A Shepherd's Tale: A tribute in music to a 'courageous' family

It is the tale of a family of shepherds who wandered Scotland and faced head-on the challenges of changing times as they went.

Shepherd John Boa with his wife Barbara and family. The couple went on to have 11 children. PIC: Contributed.
Shepherd John Boa with his wife Barbara and family. The couple went on to have 11 children. PIC: Contributed.

Now the lives of the Boa family, originally from Ettrick in the Scottish Borders, has been set to music with a new album dedicated to their very 19th Century Scottish story.

A Shepherd’s Tale has been composed by folk musician Garry Alexander after Boa family member Liz McKnockiter urged him to put the tale to tune.

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The Boa story covers Clearances, evictions, emigration and a Highland village later flooded to build a new dam with the turns of history set against the basic need to find work and feed a family. It is the story of one family, but reflects an entire era of people and place.

The remains of the family cottage at Loch Lungard, which was flooded to make way for a reservoir and damn in the 1950s. PIC: Contributed.

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Ms Mcknockiter, from Elgin, said: I’m so proud of my ancestors. They were hardy folk and they had real, decent values that I think we have lost. They were courageous. They faced great adversity.

"I knew of Garry’s work and got in touch with him. He was all for it. When I first heard the album, it was magical. I just thought ‘he’s got it’.”

Heading the story is James Boa - the great, great grandfather of Ms Mcknockiter - who was born in Ettrick in 1826 and is believed to have left the Borders as lowland clearances took place. His brothers emigrated to Canada but the search for work took James to the Isle of Arran in 1840.

By then, the island had largely been given over to sheep farming after the Duke of Hamilton paid smallholder families 50 per cent of their fare to Canada and a promise of 200 acres of land on arrival.

"This was a time of turmoil. James arrived looking for work so he could feed his family, to keep their heads above water,” Ms Mcknockiter said.

After 11 years on Arran, James headed north to Kintail to take up a position on the Lovat Estate. He lived at Kiltarlity and his son John, who went on to have 11 children, also became a shepherd.

The family lived on the banks of Loch Lungard – referred to as Loch Longard in some accounts – in a scattering of cottages that stood in the shadows of Meall Shuas.

Peter Boa, son of John and grandfather of Ms Mcknockiter, also became a shepherd but his life was cut short when he died suddenly in his early 40s.

His wife Elizabeth left Lungard to forge a new life at Drumcroy near Drumnadrochit.

Traces of life at Lungard were then swept away as the loch was flooded and joined onto Greater Loch Mullardoch when a dam was built in the early 1950s.

A large part of the Boa family story also came to a close as the water rushed in, with only a few remants of the cottages linked to the family of shepherds left behind.

Mr Alexander said: “Liz gave me the background to the family that I needed. Really, anything to do with Scottish History, well it all happens easily. It started with just one song and we ended up with an album. I’m really proud of it.”

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