Angus Macdonald.

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'* Mi m' slmidh air cnocau nan deur
tiiin chraicionn air nieur no air bonn
A Righ 's a Plieadair 's a Phoil
'S fada 'n Roinih o Loch Long."

Under the lordship of the Isles there was a
college oi- hierarchy of bards. In Angus Og's
(charter to the Abbey of lona, one of the witnesses
is Lachlan MacVurich, described as " Archipoeta,"
or chief poet. Then and afterwards the Mac
Vurichs were learned in Irish, English, and Latin,


and the fkt^t that they studied in the (Colleges ot*
Ireland seems borne out by the decided Hibernian
smack that is noticeable in many of their com-
positions. After the fall of the lordsliip of the
Isles, they adhered to the fortunes of the Clan-
ranald branch, from whom they received as the
emoluments of their office the farm of Stelligarry
and four pennies of the farm of Dremisdale. Their
rights in tliese weie to continue so long as there
should be any of the posterity of Muireacli to pre-
serve and continue the history of the Macdona'.ds.
Failing of male issue, each successive hard was to
educate the brother's son or other representative, in
order to preserve the title to the lands and maintain
the bardig order. In 1633 John Macdonald of Olan-
ranald granted a wadset of the lands of Balmeanach
and Gerihorornish in South Uist to Donald Gearr
MacVurich, who must have been one of the same
family. In 1707 the MacVurich lands ol Stelligarry
and Dremisdale ceased to be an entirely free gift,
though still held by them as bards and seanachies,
foi- in a tack by Allan Macdonald of Clanranald to
Donald MacVurich, " indoweller iu Stelligai-ry," a
rent w-as exacted of £10 Scots, along with all public
burdens and impositions. After 1745 the office of
family bard and historian was abandoned by the
Clanranalds, and the iepresentati\e of the family in
1 800 was totally illiterate. This individual, whose
name was Niel MacVurich, received from the Clan-
ranald of his day a small life pension of £2 15s 6;|d.
Besides the Red and Black Books of Clanranald,
now in the possession of the family, there are
numerous manuscripts left by them, preserved in
the Advocates' Library, which can only be a frag-
ment of their literary remains as these existed in
the 18th century.


Among the hereclitaiy bards were those of the
Macdonalds of Sleat. One appears in tradition —
MacEheatrais or MacBeathaig — who flourished about
the middle of the 17th century, and is probably
the individual of whom MacCodrum speaks in his
" Di-moladlv piol) Dhomhnuill Bhain '" in the verse

'^ IMiu i tivis uig Mac Blieatrais
A Shoiniicadli na daiu
Nuair theirig a chlar.sach
'S a dh' fhailing a pns "

which suggests that MacBeathaig was a mild
pluralist, who combined the offices of bard and
piper. On one occasion on which he was with his
Chief at Dunvegan Castle in company with other
Island notabilities, all with their bards and pipers,
it was agreed that the bard composing the best
eulogy to his C^'hief should receive a prize. When
MacBeathaig delivered his soul he represented the
other chiefs as menials, waiting on the pleasure of
the Lords of the Isles, one a door-keeper, another
holding his stirrup, and others discharging duties
(piite as humble. Dunvegan's Chief was wroth and
spoke harshly to MacBeathaig, at the same time
admitting that his poetic effort was the best and
most deserving of the prize. The poet proudly
declined, and spoke the lines that follow —

" 'S aim a gheibhinn mo dhuais
.Ann an talla nan tend,
Bho Dhomlmull Gonn
Bu chomhnard ceum an comhrag arm,
Bho Dlionilinull (Joini nan cliar 's nan creach,
Mo bhiadh 's nio dheoch ;
M' uisgc beatha 's m' fhion gii moch,
'S mo ghrian air loch."


A family of the name of Macruari held the lands
of Achadh 7iam hard in Trotternish,. in virtue of
their office as bards to the Sleat family : they were
probably in succession to the MacBeathaig.s.
Duncan Macruari, whose name appears in the
Fearnaig MS. as the author of several short poems,
was no doubt of the Trotternish family of bards.
The last of them who held the office was another
Duncan Macruari, the predecessor, with probal^ly a
considerable interval, of John MacCodrum, who was
appointed in 1763, and was the last of the Mac-
donald bards. MacCodrum, Ijesides holdino- his
croft in North Uist free, had a yearly salary allowed
him as bard to Sir James Macdonald, and after-
wards to Sir Alexander Lord Macdonald. The
influence of the bards, as a moral force in the social
system of the Isles, was, doubtless, considerable.
It was their function to sing the prowess and fame
of those who had won distinction in the field, and to
incite the men of their own day to imitate the
heroes of the past. They have been accused of
keeping every ofl^ence from being forgotten, and
every barbarous revenge from being repented of, but
this charge is not sujjported by the eft'usions that
have floated down to us on the stream of tradition,
whose influence must, on the whole, have been
elevating and inspiring.

The next hereditary official in the household of
the chief who may be placed aftei- the bard and before
the piper in point of antiquity is the harper. That
the harper, in some districts, had lands attached to his
office is shewn b}^ the place-name Croit-a-Chlarsair,
the harper's croit, met with in the parish of Kiltarlity
and elsewhere. The harp, which was adapted more
for the hall, as the accompaniment of the songs of


the barcl, than for the field, gave place gradually to
the bagpipe, which, from its rousing strains, was
better suited to the genius of the Highland people.
This decline of the harp may be dated from the
beo'inning of the civil wars, when the niilitaiy s])irit
of the Hiuhland clans was roused to such a high
pitch of enthusiasm. Towards the end of the 1 7ih
century the professional harpei had almost entirely
disappeared from the social life of the Tsles. The
last of his race is believed to have been Murdoch
Macdonald, harper to Maclean of Coll, who died, at
an advanced age, in 17-^9.

It does not fall within the scope of this chapter
to trace the origin of the Highland bagpipe. Suffice
it to say that at the beginning of the period now
under consideration the piper had become an institu-
tion in the social life of the country, and held an
important position in the chief's household. Like
the bard and harper, his office was hereditary. The
MacArthur family, who were hereditary pipers to
the Macdonalds of Sleat from an early period down
to the year 1800, liad hef-n previously, according to
their own testimony, hereditary pipers to the Lords
of the Isles. They occupied from time immemorial
the lands of Hunglater, in Trotternish, valued in
1733 at 84 merks of silver duty in virtue of their
office. Like the MacCrimmons, they kept a school
for the training of young pipers, to which students
flocked from all parts of the Highlands. The Mac-
Artliurs were reckoned by many to be equal even to
the MacCrimmons, both as composers and players of
pipe music. Their fame spread far and wide. Pen-
nant, the traveller, was entertained by one of these
in his house at Hunglater, in 1774. and he pays him
the compliment of being " quite master of his instru-


uient." This was the famous Charles MacArthur
who had studied under Patrick Og MacCrimmon at
Dunvegan. His father, Angus MacArthur, who was
also a famous player in his day, had been piper to Sir
Donald Macdonald of Sleat, and it was to the stir-
ring notes of his pipe that the Clan Uisdein went
into action at tlie battle of Sheriifniuir. When Sir
Alexander Macdonald became a student in St
Andrew's, in 1726, Charles MacArthur attended
him as his piper. His salary in 1749 was £0(5 13s
4d. The Macdonalds of Sleat kept a piper ir, each
of their three baronies of Sleat, Trotternish, and
North Uist. The Sleat piper in 1723 was a Malcolm
Macintyre, who held his lands free as the chief's
piper. The North Uist piper in 1745 was John
Bane MacArthur, brother of Charles, with a salary
of £33 6s 8d. His son, Angus, was afterwards piper
to Lord Macdonald. He was the last of the heredi-
tary pipers of the MacArthur family, and died in
London in 1800. Shortly after his death, Alexander
MacArthur, describing himself as the son of the late
Charles MacArthur, and the only male representative
of the family then living, petitioned Lord Macdonald
to appoint him as his piper ; but, though an accom-
plished player, he does not appear to have been
successful in obtaining his request.

The physicians, who, like other officials of the
social system, were an hereditary caste, occupied an
important position in the Isles. The hereditary
physicians of the Lords of the Isles were the Mac-
Beths, in later times called Beatons and Bethunes.
According to Cathelus MacVurich. who flourished
c. 1600, the MacBeths were of the Gaelic stock
of the Isles, for when speaking of aicme He, " the
race of Isla," he says that to it also belonged —


"Clanuii Mliic i^'athu a gluiatli ^liriiiu
Luchd siioidhc chiiainli a^us chiiisleaii.''

The Hist !){' tliL* i'ainily wliose name is on record is
Fergus MacBetli, whose name is attaclied to the
Gaehc Charter of 1408 as witness, and who was
most probably the writer of the Deed. The Islay
physicians had tlie lands of Balinbe(]j, Areset, Howe,
and Saliia), for their maintenance bv hereditary
teinne, and long after the lordsliip of the Isles was
vested in the Drown — in 1G09 — we find James VI.
bestowing the office of physician-in-chief, as also the
lands enjoyed by his ancestoi-s, upon anoth^^r Fergus
MacBeth, who seems to have been the last to fill tlie
office, and who died in 1(521). Several otlier
members of the same family under the name of
Beaton, notably 'O/ i-( >llii MiuhiicJi and F('<(rchnr
Lighichc, held similar appointments in diH'erent
parts of the Hebrides. In North Uist a branch of
this family were hereditary physicians to the Mac-
donalds for many generations. The last of them,
Niel Beaton, dird in \7iV^. In South Uist the
line of physicians of this name came to an end
about the beLrinnin<j: of the 18th century in the
person of Fergus Beaton. In Sleat there wjus a
long succession of Beatons occupying the same
office. Ill the bamny of Trotternish the hereditary
physicians were .Macleans, said to have been
descended from a surgeon of that name who accom-
panied Ronald, tin* son of Donald Herrach. from the
Irish wars, and settlecl on the farm of Shulista. which
he and his successors occupied (\r officio for many
generations. The first of them, according to island
tradition, was of the family of Brolas, and obtained
his meilical lor*- throuirh his mother, beiiiir a


daughter of one of the Beaton physicians of Mnll.
The last of this race was Dr John Maclean of
Shulista, who was also factor for Trotternish, and
reckoned an accomplished and learned man. lie
died in 17iK). These hereditaiy physicians were
men of grefit learnini; and skill in their profession,
whose acquaintance with plants and herbs and their
virtues was extensive and tninute. They were
voluminous writers of Gaelic medical manuscripts,
some of which have been preserved, while their
knowledge of botany survives in their illiterate
descendants down to our own times.

Another individual who held a position of some
importance in the social polity was the smith, or
armourer. He made and repaired arms, and being
an hereditary official, held his lands free. He was
also entitled to certain dues from his district, and
H8 long as the clan system and hereditary juris-
dictions lasted, was a personage of some distinction.
A family of MacRury were the hereditary smiths to
the Macdonalds at Trotternish, where they held the
smiths' pennylands of Balvicilleriabhaich. A branch
of the samt^ family were hereditary smiths in North

An official of consequence in the life of an island
pa)ish, though not aj^parently of an hereditary
caste, was the miller. Crown charters originally
bestowed the rights of multuie upon the ( 'hief but
afterwards these were divided between hin)self and
the miller. Tenants were obliged in terms of theii-
leases to grind their corn in the mill of the district,
and pay the accustomed multure. These milling
rights were protected by law and practice, and
private grinding was as illegal as private distillation
now. A law was enacted against (juenis in the



reign of Alexander IT., and was ever aflerwards
very stiictly enforced. Querns, however, continueil
in frequent use, and the law was often evaded.
When illicit grind intr was tliscovered, the miller was
empowered to break tlie (juerns, and it is said that
about the niiddh' of the 18th century a raid was
niadt* upon tlie cjuerns in South Uist, when a largt?
number were collected by tlie millers and tluuwii
into the sea. Fines were also exacted ; but these
frequently took the form of a licence in favour <>f tlie
inhabitants of the smaller islands of Uist and Skye,
where regular mills did not exist, and private
grinding at times was a necessity, owing to
dangenms and stoimy ferries. [t was a recognised
privilege, however, that people from the smaller
islands coming to grind to the main island ])ad a
right to be attended to immediately, even to the
interruption of others. It was this that gave rise to
the words of the local song —

" Sin nuair thuirt am bodach leatlmnn,
Cha 'n fhaigh thu bleith an truaighe gran,
Nach fhaic thu n soirbhea.s 'gam fheitheamh,
Agus m' eithear air an traigh."

When the islands depended so largely upon their own
food supply, the griiuling iudustrv was clearly ot
great importance.

It will now be necessary, as briefly as possible,
to give an account of some of the more outstanding
cu.stoms and institutions characteristic of the
Western Gael, aufl which were largely the outcome
of the tribal c(^nstitution of Gaelic society. The
custom of handfasting, which has already been
touched upon in Volume I., aflected in a marked
degree the social life of the Isles. Marriages thus
"contracted for certane veiiis'" were evidently


regarded by the Scottish authorities as a danger to
the social fabric, and sniiiniarily condeiiiiied in 1600
by the statutes of I Cohuiikill. Presumably tin*
supreme importance of having heirs, and thus
securing the perpetuity and power of families,
outweighed every other interest secular or sacred,
and led to the fre(iuent adoption of these loose and
easily dissolved unions, which might be cemented
by the Church or not according to the appearance
or non-appearance of progeny, or the existence or
non-existence of mutual compatibility. There is no
evidence to show what special form this custom took,
or whether there was any kind of ceremony or any-
thing of the nature of a written contract, but it is
quite clear that the custom wrought much evil in
the feuds and bloodshed which were certain to
result, when ladies of respectable families were cast
adrift in such a summary manner. Ranald Mac-
donald of Benbecula, as recorded by MacVurich,
" took unto him " five wives in succession, three of
whom he "put away," while the fourth died, and
the fifth probably survived him. It may be sur-
mised that this trafficking in wives brought him
much trouble. He was otherwise one of the wildest
men of his time, yet MacVurich sublimely tells us
that the barbarian was " a good man according to
the times in which he lived. '

We have not seen anywhere a Macdonald
marriage contract earlier than the first half of the
17th century — if ihere were such, they have not
been preserved. It is not a fair inference to con-
clude that the absence of such documents implies
the general prevalence of handfasting previous to
that time, thougli, as a matter of historical notoriety,
many such cases did arise. Be this as it may.


the removal of this scandal from the social life of
the Isles was one of the most useful and
effective reforms inautrurated by the legislation of
I Cohunkill. Marriage contracts drawn up before
the ceremony, containing stringent provisions and
binding the parties to celebrate the union in the
face of holy Church, became the settled order of
social life, and the custom of handfasting seems to
have become a thing of the i)ast. Into the
minutiie of these marriage contracts it is impos-
sible in the space at our disposal fully to enter.
The earliest and most interesting document of
this nature that we have seen is the contract
V)etween John Macdonald of Olanianald and Marion,
daughter of Sir Hory Mor Macleod of Dun vegan,
in IGl.'i, and it may be quoted as a good
example of the fonn which these mutual arrange-
ments assumed in the highest grades of island
society. In the body of the contract "The
Sikid Uorie McCloyd obleiss him. his airis t*.\"' and
assigneyis to randii' and deliver to ye said
Jolinne Moydort his airis, kc, in name of tochir
with ye said moir nyne scoir of gud quick ky
totridder with uther twentie kv ma fnue ve said
.Johnne sail desyre thame and gaillay of twentie
airis with thri sailing and rowing geir gud and
sufficient within the space of ane yeir efter ye com-
pletion of ye said mariage hot forder delay."

One of the best and most beneficial customs in
the social system of the Islands was that of foster-
age. It prevailed from the earliest times, and was
the outgrowth of the social genius of the High-
landeis. It cemented friendship and knit families
together in a closer bond of union than those of
blood and kindred. It bridged the gulf between


rich and poor, and cemented tojiJether different
classes of* the community. The foster parent
was always of lower rank than the j)arent of tht^
foster child, nor was he as a rule of the child's
kindred. It was therefore reckoned a great honour,
and in consequence there was a pardoiiahle rivalry
among those who considered themselves eligihle for
this trust. It was a desirable alhance for the foster
parent, on account of the protection it afibrded to
him and his family. It was stated in the contract
between the parties that it was for the love and
respect he bore him that the parent had chosen the
other party as a foster father for his child. It was
good for the foster child himself to be placed in the
charge of a carefully selected guardian, who would
do his utmost for his proper upbringing, besides the
pi-ovision made for him by both parties. A. certain
number of cattle, and sometimes a sum of money in
addition, w^ere given by the fatlier of the child to be
" put to increase" for him in the most profitable
manner until he came of age. Tiie foster parent
made a similar provision for the foster child. Sir
Rory Macleod of Dun.vegan gave 7 mares with his
own son Norman, the charge and keeping of which
were to be with the foster parent in order to j)ut
them to increase for his foster son. The care and
keeping of 4 mares, given at the same time by the
foster parent, were to be with Macleod to put tln^m
to increase for the child in like manner. A contract
of fosterage between John Macleod of Dunvegan and
Niel Mackinnon, Minister of Sleat, in IG38, illustrates
the custom of that time. Macleod gave his third
son to the minister and his spouse Johnat Macleod
" to be fosterit, interteinit, mantenet and upbrocht
be theme ay and while he be for schooles," when


evidently tlie period of* fosterage ended. In order
tliat he may be better provided with means at his
*' perfyte aige," Macleod binds liimself to have in
readiness at the Whitsunday term of 1638, the sum
of 600 merks Scots to \)e then invested for behoof of
his son. The Minister of Sleat binds himself '" be
the faith and trewtli ni his body to foster, mantene,
intertene, and upbring the said Jon McLeod in the
fear of God and in all maiier requisit to his equall,
and with God's assistance to saitl" him from fyre and
watter, and the alyke accedentis whilk may inshew.''
He binds himself furtlier to provide his foster child
in the sum of 400 merks Scots to be placed in the
hands of Macleod to be " given furtli upoun land or
annual rent to the behuitle and utilitie of the said
Jon Macleod, minor." It is interesting to know
that John Macleod, the foster child of this contract,
became aPteiwards chief of the clan, known as Iain
Breac, one of the best and most popular chiefs in
the Highlands, who maintained unimpaired the
glory of his ancestors by keeping a bard, a harper,
a ]^iper, and a fool !

Having thus considered at some length the more
characteristic features of Gaelic society, we proceed
to trace the rise of certain forms of land tenure
within the Island comnmnlties in the 17th and 18th
centuries. The difficulties of the chiefs, arising from
such causes as arrears of Grown rents, fines and
forfeitures, Induced them to adopt with willingness
the duty imposed by Government of disposing of
thtMr lands l)y tack or otherwise. The tacksmen,
many of whom liad fought in European wars and
returned to th»'li native Islands with comparative
wealth, were able to make large cash advances to
the chiefs on the security of the lands they occu-


pied. The tacks of the early years of tiie 17th
century were as a rule for leiigthened periods.
Sometimes they were for 3 lives and 3 nineteens,
and this was the most favoured type of tack among
the chiefs and gentry of the Isles. Of this nature
was the tack to Kenneth Macqueen of tlie lands of
Orinsay in North Uist to endure during all the days
of his life, two liferents thereafter, and three nine-
teen years. Sometimes, as in the case of the tack
to the Parson of Island Finnan, the duration was
for his own life, the life of his heir male, and nine-
teen years. The tack given to Niel Maclean of the
lands of Boreray and others in 1626 was for all the
days of his life, and to his heirs after him for twenty-
one years. But in 1712 a much more lengthy tack
is given to his descendant, Archibald Maclean of
Boreray, by another Chief of Sleat, which is for
the same lands, and to endure for " 3 lives and 3
nineteens for certain gratitude and pleasure and
good deeds paid and done." In 1734 Sir Alexander
Macdonald adds a 4th life to the lease. The rents
and casualties varied, but the two systems were
always represented — -the old system of payment in
kind and service, which was passing away, and the
new system of silver rent, which was destined to
displace it. At the tacksman's entry, he usually
paid a considerable sum in name of gras.^um, which
for a large holding might be 300 merks Scots. The
money rent was specified as tack duty, and the rent
paid in kind consisted of victual, butter, cheese,
wedders, hens, fish, and white plaiding or blankets.
The tacksman had to render the usual services by
land and sea, was obliged to attend the baron
Courts. " underlie the Acts and americaments
thereof," and CArry '• his haill grindable corn " to

136 THK (I, AN I)()NALI).

the niill of the district. A specially vahiable and
somewhat uiii(jue tack was tliat of Kenneth Mac-
(jueeii of Urinsav, inasnnicli as it l)est<)\ved a grant
of tlie haihary of the lands i;iven in assedation and
the •■ sahnon tishlni; of tlie water ol" Kiiwartain on
holh sides of said \vat«-i' from the sea flood to the
sheahni^ place of (xrinisaiLr." The tacksman paid a
duty of six shillinos '* for ilk last fish fyve jjacked
by sea or land." For tlie l)ailiary he paid six
shillings and eight |)ennies, and to the superior he
had to transmit '' fwe |)ack of fresh salmond fish all
and meikle as they sliall happen to be slaine for ye
salmond fishing of the said water of Kilwartaine. '
It is clear that in the I 7th ceiituiv j)ickled salmon
were largely exported as well as used for home con-
sumption in the Isles, and that the Hebridean shores
abounded witli salmon. Only in verv few instances
were bailiarv })owers included in tacks, the only
two instances that have come under our notice being
this tack to Kenneth Macqueen in 1611), and one to
Alexander Macdonald of Boisdale in 1734. It was
however, a ])ractice with the Macdonald Barons of
Sleat and Trotternish to delegate powers to their
tacksmen to hold inferior, or as they may be styled,
small debt courts, competent to deal with matters
not involving interests of more than I'l'.

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