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December 30th 1876

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The quigrich of St Fillan

St Fillan came originally from Ireland and arrived at Glendochart around 730 AD. He built a priory near Auchtertyre in Strathfillan. Little is known of his work in Glendochart though he was certainly held in great veneration and summer and winter feasts were held each year in Killin in his honour. When the saint died he left certain relics which, rather unusually, were entrusted not to the monks of his priory but to the custody of laymen living in Glendochart who were given a free grant of land by the king in virtue of their office.

Such men were called deoradh which is Gaelic for stranger. This referred to the fact that the relics were often carried as a ‘stranger’ to other areas as they were considered to possess special powers. The relics of St Fillan were handed down from father to son and in the course of time the families entrusted with the relics were given the surname deoradh or Dewar.

Perhaps the most important relic of all was the quigrich or the pastoral staff of St Fillan. This was often taken to distant places where it was considered to have magical properties in the recovery of stolen goods. The fact that the family having custody of the quigrich should possess such a potent relic was not popular with the Priors of Strathfillan and in 1549 there was an attempt to compel “Malise Doir of Quigrich to deliver and present to the kirkis of Strathphillan certain reliques, and nocht to be taken furth agane without the licence of the said prioure.”  Failure to agree was to lead to excommunication. However the Lords of the Council threw out the decree and Malise Doir retained the relic.

The quigrich stayed with the same family in Glendochart for about 900 years, when, because they had fallen on bad times, they sold it to the McDonnells of Glengarry. This breach of trust brought them nothing but trouble and eventually with some difficulty they were able to buy it back. Though it was no longer used to locate stolen property it was believed that water in which the staff had been dipped was most efficacious in curing sick cattle.

No charges were made for this service but the realisation seems to have dawned on the Dewar family that possession of the quigrich did confer certain financial advantages. They found that tourists in Killin were prepared to reward them for a view of the relic. In 1808 Alexander Dewar even took it to Edinburgh where according to the Caledonian Mercury “there is to be seen at the first entry below Covenant Close a most curious antiquity, in the family of the proprietor since before the time of Robert the Bruce. Admittance two shillings.” 

Eventually the quigrich passed to Archibald Dewar who in 1818 emigrated from Scotland to Canada taking the crosier with him. That might have been the end of the story had it not been for the efforts of the Rev Eneas McDonnell, a catholic priest in Canada and a descendent of the McDonnells of Glengarry who had possessed the quigrich for a short time. He wrote to Dr Wilson who was secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and between them efforts were made to secure the return of the staff to Scotland, but without success.

There was to be yet another twist to the story. Dr Wilson was appointed to a chair in the University of Toronto and was able to visit Alexander Dewar, son of Archibald, who now owned the quigrich. By this time Alexander was almost ninety years old and was worried that his own sons would not show the same interest as he had done in preserving St Fillan’s staff. He agreed to part with the staff and on December 30th, a deed was drawn up to surrender the quigrich to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland “there to remain in all time to come for the use, benefit and enjoyment of the Scottish Nation.” 

The quigrich was placed and may still be seen in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.

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