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DEN OF AIRLIE.
"Argyle has raised a hunder men,
A hunder men an' mairly,
An' he's awa doun by the back o' Dunkeld,
To plunder the bonnie house o' Airlie."
THE name of the parish of Airlie is supposed to have been Airdly, from the Gaelic Aird, signifying the extremity of a ridge, and which exactly describes the locality of Airlie Castle. It is situated in the western part of Forfarshire, and borders upon Perthshire. The southern part stretches along the Howe of Strathmore, gradually rising in a series of undulating ridges, forming a portion of the braes of Angus. The principal ridge stretches along the north side of the parish, and terminates in a deep rocky gorge, through which the impetuous Isla pours its troubled waters from the high lands into those of the low country. At Airlie Castle, this wild ravine. separates into two parts, which form, respectively, the channels of the Isla, and the Melgum.
As the genealogy of the noble house of Airlie will be more appropriately alluded to in the succeeding chapter, suffice it here to state, that this noble family became connected with the parish in the year 1458, when Sir John Ogilvy of Lintrathen, received a grant of the Castle and Barony from James II.
The Den of Airlie, celebrated for its fine river scenery and romantic beauty, extends about a mile below the junction of the Isla and the Melgum, and forms one of the most picturesque and beautiful scenes to be met with in the country. The luxuriant brushwood of the Den consists chiefly of oak,
and is remarkable as containing the most easterly remains of natural oakwood on the southern face of the Grampians.
The Den of Airlie, besides its unrivalled scenery, and historical associations, is classic ground to the botanical student, having been a favourite resort of the elder Don, and the scene of some of his earliest discoveries. Here, amongst many other rare plants enumerated by Dr. Barty, are to be found, in comparatively so small a space, the Ribes petræum or rock currant ; the Orobus niger; the curious Paris quadrifolia rare in Strathmore; the interesting Nidus-avis; the Vicia sylvatica, with its trailing festoons of beautiful flowers; the showy Epilobium augustifolium; while the gray walls of Airlie Castle are redolent with the sweetly scented wall-flower, the Cheiranthus Cheiri, a favourite plant in the garden, looking still more attractive in its wild natural beauty, as it clings with loving tenacity to the sheltered crevices of the classical hoary pile.
Come-let us wreathe a garland sweet
And loads her wings with nectar sweet!
Of mountain flowers then twine the wreath
How rich the perfume which they breathe!
But mark the leaves of every flower,
Although in reality, it was at the Castle of Forter, in Glenisla, that the incidents recorded in the popular old ballad of the "Bonnie House o' Airlie," took place, tradition still clings to Airlie Castle, as the scene of Argyle's cruelties, just as it tenaciously does to the Castle of Glamis, as the locale of the murder of Duncan and the scene of the deadly combat between Macduff and Macbeth.
It is matter of history, however, that the Earl of Airlie was one of the most faithful and distinguished champions of the royal cause, and that in 1639 the middle parts of Scotland were put under his command by king Charles I. In the year 1640, to avoid the necessity of subscribing the covenant, the Earl covertly passed over to England, and knowing this, his hereditary enemy, the Earl of Argyll, obtained authority from the Committee of Estates to take and destroy the Castle of Airlie and that of Forter, in Glenisla, which was also one of the seats of the Airlie family. Argyll, according to Spalding, raised a body of 5000 men of his own clan, and proceeded in the month of July to execute his commission. The Castle had been left in the charge of Lord Ogilvy, the Earl's eldest son, -who had recently maintained it against the assault of the Earl of Montrose-but on the approach of Argyll's army, he regarded all idea of resistance as hopeless, and abandoned it at once to the assailants, who plundered it of everything which they coveted, and could carry away with them, and burned it to the ground.
Argyll not only directed the siege, but personally lent a willing and earnest hand in the work of demolition. According to the parson of Rothiemay-" He was seen taking a hammer in his hand and knocking down the hewed work of the doors and windows till he did sweat for heat at his work."
It will be observed, that the ballad, instead of taking the
poetical licence of exaggeration, very materially diminishes the number of the besiegers, in as much as while the historian states the army of Argyll to have amounted to 5000 men, the lyrist modestly puts down the number as only a 'hunder.' The statement that "he's awa' down by the back o' Dunkeld," may have been the foundation of the tradition, that the men who burned Airlie Castle halted on the night previous at the haughs of Rattray.
True to his commission, Argyll and his men also demolished the Castle of Forter, but tradition saith the Campbells kept possession of it for several months before they destroyed and abandoned it. It was here where the Lady Ogilvy was residing, and not at Airlie Castle, when the destruction of the two houses was perpretated by Argyll. Lady Ogilvy, it is said, was treated with the greatest cruelty by Argyll, "who not only would not allow her, although far advanced in pregnancy, to remain at Forter till she was brought to bed, but even refused to grant permission to her grandmother, and his own kinswoman, the Lady Drimmie, to receive her into her house of Kelly."
The house of Craig in Glenisla, although not included in Argyll's commission, was destroyed at the same time. The particulars of the event are thus related by Gordon :— such time as Argyll was making havoc of Airlie's lands, he was not forgetful of old quarrels to Sir John Ogilvy of Craig, cousin to Airlie; therefore he directs one, sergeant Campbell, to Sir John Ogilvy's house, and gives him warning to sleight it. The sergeant coming thither found a sick gentlewoman there, and some servants, and looking upon the house with a full survey, returned without doing anything, telling Argyll what he had seen, and that Sir John Ogilvy's house was no strength at all, and therefore he conceived that it fell not within his orders to cast it down. Argyll fell in some chafe with the sergeant, telling him that it was his part to have obeyed his orders, and instantly commanded him back again, and caused him deface and spoil the house.”
The old castle of Airlie is supposed to have belonged to the same age as those of Redcastle, and Castle Guthrie, the latter being the seat of Guthrie of Guthrie, the most ancient family in the County of Angus. It occupied a commanding site on the rocky promontory at the confluence of the Melgum and the Isla. A building of great strength, both as regards position and masonry, it ranked as one of the noblest and most formidable baronial residences in the country, and previous to the introduction of artillery, must have been almost impregnable. In its original state it had the form of an oblong quadrangle, and occupied nearly the whole summit of the promontory. The massive wall which protected the castle on the eastern and most accessible side, together with the portcullis entry, still remain in connexion with the modern mansion of Airlie. The fosse also continues distinct, although now partially filled up to suit the questionable ideas of modern improvement. And these few remains are all that is left of the "Bonnie House o' Airlie!"
Byron says "Not that I love man the less, but Nature more," which, to be in full accordance with my own feelings, I should alter thus-Not that I love Nature less, but mankind before. Intensely as I adore and love Nature in all her varied moods of sunshine and storm, sublime magnificence and golden beauty, I still more intensely adore and love the human heart, with all its warm affections, tender emotions, its deep-seated, holy, unchangeable love. Hence, I never feel my landscapes to be complete, without the voices of children mingling in the diapason of song. There may be the choral melody of birds, the sweet murmuring of streams, the mystic music of the distant sea, but all is to me comparatively a world of silence without human interest being manifested in the scene, and human voices blending with Nature's far resounding hymn of universal joy.
So, as when at Craighall, our thoughts at first reverted to the mythical baron of Bradwardine, they converged in the end on that recent catastrophe, by which a young and blooming