Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

History- Leap o’the cask and the Dun Bonnet June 30, 2014

I discovered this article about regional history around Loch Ness that includes the actual recorded story of ‘Leap o the Cask’ and the ‘Dun Bonnet’ as it shows up in Diana Gabaldon’s books.  The story IS about a James Fraser.  This is the kind of historical coincidence that tends to give one goose bumps.

I found the reference here:

James Fraser, 9th of Foyers, was on very friendly terms with Simon, 13th Lord Lovat, later to be executed for his part in the 1745 Rising, and on that account, Foyers joined Lovat in supporting Prince Charles during his short reign in Edinburgh as King James VIII. After the disastrous battle of Culloden in 1746 the ill-fated Prince Charles fled westwards and took refuge in Gorthleck farmhouse on the Foyers estate but was soon alarmed by a party of Red Coats and effected his escape by jumping out of a window. Foyers also escaped from the battlefield and his efforts to elude capture were every bit as romantic as those of Prince Charles.

Foyers was excluded from the Act of Parliament pardoning treasonable offences committed in the rebellion, and was forced to live in hiding for seven years after the rebellion. One of his favourite haunts was a cave, a mile to the west of the Falls of Foyers. One day, on looking out of the cave, the laird saw a Red Coat secretly following a girl bringing food for him and, as to avoid capture was a matter of life and death to him, the laird shot the soldier who was buried where he fell. So Foyers’s whereabouts could be kept secret, the inhabitants used to speak of him by the nickname “Bonaid Odhair” (Dun Coloured Bonnet).

After the Battle of Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland’s troops brought much misery and brutality to the district. The estates were plundered and burnt on a scale never before known on account of the proximity of Foyers to Fort Augustus, where Cumberland and his troops were garrisoned. Many people starved to death and many outrages were committed on their persons. At a change-house, An Ire Mhor (a large piece of arable land), on the road to Inverness near Foyers, a group of soldiers, including an officer, raped a young girl living there with her grandmother and, when the old woman tried to defend her grandchild, she was strangled to death. At a funeral, taking place in Foyers cemetery, one of the starving mourners grabbed a loaf of bread off a passing provisions cart heading for Fort Augustus – uproar followed. The offender was arrested and the troops fired indiscriminately into the funeral party, killing at least one and wounding many others. The bullet holes in the grave stone of Donald Fraser of Erchit, buried in 1730, can still be seen to this day. Another outrage was committed on a boy taking a cask of beer to Foyers in his hiding place – when the boy refused to tell of his master’s hiding place, the soldiers cut off his hands.

I’m particularly bemused that one of the bibliographic sources is History of the Frasers by Alex MacKenzie. It makes you wonder if it was printed by A. Malcolm, doesn’t it? 🙂

Here’s a link to some photos of the actual Dun Bonnet cave:


The Inverness Outlander group were able to go explore the cave.  Here’s a link to their blog post and photos of the day:  Diana said she wouldn’t have gone on this trip because she is too claustrophobic.  🙂



please never die! August 30, 2012

This is purely selfish, I know.

Since October 2011, I’ve been obsessed with author Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series (though I read anything by her I can find: the Lord John series, blog posts, articles, tweets, Facebook postings).  Like millions of rabid fans around the world, I am waiting desperately for the next installment in in the adventures of Claire and Jamie Fraser, et al.  Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (aka MOBY) isn’t due until SEPTEMBER 2013!

>>Insert anguished groan here<<

Recently, Diana went to Scotland to celebrate the wedding of her daughter.  I found myself praying passionately that there would be no plane, train, bus, ferry, or auto accidents.  What if Diana was to expire in some sort of dramatic, Fraser worthy way?  She puts her characters through enough, fate might just mock her with an ironic  twist, and she could be caught in such a scenario up close and personally!  Worse, some ignominious event could fell her, some blip of biology could shut down that brilliant brain and still that witty pen.

😦  NOOOOOOOOO!  The very idea makes my heart pound in dread.

Yesterday, in my audio book of Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, Jamie fought off a bear with a dirk, bare hands, and sheer determination.  (Claire contributed to his defence by whacking at the combatants with a dead fish).  After this attack, Claire shakily observes,

Anytime. It could happen anytime, and just this fast. I wasn’t sure which seemed most unreal; the bear’s attack, or this, the soft summer night, alive with promise.

I rested mv head on my knees, letting the sickness, the residue of shock, drain away. It didn’t matter, I told myself Not only anytime, but anywhere. Disease, car wreck, random bullet. There was no true refuge for anyone, but like most people, I managed not to think of that most of the time.

I am not a worry-wart.  I have a generally relaxed, laissez-faire attitude about most things.  I believe in doing what you can, and then letting go.  I wait without anxious fear for results of jobs, test results, admissions, reviews, and queries. Impatient curiosity may cause frustration, but not anxiety.  My kids and husband are on their own, provided only with my good wishes and sensible advice.  I never panic over their prospective demises, despite their penchants for death defying recreational activities that would indicate I really should.  Yet, Diana Gabaldon’s books can keep me up all night, fretting about how things are going to turn out for a character who’s stuck in another impossible situation.  Her fictional world stresses me out far more than the real world does.

I love her for it.

So I worry about Herself .*   This is slightly absurd, and definitely selfish.    I know it, and yet I can’t help it.

Please be immortal, Diana.  Or at least, get yourself into a time loop next time you’re in Scotland.  I recommend looking for wild flowers at the base of standing stones around Beltane.

*I also worry,  not infrequently, about Davina Porter, narrator of the Outlander audio books, for much the same reasons.  She HAS to keep narrating this series!  She can’t die or retire!

Imagine my head, cupped in my hands, shaking in embarrassment.  This is quite pathetic, but very real.  Am I alone in this absurdity?  Tell me someone else shares author anxiety?

July/2013 Especially now that MOBY won’t be released until March 2014 now!


go North wee fools! October 30, 2011

I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series these days. At the moment I’m reading book 6,  A Breath of Snow and Ashes, in which Claire (time traveller from 1968 this time) and her Highlander love Jamie, are settled in North Carolina amid the stressful period leading up to the American Revolution.

Considering all that Claire and her daughter and son-in-law knew, I keep pondering why on earth they’d want to live through another miserable war? Why didn’t they high tail it to the safety of what became Canada? Nova Scotia would have been an extremely logical place to settle, or perhaps Lower Canada. We know there were Frasers active with the North West Company within 40 years of 1776. Ian could have found Micmac brothers. It would definitely been a much less stressful book (I’m getting worn out from the heart-thumping, page turning!) It just doesn’t seem logical. Surely Claire and Jamie have some common sense? If they knew what was coming, and they did, they should have gone to Canada.

I can’t help being quite disgusted with them for not doing so!

Oh- and knowing about the burning- why haven’t they built an escape tunnel under their house?!  I am so frustrated!


hi story October 5, 2011

I’ve been reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series the last week or two. I got the first book from the BC e-book library service, loved it, put in requests for the next two, had to wait a couple weeks, got them, read 1800 pages in 4 days, and now I’m waiting for the next two books to come available. As I wait, I have to catch up on the basement clear out, because the moment they are on the e-reader, I will be travelling to other worlds for a few days.

My own family tree is firmly rooted in the South and West of England, and on Continental Europe (France and Prussia). There are no Scots in my lineage, but there are in my husband’s side. In fact, his  father is the clan genealogist for the Clan Rattray. Their traditional lands are 20 miles north of Perth and Dundee (make an equilateral triangle, and you’ll find the family seat near Blairgowrie at Craighall Rattray). Some clan maps show them as a Highland clan and others as a Lowland clan, since it’s right on the border.

I wondered whether any of the ancestors had been at Culloden, and did some research.  I discovered that the son of his great great great great great great granduncle James was  John Rattray, a surgeon from Edinborough, was in fact at Culloden.  Moreover, he was serving there as the personal physician of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Kind of makes the heart flutter.

Did I mention my husband is also called John?

Believe it or not, Dr. Rattray was a golfer.  He won the world’s first golf tournament, was head of the world’s first golf club (it later became St. Andrew’s) and is a signatory to the creation of the official rules back in 1744. (see here)  In a historical story that is almost comical (but certainly something that could have been in a Diana Gabaldon novel!) after being taken at Culloden, he was reprieved from the gallows by the intervention of a golf buddy- Lord President Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, himself.

The Rattrays are a sept of the neighboring Murray Clan (or allied with, but not actually a sept, according to some sources).   On the other side of the bordering  Murray land, are the Frasers.  Around the time of Culloden, the Rattrays had just won back Atholl Castle from the Stewarts, so I suspect they weren’t on the best of terms.  One wonders about the political initiatives that led to their involvement in the Jacobite uprising.

Knowing something of your family history brings the past alive.  Knowing our people were there, doing this, brings an immediacy to events.  It also makes a historical fiction seem even more possible.

Oh. There’s  a stone circle at Craighall-Rattray, too.

Got goosebumps yet?



%d bloggers like this: