Donald Dow of Tomantianda (1873 - 1958)

One of the last native Gaelic speakers of Strathtummel

Donald Dow

In 1954 Tony Dilworth taped conversations, in Gaelic, with Donald Dow of Tomantianda as part of the Linguistic Survey of Scotland.

We were sitting together at the door of his house, sheltered from the wind and facing the sun up at Bohespic. He had one leg and a full beard and I was, as it were, at my grandfather's knee, absorbing with my thirsty mind the Highland riches of a past Strathtummel and down below us in the glen, Loch Tummel.

Ancestors and their Dwellings

Tony Dilworth:

Were you born in Tomintianda?

Donald Dow:

No, in Balnabodach.

Tony Dilworth:

Where were your parents from?

Donald Dow:

Originally from Appin, but we have been here three hundred years without a break. My father was from Glencoe.1

Tony Dilworth:

When did he come here?

Donald Dow:

About forty years ago. They came from Sunart. They spoke no English.

Tony Dilworth:

What was Tomintianda like when you were young? Is it Wade's road which the droves took?

Donald Dow:

No, they came through the moor. You can see miles of the road going through the hills, the heather hasn't grown there. People walk there yet. Miles and miles through the hills is green, while the rest is heather.

Tony Dilworth:

It must be a very old road?

Donald Dow:

Yes, yes, people used it a long time ago. Oh yes, generations and generations.

Tony Dilworth:

What were the thatched houses like when you were young?

Donald Dow:

The houses were all thatched at that time. Two houses fell, and 'white houses' were built in their place.2

Tony Dilworth:

How did they do the thatching?

Donald Dow:

They would go to the wood and cut bracken, and thatch the house with it and heather.

Tony Dilworth:

What did they do for the caber?

Donald Dow:

They would cut this from the wood. When they built, there were one or two men who were very good at this. They were like joiners. They would go to the wood to cut the trusses or caber. They had a good reputation for this work, they were famous for it. I often heard them speak of building house, how the caber was built into the wall, keeping the roof together.

Tony Dilworth:

Did you see houses where the fire was in the middle, on the floor?

Donald Dow:

No I didn't see fires on the floor, but they would have a big round stone with the fire on top, burning peat.

Tony Dilworth:

And you would be burning wood , I suppose?

Donald Dow:

Oh, there wasn't much wood. We cut peat.

1 These answers are somewhat confusing. The Dow (Calmanach) clan is thought to have come from further south, possibly from Glen Lochay near Killin. So perhaps he meant that his ancestors came from the other side of Appin of Dull. In addition, Donald's father, Robert Dow was baptised in Blair Atholl parish church and was presumably born at balnabodach. However, his maternal grandfather, Angus MacDonald may well have been raised in Sunart, not far from Appin on the west coast. Family tradition has it that the Macdonald family was descended from a survivor of the Glencoe massacre of 1692.
2 Many of the original homesteads only had a small stone footing, with the rest of the walls made from turf or mud-covered wickerwork. As a consequence the weight of the roof was taken by a timber frame built into the walls. Chamberbane is an example of such a cruck-framed house.

The Original Settlers

Tony Dilworth:

What about the place names?

Donald Dow:

The correct name between here and Aberfeldy, is Crois Ian (John`s Cross). They came from Appin1, crossed the river (Allt Calanaich2) at the head of the loch. They went up behind the hill, where they thought the land there could be ploughed (Coire Thormoid?). There wasn`t enough ground at the brae of the wood so they came here, and it was then they named these places. Four or five came at first, the first one said he would take Grennich, the next one Blairbuie, the third, Tressait. Tressait means the third place in Gaelic. Tom Tempaid - the hillocks?

1 Once again this is Appin of Dull. The name indicates that originally there had been a Celtic monastery in the area, and at Dull village there is the remains of one of the four sanctuary crosses
2 Perhaps he meant Allt Kynachan, which flows into Loch Tummel at its head.

Cath Coire Muclach, the Battle of Corrymuckloch

Tony Dilworth:

And do you have any tales about the smugglers?

Donald Dow:

Oh, everyone was at it, in those days. They had bothies on the moorland, and do you know, there was a kailyard at every one. They were making whisky for the inn-keepers and delivering it to them. That's where they were going when they met the Scots Greys. The Scots Greys were from Perth. They were out looking for the smugglers. That is where they came across the people of Strathtummel and Bohespic. They were going to Crieff with their whisky.

A kinsman of mine, Thomas Calmanach1, of the Balnabodach family, was - how would you say - in charge of the convoy. He was ahead of them. He recognised the smell of cigar smoke, a thing not usual in the country at all, except for rich people. He suspected trouble and went back.

There were fifteen carts laden with whisky. He made them unhitch the horses and tie them to the carts. He, himself, and his men went forward to meet the Scots Greys. Thomas Alasdair2, was a tremendously big and powerful man. He was six feet and five inches tall, with bones in him like a horse's. He had a stick, an oak cudgel, and in the first attack he struck the officer, half killing him. He fell out of his saddle and Thomas grabbed his sword, then killed the Captain. He also killed another two or three, and the rest of them fled. They had horses and they escaped, and they got through with the whisky.

Thomas had the sword and he stuck it into a rock crevice on the hillside by the road. It remained there for more than twenty years. There was a man from Bohespic called Iain Buidhe who was there, and he saw where Thomas had put the sword. He went to Corrymuckloch on his own, and took the sword home, and went over and gave it to the Duke of Atholl. It's in the castle over there, much admired, the Corrymuckloch sword.

Iain Buidhe, had a croft in Bohespic. He was getting old and was given the house for handing over the sword. His house is the house whose ruins you can see from the edge of the road. He got the house as a present from the Duke, for himself and his family, rent-free for as long as they lived. That's how it got the name - Tom Iain Buidhe. Before that its name was Tom Alasdair, but when Iain Buidhe got it, they gave it that name - Tom Iain Buidhe.

1 Calmanach is the Gaelic for the surname of Dow
2 Thomas, son of Alexander

In "Crieff: its traditions and characters" (Edinburgh 1881), Duncan MacAra claimed that the incident took place in the 1830s, and if this is so, then this Thomas Dow of Balnabodach was the younger son of Alexander Dow and Ann McEwan.

In the 1851 census Thomas was living with his brother at Balnabodach and is recorded as being a house proprietor. Considering the difficulty in making any sort of living in Borenich at that time, it must be assumed that the house had come from 'outside interests'. The property in question was a house in Bankfoot, just north of Perth, which he rented to John 'Bonnety' Stewart of Balcastle, whose monument is in the Borenich burial ground.

The Diamond Inn

John Stewart and his family outside the Diamond Inn, Bankfoot

When John 'Bonnety' Stewart and his family took up residence at their new home in Bankfoot, the house was turned into the Diamond Inn. Apparently the name of the inn was inspired by the diagonal arrangement of some of the roof slates, but the premises turned out to be a diamond for all concerned. It provided John 'Bonnety' Stewart with enough income to be able to send his youngest son, Alexander, to train as a lawyer in Edinburgh. It is purely conjecture, but perhaps Thomas Dow and 'Bonnety' had more than one business arrangement.

D˛nnchadh dubh na Curraich - Black Duncan of the Cowl

Tony Dilworth:

Have you any stories of D˛nnchadh dubh na Curraich?1

Donald Dow:

Yes, he had Breadalbane. He was a very bad man. He built Balloch Castle. Someone asked him, why are you lifting (the gaelic for building is the same word), this castle, so far up your estate, to which he replied, "To keep on going up!" It was built a bit on the other side of the estate past Dahally. The estate was over 100 miles without a break. Breadalbane was a very, big, big estate, and he did away with the Clan MacNab. They had Killin. He took possession of their estate. Well, some of the Earls of Breadalbane did; they took the MacNab estate and they took the estate of Munlochy too. They were always stealing, buying and robbing. Oh, a bad man. Now the estate is almost all waste. There is not much left. The estate came up to Bridge of Kynachan, Breadalbane`s estate did. Whisky people from Edinburgh own it now, McKinlay. His wife bought the estate.

Tony Dilworth:

Does she own it yet?

Donald Dow:

No, it was sold a year or two ago.

Tony Dilworth:

Bealach Dearg2, an old ruined castle by the river, this side of Coshieville. Was it D˛nnchadh who owned it?

Donald Dow:

The Wolf of Badenoch set it on fire.

Tony Dilworth:

When was it burned?

Donald Dow:

I couldn't give you a year, but it was when Balloch Castle was built3. When D˛nnchadh dubh na Curraich was to build Balloch castle, of course they were very superstitious then, he conferred with a spey wife (exact translation knowledgeable woman) and he asked her where he should build the castle. She told him to go out at Bealltuinn (Beltine, the first day of May was an important date in Druidical times), at three o`clock in the morning, and whichever place he was in when he heard the birdsong, was where he was to build the castle. He heard the bird-song on the loch, and he was so superstitious that he spent a fortune draining the loch. (Bird-song, or maybe thrush singing, the tape is difficult to make out) He must have been very foolish. Well he was very superstitious, he believed it, just as all the old people did at that time. They believed things like that. He could have built it elsewhere, but according to history, he built there. It cost a lot to drain the loch. It wasn't all built at the same time; a house was added, and then three towers or turrets4.

1 Black Duncan seems to have been born with a layer of amnion over the face, and this cowl was thought, by tradition, to be a mystical sign of extraordinary powers.
2 It is difficult to know which castle was being referred to. Perhaps it was Garth castle.
3 The Wolf of Badenoch could not have been responsible as he lived about 200 years prior to the building of Balloch. However, Garth Castle is associated with Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, as he died there in 1396, and he was responsible for the burning of Elgin Cathedral.
4 Balloch castle was started by Grey Colin Campbell, Duncan's father, in about 1550.

Fairies and Ghosts

Tony Dilworth:

Were there fairies over there (at Balloch)?

Donald Dow:

Yes, (laughing) in the well.

Tony Dilworth:

Are they still there?

Donald Dow:

No. Compulsory education. They didn't like people who had schooling. They ran away. Oh, the old people, I heard talk of, as I told you before, two woman were baking for a wedding. They spread the bannocks here and there on the bench, to dry or cool. When they got up at daybreak, the bannocks were all gone. It was the fairies who came in the night and took them away. (laughter) I am sure it was them! Oh, they believed that. Yes indeed. Sitting in the long winter nights, they talked about fairies, ghosts (taibhsean), and witches. They were seeing things when people died.

I heard a story about two brothers from Bohespic. They went to a ceilidh one night, two miles or so from the house. Returning home in the early hours of the morning, there was an old man, the other side of the moor, he was eighty, and he came from Appin. They were coming home when they met this man's ghost. It had come to the main road and the ghost passed them. Oh, it was true indeed, the community said. They didn't ceilidh for a year afterwards, and then only in the daytime, returning home before dark. You see, the old man died that night, and his ghost was making his way to the graveyard in Appin. They believed all these things. Oh yes, even though they had some learning, they believed these things yet. Oh yes, despite learning.

When the Sun rose Late

There was a man in Chamberbane, they used to have Mods there. It was given this name because it had been burnt down at one time, 'bane' in this instance meaning laid waste. There was a farmer there, not so long since. He was an ignorant fellow. He had a dancing school, or attended a dancing school.

It was the year 1897, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and there was a terrible drought. They couldn't harvest the corn into ricks or stooks, they just had to cut it like hay. A few men were over at the smiddy, and Alasdair Stewart was there. He said, Strathtummel is the worst place there is for drying. Somebody said, it wasn't as bad at Baile na Creige. The sun is facing us at midday. It won't be as bad up in Rannoch, the sun has lost her strength at Rannoch.

They believed the sun rose at Baile na Creige at twelve and then travelled to Rannoch for five or six o`clock. They believed it took five or six hours to reach Rannoch.

Tony Dilworth:

That man couldn't ever have been in Rannoch at midday!

Donald Dow:

There was a reporter who offered half-a-crown for this joke, about forty years ago. Oh yes, it wasn't in fun, he believed it all right. This tells how ignorant they were at this time. They ought to have had a little learning by then.

Tony Dilworth:

Are you tired now? Will you say something Mrs Dow? Tell them about the old fashioned ceilidhs when they had mashed potatoes out of the bowl. Speak in Gaelic if you please.

Potatoes, Porridge and Puddings

Donald Dow:

Very often they had mashed potatoes for their supper, cooked in a large three legged pot similar to the one out at the door there. The potatoes were put in a basin, and there was plenty of milk. Everyone took a spoon and helped themselves from the basin . They used to eat porridge much the same way. Everyone put their spoons in as there were no plates.

Tony Dilworth:

Did they put milk on it?

Donald Dow:

Yes, yes each person had a bowl of milk. You took a spoonful of porridge and dipped it into your milk. Yes, yes, five or six eating out of the basin, eating until they were satiated.

Tony Dilworth:

Did you eat much meat?

Donald Dow:

There wasn't much meat. Pig meat, everyone kept a boar. They reared a pig for killing. They salted it to preserve it, and hung it from the rafters to dry, to cure.

Tony Dilworth:

Did you make marags (puddings)?

Donald Dow:

Yes, yes, yes, black and white marags. It was in the pan they cooked the marags. Oatmeal, pigmeat.

Mrs Dow:

Onions were added.

Tony Dilworth:

You weren't making the marags in the intestines?

Donald Dow:

No, no, in the pot or in the frying pan.

Mrs Dow:

When a pig was killed, the marags were made in the intestines.

Tony Dilworth:

What is the Gaelic for sausages?

Donald Dow:

Maragan (laughing).

Tony Dilworth:

You had a lot of potatoes, I expect.

Donald Dow:

Yes, yes.

Baldie and the Bull

Donald Dow:

The old man I was telling you about before. This man was in Kynachan, the other side of the river. Thomas Mac Alasdair. He was a big powerful man. Thomas Mac Alasdair was at the battle of Balmuckloch. It was a gentleman who had Kynachan at that time, he was an English man. He was an imbecile. He went wrong, went off his head. He went round the world and this Thomas went with him. When he died, Thomas received a lump of money and some of his belongings.

Baldie Mor worked there. He had a Highland bull, and as I told you there was a big show every year, and Baldie Mor was at the show with the bull. There was a big gathering, and everyone knew Baldie. There was a German at the hotel. He asks Baldie if he was ever abroad, the reply was yes, to Aberfeldy.

There were several men in a cart, it was my father I heard speak of it. He was there. Baldie and the bull were wrestling. He grasped the horn, and his nostrils, twisted his neck and knocked the bull to the ground. The neck was broken. When the bull fell, he bellowed. Baldie responded with a similar snort and shouted 'Well you started it first' (laughing) Many, many years a stone was erected where Baldie killed the bull. When I returned to the area, I couldn't find the stone. It was gone. I suppose they were looking to see if the bull's horn was there.

When the English farmer, I think his name was Walker, had Kynachan, Baldie left and took a croft on the other side of the hill. A three acre croft. He was cutting peat. He had a horse and cart. The horse got stuck in the peat bog, and couldn't pull the cart out. Baldie unyoked the horse and went between the trams and pulled the cart out himself. He retorted, 'No wonder the horse struggled, it took me all my time to take the cart out!'

School and Church

Tony Dilworth:

Were there many children when you went to school?

Donald Dow:

There were 70. There aren't that number now I suppose.

Tony Dilworth:

Where did you go to church?

Donald Dow:

Struan, over the hill, every Sabbath. That was eight miles.

Tony Dilworth:

I hear you carried your boots and put them on when you arrived at the church.

Donald Dow:

Yes. to save them from getting dirty. Sometimes the moor was very wet, snow, and the road was not very good, heather and such like. And the loch, was frozen in winter. Sometimes for two months.

Tony Dilworth:

Were you skating?

Donald Dow:

Oh no, no. They would go out in their boots. They had no skates.

The Drovers

Tony Dilworth:

Have you stories of the drovers?

Donald Dow:

There weren't too many here. The crofts wouldn't sustain many animals. They had sheilings out in the moors, they had permission from the Duke of Atholl for this. They made cheese and butter out there, for the winter. The women stayed out all summer, and sold some of the cheese and butter. They might kill and salt a calf for winter.

Tony Dilworth:

Have you information about the drover's stance?

Donald Dow:

All the cattle coming from the North stopped there, at Kynachan bridge. There was a big market there.

Tony Dilworth:

Which road did they take?

Donald Dow:

The road from the North, up to Bohespic and on to Falkirk. They rested at Kynachan bridge. The hotels looked after the dogs while the drovers rested and the droves were fed. They have built the power station on the drover`s stance.

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