Angus Macdonald.

The clan Donald (Volume 3) online

. (page 19 of 48)
Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 19 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

so good a title. These remained in the absolute
possession of the Clan Uisdean, who continued
bravely to hold them by the strong hand. As
further proof of the good behaviour of Ranald Bane
from the j^^ii'^t of view of the Government, a
commission, dated April 29th, 1508, is given him
with Andrew, Bishop of Caithness, and Alexander
Macleod of Dun vegan, to let for five years to good
and sufficient tenants the lands of Lewis and of
Waternish, in Skye, forfeited by Torquil Macleod
of Lewis. How he succeeded in this post is not
recorded, but it is difficult to believe, in view of
the friendly relations in which he and his father
stood to the Government, that their reward for their
loyalty and services was the common punishment of
traitors. Gregory alone is responsible for the state-
ment, based on a mere conjecture, that Allan
MacRory was tried, convicted, and executed in
presence of the King at Blair- Athole in 1509, and
that his son Ranald met with a similar fate at Perth
in 1513. These conclusions are not warranted by
reference to MacYuirich, the authority quoted by
the learned author of the History of the Highlands
and Islands. MacVuirich records in the Book of
Clanranald that " Allan, after having been before
the King, and having received a settlement of his
estate from King James the Fourth, a.d. 1509, died
at Blair- Athole." The same authority further
records that " Ranald Bane, son of Allan, having
gone before the King to settle finally the affairs
which his father was not able to effect, died in the
town of Perth, a.d. 1514." It is quite clear that



there is not in these words any foundation what-
ever for beHeving that, if these men did die, the one
in Blair- Athole and the other in the town of Perth,
it was in the violent manner alleged by Gregory.
In the long elegy on Allan and Kanald by
MacVuirich, we should expect to find reference to
events so tragic, if these chiefs had actually suffered
death in the manner alleged, and there is not the
faintest hint given. But though MacYuirich is
generally accurate in other respects, he is seldom so
in his dates. In a bond of manrent between
Alexander, Earl of Huntly, and Dugal McRanald,
dated at Inverness on the 15th day of March, 1510,
Ranald Bane is referred to as then dead. The last
reference we can find to Ranald in the public records
is in the year 1509, and he was dead in the
beginning of the year 1510, on the authority of
the bond referred to. In the former year King
James IV. granted a letter of protection to the
Prioress Anna Maclean of lona ordering all his
lieges within the Isles, especially Ranald Alansoune
MacRory, and other chiefs not to annoy the Prioress
and other religious women, or exact from them
anything on pretence of " sornyng or alms deeds"
under the highest penalty.^ In the previous year
letters of safe conduct had been directed "Ronaldo
filio A Hani Makrory " in favour of certain religious
women then travelling in the Isles." The lands
belonging to the Nunnery of lona lay to a large
extent within the bounds of the Chief of Clanranald.
Allan MacRory appears in record for the last time on
the 10th of December, 1501 , when he was summoned
before the Lords of Council to answer for his con-
tinuing to hold the lands of Moidart, and others,
without a title, and he appears to have been dead in

^ Reg. Sec, Sig. - Ibidem,


1503, 111 which year a letter is addressed by the
Council to his son as Chief of (Jlanranald.

The character of Allan MacRory has been put in
a somewhat unfavourable light by some writers of
Highland history, who have not scrupled to lay
almost every conceivable crime at his door. He is
represented as a bold and reckless plunderer, whose
whole life was consecrated to rapine, carrying his
forays into every corner of the Highlands, far and
near. Judged from the ethical standpoint of the
present, there was no doubt much in the life of the
bold chief to lend colour to this view of his char-
acter ; but Allan, who flourished four hundred years
ago, must be judged by the standard of his own
time. Holding his lands at the point of his sword,
he must use it well, and surrounded as he was by
powerful chiefs, each of whom was ready to pounce
upon his neighbour at the shortest notice, he
must accommodate himself to circumstances, and
secure larger creachs than theirs, if it be his
ambition to occupy a commanding position amongst
them. Allan MacRory, rightly or wrongl}', looked
upon every Highland chief outside his own clan as
an enemy who might at any moment invade his
territory, and he no doubt considered it a salutary
discipline to occasionally pay his neighbours an
unexpected and unwelcome visit. The burning,
harrying, and spoliation, of which we hear so much,
were but the outcome of a primitive state of society
fostered by an age in which the march of civilisation
had made but little progress. Judging Allan by the
standard of his time, we find in him a bold and
resolute chief, a capable and fearless leader of men,
and one who was far above his contemporaries in
those qualities that alone constitute true strength.


Such a man, as tlie seanachie of his family puts it,

Avas indeed capable of " striking terror into the

hearts of his enemies in many parts of Scotland."

If Allan feared not man, it must be admitted that,

if the bard speaks truth, neither did he fear his God.

He appears not to have had the reverence for the

Church which the wildest spirits of that age seldom

failed to show, and none more sincerely than the

chiefs of the family of Macdonakl. The satire on

Allan MacRory in the Book of the Dean of Lismore

is a severe castigation of the redoubtable chief The

author announces the death of the " one demon of

the Gael" as a tale to be well remembered, and in

the fierce effusion which follows he traces the descent

of Allan somewhat differently from MacVuirich, the

seanachie of the family.

" First of all from Hell he came.
The tale's an easy tale to tell."

With "many devils in his train," the "fierce ravager
of Church and Cross " laid sacrilegious hands on
lona, and destroyed the priests' vestments and the
holy vessels for the mass in the churches of St Mary
and St Oran. The unconsecrated Vandal is further
charged with burning the church of St Finnan, in
Glengarry, and, in fine, if there be but a grain of truth
in the long catalogue of crimes of which he is accused,
Innsegall was indeed well rid of so great a curse.
The character, however, ascribed to our Chief by
Red Finlay is very different from that given him by
a contemporary bard. To MacVuirich "Allan was a
hero by whom the board of monks was maintained,
and by whom the plain of the Fingalls was
defended," a chief worthy of being lamented. If
the red-haired bard was not a Churchman, as his
piece would suggest, but, as some think, the Chief


of tlie Clan MacNab, the outpouring- of his vials of
wrath on the devoted head of Allan Macllory
may, without any great stretch of imagination, be
accounted for. It is highly probable that the Mac-
Nab country had been more than once honoured by
the presence of a foraging party from Castletirrim.
The memory of such raids was sure to leave
impressions of a lasting nature, and, as the broad-
sword had failed him, the red-haired chief wielded to
some purpose his poetic quill.

There are many traditions handed down in the
Olanranald country illustrative of the character of
Allan Macliory. One of these would have it that
he had at once as many as three Highland Chiefs
incarcerated in his strongliold of Castletirrim.
These were the Chiefs of Macleod, Mackay, and
Mackintosh. Mackintosh, who had had many feuds
with the Clanranald, to secure himself against any
possible attack by them, built a stronghold on a
little island in Loch Moy. On the completion of
the building, he invited his friends and retainers to
a housewarming. The hospitable shell was freely
passed round at the feast, and, as a consequence,
the host felt in a mood to give vent to his pent-up
feelings, and uttered statements which bade defiance
to Allan Macliory and the whole tribe of Clanranald.
There ha})pened to be present on the occasion one of
those wandering Irish minstrels without the strains
of whose harp no such entertainment in those days
was held to be complete. This disciple of Orpheus
found his way in course of time to Castletirrim, and,
by way of ingratiating himself with the Chief of
Clanranald, he retailed how Mackintosh had stated
boldly in his hearing that he no longer feared Allan
MacRory, or any of his name. On hearing this,


Allan was wroth, and vowed there and then that lie
would make Mackintosh feel that even Castle Moy
was not a protection to one who presumed to offer so
great an insult to the Clanranald. He forthwith put
himself at the head of a body of his retainers, and
marched under cover of night to Loch Moy, seized
Mackintosh in bed, and carried him prisoner to
Castletirrim, Here he kept him in durance for a
year and a day, at the end of which he dismissed
him with the admonition never again to consider
himself free from the fear of a Macdonald.

On another occasion, while Allan was on his way
to visit his Long Island property, he encountered in
the Minch a fleet of galleys commanded by the Chief
of Maclean. With that Chief he was at the time,
as indeed he was with most of his neighbours, on
the worst jDossible terms of friendship. Realising at
once his danger, and knowing that whethei" he
resisted or surrendered his fate would be the same
— for he had only one galley against Maclean's ten
— Allan fell on the plan of feigning death, and
ordered his men to stretch him on a bier and make
every show of mourning for him. On the Macleans
coming near to the Macdonald galley they enquired
of Allan's men whither they were bound. The
Macdonalds, answering in very mournful tones,
informed the Macleans that they were on their
way to lona with the remains of their departed
Chief This news so delighted the Macleans that
they asked no further questions, and the Macdonalds
were allowed to pursue their journey in peace.
Instead, however, of steering for Skirhough, as he
oi'iginally intended, the resun-ected Allan changed
his course and landed in Mull, where the Macleans
afterwards discovered that the Chief of Clanranald
had not gone to lona.


Allan MacRoiy was succeeded in the chiefship
of the Clanranald by his son, Ranald Bane, who did
not long survive his father. He appears to have
followed closely in the footsteps of his predecessors,
and to have sufficiently sustained the traditions of
the family, "his fame," according to MacVurich,
"excelling the deeds of the Gael." The disaj)pear-
ance of Allan MacRory and Ranald Bane from the
arena of clan warfare resulted in bringing much
confusion into the internal ai-rangements of the
family of Clanranald. Dugal, who succeeded his
father, Ranald Bane, in the chiefship, appears to
have been possessed of qualities that rendered him
unpopular at the very beginning of his career, but
we are left entirely in the dark as to the exact
nature of these. The seanachies of the family
throw very little light on the situation, and only
make confusion worse confounded by the vagueness
of their references. We find Dugal shortly after
his succession to the chiefship giving a bond of
maurent to Alexander, Earl of Huntly, dated at
Inverness on the 10th of March, 1510.^ In this
document he is described as the son and heir of
'• Umquhile Ranaldson of Alanbigrim," and he
binds himself to become the Earl's man and
servitor to serve him all the days of his life,
" na persone except, bot the Kingis hienes
Allenarlie." This bond of service to the Earl,
though it did not mean much in itself, must have
given offence to many of Dugal's followers, who dis-
approved of any alliance with the family of Huntly.
It was but the beginning of the many troubles that
were in store for the new chief. Shortly after this
we find Dugal playing another part, ami the scene

^ The Gordon Papers.


is changed from Inverness to the coast of Uist,
where early in the year 1512 a Spanish ship was
wrecked.^ It is not recorded what burden this
vessel carried, but whatever it was, it appears
Dugal considered himself justified in appropriating
it to his own use, on the ground, no doubt, that any
wreckage cast ashore on his coast was his property.
The Lords of Council thought differently, and Dugal
accordingly was summoned to appear before them
to answer for the " spulzie" of the Spanish vessel.
The High Treasurer allowed the sum of forty-two
shillings for expenses to an individual bearing the
Celtic name of Gillebride, who was sent to the Isles
to summon Dugal. Whatever the fate of the
pursuviant may have been in his hazardous task,
it appears that Dugal neglected to obey the
summons, and that no fine was exacted from him
as the jDrice of his disobedience. Those in authority
were too busy elsewhere. The disastrous defeat at
Flodden, which had the effect of throwing the Low-
lands into a state of great confusion, affected also in
a similar manner many parts of the Highlands and
Islands. Sir Donald Gallda of Lochalsh was the
great disturber of the peace in the north, but the
Clanranald refused to join his standard, and little is
recorded of them during the minority of James V.
That there were, however, serious dissensions
amongst the different branches of the family at
this time subsequent events only too clearly prove,
and these arose entirely from the conduct of the
Chief himself. The state of matters was not by any
means improved by the apjDearance on the scene of
the Earl of Argyle, whom the Scottish Kegent
appointed in 1517 as lieutenant of the lands of

'■ Hidi Treasurer's Accounts.


Moidai't, Ai'isaig, and South Morar. Dugal again
finds refuge in a bond of manrent. On the 25th of
May, 1520, he binds himself at Ellanyssa to his
" derrest and best belovit Sir Johne Campbell of
Cauder Knycht," and promises to serve him against
all persons, saving the King's grace and the Earl of
Huntly. The most remarkable thing in this
document is the signature of the Chief of Clanranald,
who positively subscribes with his own hand,
" Dagal McRynald of Elian tyrim," It is somewhat
refreshing to find so clear an evidence of the school-
master being abroad in the country of the Clanranald,
though Dugal would hardly have considered so
monkish an accomplishment as adding any dignity
to one whose code of culture did not include a
knowledge of letters. The signing of Dugal by his
own hand is w^orthy of notice, in view of the fact
that, twenty-five years thereafter, of the seventeen
chiefs who formed the Council of Donald Dubh none
could sign his own name.

Dugal MacRanald now disappears entirely from
his position as Chief of the Clanranald. The same
obscurity that envelops the cause of his unpopularity
and deposition hangs over the manner of his deatli.
MacVuirich, with studied vagueness, " leaves it to
another certain man to relate ho\\' he spent and
ended his life." This reference to Dugal in the Red
Book of Clanranald is omitted entirely in the Black
Book, where it is simply recorded that " Ranald left
his son in the Lordship, i.e., Dugal McRanald."^ In
a Clanranald MS. of last century, it is stated that
Dugal was " a jealous and bad-tempered man who
put to death his two brothers, John and Allan, and
was afterwards himself killed."' Hugh Macdonald,

' Black Book of Claunuiakl, y. U6.


the Sleat seanachie, asserts that " Dugal was
murdered by his cousins, John Moidartach and
Allan, and that his two sons, Allan and Alexander,
were apprehended by Alexander of Glengarry and
killed by him, for which deeds he got some lands in
Morar." According to the tradition of the Moidart
country, Dugal was the victim of a plot laid by his
own cousins in the hope of obtaining the Chiefship
for Alexander MacAllan, Dugal's uncle. In carrying
out their diabolical scheme, they had the ready
co-operation of a notorious scoundrel, locally known
as " Allan nan Core." In course of time, as Dugal
was on his way from Arisaig to Castletirrim, he was
waylaid at a place called Polnish by Allan nan
Core and his party, and cut to pieces, the exact spot
where the foul deed was committed beino- known to
this day by tlie name of " Coirre-Dhughaill." In
the absence of documentary proof, it is difficult to
say what truth, if any, there is in this story, but
there appears to be no doubt that Dugal was deposed
from the chiefship at this time, and that he died in
the year 1520, or shortly thereafter, whether in the
violent manner already described we have no means
of determining with certainty. That there may
have been a plot such as tradition ascribes to his
cousins we can readily believe, but if Dugal and his
family had not made themselves obnoxious to the
rest of the Clanranald, the tribe as a body would
not have acquiesced in the selection of Alexander
MacAllan as their leader, nor would they have
deprived Dugal's son of that position, if he had
been found to have been wortliy of it. Allan
MacDugal's mother was, according to B'ather
Charles Macdonald, in his book on Moidart, a
daughter of the Chief of the Camerons. Brought


up among his mother's kin, the Camerons, when
Allan came of* age, made an attempt to })lace him
in possession of his heritage, but in this they failed,
and a compromise was arrived at whereby the lands
of Morar were given to Dugal's son. Gregory,
however, a more reliable authority, has it in a
manuscript that " Dugal married the daughter and
co-heiress of Sir Alexander of Lochalsh, but that he
was forced by Glengarry, who had married the other
co-heiress, and others of the Clanranald, to repudiate
his wife, who was afterwards married to Dingwall of
Kildun." Whether Allan was a grandson of Lochiel,
or of the Knight of Lochalsli, he never regained by
the help of the adherents of these chiefs the heritage
of the Chief of Clanranald, nor did he, indeed,
possess any of the lands of the tribe for nearly
twenty years after his father's death, and even the
lands he then came into possession of he held by a
very uncertain tenure. In the year 1538 the lands
of Morar, and others, which, as we have seen, were
granted to Angus Reochson MacRanald in 1498,
were, by an instrument under the Privy Seal,
bestowed on Allan and Lachlan, the sons of Dugal,
conjointly, and by reason of non-entry since the
death of John MacAngus Reoch MacRanald. Allan
thus succeeded the family of Angus Reoch Mac-
Ranald of Morar, and became the progenitor of
the family whose head has been known In more
modern times as MacDItugliaill Mhorthir.

" Alexander Mac Allan," we are Informed by
MacVuirich, " assumed the Lordship after Dugal,
the son of Ranald," By the tenor of the charters
granted by James IV. to Ranald Bane in 1498, the
lands were to be held of the King by Ranald and
his heirs male, with reversion to Alexander Mac-


Allan, his brother. In the Clanranald MS., already
quoted, it is stated that Allan Macllory gave
Alexander, his son, lands in Moidart, Arisaig, Eigg,
and Skirhough, and Hugh Macdonald in his manu-
script refers to him as " Tanisteir of Moidart."
In an action pursued in behalf of the King
a^-ainst several landholders in the Highlands in
the year 1501, Alane Rorisone and Alexander
Alansone are charged with the wrongous occu-
pation of the lands of Moidart.^ After Dugal's
deposition, and his family had been formally
thrown out of the succession to the family
estate and honours, Alexander Mac Allan un-
doubtedly became head of the Clanranald family,
both de facto and de jure. Dugal was set
aside by a recognised Celtic law which put
it in the power of a clan or tribe to depose
or elect its own chief, and the Clanranald, in
the exercise of their undoubted right, elevated
Alexander to the chiefship, after which it is vain
to appeal to a feudal law of primogeniture which
acknowledofed neither chief nor clan as such. There
are indications that Dugal and Alexander had been
on anything but friendly terms prior to tlie accession
of the latter to the chiefship. In a bond of manrent
by Alexander, dated at Inverleuer on the 20th day
of February, 1519, he binds himself, his sons, kins-
men, and servants, " to be lyell and trewe men and
servants to ane honorabyll knycht Johne Campbell
of Cauder Knycht," promising to take his part
against all, "the Kingis grace, my lorde of Ergille
beand excepted." He furtlier binds himself to take
Cawdor's counsel in all things, " and speciale anent
his eyme, Doygall M'llannald," swearing upon the

^ Acta Dom. Con.



'' mes boM^yk" to keep liis promise under pain of
200 merks to be })aid within forty days.^ In this
indenture by Alexander lie describes himself as
" Alexander M'Allan, Chaptane off the Clanranald,
and apyerand air of Tlanterim," being the first
occasion on which we find the distinction of
" Captain of Clanranald " assumed in the family.
The reason for the adoption of the title at this
time ma}'' be found in the fact that for the first
time in the history of the family the Clanranald
liad themselves elected their own chief; and we are
entirely of the opinion that the title of captain is,
in this case at anyrate, synonymous w^th chief, and
that it was so interpreted in this family down
to our own day admits of no doubt whatever. If
"captain" and "chief" were not the same here,
then and in that case the Clanranald could be said
to have been chiefless for the long period of close on
four hundred years. To avoid arriving at a con-
clusion so manifestly absurd and contradictory, we
must accept the designation of " Captain of Clan-
ranald " as signifying neither less nor more than
chief, or head, of the family of Clanranald.

We find no further reference to Alexander in his
new position as chief of Clanranald, though no doubt
the annals of the clan during his short period of
chiefship provided ample material for the pen of the
family chronicler. The subsequent history of the
Clanranald itself is ample proof of the troubled state
of the tribe at this time, but Alexander appears to
have been a chief worthy of their choice, and as
chief to have maintained his position with firmness
and dignity to the last. Dying some time before
the year 1530, Alexander was succeeded in the

' Thanes of Cawdor.


chiefship by his son John, known in the history of
the clan as " John Moidartach." This not being
the place for a genealogical discussion, we reserve
reference to the descent of this chief for the third
volume of this work, where we hope the accumu-
lation of rubbish that has gathered round it will be
finally disposed of and the question itself satis-
factorily settled.

At the very outset of his career as Chief of
Clanranald, John Moidartach is found in open
rebellion against the Government. The cause of
this revolt is to be traced to an Act passed by the
Privy Council in the year 1528, which declared
null and void all the new titles to lands within the
Lordship of the Tsles during the King's minority.
Alexander of Dunnyveg, being the person most
affected by this new enactment, forthwith raised
the standard of revolt, and to his banner hastened
John Moidartach, and many others of the insular
chiefs. The insurrection thus gathering volume
continued to rage for some time, until ultimately in
the month of May, 1530, nine of the principal
Islanders, including John Moidartach, sent offers of
submission by Hector Maclean of Duart to the King.^
James, who now beofan to see the baneful effect of
his hasty legislation regarding land tenure in the
West Highlands and Islands, at once granted the
prayer of the petition presented by Hector Maclean
of Duart, but on condition that the chiefs should
appear personally before him in Edinburgh, or wher-
ever he might hold Court, before the 20th of June.
The Islanders, however, appeared to be in no hurry
to deliver themselves into the hands of the Govern-
ment, notwithstanding the King's assurance of

^ Acts of the Lords of Council,


protection, and the additional offer by the Earl of
Argyle of no less than four Campbell hostages for
their safe return to their Island homes. ^ The King

Online LibraryAngus MacdonaldThe clan Donald (Volume 3) → online text (page 19 of 48)