The name of Colkittoch
often occurs in the history of the great rebellion in the reign of
Charles I. By some he is denominated Macdonald of Colkittoch, by others
Colkittoch, and by many he is confounded with his son. His name was Coll,
or Colle, Macdonald: he was a native of Ireland. His father was
Archibald Macdonell, who was an illegitimate son of the Earl of Antrim.
With the aid of his partisans, Coll took violent possession of the
island of Colonsay, one of the Hebrides, having driven away the Macfees,
who had held it for many centuries. Coll was denominated Kittoch, or,
more correctly, Ciotach, from his being left-handed. Coll had
distinguished himself in the unhappy disturbances in lreland, and when
Lord Antrim sent troops to Scotland as auxiliaries in the royal cause,
he served as an officer under his own son, Allister, or Alexander, who
had the chief command of the corps. The father and son were well
qualified for this service, both of them being well known in the
Highlands, and connected by blood or marriage with some of the best
families in that country.
Coll was noted for his strength and prowess, though tainted with the
cruelty too familiar to his countrymen at that time. He fought in all
the battles in which the Irish auxiliaries were engaged under Montrose;
he was also concerned in their plundering expeditions in Argyllshire,
where private revenge was unfortunately added to the horrors of war.
Many of the lyric compositions of those days extol his bravery and his
bloody vengeance on his antagonists, the Campbells, though it seems he
was on very friendly terms with some of that name.
Coll had possession of the Castle of Duntroon, and having placed a
garrison in it, he went to another quarter ; but in his absence it was
taken by stratagem. He was ignorant of this misfortune, and on his
return he steered his boat direct for the castle. His own piper was then
a prisoner there; and knowing his master’s boat, to warn him of his
danger, he played a tune which he composed for the purpose; and so
accurately did the sound correspond with the meaning, that Coll
understood the intention, and avoided the castle.
After the defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh, and the retreat of his son
Alexander to Ireland, Coll was left in command of the castle of
Dunaovaig, the ancient seat of the Macdonalds of Islay. The garrison
consisted of 150 men; but the pipes which conveyed the water being cut
by the enemy, on the assurance of Sir David Leslie, who commanded the
parliamentary forces, Coll was induced to go out of the castle to hold
parley with his old friend Campbell of Dunstaffnage. Leslie basely broke
his word, and made Coll prisoner.
The Marquis of Argyle was
present on the occasion, and was blamed for this. After the Restoration,
when Argyle was brought to trial, he was accused of the heinous crime of
having ordered this garrison to be put on a rock, surrounded by the sea,
to perish without food or water. He denied all knowledge of any such
thing; and the proof on this point does not appear satisfactory, nor
could we find any tradition in that country of such an atrocious action.
Coll was committed to the custody of the captain of Dunstaffnage, in
whose castle he was confined, and the tower where he lay is still named
after him. That gentleman being no doubt sensible of the dishonourable
treatment his prisoner had received, gave him every possible indulgence.
He permitted Coll to walk about the place, but he had cause to repent
his lenity The Marquis of Argyle charged him with misconduct; and
dreading the well known severity of his chief, Dunstaffnage denied it.
Argyle swore that if Coll should be found at large, the captain would be
severely punished, and a messenger was despatched to ascertain the fact.
Dunstaffnage being at Inveraray at the time, ordered his foster-brother
to set off with all speed, and outrun the other, which he did; and on
coming in sight of the castle, he cried out, " Coll in irons ! Coll in
irons !" Coll was occupied in superintending the shearing of corn at the
time, and was the first who heard the cries. Conjecturing what the cause
might be, he instantly retired to his dungeon, and with his own hands
put on the irons. He was soon after this brought to trial before the
sheriff of Argyle, in the castle where he was confined. Maclean of
Ardgour, who originally had been on the royal side, was one of the jury;
and wishing to display his zeal for the republican cause, which, with
many others, be then espoused, asked Coll if he had been present at the
battle of Inverlochy; the prisoner boldy replied, "By my baptism! I was
so, carle, and did more service there than thyself." He was condemned to
die, and was executed, by hanging from the mast of his own boat, laid
across the cleft of a rock. [Coll's execution took place in 1647.] He
suffered death without dismay, requesting that his body might be laid so
near that of his friend, the captain of Dunstaffnage, that they might
exchange snuff-boxes in their graves; and this request was complied
with. The fate of Collkittoch was amply avenged : at the Restoration,
his death and sufferings formed some of the most serious and fatal
charges against the Marquis of Argyle. —" Traditions of the Western
Highlands,” in the London Literary Gazette.