St Fillans – a look into its past
Much of the input in this blog was published in the “Guide to St Fillans “ about 1980 . It is said that Queen Victoria swithered at one time between St Fillans and Balmoral when she was seeking a Scottish Estate . I my self was delighted to be invited to appear in the BBC TV Landward programme in 2010 concerning the village and its origins .
Some two hundred years ago it was known asNeish Island
and consisted of a few thatched biggins or cottages . The largest one was called Portmore and another was called Portbeag or Littleport . Above St Fillans as we know it
today lies the remains of an old
township called Morell located to the west of Glentarken Wood . It was eventually abandoned at the beginning of
the 19th Century when the occupants
moved down the hill and settled in the cottages which had been built at Port of Lochearn . Port of
In 1817 Lord Gwydyr , whose wife Clementina Drummond , daughter and heiress of James , Duke of Perth , had inherited the vast Drummond Estates , commenced an imaginative development policy which saw land being feued ( A Scottish perpetual lease) for building purposes along the lochside . These feus were taken by local people and others from the nearby towns and villages . The purchasers inevitably built substantial properties either for retrial purposes or for a bolt hole in the summer for themselves and their families . It was at this time that the name St Fillans was adopted as the name of the village .
DUNDURN : The reasoning behind this was that at nearby Dundurn , adjacent to where the Golf Course now stands , was where the saint is deemed to have lived and worked at propagating the gospel amongst the Pictish natives about 500 AD . St Fillan was of Irish extraction from
and his name was originally written as Faolan.
Variations such as “ Faolan the Leper “ , Faolan the Stammerer “ or “ Faolan
the Eloquent “ have all been passed down
in various documents and all seem to refer to the same person . If you follow
the road past the Golf Course you come
to the ruined Munster nestling
below the “ dumpling “ that is Dundurn Hill ! The hill stands about 600 feet above the flood plain and is
the site of a Pictish Fort . The importance
of this is clear when one realises that it was here , at the west end of Loch Earn the Irish/Scottish Kingdom
of Dalriata , et the Pictish Kingdom of
Fortriu or Fortren . It is
mentioned in the Iona Annal for
the year 683 when it was under siege by the Celts
from the West . A number of
archaeological excavations under
the auspices of Dundurn Church have
take place , most recently in the
1970s . Two stone and timber forts
have been discovered near the
hill top . St Fillan’s Chair the rock at the west end of the hill top was built into a rampart wall some 4 metres
thick ( 13 feet) , This surrounded an oval area 20 metres by 15 metres ( 65 by 50 feet ) with a
flat roof . Most of the stone used ( now scattered over
the hillside ) consisted of river
boulders carried up from the valley
bottom but in the floor and elsewhere were flags and blocks of
old red sandstone probably quarried
beyond Comrie . Many iron nails
have been found , proving Dunfillan to
have been only one of only two stone and timber forts in Glasgow University
constructed with nails . Lower terraces a re evident where animals may have been kept temporarily or indeed ,
crops raised . The fort had its own
water supply in the form of a well which figured later on in the miracles attributed to the
Saint . The well’s healing powers included
the cure of rheumatism of the
back . Sufferers lay on St Fillan’s Chair and then were dragged by their feet all the way to the bottom of the hill! Britain
Artefacts found during the digs include a small but exceptionally fine glass ornament in the form of a dome of black and white swirled glass decorated with five inlays and five bosses of blue and white spirals . In the ashes of the earlier citadel wall was found a silver strap fastener shaped a s a horse’s head with bulging eyes and nostrils , a design fashionable in the 7th century .
To the south of the hill is a ravine known as “ Bealach an t’Sagairt ” or “ The Priest’s Pass “ .
ISLAND : Originally
called the Isle of Morell – it lies just
off the shore of present day St Fillans
.There is an old legend associated with it which bears repeating ! Early in the
17th century the isle was
used a s a place of refuge by the
chieftains of the Clan Neish – a sept of
the MacGregors . The Chief of the MacNabs from across the hill in Killin on
Loch Tayside had a sent a body of men to
Crieff to purchase provisions for their
Christmas Dinner and on the way home laden with a multitude of good things ,
they were waylaid by the Neishes who
overpowered them stole their
provisions , and let them go.
MacNab when he heard of this was furious and plotted revenge. He called his twelve sons together and told them his plan . As the Neishes owned the only boat on Loch Earn , the sons were to carry a boat from Loch Tay over the hill to Loch Earn . In the dead of night they were to launch it and attack the Neishes in their island stronghold. They waited for a suitable night and when there was a full moon when the old Chief spoke his Gaelic instructions - “ Bhi’n oidche an oidche – nan ghillean an ghillean ! “ This as you all know means – “ The night is the night , if the lads are the lads ! “ The 12 sons of MacNab set out , shouldered their boat and started on the long rough trek up Ardeonaig Glen and don Glentarken to Loch Earn .
The Neishes thinking themselves secure in their island fastness were all asleep and neglected to mount a guard . The MacNabs landed unobserved and made short work of their enemies . It is said that the whole Clan were wiped out except for one small boy who managed to swim ashore unnoticed and that from him are descended all the Neishes now extant ! Since then it has been called
. Neish Island
The 12 sons of MacNab , their mission accomplished started back for Loch Tay but some way up Glentarken they tired of carrying their boat and abandoned it and the remains were to be seen there many years after . When Iain Min or Smooth John , the eldest son of the MacNab , told his father what had been done and exhibited the head of the Neish Chieftain , the old man said - “ The night was the night , and the lads were the lads ! “
GLENTARKEN : The Glentarken Boulder or “ Rocking Stone “ is well worth a visit . It stands by itself about a couple of mils up the Glen . At the base where it rests on the ground , it measures 70 feet in circumference but at 10 feet up where it spreads out it measures 110 feet .An early writer stated that 60 or even a 100 men could shelter under the over hang .
DUNDURN BURIAL GROUND : There is a curious tomb stone in the grave yard . It was at one time called the “ Adam and Eve “ stone because the figures on the front were supposed to represent Adam and Eve and that on the back the tree – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil . In reality it commemorates one of a family of MacGregors or long tenants of the farm of
Dundurn which is
nearby . At the time , about 1700 , the
name of MacGregor was proscribed or
outlawed , and that particular family had
taken the name of their superior
, that of Drummond . The tree carved on
the back represents the MacGregor arms ,
a pine tree crossed by a sword bearing a crown on its point . The initials of
Drummond and his wife are carved on the front of the stone .
THE MAJOR’S GRAVE : About one and half miles east of Ardvolich which lies some three miles from St Fillans and just below the croft called Cillemhor ( The Big Wood ) is a stone by the roadside :
This stone marks the place
Of interment of Major James Stewart
Afterwards removed to the family vault
At Dundurn . Died about 1660
James Stewart of Ardvorlich had had an eventful life during which he had incurred the enmity of several of the neighbouring Clans . These Clans had been seeking an opportunity for revenge but he had been careful to avoid giving them any chance of catching him unawares . This man of many enemies , strangely enough , died in his bed ! His friends and retainers gathered for the wake at Ardvorlich before setting out on the long carry to the family burial place at Dundurn . heard of his death nd furious that they had been cheated of their revenge while he was alive , determined to wreak their revenge by dishonouring his corpse . Word came of their intention as the cortege was slowly and painfully wending its way along the 5 miles to Dundurn .
The road at that time was merely a track and did not follow the side of the
Loch as it does now . It ran much higher up the hill side , so they hurriedly left the
track and descended to the loch side and
at a secluded spot sheuched ( old Scots
word meaning buried ) the corpse and dispersed .
Thus , in the nick of time , James ‘s enemies were cheated ! When times were quieter , his body was exhumed and taken and buried in the little chapel of Dundurn .
GRAVES OF THE
SEVEN MACDONALDS OF GLENCOE: Near
the east gate of Ardvorlich and just across the bridge over thr burn is a second stone which carries
the following inscription :
Near this spot were interred
The bodies of 7 MacDonalds of Glencoe
Killed when attempting to harry
Anno Domini 1620
A Stewart , John Stewart of Strathgarry in Atholl had been murdered by the Glencoe men . This led to a raid by a confederation of all the highland Stewarts – Stewarts of Appin – Atholl and Ardvorlich – upon the homesteads of the MacDonalds of Glencoe , when the Chief and his eldest son were both killed . This was followed naturally enough by the MacDonald thirst for revenge . A party of MacDonalds , seven in number , guided by a MacGregor from Glendochart called McClerich ( or Clerk ) , raided Ardvorlich with the intention of burning down the house and “ biggins “ . James Stewart of Ardvorlich was at the time hiding in a cave in the rock face just above the present St Fillans . There he had a dream that rats were gnawing at the foundations of Ardvorlich . Three times he dreamt the same dream and so vivid was it that he judged it might be some kind of warning and determined to go and see for himself what it might mean . He arrived at home just in time to see a man with a lighted brand trying to set fire to the thatched roof of the dairy . whilst a woman was struggling with him in order to prevent him from doing so . James had his gun – the Gunna Breachd – with him , a famous gun which never missed . He took aim and fired . commending the shot to God – and shot the MacDonald dead .
By this time some of his own men had arrived on the scene and wasted no time in slaying the remaining raiders . Only
Clark escaping to be chased and killed in the
nearby wood called ever since Coille
Chlerich . They made hurdles and dragged
the bodies down to the lochside and buried them in a mass grave . Many years
later when foundations for the new
road round the haugh at Ardvorlich were being prepared , the skeletons of 7 men
were dug up . They were re buried nearby
and this stine was erected to mark the spot.