Strathpeffer, Kinettas Graveyard and piper John ban Mackenzie

Perched between a few houses and one of the hills under which the delightful village of Strathpeffer nestles is a gothic gem of a graveyard.

Kinettas Graveyard has been in use since at least the end of the 18th century but may stretch back to an earlier period. It was sometimes known as Killetash.

Kinettas is one of the earliest Free Kirk burial grounds in the Highlands and was the cemetery for the Free Kirk in nearby Contin.

It is tiny and in a state of glorious disrepair although apparently does receive attention from the council.

Gravestones are apparently set higgledy-piggledy with many little marker stone, some with names and nothing else legible.

Stones are made from local sandstone and some granites, grey and red.

Two of the stones tell an interesting story.

John Mackenzie was a local man, from Auchterneed An Piobaire Ban – the fair-haired piper. He supported the Jacobite cause but was too old to participate. However his son George, also a piper, was involved in the ’45. George had been born at Achility near Strathpeffer in 1796.

Both father and son were highly esteemed pipers. John ban (ban means fair haired in Gaelic) won numerous piping competitions.

The little stone alongside marks the graves of Mackenzie’s infant sons who both died in 1847.

The larger stone was erected to the piper and three of his four surviving sons.

John Mackenzie had been piper to the Marquis of Breadalbane for 28 years before retiring to Munlochy where he died on 24th April 1864 at the age of 68 years.

The stone erected by his ‘sorrowing widow’ reads:
He was a real specimen of the true hearted Highlander esteemed and respected by all who knew him. He was known as chief and father of all the Highland pipers and had taught upwards of forty young men.

After a long and painful illness which he bore with Christian resignation he fell asleep in Jesus.

Also to the memory of her beloved son Donald, late pipe major 25th regt. Who died at Greenhill Cottage on the 13th of April 1863 aged 30. Universally regretted by all who knew him.

George had died from smallpox.

The story of John Ban Mackenzie goes something like this.

Mackenzie was taken on as the piper to the Davidson family of Tulloch around 1820. A few years later the laird turned his attention to a beautiful young heiress from Applecross called Maria Mackenzie. As Davidson was already married he got his piper, Mackenzie, to act as postman carrying letters between the two lovers.

Plans were arranged for Davidson and the young woman to elope but there was a dramatic twist to the tale.

John ban was tall, well built and one of the most handsome men in the area and his role as an intermediary meant frequent contact with Maria. And so instead of Davidson committing bigamy with the lovely Maria, the piper, John ban Mackenzie and she eloped, crossing the hills from Applecross on ponies they made their way through Strathconnon and down to Crief where they married in secret.

Mackenzie had gained a wife but lost his job – however such was his reputation that he was employed by the Marquis of Breadalbane and there he stayed until his retirement almost 30 years later.

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