A True Story - at least so the Old Folks say.
Many years ago, five men were returning through the woods from Lancaster to their homes east of Dalkeith. They were working on the right-of-way for the first railway to be built in Ontario. Part of their wages they spent to buy whiskey. They decided -all but Donald Macdonell-to sample the brand. The sample" pleased one of them in particular and he took more than was enough for him. Unfortunately, he was the very man who should have been most careful, for he was given to cursing, and, when drinking, was particularly violent in speech-God's curse was given to everything.
A great black cat was seen to follow them from log to log, along the fence beside the path. This enraged the man who had too much drink, and with a fearful curse, he ran to strike the object of his anger. No sooner did he touch the thing than it seemed as if a hundred cats surrounded him. One of the cats was of enormous size and frightful aspect.
Donald begged his companions to get on their knees to pray, for our forefathers knew their prayers well. Grandfather said that this Donald Macdonell was the best man he knew to "put out the Litany of the Saints for the dead." Evidently, on this occasion Donald thought the Litany should be well said, and the four men, now thoroughly sober, invoked the protection of the "Friends of God", while he named them with reverent love. And Grandfather said, "My child, "the Black-fellow was beaten, but, Mr. -- was taught a lesson he never forgot."
A Lochiel Ghost Story
Many years before the present church at Lochiel was built, the great-grandfather of two Macdonells, who now reside on the lots of which the church land is part, settled here and started to clear away the hush. One field he had succeeded in making ready for a crop. It was the one immediately west of the present presbytery. During the summer, however, the yield of grain was considerably lessened by the depradations of bears. These destructive animals broke through the fences at night and threatened to make his labor all in vain.
His two sons decided to spend one night on the look-out in a specially constructed hiding-place, or scaffold, in a large tree, which stood where the sexton's house is built. They were armed with heavy flint-lock muskets, weapons which they had carefully preserved since the days when they were soldiers in the King's service. The night wore on but no sound came to warn them of the approach of the dusky savage thieves. At midnight a warning came but not of beast or man. The tree shook and swayed, and all the while it seemed as if a dozen unseen forms would pick the earth from under the very roots of that giant tree. They were brave men, but no such thing could they endure. They heard no more-nor in the morning did they see aught that could explain. For many years they told the story, but when the question was asked, "Did anything happen ?" they had to confess that they had never been conscious of anything untoward.
Time went on; Lochiel was to have a church. The foundation was laid and all was ready for the corner-stone which must be a special one. Old Donald McGillis knew where the right stone could be found. He led a dozen men with picks to the field across the way; but, strange to say, it lay just under thestump of that giant tree where our friends watched for bear! And so the story was told again; but now, well, the old men could explain!
We are forced to admit that the Kirk did its work thoroughly in Scotland. The position of Catholics was well nigh hopeless; Catholic education was impossible, with the result that vocations to the priesthood were few and far between. Missionary priests, however, did arrive occasionally. Father White came from Ireland, and kept the light of faith burning in Glengarry. A Scotch exile, Father Munro, followed him and continued the noble work for nearly forty years, when as we saw last month he gave up his life as a martyr. Father Eneas McGillis, was the next priest, and the immediate predecessor of Father Roderick. Of Father McGillis, the Bishop reported to Rome, that "for thirty-five years he had labored in Glengarry with great zeal and had given great satisfaction." There were missionary priests,-there were Jesuits, sons of exiled gentlemen, sent to Douay, to Paris, to Rome, or to Spain, to be educated and to return by stealth to Scotland to minister to the faithful.
The following letter of one of these priests to his ecclesiastical Superior on the Continent will show the manner of their lives and their hardships.
Scotland. 5th July, 1612
I wrote your Paternity twice at the end of last year and the beginning of the year, and I have not received a reply to any of my letters for two years past. The difficulty is extremely great of either sending letters or receiving them in these times of disorder. So far from showing any sign of abatement, the persecution grows more severe every day. The heretic ministers hold a General Assembly every year under Royal authority, and this Assembly is invested by Parliament with powers immediately to put in force any resolutions they frame for the complete extirpation of the Catholic religion. They have been very busy, during this year and last, in the destruction of the remaining monuments of ancient piety, with a special intolerance against images, crucifixes, and statues of the Blessed Virgin. A General Assembly of the ministers is fixed for the 25th of this month at St. Andrew's-after which they mean to search the whole kingdom through for sacred furniture, rosaries, Catholic books of piety, and other things of the sort. Quite recently Parliament has ordered that the property of persons who have incurred the greater anathema of their church for religion only, shall be sold and confiscated to the Treasury. If any nobleman has Catholic servants in his house, he is to be compelled to dismiss them. Catholics are required to send their sons to heretic schools. I make no account of the straits and miseries to which I, myself, am reduced, being as I am the only one of us left in this part of the Kingdom, or indeed in the Kingdom at all. I wish I may have the happiness to suffer the last extremities for the Name of Jesus. Often when witnessing the extremity of misery existing here, I have meditated abandoning the ship and forsaking my country, but again, the care and love of souls kept me back. Trusting therefore, in the help of the good Jesus, I am determined to risk my life in these calamitous and most troubled times, in which there are many to be found who have not bent the knee to Baal. I implore the grace of final perseverance for all this distracted vineyard of our Lord, for myself,. through your prayers, etc.
Your most unworthy servant and son in Christ,
JAMES MACBRECK, S. J.
There are volumes of such letters from the missionary priests in Scotland.
The very hopelessness of the Catholic position in Scotland excited the sympathy of the Irish missionaries, of the French noblemen (always friendly to Catholic Scotland) and of Rome. Even Germany and Spain must be mentioned among the nations to be held in grateful memory by the Scotchman, who inherits his Faith from those who persevered. The Irish missionary was near at hand and could speak the language of the Highlanders-we find him hiding among them.
The writer has heard old folk-songs about Father White and Father Kelly, the first missionaries to Glengarry, after the Reformation. The French noblemen built colleges and seminaries to assist in educating the exiled Scots. In Rome, the Scots College still exists; in Spain, Valladolid; in Ratisbonne, was the Scotch college of the Benedictines, now established again after an exile of three hundred years, at Fort Augustus, in Glengarry.
Sad to say there are few, if any, Glengarry people left for them to educate, for at the present time there is only too much truth in the lines of W. Allan:-
The Glen of my fathers no longer is ours.
The Castle is silent and roofless its towers.
The hamlets have vanished and grass, growing green.
Now covers the hillocks where once they had been;
The song of the stream arises sadly in vain,
No children are here to rejoice in the strain.
No voices are heard by Loch Oich's lone shore.
Glengarry is here; but Glengarry no more.
When on Palm Sunday, 1919, I assisted at Mass in the monastery, at Fort Augustus, I could not but return thanks to God for his goodness, in permitting a monastery of Benedictine monks to exist in that very Fort from which, for so many generations, our forefathers expected, not learning and piety, but seasons of scourging and terror.
Our forefathers were not slow to play upon the credulity of those who took the "boghdan" stories too seriously. The story of old Allan Tailor is a well-known example.
Allan had bought a new blanket, and was to pass on horseback by a wayside cemetery (Protestant), east of Quigley's, late at night. Two of his neighbors waited behind a tombstone, and one of them, in a deep, hollow voice, sang out in Gaelic- "Allan Tailor, leave your blanket; poor C-- is cold in his grave. "Now, poor C-- had been buried that very day, and the unsuspecting Allan threw his blanket over the fence, and rode home as fast as possible.
The story goes that the boys at Quigley's had extra cause for a "Deoch an' Doris" that night.
A thousand years ago and more, our forefathers told the stories of the "Doaine shi"-the "men of peace." Until the last generation, these stories of the little green elfs or fairies were familiar in this country. They were imported, no doubt, from Scotland. Only recently, I saw a great spreading elm tree, where as a child I was told by my grandfather that the "Doaine shi" held midnight revelry-
For there she said did fays resort,
And satyrs hold their sylvan court,
By moonlight tread their mystic maze.
-Lady of the Lake. C. Ill.
Grandfather said, that Duncan Ban had seen the strange men with green tunics, and had heard their music. The grass never grew around the base of that elm. What other cause but the dance of the "Doaine shi" at night?
But why relate the stories he told? For the youngsters of our times, "Reg'lar Fellers" and "Barney Google" hold sway, but nevertheless, grandfather's stories had much more sense.
This tree may still be seen on the side road 32/8 Lochiel.
When I was young, Grandfather, if he heard me sneeze, would always say, "God bless you, and give you long life. For, my child," he once explained, "there is angel whose special work it is to look over a great Golden Book, in which is written the life of every man. When he comes to your life, he makes you sneeze so that is why I always say, `God bless you, and give you long life,' You see, he might ask God..to give it to you."
And so, like many others, Father Roderick was sent to Rome to be educated. Bishop Hugh Macdonald was then stationed in the Highlands. In a secluded glen, there was Loch Morar and the famous seminary or college of Scalan. From the time of Bishop Hugh Macdonald and Bishop Hay, the priests in the Highlands became more numerous-the prayers of the early missionaries were heard. The Cardinals and the influential Catholics abroad supplied the money for the buildings, the chapels, the churches. The youths trained at Scalan were sent to Scots College, Rome, or to the College of the Propaganda.
From Rome they returned to the Highland missions. They wrote to the Cardinal in charge of the Congregation of the Propaganda each year, to give an account of their work.
These letters have been preserved, and thus we have, in the Archives of the Propaganda, a series of documents giving an intimate history of the Catholic Church in the land of our forefathers. These letters also show the kindly interest and the generous help given by the Cardinals and the Bishops to the Scotch Catholics during the centuries of their trials, and should fill us, their descendants the world over, with gratitude, and with the desire tohelp the Propaganda College in Rome, so that it may continue the noble work.
The following letter, dated 10th August, 1783, and written by Father Austin Macdonell, will give an idea of the work of one of the Highland priests in the very year that Father Roderick Macdonell left for Canada.
"Having been educated at the Scots College, Rome, for about twelve years, it is now fourteen years since I returned to my native land of Moydart, where to the best of my abilities I have labored in the vineyard of the Lord. As far as I can remember, I returned in the Summer of the year 1769. My district extends about twenty-four miles from east to west, and is about six miles broad. Thank God, we are all Catholics, except three or four strangers, and we number, according to the list compiled this year, fourteen hundred and fifty souls, all most fervent Catholics-of whom the greater number have been Catholics and their fathers before them, from time immemorial. They lead very innocent lives, and it is a great consolation to me to find them so ready to follow any advice I may give them. In vain, have the ministers several times tried to overcome this stronghold of the Faith, and for this end they established here an heretical missionary with a good salary. On the other hand, if they did not import strangers, he would have to shout to the rocks."
The same zealous priest wrote three years later:-
"On account of the immigration, last Summer, of the people of Knoidart, to Canada, along with their priest, it fell to me, in the Autumn to attend to those who were left behind, and during the Winter to the people of Moidart as well. Although not less than six hundred Catholics went to America, still I administered the Sacraments to over five hundred souls, who remained. The over population of these districts, together with the oppression of the landlords, are the principal causes of the departure of so many.
"The distances are so great and the country so rough, whilst there is not a single road, that I am nearly worn out, and my health has become very uncertain. Only the remembrance of the reward, `exceedingly great,' which I look for, is able to sustain me amid such labors.
If the Congregation (Propaganda) has any alms to distribute, trust they will remember one who has had the honor of being educated at the venerable college of the Propaganda.
"Your Eminence's most humble servant"
Austin MacDonell - St Alexander's Parish - St Finnan's - From A Pastor's Breviary -
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