The Deil o’ Glenisla had many names back in his days of his glory: the King o’Lintrathen, Bamff, or just plain Ramsay. Nowadays he would be wearing a security tag on his leg, but a few generations ago he was honoured as a lovable rogue in print (in Blairgowrie, Stormont and Strathmore Worthies by Henry Dryerre (1903) ) and celebrated as a sort of local Rob Roy. James Ramsay was born in Dundee and claimed descent from the Ramsays of Bamff, which has never been established. For whatever reason, he relocated to the Kirkton of Glenisla and terrorised north-west Angus and the neighbouring parts of Perthshire with his unique brand of criminality for over forty years. Being in an upland parish provided Ramsay with the ready opportunity for whisky smuggling and he was often outwitting the hapless gaugers (excisemen). One story has him journeying down a lane in his horse and cart when he spotted the gaugers laying in wait up ahead. He quickly removed his stash of spirits and hid them beneath some pig manure and allowed his goods to be searched by the officials when they stopped him. This violation of his civil liberties later came in handy, because, when he retrieved the whisky from the farmyard, he also carried away three or four chickens that ‘persisted in getting in is way’. The official search of his transport gave him the perfect alibi that he had not stolen the creatures. Removal of livestock became a speciality of the Deil. On one occasion he purloined a cow and sold it at market before the enraged farmed noticed it was missing and on another occasion he audaciously drove a dozen sheep all the way to Dundee and sold them there without being caught.
Maybe it was a mark of the man, a peculiarity of the district, or the habit of the age, but whenever a local person noticed that some article was missing, he went to the Deil and engaged in a bit of polite word play. The victim never accused the Deil, only happened to mention that they had a lack of a certain item, then the Deil would kindly hand them back the possession he had stolen. But if it happened to be an item of foodstuff, then there was no chance of retrieving it. A publican stole back his own spade from the Deil’s cart one day when he wasn’t looking and had to get it back again the same day when it was stolen off him again. When the minister gave him a lift on the back of his horse on the way to Kirriemuir market (with the warning to behave himself), the Deil pranked him when he was asked to dismount. Instead of getting off, he dug his heels into the horse, making it career off, with the furious minister and himself. As they vanished into the distance he shouted to the amusement of the crowd: ‘Ha, ha! Juist see here – the Deil’s awa wi the minister!’ Another trick was the occasion when he ordered two pairs of boots from different cobblers and only had one of each pair delivered, promising to pay cash on delivery for the pair when he had enough money to get the second shoe. Of course, he matched up the left and right shoe from each pair and never bothered to pay for the remaining shoe of each pair. He was happy with the slightly odd pair of shoes in his ownership and declared truthfully, ‘And far wad ye get a cheaper pair?’
The farmer of Pitewan rather trustingly asked the Deil to go to a local ironmonger and get him to fit a pair of iron rings for his cart and deliver them to David Grewar the blacksmith, at Pitmuddie. On the way to the smiddy the farmer met the Deil and asked him if he got the rings. ‘Deed did I,’ said Ramsay. ‘Jist look at them. Man, aren’t they rinnin roond fine?’ The rings were of course fitted to his own cart and he sped off away from the infuriated farmer before anything could be done. How the farmer must have chuckled at the lovable rogue who robbed him blind!