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Cara is now the only island in the possession of direct descendants of The Lords of The Isles, the Macdonalds of Largie. Tradition has it that the island’s two-storey house and Drumore House, the original inn at Bellochantuy, were designed and built by the same architect, about 1733. The last family to farm there, that of Angus McGougan, left in 1932 and, though Glasgow architect Harry Teggin and his friend Willie McLaren have made a life’s work of renovating the old house, today the island has only one permanent resident, “a neat little man, dressed in brown, with a pointed beard and,” as Morton Macdonald of Largie pointed out in 1909, “not recorded in any census” ! This, of course, is the famous Brownie of Cara, said to be the ghost of a Macdonald murdered by a Campbell and ‘The Brownie’s Chair’, a one-armed stone ‘chair’, sits on a steep slope above the sea on the east side of the Mull of Cara at the southern end of the island. Cara Island is part of the lands of the Macdonalds of Largie and the Macdonald’s gallery in the (1780) church at Ardminish, on Gigha, was often referred to as ‘The Brownie’s Gallery’. The main landing on Cara, below the tacksman’s house, is recorded in documents as Monkshaven, not Port na Cille. Despite his somewhat tragic foundings, The Brownie, to whom everyone should pay homage when stepping ashore, has a somewhat impish and droll sense of humour, some might say a little man of cumbernosity ! Like others of his kind, he has always been ready to help overworked maids and housewives with washing and tidying up and even working the milk churns for them but, a modern-day tale should leave none sceptical of his mischief. It is said that the old house, once belonging to the Macdonalds, was haunted by The Brownie, that he drank milk, made a terrific outcry when hurt and disliked the Campbell race. In the old castle of Largie, on the opposite coast of Kintyre, which belonged to the same Macdonalds, there was also a Brownie, supposed to be the same as the Cara one and, though The Brownie may still occasionally be heard on Cara, he has not been seen or heard since the modern house was built at Largie ! It is not known exactly what The Brownie is like, no one locally having ever seen more than a glimpse of him but it is said that Brownies are nocturnal, that their cousins are Leprechauns and that their 'familiars' are Roosters ! According to lore, they have the appearance of a tiny, shaggy-looking man with wrinkled brown skin and are about two-feet tall - They wear little ragged suits of green, blue, or brown and small caps made of felt, their ears are slightly pointed and, they have long, nimble, finger. Brownies like to adopt houses which they look after and come out at night to finish small chores and to look over the cattle and, if there is a lazy servant in the home, The Brownie might choose to plague the servant for his sloth. Although all The Brownie expects in return for household tasks, the protection of the home, the family and the animals is a bowl of cream or good milk and a honey cake, never leave too much food for The Brownie will find this offensive and will leave. Never leave The Brownie any clothes for, as in common with other faeries, should a human mistakenly offer them clothes in return for their labors, The Brownie will cease their efforts and disappear forever and take extra special care not to criticize The Brownie's work either for The Brownie can lend energy to prosperity spells. Lore has it that, before the arrival of strangers he put the house in order as he disliked anything dirty being left in the house for the night and dirty bed-clothes were put out by him before morning, water-stoups left full over-night were tumbled on the floor and, for anyone who soiled the house, The Brownie was much addicted to giving them slaps in the course of the night, some who lived on Cara testifying to receiving a slap that left their faces black. One man was even lifted out of bed by The Brownie and, on awakening, found himself `bare naked' in front of the room's fire. Whilst dogs had to be put outside at night, The Brownie often killing those left in the house, a woman, going late in the evening for her cows, found that The Brownie had been before her and the cows were all securely tied up in the barn for her. The story has it that, at the beginning of the last century, sometime after 1900, the island was tenanted by two bachelor brothers. For some unknown reason they had argued and one had killed the other with a shotgun and then turned the gun on himself, both bodies were found in a room upstairs in the old house. Nowadays the advice is to pay 1
homage to The Brownie not only when stepping ashore but too to knock and ask permission before entering that upstairs room ! And there is another tale, that, many years ago, one of Cara’s regular visitors had been in the habit of keeping a sporting rifle hidden on the island. The rifle was purely for target practice and for his own use. One day the rifle was missing, its owner in a terrible panic. To no avail, he combed the old house and he combed the whole island. Worried about what could happen if the rifle fell into the wrong hands, the poor visitor reported the matter to the police, the possibility that the gun might have been stolen not being easily dismissed. The police, of course, duly set out for Gigha and then, by small boat, crossed over to Cara intending to search the house and island for the missing rifle. Needless to say, ‘The Brownie’ was up to his tricks, nothing evil, simply mischief, playing ‘mind games’ ! As the police now hove in sight, the missing gun’s owner went back into the old house for a final quick look round before they arrived and, knocking on the door of the upstair’s room and asked ‘The Brownie’s’ permission to enter ! There, under the bed in that very same room where the bodies of the two brothers had been found, was the hitherto missing sporting rifle, all neatly cleaned and oiled by The Brownie ?