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imposing in the })eople's sight. These were the
moothills or gallows hills, but it does not appear that
hanging or drowning, prescribed by feudal custom,
was invariably the mode of doing away with
criminals followed by the island chiefs even in
feudal times. In the Parish of Killean. district of
Kintyre, the ancient territory of Clan Iain Mhoir,
there is Dioi Dotnhnuill, a fort very strongly posted
on the top of an isolated rocky mound of consider-
able height. Here, according to the traditions of
Kintyre. the ancient lords of Dunnyveg held their
courts of justice, and criminals condemned to death
were hurled from the top of the Dun and despatched
by executioners at the foot.

It is oIdvIous from the foreiiioint; considerations
that the heads of the clans occupied the double
capacity <>f chiefs and barons, and that Celtic-
customs and usages prevailed in the practical
a<lministration of the feudal law. Their legal courts
were not conducted on the Lowland model, but
entirely as the chiefs and their advisers thought
proper, and they exercised both legislative and


judicial functions. They enacted statutes fui- the
remilation of morals and the nianaefenient of all
kinds of estate business, while the criminal juris-
diction seems to have been carefully exercised, and
its decisions, whicli were accepted as just, were
usually received without a muiinur. Dnrino- the
16th and a tjreat part of the J 7th centuries the
statutes and dacisions of these Courts were seldom
if at all reduced to writing, and the code ajjpears to
have been transmitted in the traditional form char-
acteristic of Celtic custom. Amid the invasion hv
feudalism of the Celtic system, the latter preserved
its essential featvu^es. Apart from any position the
chief might have as landowner, the clan owed him
loyalty as the head of their race, and the confidence
they reposed in him was seldom misplaced. But
his rule was neither arbitrary nor despotic, and
there were times when stern necessity compelled his
deposition, such as in the case of Ranald Gallda of
Clanranald and Iain Aluinn of Kei)})och, to which
reference has already been made in another con-

The modern tacksman holding from the chief by
a written instrument of tenure fulfilling certain
duties and enjoying certain privileges, is little if at
all in record evidence during the 16th century.
We know, however, that when this class appears in
documentary history they do so as kinsmen of the
chief, and consecpiently we conclude that they were
part of the social system when there is little or no
record of their existence. They were the Cinn-
fighe, nobles or gentry of the clan, who were styled
'■ Ogtieni"' or " lesser lords" in more primitive stages
of Gaelic society. In 1596 Donald Gorme of Sleat
received from James VI. a letter of Tack for the


lands of" Trotternlsh 'occupied by him and his sub-
tenants." These sub-tenants were, for one thini(, the
class afterwards described at Wadsetters and Tacks-
men, the gentry of the Clan Uisdein. Holdings
under the chiefs were not always though they were
nearly always confinefl to the chiefs own blood. In
Skye there were septs and tribes in occupation long
before the Clan Uisdein became a numerous com-
munity, and we find Nicolsons, Maci[ueens, and
Martins in the position of Tacksmen in pretty early
times. In the Island of North Uist the Maccpieens
are said to ha ye had a yerbal tack from the lords of
the soil of the lands of Orin.say and others ex})ressed
in the words " Fhad "s a ])hios baine aig boin duibh
no Cnogaire Mhic Cuinn na bhun, ' a tenure which
was extended in more modern forms early in the
1 7th century.

The position of the Tnath or Commonalty of the
Clan Donald in the latter half of the IGth century
is at least as difHcult to detennine as that of the
int«»'mediate class of Tacksman, though they were
doubtless, under the term "sub-tenants." included
in Donald (iorme's ( 'barter of IdDG. Un the prin-
ciple of kindred by which all belonging to the same
race as the chief had a position un the land, the
Commonalty had certain rights of their own, though were .subordinate to of the gentry.
How foreign .septs came into the comnnniity and
priyileges of clans alien to them in blood is illus-
trated by a certain class of bonds of manrent which
form so important a feature in the political life of
the ancient Gael. The Bonrl of Claim Domhnuill
Rialf/iftirh to Sir Donald Macdonald of Sleat in IG.S2
is but a specimen of many similar lx)nds -probably
unwritten — which would haye been forme<l in


previous generations between the native men of
Skye — the earher inhabitants of the ishind— and
the chiefs of Clan Uisdein, who entered into elective
occupation in the first half of the Kith century.
Tradition says that the CI ami DomhnuUI Riahliaich
were a fannly of hereditary bards to the Macleods
of Dunveofan, and that the Macleod chief, havino-
for some reason dismissed Mac-dr/ii/lc-RiahJirdch,
Macdonald of Sleat received him ;ind his sept,
giving them lands on the farm of Kilmorey in
Trotternish, which for long — perha})s to this day —
retains the name of Baile ^fhi(■ (iJiiJle Rinh/inich.
It was the ancient principle of kindred as the root
idea of Gaelic society which rendered this system of
Bonds of manrcnt necessary in the case of tribes
seeking the protection of a more poweiful clan

Thr* conditions of life among tlie Tnath or
peasantry of the Isles after 1545 are not easily
ascertained. The oldest system of cultivation that
is known to have prevailed may throw light upon
the subject. This was termed the Runrig system.
Under this arrangement there was no individual or
isolated tenure, a feature that was germane to the
principles of C4aelic society. The peasantry lived in
a village or township, and the surrounding lands
and pasture were held, the latter in connnon. and
the former — the cultivated part — was divided every
year, under the supervision of a village otHcer styled
maor, but, in later times, constable. 1 liis system —
which is akin to the villein tenure of Saxon
England — is probably a survival of the ancient
tribeland customs — the fearwn) tuatha of early
Celtic Scotland.


lu the 16tli century agiiculture in the Isles was
doubtless of a very primitive description. Hoot
crops were unknown, and jjrobably the c'ls-chroin,
or crooked spade, does not date iVoni a period
anterior to the introduction of the jiotato into the
Isles, in the 18th century, as it is unsuited to any
other kind of culture. A primitive kind of spade,
however, has survived in the Outer Hebrides down
to the latter hvilf of the 18th century, and has been
founrl in St Kilda in the IDth, called the ceib. The
St Kildian. when leaving his tillage for the capture
of the fidmar, was wont to say " Bhuam a cheib 's far
mo rib," leaving the agricultural implement for the
rope, by which, in his harrying of wild fowl, he was
suspended over the rocks. Two ploughs were in use
in the Isles in those early times — one to make an
incision in the ground, to be followed by the plough-
share, which turned the furrow. The former was
called crann msJaidli. The idea of combining the
ploughshare and the coulter in one implement had
apparently not dawned on the agricultural mind
of that age — ^or perhaps the roughness of the
ground that used to be cultivated may account
for the division of labour. Methods of manuring
were equally primitive. The old verses composed in
one district of Skye to satirize another doubtless
conveyed a fair idea of the ancient modes o^ enriching
mother earth : —

'• Am fii.san a bh'ac' ami an Uige
Cha 'n fhaca mi riamh 'nam dliutliaich
(iaV)hail dlie 'n bhat' air mo chulthaobli
'S smiiid as a" cbliahh luathadli."

The primitive system lately prevalent in the
Isle of Lewis — reaping tlx^ coin bv iiprf»oting. and


thatching the houses with the straw not used hy
the bestial, to be appHed to the ground in some

future spring when saturated with peat reek

prevailed in the lordship of the Isles over three
hundred years ago. This is evidenced by a verse of
a song composed by his foster-mother to Sir Donald
Macdonald, hrst baronet of Sleat : —

" Ge lionmhor dris air an draighionn
No sguab clieaim-bhuidh' air achadh foghair,
No sop seann todhair air ceann taighe,
Tha 'n cuirt Dhomnuill Sgiath 'us claidheamli."

In view of the great strides that modern civiliza-
tion has made, we are apt to picture too darkly
the social conditions of those bygone times. The
necessaries of life and some of its comforts were
largely produced in the Isles. They had cattle, and
sheep, and goats, hardy breeds, easily reared, and
before there was much demand for stock in Lowland
markets their flesh was used for home consumption.
They grew their own wool and flax, and both were
manufactured within their own community, while
they also produced, tanned, and manufactured their
own leather. Before the days of large sheep farms
and deer forests much more land was cultivated and
corn raised than now. and, as the great industrial
centres had not arisen to raise the price of labour,
by increasing the demand for it, the land could l)e
wrought with the minimum of expense. Hence
land that would not now pay a fraction of the cost
of tillage could then be profitably cultivated, the
food it produced, though small, being valuable in
proportion co the labour, which was infinitesimal
in market value. Rent, in the modern sense, was
unknown, but various casualties were paid in kind.



In ordiiiaiv years the produce of the land was quite
sufficient to supply the wants of the people, while
the spoils of the chase and the products of river and
sea increased the means of subsistence. Trading
was also carried on in marketable commodities with
the South, the principal items of exportation beino-
horses, cows, sheep, goats, hides, and dairy produce.
Attempts were sometimes made to int«nrupt this
trading- with the South, for in 1 odd a proclamation
was issued bv the Privy Council prohibiting any
molestation of the Highlanders resorting to markets
in the J^owlands. There were fairs held by license
from the Crown at different centres in the Isles, the
principal market being held at Portree, and, money
being scarce throughout the country, various com-
modities were taken in exchange for the cattle and
other native products.

During the latter half of the 16th century the
fishing industry was a source of considerable wealth,
not only to the islanders themselves, but to the rest
of the country, as well as to the Crown. Subjects
of foreign nations were prohibited from tishing in
the Island seas, but men from other parts of Scot-
land were permitted to do so on payment to the
Heritors of small dues for ground anchorage. Loch-
maddy, in North Uist, was the principal centre of
the herring fishing in the Outer Islands for at least
a hundred yeais from the middle of the IGth century.
It is on record that the chiefs and people of the Isles
showed much unfriendliness towards the Southern
burgesses who came to fish in their lochs, and that
they manifested much greater |)artiality to foreigners,
both Dutch and French, than to the " slayers of
herring"' who came from the Lowlands of Scotland.


There was, no doubt, a dark side to the jjicture
of the "good old times." Bad seasons would ukmu
a half-starving population, and would, doubtless,
incite many a creach and S])ulzie. Disease son\e-
times attacked the flocks and herds, and reduced
whole districts fr(>m comparative affluence to poverty.
Medical skill was in its infancy, sanitary science was
unknown, and the ravages of smallpox and other
epidemics at certain periods decimated the ])opula-
tion. This, indeed, explains what hap])ened to the
surplus population, for which in those days there
was no outlet but the gates of death.

So much has l3een written elsewhei'e as to the
clothing and arms of the Highlanders in the 1 6th
century that the subject need not be enlarged on
here. It is interesting, however, to be able lo
verify from the poetical traditions of the clan some-
thing at least of what historical writers and records
have set forth in disproof of the view that the Gael
of that age was a naked or semi-naked savage.
Donald Macdonald, the famous warrior and the hero
of the battle of Carinish, was a poet as well as
soldier, and flourished c. 1570-1630. In a song or
lullaby composed in his old age to a grandson, he
says : —

" 'S mi thug na tri seoid dha t/ athair
Clogad 'us luireach 'us claidheamh."

These tin-ee, the helmet and coat of mail, as well as
the sword, were worn by the soldiery as well as the
gentry, to which latter of course the bard belonged.
This fact is proved, among other instances, by the
slaughter of Lennox, which took place in 1603,
when 400 freebooters, of whom Clan Iain Abrich
formed a lai'ge contingent, came armed with pistols,


murriones. coats of mail, &c. It is siiiiilaily proved
that the trews were much more frequently worn
than is generally supposed, ibr in a song composed
not long after 1600, describnig the grandeur of Sir
Donald Gorme's castle, we find the couplet —

" 'S giir liouuihor triubhas
Saoithreach seang ami."

The early years of the 17th century witnessed
much activity on the part of the Scottish Govern-
ment in relation to the Isles. After several abortive
attempts to bring the Islesmen into line with Low-
land Scotland, and after exasperating the chiefs by
Lord Ochiltree's kidnapping expedition, at last a
survey of the Lsle« by Bishop Knox became the
basis of reforms afterwards embodied in the Statutes
of I Columkill. The proposed reforms, in so far as
they were directed against ignorance, immorality,
and intemperance, were no doubt needful and salu-
tary, but in common with many other schemes for
the amelioration of the Highlands, they displayed
an utter want of sympathy with, as well as ignorance
of, the social system which it was intended to
improve. The position of the Clanranald family
illustrates, particularly, in one direction, the rise of
the modern Tacksman, brought about by the oper-
ation of the legislation of T Columkill. In 1610
Donald of Clanranald took out infeltments, and the
same year had to find caution for observing the
regulations imposed by tlie Crown upon its island
vassals. One of these was the obligation of selling
or letting his lands for fixed duties and to exact no
more. By this means the Tacksman, from occu-
pying his lands according to the immemorial law of
kinship paying the ancient casualties of calpes


cowdeicheis and others, begins to hold by tack and
assedation from his chief. The chief was to forbear
the taking cowdeicheis and presents, but this ordin-
ance, like many other prohibitions and impositions,
was more honoured in the breach than in the
observance. About twelve years afterwards Sir
Donald's successor, in a tack to his uncle, the Parson
of Island Finnan, inserts a provision that he- — tlie
superior — sliould liave a right to " cowdeicheis," that
is, one night's meat and entertainment, the word
being a corruption of cuid oidhche, or night's
portion. This casualty was the Highland etpiivalent
of coign and livery — entertainment for man and
beast — ^to be met with in Irish Records, but of
which there is no parallel among the Cymric. It
was paid from very early times by the vassal to the
superior, and no doubt gave rise to the following
incident, handed down in island tradition. A Lord
of the Isles once sojourned with MacNeill of Barra,
who was of course tributary to Ard Flath hiiisa-
GalL Kismul ('astle was apparently unprepared
for such an invasion as a visit from the Island Lord
and his retainers involved, and it a certain stage of
the entertainment the wine-cup showed symptoms
of drought. Whereupon Macd^nald, who, like
many of his race possessed poetic gifts, indulged in
the following' clevei' lines : —

" S' mithich dhuiun a uis 'bhi tria
A BaiTaidh chrion wach 'eil pailt
Tha iia aligean ag innse' sgcul
Gu bheil Claim 'Ic Neill nan aire
Theirear Tighearu ri Mac Neill
Theii'ear iasg ri« an iasg bheag
Theirear nead ri seid a gheoigh
'S nead an fhionnain fbeoir ge beag."


Til the tuck to the parson of Island Finnan, this
casualty was let'erred to as " ane nichteis meit or
Cuddyche to me, niy household and servandis anes
ilk yeir," while the lessee was forbidden to take
forcibly meat or ilrink or other entertainment from
any Clanranald tenants except he was storm-stayed
anywhere, in which case he was to take from his
own nearest tenants within the lands of Derrilea
and others set in lack at the utmost three nitdits"
meat. This form of obligation, which was evidently
exacted from all classes of tenants, must have been
occasionally oppressive, and it was with the view of
obviating its necessity that the Statutes of I Colum-
kill laid upon the chiefs of the Isles the duty of
buildino and maintaining inns and places of enter-

The incidence of the " calp." " herezeld," or each
fuinu. was in early times the symbol of dependence
paid by the native man to his lord. But in later
ages it was exacted by the chief from his vassals.
On the death o'' a tenant the best horse had to be
given ovei-. The custom was forbidden by law in
1<>I7. but Celtic customs die hard, and in a marriage
contract of 1710 the wife, if she survived her
husband, would, among other gear, obtain the
second best horse he possessed, clearly imi)lying that
the best horse went to the chief The records of the
early years of the 17th century help to throw some
light upon the social life of the chiefs and gentry of
the Isles. It is clear that their manner of living
was highly luxurious for those days, and that they
kept high state in their great strongholds. ))erched
upon the impregnable rocks of their country. That
the men of the South looked on them with an
envious eye is evidnit fi-oni the fact that the Privy


r^ouncil sought to limit their potations to ;i iiiiuinnim
quantity of wine. The allowance of 8 tun to Clan-
ranald was evidently far short of the (quantity
formerly consumed in the household of that chief
Doubt may be expressed as to the rigid adlierence
on the part of the chief to his allowance, and it
would be interesting to know who kept the reckoning,
and whethm- the meddlino- CV)uncil sent a teetotaller
to do the duty, or, if they did, whether he broke his
])ledge ! As to alcoholic indulgence, the households
of the chiefs were certainly not ascetic, nor did they
become so through the efforts of the Privy Council.
Niel Mor MacVuirich celebrates in enthusiastic
strains a visit to Dunvegan C^astle early in the
17th century. The entertainment lasted six nights,
and a numerous company sat at the festive board.
There was the merriment of the harp and of the full
bowl, inebriating ale, and a blazing fire. In his regal
court drinkinp' vvas not a dream. We were twenty
times drunk every day, to which we had no more
objection than he had. This picture needs no
colouring, and it is certain that Duntulm would
vie with Dunvegan in the copiousness of its liba-
tions. Donald Gorm Og MacGhilleasbuig Chleirich,
first baronet of Sleat, is the hero of a song by his
foster-mother — already quoted — which is interesting
from the side-lights shed by it upon the social life
of the chief and his retainers. Hyperbole indeed
abounds, such as when she says about his galley : -

" Tha stiuir oir orr'
Tri chruiun shcilicL
Gu 'ni bheil tobar fibna
Sios na deireadh
'S tobar fior-uisg
Sa' cheann eile."


The favourite amusements at Sir Donald s courts —
drauglils, cards, dice, wrestling, and even football —
are enumerated, while the nmsic of the pipe and harp,
not always found in such close fellowship, are here
side by side in friendly rivaliy. One of the services
demanded of vassals was to attend the chiefs on
days of hunting, and a stipulation to that effect was
usually inserted in tacks of the early years of the
17th century. The tenant was '• hereby obi eist to
Intertein myne and my fcirsaids horse hound,
haulkis and their keiperis pro rata as the remanent
of my country people sail. ' Firearms were in pretty
general use in the Highlands during the 16th
century, as is shown in a poetic soliloquy by
Domh)iuIl Maclaiii Ic Sheumais, a bard already
quoted, as he laments the sordid surroundings of his
declining years, and thus soliloquizes :—

" A iiihic lui Cionii-.shuilich ;i Miiidoart
Clia bi deatach dliubli an diidain
A chleachd thu aim an tiirlach t' athar
Kir oga ri losgadh fudair
lii mire ri nuiini "s ri aighear.''

The early years of this warrior bard were passed
about 1570-1 GOO, and we know that bows and
arrows were the arms of |)recision used at the
battle of Carinisli, which was foui:ht about the
latter date. Yet even then firearms were in use in
the Isle of 8kye. as the poem just quoted suggests.
It does not, however, appear that firearms were
used in hunting until lorg after their introduction
into w.iriiuc. For |)urposes of the chase, bows and
arrows continued in use far into thw 17th century.
Even as late as 1 flC).'} — the vear of the Kep])0ch
murder Iain Lom. the Lochaber l)ard, eulogising
Sir James Macdonald of ISleat, says : —


'' Bliiudh an t-iubluir ga liibudli
Aig do fhlcasgaichemi lira
Dol a sliiulplijil nan stuf-ljlu-ann."

The statutes of 1 Coluiiikill laid many other pro-
hibitions on the Chiefs of the Isles, none of which
would have been much more effective than tiiose
already referred to. There was the limit placed
upon the number of retainers or body ^uard to be
kept in their castles, which was to be restricted to
six in the cases of Sleat and Claniaiiald, while they
were forbidden to keej) more than one o-allev' of Hi
to 18 oars each. The attempt had previously been
made to take their strono-holds from tliem. Auyus
of Dunnyveo", Donald Gorm of Sleat, Clanranald.
and Glengarry were asked to surrender their castles,
respectively of Dunnyveg, Camus, Islandtirrim, and
IStrome, and this was made a condition of their
holdini>- lands from the Crown. Thev w^ere also
oblioed to p'ive as much land as would maintain the
keepers. Now there is a strict limitation of the
numbers by whom coats of mail, fire-arms, and
swords were to be used. If these enactments as to
arms and galleys had been strictly kept, one wonders
how such large bodies of men could have been so
expeditiously shipped to the mainland or how the
islesnu-n could have fouoht with such skill and
courage a generation later in the brilliant campaign
of Montrose.

It is thus clear that, despite outside influences,
society in the Isles preserved its chief outlines at
the beginning of the 17th century. This being so,
the present would seem to be an ap]n'0])riate stage
of this chapter for considering some, at least, of
those offices and customs so long characteristic of
Gaelic culture. The more important offices in the


Chief's household and in the ])olity of the (ylan were
hereditary. Martin mentions two officials of the
Chiefs household whose functions were thus trans-
mitted from father to son. namely, the Marischall-
Ti^-he and the cuj)-bearer- — the latter not a sinecure,
it' the verdict of tradition is trustworthy. Martin
had seen the jmrchments on which their hereditary
rii^lits were recorded. One of the otHcials expressly
condemned and whose oliice was abolished by the
oft-quoted statutes was the bard, but he long-
survived, and continued to flourish after his
de|)ositi(>n Ity the Privy Council of Scotland.
The bards, who were more tlian any otheis
associated with the Clan Donald, were the ancient
line of the MacVurichs. These were descended
from Muireach Albannach, who came from Ireland
to the Isles in the first half of the 13th century,
beiiio- contemporary with Donald, from whom the
Clan derives its name. Tradition tells that he
once made a pilgrimage to Rome, perhaps, indeed,
in the company of the Island lord liimself, when he
visited his Holiness in the Eternal City. On his
return, resting footsore and weary on the banks of
Loch Long, he exclaimed —

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