Small Village Holds Onto Centuries Old Grudge, Refuses To Listen To Reason
Edinburgh (Reuters) It has been three years since the death of actor Larry Hagman, whose iconic character J.R. Ewing caused trouble, stabbed people in the back, and generally made life hell for everyone on two incarnations of the series Dallas. The actor, who passed away from leukemia in 2012, was well liked personally, despite playing one of the small screen’s more vindictive, conniving, and compelling sort of villains- it depends on how you define a villain, after all; Dallas pretty much revolved around the character.
In 1980, the world seemingly was occupied with the mystery of who shot J.R., something that seems unthinkable now in a 500 channel fragmented television world where no single show will ever see those kind of ratings again. Seemingly, that is, because one village in the heart of the Scottish highlands went out of their way to express their disdain by ignoring the series entirely.
The village of MacDubh, with an estimated current population of 1200, is in a sleepy corner of the picturesque Scottish highlands. It’s not quite Brigadoon, but it would fit the stereotype- tartans, thick Scottish brogues, and haggis eaten every Robert Burns Day. Tourists often visit while in the area, finding welcoming Scottish pubs, old fashioned sensibilities, and stories of encounters with the Loch Ness monster.
There is one exception to their hospitality. Any single person who’s ever visited going by the initials of their first and middle names as J.R. is seen as an object of scorn, hostility, and derision. It doesn’t matter if one is Jonathan Ryan or June Rose. The hostility extends to a Joseph Roger or a Jane Roxanne. The antagonism remains the same. Hence in 1980, the villagers completely ignored a mystery unfolding on television that even enthralled the Queen Mother, to the point where she asked Hagman who had shot his character.
“Admittedly, to an outsider, it might seem ridiculous,” Colleen McTavish, a local Presbyterian minister admitted to this reporter. “Holding a grudge for centuries against anyone bearing the same initials as that.... that.... that... oh, hell with it! That underhanded cheating demonic conniving bastard Jack Robert McCullough!!!! A curse on him and his kin!”
Jack Robert McCullough, otherwise known as J.R. McCullough, lived in MacDubh in the late 1750s. A brigand, thief, scoundrel, cheater at card games, and occasional barrister, McCullough disappeared in 1759 after cheating the villagers out of their savings. After a few minutes of ranting and roaring about the “McCullough scum”, McTavish explained the story. “It was a prosperous village for the time. Now imagine a whole village losing nearly every spare cent they had. Taken by a swindling sneaky snake of a.... I’m getting worked up again, aren’t I? Anyway, as I said, taken by a swindler who lined his pockets and conned them all. The villagers were furious, as you can imagine.”
Furious enough to have torches and pitchforks at the ready in a village meeting, as it turns out. On the night of October 30th, 1759, the villagers assembled, the truth about McCullough exposed, venting their fury and deciding to string McCullough up. As the story goes, they found no trace of him at his home- an open front door, signs of bags being packed, and no trace of the swindler. “It was as if he’d vanished in the night,” McTavish admitted with a sigh. “There were rumours in the weeks afterwards, sightings here and there in the Highlands. His family was questioned, but as far as we know, none of them ever heard from him again.”
This reporter posted the obvious question- could we, centuries later, just take the word of the villagers that McCullough had just vanished? What if one of them had killed him and hidden the body?
McTavish had to concede the point. “It’s a fair argument. That much anger from so many people. I mean, they were all ready to kill him anyway. I suppose it’s possible that one of them might have killed him instead of him escaping into the night. The problem is that the money he stole never turned up afterwards, so...”
But why hold onto a grudge all this time? It’s a perplexing question, particularly when the grudge is applied to people, real and fictional, who have no connection to McCullough. McTavish put that into context. “When it was apparent to the villagers that McCullough was gone, two things happened. First, they vented by burning his house down. Second, a blood oath of vengeance was taken, a Highland oath that no matter how long it would last, for the rest of time, J.R. McCullough and all who shared his initials would bear the contempt and scorn of the village. It’s a contempt and a hatred that has been passed down from generation to generation. From fathers to sons, mothers to daughters. No J.R. can ever, ever be trusted. All J.R.s must be treated as suspect. All J.R.s must be confronted with antagonism. And we’ve lived by that oath ever since.”
This explains at least one story from the late Hagman, who in an interview with Time in 1998 spoke about a vacation he took several years earlier in the Scottish Highlands. “My wife and I turned up in this village,” Hagman said at the time. “Lovely spot, really, beautiful mountains, rolling hills, idyllic. I walked into a crowded pub, looked around, and suddenly the conversation and music and everything else just stopped. Everyone stared at us. Stared at me, really. And it wasn’t the sort of stare of recognition you get from the fans who realize that hey, it’s that actor. It’s the kind of stare that it’s like daggers. I mean, I saw so much hostility in those eyes... I’ve never seen that in anyone. Long story short, my wife and I were running for our lives back to our car, with villagers on our heels screaming kill the bastard right behind us. The local police in the next village over apologized to us, said it was a cultural thing with that village. They just hated all J.R.s. I don’t know why... I mean, for one thing, it was just a character I played, and for another, who could possibly hate J.R. Ewing?”
McTavish nodded when asked about that. “Yes, okay, it wasn’t our finest hour. It happened. We got carried away with ourselves. We chased this American actor out of the village, screamed bloody murder, all because we recognized him for playing a character named J.R. years ago. These things happen when you involve Highland curses. But there’s one thing I’d like to add. I never said kill the bastard while I was chasing Mr. Hagman.” She paused for a moment, looking grave.
“I might have said kill the mother****er. Wait, don’t quote me on that, I’m a minister.”