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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter VII.—The M'Leods of Gairloch


IT is difficult to tell how the M'Leods came to Gairloch. It is not impossible that their claim to it may have dated back to the times of the Norse Vikings, from one of whom, tradition says, the M'Leods were descended. There were two clans of M'Leod,—the Siol Torquil, and the Siol Tormod,—perfectly distinct and independent of each other, though said to have sprung from one common progenitor named Leod. It was a branch of the Siol Torquil who took possession of Gairloch.

Donald, Lord of the Isles, who about 1410 laid claim to the earldom of Ross in right of his wife (Part I., chap, i.), was the son of John Macdonald of Islay, first lord of the Isles. John claimed the islands of Skye and the Lews under a grant by Edward Balliol. When John made his peace with King David in 1344 he retained the Lews. From this time the Siol Torquil held the Lews as vassals of the house of Islay. It seems highly probable that Gairloch, Loch Broom, Coigeach, and Assynt, being the adjacent parts of the mainland, were at first similarly held by the Siol Torquil, a branch of whom called the Siol Mhic Ghille Challum also acquired the island of Raasay.. In this case their original claim to Gairloch would be derived either from the first lord of the Isles, or his son Donald, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross. On no other theory can the sway of the M'Leods in Gairloch be accounted for consistently with the history of the times, unless indeed it was purely the result of "vaulting ambition."

However this may have been, a branch of the Siol Mhic Ghille Challum soon made good an independent claim to Gairloch. Oddly enough a family feud was the commencement, as another was the ending fifty years later, of their legal title to Gairloch. In 1430 King James I. granted "to Nele Nelesoun, for his homage and service in the capture of his deceased brother Thomas Nelesoun, a rebel, the lands of Gerloch and others in the earldoms of Ross and Sutherland and sheriffdom of Innernys."

On this grant Neil, the son of Neil M'Leod, no doubt took steps to enforce his claim to Gairloch, and to subdue the MacBeaths, most of whom he drove from the country. He is said to have captured their three strongholds,—Eilean Grudidh, the Loch Tollie island, and the Gairloch Dun. It is in the time of the M'Leods that we first hear of the Tigh Dige (ditch house), situated in a field below where Flowerdale House now stands. It was a "black house," built of turf, roofed with divots (large thin turfs), and surrounded by a moat or ditch.

The M'Leods also had another stronghold in Gairloch, between Port Henderson and Opinan, the site of which is still called Uamh nam Freiceadain, and which was the last fortress they held in Gairloch.

Eilean Ruaridh Beag, in Loch Maree, was held by one Roderick (Ruaridh) M'Leod, after whom it was named. A fierce struggle, the details of which are now lost, took place before the M'Leods were ejected from this island, which afterwards became the residence of John Roy Mackenzie, the fourth laird of Gairloch.

About 1480 Allan M'Leod, son of Roderick M'Leod, was laird of Gairloch. His wife was daughter of Alexander the Upright, sixth laird of Kintail, and sister of Hector Roy Mackenzie. They had two sons, who were then little boys. The family lived on the island in Loch Tollie,—the same fortalice formerly occupied by the MacBeaths. It was considered a safe retreat in those unsettled times. Allan M'Leod was a peaceful man, and occupied himself to a great extent with the sport the country afforded. But an evil day was coming. His two brothers, who resided with their people in the Lews, were unwilling that Mackenzie blood should run in the veins of the heir of Gairloch. They determined to slay their brother and his two boys, so that the inheritance fnight fall to themselves. With this evil purpose they came over to Gairloch, and took up their abode at the Tigh Dige, where they made every preparation for the carrying out of their wicked scheme.


ISLAND OR CRANNOG ON LOCH TOLLIE.

On the morning of the fatal day Allan M'Leod left the Loch Tollie Island in his boat, and having landed at the east end of the loch, went down Croftbrae to fish the river Ewe. At midday, as it was hot, and the fish were not taking, he lay down on the green hill at Croft, where the house of Kenneth Urquhart (called Kennie Rob) now stands. The hill is named to this day Cnoc na mi-Chomhairle, or the " Hill of evil counsel." There Allan fell fast asleep. His two brothers came over from Gairloch to carry out their murderous intention. When, they came to Loch Tollie they saw the boat ashore at the east end of the loch, and therefore rightly concluded that their brother had gone down to fish the river. They followed, and finding him asleep, killed him where he lay. They cut off his head, and threw it into the mill-lead or race, between the green hill and the spot where the Widows7 house, originally built for a distillery, and therefore known as "The still," now stands, and the head was washed down into the river. The brothers then returned to Loch Tollie, and taking the boat reached the island. There they told their brother's widow how they had slain him, and then they tore her little boys from her trembling grasp. They carried them away with them, and when they came to a spot above and to the north of the place now called "The glen" the ruffians killed the boys, and buried them there at a rock still called Craig Bhadan an Aisc, or the "rock of the place of interment." It is shewn on the six-inch ordnance map. They stripped the blood-stained shirts from the bodies as proofs that the boys were dead, and took them with them to the Tigh Dige. At that time the dress of a boy consisted only of a stout shirt or tunic, with a belt round the waist, until such time as he was old enough for the belted plaid. The bereaved mother came ashore as'soon as she could, and followed the murderers. She came in the evening to a place called Clachan garbh, on the little burn half way between Achtercairn and the present Gairloch Hotel. There were houses there at that time. She went to an old man there, who had been a faithful retainer of her husband; she told him her terrible story. He bade her wait until he went to the Tigh Dige to see if her brothers-in-law had really killed the two boys. When it became -dark he went to the Tigh Dige, and through an opening he saw by the firelight the boys' little shirts hanging up. He managed unperceived to get possession of the shirts, and brought them to the mother; they were covered with blood. The mother took the shirts, and went off straight with them to Brahan to her father, Alexander the Upright, who did not credit his daughter's terrible tale until she shewed him the blood-stained shirts. Alexander, who was then an infirm old man, sent his son Hector Roy Mackenzie to Edinburgh to the king, and he produced the shirts to satisfy the king that the triple murder had really been committed. The king gave Hector Roy a commission of fire and sword for the destruction of the M'Leods, and in 1494 he received a grant of Gairloch by charter from the crown.

The proceedings which ensued, and the circumstances attending the expulsion of the M'Leods long afterwards from Gairloch, will be narrated later on. Meanwhile the reader will be glad to learn that the two murderers were afterwards routed in a skirmish on the south side of Gairloch by one of the MacRae heroes, who pursued them to a spot between South Erradale and Point, where he slew them both, and they were buried in a hollow there, which is pointed out to this day.

Although the crown charter of 1494 granted the whole of Gairloch to Hector Roy Mackenzie, the M'Leods, as we shall see, retained for another century one-third part of Gairloch. The terrible murder committed about 1569 by Ruaridh Mac Allan M'Leod of Gairloch (Parf L, chap, xii.) is curiously analogous to that recorded above. The murder of 1569 was the immediate cause of the warfare which resulted in the final expulsion of the M'Leods from Gairloch, just as that of 1480 had led to their being ousted from a great part of their territory there.

Family feuds and jealousies were the causes of the ultimate dismemberment of the Siol Torquil, and of the alienation of the whole of their vast possessions. Anyone who cares to trace their history, as given in Donald Gregory's and other works, will learn how all this happened; it does not concern us further here.


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