Anyone interested in Scottish history and culture will at some point come across the seanachie, the Gaelic teller of old tales.
Gaelic culture was very much an oral one and a Seanachie in those days had the responsibility to tell the tales of a clan or noble family as a keeper of history and traditions. Only later, after the Gaelic traditions were forced to give way to the English influence in the 1600s, the Seanachie moved away from orally recording family history and the glorious deeds of his chieftain to telling Gaelic folk tales for education and entertainment. After all, once the Gaelic way of life had come to an end after the English invasions, the traditions had become tales from the past. Traditions, that could only be kept by not being forgotten through stories told.
Therefore, a Seanachie is so much more than just a storyteller, he is a keeper of traditions, a bridge to the past, a bearer of wisdom and a reminder of things lost or nearly forgotten. But he also entertains and amuses, strikes fear and awe in those who listen and leads the mind of many a child into the realms of myth and folklore.
Alexander Stewart was born on Benbecula in 1829 and was minister in Ballachulish and Onich for half a century. He died in Onich Manse 7th January 1901. His wife died a year later. The Celtic Cross memorial that now stands in Innis na Birlinn cemetery near Corrran, it once stood near the post office in Onich but had to be moved when the road was widened.
Under the pen name of Nether-Lochaber (a historic area in Mid-Argyll) he wrote about his dogs and hedgehogs with humour, and with wisdom about the ancient artefacts he had found, about natural history, folklore and legends. Stewart soon became a tourist attraction in the area around Ballachulish. He was a poet and a translator of Gaelic poetry and campaigned for Gaelic to be taught in Highland schools. Something which is quite natural today but certainly wasn’t during his lifetime.
You need to know where to look to find the graveyard and the memorial, both are virtually invisible from the busy road between Ballachulish and Fort William. It is worth a visit, though.
sources and further reading:
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Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.
Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.
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