A Haunting Harper

Why Would You Hang a Harpist!?

And here's why you shouldn't! They might never again leave you--or your descendants--alone!

I love it when I come across a true story that fits with what I'm doing. In this case, the story of the Inverary Harpist fits both The Blue Bells Chronicles and my upcoming book, The Castle of Dromore.

In The Castle of Dromore, Lisa Quinn, a young widow, takes everything she has to move her five boys to a medieval Scottish castle, only to discover, on arriving, that she will be sharing her home with a ghostly Lady in Green. As she plays her own harp in her new home, it takes her awhile to notice that when her boys talk about hearing her play at night--it is not her they are hearing!

So imagine my surprise and delight to stumble across a real-life ghostly harpist. And better yet to find that he roams the halls of Inverary near Oban on the west coast of Scotland--right in the vicinity of my novel. Furthermore, Inverary is a Campbell stronghold (perhaps the descendants of Niall Campbell of The Blue Bells Chronicles?), and wears the tartan of clan Campbell.

Inverary stands on the shore of Loch Fyne and may well be known to Americans as the fictional Gleneagle Castle of the 2012 Downtown Abbey Christmas special. In truth, it has been the home of the Campbells since the ambitious Duncan Campbell, born in 1390 to Colin Campbell of Lochawe.

For reference (because I knew you were going to ask!) this particular Colin Campbell was the son of Archibald, who was the son of Sir Colin Og Campbell of Lochawe. We briefly meet Young Colin (Og means young) in Westering Home, (Book Four of The Chronicles), when he foolishly charges the English, against Bruce's orders, in Ireland.

This Colin Og was, in turn, the eldest son of Sir Neil Campbell, who we also meet in The Chronicles, and his first wife Alyse Crawford. On her death, Sir Neil married Mary Bruce, sister of the great king Robert the Bruce, to whom Sir Neil was a close friend and comrade in arms.

But this is a ghost story, not a genealogy story! So we were at the part where the harpist gets hanged.

harper, medieval harp, medieval harpist, ghost stories, Scotland, Scottish ghosts
Now why, you ask, would you hang a harpist? How badly could he possibly have played? I've often said to my harp students, "You could trip over a harp and it would still sound beautiful." Okay, so I am admittedly given to hyperbole. 

As with any old story, there are multiple versions. They all seem to agree that it started when James Graham, the first Marquis of Montrose sacked and burned Inverary, driving out the Duke of Argyll, in 1644. From there, it becomes a little less clear (a bit like the ghost himself.)

Reports say that the Duke fled in a row boat down Loch Fyne, leaving 800 men, women, and children to their fate, the Harper among them. Those who weren't slaughtered by Montrose suffered through the oncoming winter.

It is a question whether Argyll the Harper was left behind accidentally or whether it was (as other reports say), a punishment for peeping through the keyhole of the Lady of the Castle. But all reports seems to agree that the evil Marquis of Montrose and his men captured the harper and hanged him. We haven't quite gotten around to the Why? yet, have we?

The stories don't seem to, either. I'm guessing it was just a general matter of killing anyone associated with Argyll. (I mean seriously--no one hates harpists that badly, do they?)

That should have been the end of it. But Argyll's Harper apparently was having too much fun in life--and death--to stop there. So, even though the original castle was burned, and a new one rebuilt, he hung (no pun intended) around.

He particularly likes the Green Library, although he has also been seen roaming the halls, playing his harp, and his music has been heard in the Blue Room--including at times when there have been no harps at all in the castle.

He has distinct preferences--seeming to appear to or be heard, more by members of the family than to others, and seeming to especially like the ladies, (hm, is this what Shawn's ghost would be like?), rarely appearing to men. He is reputed to be a bit of a mischievous ghost, and especially when women are present. He likes to throw books around, knock them to the ground, and cause people to burst into hysterical laughter--although how he does that is not said in any of the stories I've read.

At times, the sound of crashing and books falling comes from the library, but those who run to the scene find nothing out of place.

Like many other ghosts associated with particular families, he becomes more active around the deaths and funerals of the Dukes of Argyll. In October of 1922, this became a particular issue when Lord Breadalbane took ill and died, and the 10th Duke, Lord Diarmuid Campbell, falling ill the night before the funeral, decided he would be unable to attend.

His sister, Lady Elspeth, and Ian Douglas Campbell, who would become the 11th Duke, were in the library about this time, when a considerable racket arose from the turret room attached to the library--as if books were being thrown.

Lord Diarmuid concluded that the ghostly harper was unhappy with his decision.

Some years later, in 1949, the same Diarmuid Campbell, Duke of Argyll, lay dying (oh, Faulkner, where art thou?!) with the local doctor and minister at his side, when they heard the beautiful sounds of harp music in the hall. On running to look--you guessed it! They saw no one. They returned to the Duke's room to find he had passed on to the next world.

And so, Dear Reader, we conclude with the tale of the Haunting Harper of Inverary. Why he stays is a question. Why others kill in that same slaughter don't...is a question. Why a man abandoned by his lord and unjustly hanged...um...hangs around when others killed in the same event don't and why appears mischievous rather than malevolent, in light of the injustice done to him...all fascinating questions.

These questions, Dear Reader, are why writers write. I want to know who this man was.



The Battle is O'er is now available!
Start from the beginning: Prelude One 
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