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Clan MacLea - Livingstone

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The Lion Rampant


The Black Sheep - Lismore in Alba

Rev Ian Carmichael, DSO, MC

This story relates to Donald Campbell of Airds, known as Domhnull Dubh na h-Ardan (black Donald of Airds). It is said that he was an ecclesiastic, who was alternately Presbyterian and Episcopal, according to which form of Church government was in power. The story of how he robbed the Livingstones of Bachuil of most of their land is of interest and shows how unscrupulous he was. It is also some indication of the absence of business honour among many of the landed proprietors of that time. On one occasion Campbell made it widely known throughout Lismore that on a certain Sunday he himself would conduct the Church service and that he expected everyone to attend. No account of that service has survived, but it seems that most of the people attended. On the Monday following, it was reported that the black sheep of Alurath had been lost. This was a serious matter as the black sheep was then a very rare possession. If it had been stolen it meant death for the thief.

A search was ordered throughout the Island, and Sir Donald Campbell, whose property the sheep was, ensured by his presence that the search would be thorough. At last, in the steading of the Livingstones of Bachull, the skin of the black sheep was found hanging on the rafters, and none was more surprised than the Baron of Bachull himself. Campbell gave him the option of choosing to be hanged or to be deprived of the greater part of his estate. Tradition credits the Baron with saying: "An enemy has done this. I am no thief, but rather than that posterity should be in a position to say to my descendants that their ancestor was hanged for sheep-stealing, I will part with the land."

The amount of land which the Livingstones of Bachull lost by this wicked trick is supposed to have consisted of all south of "Fuaran Fraingeag, including Bailegarbh, Cnoc na Croiche to the lake of Cilean- drais, Garadh nan Cleireach, Peighinn Chaillean and to Crois Dughail." On his death-bed the blasphemous and deceitful Campbell kept calling for the Baron of Bachull, no doubt with some intention of making restitution, but his own wife had another mind on the matter and prevented Livingstone being brought. The man whom Domhnull Dubh had bribed to kill the black sheep of Alasrath and plant the skin in Bachull while the family were at Church, when he heard of the death of his master, threw himself from the top of Clach-Tholl in Appin and thus perished.

An earlier account published in The Celtic Review April 15 1909, pp 356-375 by Alexabder Carmichael

The Livingstones of Lismore were unfortunate in their neighbour, Campbell of Airds. Sir Donald Campbell of Airds was a natural son of Campbell of Calder, now Cawdor. He is known in tradition as 'Domhnull Dubh nan Ard', Black Donald of Airds.

Sir Donald was an ecclesiastic at a time when many ecclesiastics were sorely perplexed which end of the see-saw to follow. While Rome was paramount Sir Donald was a Roman of the Romans; when Episcopacy was in the ascend- ant he swore by the Thirty-Nine Articles; and when Presbyterianism was triumphant Sir Donald Campbell became reconciled to Presbytery.

The man, was greedy of power and pelf, gaining ends regardless of means, a robber, steeped to the neck in fraud and guile, and pursued his evil courses with an address and adroitness that Jacob might have envied. , He was bishop-elect of Lismore, but had not been appointed, the Pope probably being uncertain of him.

'Is math an la an ni am madadh-ruadh searman,' A good day it is when the fox preaches a sermon. Sir Donald Campbell announced that he was to preach in Lismore and that he expected the people to attend. He preached accordingly. On the following day it was reported that the black sheep of Alasrath belonging to Sir Donald was stolen. The people were alarmed, sheep-stealing being a capital crime and Sir Donald implacable. The houses were searched, and that there might be 'no remissness of duty Campbell himself accompanied the search party. The house of the Baron was searched like the rest, and there on the rafters was found the skin-lug-marks and all-of the black sheep of Alasrath. The people were astonished, and, apparently, none more than Sir Donald Campbell. Sir Donald gave the Baron the alternative of losing his head or losing his lands.

'Well,' said the honest Baron, 'I am not a thief; there has never been a thief of my family as far back as I can trace. But some evil-minded man has dole this evil thing to me to bring myself to disgrace and my children to ruin. I am not afraid to die-the guiltless die but once, the guilty many times; but rather than that posterity should cast up to my children that their father was hanged for stealing a sheep, I leave my land with you, Sir Donald, and my integrity with my children as their only legacy.'

Campbell thereupon took possession of all the lands of Livingstone south of Fuaran Frangaig, including Bailegarbh, Cnoc na Croiche to the Lake of Cileandrais, Garadh nan Cleireach, Peighinn Chailean, and on to Crois Dughaill. Bachuill he left with the Baron.

When Sir Donald lay dying - and his death was terrible - he sent a fleet-footed messenger to bring the Baron to him. But his wife sent a swifter messenger to bring, back the other. And all night long Sir Donald kept calling out, 'The Baron!' 'The Baron!' 'O the Baron!' 'What is keeping the Baron!' 'Why is not the Baron coming?' And his wife kept saying, 'Yes, love, yes. Thou didst ever love the Baron! thou didst great favours for him; the grateful Baron will soon be here.' And all night long the black raven kept croaking in the elm tree above Black Sir Donald, as did the raven in the tree above the bed of Duncan. Before morning dawned, on a night of terrific wind and thunder and lightning, Black Sir Donald Campbell of Airds was dead.

When the man bribed to do Sir Donald's work at Alasrath heard that his master was dead he was sore dismayed and like a man bereft, running to and fro, rolling his tongue like a bear, and bleating like a sheep. Ultimately the unhappy man rushed up the lofty Clach-tholl, from the precipitous head of which he had the grace Judas-like to cast himself, and was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.

This was not the only occasion on which the Livingstones of Bachuill suffered at the hands of the Campbells of Airds. Towards the close of the 18th century a road was formed along the length of Lismore. This road cut a piece off the little estate of Bachuill. Sir John Campbell of Airds proposed to Baron John Livingstone of Bachuill to exchange this piece of land for a piece that lay between Bachuill and the glebe. To this the Baron consented, and the exchange was made. 'But,' said Sir John Campbell, 'as the land that I am giving is of more value to you than the land that you are giving me, you must pay me a small sum in addition.' 'Whatever you say is right is right, Sir John,' said the Baron. 'Well, we will call it the small sum of fifty shillings, then,' said the wily Sir John. 'Whatever you say is right is right, Sir John,' said the Baron unsuspectingly. The thin end of the wedge being thus got in, in the following year an additional sum of fifty shillings was exacted and paid, and so on from year to year, till the sum amounted to £17, 10s. a year!

While discussing these proceedings a few years ago with .the late Baron of Bachuill, the writer remarked that the honesty of the Livingstones had 'been no protection against the guile of the Campbells of Airds. 'No,' said the good, kindly Baron, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, quoting an old proverb, 'There is no watertightness in the divots of the Campbells.' (Cha’n'eil dion ann an sgrath nan Caimbeulach.) ' What comes with the rain goes with the wind,' says the old proverb. The Campbells of Airds lost their lands long ago, and their representatives are scattered far and wide. Even their burying-place in the midst of the lovely woods of Airds, and which they took great pains to enclose and secure, is no longer left sacred to them, and strangers bury therein. Sadly curtailed and small, Bachuill is still the property of the ancient Livingstones, together with the love and esteem of all who know them.

Last updated 20 April, 2013