BEFORE the M'Leods got possession of Gairloch a
tribe of MacBeaths were the most powerful sept in the district. They
originally came (presumably in the thirteenth century) from Assynt, in the
country of the Mackays in Sutherlandshire, and were of Norwegian descent.
There are still some families of MacBeaths in Melvaig in Gairloch who are
of the old breed. The chiefs of the MacBeaths had at least three
strongholds in Gairloch, viz., Eilean Grudidh on Loch Maree, the island on
Loch Tollie, and the Dun or Castle of Gairloch, all to be described in our
chapter on the antiquities. Seven generations of MacBeaths occupied Eilean
Grudidh, which seems to have been the last they held of these fortalices.
The M'Leods, after a long struggle, subdued the MacBeaths, and expelled
most of them from Gairloch. Those who were driven out fled to Applecross,
where their descendants are to this day.
The earls of Ross must have had many a conflict with
the MacBeaths, but no traditions on the subject are extant, nor have any
accounts been preserved telling how the M'Leods ousted the MacBeaths. It
is possible, however, that a fight which is said to have taken place near
a very small loch or pond called Lochan nan Airm, to the right of the road
as you go from Gairloch to Poolewe, may have been an engagement in which
the MacBeaths were concerned. Lochan nan Airm, or " the tarn of the arms,"
is about two hundred yards from the road, and half a mile beyond the top
of Achtercairn Brae. Those who were vanquished in this fight threw their
arms into the loch (whence its name), partly to lighten themselves for
flight, and partly to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of
the victors. It is said that the formation of a drain, intended to empty
the loch so as to discover the arms, was once commenced, but was stopped
by the then laird of Gairloch, whose permission had not been asked. The
beginning of the drain is still apparent; it would be interesting to
story relates an attempt on the part of some of the lord of Kintail's men
to slay one of the leaders of the MacBeaths, possibly the chief of the
tribe. It evidently took place in the latter part of the career of the
Macbeaths in Gairloch.
Once upon a time there lived a powerful man—Iain Mac Iain Uidhir—an the
Carr of Kintail, and when he heard such aliens (the* MacBeaths) resided in
the island of Loch Tollie, he thought within himself, on New Years' night,
that it was a pity that such mischievous strangers should be in the place,
raising rents on the land which did not of right belong to them, while
some of the offspring of gentlemen of the clan Mackenzie, although a few
of them possessed lands, were without possessions.
Some little time after this, when the snow was
melting off the mountains, he lifted his arrow bladder on his back, sent
word for Big Donald, son
of the son of Ranald MacRae from Inverinate, and they walked as one
together across Kilaolainn. Old Alastair Liath of Carr accompanied them.
They walked through the mountains of Loch-carron. They came in by the
mountains of Kenlochewe. They came at a late hour in sight of Loch Tollie,
and they took notice of MacBeath's castle in the island, and of a place
whence it would be easy for them to send their arrows to the castle. There
was a rowan-tree alongside the castle, which was in their way, but when
the darkening of night came they moved down to the shore in such a way
that the heroes got near the bank of the loch, so that they might in the
breaking of the sky be opposite MacBeath when he came out.
ON CRAIG TOLLIE.
When MacBeath came out in the
morning, the other man said to Donald Mor, "Try how true your hand is now,
if it is not tremulous after the night; try if you can hit the seed of the
beast, the hare, so that you make a carcase of him where he is, inasmuch
as he has no right to be there." Donald shot his arrow by chance, but it
only became flattened against one of the kind of windows in the kind of
castle that was in it.
When the man from Carr saw what
happened to the arrow of the man from Inverinate, he thought that his
companion's arrow was only a useless one. The man from Carr got a glimpse
of one of the servants of MacBeath, carrying with him a stoup of water to
boil a goat buck, which he had taken from Craig Tollie the night before;
but, poor fellow ! it was not he who consumed the goat buck. Old Alastair
Liath of Carr threw the arrow, and it went through the kidneys of him of
MacBeath suspected that a kind
of something was behind him which he did not know about. He thought within
himself not to wait to eat the goat buck; that it would be as well for him
to go ashore—life or death to him—as long as he had the chance to cross.
He lifted every arrangement he had, and he made the shore of it. Those who
would not follow him he left behind him; he walked as fast as was in his
joints, but fast as MacBeath was, the arrow of the son of Big Donald fixed
in him in the thickest of his flesh. He ran with the arrow fixed, and his
left hand fixed in the arrow, hoping always that he would pull it out. He
ran down the brae to a place which is called Boora to this day; and the
reason of that name is, that when MacBeath pulled the arrow out, a buradh,
or bursting forth of blood, came after it.
When the Kintail men saw that
the superior of the kind of fortress had flown, they walked round the head
of Loch Tollie sprawling, tired as they were; and the very ferry-boat
which took MacBeath ashore took the MacRaes to the island. They used part
of the goat buck which MacBeath was to have had to his meal. They looked
at the man of whom they had made a corpse, while the cook went to "the
preparation for the morning meal. Difficulty nor distress were not
apparent on the Kintail men. The fearless heroes put past the night in the
castle. They feared not MacBeath; but MacBeath was frightened enough that
what he did not get he would soon get.
Although the pursuit of the
aliens from Mackay's country was in the minds of the Kintail men, they
thought they would go and see how the lands of Gairloch lay. They went
away in the morning of the next day, after making cuaranan (untanned
shoes) of the skin of the goat buck by putting thongs through it, as they
had worn out their own on the way coming from Kintail. They came through
Gairloch; they took notice of everything as they desired. They walked step
by step, as they could do, without fear or bodily dismay. They reached
Brahan; they saluted Mackenzie. They said boldly, if he had more sons that
they would find more land for him. Mackenzie invited them in, and took
their news. They told him about the land of Gairloch, the way in which
they saw MacBeath, and the way in which they made him flee, and the time
which they lived on the flesh of the goat buck. "And Kenneth," says Donald
(addressing the chief), "I shall remember the day of the foot of the goat
buck as long as Donald is [my name] on me."