Ancient Fletchers

One of the most magnificent of the many lovely Highland glens is undoubtedly Glenorchy, whence the Fletcher Clan is said to have originated. The Fletchers claim descent from Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of the united Picts and Scots, and ancestor of our present Royal family. The Fletchers were the first to ‘raise smoke and boil water’ on the Braes of Glenorchy (Is e Clannan-Leisdeir a thog a cheud smuid thug goil air uisge an Urcha). The patronymic of the Clan was Mac-an-leistear, and prior to 1700 was written in documents as ‘MacInleister’. When surnames came to be used, in about 1745, the name was anglicised as Fletcher – the equivalent of the Gaelic ‘Leisdear’, man of the arrow. The first person to use the English ‘Fletcher’ seems to have been Archibald the VIIIth Chief. Their badge is the pine-tree, and their tartan is an arrangement of blue, black and green, with diagonal lines of red. Their crest is two arms drawing a bow, as depicted on the cover.

It is recorded that the Fletchers, prior to their migration to the upper part of Glenorchy, were in possession of Drimfearn in Glen Aray, just north of Inverary. This was in the eleventh century. But it was the lands of Achallader and nearby Barravurich which the Fletchers held as undisputed owners for many years. It would appear that they were in Glenorchy before the Clan MacGregor, although Buchanan of Auchmar designated them a sept of the MacGregors. Glenorchy was actually bestowed on the MacGregors in 1222 by Alexander II as a reward for their assistance in the conquest of Argyll. The MacGregors were in possession in Glenorchy for about 150 years. Their line of chiefs ended in the birth of a daughter, Mariota, who married John, son of Sir Colin Campbell of Lochawe, and the Glen was granted to her and her husband by Royal Charter in 1359.

There was no doubt a bond of friendship between the two Clans, a MacInleister having saved the life of Rob Roy, but they were in fact distinct, because when the MacGregors were driven from Glenorchy in 1432, the MacInleisters, or Fletchers, remained. It was only through the trickery of the infamous Sir Duncan Campbell, the seventh Laird of Glenorchy, in 1587, that the Fletchers were ousted from their ancient stronghold.

It is interesting that as well as the long standing friendship which existed between the Mac-an-Leisters and the MacGregor’s, there was another, somewhat closer, connection. according to David Stewart’s Life of Rob Roy MacGregor, Rob Roy’s mother was a daughter of Campbell of Duneaves. On the Fletcher side, the Matriculation of Arms in 1825 to Archibald Fletcher, Advocate, (of the Pubil branch of the Clan), states that his grandmother, Grace Campbell, was the daughter of Peter, son of Duncan Campbell of Duneaves.

Achallader Castle was built over four hundred years ago, near the northern end of the attractive little Loch Tulla, close to the Bridge of Orchy. To the east rises Beinn a Creachain, and there is a rough track from the main Tyndrum-to-Glen Coe road, winding for about a mile to Achallader farm and the ruins of the old Castle.

The first chieftain on record was Angus Mac-an-Leister, who was born about the year 1450? There is not a great deal written about the early Fletchers, but in 1497 they took part in one of the fiercest clan fights ever joining the side of the Maclarens, together with Stewart of Appin, against the Macdonalds. The Maclarens were raiding the Macdonald country, and were driving off some of the Macdonald’s cattle when they were overtaken at Achallader by the Macdonalds. The Maclarens were outnumbered, and Stewart and Fletcher came to their assistance. During the battle Donald Macdonald of Keppoch and Dugald Stewart of Appin were both slain, and there are many cairns in the neighbourhood of Achallader which bear witness to the conflict. The Stewarts of Appin thereafter entered into a bond of friendship with the Fletchers, in gratitude for their assistance, and this bond was sealed by an oath on the dirk. A plaque on the wall outside Dunans in Glendaruel commemorates this alliance. The agreement was for mutual assistance if and when the necessity arose, the Stewarts agreeing to pay the ‘eirig’ for any crime committed by any of the Fletchers. The actual document was at one time with the Appin family papers, but has unfortunately been lost.

By this time there were Fletchers throughout the whole of Glenorchy, and there are records which connect them with many places, including Arreschastellan, Larigs, Inverveigh, Knockinty, Kilchurn, Ballieveadan (Ardchattan), Stronmanessig, Inveroran and Clachandysart (Dalmally), as well as with Pubil and Camuslaimh in Glenlyon. Today the Fletchers are widely scattered, and in fact can be found throughout the globe, in England, Canada, the United States, Africa, Australia, almost everywhere except in Glenorchy. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a number of Highlanders emigrated to the United States, some voluntarily in order to seek a better life for themselves and their families, and some as bond servants or transported rebels who had taken part in the uprisings of 1715 and 1745. Most of these were said to have come from Argyll and Perthshire, and quite a number from Glenorchy, many of whom were certainly connected with the Clan.

The Black Book of Taymouth records a bond of manrent between the MacInleisters, or Fletchers, and Sir Duncan Campbell, the seventh Laird of Glenorchy, which reads as follows –

BOND by John McNychole V’Angus Mcinleister in Auchalladour, Nychole McEan Roy, Angus McEan Roy, John Dow McEan Roy, sons to the said John Archibald McEan V’Nychole V’Inleister, John McEan Roy V’Gillespik V’Angus in Auchalladour and Nychole McEan to Duncan Campbell of Glenurquhay and his heirs giving them their calps.
Colin Campbell son to the Laird of Laweris
John Henrysone
Walter Lindesay
Patrick Dow McNab Servants to the said Duncan Campbell in West Ardnagald
Witnesses at Finlarig 8th November, 1587.

It must have been shortly after this Bond was drawn up, in 1587, that John McNychole V’Angus lost superiority of the Clan lands, through Sir Duncan’s trickery, and a reward of two hundred marks was offered by the Privy Council at Stirling for the head of the Fletcher chief. The late Angus Fletcher of Tyndrum used to tell the story, which he said had been passed down to him by natives of Glenorchy – and briefly it happened like this.

Sir Duncan Campbell, the Black Laird of Glenorchy, had been appointed by the King to keep the peace between the feuding clans in Argyll and Perthshire. He was accordingly authorised to maintain a large force of armed retainers, in order to give strength to his purpose. He had the reputation of preferring to stir up trouble rather than quell it, and he was traditionally more interested in the plundering and acquisition of lands than in endeavouring to calm the turbulence which existed between his contemporaries, inevitably he had among his armies a number of lawless men, not even of Highland blood, who would pick a fight with anyone at a word from their master. This was how so much territory came into the hands of Sir Duncan, and he had his eyes set on Achallader for some long time. He made a pretence at friendship with MacInleister, although he was secretly determined to have his lands, in spite of Fletcher’s consistent refusal to sell to the Laird.

Campbell made his plans. He left Finlarig Castle one evening with a number of his men, and by dawn he was in the vicinity of Achallader. He deployed his band of followers behind a small hill, and ordered three of his hired ‘strangers’ to tether their horses in a cornfield which belonged to Fletcher. He then withdrew to await developments. Fletcher soon discovered the trespassers, and ordered them off his land. The ‘strangers’ laughed derisively and stayed where they were, not attempting to move their animals. The Fletcher chieftain tried once more, but when the men again ignored his remonstrations, he lost his temper, pulled one of the iron stakes from the ground, to which the horses were tethered, and threw it with all his might at one of the intruders. The man fell dead, and at this point Sir Duncan ‘happened to come along’ and professed great shock and surprise at the incident, He showed great concern at the predicament of his dear friend, Fletcher, but in spite of his friendship he felt obliged to report the fact that Fletcher had murdered an officer in the discharge of his duty. He was very much afraid, he told Fletcher, that when the King learned of the matter he would surely order Fletcher to be hanged and his lands forfeited. He suggested that Fletcher should take refuge with some friends in Rannoch until the danger of discovery had passed, and said that he (Campbell) would turn a blind eye to his escape. To avoid forfeiture of Fletcher’s lands, Campbell suggested that he should help matters by agreeing to their conveyance to himself, and said they could be re-conveyed to Fletcher when the whole thing had blown over. Fletcher, having regard to the dilemma in which he found himself, was therefore prevailed upon to convey his lands to Campbell, who forthwith lodged the document in the Registry Office in Edinburgh; but of course, when Fletcher later wanted his property back Campbell would have none of the idea.

Sir Duncan Campbell allowed the Fletchers to stay on at Achallader as tenants, and in the Black Book of Taymouth there are entri.es on the Muster Roll in the year 1658 which include the names of John McPatrick V’Gillespik in Auchalladour; John dow McEan V’Gillespik in Knockinty ‘within the lands of Glenurquhay’. There is also a reference to the ‘four merk land of Auchalladour possessit by John dow McGillespik’.

About the year 1600 Sir Duncan Campbell added a tower to the Castle of Achallader, at a cost of some thousand merks. In 1646 the Castle was burned by the MacGregors, but the Earl of Breadalbane had it rebuilt. As I mentioned in my first chapter, the Castle is now in ruins, but the family burial ground of the Fletchers, at the rear, is quite veil kept by the present owners of the farmhouse. There are six headstones still standing in the walled graveyard, and the inscriptions are clear and easily readable. Five of these mark the graves of Fletchers but one is a memorial to a certain John McCallum of Altnafeidha and two of his sons. I do not know for certain what connection this man had with the Fletchers, but it is possible that he was the same John McCallum who is shown in the Glenorchy Parish Register as having married a Mary Fletcher in December 1775.

In June, 1691, there was a meeting at Achallader of the Highland chiefs with the first Earl of Breadalbane representing King William. A treaty was drawn up which was to be signed by all the chieftains, but for reasons I need not go into here things did not work out as had been hoped, and the Macdonalds failed to sign the agreement, the essence of which would have meant that they would relinquish their ancient rights and privileges in favour of the Crown. This led to the infamous Glencoe Massacre in February 1692, which was carried out on the orders of Sir John Dalrymple and the Earl of Argyll, and actively involved Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.

In 1715 the Fletchers were out on the Jacobite side, headed by Archibald, the eldest son of the eighth chief, and in 1745 they followed the banner of Prince Charles, under the leadership of Archibald’s younger brother, John of Inveroran.

After leaving Achallader Castle – just when I have not been able to discover as yet – the Fletchers lived at Barravurich. This is about a mile from Achallader, along Tulla Water, and the house is still there. The farmhouse was, in its day, similar in style to the house at Achallader, and although the structure is still standing, the property has lain empty for over thirty years, and the ravages of many highland winters are taking their toll.

The Castle itself was later attacked by men of the Fletcher Clan,and they carried away the heavy door, this action indicating that they would one day return to Achallader. The door hangs today at the entrance to the private chapel in the house of Dunans, and is in remarkably good condition. as for returning to Achallader, this might have come true if the late lan Fletcher of Dunans had taken the opportunity of purchasing the property at Achallader some years ago when it came on the market. He declined, however, as he was ‘quite comfortable’ at Dunans.

Archibald Fletcher of Barravurich, the eighth in the line of chiefs, was born about 1640 and died in 1720 approximately. He left four sons, of wham I shall say more in the ensuing pages. The eldest was Archibald, of Barravurich and Dunans; then came John, of Inveroran; thirdly was Donald, who after his marriage lived at Camuslaimh in Glenlyon; and the youngest was Angus, who also went to live in Glenlyon, at Pubil.

From this period in time various members of the Clan began to leave Glenorchy, some of them moving to Cowal, and some to Jura and Islay, where they were still known by the old name at Mac-an-Leisdeir as recently as 1913. During the nineteenth century a number of them vent even further afield, to the colonies and to the United States. It is now almost impossible to find a true Glenorchy Fletcher in the Highlands, although there are still representatives of the family living at Dunans as I have already mentioned.

© 1973 Margaret Mason

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *