A Family Business

Let me introduce you to my great great grandparents, Peter MacFarlane and his wife Mary, nee MacDonald. Peter’s father was one John MacFarlane of Kingussie, reputed to have been in his 80’s when his son was born in 1808. His mother Grace was the granddaughter of the Chief of the Keppochs who died leading his clan at the battle of Culloden in 1746. There’s a family tradition, which I really hope is true, that John MacFarlane, my great great great grandfather, may have been one of two MacFarlane brothers who fought at Culloden in 1746, on the Prince’s side.  As John was probably born in 1724, he would have been in his early twenties at the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and at that age was unable to resist the adventure and appeal of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Anecdote: – “Two MacFarlane brothers fought at Culloden. (One was short and stocky and very clever and known as the ‘scholar’. The other was tall and very strong but not very bright.) They escaped the massacre by fleeing – the tall one carrying the smaller and the latter doing all the directing.” (from manuscript by Robert MacFarlane, with kind permission.)

Culloden456

Whether he was the ‘scholar’ or the dim brother, it’s not outwith the bounds of possibility that John MacFarlane might have actually met Bonnie Prince Charlie. We just don’t know, but neither do we know that he didn’t! Robert is working on finding the proof, believe me!

Peter’s father had died when he was just a boy so he was brought up by his uncle, his mother’s brother, in Killiechonate and eventually became a carpenter and contractor. It was there that he met and eventually married Mary MacDonald in 1836. It would appear that he took over the Shop at Spean Bridge in the 1840’s; by the time of the 1851 census he was described as joiner, postmaster and merchant.

Peter and Mary had five sons and one daughter, plus another little girl who died as a toddler as a result of a bonfire accident. It was the second son, Archie, who took over the shop from his father. It seems that John, the oldest, gave up his claim as his brother Archie was lame after being kicked by a horse in his youth. John went off to London and became a successful businessman, making his money in stocks and shares; he married but had no children. The third son, George, trained as a carpenter and emigrated to America, whilst the fourth, Angus, took Holy Orders and eventually became Bishop of Dunkeld. George settled in Cleveland Ohio, where he married and had two children. I don’t have a picture of George (1841-1914), but here are John (1836-1913) and Bishop Angus (1843-1912).

Next in line comes Jane Eliza, who was born in 1847, a couple of years after the sister, also named Jane, who had died in the tragic accident. Jane Eliza married Angus MacIntosh who was a gamekeeper, then land manager of the Loch Shiel Estate. They lived at Arisaig and had eight children. Here are pictures of a young Jane Eliza, and one a few years later.

Jane and family
Here we have Jane and Angus and four of their eight children – Donald, Anne, servant lady also named Ann, Georgina, Peter. Both Anne and Georgina married and had families of their own, but no-one knows what happened to the young men, they seem to have emigrated to Canada and disappeared without trace. Their other children, not pictured here, were John, Mary, Clementina (Clemy) and Grace.

Angus died in 1909 age 79. Jane Eliza survived him for a further 31 years and died in 1940 at Cranachan, where she’d gone to live with her daughter Georgina. She was 93.

Peter and Mary’s seventh child was born in on the 20th June 1849. Here’s an account of his birth (told by Theresa Otto, she who went to South Africa):

My grandfather was born in the house at Spean Bridge. The present sitting room was then 2 rooms and he was born in the middle room.  His father had been away for a period attending a sale. He returned with one or two friends in the evening and his wife served them with a meal. There was a squeak from the corner.  “What’s that?” asked Peter Snr. “That’s your latest son” replied his wife!!!  And that’s how my great grandfather heard of the birth.

Peter 1922

So this – finally! – brings us to my own family’s connection to the Spean Bridge MacFarlanes . The baby who had popped into the world with so little inconvenience to his busy mother, and even less to his father, was my great grandfather, Peter (Jnr). I’ve mentioned him a few times in previous posts, but mostly in his later years when he was already well established in Fort William. However although we are certainly going to trace his story in future posts, for now let’s just note his arrival into this crowded household and turn the focus back on the family business and the brother who eventually took over the shop from their father – Archie, the second son.

archie and catherine

Archie married Catherine Redmond, who I think came from Dublin, in 1875. It is interesting to me that they were wed in Kinning Park in Glasgow, which makes me think that Catherine was perhaps living there at the time. I wonder how they met – perhaps she was working for a supplier and it was love at first sight – wouldn’t you just like to think so? They certainly make a rather handsome couple.

Shop 1 001
The original shop, mid 1870’s. The indistinct figure in front of the building is probably Archie with his oldest child, Catherine.
Shop 2 001
A somewhat clearer picture taken a few years later. Archie is standing in front of the shop – you can see the goods in the window. In front of the house we can see Archie’s wife Catherine (in the hat) and maybe some of his daughters, or children and servant(s). Note that development of the building had begun, with improved chimney pots and a new dormer window above the front porch. Peter Snr was probably out of the picture by now – he died in 1887, five years after his wife Mary.
Shop 3 001
By about 1900, further improvements had been carried out in the shape of some new windows. Here’s Archie standing in front of his newly extended shop.

Archie and Catherine had five daughters and two sons, although the youngest one, John Archibald, born 1889, died of scarlet fever when he was only two or three. Here’s a nice picture of all the family together, taken about 1905, probably capturing a fleeting moment before the grown up daughters would start leaving home. Four of the five got married and started families of their own, as did son Peter Thomas, the youngest surviving child. Mary Theresa never married and ran the shop along with Peter T, who took over the reins once his father died in 1908.

Archie & family 2 - Copy
Standing – Jane Eliza (Jeannie), Peter Thomas, Jessie Margaret (Daisy), Georgina Bride. Seated – Mary Theresa, Archie, Catherine with her first child (Catherine) on her knee and Grandma Catherine by her side.

Drawing together the threads of this narrative has been a slightly disorientating experience for me. It has caused an almost seismic shift in my focus as I’ve gone from regarding Fort William as being THE home of the MacFarlanes to really understanding how the roots of this branch of the family actually lie here in Spean Bridge. And in fact that understanding can make one feel like a bit of an outsider, not really part of the real family, which is probably a slightly ridiculous reaction and one which should be resisted!

I do wonder though if this isn’t part of that legacy of loss I inherited from my father, who if you remember, was always hankering after the past. As I’ve been setting down, step by step, the story of the shop and piecing together the parts played by the various Archies and Peters and Janes and Johns, I’ve started to get much more of a feel for the whole fabric of relationships, and a sense of the family saga which would have been passed down from generation to generation. A saga that seems strangely familiar even though I feel I come to it almost as a visitor from far away.

But not quite a stranger. As I became immersed in the elements of the tale, I was aware of tendrils of memory swirling around, pieces of the jigsaw that suddenly make sense when you see them in conjunction with everything else. I now understand, for example, that the Aunt Clemy that my Dad used to talk about must have been Jane Eliza’s daughter, born in Arisaig, married and living in Corpach. That the ‘Morag Arisaig’ we visited one year was the daughter of Jane’s oldest son John, and that her two brothers, John and Angus, perished in WW2. Robert tells me that Morag only died recently, but I’m NOT going to engage in any regrets that I didn’t have contact with her over the years! (Sigh)

I’ve no doubt that other cousins will take one look at these old photos and will know immediately, or can work out, where they fit in. Robert will see his grandfather Peter T as a young man. Cousin Catriona will see her grandmother Georgina. Others will recognise family names that they share. I expect it will be the same with your family.

We’ll explore the further history of the shop in the next post. Meantime, I’ll leave you with this final family group, Jane Eliza with five of her children. Note that the Georgina in this picture is a different person from the one above. I kind of wonder if this might have been taken during WW1, on account of what looks to me like a VAD uniform. Perhaps Mary had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a unit of civilian volunteers who helped nurse injured soldiers.

Clementina family group
Back – Grace, John, Georgina. Front – Clementina, Jane, Mary
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Spean Bridge, a very Highland Village

I’ve made quite a few passing references to Spean Bridge in this blog, largely because it was home to cousins of my father John, and George, his father before him – at various times in their lives both John and George were close to their Spean Bridge cousins. Indeed it is to Spean Bridge that we must turn in order to delve further into my family’s roots, so let’s set the scene.

lochaber map

Both Fort William and Spean Bridge are located in the area known as Lochaber, originally an ancient province of Scotland, and seeped in its myths and legends. There’s a possibly mythical association with St Columba who is supposed to have blessed a poor man’s five cows, which caused them to multiply into a herd 100 strong. Another legend tells of a glaistig, an evil goat-woman, who once lived in the area, not to mention Shakespeare’s Banquo, described by the Bard as Thane (Chief) of Lochaber

The rugged mountains, lochs and valleys of Lochaber formed the backdrop to many of the most dramatic episodes in Scottish history. Perhaps one of the most famous being the Jacobite rising of 1745 when the small hamlet of Glenfinnan saw Bonny Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’ raise his standard by the shores of Loch Shiel and claim the Scottish and English thrones in the name of his father James Stuart.

It is interesting to note that the first engagement between Government troops and clansmen loyal to Prince Charlie took place at Spean Bridge when a small number of MacDonalds routed a company of government troops on their way from Fort Augustus to Fort William. Dubbed the Highbridge Skirmish, it marked the commencement of hostilities between the two sides. However, despite initial success, the rebellion was doomed to failure and ended ignominiously on the field of Culloden some eight months later.

I’m not going to go any further into the troubled history of conflict between Scotland and England here – just google ‘Jacobite rebellion’ or ‘Highland Clearances’ if you want to know more. You only have to look at the map and see names like Fort William, Fort Augustus and, further north, Fort George to realise that these forts, called after English kings and princes, were built there for the purpose of the subjugation of the troublesome natives. As were many of the spectacular feats of engineering – roads, canals, railway lines, intended initially for military purposes (e.g General Wade’s military roads), but also as an attempt to address the problems of depopulation and open up the Highlands to development.

glenfinnan monument
The Glenfinnan Monument by the shores of Loch Shiel, commemorating the raising of the Jacobite standard in 1745.
glenfinnan viaduct
The Glenfinnan Viaduct, built 1897-89 by Robert McAlpine, ‘Concrete Bob’. The ‘Jacobite Steam Train’ has featured in several films over the years, including the Harry Potter franchise where it takes the guise of the ‘Hogwarts Express’.
great glen
The magnificent scenery of the Great Glen, a geological fault line between Fort William and Inverness. The Glen divides the Highlands in two and provides a natural travelling route from east to west, utilised by road, rail, and the famous Caledonian Canal, constructed in the early nineteenth century by the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford.
COMMANDO-MEMORIAL-VisitScotland-Kenny-Lam-all-rights-reserved-
Commando Memorial outside Spean Bridge, remembering the Commandos who trained in the area during WW2. Based at Achnagarry, 7 miles away, the training of this elite force was intensive and often involved live ammunition. Today, many families of those who have perished in more recent conflicts come to scatter their ashes in the remembrance area.
achnacarry
Achnagarry Castle 1943, with French Commando forces being put through their paces. Prospective Commandos would alight at Spean Bridge Station after a 14-hour journey, then speed march the 7 miles (11 km) to the training centre in full kit with weapon (total 36 pounds/16 kg). Anyone not arriving within 60 minutes was immediately returned to their unit.
Arisaig-Morar
The view from Arisaig on the west coast, near to the spot from which Bonny Prince Charlie escaped over the sea after his defeat at Culloden in 1746.

Of the thousands of visitors who are drawn to the Highlands every year, many come in search of their roots. They are the children of the diaspora, since the Scots, like the Irish, are a people who have dispersed to the four corners of the world, sometimes to escape poverty and famine, but often in a spirit of adventure and enterprise to seek their fortune in distant lands. The Spean Bridge MacFarlanes are no exception – like many Scottish families, they have fetched up in far flung places throughout the globe, including England, South Africa, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Norway, Australia.  However, for the moment I am more interested in those members of the clan who stayed at home. So we’re going to zoom in on the village once again in order to discover more about their story. This is a screen shot from Google.

spar 2016

Anyone heading for the Commando Memorial just a mile or so outside the village will no doubt pass this Spar shop on the way. Perhaps they will even stop to stock up on provisions. It is this very shop, and the adjoining buildings, which have been associated with the MacFarlane family for some 170 years, providing six generations with a home and a living. Though the current encumbents don’t run the shop any more, but lease it out to Spar, they still live in the house. The self same house that my Dad visited in the 1930’s when he would let himself in and play the piano in the parlour. (See blog entry ‘Tribe of Cousins’, 27 May).

In my next post I’ll share with you some fascinating old photographs which track the shop’s development over the years, as well as the changing face of the various proprietors. They were sent me by my cousin Robert (settled in South Africa) and constitute for him memories of his childhood home, which he is drawn back to Scotland to visit every so often. I am looking forward to meeting him one of these years!

To whet your appetite, here’s a view from around 1875, the earliest picture we have. As you can see, the building has undergone almost a complete transformation since then, but look carefully – could that be the very same porch as the one in the modern screenshot? They didn’t sit still these ancestors of mine – as the Highlands developed, so did they…

Shop 1 001

Come to Your Senses

timeoutI thought I’d share a little mediation exercise with you. You might find it helps you focus when you have too many thoughts swirling around your brain. I suggest you read this through first and then try it out for yourself when you have the odd five or ten minutes to spare to take some time out for yourself.

First, switch off the radio or any other distractions and just sit quietly with your eyes closed, breathing slowly. Turn your attention to the weight of you as you sit on your chair; feel the seat beneath you, your feet pressing against the floor; your legs, back, arms, your chest moving up and down with each breath. Acknowledge any small aches and pains – sometimes I will gently roll my head if my neck is a little stiff – and then pass on…

Next, breath in deeply and notice any smells in the air and, closely related, tastes in your mouth. Perhaps you can both taste and smell toothpaste if you’ve just cleaned your teeth. Or the lingering flavour of a delicious meal. Or a faint scent of cut grass coming in through the open window. Allow your mind to briefly identify the tastes and aromas, and then pass on…

Keeping your eyes shut, open your ears to the sounds that surround you. Is there a clock ticking, or other sounds made by your house? Can you hear peoples’ voices in other rooms or perhaps passing by your window? If you can hear traffic is it individual vehicles or the distant roar of a motorway?  I often find I’m holding my breath as I concentrate on allowing the tiniest noises to come to me. Note each sound as you recognise it, then let it go and pass on…

Finally, open your eyes and try to observe what’s in front of you as if you were seeing it for the first time. What colours and shapes do you notice? Cast your gaze around the room – does something catch your eye that you’ve never really looked at properly before? Today, I found my attention drawn to the vase of sunflowers sitting on my table. I noticed that their bright sunny colour made everything else in the room look quite dull.

Take a deep breath and for a short time just enjoy that feeling of being entirely in the moment. If you’re like me, none of the tasks or issues you might be tussling with will have gone away, but somehow you’ll find yourself looking at them with a fresh perspective. It’s as if focusing on the five physical senses frees up the subconscious mind to get to work like a magical sixth sense that shows you the solutions you knew were there all along, but were too busy to see.

sunflowers