Dòmhnall Cam and the Blind Woman

We do fairly harp on the heroic stories of Dòmhnall Càm, the local chieftain, warrior and cattle-plunderer, particularly ruthless in wars against the Morrisons of Ness, but there are some deeply unpleasant traditions about him too. The following is from Capt FWL Thomas’s Traditions of the Macaulays (1880).

Donald Cam and the Gow Ban [the Smith of Kneep] were walking together at Kneep, close by a small bothy in which an old blind woman lived. Some of the tenants’ wives were sitting outside the bothy talking, and one of them remarked that they need have no fear of an enemy attempting to invade or plunder them, for there were few like Donald Cam and the Gow Ban in all the country. The blind woman from within asked who were they whom they were praising so much? On being told, she indignantly exclaimed: “Had you seen the men who fought the battle of Machir-house (a strand and level spot at Reef); I say had you seen those heroes who repulsed and killed a Danish pirate and crew, you would not say that either Donald Cam or the Big Smith is a man of such valour and prowess.” Donald Cam and the smith asked what the blind woman inside was talking about, and when the women told them, they fell to and blocked up the door of the bothy with stones, and threated with instant death anyone who should give food or drink to the old blind woman, so being left to starve she soon died.

The battle alluded to was fought by a Danish pirate who landed his men at Berry [Beirghe] or Reef, and who thought to have plundered the country with impunity; but the clans faced the Danes as they landed, and a bloody battle ensued, when all the Danes except three were killed on the spot, and of the three who ran to their boat to save themselves, one was shot dead by an arrow. It was the warriors in this battle to whom the blind woman alluded, and for which she was starved to death.

Thomas comments in a footnote: “Such an event as this has no doubt occurred, but it is hard to believe that it happened in the beginning of the seventeenth century”. (Dòmhnall Càm died before 1640.)