About 1706, Mr. Alexander Campbell, second son of Campbell of Craignish, was employed by John Duke of Argyll to examine and sort his archives and charters, and he left what is called the “Craignish manuscript.” He mentions old manuscripts in the Irish character then extant, genealogical and historical, and tells that Irish historians had traced the “clan Duin” from the Dalruadinian colonists of Argyll.
“The Craignish manuscript” is quoted in a history of the Campbells which was written about the beginning of this century, and is now in my possession in MS. The following passages bear upon the Ossianic controversy:-
“When but a boy, I listened with a greedy ear to the traditions and poems of my country, of which there are very many6; ornate, flowery, and elegant as those of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and had they but as much art, might, for natural invention, stand in the roll of fame, and vie with the most celebrated poems of these ancient nations, which have been handed down to our times!”
It is thus proved that in the youth of a man who wrote more than fifty years before “the fragments” appeared, poems existed in the West Highlands, which a well-educated gentleman considered to be comparable to the works of the classical poets, and these could scarcely be the popular ballads now recited. But they were not the poems of 1807, whatever they may have been.
“With regard to the Fingalians,” he says, “they were an Irish militia, raised in the ninth century, under the command of Fion MacCouill, who was appointed by the provincial kings of Ireland General-in-Chief, with several inferior commanders, one of the most eminent of whom was Diarmid. This force consisted of 7000 men in time of peace, and 21,000 in time of war, and was levied and maintained for the purpose of repelling the Danes and Norwegians, whose frequent incursions and bloody invasions had desolated that country for many years before.”
To this quotation the writer of the history, who was an implicit believer in MacPherson’s Ossian, adds this note:-
“This mistaken idea, that Diarmid was an Irishman by birth, misled the ancient genealogists, of the family of Argyll and those of some of their kinsmen, as will appear afterwards; and they sought in Ireland for what was to be found in Argyll.”
Hence it appears that as late as 1707, the author of the Craignish MSS., like the early genealogists of one of the west country clans to whose records he had access, claimed a descent from Diarmid O’Duin, and believed his clan to be of Irish extraction.
About forty years later, the existence of this belief was referred to by Duncan Forbes in his “Memorial on the Clans,” drawn up for Government in 1745, when he wrote –
“The Campbells are called in Gaelic Clan Guin or O’Duine. The Duke of Argyll is their chief; he is called in the Highlands MacCalain Mor.”
It is thus made evident that Fingal’s kingdom of Morven had not been heard of in Argyll in 1707, for those who claimed to be descended from Fionn’s nephew would surely have mentioned Fingal’s misty dominions. The man who admired the poems which were current in his day would never have claimed a descent from the Fenians of Ireland is he had known of a Scotch historical epic about “Fingal” and “Diarmaid” and the ancient poets, and family bards and genealogists whom he quoted, must have heard of these poems, if they had existed in their day.
Several clan genealogists (e.g., the MacGregor’s) claim a descent from Arthur, “Art,” and Irish kings, but I have never heard of one that mentions “the King of Morven,” though it has been common to speak of the Highlanders as the descendants of the Feinne. Thus family history agrees with tradition. There probably were Fenians, whose chief was Fionn, but in the lapse of time these have acquired a fictitious history, in which the traces of a pagan mythology appear.
Note. – On referring again to MacNicol’s book, mentioned above under 1779, I find that he had read the Gaelic of the seventh book of Temora, and held that it was not composed by MacPherson.