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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter III.—The Mackenzies of Kintail


TWO origins of the great house of Mackenzie, lords of Kintail,. and afterwards earls of Seaforth, of whom the Gairloch family are a branch, have been propounded, and have given rise to considerable discussion.

By one pedigree they have been made to spring from Colin Fitzgerald, descendant of Otho who came to England with William the Conqueror, fought with him at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and was created Castellan and Baron of Windsor. Otho married a Welsh princess; their grandson Maurice distinguished himself in the subjugation of Ireland, was appointed to the joint government of that country, and was created Baron of Wicklow and Naas Offelim in 1172. Others say this Maurice was of the ancient Tuscan family of Gherardini, who date as far back as a.d. 800. Gerald, a son of Maurice, was created Lord OrTally. A grandson of Gerald married the grand-daughter and representative of the last of the ancient line of the kings of Desmond. Colin Fitzgerald was their eldest son. He came to Scotland, and assisted Alexander III. at the battle of Largs. It is said that Colin was afterwards settled by Alexander III. in Eileandonain Castle, in Kintail; that he received a grant of the lands of Kintail from that king; that he married the daughter of MacMhathain, heritor of the half of Kintail; and that their only son Kenneth became the progenitor of the clan Mac-Kenneth, or Mackenzie.

The use of the Cabar Feidh, or deers' horns, as the crest of the Mackenzies, is supposed to have originated in a brave deed done by Colin Fitzgerald. He was hunting with Alexander III. in the forest of Mar in 1265 when an infuriated stag, closely pursued by the hounds, charged the king. Colin interposed, and shot the stag in the head with an arrow. The grateful monarch granted to Colin a stag's head puissant as his armorial bearing.

The other genealogy of the Mackenzies asserts that the first Kenneth from whom the family sprang was of a native Gaelic stock, almost as ancient as the ancestry of Fitzgerald. This descent is argued by Mr Alexander Mackenzie, in his History of the Mackenzies. Relying on an old MS. dated 1450, he shows that Kenneth was of the seed of Gilleon Og, or Colin the younger, son of Gilleon na h'Airde, who. lived in the tenth century, and was also the ancestor of the O'Beolan earls of Ross. It seems that Angus MacMhathain, constable of Eileandonain, was descended from Gilleon Og, and was a near relative of the O'Beolan earls of Ross, who were the superior lords of Kintail. Kenneth, the only son of Angus, was a nephew of William, third Earl of Ross, and succeeded his father in the government of Kintail. This Kenneth, we may assume, was the founder of the Mackenzie family.

The question really seems to be whether Kenneth was a MacMhathain on his father's side or on his mother's side. In either case he had the blood of the earls of Ross flowing in his veins.

Kenneth, who died about 1304, set his relative, the Earl of Ross, at defiance, and established himself in an independent position as lord of Kintail, but his descendants were harassed by the earls of Ross, who endeavoured to regain their power in the district.

John Mackenzie, the second lord of Kintail, and only son of Kenneth, sheltered Robert Bruce when he was in hiding, and afterwards assisted him to gain the throne of Scotland. John Mackenzie led five hundred of his clansmen—some of them possibly Gairloch men —to the victorious field of Bannockburn on 24th June 1314, and t>y his loyalty and valour rendered more secure his possessions in Kintail.

Kenneth Mackenzie, called Kenneth of the Nose, only son of John, became third chief of Kintail; he was a weak man, and in his time the Earl of Ross regained a considerable hold over the district.

Kenlochewe, which is part of Gairloch in the present day, was attached to the lordship of Kintail and shared its troubles. It was about 1350 that some of the followers of the Earl of Ross made a raid into Kenlochewe, and carried off a great spoil. Kenneth Mackenzie, third lord of Kintail, pursued them, slew many of the invaders, and recovered much of the spoil. The Earl of Ross after this succeeded in apprehending Mackenzie, and had him executed at Inverness. The Earl then granted the lands of Kenlochewe to his follower Leod Mac Gilleandreis.

The fourth lord of Kintail was Black Murdo of the Cave, only lawful son of Kenneth of the Nose. Murdo received this soubriquet because, being a wild youth, he preferred, rather than attend the ward school where the heirs of those who held their lands from the king were sent, to take up his abode in some one or other of the caves about Torridon and Kenlochewe, hoping to get a chance of slaying Leod Mac Gilleandreis. The latter hearing of Murdo's resort, and fearing mischief, endeavoured to apprehend him, so that Murdo had to flee the country. He went to his uncle, M'Leod of the Lews, and there met one Gille Riabhach, who had come to Stornoway with twelve men about the same time as himself. After so long a time had elapsed that Mac Gilleandreis supposed Murdo was dead, his uncle gave to Murdo one of his great galleys or birlinns, with as many men as he desired. Murdo embarked at Stornoway, accompanied also by Gille Riabhach and his twelve men, and with a favourable wind they soon arrived at Sanachan in Kishorn. Thence they marched straight to Kenlochewe, and concealed themselves in a thick wood near the house of Mac Gilleandreis. Mackenzie left his followers there, whilst he went to look for his old nurse, who lived thereabouts. He found her engaged in making up a bundle of sticks to carry to Leod's house. Murdo inquired her name, for he did not remember her face at first. She gave her name, and inquired in return who he was. He told her, on which she replied, " Let me see your back, and I will know if you are that man." She remembered that he had a black spot on his back. He took off his clothes, and she saw the black spot, and so she knew him. She was overjoyed at his return, having long grieved for his supposed death. He asked her to procure him information of Leod's doings, and to let him know that night. He made up the bundle of sticks for her, and she went to Leod's house, and duly returned with the news that Leod had fixed a hunt for the next day, and was to meet the people at Ken-lochewe in the morning. She said Leod might be known by the red jacket he wore. Murdo determined to take advantage of this occasion, and was early on the ground, accompanied by his followers. As the people arrived he slew all he did not recognise; the natives he knew were dismissed to their homes. When Leod, in his red jacket,. came on the ground with his sons and attendants, Murdo and his band attacked them with their swords, and after a slight resistance Mac Gilleandreis and his followers fled, but were soon overtaken at a place ever since called Fe Leoid, where they were all slain except one of Leod's sons, .named Paul, who was taken prisoner, but afterwards released on his promising never again to molest Mackenzie. Murdo gave the widow of Leod Mac Gilleandreis to Gille Riabhach to wife, and their posterity were long known at Kenlochewe. The heads of the people who were slain in Kenlochewe were cut off and thrown into the river there; the stream carried the heads down to a ford, where they massed together, and this place has ever since been called Ath-nan-ceann, or the " ford of the heads." The name is now corrupted into Athnagown or Anagown. It is shewn on the maps. The place where Leod Mac Gilleandreis and his followers were slain is about three miles from Kenlochewe, on the hill to the east of the Torridon road. The name Fe Leoid, more correctly written Feith Leoid, means the bog of Leod; it is also shewn on all the maps.

Black Murdo of the Cave, after dispossessing Leod Mac Gilleandreis, went to Kintail, where he was received with open arms by all the people of the country. He married the only daughter of his friend Macaulay, who had defended Eileandonain Castle during his long absence, and through her Mackenzie succeeded to the lands of Loch Broom (including probably the parts of Gairloch lying to the north of Loch Maree and Loch Ewe), granted to Macaulay's predecessor by Alexander II. In 1357, when David II., king of Scotland, returned from England, Murdo laid before his majesty a complaint against the Earl of Ross for the murder of his father, but could obtain no redress; however the king confirmed him in his possession of Kintail by charter dated 1362. Murdo died in 1375.

Murdo of the Bridge, only son of Black Murdo of the Cave, became the fifth lord of Kintail. He was one of the Highland chiefs who accompanied the Earl of Douglas to England and defeated the renowned Hotspur at the battle of Otterburn, or Chevy - Chase, on 10th August 1388. Murdo refused to join Donald, the great Lord of the Isles, in his insurrection which culminated in the battle of Harlaw. The history of the Highlands shows that this was a period of extreme disorder and violence, and Gairloch itself was not exempt from the terrors of anarchy. Murdo does not appear to have troubled his head about his rights in Gairloch, and, as other parts of our history will shew, it was overrun by several tribes. Possibly neither this Murdo nor his father pressed their claim to Gairloch, being sufficiently occupied in keeping possession of Kintail. Ten years after King Robert II. had confirmed Kintail to Black Murdo of the Cave, the same king confirmed the grant of Gairloch made by the Earl of Ross to Paul M'Tyre (Part I.., chap. i.). But we hear no more of Paul M'Tyre; and, as an old writer has well said of this time, "during this turbulent age securities and writs, as well as laws, were little regarded; each man's protection lay in his own strength."

Murdo of the Bridge, who died about 1416, married Finguala, daughter of Malcolm M'Leod of Harris by his wife Martha, daughter of Donald Earl of Mar, a nephew of King Robert Bruce. Their only son, Alexander the Upright, so called "for his righteousness," became the sixth laird of Kintail. He died in 1488, about ninety years of age. By his first wife, Anna Macdougall of Dunolly, he had two sons, Kenneth and Duncan. By his second marriage he had one son, known among Highlanders as Eachainn Ruadh, or Hector Roy, destined to become the famous founder of the Gairloch family. There was also a daughter by the second marriage, who became the wife of Allan M'Leod, laird of Gairloch.

In the year 1452, during the rule of Alexander the Upright, the desperate skirmish of Beallach nan Brog occurred, in which the Earl of Ross, to punish the western tribes for seizing his son, attacked and slaughtered his foes, including Mackenzie's Kenlochewe men, who are said to have been almost exterminated.

It is not within the scope of this narrative to pursue further the history of the great house of Kintail. The next chapter will relate a Gairloch legend treating of events which occurred during the time of one of the earlier Kintail Mackenzies.

It may be convenient to explain, that long before 1609, when Kenneth, twelfth laird of Kintail, was created Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, these great lairds were commonly called Lords of Kintail. Colin, son of this Kenneth, was created Earl of Seaforth and Viscount Fortrose in 1623. Some time prior to this date the possessions of the Kintail family had increased to the dimensions of a province, and Eileandonain Castle had ceased to be their headquarters, the castle of Chanonry in the Black Isle, formerly the bishop's palace, being preferred. The first Lord Seaforth added to Chanonry Castle, and built Brahan Castle, which continued the residence of the Seaforth family to a recent date. The family became extinct in the male line on the death of the last Lord Seaforth in 1815. Long before the erection of Brahan Castle the lairds of Kintail frequently resided at a mains or farm they possessed at Brahan.


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