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June 11th 1565

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Gregor McGregor

When Alexander of Glenstrae died his son Gregor took over not only the chieftainship of the McGregor clan but also the family feuds.

Gregor became a ward of Duncan Campbell of Glenlyon where he grew up and later married Duncan’s daughter Marion. They were very happy together and in 1560, when Gregor became of age, he asked Colin Campbell of Glenorchy for the return of the clan lands of Glenstrae, near Dalmally.

But Colin Campbell was a hard grasping man obsessed with increasing the family’s lands and influence. Not surprisingly Gregor’s request was met with a blank refusal which was interpreted in the circumstances of the time as being an insult not only to Gregor but to the whole McGregor clan. There were isolated acts of violence on both sides until on June 11th 1565 James McGestalcar, employed by Campbell of Glenorchy as a sort of professional assassin, murdered the two sons of the Dean of Lismore, Gregor and Robert McGregor, and burned their house to the ground.

A month later Gregor, with a party of his clansmen, went to Ardeonaig and as the Chronicle of Fortingall puts it “James McGestalcar was killed with his accomplices by Gregor McGregor of Stronmelcan.”  Lest there should be any doubt as to where his sympathies lay the Chronicler added “McGestalcar was a most wicked man and an oppressor of the poor.” 

This was probably a fair assessment of McGestalcar’s character but it was no help to Gregor McGregor. From that day forward all members of Clan Campbell of Glenorchy were searching for him. He was able to make secret visits to his wife at her father’s home at Carnbahn Castle in Glen Lyon but on one occasion the visit was made known to his enemies.

Gregor slipped away but being pursued by bloodhounds he made the famous leap across the Lyon at a point about three miles from Fortingall. It is a fearsome leap almost impossible to negotiate. So far as is known only one man has since attempted it, a Victorian stunt man who died in the attempt.

Gregor escaped this time but on a later visit to his wife he was captured and thrown into the dungeon at Balloch Castle (later demolished and rebuilt as Taymouth Castle). Eight months later he was executed in front of his wife.

There is a famous Gaelic lament sung by his widow to her infant son which even in the somewhat pedestrian translation gives some flavour of her love, grief and bitterness.
It begins -

I was daffing with my loved one
Early on the Lammas morn
But ere noontime I was weeping
For my heart with grief was torn
Ochain, ochain ochain darling
Thy father hears not our cry.
Moch mad uinn air la lunasd
Bha mi sugradh marri m’ghradh
Ach mu ‘n d’thainig meaddhon laths
Bha mo chridhe air a chradh.
Ochain, ochain, ochain uimidh
Cha chluinn t-athair ar caoidh.

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