The Wilds of Glen Ghoinean

Experiences like being sent at the age of fourteen to the Dubh Choirien House at the foot of Ben Vorlich to do the lambing, and to Moirlanich in Glen Lochay the following year to help run the farm all helped to make my father a resilient and independent young man. However, they were not the first character building experiences he went through, and nor would they be the last.

When he was only thirteen years old he got his first job in September of 1926. He was employed as a rabbit trapper by the Drummond and Ancaster Estates. His pay was dependant upon how many rabbits he trapped and he would not receive that payment until completion of his six months contract. The estate had half a dozen rabbit trappers and they each had their allocated area to trap in. Another estate employee would visit a different trapper each with a pony, and the rabbits were taken away in panier baskets.


Pony with Panier Baskets

Pony with Panier Baskets

The area my father was allocated was the most remote and isolated on the estate. A small wooden shack was taken up into Glen Ghoinean and this would be his home for the duration of the contract. The shack was secured to the ground with a series of wires and posts to prevent it being blown away in the winter storms. It was then kitted out with small stove, a bed and not much else. It’s location was near to a wood and a burn which was to be his water and fuel supply while he was there.

Small shack in a remote glen

He arrived with the ponyman, armed with a sacks of oats and barley, his snares, a change of working clothes and a sack of coal for the stove. The ponyman bid him farewell and headed back down the track from whence he had come. That was the last human contact my father would have for six months.

Barley Coal & Oats

Determined to earn as much as he could, he was on the go by first light checking his lines of snares. The rabbits he caught, he carried back to the shack where he hung them in couples on a wire between two posts. Around once a week the ponyman would arrive and collect the rabbits. Occasionally he would leave a food parcel or some clean clothes, but he never lingered. He would be gone by the time Dad returned to his tiny wooden home in the wilderness.

Rabbits Beware!

He talked about how the red deer would come down off the hill in the dead of night and waken him. He would lie there in the dark listening to the sounds of stags snorting and using the wires that secured the hut to the ground to scrape the velvet from their antlers. The first time that happened would have been frightening for most people, but even more so for a thirteen year old, on their own, in the middle of nowhere.

Red Deer Hinds

As winter closed in he worked away each day irrespective of the weather. On December 5th he rose exactly as any other day and headed out to check his snares. There was nobody there to celebrate the fact that he had turned fourteen. No cards. No presents.

Rabbit Stew

Christmas and New Year came and went without ceremony, fanfare or company. Each day was the same as the one that went before.

At the end of February his six months were up and the young rabbit trapper headed home. A few days later he attended at the estate office in Muthill to sort out the small matter of payment. The factor got the ledgers out and started to calculate what my father was due. When he added it all up he was astonished at how many rabbits he had killed. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly how much he had earned, but it must have been a pretty penny. The factor, having done his calculations, said that it was obscene for a young boy of fourteen to have that amount of money, and refused to pay him.

After my grandfather got involved, and after a great deal of argument, the factor eventually paid up and gave the money to my grandfather. How much of the money in that pay packet found its way to my father is open to debate.

Below is a video of the song being introduced by the wonderful Paddy Bort at the Edinburgh Folk Club.

The Wilds of Glen Ghoinean


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