a rite, roasting a cat and a warrior chief

Kilmallie old burial ground Corpach

Corpach, just a few miles outside Fort William. This is Lochaber, Cameron country, a region steeped in history and local lore. Looking back in time, there’s always a Cameron involved somehow. But wait till you read this story. This Cameron was not like any other.

KiImallie Old Burial Ground

Cameron graves in Kilmallie old burial ground

We are in the old burial ground of Kilmallie in Corpach, where many Camerons have been buried over the centuries. Some of their stories will never be told, others will never be forgotten. Fancy a tour? Here you are.


The story behind this beautiful old graveyard includes a battle, grilled cats, stolen cattle, a ferocious and notorious clan chief and of course a woman – a blue-eyed witch. The story of Allan of the Spoils is not new but rarely has it been told with focus on facts and intention of making sense of the gruesome details.

Captain of Clan Cameron

Many Camerons are buried here, among them Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, the 17th chief of the Clan Cameron. His ancestor was Allan of the Spoils, Allan Cameron, who routed the Clan Maclean in the Battle of Corpach in 1470 or thereabouts. After The Lord of the Isles had given the Cameron lands to the Clan Maclean because the Camerons hadn’t supported him in the Battle of Lochaber. The Cameron chief however had no intention of giving his wealth to another clan. The Camerons won the ensuing battle, so they didn’t have to. This battle took place here in Corpach.

But it is not just his military achievements that made him famous, it was also the ritual he allegedly had performed according to various sources.

Allan Cameron (c. 1448–c. 1480) (…) succeeded his father around 1461 as chief (and first to be styled captain) of Clan Cameron. In Gaelic tradition he is known as Ailean nan Creach (‘Allan of the Forays’) and is said to have performed the ritual at Dail a’ Chait (‘The Cat Meadow’), near Torcastle, Lochaber.

This field Canmore calls A pasture field with nothing to be seen is not far from Kilmallie old cemetery in Corpach.

Allan of the Spoils – Ailean nan Creach

The reason for the tale’s attribution to Ailean nan Creach was his notorious fame as a cattle reiver: ‘He is said to have made 32 expeditions into his enemy’s country for the 32 years that he lived, and three more, for the three-fourths of a year that he was in his mother’s womb’ (Drummond 1842: 24). After which he is said to have regretted the misdeeds of his past and have undergone the rite of taghairm nan cat in the hope of gaining salvation.

There are many references to this ritual of taghairm nan cat not just in Lochaber but exclusively in the Highlands of Scotland. There are also sources that claim it must have been Allan Cameron’s son who performed the ritual rather than Alan himself, but most records seem to agree it was the father rather than the son.

But what exactly did he do?

the gruesome ritual of roasting a cat alive

He had his servant roast a cat and when other cats turned up to stop him, he demanded wisdom and insights in exchange for the cat’s life. Allegedly this worked. Of course, it did, a blue-eyed witch had told him it would.

Why, one may wonder indeed, did he do that? Apparently, it was believed that he would thereby acquire wisdom or a kind of vision. Was this a primal form of worship? Pagan Celtic practice? Or was it just cruelty?

The taghairm rite involving a cat

There are other forms of the taghairm ritual that do not include a cat but water (water summons) or being hid in a bull’s hide (hide summons) behind a waterfall. Both equally strange, but less cruel. And both probably older than Christianity in Scotland.

And why use cat? Why not a dog or any other animal? There are a few theories about it but the most likely seems the connection to another clan. The cat in this case being a symbol.

Clan Chattan and the cats

Raghnall MacilleDhuibh, has put forward the idea that the various traditions of taghairm nan cat can be traced to historical events and are strongly, if not exclusively, connected with the Clan Chattan, especially the MacIntoshes, whose totemic symbol is, of course, the Scottish wild cat (Felis silvestris grampia).

Food for thought?

There‘s plenty of peace and quiet in Kilmallie on burial ground to think about Camerons, cats and other clan stories. Cruelty towards animals is not tolerated anymore. Good!

All quotes:

Andrew E. M. Wiseman Caterwauling and Demon Raising: The Ancient Rite of the Taghairm

Liked the read? Scotland for Quiet Moments is available on Amazon!

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon. 

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.


2 thoughts on “a rite, roasting a cat and a warrior chief

Add yours

  1. A fantastic blog on the Camerons in the old burial ground in Corpach, Nellie. Thank you so much.

    That 46-mile road west to Mallaig a key part of a Highland tour I guide. New material for a road I sometimes struggle for material on.

    I’ll not include the roasted cat part however!!!

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