Welcome to Invergarry
In the heart of the Great Glen and the Scottish Highlands, where the River Garry descends into Loch Oich, lies the beautiful little village of Invergarry in its wooded setting. Invergarry is situated at the meeting point of the Great Glen and Glen Garry and at the junction of two of the major roads, which follow these spectacular valleys through the Highlands. Arriving by car from Fort William one must decide at Invergarry, whether to continue north along the A82 towards Inverness, turn west along the A87 towards the Isle of Skye, or simply stay awhile in this charming setting. Those who decide to stay find exploring the village and its surrounds an enchanting and rewarding experience.
Eilean Donan Castle - via A87 road, Invergarry to Isle of Skye
Part of that charm lies in Invergarry’s history. From earliest times these glens and hills were occupied by man. The Great Glen was the major thoroughfare through the Highlands, until relatively recently, when the first substantial roads were constructed. That Glen Garry meets the Great Glen at Invergarry made the site of particular importance as a major crossroads.
It is perhaps a reflection of the early importance of the site that a major battle is the first recorded occurrence in the area. In the run up to the battle in the early summer of 1544 an alliance led by the Clanranald and Cameron forces secured the southern shores of Loch Oich and threatened south into Fraser territory around Loch Lochy. In alarm the Frasers sent a force of about 300 men north. They confronted the opposing forces on July 15th at the head of Loch Lochy. In what is considered to be one of the most bloody inter-clan battles ever fought, the Frasers were soundly beaten; it is said that by the end of the day only four Fraser men were left still standing. Part of the folklore of the battle is that fearing death over 80 of the Fraser men ensured their wives were pregnant before they went to battle. The site of the slaughter is known as ‘Blar-nan-Leine’, or ‘the field of the shirts’, so called as the uncommonly hot weather forced the men to remove their plaids and fight only in their shirts.
Importantly for the history of Invergarry, one family that was part of the victorious Clanranald/Cameron led alliance that day, was the MacDonnells. Within 50 years of the battle they were the dominant force in Glen Garry and, after being threatened by a number of raids by clan Mackenzie in 1602, decided to build a fort to secure their lands. The site they chose was Creagan an Fhithich, ‘the Raven’s Rock’, an outcrop on the shores of Loch Oich at Invergarry. Creagan an Fhithich became the clan’s motto and Invergarry Castle became their seat.
The castle had a tumultuous century and a half of use as a fort, before being left to fall into the state of disrepair in which it is found today. It was burned down by the Cromwellian army of General Monk in 1654. Once repaired, it flew the banner for the deposed King James VII, only to surrender in 1692. It was a stronghold of the Jacobite forces in the 1715 and 1745 rebellions and was visited by Bonnie Prince Charlie before and after the fateful Battle of Culloden. As part of the period of brutal suppression in the Highlands instigated by William Augustus, otherwise known as The ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, Invergarry Castle was seized and partly destroyed.
Another site of historical interests is the Well of Seven Heads, between the A82 and Loch Oich, which is associated with the Keppoch Murders. On the 23rd September, 1663 Alexander MacDonald, 13th chief of Keppoch, and his brother Ranald were brutally stabbed to death by seven assailants representing a rival faction within the clan. It took two years for the Privy council in Edinburgh to respond but when they did, their ruling was final: they issued a letter of ‘fire and sword’ authorising the execution of those responsible. A force of MacDonalds of Sleat, led by Iain Lorn, then rounded up the men and decapitated them. On his way back to Edinburgh he stopped at the well, where he washed the seven heads for display at Invergarry Castle. An obelisk constructed in 1812, topped by a sculpture depicting seven heads and a large dagger, now commemorates the incident. The heads were later taken and affixed to Edinburgh’s Gallows, before being laid to rest, although they have since been exhumed.
Since these gory days much has changed in Invergarry. In the 18th century the MacDonell clan chiefs re-established themselves as landowners who, in seeking to maximise the profit they could exact from their lands, drove the people from them. Sheep rearing and industry replaced the ancient ways of life. In 1799 the family invested in a sawmill, which became the cornerstone of the village’s economy, until all the local trees had been cut down and sold off. Facing bankruptcy the MacDonnells sold off the lands in 1866. Since then, the trees have returned and the village has grown, due in part to its place at the junction of two major roads and the construction of the Caledonian Canal through the Great Glen. As a result, the outstanding natural beauty, the attractive buildings and well kept gardens of Invergarry, are more accessible than ever.