The observant will notice "The Seven Men of Moidart" marked on Ordnance Survey maps and probably wonder what (or who) they are. Both questions are relevant, because The Seven Men of Moidart are a line of seven beech trees planted in memory of the seven companions who landed with Bonnie Prince Charlie at Loch nan Uamh on 25 July 1745.
The original row of beech trees were planted in the mid 1800s, presumably by the then owner of the Moidart Estate, Robertson MacDonald, who at about the same time was building St Finan's Episcopal Church nearby. So far, so straightforward. Today's visitor can, however find that things have become a little confusing since.
The first problem is that there are no longer seven beech trees on view. Storm damage over the years has meant that there are, at best, two and a half large beech trees and three obvious stumps, plus a much smaller healthy tree at one end of the line.
Somehow the "two and two halves" Men of Moidart doesn't have quite the same ring to it. There are two further problems. Visitors are meant to view the trees from a distance, from the layby on the A861 to the north of the site where there is a commemorative cairn and two information boards. While the trees out in the field have clearly had mixed fortunes over the years, those growing immediately in front of the cairn and layby are doing very well indeed, and, as can be seen in the image below, are in some danger of obscuring the view of the trees visitors have actually stopped to see.
And then there is the added confusion introduced by one of the information boards on the site. Here you find recounted the story of the planting of the original seven trees. It then goes on to note how, following storm damage, new saplings were planted by Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage in 1988. These did not flourish, the information board goes on to say, and in 2002 more new saplings were planted, at right angles to the original site.
What you can see today is difficult to reconcile with this account. When we visited in summer 2012, the line of trees was set out in an east-west line, and comprised, from east to west: a low broken off trunk; a healthy large tree of considerable age; a tall spindly dead trunk of much narrower diameter; a second large healthy tree of considerable age; a tree which appeared to have been split down the middle (by lightning?) with its west half thriving and its east half dead and on the ground; a fairly low stump of a trunk; and a much younger and smaller healthy tree. Quite how this ties into the account retold in the previous paragraph is anyone's guess.
A plaque on the cairn beside the road notes that the original Seven Men of Moidart were William Murray, Marquis of Tullibardine, a veteran of the 1715 uprising regarded by the Jacobites as the Second Duke of Atholl; Sir Thomas Sheridan, an Irishman who had been the Prince's preceptor or tutor; Sir John Macdonald, or MacDonnell, an Irish cavalry officer in the French army; Aeneas MacDonald, a Paris banker and the younger brother of the Laird of Kinlochmoidart; John William O'Sullivan, an Irish officer in the French army; Rev. George Kelly, an Irish Protestant clergyman; and Francis Strickland, an English gentleman from Westmorland. Several of these men were past their prime, and only O'Sullivan would play a significant role in the uprising which followed.
Of the Seven Men, Tullibardine died in captivity after the uprising; Sheridan, O'Sullivan and Kelly escaped to France; Aeneas MacDonald was banished; Sir John MacDonald surrendered as a prisoner of war; and Strickland died at Carlisle.