1 - The Fort
NO account of Fort Augustus Abbey would be complete without some reference to past history. For the present buildings occupy the site of a military fort erected here over two centuries ago.
After what is known as the first Jacobite rising in 1715, and the defeat for the time of the Stuart cause, the Hanoverian government thought it desirable to select some central spot in the Highlands for the establishment of a garrison, and thus overawe the warlike clans that had originated the rebellion. The most suitable place seemed to be the little Highland village of Kilchuimein, standing at the head of Loch Ness. It was the middle point of the great Glen of Albyn, and commanded the only available roads and passes in that part of the country. A barrack was accordingly erected on the site of the garden of the present Lovat Arms Hotel in the year 1716. This being considered insufficient, a regular fort was built by Marshal Wade in 1729, upon a peninsula beyond the village, having the Oich river on its NW. side, the Tarff on the SE., and the deep waters of the loch in front. It was capable of accommodating 300 men. The four blocks of buildings stood round a square of some 100 feet in extent. There was a bastion at each angle mounting twelve six-pounders. A ditch, covert-way and glacis completed its defences. General Wade named his fort after William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, youngest son of George II ; the fact has led to the designation of the village, as well as the military station, by the common title of Fort Augustus, though the former still retains its ancient name of Kilchuimein among the Gaelic-speaking population.
Fort Augustus in 1746
The fort sustained a two-days' siege at the hands of the Jacobite forces, as they were marching south-wards before engaging with Cumberland at Culloden. A shell directed from the neighbouring " Battery Rock " exploded the powder magazine, and the insurgents took possession. This was in March, 1746. Two months later, when the Stuart cause had been completely vanquished, the victorious Hanoverian forces, under the Duke of Cumberland, once more resumed ownership. From the walls of the fort issued the terrible companies who laid waste and almost depopulated the surrounding country. The barbarities by which Cumberland completed the subjugation of the Highlands have earned for him the title of the " Butcher." In a district where formerly Protestantism was unknown he left scarcely a single Catholic.
The surrounding lands formed part of the estate of the Frasers of Lovat, until the connection of the Chief of the Clan, Simon, Lord Lovat, with the Stuart rising, resulted in the forfeiture not only of his property but of his life. He was carried a prisoner in a litter to Fort Augustus and confined in one of its dungeons before being taken to London, where, after impeachment as a rebel, he was executed on Tower Hill.
The fort, restored to more than its original strength after Culloden, continued to be occupied by a garrison for more than a century. " General Wade's Road," as it is still called, skirting the south side of Loch Ness, connects Fort Augustus with Fort George, another military station a few miles from Inverness. In other directions are equally good roads, also the work of the Fort Augustus governors, which were designed to afford communication with Fort William and the barracks at Glenelg.
It is worthy of note that Johnson and Boswell, on their way to the Hebrides, spent the night of August 30, 1773, in the buildings of the fort, and were entertained by Governor Trappaud. The Doctor seems to have enjoyed a particularly good night's rest on this occasion ; for he notes in his diary, more than three years later, that he had passed the previous night in such sweet uninterrupted sleep as he had not known since he slept at Fort Augustus.
At the outbreak of the Crimean war the garrison was withdrawn, and after a period of abandonment the fort was sold by the Government to Thomas Alexander, Lord Lovat, the representative of the reinstated Frasers of Lovat, who secured the buildings and adjoining lands for £5000. For many years the dismantled fort was occupied by various small tenants, a portion being reserved to the owner to serve as a shooting lodge.
In 1876, the Benedictine Fathers of the English Congregation of the Order, who were desirous of establishing a monastery in Scotland, accepted the offer of Simon, 13th Baron Lovat, of the fort and its surrounding land, as a favourable site for their purpose.
In September of that year the transformation of the buildings commenced. Two of the bastions—those forming the extremities of the south wing—were entirely removed. The building which stood between them, known as the " Duke's House " from its having been Cumberland's quarters, was also pulled down. In the other wings, a considerable portion of the old walls, which were of great strength and thickness, were retained as foundations of the new.
The outer walls of the other two bastions remained untouched, and for some time that of the north-west angle was left complete, with its earth-works covering a passage to the well, and its stone arches carved with the initials of successive garrisons of soldiers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A considerable portion of the ancient moat also is still to be seen to the north and west of the buildings. Within are other remains of the old fort, as will be noted presently.
The building operations occupied some four years. In August 1880 they were sufficiently complete to permit of a solemn inauguration of the establishment, in which a numerous company of Catholics of all ranks, from England as v/ell as Scotland, took part.
It is worthy of note that the Benedictines, whose motto is the Latin word pax (" Peace "), should have come into possession of what was in its day a centre whence spread devastation, oppression and blood-shed, with all other attendant horrors of warfare.
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