A memorial stone commemorating the life and achievements of one of shinty’s most iconic figures has been renovated in Beauly in time for the Annual Lovat Cup Challenge match which takes place tomorrow, Tuesday, January 2nd at Balgate, Lovat (throw-up 1pm).

The memorial stone has been requiring some attention in the last few years and now Shinty Memories Scotland, in collaboration with Archibald Macra Chisholm’s  home club Strathglass, Beauly, Glenurquhart and Lovat have ensured that the stone, in St Mary’s Cemetery, near Beauly Priory on the A862, has been returned to his former glory. The outstanding renovation has been carried out by gravestone carver John Hearach MacDonald who is himself a well-known figure in shinty circles.

David Calder of the Beauly Club, who led the organisation of the memorial renovation said: “We have for some time being working towards this and it’s a great achievement for all the clubs concerned to mark the presence of such an important figure as “Glassburn” in the Catholic Cemetery near the Old Priory grounds. He was the first shinty person to have his profile included in the National Dictionary of Biography and his contribution to shinty through the Strathglass club should never be forgotten. We would not be where we are today without his work setting up the Camanachd Association in 1893 and it is very fitting that Strathglass and the Aird clubs have joined forces to raise the funding required along with Shinty Memories Scotland.  None of it would have been achieved, of course, without the contribution of John Hearach who went the extra mile to ensure that a challenging job would reach such a wonderful outcome. I would encourage anyone with spare time on Tuesday to make a visit to the Old Priory to admire John’s work. It’s another good reason to visit Beauly!”

Archibald Macra Chisholm, (1825-1897), military officer, musician, sportsman and Justice of the Peace, was born on 6 July 1824 at Taewig on the banks of the river Glass, in Strathglass, Inverness-shire, the eldest son of Dr Stuart Chisholm, Deputy Inspector General of Army Hospitals, who served at Waterloo at the age of 21 years, and his wife Mary Macra of Ardintoul, Kintail, sister of Sir John Macra K.C.H., Colonel of the Cameron Highlanders, who served at Corunna and many other engagements in the Peninsular War.

At the age of 16, having studied in the French College of St Sulpice, Montreal, Archibald Chisholm was ensigned into “Scotia’s darling corps” – the 42nd Royal Highlanders, the famous Black Watch. His first posting was to Malta and he was made a lieutenant by the age of 21. Indeed, Chisholm claimed (in a speech reported in the Inverness Courier, 19 February, 1880), that he had played shinty there “with our cousins and relations in Canada, during the winter, on skates, with a splendid field of ice, 300 miles long, 200 miles wide, and the ice at least 10 feet thick.”!

The Black Watch regiment returned home from overseas in 1852. A year later, Captain Chisholm married Maria Frances Lynch in St Andrews Catholic Cathedral, Glasgow. On war being declared in 1854, he went with the Black Watch to the Crimea. Returning home on promotion in 1855, he retired from the service, then acted for a time as factor for the Duchess of Leeds at Applecross. Captain Chisholm and his wife first rented Balblair House in Kirkhill Parish but after a few years they moved to Glassburn House (Allt na Glaislig), Strathglass, making their home there for the rest their days.

For all his travelling world-wide, there is no doubt that Captain Chisholm was most at home in Strathglass. At Glassburn House, we are told, in the history of the Strathglass Shinty Club by Hugh Barron and John W. Campbell, Captain Chisholm and his wife “passed a quiet Highland life, interested themselves in all their dependants, and in the farmers and people generally throughout the Strath”. A devout Roman Catholic, he became known as “Glassburn”. A white cross was painted on the hill-side opposite Glassburn House, so that Captain Chisholm could see it when he woke up. He also led a party of volunteers to Rome to protect the Pope against the threatened attack of Garribaldi.

Captain Chisholm excelled in all sports, and loved all aspects of the Gaelic language – its song and music, sports and pastimes. An enthusiastic supporter of the game of shinty, its development in the Highlands owed much to his encouragement. In 1879 the famous Strathglass Shinty Club was formed, with Glassburn as Chief. Chisholm published the first formal set of written rules, regulations and diagrams for the sport, issuing a revised edition in 1888. He was elected the first Chief of the ruling body of shinty, the Camanachd Association, which was constituted in October, 1893, a position he held for four years. He also acted as club-bearer for the Highland Camanachd Club of London.

Captain Chisholm was 6 feet 2 inches tall and of splendid appearance. A courteous gentleman of humour and great integrity, he was considered by many contemporaries to be the best amateur piper of his time. He once played at the Dinner of the Highland Society of London and is said to have so electrified the company that he was at once elected a member. He was an active and influential member of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, involved in its earliest years, playing at its Annual Assembly on several occasions. He also judged piping at the Northern Meetings (established 1788),  for 30 years.

Captain Chisholm died on 19 October, 1897 at Glassburn House, having suffered a lengthy illness, and was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery near the Old Priory of Beauly. He was survived by his widow, only daughter of William Dominic Lynch, Devonshire Place, London, grand-daughter of Lewis Farquharson Innes, of Balmoral and Ballogie, Aberdeen-shire. The book ‘A Day that is Dead’ by the Rev. Dr. John Stirton, contains a fine account of the life of Captain Chisholm and he was the subject of a number of poems in Gaelic and English.