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Book of Scottish Story
Ranald of the Hens


A TRADITION OF THE WESTERN HIGHLANDS

Early in the sixteenth century, Macdonald of Clanranald married the daughter of Fraser Lord Lovat, and from this connection some very unfortunate consequences to both these powerful families followed. Soon after his marriage Clanranald died, and left but one lawful son, who was bred and educated at Castle Donie, the seat of Lovat, under the care of his maternal grandfather. The name of the young chieftain was Ranald, and, unhappily for himself, he was distinguished by the appellation ‘Gaulta’, or Lowland, because Lovat’s country was considered as approaching towards the manners, customs, and appearance of the LowIands, compared to his own native land of Moidart, one of the most barren and mountainous districts in the Highlands.



Ranald was an accomplished youth, and promised to be an ornament to his family and his country; his disposition was amiable, and his personal appearance extremely handsome and prepossessing. While yet a stripling, he visited his estate ; and his people being desirous to give him the best reception in their power, he found at every house great entertainments provided, and much expense incurred by the slaughter of cattle and other acts of extravagance, which appeared to Ranald Very superfluous. He was a stranger to the customs of the country, and it would seem that he had no friendly or judicious counsellor. In an evil hour, he remarked that he was extremely averse to this ruinous practice, which he was convinced the people could ill afford; and said that, for his own part, he would be perfectly satisfied to dine on a fowl. Ranald had an illegitimate brother (or, as some say, an uncle`s son), who was born and bred on the estate. He was many years older than the young Clanranald, and was possessed of very superior abilities in his way. He was active, brave, and ambitious, to which were added much address and shrewdness. Having always resided in Moidart, where he associated with the people, and had rendered himself very popular, he had acquired the appellation of ‘Ian Muidartich’, or John of Moidart,—a much more endearing distinction than ‘Gaulta’.

The remark Ranald had made as to the extravagance of his people gave great offence; and the preference he gave to a fowl was conceived to indicate a sordid disposition, unbecoming the representative of so great a family. John Muidartich and his friends encouraged these ideas, and Ranald was soon known by the yet more contemptuous appellation of " Ranald of the Hens." He soon left Moidart, and returned to his grandfather’s house. His brother (and now his opponent) remained in that country, and he used all the means in his power to strengthen his interest. He married the daughter of Macdonald of Ardnamurchan, the head of a numerous and turbulent tribe, whose estate bordered on Moidart, and his intention to oppose Ranald became daily more evident. Several attempts were made by mutual friends to effect a compromise, without any permanent result. At length a conference between the brothers was appointed at Inverlochy, where Ranald attended, accompanied by old Lovat and a considerable body of his clan ; but especially a very large portion of the principal gentlemen of his name were present. John also appeared, and, to prevent any suspicion of violence, the number of his attendants was but small, and his demeanour was pacific and unassuming.

Lovat made proposals on the part of his grandson, and with very little hesitation they were acceded to by John and his friends. All parties appeared to be highly pleased, and they separated,—John and his small party directing their course homeward, whilst Ranald accompanied his aged relation to his own country, which was much more distant.

John of Moidart, however, was all along playing a deep game : he ordered a strong body of his father-in-law’s people to lie in ambush in a certain spot near the path by which Lovat and his men must necessarily pass on their return home; and he took care to join them himself, by travelling all night across the mountains.

The Frasers and young Clanranald appeared, and they were attacked by their wily foe. The combat was fearfully bloody and fatal. It is said that no more than six of Lovat’s party escaped, and not triple that number of their enemies —Ranald, unquestionably the lawful representative of the family, fell covered with wounds, after having given proof that he was possessed of the greatest bravery; and his memory is to this day respected even among the descendants of those who-destroyed him. John of Moidart obtained possession of the whole estate, and led a very turbulent life. Tradition says that he compromised the claims of Macdonald of Morar for a third part of his lands, which he yielded up to him on relinquishing further right.

The conflict is distinguished by the designation of ‘Blar Leine’, or the Battle of the Shirts, the combatants having stripped themselves during the action. It was fought at the eastern end of Loch Lochy, near the line of the Caledonian Canal, in July 1554. — LITERARY GAZETTE


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