When I came to Moidart in 1965, many of the old people still spoke of the McVarish brothers as if they had only recently left the district. They had a reputation as a family of renowned strong men, and the strongest of them was Donald, known in Gaelic as Domnuill Dubh Laidir Mingarry (Strong Black Donald of Mingarry). One of the stories concerned a visit one of the brothers made to Scamadale, where another brother happened to be staying. He knocked on the door but did not answer the call from within. Instead he held tight to the door handle. When the man came to the door and couldn't turn the handle, he said, 'that must be my brother.'
Donald was remembered in Mingarry for his construction of a bridge over the burn at High Mingarry. The story is that funeral processions used to cross the burn and one day, in a spate, they could not hold the coffin and it was swept away and smashed open, releasing the body. This was considered to be a great scandal and Donald made it his business to construct a bridge over the burn to prevent such a thing ever recurring. It was said locally that he constructed the bridge unaided in a single night.
Died at River Dennis Station, Cape Breton, on February 9th 1911, a remarkable old lady, in the person of Mrs Alexander MacVarish, nee Stewart, daughter of George Stewart of Mingarie Ard, Scotland. In 1843 she emigrated with her husband to Cape Breton, landing at Ship Harbour, as Hawkesbury was then called. As she was even then the mother of six children, she must certainly have attained the age of 100 years. For the last eight years or so, this dear old soul lived with her daughter, Maggie, the first child to be born to her in the new country, who was married to Hugh MacLean. Sam one of the pioneers Catholics of River Dennis. Mrs Macvarish had 14 children, 65 grandchildren, 68 great grandchildren, and 2 great grandchildren, in all a progeny of 149.
The above named Mrs Alexander MacVarish came with her husband and four children from Mingarie Ard, Scotland, to Cape Breton in 1843, landing at Ship Harbour, and ultimately settling down at River Inhabitants, where eight more children were born to them. The names of the children were as follows: John, Mary, Angus, Donald (and two infant children who died), born in the old country; Margaret, Marcella, Annie, Hugh, George, Christie, Mary and Jane (born at River Inhabitants).
Alexander MacVarish, the father of the above family; had three brothers, namely: Black Donald who went to Australia, Hugh, who died in Scotland, and Angus, who came to America, settled in the western part of Antigonish county, and changed his name to MacDonald. The brother Alexander at River Inhabitants went to Antigonish to see this Angus and had great difficulty tracing him out owing to his change of name. We know a prominent MacDonald family in Antigonish who are direct descendants of this Angus Macvarish.
The following are McVarishes mentioned as participants or witnesses in the Moidart Parish Marriage register. (I suspect some records may be missong - JD)
Jan 25 Ewen McIsaac,
Langwall & Marianne McGregor, Port Bata
Feb 8 Michael McVarish,
Scardoise & Mary McIsaac, Allt ?Burgh
Feb 8 Michael McVarish,
Dalilea & Janet Cumming, Polloch
Feb 29 Donald McVarish,
Langwall & Mary McVarish, Langwall
Jul 1 Alexander McInnes,
Glasgow & Catherine McDonald, Dorlin
Jul 25 Roderick
McVarish, Langwall & Marion Mcneil, Langwall
Jul 25 Donald McIsaac,
Langwall & Marcella McVarich, Langwall
Jul 25 Duncan McVarish,
Langwall & Mary McIsaac, Langwall
Feb 13 John Cameron,
Carnach Sunart & Mary Stuart, Croft Dalilea
Feb 13 Roderick McIsaac,
Shona Beg & Margaret McVarish, ?Derrydaff
Aug 7 John MacDonald,
Island Shona & Catherine McVarish, Dalilea
Aug 25 Alexander
McVarish, Langall & Mary McDonald, ?
Jan 16 John McDonald,
?Kinloid Arisaig & Peggy McVarish, Langal, Moidart
From the above, I have the following Christian names of McVarishes in West Moidart:
1832 - Alexander, Angus, Donald (Langwall), Duncan (Langwall), Ewen, John, Marcella (Langwall), Mary (Langwall), Michael (Scardoise), Michael (Dalilea), Roderick (Langwall)
1833 - Alexander (Mingarry), Allan, Catherine (Dalilea), Duncan, Hugh, John, Margaret (Derrydaff)
1834 - no MacVarish entries
1835 - Alexander (Langall), Duncan, Ewen (Scardoise)
1836 - Donald
1837 - Alexander (Langall), Margaret (Mull)
1838 - no MacVarish entries
1839 - John (Langal), Mary (Croft), Peggy Margaret?)
1842 - Flora (Langal)
1843 - Ewen
1844 - John (Mingarry)
1845 - John (Scardoise)
1846 - Alexander
1848 - Clementina (Portavata)
1862 - Mysie (Dalnabreck)
1865 - Donald (Arisaig)
N.B. these are the records for West Moidart only. There may well have been other McVarishes in wedding records in Arisaig and Glenfinnan during this time.
Of the original brothers at High Mingarry, i.e. Alexander, Donald, Hugh and Angus none are noted to be at Mingarry in the census of 1841, although the records indicate that Alexander and his wife (Catherine, nee Stuart) emigrated in 1843. In fact, there is no record of a couple called Alexander and Catherine MacVarish in the 1841 census of Moidart.
The fate of Donald MacVarish is a mystery. However, there was a possibility that he, like his brother Angus, changed his name to MacDonald. The Scamadale story indicates that at least one of the brothers had some business on the south side of Loch Shiel, which is 'Protestant country' and on the Sunart Estate of James Milles Riddell. The passenger list of the Allison, which sailed to Australia in 1852, includes a Catholic family headed by Donald MacDonald who had been living at Claish, within sight of Mingarry but on the south side of the loch. The emigration of this family had been sponsored by the owner of Sunart Estate.
The family are recorded as Donald MacDonald (38) and his wife, Catherine (29). They left with four children but unfortunately the two youngest, Jane (4) and Peggy (1), died on the voyage so that Donald and Catherine arrived with their son Angus (8). They disembarked at Geelong on 8th February 1853.
Unfortunately the parish records give no records of a marriage of Donald MacVarish to Catherine, and one might have expected him to keep his original name in Moidart. There is no record of a Donald MacDonald marrying a Catherine at that time either, although three Donald MacDonalds married Kittys (or Kettys) locally, and one of the Mingarry MacVarish family witnessed one of these weddings.
Donald MacDonald, Dalilea and Kitty MacDonald, Mingarry, married on 14th January 1846, the witnesses being Alexander MacVarish, Mingarry and John MacDonald, Mingarry. This was six years before the Allison sailed so it is unlikely that they would have had a son of eight years of age at that time.
Donald Macdonald and Ketty (Catherine) MacDonald, both of Scardoish, married in Glasgow five days before on the ship Araminta left for for Australia on 5th June 1852.
Another marriage between a Donald MacDonald and a Kitty took place on 31st July 1844 and was between Donald MacDonald, Langal and Kitty MacDonald, Dorlin, a supplementary note adds that they emigrated to Port Philip in 1852 (which was the point of arrival of the Allison). These seem most likely to have been the family from Claish which sailed on the Allison.
The fate of Donald MacVarish remains a mystery.
strange that two of the emigrant MacVarishes went to Canada while Donald
went to Australia. There had been a major emigration to Australia from
Moidart in the 1830s and 1840s and it is possible that he went to Australia
to join relatives of his wife.