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Little Dunkeld Parish

At the Cross Roads near Dunkeld Bridge on the south side is a cluster of houses generally spoken of as Little Dunkeld ( Map ), but Little Dunkeld proper is a large parish covering many miles. It is described in the Statistical Account of Scotland," dated 1792, as "divided by nature into three districts, each of which would make a parish of ordinary magnitude, stretching from its eastern boundary at Kinclaven to the small village of Invar, then northward along the Tay to Grandtully and westward to Amulree, covering a tract of country containing 31,000 acres." This Account also relates how Little Dunkeld Parish was originally "Dunkeld the Minor Charge" whilst the City of Dunkeld with Cathedral, Bishop, Canons and other officials, was "Dunkeld the Major Charge." Within the bounds of the Minor Charge various Cathedral clergy officiated over chapels of which some are not now existent, such as Inver and Inchmagranachan. In time these charges were designated, in old spelling, Letle and Mekie Dunkels. There are various allusions in Canon Myln’s MS. to Little Dunkeld. He tells that Bishop Sinclair thought the Archdeacon’s income too scanty and joined his office to the Church of Logynallaquhy (Lagganallachie) and "to the Church of Little Dunkeld he gave the glebe which the vicar pensionary at present possesses." In Bishop Brown’s time (1484-1514) the Parish of Little Dunkeld was 16 miles long, with breadth in proportion. He therefore divided it into the old parish of Little Dunkeld and the parish of Caputh.... Understanding that Irish (Gaelic) was spoken in the Highland parts of the parish of Caputh, he built and endowed among the woods of the church lands of Dowally, a church, St. Anne, and gave the priest ground for a manse. Dunkeld and Dowally now form one parish.

An earlier Bishop, James Bruss (Bruce), appointed to the See in 1441, was sadly troubled with the Struan cateran "Robert Reoch Macdonoquhv," who was a scourge to the church and caused "plunder the church lands of Little Dunkeld." It has been suggested that it might have been these godless invaders and not the law-abiding parishioners who are thus alluded to in the local rhyme so often quoted in derision—

"Oh what a parish, a terrible parish,

Oh what a parish is Little Dunkel’,

They hae hangit the minister, drouned the precentor,

Dung doon the steeple and drucken the bell.

Though the steeple was doon, the kirk was still staunin’,

They biggit a lum where the bell used tae hang,

A stell-pat they gat an’ they brewed Highland whisky,

On Sundays they drank it, an’ rantit an’ sang."

Smuggling, of course, was common enough in the district. The park opposite Little Dunkeld Church still bears the name of the Stell Park. A more gracious recollection is that name borne by the park to the east—Ladielands—with its flavour of ancient church history when lands and churches were dedicated to "Our Lady," the Mother of Christ.

In the Register of Sasines (fees payable to Sheriff on behalf of Crown) for Perthshire, 1676, an old custom is thus recorded:- "Harie Cunison had institution and presentation in Little Dunkeld Kirk and Meikie Dunkeld Kirk by the delivery of a Psalm Book to his attorney, Mr John Cunisone, Minister at Dull, of the "chaplainrie" of Invar."

A trouble in this parish with regard to the appointment of ministers was the Gaelic language. Old records tell of protests and disagreements when such were appointed who were unable to speak that language. In 1687, Alexander M’Lagan (first a schoolmaster at Clunie) was presented to the Cure of Little Dunkeld, and appointed a sub-dean of the Cathedral, but as he was ignorant of Gaelic, many of the parishioners objected to him. He was told to study it, and rebuked for non-compliance. The proposed settlement of his son Alexander evoked fierce opposition for the same reason, but he was ordained and admitted in 1723. The Rev. J. S. Mackenzie, minister of Little Dunkeld in later days, stated that there was a tradition in the parish that M’Lagan endeavoured to preach in Gaelic in Strathbran; that the attempt was a miserable failure, that he was stoned by the congregation, that at Craig Vinean, near Kennachoil, he solemnly vowed that never again would he preach in Strathbran and that, during his long incumbency, public worship was never afterwards held in the district."

In 1824 there was another disturbance on the same account. The nominee to the parish was unacquainted with Gaelic, and the Presbytery pointed out that it was the common language of the parish and had been used, though not chiefly, at Little Dunkeld and exclusively at Lagganallachy. At the rebuilding of the church, 25 years before, services were conducted in Gaelic. At Communion seasons, there were Gaelic services in the churchyard simultaneously with English, and that nine out of twelve Table Services were in the former language. The case was brought before the General Assembly and many distinguished advocates appeared in it. Advocate Jeffrey affirmed that Little Dunkeld was not in the Highlands, but only "the mouth." Dr. Andrew Thomson’s retort, it is said, really won the case:- "Whoever heard of a Highland mouth without a Highland tongue," and the General Assembly respectfully told the Officers of the Crown they must find a qualified person for this Cure. Not many parishioners nowadays could follow a Gaelic sermon, not even in Strathbraan.

In the midst of a green park studded with fine old beech trees and laved by the waters of the Tay, stands Little Dunkeld Church, a plain white-washed building, on either side of which is the churchyard. Within the walls, in a small recess near the pulpit, is a relic of the Culdee period, an ancient Celtic bell, of which Joseph Anderson, LL.D., Assistant Secretary and Keeper of the Antiquarian Museum, gives a full description in a paper contributed to the "Society of Antiquaries." The bell is of cast bronze, 8 1/2 inches in height, inclusive of the handle, which rises 1 1/2 inches above the top, and exhibits a flaw in the casting. It is one of four known in Scotland; one from Strathfillan is in the British Museum, a second is at Insh near Kingussie, and a third is the bell of St. Finan of Eilan-Finan in Loch Shiel. Dr. Anderson accounts for the presence of this Culdee bell in Little Dunkeld instead of in the Cathedral by pointing out that before 1500 Little Dunkeld included what is now the parish of Caputh and that of Dowally. There was no parish of Dunkeld, and Little Dunkeld was thus the parish church of the district round the Cathedral. "If," he says, "this bell was a relic of the early foundation it is quite in accordance with the history of other known bells that it should be associated not with the Cathedral, but with the Parish Church which retained the older associations when the new Cathedral was supplied with Augustinian Canons, to whom veneration of Celtic Saints was heresy."

So lightly at one time was this rare old bell esteemed that it was nearly sold for old iron. It appears that a minister of Little Dunkeld, the Rev. D. MacBryde, used it as a dinner bell, and when he died in 1866, it was placed amongst his effects to be sold at the "roup." One of the elders claimed it as church property and saved it. It was afterwards placed in the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, and was even exhibited in one of the Glasgow Exhibitions ere being restored.

Another Little Dunkeld bell has also a history. This one hangs in the Episcopal Church at Kilmaveonaig, at Blair Atholl. It bears the following inscription:- "W. Glas, min. lit. Dunkel. 1627." Tradition says that Mrs Glas, wife of the minister, had presented the bell to her husband’s church when Episcopacy flourished in Scotland. On Presbvterianism being re-established, Mrs Glas would not permit her bell to be rung for Presbyterian services. It was therefore sold, or donated to the Episcopal Church of Kilmaveonaig.

This William Glass or Glas was minister at Dunkeld and at Little Dunkeld, and he had a son, Thomas, who, after being Sub-Dean of the Cathedral, succeeded his father in 1648. The tombstone of the latter is in the churchyard, broken and defaced, bearing the date 1682. His son John was

also a minister, and is not altogether unknown to fame, he being the founder of a small sect which still survives.

The Rev. John Glass was minister of Tealing, in Forfarshire, but was deposed from the ministry because of his views. His followers were called the Glassites, although in England and in the United States they were more commonly named Sandemanians, after Robert Sandeman, his son-in-law, and most active disciple. In Dunkeld, where Mr Glass had an ardent following, the nickname of Kailites, common in Scotland, was generally used, from their custom of eating in common at meetings, the chief dish being "kail." Each participant placed a coin, according to his means, beneath his plate when he left. The Kailites in Dunkeld first met in a house near the Cross, but even the memory of these enthusiasts is waning. None remain. Mr. Glass believed that the richer brethren should aid the poorer substantially; those members who possessed property or riches began to feel his Communistic ideas too severe a trial, so the wealthy, it is said, under "specious pretensions withdrew from the connection."

There are other interesting tombstones in this churchyard. The plain weather-beaten stone, with white marble face, marks the last resting place of Niel Gow, Scotland’s famous exponent on the fiddle of reels and Strathspeys. It is being renovated and re-touched. Another violinist interred there is Charles M’Intosh of Inver, noted as the Perthshire Naturalist." He died in 1922, and in 1924 a handsome stone cut out in Aberdeen granite from a special design by Mr. Thomas. MacLaren, Burgh Surveyor, Perth, was erected over his grave in the churchyard (by public subscription). The long ministry of the Rev. J. S. Mackenzie, who died in 1918, is recorded on his family tombstone, the jubilee being celebrated in the parish a number of years before, and in this churchyard also is buried the Rev. John MacAinsh, B.D.. of Strathbraan UF. Church, who died in 1925, after forty years of service.

There has apparently flourished once upon a time in the locality a sculptor who had a fondness for Scripture history. Specimens of his art abound in Dowally, Logierait, Kinloch, as well as in Little Dunkeld. Here is one where Adam and Eve are represented in the Garden of Eden, the former standing beside the tree, one hand outstretched for an apple of extraordinary size. Round the trunk of the tree the tempter twines in the guise of a serpent; overhead is the calm indifferent face of an angel. This same sculptor carved symbols of the deceased’s occupation. One stone shows a weaver’s shuttle; the smuggler’s grave near the church is recognised by the toddy-bowl, the jug and the still-pot. Bullet marks on a stone tell of an exciting encounter with Resurrectionists, who plied a gruesome trade, but on this occasion were stopped by watchers.

On a height at the Cross Roads, almost overlooking the church and churchyard, is the War Memorial. It takes the form of a cairn composed of rough unhewn stones from neighbouring hills, principally Craig-y-barns. Design, cairn and situation all harmonise. No polished artificial effect has been desired nor attempted. On the tablet in front of the cairn is a lengthy list of names, showing that the district did its duty nobly—some families have given three sons and several have given two. A pathetic note is struck in the fact that the inscription—

"Ye are more than Conquerors, who Rest triumphant, Unforgotten"

—is a quotation from a poem by one recorded on the list, Peter Robertson Purdie, Lieut., R.G.A., whose distinguished career at Glasgow University was thus cut short. He was the eldest son of Mr. John Purdie, B.A., headmaster of Torwood Public School, Birnam. The Memorial was unveiled by His Grace the Duke of Atholl in 1921 who then took the opportunity of announcing his intention to gift the ground on which the Memorial stands to the parishes concerned. Several seats and a good path smooth the way to the top, from whence a glorious view is obtained. Just below are beautiful gardens, bright with flowers, bordering the road to Dunkeld Bridge. Beyond is the ancient city, and behind is a panorama of hills not seen from the lower level. The famed Cathedral stands out prominently, with the broad, rolling Tay flashing in the sunlight. On an autumn day the fiery flame of leafy foliage, the reds and russets of heather, blaeberry and bracken form a gorgeous riot of colour as seen from this height. The parish manse lies in the hollow, and near it is Gowrie House, once a great coaching inn. Of one of the innkeepers a curious tale is told. He sold coal, and between two trees he fixed a beam over which were balanced two creels, one filled with stones from the Tay, weighing a hundredweight, and in the other he placed the coal. Nearby is the long, low house once a school, now a doctor’s abode, and in the immediate neighbourhood, near Ladywell Quarry, is the site of Ladywell House, no traces of which remain, yet in the 17th century the family of Stewart of Ladywell was influential, its members owned the land and acted as Commissaries of Dunkeld. The old name of "Birnam Falls" was the "Commissaries Eis or Waterfall," derived from this family who were attainted in the Jacobite risings.

Little Dunkeld Parish contains much that is interesting. The modern village of Birnam, at the foot of classic Birnam Hill, occupies the place of importance once taken by Inver, and then there are Murthly Castle and grounds, full of historic interest. To the north-west is Inver, near which are the Hermitage and Rumbling Bridge Waterfalls on the Braan. Trochrie is over three miles up Strathbraan from Inver and may be reached either by the old road passing Lagganallachie or by continuing on the main road. One of General Wade’s picturesque bridges crosses the Ballinloan Burn in the vicinity, and at Trochrie is a fragment of stone wall, all that is left of the Castle, once a seat of the Earls of Gowrie. It carries with it an echo of the famous Gowrie Conspiracy, for William Stewart of Banchorie, brother to Sir Thomas Stewart of Grandtully, was appointed Bailie of Strathbraan and Keeper of the King’s House at Trochrie, for services in the "preserving of the King’s Life frae the late conspiracy of umquhile John, Earl of Gowrie." Changed are the days since "Grey Steel," a nickname of one of these fierce Earls, "strode with heavy tramp while doubting hearts waxed valiant at his nod." Grey Steel was a chivalrous knight who lived long, long ago, and it was deemed a compliment to be nicknamed after him. Farther up is Fandowie, with its Stone Circle and stories of James the Fourth as a wandering beggar who conferred the lands on one MacDuff in return for his hospitality. The scenery in Strathbraan is wild and bare, growing ever grander as the higher hills are reached near Amulree, on the borders of the parish, and was once a noted "tryst" or cattle market. The old song tells that plots, too, were concocted there when lairds and drovers, buyers and sellers consorted together "that nicht at Amulree."

Dunkeld an Ancient City
Elizabeth Stewart
Dunkeld, 1926

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