Alexander Macrae.

History of the clan Macrae with genealogies online

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out that she was the aunt he had come to Lochaber
to see. Next morning his cousin, who wanted to
put his skill as a hunter to the test, told him there
was a herd of deer among the cattle. Duncan went
out, killed two of them, and brought them in for
breakfast. On returning home, after spending a few
pleasant days with his aunt and her daughter, he
found the Garry river in flood. At the river he
met his mother's foster brother, Dugald Macdonald,
who, on being asked by Duncan if the river was


fordable, taunted him for hesitating to wade across.
Duncan then plunged in, but was very nearly-
drowned before he got to the other side. Dugald
afterwards went to Glensheil to see Duncan's mother.
He met Duncan fishing on the River Sheil, which
was in flood, but did not recognise him. Dugald
told him where he was going, and asked him to show
the way. Duncan pointed out his own father's
house on the other side of the river. Dugald then
attempted to ford the river, but would have been
drowned if Duncan had not come to his rescue.
Thus Duncan proved himself to be the stronger of
the two. When Dugald was leaving Glensheil,
Duncan's father gave him a thrashing for tempting
Duncan to run the risk of wading the Garry river
when it was in such high flood, and reminded him
that if Duncan had been drowned then, he would
not be alive to save Dugald from drowning in the
River Sheil. Duncan's mother always used to say
ever after this that though her husband was so good
to her she could not forget how he thrashed her
foster brother.

It has already been mentioned 1 that William
Earl of Seaforth appointed Duncan Captain of the
Freiceadan or Guard, whose duty it was to protect
the marches of Kintail from the plundering raids of
the Lochaber cattle lifters. Seaforth had heard of
Duncan's strength and courage, but before entrusting
him with such a difficult and responsible post he
resolved to satisfy himself as to the truth of what
he had heard about him. He accordingly invited

i Page 198.


Duncan to come to see him in Brahan Castle.
When Duncan arrived at Brahan, Seaforth received
him alone in a room in the Castle. After some con-
versation, Seaforth locked the door of the room,
drew his sword, and called upon Duncan to clear
himself at once of some imaginary charge, or he
would take his life. Duncan, who had left his sword
in the hall of the Castle, had no weapon to defend
himself with, but Seaforth's hound was lying on the
floor close by. Duncan seized it by the legs and
threw it at Seaforth, and, before Seaforth could
recover from his surprise, Duncan took his sword
from him. Seaforth was so pleased with Duncan's
promptness and coolness that he at once decided to
make him the Captain of his Guard.

At one time a band of Camerons came to Lochalsh
and stole a large number of cattle from Matheson of
Fernaig. When this became known, Duncan and
his men set out in pursuit. They soon discovered
the track of the spoilers, and they overtook them on
the borders of Lochiel's country. A fight ensued, in
which the Camerons had the worst of it. Not only
was the cattle recovered, but in the course of the
fight Duncan, assisted by his brother Eonachan and
Matheson of Fernaig, the owner of the cattle, over-
came Lochiel's three chief warriors, and led them
prisoners to Kintail. When Seaforth heard of this
he sent a bantering message to Lochiel asking him
to come and ransom his champions from their prison.
Lochiel sent for the prisoners, but at the same time
replied to Seaforth that the Kintail men could never
have taken the Cameron champions prisoners in fair


fight. Seaforth then offered to send three men from
Kintail to Lochiel to challenge any three of the
Camerons to a friendly contest of feats of strength.
Seaforth wanted the same three men to go, but his
father would not allow Eonachan to be one of the
three because he was too young, and because his
impulsive and hasty temper might cause the friendly
contest to end in a quarrel. Eonachan's place
had to be taken by his brother Donald. Duncan,
Donald, and Matheson of Fernaig then set out for
Lochiel's castle at Achnacarry. On the way it
occurred to Duncan that his brother Donald had
not yet tried the strength of any of the Cameron
champions, and so, when next they stopped to rest,
Duncan proposed to his brother that they should
wrestle together. They did so, and Duncan was
soon satisfied that his brother was equal to the best
of the Camerons. When they arrived at Achna-
carry Castle they were received with much hos-
pitality, and liberally supplied with food and drink.
In due time the hall of the castle was cleared, and
a large number of men who had come together to
witness the contest were brought in. The opposing
champions stood forth and began a wrestling match.
The Camerons in each case had the worst of it, and
Lochiel was so much disgusted with his champions
that he kicked them out at the door. He then in-
vited the Kintail men to join in the feast with his
other guests, which they did. As the cup circulated
freely and the evening wore on, some of the Came-
rons began to betray their real feelings towards the
vanquishers of their champions, and occasionally cast


threatening glances at Duncan and his companions.
But Lochiel's lady, being anxious to avoid bloodshed,
contrived to warn the men of their danger.
Duncan took the hint, and taking advantage of the
first favourable opportunity, he quietly got his com-
panions out without exciting any suspicions, while
he himself was engaged in conversation with Lochiel.
Shortly afterwards he slipped out also and joined
them. The night was dark and stormy, but they
betook themselves to the mountains of Glengarry.
When they reached the river Garry towards break
of day, they found the Camerons in close pursuit
with firearms. The Kintail men plunged into the
flooded river and with much difficulty gained the
other side ; but the Camerons would not venture to
try the river, and so they returned home after
following the Kintail men for many miles to no

Another version of this legend says that during
the feast some of the Camerons made the door fast
to prevent the escape of the Macraes, and that a
servant girl (perhaps from Kintail) made them aware
of this by whispering to one of them to get out by
the window, and that on a signal from Duncan they
rushed for the door, broke it open, and escaped into
the darkness, challenging the Camerons at the same
time to follow them.

When Duncan was a young man, he lived for
some time at Killechuinard, and at night used to
swim across Lochduich to Inverinate to see his
sweetheart. On one occasion, as he was half-way
across, he suddenly came into collision with a bull


swimming in the opposite direction. The angry bull
tried to gore him, and though Duncan was a power-
ful swimmer, he did not think he could swim against
a Highland bull. So he cleverly contrived to get on
the bull's back, and, seizing hold of his horns, he
compelled the animal to swim back with him to

Though Duncan was a warrior of renown and a
mighty hunter, he was also very tender-hearted, and
always ready to help anyone in distress. On one
occasion a servant at his father's sheiling at Caorun,
in the Heights of Cluanie, was taken ill of a virulent
fever, and while others were afraid to go near her,
Duncan took her in his arms and carried her all the
way down to Glenshiel, where she received proper
attendance and recovered from her illness. She
afterwards composed a song about Duncan's kind-
ness, of which the following is the only verse that
now seems to be known : —

Se nigh'n Alastair Rhuaidh

A rug a bhuaidh,

'S cha be na fuar mhic greananach ;

Se fear mo ghaoil

A macan caomh,

A rinu sa Chaorun eallach dhiam. 1

It has already been stated 2 that Duncan was
killed at Sheriffmuir, where, according to tradition,
he fought in command of the Kintail contingent of

1 It was the daughter of Alister Roy (Duncan's maternal grandfather)
that brought forth virtue (or blessing) and not cold and surly sons — the man
of my love is her gentle son, who took me up as a burden at Caorun,
2 Page 198.


Seaforth's regiments. Mention has also been made
of the stone which he set up at Achnagart as he and
his followers were leaving Kintail on that occasion.
It is said that in the retreat after the battle he killed
seven troopers, one after another, with his claymore,
until at last one of them came upon him with a pair
of loaded pistols, shot him, and left him for dead on
the field. 1 During the night another Kintail man
called John Macrae, and commonly known as Ian
Mac Fhionnla Mhic Ian Bhuidhe, 2 who had lost his
shoes in some marshy ground, and was also severely
wounded, revived sufficiently to think of leaving the
fatal field under cover of the darkness, and com-
mence the homeward journey. He accordingly began
to search among the dead for a pair of shoes. In the
course of the search he came upon Duncan, who was
still alive and able to speak, and whose voice John
immediately recognised. "Oh, Dhonnachaidh bhoc,"
said John, " 'n tusa tha so, ciod e a thachair riut ? "
(0, poor Duncan, is that you ; what has happened to
you ?) " Thug iad a nasgaidh mi le n cuid peileiran
beag" (They have done for me without any trouble
with their little bullets, replied Duncan.) He then
asked for a drink, and John, having no other means

1 In British Battles on Land and Sea, James Grant, in his description of
Sheriffmuir, gives a slightly different account of the death of Duncan Mor.
He Bays that :-" Under Duncan Mor the Macraes made a desperate resist-
ance, and are said to have died almost to a man. During the struggle, and
while his people were falling around him, and ere he fell himself, he was
frequently seen to wave his reeking sword on high, and heard to shout,
" Cobhair I Cobhair ! an ainm Dhe agus Righ Seuma* " (Help I Help ... the
name of God and King James). Before Duncan fell he slew fifteen with Ins
own hand, which was so much swollen in the hilt of his claymore that .t could
with difficulty be extricated."

2 Page 256.


of fetching a drink, took one of Duncan's shoes, and
brought it to him full of water. The water revived
him so much that he was able to give John a full
account of his adventures during the battle, but
before the morning dawned Duncan was numbered
among the slain. John lived to accomplish the
homeward journey, and it was he who brought to
Kintail an account of the manner of the death of
Donnacha Mor Mac Alister. There is a tradition in
Kintail that a sketch of Duncan in the battle was
made by one of the officers of the Royalist troops,
and that it was exhibited along with his sword in
the Tower of London.


Eonachan Dubh, 1 Duncan's youngest brother, is also
frequently mentioned in connection with Duncan's
adventures with the Lochaber cattle lifters. It is
related of Eonachan that on one occasion he pursued
a party of Lochaber raiders who had stolen cattle
fromMacleod of Glenelg,and recovered the spoil single
handed. As the Glenelg men were returning home
from an unsuccessful pursuit they met Eonachan,
and when they told him where they had been, and
how they had failed to discover any trace of the
raiders, Eonachan volunteered to set out at once,
and alone, in search of them. Late at night he
discovered them in an empty sheiling house, where
they had arranged to take shelter for the night, and
were then roasting a huge piece of beef on a spit

1 Page 210,


for their supper. Eonachan presented himself as a
benighted traveller, and asked to he allowed to
share the shelter of the hut for the night. This
request was readily granted. After sharing in their
hospitality he entertained them for some time with
his conversation, and at last went out to the door to
see what the night was like. It was very dark, and
as soon as he got outside he shouted to the men
within that the cattle had all gone away. One of
the men then went out to see, hut no soonor was he
outside the door than Eonachan, who was prepared
for the occasion, threw his plaid over his head,
knocked him down, and gagged and bound him
before he had time to utter a word. Shortly after-
wards another went out to see what had become of
their companion, but Eonachan dealt in the same
manner with him also. After a little time a third man
went out, but only to receive the same treatment as
his companions. There were now only two men left in
the hut, and Eonachan, knowing that he was quite
a match for both of them together, called upon them
to yield, which they did without further resistance.
These two men he gagged and bound also. The
Lochaber men had some guns, which Eonachan
rendered useless by breaking off the stocks. He
then told them to make their way the best they
could, with gagged mouths and bound hands, to
their chief, Lochiel, with Eonachan's compliments.
Having thus disposed of the thieves, he collected
the cattle and drove them back to their owner in

Eonachan was once on a visit to Brahan Castle,


and while talking with the Countess, who had a fire
of cinnamon in her room, she asked him if ever he
saw such a fine fire as that. " No," replied Eonachan,
" the fragrant smell of that fire reaches all the way
to the cattle folds of Kintail." "How is that?"
asked the Countess. Eonachan pointed out to her
that her extravagant ways had make it necessary
for her husband to increase the rents which his Kin-
tail tenants paid for their cattle folds. The Countess
took Eonachan's pointed reply in good part and dis-
continued the cinnamon fires. When Seaforth heard
of this he told Eonachan that the Countess insisted
on having a fresh ox tongue on her table at dinner
every day of the year, and that if Eonachan could cure
her of this extravagance, as he had done in the matter
of the cinnamon, he should feel deeply indebted to him.
Shortly afterwards Eonachan was going to Dingwall
with a large herd of cattle, and, as he approached
Brahan, he directed his herdsmen to drive three
hundred and sixty-five of the cattle past the front
of the Castle, in such a way as to make the number
appear as large as possible. Having given these
instructions, he himself hurried on in advance.
When he arrived at the Castle he was kindly
welcomed by both Seaforth and his lady. As he
sat by one of the windows talking with the lady the
herd of cattle began to pass by. " What a very large
herd of cattle," remarked the lady. "Not at all,"
replied Eonachan, "it is only as many as you require
for your own dinner in the course of the year." She
could not believe that she required so many, and she
asked Eonachan what he meant. He explained to


her that as she wanted an ox tongue every day for
her dinner, and as an ox had only one tongue, it was
necessary to kill three hundred and sixty-five oxen
every year for her dinner, and that was exactly the
number of the herd then passing by.

Eonachan once dreamt that his sister, who was
married in Lochaber, was He was so im-
pressed by this dream that he tried to persuade his
brothers to go with him to Lochaber to see how she
fared. His brothers made light of his fears and
refused to go, so he set out alone. When he arrived
at his sister's house he found that she was not only
dead, but that she was being buried on that same
day. He then started after the funeral party, and
overtook them as they arrived at the churchyard.
Here there arose a dispute as to where she ought
to be buried, which greatly annoyed her brother.
" What are you disputing about ? " said he ; " if
there is no room in Lochaber for her, there is plenty
of room in Kintail ; lift the coffin on my back."
They did so, thinking he could not carry it very far.
For a long time they watched him, expecting every
moment to see him lay down his burden, until at
last he disappeared over the crest of a hill. They
then set out in pursuit of him to recover the body
and bring it back to the proper place of burial, but
before they could overtake him he accidentally fell
in with some men from Kintail, who helped him
to carry the body all the way to Kilduich, where it
was buried with all due ceremony.



John, son of the Rev. Finlay Macrae of Lochalsh,
was considered one of the best swordsmen of his own
time in the Highlands. One Sunday, while Mr
Finlay was conducting divine service in Lochalsh
Church, a party of four or five soldiers came across
from Glenelg, 1 and began to plunder his house.
While this was going on John, who was returning
home from a journey, arrived at an inn above Auch-
tertyre, and went in to rest. But he had hardly sat
down when word reached him of what was going on
at his father's house, and, setting out at once with
all speed, he overtook the soldiers on the way to
their boat with the plunder. He told them to
return everything they took, and that they would be
allowed to depart without being further interfered
with. It so happened, however, that as John was
hurrying along to catch the soldiers, one of his
garters came undone, and, instead of returning their
booty, the soldiers began to make fun of his hose,
which had slipped down about his ankle. This was
more than John could stand, and falling upon the
soldiers with his sword, he killed them one after
another before they could reach their boat. The
place where the soldiers were buried is still pointed
out. It is quite near Lochalsh Parish Church, and
is known as Blar nan Saighdear (the Soldiers' Field).

1 The military barracks at Gleuelg were built iu 1722, but in all probability
there were soldiers stationed in that neighbourhood from the time of the battle
of Glensheil in 1719 onwards,



Many years after the Battle of Sheriffmuir, a High-
land drover, who was conducting his herd of cattle
to the Southern markets, arrived late one night near
a gentleman's house in the Braes of Stirling. The
gentleman was a Captain Macdougall, who had
fought on the Royalist side at Sheriffmuir. The
drover called on the Captain to ask permission to
halt with his cattle for the night on the terms which
were then usual in such circumstances. The permis-
sion was granted, and the Captain being struck by
the manner and appearance of the old drover, invited
him to pass the night as his guest. The invitation
was accepted, and, in the course of conversation, the
Captain, learning that his guest was from Kintail,
asked him if he knew a place called Corriedhomhain.
The drover replied that he did, and the Captain
then proceeded to relate the following incident of
the Battle of Sheriffmuir : "In the course of the
pursuit after the battle," continued the Captain, " I
followed a stout Highlander with three well-mounted
troopers. The Highlander, perceiving our approach,
faced about, took off his plaid, and, carefully folding
it, placed it on the ground that by standing on it
he might have a firmer footing. My desire being to
take him prisoner and not to kill him. we closed
upon him with brandishing swords, and commanded
him to surrender. This, however, he was not dis-
posed to do, and one of the troopers, approaching too
near, had his skull cleft in two by a stroke of the


Highlander's claymore. As another instantly shared
a similar fate, the third trooper and myself thought
it prudent to keep at a more respectful distance. I
was so greatly struck by the Highlander's bearing
and swordsmanship that I asked him who he was,
but the only information he would give me was that
he was from Corriedhomhain, in Kintail." " I know
the man as well as I know myself," replied the
drover, " his name is Duncan Macrae." " Well
then," replied the Captain, " give him my compli-
ments, tell him I commanded the troopers who
attacked him in the retreat from SherhTmuir, that I
have ever since been curious to know the name and
condition of such an excellent swordsman and brave
man, and that I wish him well." " I will do so with
much pleasure," replied the drover, who was himself
the same Duncan Macrae, of Corriedhomhain, who
had fought the four troopers.

This Duncan Macrae, of Corriedhomhain, was
known in Kintail as Donnacha Mor nan Creach
(Big Duncan of the Spoils). He belonged to a family
called Clann a Chruiter (the descendants of the
Harper), and said to be descended from a minstrel,
probably of Irish origin, who settled in Kintail and
adopted the name Macrae. Fionnla Dubh nan
Fiadh was of the same tribe. 1


There was once a lady in Assynt who owned a piece
of land which she proposed to give to some neigh-

i Page 298.


bouring laird, on condition that he should maintain
her in comfort for the rest of her life. Seaforth
offered to maintain her in Brahan Castle on the
terms she proposed, but the old lady, preferring to
remain near her own home, rejected Seaforth's offer
and came to terms with Macleod of Assynt. Sea-
forth was annoyed at this, and, by way of retaliation,
sent Murdoch Macrae 1 (Murrachadh MacFhearachair),
one of his under factors, and Coll Ban Macdonell
of Barisdale, with a party of Kintail men, on a
harrying expedition to Macleod's estates of Assynt.
In the course of their raid they plundered Macleod's
house, and, among other, they carried away
a web of beautiful tartan. They also took away two
mares, which were afterwards found and recognised
on the farm of Barisdale. When Macleod heard of
this he commenced proceedings against Coll of Baris-
dale for the theft of the horses. When the trial
came on, the horses were brought to Fort-Augustus
to be identified, and were kept there in the military
stables. But when it became known to the men of
Kintail, among whom Coll of Barisdale was very
popular, that the horses were being taken to Fort-
Augustus to be used as evidence against him in the
trial, they resolved to make some effort to put the
horses out of the way. Accordingly, Ian Mor Mac
Mhaighster Fionnla (Big John, son of the Rev.
Finlay), Ian Mac Fhearachair (John, son of Farquhar)
of Morvich, and Donnacha Dubh Mac Dhonnachidh
Mhic Choinnich Mhic Rhuari (Black Duncan, son of

IThis Murdoch (see page 81) was the father of the Kiutail poet, Iau Mac


Duncan, son of Kenneth, son of Roderick), a Mac-
kenzie of Lochcarron, set out for Fort-Augustus.
Passing through Strathglass, they arrived at Tomich
Inn early in the evening and went to bed. They
then called the innkeeper to come in to them and
offered him a glass of whisky. In the morning,
before they got up, they called him in again and
offered him another glass. This they did that in
the event of any trouble he might be a witness that
they spent the whole night in his house. But as
soon as the people of the inn retired to rest, the
three visitors quietly got up and set out in all haste
to Fort-Augustus. They entered the stables by a
hole which they made in the roof, and when they
found Macleod's stolen mares they cut off their
heads, which they took away with them and sank in
Loch Ness. They then returned to Tomich Inn and
went to bed again before daylight, without having
been missed by the innkeeper or any of his people.
The trial of Coll of Barisdale fell through because
the headless horses could not be identified as Mac-
leod's lost property.

One day, a long time after, Murdoch Macrae was
in Inverness, and had on a pair of hose made out of
Macleod of Assynt's stolen web of tartan. It so
happened that Macleod was in Inverness on the same
day, and, meeting Murdoch in the street, he re-
cognised the stolen tartan in the hose, and naturally
concluded that Murdoch was one of the Seaforth
party by whom his house had been pillaged. Mac-
leod resolved to be avenged upon him, and com-
municated the matter to Macleod of Dunvegan and


Sir Alexander Macdonald of Sleat, both of whom
were on the Government side, and there the matter