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January 28th 1822

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Afraid of burial with strangers

Major David Stewart of Garth, near Fortingall gave many insights into the beliefs and customs of the old Highland communities before they were broken up by the aftermath of the ’45 and later the Clearances. He remarked upon the easy familiarity with which the people contemplated death, considered to be “merely a passage from this to another state of existence enlivened with the assured hope of meeting their friends and kindred who had gone before them and being followed by those whom they should leave behind.” 

This attitude was such that it was quite customary to take leave of old people as if they were going on a journey. People sent messages to the departed. “If you are permitted, tell my dear brother that I have merely endured the world since he left it and that I have been very kind to every creature he used to cherish, for his sake.” 

To this easy familiarity with death there was added the fear of being buried among strangers. Stewart relates the story of an old woman of ninety one from Strathbraan who visited her daughter in Perth. A few days after arriving she had a slight attack of fever. That day there was a heavy fall of snow and it was believed that more was on the way. The next morning her bed was empty and no trace could be found of the old lady.

Two days later she sent word to say that she had left the house at midnight and set off through the snow on foot not stopping until she arrived home some twenty miles away. When she was questioned she said, “If my sickness had increased and if I had died they could not have sent my remains home through the deep snows. If I had told my daughter, perhaps she would have locked the door upon me to prevent my going out in the storm, and God forbid that my bones should lie at such a distance from home and be buried among gaull na machair (strangers of the plain).” 

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