Alexander Macrae.

History of the clan Macrae with genealogies online

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the raising (of rents 1) is what has embittered us ; trawling with


great nets, and salting our fish. Many a hard day was I making
dykes and walls, my cattle dying, while I paid rent with difficulty.
Many an unfortunate day have I borne expenses on your account,
and when the matter fell into ruin, I sighed over them. Small is
my esteem for the landlord who has sent us so far over the ocean,
for the sake of a little wretched rent, which he did not long enjoy.
I feel inclined to go.


Among those who accompanied Ian Mac Mhurachaidh was a
certain John Macrae — a blacksmith — called Ian Mac a Ghobha
(page 193). The American War of Independence began almost
immediately after the arrival of the Kiutail emigrants in Carolina,
and they unhesitatingly cast in their lot with the Loyalists. The
poet now became one of the foremost, by his songs and his example,
in urging his brother Highlanders to stand up iu defence of what he
considered to be the just rights of their King and country, and
consequently, when the Americans got him into their hands they
treated him with unusual severity. Ian Mac a Ghobha lost his
arm in the war, and, making his way back to Scotland, eventually
succeeded, after considerable difficulty, in obtaining a pension for
his services. He appears to have been a man of mark in more
ways than one. He possessed an excellent voice and an excellent
memory, and brought back with him to Kintail several of Ian
Mac Mlmrachaidh's songs, which he was never tired of singing.
He died at Carndu, near Dornie, in 1839, aged ninety-three. The
morning after his death an old woman, who lived by herself on
the other side of the sea, opposite to Kilduich, told the first neigh-
bour she met : " 'S mi a chuala an t-shehm bhreagh a dol a stigh a
Chlachan Duthaich an raoir, 's mar eil mi air mo mhealladh se
guth biim Mhic a Ghobha a bhann." — (" What beautiful singing I
heard going into Kilduich churchyard last night; if I am not mis-
taken, it was the sweet voice of Mac a Ghobha." Soon afterwards
the news of his death arrived. 1

The following song, perhaps Ian Mac Mhurachaidh's last, was
composed by him while wandering a fugitive in the primeval
forest, evidently before the close of the war, as he still looks

iTradition communicated to the author by Mac a Ghobha's great-grandson,
Dr Fanjuhar Macrae, London.


forward with hope to the arrival of Lord Cornwallis, who was
forced to smrender to the French and the Americans at Yorktown
on the 18th of October, 1781. It has been the song of many a
Kintail emigrant since the days of Ian Mac Mhurachaidh : —

'S mi air fogradh bho 'n fhoghar,
Togail thighean gun cheo nnnta.
Ann am bothan beag barraich,
'S nach tig caraid dha 'm fheorach ann

Ged a tha mi s' a choille
Cha'n eil coire ri chnodach orm.

Ach 'bhi cogadh gu dileas

Leis an righ bho'n bha choir aige.

Thoir mo shoraidh le durachd,

Gus an duthaich 'm bu choir dhomh bhi.

Thoir mo shoraidh Chuitaille

Am bi manran is oranan.

A'n trie a bha mi mi'n bhuideal

Mar ri cuideachda sholasach.

Cha be 'n dram 'bha mi 'g iarraidh

Ach na b'fhiach an cuid storaidhean.

Ceud soraidh le durachd

Gu Sgur-Urain, 's math m' eolas innt'.

'S trie a bha mi niu'n cuairt di.
'G eisdeachd udlaich a cronanaich.
A bheinn ghorm tha ma coinneamh
Leum bo shoillear a neoineanan.
Sios 'us suas troimh Ghleann-Seile
'S trie a leag mi damh crocach ann.

Gheibhte brie air an linne

Fir ga 'n sireadh 'us leos aca.

Tha mi nis air mo dhiteadh

An am priosan droch bheolainteach.

Ach na 'n tigeadh Cornwallis

'S mise d' fhalbhadh ro-dheonach leis.

A thoirt sgrios air na beistean
Thug an t' eideadh 's an storas bhuam.
Tha ni sgith 'n fhogar sa -
Tha mi sgith 's mi learn fheiu
'S cian bho thir m' eolas mi


I am an exile since Autumn, building houses without smoke in
them. In a little hut of brushwood, where no friend will come to
inquire for me. Though I am in the wood (an outlaw) no fault
can be charged against me ; except righting loyally for the King
because he was in the right. Take my sincere farewell to the
country where I ought to be. Take my farewell to Kintail, the
place of mirth and songs. Where I often sat round a bottle with
a happy company. It was not the drink I desired but the worth
of your stories. A hundred sincere farewells to Scur Ouran,
well do I know it. Often was I in its vicinity listening to the
bellowing of an old stag. The green mountain opposite to it,
bright to me were its daisies. Up and down Glensheil often
did I lay an antlered stag low. Trout might be found on the
pool, men seeking them with a torch. I am now condemned to a
prison of bad fare. But if Cornwallis came, gladly would I join
him. To scourge the wretches who have robbed me of my clothes
and property.

I am tired of this exile, I am tired in my loneliness, — far am I
from the land of my acquaintance.

Note. — Several of Ian Mac Mhurachaidh's poems will be found
in The Celtic Magazine (Inverness), April-August, 1882.

The following are some other Macrae poets whose Gaelic
songs were at one time and in some instances still are known
among Gaelic-speaking Highlanders :—

Duncan Macrae, commonly called Donnachadh Mac Alister
(page 198). Only fragments of a lament for his mother and of a
song to his gun appear to be known now.

Kenneth Macrae, 1 of the Claim Ian Charrieh tribe, and a

1 Kenneth had a son, Alexander, about whom the following paragraph
appeared in The Courier (London) of the 28th November, 1807 :— " The oldest
man now living in Scotland is supposed to be a Highlander of the name of
Alexander Macrae. He was born in the parish of Kintail in the year 1687, and
is now, of course, just 120 years old. In the year 1719 he fought under Lord
Seaforth at the battle of Glensheil, and in 1721 he enlisted as a private in the
Scots Brigade, serving in Holland, where he continued seven years, the last
two of which were spent in prison in some town of France, the name of which
he does not remember. In 1731 he returned to his farm and married a second
wife, who died a few years after. In 1705 he fell into such low circumstances
that he was forced to procure a subsistence by going about from house to
house reciting Ossian's poems in Gaelic. In 1773 he married his present wife,
by whom he ha? three children, the last when he was aged ninety-six. About


relative of Ian Mac Ian of Torlysich (foot note, page 214). He
lived at Ardelve, and was an old man at the time of the battle of
Sheriffmuir, at which he was present. On his return home he
composed a celebrated lament, or ballad, on the " Four Johns of
Scotland" (footnote, page 153), which is given in "The Trans-
actions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness," Vol. VIII. — Leaves
from my Celtic Portfolio, by Mr William Mackenzie.

Christopher Macrae, Sergeant in the 78th Highlanders
(page 80). Some of his songs are still well known in Kintail and

Donald Macrae, a weaver in the parish of Petty in Inverness-
shire, where he was born in 1756, and died in 1837. His father
was a native of Glenclchaig in Kintail. He was the author of
several religious poems, which are spoken of very highly in The
Literature of the Highlanders by the Rev. Nigel Macneill.

John Macrae, schoolmaster at Sleat in Skye (page 183).

The Rev. Donald Macrae of Ness in Lewis (page 83) is
mentioned in Macneill's Literature of the Highlanders as a true
poet, though he did not produce much. His best known song is
" The Emigrant's Lament," written on the occasion of the de-
parture of many of his congregation for Canada.

John Macrae (page 130, c3) composed, among other Gaelic
songs, one on the late Professor Blackie of Edinburgh.

James Macrae of Ardroil in Lews (page 193) composed several
good, and sometimes humorous, Gaelic songs.

twelve years ago, while still very stout, he was deprived of the use of his limbs
by a violent fever, and ever since has been unable to walk. He is now bed-
ridden, deaf and blind, but his memory is still very correct. His general
amusement is singing and repeating Ossian's poems in Gaelic, but he repeats
so fast that it is impossible to write them down, and, if interrupted, must
again return to the beginning of the poem. He appears to have been a stout-
made, middle-sized man, and still looks uncommonly well." The old man
lived at Ardelve, and this paragraph is believed to have been communicated to
the London Courier by the Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie of Lochcarron, who on one
occasion, while attending a meeting of his Presbytery at Ardelve, visited him
at his home. It is said that in the course of the conversation, Mr Lachlan
asked the old man if he was not afraid of death. " dhuiue bhoc," replied
the old man, " nam faicadh d'thu Ceither Iauan na h' Alba folbh gu Sliabh an
t' Shiorradh 's ann orra ua«h rolli feagal roimh 'n bhas."— (Poor man, if you
had seen the four Johns of Scotland setting out for Sheriffmuir, little did they
fear death).


John Macrae of Timsgarry in Lews (page 194).

Duncan Macrae 1 of Isle Ewe in Gairloch, a faithful follower
of Prince Charlie, whom he accompanied throughout the Rising
of 1745, and whose retreat he assisted to cover after the defeat of
Culloden, composed a well-known Gaelic song called " Oran na
Feannaige " (the song of the crow). It consists of an imaginary
dialogue between himself and a crow which he saw in Edinburgh
while there with the Prince.

1 This Duncan Macrae was believed to possess the gift of the Sian. This
gift was supposed to enable a man, by means of an incantation, to render an
object invisible until the charm was removed, except for a short time at
regular intervals usually of seven years. Shortly after the Battle of Culloden,
a French ship, which put in at Poolewe, left a cask of gold for the use of the
Prince. According to the traditions of Gairloch, this cask was entrusted to
Duncan's care, and being unable at that time to escape the vigilance of the
King's troops, and convey the gold to the Prince, he hid the cask in a place
in Gairloch called the Fedan Mor, making use of the Sian to render it invisible.
The cask never reached the Prince. On one occasion, about 1826, the cask
suddenly became visible to a shepherd's wife who was spinning there with a
spindle and distaff while herding her cattle. She stuck the spindle in the
ground to mark the spot, and ran home for help tD remove the treasure, but
when her friends arrived at the spot neither the cask nor the distaff could be
discovered.— Dixon's Gairloch, p. 165.



It has already been stated, in Chapter I., that the district of
Gairloch is rich in Macrae traditions. The following tradi-
tions are taken from Mr John H. Dixon's book on Gairloch,
with the kind permission of the author : —




Once upon a time there lived a powerful man — Ian Mac Ian
Uidhir (John the son of Sallow John) — in the Carr of Kintail, and
when he heard such aliens (the Macbeaths) resided in the island of
Loch Tollie (in Gairloch) he thought within himself, on New
Year's night, that it was a pity such mischievous strangers should
be in the place, raising rents on the land which did not of right
belong to them, while some of the offspring of gentlemen of the
Clan Mackenzie, although a few of them possessed lands, were
without possessions.

Some time after this, when the snow was melting off the
mountains, he lifted his arrow bag on his back, sent word for Big
Donald Macrae from Inverinate, and they walked as one together
across Killelan. Old Alastair Liath (Grey Alexander) of Carr
accompanied them. They walked through the mountains of Loch-
carron. They came in by the mountains of Kinlochewe. They
came at a late hour in sight of Loch Tollie, and they took notice of
Macbeath's castle in the island, and of a place whence it would be
easy for them to send their arrows to the castle. There was a
rowan tree alongside the castle, which was in their way, but when
the darkening of night came they moved down to the shore in
such a way that the heroes got near the bank of the loch, so that
they might, in the breaking of the sky, be opposite Macbeath
when he came out,


When Macbeath came out in the morning, the other man said
to Donald Mor, " Try how true your hand is now, if it is not trem-
ulous after the night ; try if you can hit the seed of the beast, the
hare, so that you make a carcase of him where he is, inasmuch as
he has no right to be there." Donald shot his arrow by chance,
but it only became flattened against one of the kind of windows in
the kind of castle that was in it.

When the man from Can saw what happened to the arrow of
the man from Inverinate, he thought that his companion's arrow
was only a useless one. The man from Carr got a glimpse of one
of the servants of Macbeath, carrying with him a stoup of water to
boil a goat buck, which he had taken from Craig Tollie the night
before ; but, poor fellow ! it was not he who consumed the goat
buck. Old Alastair Liath of Carr threw the arrow, and it went
through the kidneys of him of the water-stoup.

Macbeath suspected that a kind of something was behind him
which he did not know about. He thought within himself not to
wait to eat the goat buck, that it would be as well for him to go
ashore — life or death to him — as long as he had the chance to cross.
He lifted every arrangement he had, and he made the shore of it.
Those who would not follow him he left behind him ; he walked as
fast as was in his joints, but fast as Macbeath was, the arrow of the
son of Big Donald fixed in him in the thickest of his flesh. He ran
with the arrow fixed, and his left hand fixed in the arrow, hoping
always that he would pull it out. He ran down the brae to a place
which is called Boora to this day, and the reason of that name is,
that when Macbeath pulled the arrow out a buradh, or bursting
forth of blood, came after it.

When the Kintail men saw that the superior of the kind of
fortress had flown, they walked round the head of Loch Tollie,
sprawling, tired as they were ; and the very ferry-boat which took
Macbeath ashore took the Macraes to the island. They used part
of the goat buck which Macbeath was to haye had to his meal.
Thoy looked at the man of whom they had made a corpse, while
the cook went to the preparation for the morning meal. Difficulty
nor distress were not apparent on the Kintail men. The fearless
heroes put past the night in the castle. They feared not Mac-
beath ; but Macbeath was frightened enough that what he did not
get he would soon get.


Although the pursuit of the aliens from Mackay's J country was
in the minds of the Kintail men, they thought they would go and
see how the lands of Gairloch lay. They went away in the morn-
ing of the next day, after making cuaranan (untanned shoes) of the
skin of the goat buck by putting thongs through it, as they had
worn out their own on the way coming from Kintail. They came
through Gairloch ; they took notice of everything as they desired.
They walked step by step, as they could do, without fear or bodily
dismay. They reached Mackenzie's Castle; they saluted him. They
said boldly, if he had more sons, that they would find more land
for him. Mackenzie invited them in and took their news. They
told him about the land of Gairloch, the way in which they saw
Macbeath, and the way in which they made him flee, and the time
on which they lived on the flesh of the goat buck. " And Ken-
neth," says Donald (addressing the chief), " I shall remember the
day of the foot of the goat buck as long as Donald is (my name)
on me." — Dixon's Gairloch, pp. 21-23.




John Roy grew up a tall, brave, and handsome young High-
lander. "When he could carry arms and wear the belted plaid, he
went to the Mackay country to visit his mother. None but his
mother knew him, and neither she nor he made known who he
was. In those days any stranger who came to a house was not
asked who he was until he had been there a year and a day.
John Roy lived in the servants' end of the house, and slept and
fed with them. Mackay had two rare dogs, called Cu-dubh and
Faoileag (black dog and sea gull), and they became greatly
attached to John Roy, so that they would follow no one else.
Near the end of the year Mackay told his wife that he suspected
the stranger was a gentleman's son. Her tears revealed the truth.

1 The Macbeaths were said to have come from the country of the Maekays
in Sutherlandshire, probably in the thirteenth century. They had, at least,
three strongholds in Gairloch, one of which was the island in Loch Tollie, as
mentioned above. There are still some families of the name Macbeath both in
Gairloch and in Applecross.


John Roy was then kindly received at the table of the laird, who
asked him what he could do for him, John Roy begged that
Mackay would give him a bodyguard, consisting of the twelve of
his men whom he might choose, and the two dogs, Cu-dubh and
Faoilcag. He got these, and they went away to Glas Lcitirc in
Kintail, taking with them an anker of whisky. Arriving there,
John Roy placed his twelve men in concealment, and went him-
self to the house of Ian Liath Macrath (Grey John Macrae). It
was the early morning, and the old wife was spinning on the
distaff. She looked out, and saw a man there. She called to Ian
Liath, who was still lying down, " There is a man out yonder
sitting on a creel, and I never saw two knees in my life more like
John Roy's two knees." Ian Liath got up, went to the door, and
called out, " Is that you, John 1 " John Roy answered that it was.
" Have you any with you 1 " " Yes, I have twelve men."
" Fetch them," said Ian Liath. He killed a bull, and feasted
them all. Then he told John Roy that Mackenzie of Kintail was
coming that very day to hunt on the Glas Leitire hill of his (John
Roy's) fathers. John Roy, with his twelve men and Ian Liath,
went to the hill, takiug the whisky with them. Mackenzie
arrived to hunt the deer, and when he saw John Roy and his men,
he sent a fair-haired lad to inquire who they were. John Roy
bade the boy sit down, and gave him whisky. Whenever he rose
to go, more whisky was offered, and he was nothing loath to take
it. Mackenzie, thinking the lad was long in returning, sent
another boy, who was treated in the same way. Mackenzie then
saw that John Roy had returned, so he went back with his
followers to his castle, and John Roy was not further molested by
the lords of Kintail.

John Roy came back with Ian Liath to his house, when the
latter told him that he had Hector Roy's chest with the title-
deeds of Gairloch, and that John Roy must claim the estate.
Ian Liath took all his belongings, and accompanied John Roy
and his twelve men to Gairloch. They came to Beallach a
Chomhla, at the side of Bathais (Bus) Bheinn. Coming down
the mountain they found a good well, and there they rested and
left the women and the cattle. The well is called to this day
" Ian Liath's Well." They met people who informed them that
Ian Dubh Mac Ruaridh Mhicleoid, or Black John the son of Rorie


Macleod, who was governor of the old castle of the Dun, was
accustomed to walk every day across the big sand and to lie on
the top of the Crasg to spy the country. The party went to the
Crasg, and Ian Liath told Ian Dubh Mac Ruaridh Macleod,
whom they met there, that unless he left the castle before that
night he would lose his head. Macleod took the hint, and sailed
away in his birlinn, with all his valuables, except one chest con-
taining old title-deeds, which came into John Roy's possession
along with the castle.— Dixon's Gairloch, pp. 39-40.


It was after the expulsion of the Macleods that the affair of
Leac nan Saighead occurred. Many of the Macleods who had been
driven from Gairloch had settled in Skye. A number of young
men of the clan were invited by their chief to pass Hogmanay
night in his castle at Dunvegan. There was a large gathering.
In the kitchen there was an old woman, who was always occupied
in carding wool. She was known as Mor Bhan, or Fair Sarah, and
was supposed to be a witch. After dinner was over, at night the
men began to drink, and when they had passed some time thus
they sent in to the kitchen for Mor Bhan. She came and sat
down in the hall with the men. She drank one or two glasses, and
then she said it was a poor thing for the Macleods to be deprived
of their own lands in Gairloch and to live in comparative poverty
in Skye. " But," says she, addressing the whole party, " prepare
yourselves and start to-morrow for Gairloch, sail in the black bir-
linn, and you shall regain Gairloch.' I shall be a witness of your
success when you return." The men being young and not over-
burdened with wisdom, believed her, because they thought she had
the power of divination. They set sail in the morning for Gair-
loch, and the black galley was full of the Macleods. It was even-
ing when they came into the loch, and they dare not risk landing
on the mainland, for they remembered that the descendants of

1 Leac nan Saighead is on the south coast of Gairloch, and not far from


Domhnull Greannach (a great Macrae) were still there, and they
knew their powers ouly too well. They, therefore, turned to the
south side of the loch and fastened their birlinn to Fraoch Eilean,
in the shelter opposite Leac nan Saighead, between Shieldaig and
Badachro. They decided to wait there till morning, then disembark
and walk round the head of the loch. But all the movements of
the Macleods had been well watched. Domhnull Odhar Mac Ian
Liath and his brother, Ian Odhar Mac Ian Liath, the celebrated
Macrae archers, sons of Ian Liath, mentioned in the last extract,
knew the birlinn of the Macleods, and they determined to oppose
their landing. They walked round by Shieldaig and posted them-
selves before daylight at the back of the Leac, a projecting rock
overlooking Fraoch Eilean. The steps on which they stood at the
back of the rock are still pointed out. Donald Odhar, being a
short man, took the higher of the two steps, and Iain the other.
Standing on these steps they crouched down in the shelter of the
rock, from which they commanded a full view of the island on
which the Macleods were lying here and there, while the Macrae
heroes were invisible from the island. They were both celebrated
shots, and had their bows and arrows with them. As soon as the
day dawned they opened fire on the Macleods ; a number of them
were killed before their comrades were even aware of the direction
wheuce the fatal arrows came. The Macleods endeavoured to
answer the fire, but not being able to see their foes, their arrows
took no effect. In the heat of the fight one of the Macleods
climbed the mast of the birlinn for a better sight of the position
of the foe. Ian Odhar took his deadly aim at him when near the
top of the mast. The shaft pierced his body and pinned him to
the mast. " Oh," says Donald, "you have sent a pin through his
broth." So the slaughter continued, and the remnant of the Mac-
leods hurried into the birlinn. They cut the rope and turned her
head seawards, and by this time only two of them were left alive.
So great was their hurry to escape that they left all the bodies of
their slain companions on the island. The rumour of the arrival
of the Macleods had spread during the night, and other warriors
such as Fionnla Dubh nan Saighead and Fear Shieldaig were soon
at the scene of action ; but all they had to do was to assist at the
burial of the dead Macleods. Pits were dug, into each of which a
number of the dead bodies were thrown, and mounds were raised


over them, which remain to this day, as anyone may see. The
name Leac nan Saighead means " The flat stone of the arrows."
— Dixon's Gairloch, pp. 45-46.


Online LibraryAlexander MacraeHistory of the clan Macrae with genealogies → online text (page 28 of 35)