Scotland's History, Legends, Wildlife and Hunting Practices...because the past lives in us and guides our footsteps.



BEFORE 1296.

The Early Ages.—Physical and Climatic Changes.—Early Man.
—The Caledonii.—The Picts.—Urchard in Moravia.—The
Legendary Origin of Loch Ness.—The Children of Uisneach.
—The Wars of the Picts.—The End of their Kingdom.—
Incursions of the Norse.—Monie, Son of the King of Scandi­
navia.—The Conflict of Craigmonie.—The Risings of the
Moraymen.—Conachar in Urquhart.—The Big Dog and the
Wild Boar.—Origin of the Forbeses, Mackays, and Urquharts.
—The Harrying of the Church Lands.—The Pope’s Pro­
tection to the Church of Urquhart.—Gillespic MacScolane’s
Deeds and Death.—Urquhart Granted to Thomas Durward.
—Sir Alan Durward.—Dispute regarding Church Lands.—
The Settlement.—Sir Alan’s Death.—The Cummings.

“ I bend mine eye,” sings the Gaelic bard, “ on the
ages fled ; seen but in slender gleams is all that was
—like to the glimmer of a sickly moon on water
winding through the glen.”1 And as it was in the
days of the bard, so it is even now ; for slender,

1 “ Tha mo shealladh air linnte a dh’aom,
Cha’n fhaicear ach caol na bh’ann—
Mar dhearrsa na geallaich tha faoin,
Air linne tha claon ’s a’ ghleann.”

—Ossian : “ Cath Loduinn.”


2                     URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

indeed, and few, are the gleams that cheer the
student of the past on his dark journey through the
early ages. In the beginning, says our oldest
Book, the earth was without form, and void ; and
Geology tells how, during the slow course of im­
measurable time, it assumed its present aspect—
how the rocks were made, the mountains raised, the
valleys formed, and the sea divided from the dry
land. In the process great changes came over the
face of the earth. Not to go beyond our own Scot­
land, the land at one time rose high above the
ocean : at another, it sank deep beneath its waves.1
For untold ages it was exposed to the scorching
rays of a tropical sun : for another period of
perhaps equal duration it lay buried under an
overwhelming weight of ice, that crushed its rocks
and rounded its mountain sides.2 The marks of
these great changes still remain ; but there is little or
no trace of its earliest inhabitants. We are almost
into modern times before we get the first glimpse of
man as he slowly emerges from a state scarcely
higher than that of the beasts of the field. Follow­
ing him down through the centuries, we are
able to trace his progress by such land­marks
as the use of weapons and implements—at first
made of stone, and thereafter, as his knowledge

1 The margin of a lake, which in former ages covered the lower portions
of Urquhart, is still seen in the beautiful terrace which almost surrounds the

2 Deep ice markings on the rocks beyond Achtuie indicate the course of one
great glacier which passed over the ridge from the direction of Strone Point,
and of another which came down the Glen, from the direction of Corrimony.




widens, of bronze or of iron ;1 the abandonment of
the natural caves of the earth for habitations built
with his own hands ; and the cultivation of the soil
for the production of food for himself and the
animals which he has tamed for his service. There
is no written record of the earlier ages. For the
first references to the inhabitants of the Highlands
we must search the pages of certain Latin authors
who derived their knowledge of them from the
Roman soldiers who served the Cæsars in Britain.
From Lucan and other writers of the first century
we learn that in their time our part of the island was
inhabited by the Caledonian Britons (Caledonii
the same who valiantly opposed the
legions of Agricola at the battle of Mons Grampius.
We gather from the geographer Ptolemy, who
flourished about the year 120, that, in his day, the
country extending from Loch Long (Lemannonius
to the Beauly Firth (Varar Æstuarium2),
and embracing the glens which now bear the names
of Urquhart and Glenmoriston, was peopled by the
Caledonii, one of several tribes into which the Cale­
donian Britons were then divided ; and in the time
of Severus (a.d. 208), those tribes were combined
into two nations—Caledonii and Mœatœ—which, a
century later, appear under the general name of

1 Numerous stone implements have been found in the Parish. In 1887 a
beautiful bronze blade was found in a sepulchral urn at Balnalick, for a
description of which (by Mr Angus Grant) see Proc. of Society of Antiq. of
Scot., 1887-8.

2 The name Varar (the same as Forne) still survives in the River Farrar, and
Glen Strathfarrar—the Glen of the Strath of Farrar.

4                   URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

Picti, a name well known and much dreaded during
the latter years of the Roman occupation. North
of the Grampians were the Northern Picts. The
Southern Picts inhabited the country lying to the
south and east of that range. Those divisions were
again sub­divided into provinces, the most noted of
which was Muireb or Moray, which extended, on
the one hand, from the Spey to the Forne or Beauly,
and, on the other, from the Moray Firth to Lochaber.
In Moray was situated that district the history
of which this book is to tell—the “ Urchard in
Moravia,” and “ Urquhart in Murrayland,” of former

The legendary element bulks largely in the early
story of the district. Once upon a time, says one
pretty myth, the great glen which now lies under
the waters of Loch Ness was a beautiful valley,
sheltered from every blast by high mountains,
clothed with trees and herbs of richest hues. This
vale was covered with verdant pasture, over which
roamed the flocks of the people ; and through it
flowed a majestic river, in which was found every
fish good for the food of man. Although the people
were many, peace and friendship prevailed. The
women plied the distaff, and their homes and
children they did not forsake ; and when the men
did not hunt the boar in the forest they chased the
deer on the mountain, and when they did not chase
the deer on the mountain they tended their cattle
on the plain.

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                     5

There was a spring in this happy vale which was
blessed by Daly the Druid, and whose waters were
ever afterwards an unfailing remedy for every
disease. This holy well was protected from pollu­
tion by a stone placed over it by the Druid, who
enjoined that whenever the stone was removed for
the drawing of water, it should be immediately
replaced. “ The day on which my command is
disregarded,” said he, “ desolation will overtake the
land.” The words of Daly were remembered by the
people, and became a law among them ; and so day
succeeded day, and year gave place to year.

But on one of the days a woman left the child of
her bosom by the fireside, and went to the well to
draw water. No sooner did she remove the stone
from its place than the cry reached her ear that the
child had moved towards the fire. Rushing to the
house, she saved the infant—but she forgot the
word of the Druid, and omitted to replace the
stone. The waters rose and overflowed the vale ;
and the people escaped to the mountains and filled
the air with lamentation, and the rocks echoed
back the despairing cry—Tha loch ’nis ann, tha loch
’nis ann
—“ There is a lake now, there is a lake now !”
And the lake remained, and it is called Loch-Nis to
this day.1

The Tales of the Sons of Uisneach account other­
wise for the name of the Loch. In the days of
Conachar MacNessa, who was King of Ulster in the
first century, there lived in Ireland a man of the

1 Loch-Nis : so written in Gaelic ; pronounced Loch-Neesh.

6                   URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

name of Colum Cruitire, whose daughter Deirdire,
or Dearduil, was the most beautiful woman of her
age. “ She was the fairest drop of blood between
earth and sun, and there never was born in Ireland
a drop of blood so fair as she.” Conachar resolved
to make this daughter of beauty his wife. “ Give
me but a year and a day in my maidenhood,” said
she ; and her request was granted. Before the end
of the year and a day, who visited the King but
his cousins Naois, Aillean, and Ardan, the renowned
sons of Uisneach ? Naois fell in love with Dearduil,
and Dearduil loved Naois ; and, accompanied by
Aillean and Ardan, they fled together to Scotland.
On the shore of Loch Naois (Loch Ness) they built
a tower, from the window of which they could slay
the salmon, and from the door the bounding stag ;
and here they for a season lived in safety and
happiness. But their retreat became known to
Conachar, and he sent Farquhar Mac-Ro to them
with an assurance of his friendship and an invitation
to a great feast which he was about to give. Dear-
duil foreboded evil, and entreated Naois not to go ;
but he would not listen to her, and they all accom­
panied Farquhar Mac-Ro to Ireland. The King’s
promises were fair, but his heart was false ; and the
Sons of Uisneach were treacherously slain, and their
bodies laid in one grave. Then Dearduil looked
into the open grave and said—“ Let Naois of my
love move to one side : let Aillean press close to
Ardan : if the dead could only hear, you would
make room for me.” And the dead did make room

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                     7

for her ; and she, laying herself by her husband’s
side, expired ! But the King would not have
Naois and Dearduil lie in the same grave, and he
caused her to be buried on the opposite bank of an
adjoining stream ; and a tender pine sprang out of
the grave of Naois, and another out of the grave of
Dearduil, and the pines grew and joined above the

Although the Children of Uisneach were thus
slain, their fame did not die in Alban ; and as the
name of Naois is borne by Loch Ness, the river
Ness, and Inverness, so does the vitrified fort of
Dun-Dearduil, on the Stratherrick side of the lake,
bear that of his faithful Darthula.2

The Romans, whose dominion never extended
over the territory of the Northern Picts, were
forced, in the year 410, for ever to quit Britain ;
and for the next century and a half the history of
the North of Scotland is hidden in impenetrable
mists. When the clouds rise, we find Brude Mac-
Mailcon, the Pictish King, who had his seat on the

1See the full Gaelic version of this tale (by Mr Alex. Carmichael) in
Transactions of Inverness Gaelic Society, Vol. XIII.

2 The legendary origin of the name of Loch Ness must not be accepted
seriously. The true origin will be discussed in a subsequent chapter. The
Children of Uisneach, however, who gave many place-names to the district of
Loch Etive, appear also to have been associated with the district of Loch Ness.
In Deirdire’s Lament for Alba, Naois and herself are thus referred to :—
He sent to her a frisking herd—
A wild hind and a fawn at its foot ;
And he went to her on a visit
As he returned from the host of Inverness.

—Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Dublin (1808) ;
Translation in Highland Monthly for July, 1890.

8                   URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

banks of the river Ness, at war with the Dalriad
Scots, a Gaelic race, whom he defeated in 560 ;
and St Columba at war with paganism at Brude’s
court, and preaching the gospel in Airchartdan
the first glimpse we get of the name of our Parish.1
Columba’s story will be told in a future chapter.
Brude died about 584, and for generations after his
death his successors maintained a hard struggle
for existence—sometimes fighting with their old
enemies of Dalriada ; sometimes engaged in inter­
necine feuds with Pictish claimants to the crown ;
and, latterly, involved in frequent trouble with
the fierce Norse Vikings, who had begun to ravage
and lay waste the Scottish shores. Suffering thus
from within and without, the Pictish monarchy
gradually declined, until, in 844, Kenneth Macalpin,
King of the Scots, but in whose veins Pictish blood
also flowed, placed the crown of Brude on his own
head. He did not extirpate the Pictish nation, as
historians have erroneously supposed. On the con­
trary, for half a century he and his successors
were called kings of the Picts. The old race still
survived, and the present inhabitants of the
province, including the people of Urquhart and
Glenmoriston, are their direct descendants—mixed
with the Gael, and to a slight extent with the
Norse and the Saxon. The Pictish tongue, however,
which appears to have somewhat resembled the
Welsh, gave place in course of time to its relation,
the Gaelic language of the Scots—the result, mainly,

1 Adamnan’s Vita Sancti Columbæ III., c. xv.

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                     9

of the influence of the Gaelic-speaking clergy of the
Celtic Church.

Those Picts of Moray were deeply imbued with
the spirit of liberty, and very stubborn was the
fight which they made for their independence. Led
by their own mormaors, or “ great-mayors,” they for
many years struggled for freedom, not only against
the Scots, who harassed their southern borders, but
also against the Norsemen, who pressed hard upon
them from the north. For a time they were forced
to own the Norse sway ; but they threw off their
yoke in the time of the Mormaor Finlay, who in
1020 was succeeded by his son, the famous Macbeth.
The new mormaor at first allied himself with the
Scottish King—the Gracious Duncan of Shakes­
peare—and made common cause with him against
the powerful Norwegian Earl Thorfinn. In the end,
however, he slew the King, and joined the Earl in
partitioning the country between themselves. Mac­
beth took the crown and the territory of the dead
King, leaving the province of Moray to Thorfinn,
who became ruler of all Scotland north of the
Grampians. The Moraymen repudiated the selfish
arrangement, but it was only on Thorfinn’s death in
1057 that they were able finally to get rid of the
Viking rule.

In connection with these events, tradition relates
that Monaidh MacRigh Lochlainn—Monie, son of
the King of Scandinavia—landed in Argyle with
a large force, accompanied by his sister. His
retreat to his ships having been cut off by the

10                  URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

natives, he was pursued northward through the Cale­
donian valley, until he reached Urquhart, where he
made a stand on the high rock of Craigmonie,
which is still crowned with the remains of ancient
fortifications. There he and his companions bravely
held their own for a time, his sister taking shelter
in a crevice still known as Leabaidh-Nighean-an-
—the Bed of the King’s Daughter. Driven
at last to the plain below, the Norsemen were forced
to give battle, and were defeated with great
slaughter. Monie escaped with his sister, but at
Corrimony he was overtaken and slain. The people
of the Glen took kindly to the hapless princess, and
she lived among them for many a day.1

King Duncan left a son, Malcolm, called Ceann-
mor, or Bighead, who, when he reached the years of
manhood, resolved to wrest his father’s kingdom
from Macbeth. His efforts met with success, and
Macbeth lost his crown and his life in battle with
him, in 1057. About the same time, Thorfinn died,
and the province of Moray reverted to the rule of the
mormaors, who assumed the style, and claimed the
independence, of kings. But the covetous eye of
Ceannmor was on the fair province. He invaded it in
1078, and, routing the forces of the Mormaor Maels-
nectan—Ri Muireb (King of Moray) as he is called in
the Annals of Ulster—annexed it to his crown. On

1 The Norse Sagas contain numerous instances of women accompanying
the Vikings on their warlike expeditions. The place-names in the immediate
vicinity of Craigmonie point to some conflict or conflicts of the past—Blair-
the Field of Terror ; Poll-a-Ghaorr, the Pool of Gore ; Lag-nan-
the Hollow of the Archers.

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                   11

Malcolm’s death it again fell under the rule of the
mormaors, and a long struggle for it began. In 1130
David the First defeated the Moraymen, and slew
Angus their mormaor, and four thousand of their
number. Ar fer Muriamh in Albain—the slaughter
of the Men of Moray in Alban—are the significant
words in which the Irish annals record the event.1

After this disaster, the Men of Moray not only
owned David’s sway, but they also fought under his
banner. In his war with King Stephen, they fol­
lowed him into England, and had the honour of
fighting under his own immediate command at the
Battle of the Standard.2 But they were submissive
only so long as they were weak, and in 1160 they
again measured swords with their old foes. The
superior numbers of the Scots prevailed ; and Mal­
colm the Second, wishing to put an end for ever to
the aspirations of the Moraymen, removed their
principal men to other parts of his kingdom, and
gave their possessions to loyal followers of his own.
The pacification which he desired was, however, not
yet possible. The old race still continued to dream
of a separate independence, and new leaders arose to
guide and direct them.

During the latter half of the twelfth century
Urquhart appears to have been under the rule of
one Conachar, or Ochonachar, a mighty man, who
looms largely in the half mythical legends of our
Parish. He is supposed to have been an Irishman

Annals of Innisfallen, in Chronicles of the Picts and Scots 170.
2 Hailes’ Annals

12                  URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

of the royal house of Ulster, and he probably
received the Castle of Urquhart and the surround­
ing territory, which is said to have been previously
possessed by Macraes and Macleans,1 as his reward
for services rendered to the King in the war of 1160.
To Conachar the families of Forbes, Mackay, and
Urquhart still look back as their common ancestor ;
and, in allusion to his wonderful feat of killing a wild
boar of extraordinary fierceness and strength, the
three families in after years adopted the boar’s head
as their arms. Strangely enough, the legend of his
adventure with the boar, which is referred to by a
historian2 of the house of Forbes, in the seventeenth
century, still survives in our Parish. Once upon a
time, says this tale of the olden time,3 the Castle of
Urquhart was occupied by a mighty man named
Conachar Mor Mac Aoidh—Great Conachar, son
of Aodh—who possessed a dog, which, on account
of its extraordinary size, was known as An Cu
—the Big Dog. The Big Dog, when young,
was fleet of foot and powerful of limb ; but
age and its infirmities gradually overtook it, and
at last it seldom moved beyond the walls of
the Castle. Conachar desired to destroy the useless
animal, but was prevented by an old woman, who

1  Rev. James Fraser of Wardlaw’s Chronology of the Bissets and Frasers
of Lovat, MS. in Advocates’ Library.

2 Mr William Forbes, who states, in his Preface to Lumsden’s “ Houss of
Forbes,” that Conachar “ killed a great boare, and he hade three sons, who
were called the sons of him that killed the boare or the beast.”

3 See the full Gaelic version in the Author’s Legends of Glen-Urquhart :
Transactions of Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol. I. (1872).

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                   13

said, “ Leig leis a’ chu : tha lath’ fhein a feitheamh
air”—“ Let the dog live : his own day awaits him.”
And so it did ; for on one of the days, as Conachar
went forth to hunt, he was followed by the Big
Dog, playful and nimble as in the days of its youth.
The country was ravaged and ruined at the time by
a wild boar, from which no man was ever known to
have escaped alive ; and, ere Conachar had proceeded
far, he was attacked by the fierce monster. Manfully
though he defended himself, his spear fell harmless on
his rough-skinned foe, and he would have been over­
powered had not the faithful Cu Mor joined in the
combat. The struggle was long and terrible, but in
the end the boar was slain. But, alas ! the dog also
received its death-wound, and expired at its master’s
feet. Conachar himself, thus saved by its devotion,
lived for many a day. He and his sword lie
beneath Clach-Ochonachair, at Innis-Ochonachair, in

1 The Forbeses trace their descent from Conachar’s son, John, to whom
King William the Lion granted the lands of Forbois, from which he took his
surname [History of the House and Clan of Mackay, 27]. Conachar’s son
Alexander, was employed by the same King to repel the Danes from Caith­
ness, and, having succeeded, received the territory of the vanquished, and
became the first Chief of the Clan Mac-Aoidh or Mackay [History of Clan
Mackay, 27 ; William Forbes’ Preface to “ Houss of Forbes”]. Archibald
Grant, the Bard of Glenmoriston, sings—

“ Rugadh air a’ mhuir a’ cheud fhear

O’n do shiollaich Clann Mhic Aoidh—

Conachar mor ruadh o’n chuan.”
That is, “ He was born on the sea from whom the Clan Mackay are descended—
Great Conachar the Red, from the ocean.” The Urquharts are descended from
another son of Conachar. The eccentric Sir Thomas Urquhart states, in his
True Pedigree, that in B.C. 554 “ Beltistos married Thomyris. This Beltistos
was surnamed Conachar, for which cause a certain progeny descended of him

14                  URQUHART AND GLENMORISTON.

Notwithstanding the Plantation of Moray, as the
removal of the native chiefs, and the settlement of
strangers in their place, was called, the natives
of Moray still continued to give trouble to the
Scottish kings. They looked with no friendly eye
on the recently established Romish Church and
the feudal institutions which it found politic to
foster ; and so freely did its possessions suffer at
their hands, that Pope Innocent found it necessary,
in 1215, to issue, from his far-off home on the
banks of the Tiber, a special protection to several
churches within the province. Among them was
that of our Parish—Ecclesia de Urchard ultra
1 The Pope invoked the curse of God, and
of Peter and Paul, on such as disturbed the churches
or their possessions ; but the Men of Moray cared for
none of these things, and Zion was not yet to enjoy
peace and felicity. In 1228, Gillespic MacScolane
placed himself at the head of the disaffected, and in
course of his career set fire to Inverness, burnt cer-

is till this hour called the generation of the Ochonachars, a race truly of great
antiquity and renown in the dominion of Ireland. Beltistos founded the
Castle of Urquhart above Innernasse [Inverness], which, being afterwards
completed by his posterity, hath ever since been called the Castle Vicki-
chonchar.” Nisbet, the antiquarian, states that a brother of Lord Forbes,
“ having in keeping the Castle of Urquhart, took his name from the place ;”
and William Forbes, in his Preface to the “ Houss of Forbes,” informs us that
Conachar’s second son “ was called Urquhart, of whom is descended the Laird
of Cromartie and the Urquharts ; and to testifie to all posteritie that they
descended of him that killed the beast, they caused erect just the like monu­
ments at the Castell of Urquhart as is lying at Logie, which is yet to be seen
there, as is alleadged.” It may be more than a coincidence that Inverness-shire
contains an Urquhart and an Innis-Ochonachair ; Ross-shire an Urquhart
and a Bad-Ochonachair ; and Fifeshire an Urquhart and a Kil-Conquhar

1 Registrum Moraviense, p. 43.

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                   15

tain castles, which were then built of timber, and
harried the lands belonging to the Church and the
Crown. The King marched against him in person,
without much effect ; but, in 1229, the insurgent
chief and his two sons were treacherously slain by
John Cumming, Justiciar or Chief-Justice of Scot­
land, who sent their heads to the King.1 The
long struggle of the Men of Moray for liberty thus
came to an end. Henceforth they dreamt no more
of a separate independence.

Upon the suppression of the insurrection the old
plan of bestowing the lands of the offenders upon
loyal strangers was resorted to. Urquhart was
granted to Thomas Durward,2 who possessed ex­
tensive estates in other parts of the kingdom,
and who was appointed to the then high office
of Sheriff of Inverness. He was succeeded by
his son, Sir Alan Durward, Justiciar of Scotland,
who, having married Marjory, an illegitimate
daughter of Alexander the Second, entered into
negotiations with the Pope to legitimate her,
and from whom was descended Nicholas de Soulis,
one of the claimants to the Crown after the death
of the Maid of Norway. Sir Alan coveted and
claimed a half davach3 of land in Urquhart,
which belonged to the church of the Parish,

1  Fordun ; Hailes’ Annals.

2 The name was derived from the office of King’s doorward (ostiarius), which
became hereditary in the family.

3 Glen-Urquhart consisted of ten davachs—deich dochan Urchudainn—
which varied in extent. The word is derived from the Gaelic dabhach, a vat.
Like boll, bushel, &c, it originally represented a measure of grain, and, also like
those words, came in time to be applied to a certain extent of land—an
extent, probably, sufficient to receive a dabhach of grain as seed. Certain
fields in Urquhart are still called bolls.


and the revenues of which were enjoyed by the
Chancellor of Moray. William, the Chancellor,
resisted the claim. Through the intervention of
the Bishop, the quarrel was ended by a com­
promise, the terms of which were embodied in a
Latin deed which does credit to the monkish
lawyers of the period. “That noble man,” Sir
Alan Durward, says this deed, after narrating the
cause of the dispute—“that noble man, for the
sake of peace, has given to the church of Urquhart
half the lands claimed, namely, the half of the half
davach which is called the half davach of the fore­
said church, in pure, free, and perpetual charity.
But he and his heirs will possess the other half of
the half davach in perpetual feu-farm, giving there­
for yearly to the church of Urquhart ten shillings,
namely, five shillings at Pentecost [Whitsunday],
and five shillings at the feast of St Martin [Martin­
mas] in winter next following. But further the
said church of Urquhart will have one whole croft
and one toft of four acres assigned to the said
church near it, in a suitable and convenient place,
in gift of the said noble man, in pure, free, and
perpetual charity.” 1

1 Reg. Morav., 96. The lands in dispute were those of Achmonie, which
originally extended from Drumbuie to Cartaly (Reg. Morav., 155). The part
retained by the Church under this Agreement was Achmonie proper : the
portion ceded to Durward was Culnakirk, which, at a later period, fell to the
Crown, and was granted to John Grant of Glenmoriston in 1509. In 1557
Achmonie proper was sold to John Mackay. Latterly its revenues seem to have
gone to the Bishop. The return made for lands held by the Church in
pure charity (in puram eleemosynam) consisted of prayers and supplications
for the grantor during his life, and masses for his soul after death. No
pecuniary payments or military services were exacted.

OLDEN TIMES IN THE PARISH.                   17

The deed was executed in March, 1233, and wit­
nessed by Gylleroch de Urchard and others.

Sir Alan Durward died in 1275 without male
issue, and his estates were divided among his three
daughters. His great rivals, the Cummings of
Badenoch, seem soon afterwards to have obtained
possession of Urquhart Castle and its domain, and
to have retained it until the troubles that followed
the death of King Alexander the Third.


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