St Fillans Perthshire - a look into it's past

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 as  Port of Lochearn 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 .
Neish Island
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 Munster 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 Dundurn Church 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 Glasgow University 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 Britain  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!


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 “ .


THE NEISH 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 West 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 .

THE 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.











  1. Excellent article on St Fillans for celebrating Visit Scotland History Heritage and Archaeology #HHA2017


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