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Neish Island Crannog from Achray House Jetty
 
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Going Green

St. Fillan     Neish Island     St. Fillans Chapel     Dundurn Hill

Head down to the hotel jetty and look up Loch Earn. You will see a small island overgrown with trees and shrubbery. This is Neish Island. It was not always so overgrown - indeed it was not even always an island. The island is in fact a crannog, (a man-made island), once found on lochs throughout the Highlands.

When boats were few in number, and the practice of inter-clan raid was common, the advantages of an island-fort were obvious. If an island didn't exist, it was worth while to build your own. This applied to the men of Clan Neish. Some time around 1250 AD they installed themselves here and began launching raids on clans. Cattle-raiding was a central part of life in the Highlands before Culloden, and as such there were certain rules associated with it. One of these was the sensible custom of not raiding directly neighbouring clans. Instead, cattle-raiding parties would travel through their neighbours' lands to 'lift' the cattle of more distant clans.

The Neishes it appears didn't care much for this custom, and were frequently involved in raids upon their northerly neighbours, the MacNabs of Loch Tay. This animosity resulted in a violent and bloody battle. In 1522, after a particularly large raid, the two clans came out in arms and fought to the death. No match for the superior MacNab forces, the Neishes were almost wiped out. Crucially, the chief of Clan Neish was killed, and tradition tells us that the curious red lichen, which grows to this day at the spot where he fell, is coloured by the chiefs blood. (The lichen can be seen growing on a large boulder at what is now Little Port Farm, to the east of St. Fillans.) The remaining Neishes continued to eke out an existence on their island, launching scaled-down raids on the MacNabs whenever the chance arose. This persistence was to prove fatal.

Just before Christmas, 1612, the Neishes chanced upon a few MacNabs leaving Crieff with several horse loads of food and brandy for their Christmas feast. The temptation this presented to the hungry Neishes was irresistible. The Neishes duly appropriated the goods and made their way back to their island hideout. Shortly before reaching the loch the jubilant Neishes encountered a local old lady who was reputed to have the gift of da shealladh, or 'second sight'. They offered her a share of their spoils, but the old lady refused, telling them in no uncertain terms: "Beware, sons of Ness, beware of the time when their will be two boats on Loch Earn."

The empty-handed MacNabs, meanwhile, made their way back to the shores of Loch Tay. There they told the rest of the clan what had happened. The chief's twelve furious sons asked their father what course of action they should take. Calmly he replied: "The night is the night, if the lads are the lads." Well, the lads didn't need any more encouragement. Knowing that the Neishes had only boat on Loch Earn, the MacNabs hoisted their own boat on their shoulders, carried it from Loch Tay, up over Alt Breachlaich, down through Glen Tarken, and onto the shores of Loch Earn.

The Neishes, drunk, replete, and taken by surprise, were no match for the bloodthirsty MacNabs. After washing the blood from their swords and reclaiming what remained of their booty, the twelve MacNabs made off for Loch Tay, leaving, they thought, none alive. However, two Neish children had heard them coming and hurried into a hiding place under the bed, watching with horror as their kin were killed, and lived to tell the tale.

 




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