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Dunkeld Worthies

St. Adamnam, 625-704

ST. ADAMNAM, the biographer of St. Columba and the ninth abbot of lona, has long been claimed as the first abbot of Dunkeld. He was born about 625, was appointed abbot of lona in 679, and died there in 704. He made at least two journeys into Ireland, and had considerable influence both there and in Northumbria. If he was ever
abbot of Dunkeld it must have been before 679, but no modern historian will vouch for the truth of the story. There is more authority for the belief that St. Columba himself visited Dunkeld, and there seems no reasonable doubt that St. Fintan, one of his disciples, founded a monastery or nest of hermits somewhere in the Tay valley just above Dunkeld. For this we have the authority of Adamnam himself, whose biography is one of the most reliable and vivid of the early histories. A carved stone in
Dunkeld House grounds may possibly be a relic of St. Fintan’s chapel.

Bishop Sinclair, d. 1337

William Sinclair was one of the Sinclairs or St. Clares of Roslin. His father and brothers had originally sworn fealty to Edward I, but later they all supported Robert the Bruce. Sinclair was appointed Bishop in 1312, and received a safe conduct from Edward to go as far as Berwick ‘to array himself’. He must have proceeded on into Scotland, however, for in 1317 he distinguished himself by his valour against the English. He was staying
at that time in Auchtertool when an English force landed at Donnibristle, and put to flight five hundred cavalry under the Sheriff. Bishop Sinclair hastily collected sixty of his men and rode to the scene of flight. ‘Turn!’ he said, seizing a spear from one of the fugitives. ‘Turn for shame; and let all who love Scotland follow me!’ His dauntless bearing turned the tide of war, and the English were beaten back to their ships. When Bruce heard it, he said, ‘He sall be mine am bishop!’ and the King’s Bishop he was called from that time on.

Gavin Douglas, 1474(?)-1522

There has already been occasion to mention Gavin Douglas in the account of Dunkeld He was the third son of Archibald Bell-the-Cat, but seems not to have shared the warlike and ambitious nature of his house He was born about 1474, and studied at St. Andrews and possibly at Paris On his ordination he was appointed to Linton and Prestonhaugh, and was soon after made Provost of St. Giles. There he enjoyed both quiet for
study and opportunities of courtly and literary society. It was at this time that he wrote his two long allegories the The Palace of Honour and King Hart, and his verse translation of Virgil. He seemed destined for a studious
and literary life, but the Battle of Flodden was the turning-point of his career. Both his brothers were killed at it, and his father died shortly afterwards. A year after the battle the widowed Queen married the new Earl of Angus, Gavin’s nephew, and Gavin Douglas was henceforth entangled with his fortunes. The Queen Mother was zealous for his advancement, and tried to appoint him to the Abbacy of Aberbrothock, and almost immediately after to the Archbishoprjc of St. Andrews, Two other candidates claimed this. Hepburn, prior of St. Andrews, got himself elected and ousted Douglas, Only to be ousted in turn by the Pope’s candidate, Forman, Bishop of Moray. In the meantime Beaton, the Archbishop
of Glasgow, had acquired Aberbrothock The Queen’s next appointment was to Dunkeld and here, as we have seen, she was in the end successful, though it cost Douglas a year’s imprisonment, for she took care to secure the Pope’s consent this time. Bishop Douglas set to work heartily in Dunkeld, but he was soon swept into politics again. In the Clean-the-Causeway skirmish of 1520 he magnanimously saved the life of his old rival Beaton of Glasgow, who afterwards behaved to him with great
ingratitude. When his nephew’s cause went down he was forced to seek refuge in England, and died there of the plague in 1522. His talents and virtues were sadly wasted by the riotous times in which he lived.

The Admirable Crichton, 1560-82

A prodigy of the Renaissance, James Crichton grew up at Clunie Castle with his father, Bishop Crichton. Dunkeld Royal School had not yet been founded so he was sent to Perth Grammar School where Latin, French, Hebrew and Greek were taught. Thus when he went to St Andrews University at the age of ten he was already proficient in these languages. He left, at 15, a Master of Arts and was admitted to share James Vi’s studies under the learned George Buchanan. In addition to scholastic attainment Crichton was also an accomplished sportsman. fencer and dancer. At the age of seventeen he challenged the learned men of Paris to a disputation ranging over the whole field of knowledge. He had a photographic memory, he had a great readiness and choice of language, and could improvise poems in Latin, Greek or French in any metre proposed. At the end of the day he was universally acclaimed as “The Admirable Crichton”. After 2 years in the French Army he continued his travels to Italy. Here he visited Venice, Padua and Mantua where he gained reknown as an intellectual. In Mantua he killed a man in a duel and was eventually treacherously murdered by the young Prince of Mantua. He was only 22 when he died and it is difficult to predict
what his future would have been. Perhaps he had already reached the height of his achievements.

Niel Gow, 1727-1807

Niel Gow, who was born in Inver and spent most of his life there, is perhaps the most famous of Scottish fiddlers. His father was a weaver, and destined his son to the same trade, but Gow early proved his musical talents, and was given lessons by Sir William Stewart’s fiddler. In the ‘45 he followed Prince Charlie for a short way, but became discouraged and turned back at Stirling. Later in the year he won a prize at a public fiddling contest and began to make his name. The Duke of Atholl took him up, and his fame spread even to London, to which he was sometimes summoned to give command performances. He was thought to be incomparable for the livelier airs, though his youngest son Nathaniel excelled him in slow and pathetic music. About a hundred of his airs have
survived, the most famous being the ‘Farewell to Whisky’. He was a character as well as a musician, and many of his pawky sayings are remembered. He founded a tradition of music at Inver. His son Nathaniel
wrote and published much music equal to his father’s and his grandson Niel wrote the air of the well-known song ‘Cam ye by Atholl?’ These two sought their fortunes further afield, but the native tradition of Inver was long maintained. John Crerar, one of Niel’s pupils, left some compositions behind him: McKerchar, ‘the Atholl Paganini’, retired to Niel Gow’s cottage; Willie Duff, or ‘Beardie Willie’, was a noted fiddler as well as a local character, and Charles Mcintosh of Inver was a musician as
well as a naturalist. Even as late as the 1920s John Scott, the Postman at Tnver, was the judge of reels and strathspeys at the Perth Festival. Niel Gow’s cottage and his oak are still to be seen at Inver. Many of his airs
were composed under his oak, and it was also a kind of school from which he taught John Crerer, who sat the other side of the Tay.

Donald Mackintosh, the Non-Juror, 1743-1808

Donald Mackintosh was the testator of the Mackintosh Library, which was long a valued possession in Dunkeld, but whose diminished remains are now dumped in the Sandeman Library in Perth. Donald Mackintosh was the son of a small farmer on the Urrard estate near Killiecrankie. It was his ambition to be a teacher, and he went to Edinburgh to qualify himself, but was obliged for some years to work as a penny postman. At length, however, he became tutor in the family of Sir George Stewart of Grantully. He was a good Gaelic scholar and made many collections of Highland lore, the best known being his Collection of Gaelic Proverbs. After its publication he was given a post as a clerk in an Edinburgh
lawyer’s office. He aspired to ordination, but he was an ardent Jacobite and would not recognize the Hanoverian Succession. There were at that time two non-juring bishops and no clergy in Scotland. Bishop Rose had
consecrated James Brown to the episcopate and Brown ordained Donald Mackintosh. He had a large parish, including Edinburgh, Loch Katrine, Glen Shee, Glen Tilt and Banif, and in the course of his travels he collected
a large library of valuable books, which he left to Dunkeld. The end of his life was comfortable, as he had a good appointment to the Royal Highland Society, and he had been left several legacies. He died in Edinburgh and was buried in Greyfriars.

Queen Victoria

Visited Dunkeld in 1842 during the Royal Progress through Scotland with Prince Albert. They were entertained by the 8th Duke of Atholl on the lawn beside the Cathedral on the site of Dunkeld House. In 1844 she passed through on a visit to Blair Atholl. She had a meal in the Atholl Arms Hotel where the original receipt can be seen. Lastly in 1868 she visited the widowed Duchess of Atholl who lived in St. Adamnam’s Cottage within the Cathedral Grounds. This was pulled down in 1890.

Charles Macintosh of Inver, 1839-1922

Charles Macintosh came of a musical family: his father and grandfather had both been amateurs of music. He began work as a sawmiller, but an accident to his hand incapacitated him and he became a postman, walking thirty miles a day to carry the mail. In these walks he studied the natural history of the surrounding country and made himself an authority on it, particulary on mosses and fungi, of which he discovered several new varieties. In 1883 he was selected associate of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science, to which he contributed many papers. After he had retired from the postal service he occupied a good deal of time in
mounting specimens for the Perth Museum, and he took the Birnam school children for many nature rambles, which were keenly enjoyed and remembered, so that for many years the Birnam children were knowledgeable about Natural History. He was also a ‘cellist in his brother’s string band and the composer of a number of hymns. A life of him was written by Mr. Henry Coates. It is well worth reading as a picture of a generation that has not long passed away and of a culture not dependent upon possessions. This culture is reflected too in the local poets, James Stewart the shoemaker, David Tmrie and David Millar, all nineteenth-century poets whose work is of no great merit but is evidence of a strain of literary culture not yet quite extinguished. Even yet some of the older inhabitants of Dunkeld will fall readily into verse. There is a native tradition here
which our ‘Lalands’ poets are trying rather self-consciously to revive.

Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

Beatrix Potter first came to Scotland in 1871 at the age of 5 years. It was her father’s practice to rent a summer house for 3 months every year. So it was that Beatrix came to Dalguise House, 3 miles N. W. of Dunkeld, for 10 years until 1881. The Potter family next returned to Scotland in 1892 when they stayed for 4 months at Heath Park (now the lodge) behind the Station in Birnam. During this visit Beatrix made many sketches of birds, animals, flowers and fungi which were used later in her now famous books. In 1893 she visited Eastwood, Dunkeld, where she wrote a letter to a friend’s child about 4 rabbits which was to be published as “Peter
Rabbit” in 1901 and which made her famous as an author. Eastwood may be seen half a mile downstream of Dunkeld bridge standing on the left bank opposite the Last Oak of Birnam Wood.

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