Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Christmas Present : A Special Place- Cille Choirill.

My Christmas present from my wife Kay is this- a photo we took in Scotland, mounted for hanging on our wall. A special photo of a special place for our family.

Cille Choirill, Glen Spean, Brae Lochaber, Inverness-shire.



Cold, wet, hungry and exhausted the small party picked their way through the rocks in the dark and the rain, travelling at night down the long glen, and hiding by day from the marauding parties of Redcoats intent on punishing the rebellious Clans. Lashed by fierce gales, the fugitives struggled to maintain their footing in the mud and shale, unable to risk a light to see their way, relying only on pale moonlight where it seeped weakly through the storm clouds. The stocky mountain pony carried a bloodied body across its back.



Eoghunn Ruad Chulodair, a Mackintosh died on this journey, his legs shredded and his wounds too severe to be staunched. Struck by grapeshot during the Clans charge upon the Duke of Cumberland's troops at Culloden, 16 April 1746, clansmen loyal to their local chief carried him from the battlefield and made their way south back to the family home in Glen Spean. In the killing time of Culloden...that scant desperate hour...over 1200 clansmen were slaughtered in a valiant but futile charge to break the English lines. For loyal kin to risk their lives under fire to carry the mortally wounded Eoghunn from the field, then to dodge the cavalry attack, and spirit him away, all the while avoiding the snapping hyenas of Redcoat pursuers, and carry his body so far home must speak of how those clansmen regarded Eoghun Ruad Chulodair.

From him are descended our family.

It has long been a dream to travel back to our ancestral lands, and to seek out Cille Choirill where the body of Eoghun Ruad Chulodair ( Red Haired Ewen of Culloden ) was buried under the floor just inside the door. How strange it would be, if he could ever see that over two centuries later his descendants would pilgrimage to his resting place....

In September 2010, we travelled up route 82 from Luss on Loch Lomond, exploring Glencoe on our way and taking walks in the glen and forests of this vast and magnificent valley. Purple flowering heather still draped the lower slopes, and the first touches of Autumn's golds tinted the forests bringing the deep greens of Scot's pines into contrast. There is a visitor's centre on the main highway, and in the village itself a very interesting museum. At both we spent time reading up more of the history of the area, and of the massacre of MacDonalds by Campbell lead English troops, that occurred in the early morning of  February 13th 1692. It was a very full, interesting and enjoyable day for us and although we had not hurried, arrival at Fort William was mid afternoon, spurring a last minute decision to head on through to Glen Spean...Cille Choirill was a powerful magnet...something pulled us there...a very strong sense of anticipation.

You could easily miss Cille Choirill being high above the road, and masked by hedgerows and trees from passing motorists. That but enhances it's mystique and character...it welcomes those who have travelled to seek it out, or those loyal residents of the area who now lovingly tend and care for it, and worship there. The 15th century church was built in honour of Saint Cairell, who preached Christianity in the area around 600AD and is named after him, in Gaelic

Cille Choirill attracts its own... as it has over the centuries, the wee graveyard full of generations of clan and parish worshippers, and Chiefs of Keppoch buried within it's walls under the floor. During the latter 1800's the church fell into disrepair but was renovated and rededicated Sunday July 10, 1932, and its living spirit has been maintained since. A key may be obtained at the dwelling on the A86 Glen Spean road, 2 km from Roy Bridge, just opposite the turn off for the narrow road that winds uphill to a small parking area beside Cille Choirill.



The sky was overcast, lending an eerily dark and foreboding atmosphere to our arrival, but at the same time welcoming, as if the whole presence of the church and host of sleeping persons there would awake if they deemed our visit of worth or import. The interior of Cille Choirill is basic with very little ornamentation, just a functional Catholic Church. Around the walls, a few plaques and crosses marking the graves of those buried within.

Eoghunn Ruad Chulodair remains unmarked where he lies just inside the doorway. I stood for a while there, soaking up the atmosphere of the interior, a place of peace and reverence, where for centuries people have sought solace and salvation, prayed, married, and christened their newborn. Ancient churches like this are not just stone buildings, but living repositories of the history of countless lives: each generation setting another stone in place, another tombstone outside, another entry countersigned in the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. We stuffed 10 pounds into the donation box taking the Cillie Choirill history brochure in return, then walked out to explore the dimly lit graveyard.


By the time we reached the rear to look back down on Cille Choirill we noticed a circle of light upon the hills the other side of the glen, as old Sol managed to fight through the cloud banks and follow us up the glen. The light was coming our way, and in a fitting welcome finally it threw down upon us its full brilliance and warmth, and the whole setting upon that quiet hillside awoke to receive us...accepting us as more of its own...we had returned...we descendants of the Great Scottish Diaspora of the '45 and the Clearances were home...reclaiming kinship and being welcomed back into the clan.







 







The fugitives, joined by other relatives and kins people worked in the dim mutton tallow lamplight to lever up the heavy flagstones of Cille Choirill's floor. Digging out a narrow pit, they lay their revered clan leader within, wrapped in the the plaids and sheepskins gathered from his croft, then covered him with dirt, and relaid the stone above him. The weeping of his wife and young son accompanied the prayers as the little grave was filled in. No sign of disturbance of the floor was left as telltale for Redcoats to seek excuse to wreak vengeance upon the inhabitants of the village in the heart of the area where rebellion had been strongest.

Eoghunn Ruad Chulodair lies undisturbed at Cille Choirill.

Cille Choirill now hangs upon our wall at home. A pilgrimage home completed.

A special photo of a special place.

As a footnote: Chatting with my visiting brother a few weeks before Christmas, and we talked of his wish to also travel to Scotland and do much as we did - research our heritage, and of our visiting Cille Choirill. We looked through the score and more of photos we had taken. Shortly afterward, we and our wives settled in to watch a DVD, and we thought the most appropriate, with Christmas coming upon us, was "Joyeaux Noel", a film about the impromptu Christmas truce of 1914 between Scots, French and German troops in the frontline trenches. During the first part of the film, the young men of each side are shown signing up and leaving their home villages to head off to war. At the start of the Scottish home scenes is a clip of a young boy cycling down a shingle track towards a wee stone church and its graveyard...Cille Choirill is that church used for that scene.
Coincidence surely, but strange as 10 minutes before we'd been in conversation about it.

Cille Choirill calls its own....

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23 comments:

inka said...

What a hero your ancestor was. You must be very proud Jim and certainly this is a very precious Christmas gift.

Jim said...

Not so much proud Inka, more in awe of the hard lives our forebears lived.
Incidentally the other strange coincidence, while my wife gave me a mounted photo of Chille Choirill, I gave her the largest digital photo frame I could find!

Red Nomad OZ said...

We so much take for granted what our ancestors had to fight for. It's great to discover your heritage, despite the sadness of so many lives lost.

Happy travels for 2011!

Fernando-Alejandro said...

A great story one that brings to mind...It's not what we get out of life but what memories are left for our future, our children and our children's, children.

Great read Cheers

Robin said...

You certainly do justice to your feelings for the place here! A devoted and inspiring post. The Graham#s too are descended from a Scots clan, or at least we like to think we are...

Jim said...

Robin, you should ' Never Forget' the Graham Clan features strongly in Scottish History. One of the battle sites we visited was The Battle of Killiekrankie where Scots lead by a Graham , Earl of Montrose I think, defeated the Redcoats. A very nice valley with walking trails.
@ Alejandro- so true...one of the reasons I write our wee travel stories is to leave behind our experiences for our descendants to read. My parents and their parents stories have died with them apart from a few letters. This generation with our modern technology will leave behind theirs in a way no other generation has been able to do.
Great eh?

Cathy Sweeney said...

Wonderful post about your pilgrimage to this special place. I've always had an interest in and respect for my ancestors -- would love take a journey like yours in Ireland and Sweden. Your photos and words tell your story so beautifully.

Jim said...

Don't leave it too long Cathy, it will be enjoyed that much longer.

Pamela said...

Gorgeous pics, great history!

Andrea said...

How wonderful that you know your heritage and can trace it back. I've tried genealogy but didn't get much further than great-grandparents. This is a beautiful story.

Healing Morning said...

I think perhaps the highest compliment any writer can hear is that their work evokes chills in the reader. I can sincerely relate that this article accomplished that for me...chills danced over my skin repeatedly as I read your words. Tears tightened my throat and stung my eyes more than once, and I smile to note that we have common ancestry. I am from Knoxville, East Tennessee in the U.S., and this area is heavily populated by Scotch-Irish descendants. I envy you your travels and hope one day in the near future to visit the Old Country to connect in a similar manner. Your words and thoughts are richly textured, and I am enjoying reading your work.

~ Dawn

Jim said...

Wow thanks Dawn, I accept those comment humbly. I was hoping the interweaving of time was not too confusing for readers, and if I had written twice the length of story perhaps the transitions would have been smoother. But for you to say that, bears my thoughts out that the reader can immerse and feel the intent if they allow their imagination to take them there... and back.
And a longer story would not have been as focussed....
You have a rich area of culture with a scots-Irish mix there. In many ways they share in the history period written about.Around 130 Irish fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden. Interestingly enough, well sadly even, they when captured were treated much as prisoners of war, whereas the Scots were treated as rebels and the wounded were killed, and captives shot or transported, many to North American colonies.

Jim said...

@ Andrea, genealogy is easy these days with online sites full of info that can be swapped by others searching related family trees.
Ours was done by a relative 15 years ago prior to that and all by hand, snail mail and heritage visits.
So he traced our line back as far as the period written about. Beyond the Jacobite rising of 1745, it is difficult for many Scots descendants to trace back because no one could read or write so the local churches were where all written records of births deaths and marriages were kep as the clergy were the only ones could read and write.
But subsequent to Culloden, the churches were targeted by the Redcoats and trashed or destroyed as the clan culture was deliberately to be crushed .

Jeremy B said...

Wow, what a legend in your family! Good thing he decided to spawn before that battle - not a fun way to go!

Jim said...

You and I Jeremy tell such great stories :-)

Nomadic Matt said...

Amazing story Jim!

Jim said...

Thanks for dropping by Matt. Glad you liked. BTW you got me started with all this travel blogging business, and I'm glad you did that! Thanks.

Amy said...

It's amazing how we can feel an innate connection to the land of our ancestors. Beautiful post Jim!

Helen said...

I am reading your blog about your visit to Cille Choirill several years after you posted it, but am very interested in the history and how it relates to your own family. My family came from farther into Inverness-shire but I have a connection to this area and hope to visit it soon. As for your concern about the transition from present to past to present in your account, all Scots carry all of their 'story" as if it is still present - perhaps it is our Celtic imaginations that are so sensitive to the past, or perhaps the terrible destruction of our way of life has left an indelible imprint upon our psyches. Thank you for psoting this.

Big Baldy said...

my people returned with the dead chief to Keppoch after the battle of Glenorchy 1497 when the MACDONALDS recovered cattle REIVED
by the Maclarens then joined by their allies the Stewarts of Appin and the Fletchers. We stayed 200 years or so at a time when tanisty ruled. We had to move after the battle of Inverlochy as
Argyll thought it inappropriate for us to be in Montrose`s ranks. At Culloden we were not detailed a fratricide posting facing the 42
nd. Perhaps the reason for the Macdonalds not being on the right of the line. For the next 200 years we landed in Glenstrathfarrar. I hope this explains why there are nearly as many Campbells buried at Cille Choirill as Macdonalds. Dr. John MacInnes calls us the "Swordsmen of Keppoch" and yes we are 42nd cousins of both the Macintosh`s and the Macdonells

Jim McIntosh said...

Thanks for that background history Big Baldy. We did wonder about the many Campbell names in the graveyard.
There's a strong feeling of eternal peace there these days. The old scars are in the past.

Helen said...

I will be visiting Cille Choirille in mid-May, and will pray for you and all your family there.

Robert said...

Did you visit mid May Helen? I will be visiting again in a couple of weeks, I know Cille choirill intimately being originally from Brae Lochaber and being co author of the Cille Choiril booklet bought by Jim over 3 years ago. Did you go back with your brother Jim?