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


IT is a singular fact that the first six lairds of Kintail (counting with them Angus Mac Mhathain) had each but one lawful son, so that the family of Mackenzie, now so numerous, increased at first but slowly. Murdo of the Bridge, fifth laird of Kintail, being thus without kindred of his own blood, invited one MacRae to join him in Kintail. This MacRae was from the same original stock as the Mackenzies. His father had come from Clunes, and settled at Brahan. MacRae, the son, accepted the invitation of Murdo, and went with him to Kintail, where his descendants became a numerous tribe, always owning the Mackenzies as their chiefs. Murdo hoped for faithful service from MacRae, and it was willingly given from generation to generation. The MacRaes were ever foremost in battle for their lairds, and became known as "Mackenzie's shirt of mail." This term "shirt of mail" was generally applied to the chosen bodyguard who attended a chief in war and fought around him. Hence it would appear that the bodyguard of the Mackenzie chiefs was composed of MacRaes.

The name MacRae was originally MacRath, signifying "the son of fortune." If it be true that " fortune favours the brave," these valiant warriors were rightly named, for bravery was ever their bright distinction, as our narrative will sufficiently shew. Not only were the MacRaes devoted to the Kintail family, but after Hector Roy Mackenzie went to Gairloch they assisted him and his descendants in conquering their possessions. Some of them settled in Gairloch, where their offspring are to this day.

In the following pages Iain Mac Iain Uidhir, Donald Mor, and Alastair Liath, who took part in the attack on MacBeath in the island of Loch Tollie; Donnachadh Mor na Tuaighe, or Big Duncan of the Axe, commonly called Suarachan, and Dugal his son ; Iain Liath, who accompanied John Roy Mackenzie to Gairloch; and Donald Odhar, Iain Odhar, and Fionnla dubh na Saighead, who all three took leading parts in ousting the M'Leods from Gairloch,-—were MacRaes from Kintail, and were all warriors of renown.

The Rev. Farquhar MacRae (Appendix A), ordained vicar of Gairloch in 1608 and afterwards constable of Eileandonain, was of the same tribe, but his fighting was confined to the church militant.

The effigy of the renowned Donald Odhar is one of the supporters in the coat-of-arms of the Gairloch Mackenzies sculptured on the old barn of Flowerdale, called the Sabhal Geal, erected by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, in 1730.

Several of these MacRaes were wonderful archers. The arrow fired at the serving-man on the Loch Tollie island by Alastair Liath, must have killed its victim at a distance of fully five hundred yards.. Donald Odhar and Iain Odhar, the heroes of Leac na Saighead, slew many M'Leods with their arrows nearly four hundred yards away. Fionnladh dubh na Saighead is said to have shot Neil M'Leod at a still greater distance. Lest any reader should doubt the authenticity of these performances, on account of the marvellous ranges attained, some instances of wonderful shots made by Turks may here be mentioned. In 1794 Mahmood Effendi, the Turkish Ambassador's secretary, in a field adjoining Bedford House, shot an arrow with a Turkish bow four hundred and fifteen yards against the wind, and four hundred and eighty-two yards with the wind. The secretary said the then Sultan of Turkey had shot five hundred yards, which was the greatest performance of the modern Turks up to that time; but he said that pillars stood on a plain near Constantinople marking distances anciently attained by bow-shot up to eight hundred yards. In 1798 the Sultan of Turkey surpassed all these achievements, by shooting an arrow nine hundred and seventy-two yards, in the presence of Sir Robert Ainslie, British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte.

It was always the privilege of the MacRaes of Kintail to bear the dead bodies of their chiefs to burial. At the funeral in 1862 of the Hon. Mrs Stewart Mackenzie, daughter and representative of the last Lord Seaforth, the coffin was borne by MacRaes of Kintail only. It was the last time ! At the funeral of her son Colonel Keith Stewart Mackenzie, on 25th June 1881, there was not a sufficient number of MacRaes to bear the coffin from Brahan Castle. The few who were present claimed their privilege, and essayed to carry the dead. Some slight disputation occurred, but the vacant places had to be supplied from the Brahan tenantry. The following curious statement, referring to this incident, appeared in an Inverness newspaper soon afterwards:—"This seems to have had a most depressing effect upon the few handsome MacRaes, who hitherto were the most picturesque frequenters of the Inverness wool market, for on the last occasion not a single MacRae was seen dressed in the garb of the race. They have now nearly all been driven from the lands of their ancestors, and they have apparently thrown aside the kilt and donned the lowlanders' garb in disgust."


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