Mar 072016
 

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Robert Roy MacGregor, Scots folk hero commonly called Rob Roy, was baptized on this date in 1671. His name in Gaelic is Raibeart Ruadh MacGriogair, “ruadh” (red) being a reference to his bright red hair. Rob Roy was born at Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine, as recorded in the baptismal register of Buchanan Parish. His father was Donald MacGregor and his mother Margaret Campbell. In January 1693, at Corrie Arklet farm near Inversnaid, he married Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar (1671-1745), who was born at Leny Farm, Strathyre. They had four sons: James (known as Mor or Big), Ranald, Coll and Robert (known as Robin Oig or Young Rob). They also adopted a cousin named Duncan.

Along with many Highland clansmen, at the age of eighteen Rob Roy together with his father joined the Jacobite rising led by Viscount Dundee, known as Bonnie Dundee, to support the Stuart King James II who had been deposed during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Although victorious in initial battles, Dundee was killed in 1689, deflating the rebellion. Rob’s father was taken to jail, where he was held on treason charges for two years. Rob’s mother Margaret’s health failed during Donald’s time in prison. By the time Donald was finally released, his wife was dead and he never returned to his former spirit or health.

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In 1716 Rob Roy moved to Glen Shira for a short time and lived under the protection of John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll also known as Red John of the Battles (Iain Ruaidh nan Cath). Argyll negotiated an amnesty and protection for Rob and granted him permission to build a house in the Glen for the surrendering of weapons. A sporran and dirk handle which belonged to Rob Roy can still be seen at Inveraray Castle. Rob Roy only used this house occasionally for the next three or four years. In July 1717, Rob Roy and the whole of the Clan Gregor were specifically excluded from the benefits of the Indemnity Act 1717 which had the effect of pardoning all others who took part in the Jacobite rising of 1715.

Rob Roy was badly wounded at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719, in which a Hanoverian British army with allied Highlanders defeated a force of Jacobite Scots supported by the Spanish. Some time around 1720 and after the heat of Rob’s involvement in the Battle of Glen Shiel had died down, Rob moved to Monachyle Tuarach by Loch Doine and some time before 1722 Rob finally moved to Inverlochlarig Beag on the Braes of Balquhidder.

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Rob Roy became a well-known and respected cattleman — this was a time when cattle rustling and selling protection against theft were commonplace means of earning a living (giving us the word “blackmail” for protection money). According to one story, Rob Roy borrowed a large sum to increase his own cattle herd, but owing to the disappearance of his chief herder, who was entrusted with the money to bring the cattle back, he lost both money and cattle, and defaulted on his loan. As a result, he was branded an outlaw, and his wife and family were evicted from their house at Inversnaid, which was then burned down. After his principal creditor, James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose seized his lands, Rob Roy waged a private blood feud against the Duke until 1722, when he was forced to surrender. Later imprisoned, he was finally pardoned in 1727. He died in his house at Inverlochlarig Beg, Balquhidder, on 28 December 1734. How much of this is true is disputed.

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A highly fictionalized account of his life, The Highland Rogue was published in 1723, making Rob Roy a legend in his own lifetime. Supposedly George I was moved to issue a pardon for his crimes, based on the book, just as he was about to be transported to the colonies. The publication of Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott in 1817, further added to his fame and fleshed out his biography. Hector Berlioz was inspired by the book to compose an overture. William Wordsworth wrote a poem called “Rob Roy’s Grave” during a visit to Scotland. The 1803 tour was documented by his sister Dorothy in Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland.

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Adaptations of his story have also been told in film including the 1922 silent film Rob Roy, a 1953 film from Walt Disney Productions Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue and the 1995 Rob Roy directed by Michael Caton-Jones and starring Liam Neeson. All take substantial liberties with source material.

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The Rob Roy is a cocktail created in 1894 by a bartender at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, New York City. The drink was named in honor of the premiere of Rob Roy, an operetta by composer Reginald De Koven and lyricist Harry B. Smith loosely. A Rob Roy is similar to a Manhattan but is made with Scotch whisky instead of rye or bourbon. Like the Manhattan, the Rob Roy can be made “sweet”, “dry”, or “perfect”. The standard Rob Roy is the sweet version, made with sweet vermouth, so there is no need to specify a “sweet” Rob Roy when ordering. A “dry” Rob Roy is made by replacing the sweet vermouth with dry vermouth. A “perfect” Rob Roy is made with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. The Rob Roy is usually served in a cocktail glass and garnished with 2 maraschino cherries on a skewer (for the standard version) or a lemon twist (for the perfect and dry versions). Pure jet fuel.

I thought clapshot would be a fitting recipe because it is very traditional, using highland ingredients, although it appears in literary accounts in Orkney first. Clapshot is no more than the classic bashed ‘neeps and tatties of the Burns Night supper table, with the two mixed together, perhaps with the addition of chopped wild onions or kale. It’s a good side dish whichever way you make it. The thing is that mixing the mashed rutabaga and potato together, instead of having them served separately, makes a huge difference. Don’t ask me why. I’ve had something very similar in northern Argentina except that the mix was rolled into balls and deep fried. I’ve pressed clapshot into patties and shallow fried it until it is golden with good effect. I hardly need add a recipe.

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Clapshot

Take equal proportions of potatoes and rutabaga (swede, wax turnips). Peel them and cube them small. Poach each separately until they are cooked very soft. Mash them well, so that there are no lumps (I use a food processor). Add salt and pepper to taste. Then mix them together well thoroughly. Additions may include chopped chives, chopped green onions, or finely chopped cooked kale. You may also add a little butter.