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Frank R. Shaw FSA Scot
The Great Feud, The Campbells and the MacDonalds by Oliver Thomson


Oliver Thomson has written one of those books that when you pick it up at the store or a tent to look through it, you are not sure you want to hear another story of the auld feud between these Scottish Hatfields and McCoys. Donít put it back on the shelf or the table! You will be the loser if you do.

This is a fresh account of the deadly feud between the Campbells and the MacDonalds of too many short-lived men who died violently all too young. This was no wee feud that was over and done with in a generation or two. Beginning in 1296 with an ambush of an emissary of peace, this feud lasted more 450 years.

The victim was Big Colin Campbell, a Campbell chief, and the bushwhacker was Lame John MacDougall, head of the most powerful clan in the west of Scotland. Iíve always loved the choice of names our ancestors used. Here you have "Lame John" ambushing "Big Colin", and this is only the beginning of an easily readable book about which the author repeatedly refers to as "our two clans".

The book is divided into three parts: The Feudal Field, Change Ends, and The Diaspora. One thing that appealed to me was the author, Oliver Thomson. He is a businessman, and he understands what a lot of "learned" men and women never learn - he knows how to make the sell and close the deal without going on and on until he talks himself out of a sale or by using what I call dictionary words. That is, you canít read the book or article without your Scots or Gaelic dictionary by your side. Mr. Thomson is managing director of one of Scotlandís largest advertising agencies. So, a tip of the hat to the author for accomplishing what other authors should consider - writing books and articles that people can enjoy, particularly a book like this one that has to deal with so many "begats".

What happened to "Lame John" for murdering "Big Colin"? Evidently nothing since he died in Dublin in 1318 a sick and poor man. Below are some interesting items found in The Great Feud. "Good John" of the Isles did not wear a hat at his own wedding so he would not have to doff it to the King who was in attendance.

A new weapon of warfare from Germany was introduced in Scotland and played a big part in future battles for years to come - the two-handed claymore. Youíll meet Donald Dhu who, after spending 40+ plus years in prison, mostly in Edinburgh, was allowed to escape and then was hailed as Lord of the Isles.

There is Lady Glamis, beauty that she was, who was burned at the stake based on false charges of murder and witchcraft. Highland "sodgers" were called "Redshanks" because of their bare knees. As far as religion goes, the Royal Stuarts were Episcopalian, if not out right Catholic, and the Campbells were mostly Presbyterian, whereas the MacDonalds back then probably could have gone either way. There is also the Black Bitch of Dunstaffnage who marooned groups of Islay MacDonalds on small rocks to get rid of them. Thomson returns to Donald Dhu, who when less than 60 years old, had by then spent at least 50 years in prison and died from measles according to some, thus ending the last major attempt to regain the Lordship of the Isles.

And believe it or not, "our two clans" actually united in an effort to defeat a common foe - Cromwell, who beat up the Scots pretty good during his lifetime, and whose ultimate victory led to the first forced transportation of Scottish POWs or indentured slaves to New England, Carolina, and the dreaded, fever-infested West Indies.

Another remarkable but lesser known member of the two clans was Tunis G. Campbell, a black leader from Massachusetts who set up an independent black state on the Georgia Sea Islands at the beginning of the Civil War here in the States. Then, there was Robert Campbell who found gold in the Yukon "but did not regard it as of great interest", which makes one wonder what planet he came from.

Thomson also notes Russiaís complaint in 1999 about the "McDonaldisation" of their country, but we all know that a battle of "Big Macs" and Coca-Cola versus the Campbell Soup Company goes on in most American households on a daily basis.

And finally for this column, we learned that a Campbell Chief sued his second wife in 1963 for divorce on grounds of adultery with 87 different men.

In The last chapter of this wonderful book is a suggested tour by car or coach for those who wish to visit the various monuments and sights surrounding the great feud. It will take you to all parts of Scotland, the Isles, England, Wales, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France, just to name a few. MacDonalds and Campbells will find themselves wanting to make this journey after they have finished reading the book.

On a solemn note in closing, allow me to express our condolences to Clan Campbell in the passing of Chief Ian Campbell, 63, the Duke of Argyll, who died Sunday, 22 April 2001 in London during heart surgery.

The Great Feud is a Sutton Publishing Limited book copyrighted in 2000 and is available from Weems and Sons, 296 Stone Fort Drive, Manchester, TN 37355, www.weems@edge.net or through a new toll-free number 1-888-705-0255.


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