Tigh Mor – the Big House
We then moved to a third location called Tigh Mor (‘the big house’) which occupies a commanding position, overlooking the head of Loch Awe, at the mouth of Glen Strae. Two turf built rectangular structures, with interior hearths, have been identified, one of which is likely confirmed as a dwelling. We have also uncovered a bloomery (a medieval iron smelting furnace) together with substantial amounts of slag, iron flakes indicating that metal was worked on site, and a collection of pottery, identified as Scottish Redware, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries. Radiocarbon dating of samples of charcoal found also confirms a late 13th century time frame.
Rob Roy’s house near Inversnaid
We will continue to work at Tigh Mor. However, news travels fast in the Highlands and in July of 2016, “the Diggers” were invited to a meeting with members of the Glasgow University Archaeological Department and The Great Trossachs Forest Project who own/manage the land around Inversnaid on Loch Lomondside. Inversnaid, you will recall, is the village where Rob Roy lived during the middle period of his life – and where much of his reputation was forged.
The Clan Gregor Society has been given the opportunity to explore (and hopefully discover) the site of Rob Roy’s house, and to further unearth the military barracks built by the Duke of Montrose at Inversnaid! The investigation will begin in July 2017 and take place over the ensuing three years.
This is marvellous news as 2017 is the ‘Year of Archaeology’ in Scotland. Incidentally, the barracks were burned by Rob in 1718 and captured by his son James Mor, with only 12 MacGregors, during the 1745 Rising.
You can be a part of the Archaeology Project!
We hope that readers and members alike will appreciate the importance of this new project, both to Clan Gregor and to Scottish archaeology.
We will provide updates in due course and we thank you once again for your contributions.
Donate via cheque or money order:
To contribute to the project by cheque or money order, please mail them to the Society via our secretary.
Ms Ishbel McGregor
5 Alloa Road
Cambus, by Alloa
Clacks FK10 2NT
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