Alexander Macrae.

History of the clan Macrae with genealogies online

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The words were hardly spoken when Duncan came
in with four heads bound together with a rope of
twisted twigs. " Tell me now," said Duncan, as he
threw the heads down before his master, " if I have
not earned my supper."


There was once a famous archer of the Clan Macrae
called Fionnla Dubh nam Fiadlr (Black Finlay of
the Deer). He was forester of Glencannich. While
Finlay was occupying this position, a certain Mac-
donald of Glengarry, who had fled from his own
home for murder, took refuge in the forest, having
obtained permission from one of the chief men of the
Mackenzies, not only to take refuge there, but even
to help himself to anything he could lay his hands
on unknown to Finlay. One day Finlay and another
man went out to hunt in a part of the forest which
was the usual haunt of the best and fattest deer.
To their great surprise they found Macdonald hunt-
ing there also. Finlay asked him who gave him

1 Pages 34, 35.

2 Fionnla Dubh nam Fiadh belonged to a tribe of Macraes called Clann a
Cbruitear (the descendants of the harper). Those belonging to this tribe
were generally of a very dark complexion. It is said they were not of the
original stock of Macraes, but were descended from a foreign harper, who was
brought into the country by one of the Mackenzies, and who settled down
there and adopted the name Macrae.



permission to be there. " That's none of your busi-
ness," replied Macdonald ; " I mean to kill as many
deer as I please, and you shall not prevent me."
Thus a cpiarrel arose between theim and the end of
it was that Finlay shot Macdonald through the
heart with an arrow, and cast his body into a lake
called Lochan Uine Gleannan nam Fiadh (the green
lake of the glen of the deer). After a time Mac-
donald's friends in Glengarry began to wonder what
had become of him, but at last a rumour reached
them that he had been killed by Fionnla Dubh nam

On hearing this they formed a party of twelve
strong and able men to go to Glencannich to make
inquiries, and, if necessary, to take vengeance on
Finlay. On arriving at Glencannich the first house
they came to was Finlay's. His wife met them at
the door, and as they did not know that this was
Finlay's house, they stated the object of their visit,
and asked if she could give them any directions or
information. She told them to come in and rest.
They did so, and as they were tired and hungry they
were not sorry to see her making preparations to
show them hospitality. Meantime Finlay, who was
in the other end of the house, began to amuse him-
self by playing on his trump or Jews' harp. The
Glengarry men were so engrossed and interested in
the conversation of their hostess that they took no
notice of Finlay's music. She, however, listened
attentively to it, and from the tune lie was playing
she understood that he wished her to poison her
guests. She accordingly contrived to mix a certain


kind of poison, used by her husband to kill foxes, in
the rennet with which she was preparing some curds
and cream which she set before them. They partook
freely of this dish, and eleven of them died from the
effects of the poison shortly after they left the house.
Finlay then went out and buried them. The twelfth
man, however, managed to make his way back to
Glengarry, where he told his fellow clansmen what
had happened.

The chief, hearing of it, chose eleven strong and
brave men to return to Glencannich with this sur-
vivor, who undertook to act as their guide and lead
them straight to Fiulay's house. Now, though this
man had already been to Finlay's house, he had not
actually seen Finlay himself, and would therefore be
unable to recognise him. In due time the Glengarry
men reached the brow of a hill opposite to Finlay's
house, where they found a man cutting turfs. This
was Finlay himself, but he received them with such
calm indifference that they never suspected who he
was. They asked him if he knew where Finlay was,
or if he was at home. " Well," replied Finlay,
pointing to his own house, " when I was at that
house just now, Finlay was there too." The Glen-
garry men, thinking the prize was now within their
grasp, hurried to the house without looking behind,
and so did not observe that Finlay was following
after them. As they crowded in at the door, Finlay
called to his wife through the back window to hand
him out his bow and quiver. His wife did so, and
Finlay then took his stand in a convenient position
with his bow and arrows. " Come out," shouted he


to the Glengarry men, " the man yon want is here."
They rushed out, but he shot them dead one after
another before they were able to reach him. He
then buried them along with his former victims, and
shortly afterwards moved down to his winter quarters
at Achyaragan in Glenelchaig.

After a time Glengarry began to wonder what
had become of his messengers, and so he sent yet
another twelve to make enquiries about them and to
punish Finlay. As these men were passing by
Abercalder, in the neighbourhood of Fort-Augustus,
on their way to Glencannich, they got into con-
versation with a man who was ploughing in a field.
The man innocently told them that he was Finlay's
brother, whereupon they immediately struck their
dirks into him and left him dead in the shafts of the
plough. On finding that Finlay had left Glen-
cannich they followed him to Glenelchaig, where
it so happened that the first man they met was
Finlay himself, who was out hunting on Mamantuirc.
They began to ask him questions about the man
they were in search of, which he answered to their
satisfaction, and as they walked along he conversed
with them with a freedom which prevented any
suspicion on their part. But on parting with them
he quickly took up his stand in a favourable position,
and shouting out that he was the man they wanted,
killed them all with his arrows before they could lay
hands on him. The last of the twelve took to flight
and was killed while in the act of leaping across a
waterfall. His name was Leiry, and the waterfall
is called Eas leum Leiridh (the waterfall of Leiry's


leap) to this day. When Mackenzie of Kintail
heard of the murder of Finlay's brother at Aber-
calder he applied for a commission of fire and sword
against Glengarry, who was also making preparations
on his own account to retaliate for the slaughter of
his men by Finlay. The Mackenzies and the Mac-
donalds met and fought their first battle at the Pass
of Beallach Mhalagan, in the heights of Glensheil.
During the fight Finlay took shelter with his bow
and quiver behind a large stone, which is still
pointed out, and continued to pour a deadly shower
of arrows among the Macdonalds until at last they
took to flight. After the fight was over, Mackenzie
made his men sit down to rest and to partake of
some food. Observing Finlay among them he turned
round to him and charged him with cowardice
for taking shelter behind the stone during the fight.
" You are very good," said he, " at raising a quarrel,
but you are a very poor hand at quelling it."
" Don't say more," replied Finlay, " until you have
examined your dead foes." When the dead Mac-
donalds were examined it was found that no fewer
than twenty-four of the chief men among the slain
had fallen to Finlay's arrows.

One day, as Finlay lay ill in bed at Fadoch,
suffering from a wound in the head, a travelling
leech from Glengarry happened to visit the district.
He was called in to see Finlay, who felt much
relieved by his treatment. As the leech continued
his journey in the direction of Camusluinie, he met
a woman, who asked him how the patient was.
" He is much better, and will soon be quite well,"


replied the leech. " Agus leighels thu Fionnla
Dubh nam Fiadh " (And you have cured Black
Finlay of the Deer), replied the woman. The leech
did not know until now who his patient was, and
upon learning that it was Fionnla Dubh nam Fiadh,
he returned again to the house, and on a pretence
of having neglected something that ought to have
been done, in order to make the cure certain,
proceeded to examine the wound in the patient's
head once more. In the course of the examination
he drove a probing needle through the wound into his
brain, and as the blood gushed out some of it flowed
into Finlay's mouth. " Is milis an deoch a thug thu
dhomh " (Sweet is the drink you have given me),
said he. and with these words he expired. The
leech then left the house, and continued his journey.
When the sons of Duncan returned and found their
father dead, they set out at once in pursuit of the
leech. They overtook him among the hills above
Leault, killed him, and buried him on a spot which
is still pointed out. Finlay himself was buried at




John Breac 1 used sometimes to go in attendance on
Seaforth to the meeting of the Scottish Parliament
at Perth, and on one of those occasions Seaforth's
sword was stolen from the hall of the house where

iPage 170.


he was living in the town. The next time Seaforth
went to the meeting of Parliament John Breac, who
was with him, recognised the stolen sword in the
possession of one of the followers of Lochiel. John
charged the man with the theft, beat him soundly,
and took the sword from him. When Lochiel heard
of the ignominious treatment to which his man had
been subjected he swore that he would execute sum-
mary vengence on any Kintail man afterwards found
among the Camerons in Lochaber. Shortly after his
return to Kintail John Breac missed three of his
horses from his farm at Duilig. He at once set out
on their track, and traced them all the way to Loch-
aber, where he found them in a field, and some men
trying- to catch them. John went into the field and
helped the men to catch the horses, for which they
thanked him, but they had no suspicion who he was,
nor did he tell them the object of his visit. He
asked them, however, if Lochiel was at home, and
they told him he was. He then went to the house,
but it was early morning and Lochiel was still in
bed. • John told the servant that his business was
very urgent, and desired to be conducted to Lochiel's
bedroom. " Who are you, and where do you come
from ? " asked Lochiel when he saw the stranger
entering his bedroom. " I come from Kintail," re-
plied John. " From Mackenzie's Kintail or Mackay's
Kintail?" 1 asked Lochiel. "From Mackenzie's,"
replied John. "Then you are a very bold man,"
continued Lochiel. "Are you riot aware that I have
vowed vengence against any Kintail man found in

1 See Note, page 16,


my country?" "I am well aware of it," replied
John, " and what is more, I believe I was the cause
of your vow." John then quietly took possession of
Lochiel's sword, which was hanging on the wall by
the bedside, and, explaining who he was, swore that
he would deal with him as he dealt with his man in
Perth if he did not at once retract his vow against
the men of Kintail, and order the stolen horses to
be sent back to Duilig. Lochiel, who clearly saw
that John Breac was a man who meant what he
said, readily granted both requests, rather than run
the risk of being ignominiously beaten like a dog.


About the time of the battle of Sheriffmuir there
lived in Kintail a certain Maurice Macrae, known as
Muireach Fial (Maurice the Generous). He was a
man of some means, and lent money to the Chisholm
of Strathglass, in return for which he received certain
grazing rights on the lands of Auric. Maurice and
his wife used to go once a year to Inverness to sell
butter and cheese, which they carried on horseback
through the Chisholm country. On one occasion,
as they were returning home, they were met by a
party of Strathglass men, who invited Maurice to
drink with them in Struy Inn. Maurice accepted
the invitation, and being of a convivial disposition,
was in no hurry to leave. His wife, having vainly
endeavoured to induce him to resume his journey,
started leisurely alone, expecting that her husband
would soon overtake her. But Maurice did not



follow, and his wife, at last becoming anxious on his
account, hurried home to Kintail, where a party
was immediately organised to go in search of him.
They searched all over Strathglass, and having made
many inquiries without obtaining any information,
they returned back to Kintail. On returning home
one of their number disguised himself as a poor idiot,
and went to Strathglass, where he wandered about
begging his way from door to door, but at the same
time keeping a careful watch for any trace or talk of
the missing Maurice. One night, while lying at the
door of a house, he heard someone tapping at the
window. He listened attentively, and soon heard
the man at the window and the master of the house
talking about the bradan tarragheal (thewhite-bellied
salmon), which was tied to a bush and concealed in
a certain pool in the river. When the conversation
ceased and the visitor took his departure, the Kintail
man, wondering what was meant by the salmon,
stole quietly away to the pool mentioned, and there
found the body of Maurice, who had been murdered
by some of the Strathglass men, and whose body had
been hidden in the river in a dark pool under a thick
bush. He drew the body out of the water, carried
it some distance away to a safe hiding-place, and
then set out in all haste to Kintail.

When the people of Kintail heard what had
happened they formed a large party and went to
fetch the body home to Kilduich. As they were
passing by Oomar churchyard, in Strathglass, on
the way back to Kintail, they came upon a large
funeral party who were in the act of burying one of


the principal men of Strathglass. As the stone was
being placed on the grave, four of the Kintail men
stepped into the churchyard and carried the stone
away. This was done in order to provoke a fight,
that they might have an opportunity of avenging
the death of Maurice. As the challenge was not
accepted they carried the stone all the way to Kil-
duich and placed it over Maurice's grave, where it is
still pointed out. Maurice might have been murdered
for the sake of the money he was carrying home with
him from Inverness, but the people of Kir. tail sus-
pected that the murder was instigated by some one
connected with the Chisholm, who did not like to
see a stranger's cattle grazing on the hills of Affric,
and the tradition further says that as soon as
Maurice was dead all his cattle were stolen from
their grazing by the Chisholm's men. Years after-
wards, when Maurice's son, then an old man, was
lying on his death-bed, a certain neighbour called
Murachadh Buidh nam Meoir (yellow Murdoch of
the fingers) went to see him. It was a cold day,
and as Murdoch, who was asked to replenish the
fire, was in the act of breaking up an old disused
settle for fuel, he found concealed in it the parch-
ment bond of the above-mentioned agreement be-
tween the Chisholm and Muireach Fial.


Fearachar Mac Ian Oig 1 lived at Achyark, and was
a man of note in Kintail. It was in the time of
Colin Earl of Seaforth, and the rents were very

l Page 187.


heavy. To make matters worse, the bailiff who col-
lected them was a very unpopular man, and was in
the habit of exacting certain payments on his own
account. A quarrel having arisen about a certain
tribute which Farquhar refused to pay, the bailiff
went to Achyark one day while Farquhar was out
hunting, and, taking advantage of his absence,
carried away a cow and a copper kettle in payment
of the disputed tribute. When Farquhar returned
home, his wife told him that if he were half a man
the bailiff would not dare to do what he did. This
taunt roused him to such fury that he immediately
set out with his loaded gun in pursuit of the bailiff,
whom he overtook at the river Conag. As the
bailiff was crossing the river, with the kettle on his
back, Farquhar shot him dead. When he returned
home he told his wife what he had done. " You
silly woman," said he, "you have caused me to work
my own ruin. I must now look to my safety, and
you must take care of yourself the best way you
can." He then fled for safety in the direction of
Loch Hourn, where he had an uncle living. When
he reached Coalas nam Bo (the strait of the cows),
on Loch Hourn, in the dead of the night, he began
-to shout across the ferry to his uncle, who was living
on the other side. When the uncle heard him he
recognised his voice, and roused his own sons, who
were asleep in bed. " Get up," said he, "I hear
Farquhar, my brother's son, shouting to be ferried,
with a tone of mischief in his voice." The young
men at once got up, and brought Farquhar across
the ferry. When his uncle asked him what the


matter was, Farquhar told him that he had killed
Domhuull Mac Dhonnachaidh Mhic Fhionnlaidh
Dhuibh nam Fiadh (Donald, the son of Duncan, the
son of Black Finlay of the Deer). "If that is all,"
replied the uncle, " it does not matter much, for if
you had not killed him, I should kill him myself."
Farquhar hid with his uncle for some months, and
then took up his abode in a cave in Coire-Gorm-a-
Bheallaich, in Glenlic. This he made his hiding-
place for seven years, careful never to appear to any
but his most trusted friends. He never left his
hiding-place without placing a copper coin in a
certain position on a stone at the mouth of the cave,
his idea being that if anyone had visited and dis-
• covered his hiding-place in his absence they would
be sure either to take the coin away or, at all events,
to handle it, and move it from the position in which
he had left it. It is said that in those times, if
a murderer succeeded in evading the law for seven
years, he could not afterwards be punished, and so,
at the end of seven years, Farquhar, considering
himself a free man, suddenly appeared one day at a
funeral in Kilduich. His friends were delighted to
see him again, and having paid a ransom to the
representatives of the murdered man, he was hence-
forth able to go about the country in safety. On
one occasion, when taunted on being a murderer by
one of the bailiff's friends, Farquhar replied, " Ma
mharbh mis 'e nach d' ith sibh fhein e ? " (If I killed
him, have you not eaten him yourselves ?) This
reply referred to the ransom which in those days
would probably consist of food and cattle. Seaforth,


however, would not forgive the murderer of his
bailiff, and so he sent a message to caution Farquhar
never on any account to come into his presence.
Shortly afterwards, Seaforth was fitting out an
expedition for the Lews, and gave instructions that
his men should meet on a certain day at Poolewe.
When Seaforth arrived there he was disappointed
to find so few of his men waiting for him. " How,"
said one of the Kintail men, " can you expect your
men to respond to you, when you won't allow the
bravest of them to come into your presence ? "
"And who is the bravest of them ? " asked Seaforth.
" Fearachar Mac Ian Oig," was the reply, " and he
would soon be here if you would only restore him
to the position he occupied before the murder of the
bailiff." Seaforth consented to do this, and Far-
quhar, who was in concealment near by, was imme-
diately introduced, and became reconciled to his chief
there and then. The tradition says that in the
course of this expedition Farquhar proved himself
one of the bravest and best of Seaforth's followers.


There was hardly any event in the past history of
Kintail around which there gathered more legendary
and traditional lore than the famous Glenlic hunt, in
which Murdoch, son of Alexander of Inverinate, lost
his life, and which has been already referred to. 1
The reason for this was no doubt the mystery
surrounding Murdoch's death, and the series of

1 Pages 84-85.


elegies composed during the fifteen days that the
search for his body continued. His death was sup-
posed by many people to have been the work (if
some evil spirit, and for many generations it was
considered unsafe to pass at night by the spot where
the body was found, as strange sights were seen
there and strange noises heard, and, most convincing
of all, mysterious marks, as of a round foot with
long claws, used to be seen on the otherwise smooth
unbroken surface of the snow that fell there in
winter. But there was one man in the district who
was proof, at all events, against any fear of the evd
spirit by which the scene of the tragedy was believed
to be haunted. This was a redoubtable weaver
called Am Breabadair Og (the young weaver), who
lived at the Cro of Kintail, and who always carried
a brace of pistols with him wherever he went.
Having resolved to challenge the evil spirit to meet
him, he carefully loaded his pistols with silver
buttons— silver being, according to a well-known
belief of olden times, a metal which for shooting
purposes was proof against the power of witches and
evil spirits alike. Thus fortified, he set out as the
night came on to the haunted spot, determined to
challenge and shoot any thing, whatever it might be,
that chanced to come across his path. Nothing
happened, however, the first night, and so he
repeated his watch the second night also without
any result. This went on for fourteen nights in
succession, and still the weaver's watches were
disturbed by neither voice nor vision. But on the
fifteenth night, which, it may be observed, corre-


sponded with the number of days the search for
Murdoch's body lasted, the weaver returned home
crestfallen, exhausted, and silent. Nobody was
ever told what he saw or heard on that night, but
he had evidently failed to drive away the evil spirit,
which continued to haunt the place as before.


Of all the Macrae heroes there is no one whose name
enters so largely into the later traditions of Kintail
as Donnacha Mor Mac Alister. 1 It is said that when
Duncan was a mere lad he went on one occasion
with his mother to sell butter and cheese at Inver-
lochy (Fort-William). On the way home Duncan
sulked and fell behind, because his mother refused
to give him money to buy a " bonnet " for himself.
As they continued the homeward journey along
Locharkaig side the mother was attacked by three
Lochaber robbers, who not only took her money
from her, but also a silver brooch, an heirloom which
she prized very greatly. The conduct of her son,
who refused to give any help, annoyed her so much
that she called out to one of the robbers that she
had still one coin left, and she would give it to him
if he would thrash her son for her. " Easan am bog
chuilean " (he, the soft whelp), contemptuously re-
plied the robber, and going up to Duncan, struck
him on the face with the back of his hand. This
was more than the sulking lad could stand, and

iPage 198.


being now roused to action, he fell upon the robbers,
beat them, and recovered his mother's money and

Duncan once went to see his aunt in Lochaber,
and after wading the Garry river, he continued
his journey across the Pass of Coire 'n t' Shagairt.
As the darkness came on he arrived at a lonely
sheiling, and asked pel-mission to pass the night
there. The mistress of the sheiling received him
very coldly, and refused his request, but Duncan
had made up his mind to remain, and refused to go.
Presently the daughter of the mistress came in from
the milking of the cows, and proceeded to turn
Duncan out by force. A struggle ensued, but
Duncan's chivalry led him to acknowledge himself
beaten. His strength, however, gained him the
respect of the mistress, and he received permission
to remain overnight. He then sat down and took
off his shoes and stockings to cool his feet. When
the mistress of the sheiling saw his feet she re-
cognised him, by some mark or peculiarity about
them, as a connection of her own family. It turned