Donna Hechler Porter
Of Witches and Fortunes
I have never been one to put much stock in "fairy stories" or fortune-telling. While interesting, and perhaps a bit titillating, I find they almost never come true. However, the following story about the McQueens might cause me to change my mind.
According to Clan Chattan history, John McQueen, possibly the father of our Dugal McQueen,[i] was known as a great hunter. He was also a man who could foretell the future, even speaking with witches, trolls and fairies. He supposedly had in his possession some “magic candles” that he would use when going to caves to speak with the fairy folk. The stories about the “McQueen candles” were told to children in the Findhorn River Valley well into the 19th century. I will speak more of these “candles” in a later post and how they were lost. By the time the following story was told, the McQueen family had been in the Corryborough region of Scotland for nearly 300 years and lived at the family seat at Pollochraig.[ii]
One day, while John McQueen was out hunting, he shot a deer right through the heart. However, when he went in search of the deer, he couldn’t find it. He looked everywhere, but as darkness was coming, he gave up the search and went home. That night around the peat fire, he told his family he was sure he shot it and he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t find it.
The next morning, he went out again to search. He came across a witch that he knew and asked her if she had seen the deer or not.
"John McQueen, you shot no deer, you shot ME in the leg.” She answered. “And if you take the lead out of my leg, I will tell you a prophecy.”
John did what he was asked.
The witch then said, "John McQueen, your best day shall be your worst day, and your worst day shall be your best day.”
John said: “I’m not sure what you mean by that, but if I hadn’t shot you in the leg, would the prophecy have been different?”[iii]
“Aye, it would have been,” she replied.
Prophecies are tricky things. They are often clouded and couched with terms that could be taken in a variety of ways, even after the events seem to have happened. For most families, "worst" and "best" are interchangeable terms that could be applied to many situations. That's why I usually discount such tales. For the McQueens, however, this particularly prophecy seems to have come true in a number of different ways.
From the day John McQueen shot the witch, the fortunes of the McQueens of Pollocraig declined. John’s son, Dugal, married the sister to the Chief of Clan Chattan, Elizabeth Mackintosh. She had a daughter named Ann, but not long afterward, Dugal was captured at the Battle of Preston and sent to America, never to be seen again.[iv]
Ann McQueen, Dugal’s daughter, never came to America to see her father, but inherited the entire Clan Chattan estates from her uncle as the sole heir. She was forced, however, as per Scottish custom, to cede the land to the next Chief of Clan Chattan. She later married Robert Mackintosh and held lands in other places. She had at least two sons.[v]
For the McQueens, as for the Highland clans, one of the best and worst days was the loss of the Jacobite cause at the Battle of Preston. Dugal was not killed, but he was banished to the colonies. To many Highlanders, banishment was a worse punishment than death, for they were passionately attached to the Highlands. Not to mention the fact that death was more honorable.
But banishment for the McQueens meant life as well. While the circumstances of Dugal's "worst and best day" was likely never realized by him, it enabled him to found a dynasty of descendants in the colonies, likely something he would never have been able to do in Pollochraig.
"Your best day shall be your worst day, and your worst day shall be your best day."
Perhaps that old witch knew exactly what she was talking about.
Hmmm . . . . .
[i] Buried deep in the midst of my files were some emails from a man named John McQueen whom I corresponded with in the summer of 2002. He was a descendant of Dugal McQueen. He lived overseas, I believe in Germany, and had been to Scotland in the area the McQueens were from. He believed, which I will relate in future posts, that Dugal was the son of John, and that John was the son of Dugal.
[ii] Mr. John McQueen, mentioned in footnote i, was the person who originally told me the story. I have since then found it online at http://www.electricscotland.com/history/inverness/chapter30.htm which is a page titled “Antiquarian Notes, Historical, Genealogical and Social, (Second Series) Inverness-Shire, Parish by Parish, Chapter XXX. Moy and Dalarossie.” This may have been the same book Mr. John McQueen found the story in.
[iii] Another variation states: “If I had asked for the prophecy before I took the ball out, would it have been different?”
[iv] Information from Mr. John McQueen and his subsequent research.
[v] Information from Mr. John McQueen and his subsequent research.