Gairloch in North-West
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.
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.
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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