Two E-mail Summaries of Possible Stewart Migration in the Highlands of Western Perthshire
By Ryk Brown and Belinda Dettmann
Forgive me if I am stating what is already obvious to the rest of you, but our recent discussions have begun to paint a clearer picture for me of the migration of the early Baldorran Stewarts from Lowland gentry to Highland chiefs.
The late John A.M. Stewart of Ardvorlich writes in his book "The Stewarts: The Highland Branches of a Royal Name" that the Balquhidder Stewarts, and even specifically the Ardvorlich Stewarts themselves, were not only known by their patronymic Mac Mhic Bhaltair, but they were also known as Slioch tigh nan t-eilean (lit. "offspring of the house of the island"), because "at one time the Stewarts of Baldorran had their stronghold on an island in Loch Vennachar".
This is starting to reveal a picture to me of the early centre being in the Trossachs, not in Balquhidder, centred around the island in Loch Venachar, which would have been the seat of our clan for the first four or five generations after James returned from Ireland, which explains why so many of these early branches were right in that area. I'm thinking of the newly discovered Garthill line, and most especially of the ultra-confusing Glenfinglas Stewarts, but also further west with Strathgartney and the settlements on Loch Katrineside. And it is from there, up through Strathyre, that the settlements on Loch Voil (Glenbuckie, Gartafuaran) and Loch Earn (Ardvorlich) were established, first with the Gartnafuarans, then the Glenbuckies, and finally the Ardvorlichs and Annats. Then to make it more confusing, Duncan Oig, son of Alexander 1st Ardvorlich, comes back to Glenfinglas, probably to "reclaim" it as a son of the senior (albeit younger) house. The Stewarts in the Trossachs contain the earliest branches from Baldorran and date from times before decent records were being kept. The later and more established branches in Balquhidder naturally sent sons back to their earlier lands to live among their earlier cousins and establish stronger cadet lines making it bloody confusing for us to sort them all out.
Thus the settlements like Blairgarry, Portnellan, etc are among the earlier settlements. It also, as Gordon alluded to, paints a clearer picture as to why the Ardvorlichs, Glenbuckies, and Gartnafuarans would trek all the way back to Callander for their early baptisms and marriages. That really was their home parish from Loch Venacher. There are even inferences that the first two generations of Ardvorlichs lived back at Venacher as much as they lived in Ardvorlich. Even the 4th and 5th generations of Ardvorlich resided in Doune.
Just musing out loud. Don't know if this is helpful for anyone, but it's starting to become clearer to me. A map makes these lines come so much more to life. Can't wait 'til I see these places in person next year!
Your argument that the Stewarts might have spread from an island in Loch Vennacher, throughout Strathgartney, and only later to Balquhidder and Loch Earn, is most compelling. But they wouldn't necessarily have to travel via Strathyre. Two other routes connect Strathgartney to the Balquhidder district.
One is via Glenfinglas, where even on the modern map there is a track marked going north up the Allt Gleann nam Meann to Glen Buckie. In the old days it would have been a drove road, and it was probably the most direct connection between Loch Vennacher and Balquhidder.
The second, for folk living along Loch Katrine, was via the Bealach nam Corp or "Pass of the Dead". This is the lowest point on the mountain range between Balquhidder and Loch Katrine and can be found near the source of the two rivers: the Larig, which flows down the Braes of Balquhidder, and the Glengyle Water which flows into Loch Katrine. According to local tradition that was the way funeral parties would travel, from as far away as Strathyre, to bring the bodies of notable persons to a religious foundation called Kil-mi-Cailleach at the west end of Loch Katrine for burial. Apparently cairns of stones still mark the places where the cortege would pause and take refreshment. At each stop, everyone would add a stone to the resting cairn. Highland funerals sometimes entailed journeys of considerable distance, often over very rough terrain.
Then Strathyre would be the connecting link between Balquhidder and points north, and the area around Callander, Doune and Kilmadock, as well as for families living towards the eastern end of Loch Vennacher, or south of the Menteith Hills around Aberfoyle and the Port of Menteith.