From: Unique traditions chiefly of the west and south of Scotland, by John Gordon Barbour. First published in 1833.

The Lag Ridge

In a farm, almost in the centre of Dalry parish, in Galloway, there is a heathy ridge, called Lag's-rigg, or ridge. A brook runs by, called Lag's-strand, and a hollow betwixt the ridge and the brook, still named Lag's-howe or hollow. These spots have uniformly borne the said distinctive appellations for more than 140 years, and perhaps they ought to retain such names for 150 years to come. Not, indeed, for the beauty of their scenery, but to commemorate and curse, if we may so speak, the memory and motions of a blackguard persecutor.

It is known and still remembered in the South of Galloway, that Grierson, of Lag, headed a troop of dragoons under Charles and James the Second ; and that in Nithsdale and Galloway he persecuted with fire and sword many respectable families who were well affected to the Covenanters. It is known by some that part of his estate was amassed by lands or rights of lands, which he extorted from the persecuted. He would pretend to spare some persons or property, provided he got the rights or charters of the land mortgaged with him, until, he said, the times were settled.

In one of Grierson's peregrinations - on this wise - he chanced to be told of a Whig in the back hill of Glenshamrock ; and also of a family at Barbourlea (both in Dalry), who held converse or reset with the persecuted Presbyterians. One morning he came early from Carsphairn to a little cottage in a hollow, situated in the farm of Glenshamrock. He found an old pair at their devotions. With the loyal laird of Lag, this was reason sufficient for his exercising some act of barbarity. After rudely demanding of the grey-headed couple whether or not they had some money concealed; and on replying, that there was none in the house, he ordered his soldiers to bind the helpless pair ; and, setting fire to their hut, he scampered southward to pay a visit to another family.

About a mile's riding brought Lag to Barbourlea. Here, two John Barbours (uncle and nephew) resided in two separate domiciles. The house of the nephew happened to be the first visited. The master was absent, but his wife and some children, and perhaps a servant, were peaceably at work in the shieling. Lag demanded, where was the master? He was answered, " Gone about his affairs." "Aye, aye (vociferated Grierson), he'll be away feeding and hearing some o' these d-- d Covenanters ; ye're a' devilish fond o' them in this neighbourhood; tell me where your husband is, or else you must die." The woman refusing to tell, he ordered her to deliver all the money she had about the house. She said she had none for him, and that it was a pity that peaceable people should be molested or menaced by the troopers of the degenerate Stuarts. "Take care," cries Lag, "the Stuart is your sovereign." "Aye," boldly retorted the housewife, "my husband’s forefathers helped weel the great Bruce, without whom the Stuarts had never been kings ; and often, often, have John Barbour's forefathers fought for the Bruces, and run red-wat-shod after the Stuarts; and now we're getting sic' returns." Lag, reddening at this, bawled out, "Well, I know that some more of your kin reside in that other house, and perhaps your husband and some other Whigs are there;" and so, putting spurs to his horse, he was in the act of galloping to Nether Barbourlea.

The woman, however, fearing that the old man who possessed the other domicile might be murdered by the persecutors, instantly caught his horse's bridle. Lag spurred, and the female held; and being actually like an Amazonian both in strength and nature, she turned his charger round in spite of the infuriated rider. Incensed to the utmost at being braved by a female, Grierson gave a well-known nod to two of his followers, who thereupon instantly broke into the dwelling house, and set fire to it. The weather being dry, and the roof of straw, the flames soon became visible, and the woman, in horror, quitted the bridle of the persecutor, exclaiming, "Oh to recover the rights of our land!" The fierceness of the flames, however, more than the grasp of one of the soldiers, compelled her to retreat; though tearing her hair, and wringing her hands, " Oh we are ruined now," she again sobbed forth. A flood of tears followed the deep sense of her misfortunes.

She wept not long, however. Lag, postponing his visit to the other domicile, and as if glorying in the flames, and gloating over the female's sufferings, bawled out, with a demon sneer, "What think ye now, woman? Rein my horse now, if you can; I have done worse than burn your byre also." So saying, Grierson gave half a nod, when instantly one of his soldiers tore a burning rafter from the crackling roof of the dwelling house, and was moving straight towards the door of the byre or cow-house. The poor woman marking this, instantly foregoing her tears, flew to the neck of the trooper, and dashed him headlong to the ground. Then snatching up a grape, or three-toed implement, which stood by the wall, she drove it furiously against the right arm of Grierson, who had by this time cocked his pistol. "Wretch!" she exclaimed, and pushing a second stroke against his wrist, the pistol fell to the earth. Reckless and raging, she aimed a third stroke at his side, which he partly evaded, by wheeling about his horse. Lag then ordered a soldier to fire upon her, which the private declined, saying firmly that she had suffered too much already, without losing her life. Hearing this refusal, the woman gathered fresh strength and courage, and ran the prongs of the grape into the flanks of Grierson's charger. The wounded animal plunged and fretted so fearfully, that his rider deemed it proper to retire. So, bawling out, "Leave that d--d whig, she must be a devil," Lag trotted away, and his men followed ; not, however, until one of the fire-lighters had received a severe wound in the shoulder from the reckless virago. The other, lifting Lag's pistol, hurried away.

Such is the tradition, the family tradition, too much akin to truth, which deprived the patriotic yeomen of 400 years ago, of rights and a charter bestowed on one of their warlike predecessors, by the immortal Bruce. The Bear-stone at Bannockburn yet stands, or but lately stood, which marked a most invincible flag-bearer stretched bloody on his shield. That hero bore one of the standards of Scotland on that trying field; and when pressed and overcome by the numbers of Southrons, he planted his flagstaff in an elf-holed stone, which, by accident or design, stood close beside him, and with his breast to the enemy received his mortal wound. Brave Scots soon, however, came to rescue his corpse, and to protect the Standard of Caledonia from the legions of Edward.

After the battle, when the Bruce was hailed king of all Scotland, even by his Macdougal enemies, and when he proceeded to reward his faithful followers, a surviving brother of the brave standard-bearer was honoured with a grant of lands in Galloway, and a charter dated at Cambuskenneth.

And who was this faithful and chartered follower, but the uncle, the future uncle, of the arch-deacon of Aberdeen, the well-known biographer of the saviour of his country. The widow's three sons received their grants much about the same period; and it is not 60 years since the descendants of the Maclurgs, Murdochs, and Mackays, disappeared from the mountains and the forests of Minnigaff. So much for the longevity of some charters begun by a patriotic king. Tradition whispers that Grierson of Lag made a trade of his military commission, by getting charters, or mortgages of charters, now and then into his hands. Some persecutors of the Covenanters at that period played the same game. Anecdotes of such doings could be rehearsed; but for the sake of living relatives of some landed bloodhounds of the 17th century, such recitals shall at present be withheld. Lag, however, had many farms, both in Carsphairn and in Dunscore, of which, for a century past his posterity have not possessed one acre. A persecutor's progeny, however, if turning their way from the crimes of their ancestors, and become remarkable for their regular and domestic virtues, in that case ought not to be upbraided with the sins of their forefathers.

While, however, the descendants of a Claverhouse, a Douglas, and a Grierson, have become either extinct, or denuded of their pomp and circumstance at last, may it not be devoutly desirable, that the descendants of a Bruce's standard-bearer, and of a Bruce's biographer, may be distinguished by all that mental baronality, and moral independence, which so eminently marked the arch-deacon of Aberdeen and the flag-bearer of Bannockburn?