The last Battle Fought on Glendaruel Soil

In August 1755, Glendaruel was the scene of the last battle in the area, being a battle between the Campbell’s for Ormidale and Glendaruel.   Below, the facts as described in the book “Records of Argyll” by Lord Archibald Campbell, published by William Blackwood & Sons in 1885.

The fight between Ormidale (Ormadal) and Glendaruel (Glean-da-ruadhail)
One hundred men on each side
(By John Campbell)

The great fight between the Clans Campbell of Ormidale and Glendaruel took place in 1755.   As some parties may perhaps not know in what part of Argyllshire West Highlands the above-named places lie, I will here describe it before proceeding further with my narrative.   There are but few in this country but know the far-famed Kyles of Bute (Na caoil Bhoidich) in Argyllshire.   Well, say for instance that if a person was desirous of walking up to Ormidale and Glendaruel, they would disembark at Colintraive (Caol-an-t-snaimh) Ferry, and from that place there is an excellent highway on the right-hand side which will bring the traveller into Ormidale and up through Glendaruel, passing through Dunans (Na dunan) estate at the head of the glen; and if the traveller is inclined to travel on to Strachur (Srathchurra), he must just keep on the same line of road, passing through three miles of an uninhabited glen in the Dunans estate, and after crossing other three miles of a moor, the traveller finds himself at Stralachlan (Srath-lachluin) on the margin of Lochfyne (Loch-fine], and but a short distance from Strachur, the whole distance from Colintraive to Stralachlan being twenty miles.   However, in going to Ormidale or Glendaruel with the steamer, the vessel, after passing by the Kyles of Bute, instead of steering to the left, as must be done in going to Inverary, she keeps to the right, sailing up Loch Riddon to Ormidale pier, which is situated on the left-hand side of the loch, and about two miles from the big house of Ormidale.   Glendaruel big house, termed Eskachachan (Easg-a Chlachain), is situated just about half-way between Ormidale and Dunans, at the head of the glen, which is exactly fourteen miles from Colintraive.

As the reader has now been made aware of where Glendaruel and Ormidale are in the West Highlands, I will now relate an extraordinary occurrence which took place in Ormidale 128 years ago; and I write this from jottings which I made from old but well-written documents which Mrs Hunter Campbell kindly lent to me for a few hours, as she was aware that I was in quest of any kind of matter that might throw some light on long-past events in Argyllshire.

Like many other Highland clans in the days of yore, it appears from the records which I have read, that the Campbells of Ormidale and Glendaruel had no liking for each other, and there were often brawls taking place betwixt the parties, and they were about equal in numbers and power; but latterly the spleen which existed between them came to a climax in this wise.   About a mile up the river from the big house, Ormidale (the laird) had a dam raised across the river for the purpose of driving the water-wheel of a waulking-mill for thickening and dressing cloth after it came from the weaver’s loom, just the same as a tanner thickens a cow’s hide to make the leather for our shoes. In those past times the Highlanders made all their own cloth, and they were well up to the art of dyeing blue, green, and yellow having no chemicals but the ashes of burned heather, brackens, and some other vegetable matter the name of which I don’t remember now.   The waulking-mill was a great advantage to the natives of the place, by getting their home-made cloth properly waulked for very little expense ; for, doing it themselves by the hand-system was a very laborious affair.   The mill was not long in operation till Glendaruel saw he had a good opening for raising a quarrel with his neighbour chieftain, Ormidale, declaring war against him if he did not take down the dam ; and that if he did not do so in a very short time, that it would be done for him by hands that were both able and willing.    Ormidale having paid no attention to the threatening message that was sent to him, Glendaruel sent a second message, saying that the breast of the dam was an impediment both to salmon and other fish in ascending the river up to his domains, and that if it was not down the next day it would not be there another one.   Ormidale being inflexible in the matter, Glendaruel’s men made a large breach in the centre of the dam in the night-time ; but Ormidale sent a sufficient number of men the next day to the dam, and had the breach repaired in not many hours, but not without being much molested by having stones thrown at them by the Glendaruel clan ; and the breast of the dam was broken down again the same night, but the men suffered much by stone-throwing.   As formerly, it was repaired the next day, but some hard fighting went on all the time betwixt the determined parties.   No one looked near the dam that night ; but the next day Glendaruel sent a letter to Ormidale, and it was in substance similar to what we have read in the old Jacobite song viz., ” Johnny Cope” :

“Cope sent a letter to Dunbar:
Sayin’, Charlie, meet me gin you daur,
And I’ll learn you the art o’ war,
If you meet wi’ me in the morning.”

The words in Glendaruel’s letter to Ormidale were the following :

 ESKACHACHAN, August 7, 1755.

TO THE CHIEF OF ORMIDALE. 

SIR, I will have no more child’s-play, but I and 100 men will appear on the eastern side of the river, at the dam, between ten and eleven o’clock forenoon, tomorrow, and you bring the same number of men, but no more, otherwise you are a coward and void of honour.   Have but the same number of men which I will have, and if I may feel inclined to do so, I will drown you and all your unspirited men in your own dam, and make all your bodies food for the fish of the river.   At all events, I shall have the dam down to-morrow ; and to confirm my words, I now kiss the sword.

The next morning was a very fine one, and the horn was sounded very early from one end of the glen to the other, and the same was done in Ormidale.   Long before the time mentioned more than double of the number wanted came in haste to their respective chiefs, but only one hundred of the best and stoutest men were picked out for the fight by both parties.   At the appointed time Glendaruel and his men made their appearance at the dam on the eastern side of the river, whilst Ormidale’s braves stood face to face to their foes on the western bank.   Every man of both parties was armed with cudgels, and the Glendaruel men were provided with implements for the demolishing of the dam-breast, which was to be done, or die in the struggle.

Glendaruel, with three of his sons standing by his side, cried over the water to Ormidale, “Come on now, and I will teach you how to fight” (the words o’ Johnny Cope).   With that Glendaruel’s men went into the water with their implements for the purpose of demolishing the fish barrier ; but Ormidale and his men were ready to prevent any such thing to be done.   The chief himself was the first to rush into the water, followed by his men, and in a twinkling a terrible struggle was in full swing.   Two of Glendaruel’s sons were seen to rush at Ormidale and strike him on the face with their sticks, cutting him so severely that his face was covered over with blood.   The Ormidale men, on seeing their chief bleeding, at once became perfectly wild, so the fight became more furious and desperate.   Some were fighting with their fists, others with sticks, some were in grips and tumbling over each other in the water, but the majority of them on both sides were hard at work throwing stones at each other.   That awful work went on for a considerable time ; and had it not been that some party or parties had run to Clachan and told the minister viz., the Rev. Mr Forbes about the terrible battle that was going on at the waulkmill dam, many lives would have been lost that day ; but the reverend gentleman at once made all haste to the scene of action, and in a short time, but not without some trouble and danger to himself from stonethrowing, succeeded in getting the parties separated from killing each other, which undoubtedly would have been the case had the reverend gentleman not put in an appearance in time.   There was not a single life lost ; there was not one out of the 2oo men but what was made in a sad state with many cuts, bruises, black eyes, and the loss of much blood so much so, indeed, that the water of the river was made red with it for a time as it ran into the head of the little loch ; and it is said by tradition that it was through that sad event that the loch has been termed Loch Reden from that memorable day to the present time.   There was no breach made in the dam-breast that day, nor did any parties attempt to do so after the eventful day in question ; but it was subsequently settled, in a court of justice held at Dunoon, that Ormidale would erect box-steps from the bed of the river to the top of the dam-breast, so that when a spate in the river would occur the fish could get over the dam-breast by leaping from one trough to another, as fish know how to do.   After the dam case was settled, Ormidale took proceedings against Glendaruel and his sons for abusive language, and assault to the effusion of blood by having been struck several blows on the face with sticks by two of Glendaruel’s sons, which caused Ormidale to be confined to bed for a number, of weeks, to his serious loss and bodily suffering.   The following is the heading of the law-papers, of which I had a short loan from Mrs Hunter Campbell of Ormidale, Argyllshire, in November 1883 :

PRECOGNITION of Witnesses taken at Dunvon before SOUTHALL and Captain ‘DUNVON upon I9th August 1755. E. Ar. J. X P. Duncan Campbell J. X P.

Compeered Peter Smith, tenant in Auchnarrion, aged 60 years or thereby, and married, who being solemnly sworn, purged, and interogated ut supra, depones having the day of the great fight seen Glendaruel, his three sons, and a great number of his men standing on the east side of the river beside the dam ; they had all sticks in their hands, and many of them had implements over their shoulders for the purpose of breaking down the dam-breast ; also heard Glendaruel cry over the water to Ormidale before any tumult took place in way, ” Come on now you, and I will learn you how to fight ;” also saw two of Glendaruel’s sons make a rush at Ormidale in the water and strike him more than one or two blows with their sticks on the face, from which I saw much blood running down into the water and helping to make it red, for I saw that the water was red with the blood of men.   And this is the truth as I shall answer to God; and declare I cannot write.  E. Ar. J. X P. Duncan Campbell J. X P.

There were many other witnesses examined in this remarkable case on behalf of Ormidale, but as all their averments were just about the same as Peter Smith’s, it is therefore quite unnecessary to waste any more time and paper on that part of the subject.   What the result of the case was, there is none now of the house of Ormidale can tell, as some numbers of the records were somehow lost, and Mrs Hunter Campbell is now in possession of only three of the documents, which she kindly showed to me, so as I might make some jottings from them, as already mentioned ; and from those jottings I have written out as faithful an account of the great fight between the house of Ormidale and that of Glendaruel as I possibly could do from the deficient records which I got but a brief look at.   Kings have cast out and fought each other, Highlandchiefs have done the same, but in a short time they were just as friendly with each other as ever they were ; but it is very far from being the case with the common people of any country on the face of the earth.   If any animosity existed between one tribe or class of people and another, and a hundred years to pass by, there would still be a shadow of the old hatred lingering among the same race of people.   The Campbells of Ormidale and Glendaruel have for many long years been on the very best of friendships with each other ; but this I observed when I was recently in Ormidale and Glendaruel, if I happened to be speaking to some parties on Ormidale estate, they would plainly say : “The Campbells of Glendaruel never were and never will be like our Campbells” and I heard some of the Glen parties use the same words in reference to the house of Ormidale.   Hence it is quite evident that there is a little of the old spleen about the mill-dam still existing in the minds of the present generation in Glendaruel and Ormidale.