English soldiers built Fruin monument

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Fruin-monumentA POPULAR attraction in Glen Fruin is the memorial stone commemorating the Battle of Glen Fruin.

The memorial was erected in 1968 at the west end of the glen, looking east over the area where the famous battle between the Colquhouns and the McGregors took place on February 7 1603.

It was actually erected by two English soldiers, and one of them, Roger Beasley, treasures a faded press cutting which tells the story. It reads . . .

“The site of one of the last battles between Scottish clans — the Colquhouns and the McGregors — has been permanently marked, not by Scotsmen but by a trio of English soldiers from Yorkshire.

“For the past nine years the Ripon-based 38 Engineer Regiment have been at work in Western Scotland and the Inner Isles on the biggest military aid to the civilian community operations ever undertaken in the country — Exercise Gaelic Chief.

“Although heavily committed to 14 engineering projects, the regiment’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John H.Foster, readily agreed to a request that his men should build a cairn at Glen Fruin to commemorate the clash between the clans.

“Ever since the death some years ago of five trees which were the only means of identifying the moorland battle site, local historians have been concerned that this little piece of turbulent history would be lost to future generations.

“Artist Gregor Ian Smith, historian, art master at Hermitage Academy, and the author and illustrator of a children’s book, ‘Folk Tales of the Highlands’, approached Colonel Foster through his friend, Colonel Stevenson-Hamilton.

“Colonel Stevenson-Hamilton is commandant of the training centre at Garelochhead which the visiting Royal Engineers are using as their headquarters.

“Colonel Foster detailed Lieutenant John Duquemin, a Guernsey man, to erect the commemorative cairn.

“The lieutenant’s problem was shortage of tradesmen, almost all of whom were at work in the highlands and islands.

“He called on Lance Corporal Brian Jolliffe, of Nelson, Lancashire, who was acting as post NCO at headquarters, and Lance Corporal Roger Beasley, Royal Signals, of Ockley, Surrey.

“Lance Corporal Beasley, a radio technician attached to 38 Engineer Regiment, was operating the telephone exchange, and was ‘bored to tears’.

“The trio went up on the moor with a tractor, shovels and sledgehammers, and set to work to build the cairn.

“On top of a huge boulder brought there by glacial action, they placed a smooth-faced granite boulder from the bed of the River Fruin. The local stonemason is to carve an appropriate inscription on it.

“In fairness to the raiding clan — the McGregors —James Kirkpatrick, a timber merchant, decided that the cairn must include stones from their territory.

“He travelled the 70 miles to Balquhidder, Perthshire, gathered them himself, and brought them back to be cemented in place.

“It was a particularly generous and forgiving gesture by him, since Mr Kirkpatrick is descended from the Colquhouns, who were the ones attacked.

“At his home, a former schoolhouse about a mile from the cairn, Mr Smith described the battle: About 200 McGregors took part in the raid — for cattle, women, and anything else they could lay their hands on.

“They pitched camp in a moorland hollow handy for the claymore-brandishing descent on Glen Fruin the following morning.

“Dawn broke, clear and frosty, and sharp-eyed Colquhouns spotted the rimy breath of the invaders’ horses and the steam from their flanks. This early warning gave the Colquhouns time to snatch up their arms.

“The McGregors inflicted heavy losses and won the battle, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. When news of it reached King James he ordered the hunting down of the McGregors, and they never knew a moment’s peace for years.

“Today Mr Smith is planning the ceremony in celebration of the cairn-building.

“He would like it to take place on the anniversary of the battle — February 6 — but fears there may be deep snow on the moor by then, so the ceremony will probably be held towards the end of this year.

“He will invite the heads of both clans to be present — Sir Ivar Colquhoun of Luss, who is the local laird, and the McGregor of McGregor.

monument“This romantic, colourful and moving ceremony, at the feet of Strone Hill, Auchenvennel Ben, and Chaorach (Sheep Hill), will, of course, be attended by the three young neutrals who have made it possible — Lieutenant Duquemin, Lance Corporal Jolliffe, and Lance Corporal Beasley.”

In fact, they were not there. Roger said: “I would have like to have attended the ceremony but service life in those days didn’t lend itself to that sort of commitment.”

The monument was restored by Helensburgh Heritage Trust in 1997, with the help of the Friends of Loch Lomond, Clan Gregor and BP.

An impressive unveiling ceremony took place that October with representatives of the McGregors and the Colquhouns and others, many in Highland dress — including the Honorary President of the Trust, the late Jimmy Logan O.B.E.

The cairn was covered by a battered and faded Saltire and, when the flag was removed and, to the accompaniment of a lone piper, the senior representatives of the McGregors and the Colquhouns shook hands as a symbol of the end of the feud.

The Heritage Trust is currently looking into the cost of cleaning the monument and repainting the lettering.