St Fillan and Glen Dochart

Burial groundAn old stone wall in the middle of a field draws my attention every time we drive through Glen Dochart.  Guarded by a big sycamore tree, this simple rectangular enclosure is a graveyard belonging to the MacNab clan.

One source says:

“(Luib in Glen Dochart): There is an ancient McNab burial ground on the south side of the road on a little grassy knoll with trees. There are several gravestones here, some of them legible, some less so, and all appear to be to members of the McNab family.”

Entrance to MacNab burial ground

What interested me even more was the mention of a cross-incised slab at the south-east corner of the enclosure, which several experts have dated to the 6th or 7th century.  This stone is described as an ‘early marker’, as opposed to a memorial or grave stone, with links to the very earliest Christian worship.

According to Canmore, the database of the RCAHMS, the cross-marked stone may be “coeval with St Fillan”;  it adds:   “Suie in Glen Dochart is locally connected with St Fillan, though his name is not attached to it.

We visited the MacNab burial site on a bright August day, and I was fascinated to find the cross-marked stone at an outside corner of the walled enclosure.  It stands at a slight angle, about three feet in height, with a weathered but still distinct cross carved on two of its faces. I can see why it has been called a marker stone rather than a grave slab – it is finger-like, slim and angular.  In fact, it looks more like a small version of a standing stone.

Inside the enclosure are grave slabs and memorial stones dating from the 1700s and dedicated to members of the MacNab clan.  Two of them show a severed chieftain’s head, which is part of the MacNab crest. The head is that of the Chief of Clan MacNeish, who was killed in a daring attack by the MacNabs in the early 1600s, in retaliation for repeated raids on their land.

Memorial stoneMcNab's stones 2Gravestones (1)

One gravestone bears the MacNab motto ‘Dread Nought’, and another the words ‘Timor Omnis Abesto’ (‘Let fear be far from all’).  This one also shows three crescent moons arranged above a star and what appears to be a set-square – possibly a masonic symbol.

InscriptionBuilt into a wall of the enclosure is a stone with the inscription:

“Built by Iohn Macnab, posesser of Inishoane 1759”

I assume that the ‘Inishoane’ refers to Innisewen, a farm just across the river on the other side of the glen.  Just outside, beneath the tree, some old iron railings enclose another grave from the same era.

MacNab burial ground, Suie (1)

Who was St Fillan?

Glen Dochart (2)

Veiled by the mists of time, the story of St Fillan is fascinating…

One of the earliest missionaries who travelled from Ireland to western Scotland in the 6th Century, St Fillan’s aim was to establish a Christian monastery and spread the Gospel.  He may have arrived around the same time as St Columba, who founded the abbey on Iona.

Legend has endowed St Fillan with a number of superhuman powers, and he is reputed to have killed a terrifying wild boar with “horns the size of plough shares”.

Apparently St Fillan would preach under an ash tree near the river at Killin, and he used healing stones to cure people of their illnesses.  These stones, together with several other holy relics, still remain;  the Clan Macnab website tells us that by tradition, the layer of river wrack, straw and twigs on which the stones are bedded is changed every Christmas Eve.

St Fillan may have been faintly amused at the way in which his ‘holy relics’ were transported reverently around the country after his death.  His silver-gilt quigrich (the head of a pastoral staff) made an appearance at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 before being taken to Canada some 500 years later.  It is now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

What a charming story… and a truly timeless place.

Sources:

Images copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf



P1120198 Killin 4Further reading

Take a look at another McNab burial ground – this one is on a lovely little island in the River Dochart at Killin.

Comments

  1. How fascinating, I must go and have a look at his quigrich (new word to me!) in Edinburgh some time, and this beautiful graveyard. He seems to have been a most interesting chap, St Fillan, and he fairly got about the country, with spending time on both the west and east coasts. I’m even more curious to visit that cave at Pittenweem now…

  2. Maggie - an expat McNab says:

    What a delight to come across this page and your website, by pure accident. Your words and Colin’s photographs are just magic! I can’t believe that I worked in the Tyndrum area for nearly 3 years in the late 1970’s, and never knew this graveyard existed. That was before I had any understanding of my McNab heritage. Only now as an “ageing” expatriate do I truly appreciate my own McNab (Scots/Irish) branch story. I always felt the Glen Dochart area had an amazing sense of history, a certain mystical “feel” about it – now I know why. Thank you again!!
    Maggie

    • Thank you so much, Maggie! I’m really glad you found it, too! 🙂 I guess these old places just draw me like a magnet, because they really don’t stand out at all as you’re driving past. But there’s always something extraordinary about them. You’re so right about Glen Dochart, it has a definite mystical feel, as if time hasn’t moved on there at all. Good luck researching your heritage! 🙂

  3. Hi Jo,

    Long time no visit. I miss the tree. I could use a little peace right now.😉 Anyway, I am reading a historical fiction novel called ‘The Spider and the Stone’ and a Glen Dochart Abbey is mentioned in the story. I decided to look up more information on it through Google and lo and behold this article is #1!! So no Abbey existed, except in the mind of the author. Appreciate your information and photos as always.

    ~ CW

  4. Good info. Taking a trip to visit this week. Thanks for the history I’ve failed to keep up with in my lifetime. I hope to learn a lot more when we arrive.

    -R. McNab; Tennessee, U.S.

    • You are most welcome! 🙂 I hope that you might find some of your ancestors in Glen Dochart – it’s a lovely place with such a quiet atmosphere. I’m sure you will love it. Be sure to take a look also at the McNab burial island in the River Dochart at Killin, which I’m sure you already know about!

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