The Parish Of Arrochar by Norrie Douglas


 (Norman Douglas of Dundarrach, Dec 1985)

Arrochar is the northernmost parish in the county of Dunbartonshire, and is bounded on the north by Perthshire, on the east of Loch Lomond, on the west by Loch Long and Argyle, and on the south by the parish of Luss.  Arrochar was formerly part of the parish of Luss, but on 25th January 1659, two instruments of law were signed by which the parish of Arrochar came into being, one of the signatories being John McFarlane, who was to become 17th Chief of the Clan McFarlane.

The lands of Arrochar had belonged to the Clan McFarlane from 1225, when Gilchrest, son of Alwyn 2nd Earl of Lennox, was granted the lands of Arrochar by his father, Gilchrist becoming the first Chief.

The Earldom of Lennox is very roughly the county of Dunbarton, and the Coat of Arms of the Earl of Lennox is a silver background with a red saltire with a red rose in each section.  The county of Dunbarton had as its Coat of Arms a silver background with a red saltire and in each of the four sections a red rose with green leaves.  The Clan McFarlane took as their Coat of Arms a differenced version of the parent Arms and their Arms were a silver background with a red engrailed saltire with a red rose in each section.

Although Clan McFarlane had established their own parish in 1659, the Chiefs were almost reluctant to give up their family burial ground at Luss parish Church, their enemy’s territory, and there is a stone built into the wall of Luss Church dated 1612 stating that this is the burial place of the Chiefs of Clan McFarlane.  At Tarbet in the parish of Arrochar, there is an old burial ground called Ballyhennan.  In this burial ground there is at least one pre-reformation stone and also a large selection of both upright stones and flat, (through) stones, many of which are carved with the Coat of Arms of McFarlanes, regrettably now showing signs of wear with the wild weather in this area.

The first parish Church was built in 1733, the ruins of which still exist, and in 1742 the Church was presented with two silver communion cups, both still in the possession of the Church, and still used from time to time.

Duncan, 1284-1296 was second Chief of the Clan McFarlane, followed by Malduin, 1314, and it was during his time that Robert the Bruce was fleeing from the McDougalls of Lorne and by mistake when travelling south he and his men took the east side of Loch Lomond instead of the west.  James Douglas, great friend of Bruce found an old leaky boat and over two days were able to ferry their force over to the west side of the Loch at Inveruglas (short for Inverdouglas).  Before this time the island was not known as Inverdouglas, and perhaps it got its name from James Douglas along with Glen Douglas also in the parish.  When Bruce reached the west shore of the Loch he was found by his friend the Earl of Lennox who was hunting in the area, and very likely the McFarlane Chief would be with them.  Three miles south of Tarbet there is still an old yew tree known as Bruces tree, and in Glenloin there is a cave known as Bruces cave.

Parlan, 1329, fourth Chief of the Clan was the one that gave the Clan their name, Parlan becoming Farlane.

Malcolm, 1344-1373, fifth Chief of the Clan, became heir to the 6th Earl of Lennox, but feeling that he did not have the estate to sustain the dignity of Earl declined to press his claim.

Duncan, 1395-1406, sixth Chief of the Clan, married Christian Campbell, and their second son was the ancestor of McCause’s and Thomson’s.

John, 1426, seventh Chief, married Jean Mure.

Duncan, 1441, eight Chief, had a second son who became ancestors of the McFarlanes of Kenmore, McFarlanes of Muckroy, McFarlanes of Auchinvenal More, and the McFarlanes of Dunnamanich.

Walter, 1488, ninth Chief, married the daughter of James, the Lord Livingstone, and they had a second son who became ancestors of the McFarlanes of Tullichintell, McFarlanes of Finnart, and the McFarlanes of Gorton.

Andrew, 1488-1493, tenth Chief, married Barbara, daughter of John Stewart of Darnley, later to become 9th Earl of Lennox.

Sir John, 1514, eleventh Chief, married the daughter of Lord Hamilton, and their second son Robert was ancestor of the McFarlanes of Inversnait, their third son Walter of Ardleish was ancestor of the McFarlanes of Gartartan and the McFarlanes of Ballagan.

Andrew, 1514-1544, twelfth Chief, known as the wizard, married Lady Margaret Cunningham, daughter of the Earl of Glencairn, and their second son, George of Merkinch became ancestor of the McFarlanes of Kirkton, the Ballancleroch branch, of whom some still exist.

Duncan, 1544-1547, thirteenth Chief, married Isobel Stewart and later Catherine Ann Colquhoun.  Duncan was able to send 140 well armed men from the parish under the command of his uncle Walter McFarlane of Ardleish to assist the Earl of Lennox.

Andrew, 1547-1612, married Agnes, daughter of Sir Patrick Maxwell of Newark, Andrew being the fourteenth chief.  Their second son was George McFarlane of Kilmaronock, and their third son Humphrey McFarlane of Brackearn.  Andrew was the Chief who drove in with 300 McFarlanes to turn the battle of Langside against Mary Queen of Scots, and for his services he was given a special crest to his coat of arms, which is still in existence.  King James V1 visited Andrew at his castle.

John, 1612-1624, fifteenth Chief married four times, his son Andrew of Drumfad, his son John, ancestor of the McFarlanes of Glenralloch, his son, George, ancestors of the McFarlanes of Clachan.

Walter, 1624-1664, sixteenth Chief, married Margaret Semple, and their second son become Andrew of Ardess.

John, 1664-1679, seventeenth Chief, married Grizel Lamond then later Anne Campbell.  They only had daughters so the next Chief was the son of Andrew of Ardess.

Andrew, 1679-1685, eighteenth Chief, married Elizabeth Buchanan and they had seven sons.

John, 1685-1705, nineteenth Chief married Agnes Wallace and later Helen Arbuthnot.

Walter, 1705-1767, twentieth Chief, married Elizabeth Erskine, but as they had no sons the next Chief was the son of William, a younger brother of Walter.

William, 1705-1767, twenty-first Chief, married Christian Dewar.  William was the last Chief to hold sway over the ancient lands of Arrochar, as due to heavy debts William sold the lands to Ferguson of Raith.

There was a John, 1787, twenty-second Chief married to Catherine Walkinshaw, followed by a William, born 1770, died 1820, and he was twenty-third Chief, followed by a Walter, born 1792, died 1830, and he was twenty-fourth Chief, and he was followed by a William, born 1813 and died 1866, and he was twenty-fifth Chief.

After the lands of Arrochar were sold by William the twenty-first Chief of McFarlane, and the following Chiefs were no longer resident in Arrochar, the long held close ties with their ancient lands soon faded and William the twenty-fifth Chief who died in 1866 was the last recognised Chief and his Chieftainship of the family has now been lost in the mists of time.

Up to 1787 only McFarlanes were allowed to stay within their lands and even in 1804 the old ledger of the Tarbet store had only McFarlane names on it.

Within the Arrochar parish even to the present time the moon is known as McFarlane’s Lantern due to the fact that it was by courtesy of the moon that McFarlane was able to frequently lead his men to steal other peoples cattle and drive them back to his own lands.

The first known castle of the McFarlanes was on the island of Inveruglas, in Loch Lomond, this castle being partly damaged by the troops of Cromwell who fired their cannons from the nearby shore at the castle.  The next castle the McFarlanes owned was built on the island of Ellan Vow, also in Loch Lomond.  The next residence known to be occupied by the Chief was a small house at Tarbet called Claddach More.  Up to this time all the main population was on the Loch Lomond side of the parish, but then the Chief built a castle near to Loch Long called Inverioch and this was the start of the rise in population on the west side of the parish which was firstly called New Tarbet and has now grown into the present village of Arrochar.  Inverioch castle was extended at the front in 1784 and again in 1799 to become Arrochar House, then a hotel and now the Cobbler Hotel.  Above the main entrance to the hotel still exists an engraved stone with a thistle and the date 1697 and wording in gaelic to say this house was erected by John, Chief of McFarlane of Arrochar.

Throughout the parish at the present time can be seen the old crofts which were worked by the McFarlane clan back into history and most of their old names are still in existence with their old boundaries still known.

When the McFarlanes were required to assemble perhaps to quell some intrusion by strangers, the cry “Loch Sloy” was shouted from hilltops and glens till all males of the clan had gathered, usually at Loch Sloy itself, so that they could repulse any intruders.  There is a photograph of a clachan of about six stone houses belonging to the McFarlanes on the side of Loch Sloy, but they are now under the surface of the Loch which was raised by building a dam to drive the turbines of Sloy Power Station on the banks of Loch Lomond.  There is also still in existence not far from Loch Sloy a cutting in some rocks to which the McFarlanes if in danger of being overpowered would retreat to.  The McFarlanes would scramble through the cutting and when the enemy tried to follow one of one the McFarlanes had so placed themselves so that as each enemy came through off was chopped his head to be dragged clear ready for the next one.

In the Norwegian saga of Hakon Hakonson, it tells of the period when the Vikings were supreme in Europe and how king Hakon in the west of Scotland divided up his army and sent part of it in sixty ships into Loch Long.  The Vikings came to the head of Loch Long where the village of Arrochar now is, and they pulled some of their boats ashore and then dragged them overland by using felled trees as roller to where Tarbet is now on Loch Lomond, a distance of two miles.  The Vikings launched their boats on Loch Lomond and proceeded to pillage the inhabitants of the islands of Loch Lomond who never expected an attack to come from this direction.  This was in 1263.

At one part of this intrusion by the Vikings they had a battle with some of the Scots, this may have been the early clan McFarlane or perhaps some of the warriors of the Earl of Lennox.  However it has been told that some of the Vikings who were killed in the battle were buried near to Ballyhennan, but exactly where is not known.  However there is a large mound of earth half way between Arrochar and Tarbet which may well be the burial place of a Viking leader as it has all the external appearances of a boat burial.

External to the main burying ground at Ballyhennan there is a section fenced off and this was the burying place of a number of Irish workmen who died while constructing the West Highland railway line, in 1895.  Half way between Arrochar and Tarbet while building the railway, the railway company erected a recreation hall for their workers and when the railway was complete the company presented the local population with the hall which became the village hall for many years.  Included in the gift were several tables for carpet bowling with sets of bowls and some of these are still in use at the present time.

Not far outside the northern parish boundary, about ¾ mile north-west of the falls of Falloch there is a large boulder in the shape of an old mortar, so of course it is called the mortar stone and it is known that Robert Bruce paused here while fleeing from the McDougalls.   This stone marks the boundaries of the three ancient Kingdoms of Strathclyde, Dalriada, and Pictland, and is now very near to the boundaries of Dunbartonshire, Argyll, and Perthshire.

When the parishioners of Ardlui area in the northern part of the parish complained that they were not receiving the attention of the Church the minister of the time said build me a pulpit and I will preach to you, so in 1825 the people of Ardlui area set about to carve out a massive boulder a pulpit for the minister.  They fitted a wooden door to the hole carved in the rock and it was used by the minister for many years as a pulpit while the congregation sat on grass mounds round about.  It is reputed that the best part of these services was the refreshment tent at the back of the pulpit rock.

There is part of an old military road runs through the parish and also sections of road built by General Monk.

When the writer came to stay in Arrochar thirty-five years ago a great deal of the trade was brought to the parish by steamers on both Loch Lomond and Loch Long.  It can be remembered that all the coal that came to the Tarbet store was brought by Loch Lomond steamer.  At that time the writer was able to meet and was told many stories by drivers of the stage coaches that had been driven through the district not many years before.  There are still photographs existing showing the stage coaches at their terminals and also on their runs.

To walk to the bottom of ones garden and stand on the site where it is known that the clan McFarlane and the clan Colquhoun argued with each other rover a burn, nearly coming to blows over stolen gates, or to walk to the shop along roads of history, or to visit the next village where every step of the way has historical stories leaping out of the past, is a most pleasant experience for any person interested in the past.


See also The Arrochar Cemetery - with all the names and pictures of the grave stones.