In the footsteps of Ancestors in Glen Spean

The weather was fairly sunny as we headed out through Glen Spean to Glen Roy to check out a few sites, including Cille Choirill and Achnacochine. It was Ron’s turn to walk in the footsteps of ancestors, his family had been crofters evicted from the land during the Highland Clearances, before settling in Australia.

During the highland clearances up to 2,000 families per day were evicted from the land. The landowners sent their factors out to move people out without their livestock, crops and burning their houses to ensure they didn’t return. Many people died from starvation and exposure. The stories of brutality of some of the landowners is unbelievable. These days there are more descendants of Highlanders actually outside of the highlands in places like Canada, America and Australia.

In Roy Bridge we stopped at St Mary’s Church and had a look around, it had a shrine to Mary Mackillop, the Australian Saint, however it wasn’t the church we were looking for.

A lady stopped at the church so we explained who we were and asked about the other church. The lady shared the same family name and was quite excited. Her sister, the family historian was at home so she invited us back to her house up the glen for a chat.

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It was a nice visit and we found out little bits and pieces about the family. Our Campbell ancestors lived at Achnacochine with MacDonalds, who despite all the stories of bad blood between Campbells and MacDonalds were our lifelong friends. The ladies’ family came from another small village further up the hill about two miles from Achnacochine and we were most probably related through our G-G-G-G grandfather.
When the villages were cleared some families went to Canada, ours to Australia and theirs were able to move to another glen.

They pointed us in the direction of Cille Choirill, a 15th century church with an ancient burial ground. It’s set into the hillside a few miles from Roy Bridge, with commanding views of the valley below. Its named after St Cairall, an Irish Missionary who lived on the site around 600 AD.

The drive up the hill towards the church is interesting with cairns on either side of the road amongst the trees. The road then opens to fern covered hills which lead down to the road and as you wind up the hill and around the corner the black stone church appears.

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We looked around until the weather closed in a bit so we headed off for lunch. Later in the day dressed in a raincoat Ron headed back out to Cille Choirill where he parked up and took a walk along the River Spean. Google Maps had a few roads on it that turned out to be farm tracks or worse which led to a little bridge over a small gorge to the far side of the river.

It was interesting walking along the riverbank thinking that ancestors had probably walked through the same fields. At Achnacochine the ruins of a few houses, farm buildings, and stone fences remain. Across the river Cille Choirill was quite visible and it probably played a big role in village life.

All around the ruins sheep grazed which was quite ironic as the highlands were cleared of people to be replaced by sheep.

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Further up the hill where the other Campbell’s lived is now a pine plantation which had just been felled exposing the ruins of the former village. I wonder if the people working in the area ever stop to think about what happened to the people who lived in these houses.

Tomorrow we head to Glencoe a magnificent valley with shear mountains around it and also the scene of the infamous Glencoe Massacre.

Tonight we stayed at Achintee Farmhouse Hostel link to website is here. They also have B&B accommodation if you prefer.

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