The term gnàth-fhacal or more commonly sean-fhacal is the Gaelic equivalent of the English word ‘proverb’. One such proverb was explained in a letter to a 19th century publication called Cuairteir nan Gleann. Written in beautiful stylised Glencoe Gaelic by a man writing under the pen name Gleann Comhann (Glencoe); I believe he was a certain MacInnes of Carnoch, Glencoe, but perhaps I may yet be informed more precisely as to the identity of the writer.
The letter’s contents are mainly an exploration of what is known in Gaelic as dinnseanachas(topography) and stories such as these, common throughout the Gàidhealtachd were a way of connecting with the landscape. Place names were remembered through events which happened there and often our lochs, mountains, rocks and rivers are given more than one name referring to different events which took place there hundreds of years apart. As an indigenous tribal people the Gàidheal of the Scottish Highlands are not unique in this way. In a society in which a deep knowledge of the landscape was needed stories such as these were a necessity for the survival of our people and our way of life.
Prior to the use of firearms, hunting took place amongst ‘hunting parties’ over large areas of terrain for several days and would have involved the use of mìol-choin (hunting dogs) along with the bow and arrow.
To contextualize the story I have made a map with the place names (dinnseanachas), most of which are no longer extant marked in red:
As ever, English translations do no justice to the linguistic genius of Gaelic storytelling but here is my summarised translation of the letter “Gleann Comhann” submitted to the Cuairteir:
There’s was an old saying that was common around Glencoe and Ballachulish but not many knew what it actually meant or where it came from;
“Bidh tuilleadh uime na bha mu’n chul-chàise.” Literally “There will be more made of this than the cul-chàise” (hunter’s portion – literally the most prized cut of venison which was taken from the animals back)
We all know that there are two types all over the world – the wealthy and the poor and the Highlands is no different!
There was an old custom before Nollaig (Christmas time) Faoidh Nollaig (the Christmas hunt) amongst clansmen and their cadet families so they could get plenty of venison for the Fèisd Nolliag (Christmas Feast). This tradition was kept particularly by the Glencoe people.
In the year 1543 on the morning of the 19th day of the first month of winter 18 men went hunting. They were a hardy bunch and no matter what the weather they’d take to the hill without weakness like the mist.
Those who lived in Bràigh a’ Ghlinne (the brae of the glen) went up Gleann Leac na Muidhe over by Cadha na Cunneagaidh and those who lived in the Srath a’ Ghlinne (flat of the glen) went up by Gleann an Fhiodh over by Mam Uchdaidh and at the end of the day both groups settled on Cnocan na Comhairle – a beautiful wee hill on the South side of Mam Uchdaidh.
Cnocan na Comhairle was the place where hunting parties would customarily gather for a discussion about the location of herds of deer.
Here they split into three small groups – six in each, and these were to meet on the afternoon of the third day of hunting at Ruidhe na Coinneamh – near to Taigh an Ruigh (Kingshouse) where Fionn held feasts for the heroes of the Fianntaichean (Fenians) in ancient times – this was the place of gathering for heroes.
After reaching an agreement at Cnocan na Comhairle one group went over the shoulder of Corrabheinn out by the pass of Caol Chreireann over by Gleann Èite (Glen Etive) out by Lairig Dochairt and into the brae of Gleann Urchaidh (Glenorchy) .
The other two groups went down Gleann Creireann (Glen Creran) and split up at Eilirig (Elleric); one of these groups going down to the Ceann Loch Creireann (Kinlochcreran) and the other group going down the side of Gleann Uidhir (Glenure) out over Creag Eanacha and into Ceann Loch Èite (Kinlochetive).
Each group were in this way happy at their hunting and as arranged they all met at Ruidhe na Coinneamh on the afternoon of the third day.
They all put their portions of venison to be shared out amongst each other according to custom so everyone would have an equal portion to take home to their families.
Everything went agreeably until there was only one cul-chàis left and an argument started amongst them as to how this was to be shared.
In this way a conflict arose amongst them and the hardy warriors were filled with anger:
“’S o gharbh bhriathran gu marbh bhuillean sgaiteach geur, gus fa-dheoidh nach robh mac mathar ann a b’ urrainn sgeul a thoirt mar thachair”
“And from rough words came death blowing sharp cuts until eventually there was no mother’s son who was able to tell what had happened”
Night came and their relatives were very worried going from village to village to find out what had happened to them. At about day break a search party went over by the Innean to the Ruidhe. As they approached the place with the day breaking brightly it seemed they could see bodies lying on the brae of the river next to the Ruidhe. They arrived closer and there they all were without life.
The shore of the stream and the loch for about 100 yards from where they were all lying was red with blood.
In those days the lochan was known as Lochan Ruidhe na Coinneamh (Little Loch at the place of meeting) but from that day on it has been known as Lochan na Fala (Lochan of Blood).
Each body was handled and one was found with breath left in it. He was taken home – every effort being made to heal his wounds, but each effort failed and he eventually died. While there was life left in this man they tried to get him to explain the events that lead to the conflict but they never got any more out of him than has been told here.
So there we have it – this is where the saying “Bidh tuilleadh uime na bha mu’n chul-chàise.” Literally; “There will be more made of this than the cul-chàise” came from.
In 1894 the letter was republished in a publication called Mac Talla. I have provided a copy of the this here for those wishing to read the original Gaelic version of the tale.