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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter VIII.—The Macdonalds in Gairloch


IT will be remembered that Donald, Lord of the Isles, laid claim to and took possession of the earldom of Ross. This was about the beginning of the fifteenth century. It was probably from him, or from his father John Macdonald of Islay, first lord of the Isles, that the MacLeods of the Lews (the Siol Torquil) first obtained a title to Gairloch, as pointed out in the last chapter. To some extent Donald succeeded in subjugating Ross-shire, though several chiefs, including Mackenzie of Kintail, maintained their independence. It is easy to understand that Gairloch and other places adjacent to Skye would be overrun by the Macdonalds of Skye, the clansmen of the lord of the Isles. Some of them settled in Gairloch, and their offspring are still there. A charter of 1584 shews that Torridon, on the southern border of Gairloch, then belonged to Macdonald of Glengarry, a descendant of the lord of the Isles, and nineteen families of Macdonalds still dwell in Alligin on Loch Torridon.

One of the Macdonalds who came to Gairloch was named Mac Gille Riabhaich. Possibly he was a descendant of Gille Riabhach, who assisted Murdo Mackenzie, fourth lord of Kintail, to overcome Leod Mac Gilleandreis (Part I., chap. iii.). He took up his abode in a cave called Uamh Mhic 'ille Rhiabhaich, or the "cave of Mac Gille Riabhaich." It is close to a picturesque loch bearing the same name, on which are two small islands, one of which seems to have been a crannog or island fortalice, probably a refuge of Mac Gille Riabhaich in times of danger. The cave and loch are among the hills, two miles due east from Tournaig, in the parish of Gairloch.

Mac Gille Riabhaich was a notorious freebooter, as well as a warrior of renown. He was at the battle of Flodden Field in 1513. He became a well-known "lifter" of other people's cattle, and is said to have been outlawed. A story is related of him, which is given here not only because it illustrates the reckless lawlessness of the old Highlanders, but because its hero was an inhabitant of Gairloch.

A party of Macdonalds invaded one of the Outer Hebrides, and Mac Gille Riabhaich accompanied them. At that time he was a powerful youth, and always carried a stout oak cudgel. The invaders having exhausted their provisions, landed on an island in a state of hunger. Proceeding to reconnoitre, th^y soon came unperceived upon a party of the natives gathered round a fire in the open air, over which hung, from three sticks joined at the top, a large pot, in which meat was being stewed. Mac Gille Riabhaich, longing for something to allay the appetites of himself and his hungry comrades, suddenly rushed on the natives, and plied his oak staff with such effect that they fled in all directions. He then seized the pot, and by placing the oak stick through the suspender, swung it over his shoulder, and carried it away with its reeking contents to his companions, regardless of the risk of its burning him. For this daring exploit Mac Gille Riabhaich received the soubriquet of Darach or Darroch, which is Gaelic for an oak.

From him are descended the numerous families of the Darrochs in Jura and Kintyre, of whom is Mr Duncan Darroch, the present proprietor of Torridon. They still wear the Macdonald tartan. An ancestor of the laird of Torridon, also named Duncan Darroch, was the son of a tacksman whose grandfather had come from the north and settled in Jura. The story of Mac Gille Riabhaich is confirmed by the fact, that when this last-named Duncan Darroch, having made a fortune in Jamaica, went to the Heralds Office to matriculate family arms and to prove his right to assume those of Macdonald, the Lyon King at Arms remarked, "We must not lose the memory of the old oak stick and its exploit;" whereupon the arms, still borne by the family, in which the oak is prominent, were granted to "Duncan Darroch, Esquire of Gourock, chief of that ancient name, the patronymic of which is M'lliriach."

Donald Dubh Mac Gillechriosd Mhic Gille Riabhaich is said to have been a relative of our hero of the oak stick, if indeed he were not the same individual. He lived at Kenlochewe about the same period. When Hector Roy Mackenzie was attacked and brought to terms by his nephew John of Kill in, ninth lord of Kintail, the latter surrounded and set fire to Hector Roy's house at Fairburn. John of Killin called on his uncle to surrender and come forth, assuring him of his life. Hector was about to comply, when Donald Dubh, who was one of John of Killing followers, made for the door with his two-edged sword drawn. Hector Roy, seeing Donald Dubh, called out to his nephew that he would rather be burned in the house than slaughtered by Donald Dubh. John called Donald away and Hector rushed out of the burning pile, whereupon he and his nephew became reconciled. It was agreed that Hector Roy should manage the Kintail estates as tutor to his nephew until the latter came of age. Next day Hector set about arranging the lands of Kenlochewe, which, it will be remembered, had long been part of the Kintail estates. Donald Dubh applied for a set of land. Hector Roy said, "I wonder, Donald, how you can ask land this day that was so forward to kill me yesterday." Donald, in reply, justified his hostility by a reference to the murder of Kenneth Og, eighth laird of Kintail (elder brother of John of Killin), to which Donald Dubh incorrectly supposed Hector Roy had been accessory. T Donald had been foster brother of Kenneth Og, and bitterly resented the murder, for which in reality the laird of Buchanan was solely to blame. Hector Roy answered, "Well, Donald, I doubt not, if you had such fosterage to me as you had to that man, you would act the like for me, so you shall have your choice of all the land;" and Donald got it. From this time he was at peace with Hector Roy, and was among the clansmen who accompanied him and John of Killin to the fatal field of Flodden in 1513. Here it was that Donald Dubh at length avenged the death of his foster brother Kenneth Og, the late chief of Kintail. In the retreat of the Scottish army he heard some one near him exclaiming, "Alas, laird! thou hast fallen!" On inquiry he was told it was the laird of Buchanan, who had sunk from loss of blood. The faithful Highlander drew his sword, and saying, "If he has not fallen, he shall fall," made straight to Buchanan, whom he killed on the spot.


 


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