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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dirk-Fighter: Michael Dunbar

An account of Scotsman Michael Dunbar (1622-1722) in Alexander Laing's The Donean Tourist (1828) tells of his use of the dirk:
In this parish [Auchindoir] lived the eccentric Michael Dunbar, in the latter end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, who lived by plunder and murder. He was always held out as a weakly person, and when any stranger inquired the way to the castle of Kildrummy, he feigned his weakness, and was often mounted on horseback behind the person; at the first opportunity, Michael never failed to dispatch the stranger, with a dirk which he wore concealed under his white flannel jerkin, and lighting from the horse, plundered the stranger, and walked nimbly home. This truly Caledonian Nero used to say at night, when his dirk was not stained with blood, Diem perdidit, (“I have lost a day”).

When Michael was on his deathbed, the parochial clergyman, Rev. William Thain, made him a visit, and asked, if he was not grieved at a retrospection of his life? To which no answer was returned, he feigning deafness and blindness. After a short prayer, which was to him as an untold tale, the clergyman withdrew to a company in the other end, when the dying man vociferated, “Is the bastard gone?”

And being answered in the negative, he turned round and remained quiet for some minutes, when he again repeated the question; the divine, willing to know the result, desired them to answer in the affirmative; which being done, the Cateran [robber] moved to his elbow, and said, “O the Hounds of Hell go with the bastard”; then turning round, took up his dirk, which lay beside him in the bed, turned it round, surveying some marks of blood on the blade, brandished it and said, “Here is the arm and dirk which let seven souls out of their bodies in one night.”

This man lived to the advanced age of 101, and was buried in the church-yard of Kildrummy, with a flat stone over his grave, on which his name and age can be traced.
A Guide to Donside (1852) puts a different slant on the story--now the men he killed in one night are hated British troops and their number has grown to 26:
When on his death-bead, the parochial clergyman, the Rev. William Thain, paid him a visit, and asked if he was grieved at his past life. On this he turned round and took up his dirk, that was lying in the bed beside him, and said, "Here is the arm and dirk that sent six and-twenty red coats to eternity in one night, and surely that will make up for some of my misdeeds."

It seems that a party of the soldiers stationed at Corgarff had been drinking in a public house in the neighbourhood; and on Dunbar learning it, he took his station at the outer door, and, one by one, as the soldiers came out, dispatched them with his dirk. It is believed that this dirk is now in the possession of a reverend gentleman, near Kildrummy. He died at the advanced age of one hundred and one, and a flat stone in the churchyard of Kildrummy, bearing his name and age, marks his grave.
In yet another version of Dunbar's career, from Epitaphs & Inscriptions from Burial Grounds & Old Buildings in the North-East of Scotland, the dead are now cattle thieves and their number is 15:
According to tradition, Michael Dunbar was a sort of brigand, who lived by murder and plunder; but inquiry shows that this was not the fact. Being a man of great bodily strength and daring, he was made Captain of the parish of Kildrummy, or the leader of those who, as was essential in these times, combined to protect their lives and property against the incursions of the Cateran, or Highland robbers, in the course of which, Michael had doubtless led a rough enough life. Michael, who was a Roman Catholic, and a keen supporter of the Stuarts, dwelt in the Den of Kildrummy; and it is told that, when upon his death-bed, Mr. Miln, the parish minister, paid him a visit; and, while exhorting Michael upon the rough life he had led, and that he had much need to repent of his sins, Michael replied—" Repent o' my sins! What the deevil cou'd I dee whan thae Heelan' thieves cam' doun to take awa' our nowt?" [What the devil could I do when those Highland thieves came down to take away our cattle?]

"Ah, but Michael," said the parson, "that 'll a' stand against them at the Day o' Judgment."

"Weel, weel," quo' Michael, "ilka chiel' 'll get's ain then!" [Well, well, every fellow will get his own then!]

And, grasping a dirk which lay beside him in the bed, he exclaimed, to the terror of the minister, who, it is said, made a quick retreat— "That's the hand, an' that's the dirk that loot oot fifteen sauls o' them a' in ae nicht!" [That's the hand and that's the dirk that let out fifteen souls of them in one night!]

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