GRUESOME PAST: Most tourists looking for a monster in the dark waters of Loch Ness are unaware of a brutal tribal history.
GRUESOME PAST: Most tourists looking for a monster in the dark waters of Loch Ness are unaware of a brutal tribal history. Will Hunter

Careful with your accent around waters of the loch

ON THE banks of Loch Oich in Scotland, just before the turnoff to Skye at the village of Invergarry, stands an iron obelisk. It has a square base, with an inscription on each side, in French, Latin, English and Gaelic. The square base has a tapering pyramid with seven faces at the apex. This is the Well of Seven Heads.

The monument represents seven men whose heads were chopped off in 1663. They were held responsible for the murder of two men of the Macdonald clan by their kinsmen.

The story goes a bit like this: Two important Macdonalds went on a trip to France and when they came back they threw a grand party. There was alcohol involved and, we are told, some of the people at the party mocked their cousins' new-found French accents and mannerisms. A fight broke out and suddenly two leading clansmen were dead.

Alexander Macdonald and his six sons were squarely in the frame. Then two years elapsed. No one wanted to get into clan in-fighting but another kinsman, known as Bald Iain (the Gaelic poet laureate), took it upon himself to enact justice. He said:

Abel is cold and his blood is crying in vain for vengeance. Cain is hot and red-handed and hundreds are lukewarm as the black goat's milk”

Well! That stirred up things as you might expect and letters of "fire and sword” were issued against the killers. Fifty men went to avenge the killings. The seven known killers were murdered and decapitated. Bald Iain washed the heads in the loch then sent them to Edinburgh where they were fixed to gallows between Edinburgh and Leith.

The cool sweet water of the spring trickles out of a short stone tunnel into the loch. The seven faces gaze out while traffic whizzes past up to Urquhart Castle. Here tourists muddle around looking for a monster in the deep dark waters of Loch Ness, unaware of a dark, brutal tribal history that sits nearby.

This is a cautionary tale to remember next time you put on a fake accent. You never know who you are going to irritate and what their response might be.

I have an Irish friend and when people hear him speak they say things like "to be sure, to be sure” and "top of the morning” in their fake Irish accents. At that time, I see a look of fire and sword in his eyes.

I am going to see a friend who is descended from the notoriously troublesome Macdonald clan. I will play safe here, now that I know this story. I don't want to risk a bop on the nose if I venture any linguistic pretensions that I think amusing but are in fact lame.

I may not be decapitated but you can't be too careful.