Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Dun Bonnet of Foyers

In Neil Gunn’s novel, Highland River, a Canadian of Scots Highland descent meets two Highlanders, Angus and Ken, in the trenches of France. The Canadian speaks Gaelic and talks knowledgeably about Highland culture. In one exchange he refers to the ‘Province of Cat’ (broadly Caithness).

‘Do you know’, he said turning to Ken, ‘that Angus here didn’t know what the Province of Cat meant!’

For an instant the eyes held Ken, and then the Canadian-born clansman laughed. Say, you’re not too sure yourself! And you call yourselves Highlanders!

This came to mind when a lady from Arkansas remarked to me that she would quite like to visit the cave of the Dun Bonnet near Foyers on Loch Ness.

‘The Dun Bonnet’, I said slowly, desperately searching the mental archives. I couldn’t stall her and she told me the story which involved a Fraser who had hidden out from the redcoats for several years after Culloden. His faithful kinsfolk had kept him supplied with food and water.

The fact that Scots abroad are often substantially more knowledgeable about our heritage than Scots at home was vividly brought home to me at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games last week, an event which outdoes any Highland Games back home. But back to the Dun Bonnet...

His real name was James Fraser, the IX of Foyers and having fought at Culloden, he reportedly spent about seven years in this cave. His hideout was well known to the locals and they called him Bonaid Odhair, Dun Bonnet, so that they could talk freely about him.

However if the locals in the 18th century knew the cave well, those of the 21st (at least those we asked), were unaware of its existence. Nothing daunted we scaled Carn Dearg and made our way through a thick spruce platation to the mossy summit where we found The Cave. Well, we found A Cave - which was satisfaction enough.

Now at least, I know all about the the 'Bonaid Odhair'.

(Bonaid, incidentally, is another Gaelic word which has been adopted by English.)

If you would like to explore your Scottish knowledge on the ground, then just drop me an email.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fans of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series will know well the story of the Dun Bonnet from the 3rd novel of the series, Voyager. The one difference being that in Voyager, it is the Dun Bonnet of Lallybroch!