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The History of Inverness

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Inverness, that staging post of the Scottish Highlands, has a familiar tale to tell. Like many Scottish cities seeded in the 6th Century the spread of Christianity left a monastic imprint. And like so many Scottish cities in the migratory route of warring factions, Inverness has been close to the action, the insurgencies and the clan politics that scarred relations between Scottish Highlander and Lowlander. Inverness, perched on the nape of the Great Glen and the confluence of the River Ness and Moray Firth , Inverness began in the 6th Century, became a Royal Burgh in the 12th, and in 2001 became a city. Inverness has seen off over 14,000 Scottish winters and now sits proudly as the nominal capital of the Scottish Highlands.
So typical of the Highlands, Inverness occupies a quite dramatic location. The Great Glen Fault cuts the Scottish Highlands in two. The River Ness flows from Loch Ness through the city before emptying out into the Moray Firth. A city that bears all the hallmarks of the Highlands, there is a timelessness about Inverness that can’t be wholly erased by American burger franchises and chain stores. Like many settlements in sixth century Northern Scotland, Inverness was in the hands of the Picts. The Picts had a bit of a reputation, for painting their faces and expelling intruders with wholehearted tribal gusto. But this reputation could be shared by any of Britain’s tribes at that period, and perhaps with the face-painting and the failure of the Roman Empire to subjugate the North of Scotland, the Picts accrued a reputation for savagery. How surprising it may have been for the Saint Columba to find that King Bridei I of the Picts would offer him an audience to put forth the case for Christianity. William Hole’s painting of Columba preaching to Bridei and his consorts is a rather heartwarming work, but then, Hole’s work was dedicated to the bible, scripture and Christianity. One can only imagine Bridei being a more difficult audience. Columba’s biographer, Saint Adomnán of Iona, couldn’t even determine that; Bridei may already have been converted. No matter. Inverness’ monastic beginnings were dated to Columba’s time, with a monastery said to have been built on Saint Michael’s Mount, by contemporary Church Street.
The monastery is long gone. In its place sits Old High Church Saint Stephen’s , Inverness’ first parish church. Completed in 1772, its tower has remnants of its medieval predecessor. There is something apt about Inverness’ first church occupying ground that has been used for worship since in and around 565AD, when Saint Columba popped over from Ireland to spread his faith. But after the cordial history of Christianity in Inverness, it is back to the battles and rulers who shaped the area. The first to have an arguably profound influence was King Malcolm III, who constructed Inverness’ first castle in the middle of the 11th Century. The site, overlooking the Ness, had been fortified before – Shakespeare ’s ‘MacBeth’ had it as the scene of King Duncan’s death at the hands of MacBeth ; a tantalising notion that no-one is willing to declare it as being true. But when the banks of the Ness are said to be haunted by Duncan, who is to say? Malcolm’s stood for a few centuries – not bad, these were hectic times. Numerous sackings took their toll – 1491’s Raid On Ross saw a confederation of Cameron, MacDonald and MacKintosh attack Inverness Castle in pursuit of the MacKenzies. The Scottish parliament sat there back in 1427, as King James I sought to quell Highland dissidence. This would be a familiar tale of the Highlands at large when the 18th Century Jacobite Risings swept through the Highlands and died in Culloden.
Culloden is but a few miles east of Inverness. The sporadic Jacobite risings of the late 17th Century, 1715, 1719 and ultimately 1745, fought for the restoration of the Stewart line of kings. In 1745, under Bonnie Prince Charlie , they got as far as Derby and worried London . But misinformation led them to a foolhardy retreat. Hounded by government forces led by William Augustus, Duke Of Cumberland, the Jacobites went into Culloden undernourished and under gunned. Cumberland’s men were well rested, billeted at Nairn . On the sodden moors of Culloden, 17th April 1746, up to 2000 Jacobites fell by dragoon musket fire and bayonet. Jacobitism as a rebellion was over.
As the Industrial Revolution hauled Britain into a more modern but soot-caked society, Victorian Inverness became a bustling market town.In 1876-70, the council built a grand covered market. Destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1891, the original tri-arch opening is still preserved and is open to this day. In 1921, prime minister David Lloyd George , called the first meeting of the cabinet to be held outside London on the 7th September 1921, as the Irish War Of Independence escalated. Inverness was used as an RAF base during the Second World War . Inverness Castle, so often in peril, has a more sedate role today as the Sheriff Court. Its red sandstone structure the last of many rebuilds, designed by the celebrated William Burn and finished in 1836.

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