THE OBSCURITY OF CHILDHOOD
When a male is born they put a sword or knife in his hand,’ it was said of Highlanders at the time Rob Roy was born.1 Thus advantage was taken of the instinctive grasping reflex of new-born babies when the palm is touched to have the boy symbolically accept a token of the activity basic to men in society. Men fought, or were trained to fight, and carried arms. (Baby girls were given a spindle to grasp.) It cannot be said for sure that Rob went through this little ceremony – nor whether he endured a preliminary baptism by being dunked in cold water by the midwife.2
Robert, the third son of Donald Glas (the Pale) MacGregor in Glengyle and Margaret Campbell (wives retained their maiden names in Scotland), is assumed to have been born in his father’s house at Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine.3 The first complication of Rob’s life was his baptism. Glengyle was in the parish of Callander so he should have been baptised there. But his father wanted him baptised in the parish church of Inchailloch. The church of Inchailloch had originally been on the island of that name in Loch Lomond, widely used by MacGregors for burials, but by this time the church had been moved to Buchanan. Such traditional ties led Donald Glas to want his son baptised there, and permission for this was granted.4 It seems ironic that Rob’s life should thus begin with careful conformity to the niceties of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
The baptism took place on 7 March 1671, and this means that Rob Roy had been born just a few days or weeks before, for the ceremony normally followed birth as soon as mother and child were fit to travel – though in this case seeking permission to hold the ritual in Buchanan could have caused some delay.5 The day chosen may have been of no particular significance, but it was highly appropriate. It was Fastern’s Eve, or Shrove Tuesday, a traditional day for feasting and merrymaking before the start of Lent, the season of fasting that