There is a well known Jacobite legend of Cluny’s Cage where Ewen MacPherson of Cluny, Chief of Clan MacPherson, hid from the Government army for nine years after Culloden. But, how true is this marvellous story?
Ewen MacPherson of Cluny, Chief of Clan MacPherson, joined the Stewart army with about six hundred men but missed the fateful battle at Culloden as he had been sent to guard the passes in the Badenoch. After the defeat at Culloden Government men searched the highland for members of the Jacobite army and, as a high ranking man, Cluny was well known. Cluny’s house was burnt to the ground and all his possessions looted forcing him to scatter his men and seek shelter somewhere safe.
This much is fairly well known but from this point on it becomes trickier to separate fact from fiction. It is said that Cluny led a small party of men toward Loch Ericht in the Highlands and here he found refuge on the slopes of Ben Alder. Many believe this refuge was a small cave on Creag Dhubh, Ben Alder. Since this is such a widely held belief it seems fair to say that Cluny spent some time here, but is it Cluny’s Cage? Most, think not.
The Cage itself is more widely though to have been an artificial structure that Cluny built on the face of a rocky hill near Loch Ericht and was hidden by thickets of holly and moss to blend with the mountain. The structure was supposedly two stories high positioned far above the paths around the loch to watch for sentries below and, it is said, there was space to hide seven men if needed. It is also said Cluny was able to light a fire as the mountain above was the colour of smoke so any evidence dissipated over the hilltop and ensured his location remained a secret.
Prince Charles apparently stayed at the Cage for several nights whilst he was running from the Government before he made his escape over to the continent and this has led some to suggest that Cluny’s Cage is on the eastern side of Loch Ericht. Here there are huge slabs of rock, perfect for disguising the signs of smoke, and in a 1783 map by James Stobie there is a notation ”Place where C. S. hid himself 1746”, on the eastern side of Loch Ericht, near a spot called Creag na h-Iolaire, which is believed to refer to Cluny’s Cage.
Nowadays it is difficult to say precisely where the Cage was. Over the years any structure would surely have been lost to the elements so the exact position around Loch Ericht can still be argued over by some.
To remain hidden for so long Cluny was certainly both smart and lucky. One story tells of him hiding for a time at Dalchully House in a bolt hole in the East wing. Stepping outside one day he was caught by Colonel Munro, the very man charged with searching for him. However, since the two men had never met, Cluny calmly held the Colonel’s horse whilst the soldier went inside the house to search. It is claimed that he was given a penny for his trouble.
Eventually, after nine years in hiding, Cluny finally made his way over to France, apparently invited by Prince Charles himself. Here he managed to reunite with his wife and daughter before he died in Dunkirk in 1764.
We hope you enjoyed this foray into the history of Cluny and his mysterious Cage. As always please like, share, tweet, comment and let us know if you have any different theories as to the legend of Cluny’s Cage.
All the best, K & D