Treacherous hills;The Big Picture

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
(Photograph) - On the edge of nowhere: this implacable wilderness looks like the last horizon - as it was for four venture scouts killed by an avalanche at nearby Aonach Mor at the end of last year.

Glencoe, in the Highlands of Scotland, has other claims to infamy. In 1692, on February 13, 38 of the 200 male inhabitants were put to the sword. Their only crime was to belong to the clan Macdonald.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, replacing the Catholic Stuart James II with the Protestant Dutchman, William of Orange, Scotland was divided. The Highlands were in a ferment of Jacobite sympathy; the Lowlanders, supporters of William, laid claim to much of their land.

So the Campbells, deadly foes of the Macdonalds, hijacked a scheme to bribe the Highlanders into loyalty. Through their machinations, MacIan, chief of the Glencoe Macdonalds, missed the deadline to sign an oath of allegiance to King William III.

It was decided that 'the clan Donald must be rooted out'. 'Extirpation' - what we would call today ethnic cleansing - was justified. Argyll, chief of the Campbells agreed: 'it is a great work of honour to be exact in rooting out that damnable sect, the worst of the Highlanders.' In the depths of an inhospitable winter, a certain Captain Campbell of Glenlyon and his soldiers spent a couple of weeks holed up in Glencoe with the Mac-donalds. He was entertained so well that he spent the evening of February 12 playing cards with the sons of MacIan; he then murdered both their parents before breakfast before going on to put the settlement to fire and the sword.

Luckily for the Macdonalds, a terrible blizzard prevented more troops getting through. Most of the clan fled semi-naked into the mountains in the freezing cold.

From their exile their piteous story became known all over the world, confirming Glencoe in its name - Gaelic for 'Vale of Weeping'.

Victoria Neumark


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