In the early eighteenth century the property known as Dunans in Glendaruel – a very lovely part of the Cowal in Argyllshire – was purchased by the eldest son of the eighth chief. Archibald was born at his father’s home, Barravurich, in 1675, and was known among his contemporaries in the locality as Gillesp-na-Crannaich. The name Gillesp, Gillespuig, or Gillespik, is Gaelic for the name found throughout the Fletcher pedigree, Archibald. It seems very probable that this name was a reference to the Crannach Wood, which lies quite close to Barravurich house in Glen Tulla, and was part of the ancient Caledonian Forest, most of which has long since disappeared.
In 1717 Archibald, the ninth chief, married Ann, a daughter of McNab of Blairvan. As time went on, he acquired more and more property in Cowal, including the farms of Stronardron, Dalinlongart, Orchyaird, Ardinslate and Half-town. These were registered in his name at Inveraray on 22nd June, 1745 together with Dunans. Later Gillesp purchased the Bernice estates, at one time held by the Ewings (ancestors of the Orr-Ewing family), and also lands at Strickadow, Croick, Kenlochbeg and Achnaclach.
In 1751 the Argyll Valuation Roll gives the properties of Archibald Fletcher the values of ¬£7.3.4. for the 2 1/2 mark lands of Downans, and ¬£11.13.4. for the 5 mark lands of Stronardran.
On the 25th November, 1752, it is recorded in the Argyll Sheriff Court Books that Angus Fletcher, son of Archibald Fletcher of Downans, purchased the ‘3 merk land of Clachaig, lands of Glenlean, Garrochra and others in the bailliary of Stratheachy in Cowal, for the sum of ¬£11,772 Scots’. Ten years later, in 1762, the estates were added to yet again by the acquisition of lands in Glenbrandon.
There are references to the Fletchers in many old books, notably the Black Book of Taymouth and the Clan Campbell Collection, and Archibald Brown’s History of Cowal includes an interesting chapter on Dunans and Bernice.
On the 7th April, 1754, Archibald Fletcher of Dunans is referred to in a Minute from the Session Records of the Church of Kilmodan as one of the heritors (landowners) of the parish, and again in the same set of records on the 28th April 1754.
There are many stories about one of Archibald Fletchers associates, Rob Roy, which may or may not be strictly true. One of these concerns the day when, in spite of his friendship with Gillesp, Rob was caught ‘lifting’ some of the Fletcher’s cattle. In the short scuffle which followed, Gillesp got the upper hand, and in the fray he deprived Rob of his whistle and kept it as a trophy. This is now in the safe keeping of the present owner of Dunans, together with other relics of the time.
Since Gillesp was too old to fight for the standard in 1745, he took advantage of the custom of the day and sent a substitute. This was in fact a man who later gained a side reputation as a Gaelic bard, Duncan Ban MacIntyre, who was born in 1724 at Inveroran, not far from Achallader. Gillesp agreed to pay to Duncan the sum of three hundred merks for his services, and also lent him a claymore which had seen many years of use by the Mac-an-Leisters. When Duncan returned from the battle of Falkirk in 1746 and claimed his payment, he was asked to return the claymore. Gillesp was furious when Duncan admitted to having lost it in the heat of battle (or retreat), and refused to hand over the money. The matter was brought before the Court, and the Lord Justiciary ruled in Duncan’s favour. Duncan Ban MacIntyre thereupon composed his first work, Song to the Sword of Fletcher and the Battle of Falkirk, verse seven of which reads as follows, as translated from the original Gaelic.
Then when I had homeward wended
To Gillespie of the Old Wood,
There he raged as savage-minded
as a grey brock in his hold would;
At that time he was right sorry
Weapon to draw he none at hand had,
At his loss great was the worry,
The heirloom claymore of his granddad.
Archibald Fletcher died in 1763, and his wife, Ann, in 1785. Their family consisted of two sons, Angus, the tenth chief, born in 1719, who became known as Aonghas Mor (Angus-the-great), probably because of his large stature, and Alexander, who died young.
Archibald also had a natural son, born in 1702, who succeeded to the Bernice estates, and this branch of the family will be dealt with later.
Dunans was handed down to Aonghas Mor, who was married in 1743 to Helen MacGregor, a daughter of John Campbell (alias MacGregor of Roro), and their portraits hang today in the dining room at Dunans.
Angus was a wonderful character. A gentleman who was one of the most hospitable in the West Highlands, and a man of great physical strength. It is told that whilst branding cattle, which were semi-wild highland beasts, one of them broke loose. Angus struggled to overcome the animal, which he held for a while by the hind leg. The steer, however, left Angus on the ground and jumped over the stone wall of the enclosure. When his brother scorned him for releasing the animal, Angus replied mutely by holding out the hoof of the beast.
Aonghas Mor died at the age of 88 on the 9th August, 1807, having survived his wife by only two years. Of their nine children, the eldest surviving son, John, became the owner of Dunans, and the eleventh chief of the Clan. He was generally known as Iain-dubh-laidir, or Black John the Strong. One of their other sons, Andrew, was a Captain in the 21st Regiment; one daughter, Catherine, became a nun and took the name of Sister Clara Frances. Another daughter, Christian, was married to Lachlan MacLachlan, but that is all that is known of her.
John Fletcher, lain Dubh, was born in 1746. He was considered to be a very brave man, and he was concerned with MacDonnell of Glengarry in the raising of the Glengarry Fencibles in 1794. He declined a captaincy in this brigade however, preferring to remain at Dunans. He was responsible for the building of the very elegant bridge in the grounds which carries the drive across the river Ruel. John also took a great financial risk, in fact nearly ruining himself, by becoming security for the building of the Catholic cathedral in Glasgow. In 1802 John married Margaret, daughter of Alexander MacNab of Inishewan, a property in Glen Dochart. They had a family of five sons and three daughters. He died in 1822, Margaret surviving for another ten years, when she died at the age of 54.
One of the daughters of John and Margaret was Helen, who in 1876 became the wife of Sir Charles Gordon of Drimnin. She died at Drimnin House, Tobermory, in 1881, aged 78 years. John and Margaret lost five of their children whilst they were still infants, but one Alexander, who became a Roman Catholic priest, lived to the age of 80, and Angus, the heir to Dunans, was 70 when he died.
The last mentioned, Angus, the twelfth chief, was born at Dunans in 1805, and became an eminent Advocate and J.P. for Argyllshire. For over 25 years he held the appointment of Solicitor and Controller of Inland Revenue in Scotland. He played a prominent part in County affairs from 1826 until his death in 1875. In 1845 Angus married Harriet Eugenia, the daughter of Eugene Callanan of Lisbon, by whom he had two daughters. It was Angus who in 1860 rebuilt and added to the house of Dunans, which is said to resemble the old Achallader Castle, and as the work progressed his wife, Harriet, made some very attractive sketches of the various stages of the re-building. When Angus died Dunans was inherited by his only surviving daughter, Harriet, the chieftainship passing to his brother, Alexander, the priest.
Harriet Fletcher, the new owner of Dunans, was married on the 5th April, 1869, to Bernard James Cuddon, of Somerton Hall in Norfolk. He took the additional surname of Fletcher in the same year, thereby ensuring that Dunans remained Fletcher property. Bernard Cuddon-Fletcher was a J.P. for Norfolk and Argyll, and a Barrister at Law. Harriet died on the 21st June, 1889, and Bernard on the 28th July, 1934. They had a large family, and their eldest son, Bernard, who was born on the 29th March, 1870, went into the army, and later became an officer in the Cameron Highlanders. He was a J.P. for the county of Argyll, and died on the 24th January, 1935.
Angus Joseph MacNab Fletcher, the second son of Bernard and Harriet, inherited Somerton Hall from his father. He married Mary Beatrice Fooks, who bore him three children before she died in 1911: Beatrice, born in 1900; Kathleen, born in 1901; and Angus, born in 1909. After Mary’s death Angus married again, this time to Eleanor Chaplin, and they had one daughter, Angela, who was born in 1918.
The third son of Bernard Cuddon-Fletcher, James, was born in 1875, and married Susan Jamieson in October, 1905. They had two daughters, Helen, born in 1907, and Susan, born in 1908, who later married Capt. Ronald Smith Sligo, of Inzievar, Fife.
Of Bernard’s other children, Harriet was married in 1904 to Mr. George A.J. Lee, the Deputy Keeper of the Records of Scotland. She died in 1966. Margaret was married in 1905 to William E.J. Leadbitter; Gwendolyne married Patrick Alexander MacGriger, and she died on the 2nd May, 1933, having had no family. Marianne was married in 1911 to Rupert Large, a doctor, in Alberta, Canada. They took the additional name of Cuddon, and in 1933 the name of Large was dropped and they changed their name by Deed Poll to Cuddon.
When Bernard Cuddon-Fletcher died he left Dunans jointly to his fourth and fifth sons, Ian and Andrew, but Ian purchased his brother’s share of the property, end when he died in 1962, his son, Archibald, inherited the estate.
My own first sight of Dunans was from the road which runs from Strachur, southwards, through Glendaruel. This was in June, and the countryside was bright with yellow broom and wild iris, pink and mauve foxgloves and rhododendrons, and the trees were fresh and clean. As we came down from Strachur we saw to our left the grey, turretted house, set in a clearing among the trees, with hills to the east and west. We turned into the drive, which led us over the bridge and up to the house. We were met by Archibald Fletcher, who, after a distinguished army career (terminating in the rank of Colonel, Lieut. Col. Commanding the Scots Guards) now lives at Dunans with his family, the estate keeping him very busy with such matters as forestry, sheep farming, etc. He has two daughters and a son, the boy’s name following the Fletcher tradition – Angus, It is to be hoped that young Angus will grow up to love the family property as much as did his forebears, and will in due course pass it down to yet another Fletcher – another Archibald, perhaps?
After dinner that evening we were shown many interesting family papers, and other items which had been in the possession of the Fletchers for many years. We saw the whistle which had belonged to Rob Roy, a flint lock which had been used by Bonnie Prince Charlie, a shield and a claymore, and other relies of Culloden, as well as portraits of several of the past occupants of Dunans, including one of Aonghas Mor.
The following morning we walked through the woods, over the bridge which spans the river Ruel, catching occasional sparkling glimpses of the rocky river bed glinting through the trees, pines and larches mostly, some of which are over two hundred years old. We were shown the small family mausoleum, where several of the previous owners of Dunans are said to lie, and then we returned to the house. Up the broad staircase, on the first landing, there is a magnificent wall plaque depicting the removal of the old castle door from Achallader by the Fletchers, the door itself now serving as the door to the private Chapel on the top floor, and still in remarkably good condition*.
From the upper windows there are sweeping views down the valley, where we were soon to travel. For it was so quickly time for us to leave, and it was with some reluctance that we continued our journey, in spite of the fact that we were still only half way through our holiday.
¬© 1973 Margaret Mason
* Note: We are often asked whether the door of Achallader burned in the fire of 2001. We are pleased to report that the Angus Fletcher informed us in 2009 that the door was removed when Dunans was sold out of the family, and is with his mother who lives in London.