Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Highlanders of Scotland
Part II -
Chapter II


I. The Gallgael.

WHEN the Norse Sagas and Irish Annals first throw their steady though faint light upon the history of the north of Scotland, we can distinctly trace, in the restless warfare at that period excited by the incessant incursions of the northern pirates, the frequent appearance of a people termed by the Irish annalists the Gallgael, or Gaelic pirates. The northern pirates were at that time known to the Irish writers by the name of Fingall and Dugall, the former being applied to the Norwegians, the latter to the Danes. The word Gall, originally signifying a stranger, came to be applied to every pirate, and we find a strong distinction invariably implied between the white and the black Galls, and those to whom they added the name of Gael, or Gaelic Galls. The latter people are first mentioned in the Irish Annals in the year 855, when we find them assisting the Irish against the Norwegians; and in the following year they again appear under their leader, Caittil fin, or the white, at war with the Norwegian pirate kings of Dublin. In 1034, Tighernac mentions the death of Suibne, the son of Kenneth, king of the Gallgael; and in 1154 we find mention made of an expedition to Ireland by the “Gallgael of Arran, Kintyre, Man, and the Cantair Alban.” This last passage proves that the Gallgael were the inhabitants of the Isles and of Argyll, the expression Cantair Alban being equivalent to the Oirir Alban or Oirir Gael of other writers, and to the Ergadia of the Scottish historians; and as Arefrodi, the oldest Norse writer which we possess, mentions the occupation of the Western Isles, on the departure of Harold Harfagr, by Vikingr Skotar, a term which is an exact translation of the appellation Gallgael, it seems clear that the Gallgael must have possessed the Isles as well as Argyll, from the period of the Scottish conquest, in the ninth century, to the middle of the twelfth, while the expression of Are frodi equally clearly implies that they were native Scots and not Norwegians.

      The Gallgael were certainly independent in the ninth century, and also in the beginning of the eleventh, when a king of the race is mentioned; it is therefore not improbable that the kings of the Isles between these periods were of this race. The first king of the Isles who is mentioned is Anlaf, who attempted, in conjunction with Constantine, the Scottish king, to obtain possession of Northumberland, but was defeated by Athelstan, the Saxon king, at Brunanburgh, in 938. Anlaf is styled by the Saxon historians, Rex plurimarum insularum, and that he was king of the Western Isles, and of the same race with the Gallgael, is put beyond all doubt by the Egilla Saga, which ancient document not only calls him a king in Scotland, but expressly states that he had Danish blood from his mother, who was a Dane, and a descendant of Regnar Lodbrog, but that his father was a native Scot. [Egilla Saga. – Olafr Raudi het konungr a Skotlandi hann var Skotzkr at faudr kyni enn Danskr at modur kyni oc kominn af aett Ragnars Lodbrokar.] Anlaf was the son of Sidroc, who was put by the Danes in possession of Northumberland; and as Anlaf is called by the Irish writers grandson of Ivar, and it is well known that Ivar was a son of Regnar Lodbrog, it follows from the passage in the Egilla Saga, that Sidroc must have been a native Scot of the race of the Gallgael, who married the daughter of Ivar, the principal leader of the Danish pirates, and was made by him king of the Northumbrians. But it would farther appear that Sidroc was the brother of the king of the Gallgael, for the Saxon historians mention, in 914, the death of Nial rex by his brother Sidroc. Sidroc was at this time in possession of Northumberland, so that king Nial was probably the king of the Gallgael, and on his unnatural death was succeeded by his nephew Anlaf.

      In ascertaining the earlier kings of this race we are assisted by the Manx traditions. Sacheveral, in his curious work on the Isle of Man, mentions that there was a very old tradition, that previous to the conquest of the Island by Godred Crovan, in the end of the eleventh century, it was ruled by twelve successive kings of the same race, the first of whom was named Orree, and conquered the island about the middle of the ninth century. This tradition is very remarkably confirmed, for we recognise in the names of these kings the kings of the Isles of the race of Sidroc, of whom Anlaf is the first mentioned by the historians, while the first of them is said to have conquered Man at the very time when, as we have seen, the Gallgael took possession of the Western Isles. The accuracy of the tradition, however, is still farther evinced by the fact that the Lodbrogar quida, an authentic and almost contemporary record of the piratical expeditions of Regnar Lodbrog, is describing an attack upon the Western Isles by Regnar, in 850, actually mentions that he slew Aurn conungr, or king Aurn at Isla. The resemblance of name is sufficient to identify him with the Orree of the Manx tradition, and it would thus appear that the Gallgael, a native tribe, had under their king Orree, or Aurn, taken possession of the Western Isles and Man shortly after the date of the Scottish conquest in 843. It is now clear who these Gallgael were, for they possessed Argyll as well as the Isles; and it has been previously shewn, that the whole of Argyll was, immediately after the Scottish conquest in 843, possessed by the tribe of the Caledonii, who had previously inhabited the districts of Atholl, Lochaber, and North Argyll. The Pictish origin of the Gallgael is, however, established by another circumstance. The territories occupied by the Gallgael in the ninth century constituted exactly the diocese of Dunkeld. The first measure of Kenneth M’Alpin, on his conquest of the southern Picts, was to establish the Culdee Church over the whole of the conquered territory, and in consequence of this great extension of that church, he found it necessary to remove the primacy from Iona to Dunkeld. With this church the primacy remained until the reign of Grig, when the primacy was removed from Dunkeld to St. Andrews; and the Scots appear to have obtained the removal of their subjection to the diocese of Dunkeld, as the price of their submission to the usurper Grig. The expression of the chronicle in narrating this event is remarkable –

                        “Qui dedit Ecclesiae libertates Scoticanae,
                        Quae sub Pictorum lege redacta fuit;” [Chron. Eleg.]

and the inference is clear that the inhabitants of the diocese of Dunkeld at least, that is, the Gallgael, were at that time Picts. The early history of this tribe is now sufficiently clear: on the conquest of the southern Picts by the Scots, they obtained possession of Dalriada, which, along with their previous possessions of Lochaber and Wester Ross, now received the appellation of Oirir Gael, or the Coastlands of the Gael, probably in contradistinction to their inland possessions of Atholl; and a few years afterwards they added the Western Isles to their now extensive territories. Here their king Aurn, was slain by Regnar. As Regnar immediately after this attacked the Fingall in Ireland, and continued at war with them for some years; and as at the same period we find the Gallgael, under their leader Caittil fin, also engaged in hostilities with the Fingall, it is probable that Regnar had compelled them to join him, and that it was in consequence of this union, and of the pirate life which they were compelled to adopt, that they obtained the Irish name of Gallgael, and the Norse appellation of Vikingr Skotar. On the arrival of the sons of Regnar, in 865, to avenge their father’s death, Caittil appears to have joined them with his Gallgael, and is probably the same person with the Oskytel, whom the Saxon historians mention as one of the leaders in that expedition. His successor was Neil, who was put to death by his own brother Sidroc, who, having married the daughter of Ivar, the son of Regnar Lodbrog, had, on the success of the expedition, been put in possession of Northumberland. On Sidroc’s death, his son Anlaf found himself unable to retain possession of Northumberland, but held the Scottish territories of his race, from whence he made two unsuccessful attempts to regain Northumberland. The next king of the Isles mentioned by the historians, is Maccus, styled by the Saxon writers “rex plurimarum insularum,” and by the Irish writers, the son of Arailt. It appears from the same writers that he was Anlaf’s nephew, for they style Arailt the grandson of Ivar and son of Sidroc. Maccus was succeeded by his brother, Godfrey Mac Arailt, who was slain in an Irish expedition in 987, and not long after his death the Isles were conquered, along with a considerable part of the north of Scotland, by Sigurd, the earl of Orkney. Among the Scottish earls mentioned by the Sagas as reconquering the north of Scotland from Sigurd, is Hundi or Kenneth. He was probably the same Kenneth who was father of Suibne, king of the Gallgael in 1034, and at the same time must have been son of Godfrey, as we find Ranald Mac Godfrey king of the Isles in 1004. On Ranald’s death, in 1004, Suibne, the son of Kenneth, reigned over this tribe until 1034, when, as his death exactly synchronises with the conquest of the Isles and the whole of the north of Scotland by Thorfinn, the earl of Orkney, it would appear that he had been slain by that powerful earl in the unsuccessful defence of his territories. From this period there is no mention of any king of the Gallgael, and it is certain that the subsequent kings of the Isles were not of this race. It is therefore apparent that this petty kingdom never afterwards rose to the same state in which it had been before the conquest of Thorfinn, and that the different septs into which the tribe became separated on the death of their king in 1034, never again united under one head. We shall now, therefore, trace the origin and history of the various septs whom we find inhabiting these districts at a later period, under the two great divisions of Argyll and Atholl.

Argyll.

      The ancient district of Argyll consisted of the present county of that name, together with the districts of Lochaber and Wester Ross, and was known to the Highlanders by the name of the Cantair, or Oirir, Alban, and sometimes of Oirirgael, whence the present name is derived. The present district of Wester Ross was termed by them Oirir an Tuath, or the Northern coastlands, and the remaining part received the name of the Oirir an deas, or Southern coastlands. From the previous history of this district, it is probable that this name was derived from its forming the maritime part of the territories of the Gallgael, in opposition to their inland possessions of Atholl. By the historians, the whole of this extensive district is included under the term of Ergadia, and the northern and southern divisions under those of Ergadia Borealis and Ergadia Australis. When the Saxon polity of sheriffdoms was introduced into Scotland, the government had not such a secure footing in the Highlands as to enable them to distribute it into numerous sheriffdoms, and thus to force obedience to the laws, by means of the sheriffs, everywhere established, as they did in the Lowlands. Such a subjection to royal authority in the person of sheriffs could only in the Highlands be a nominal one, but the principles of the Saxon polity then introduced, required that the whole country should either nominally or really be distributed into sheriffdoms, and accordingly the whole of the Highlands was divided into two, the districts north of the Mounth forming the sheriffdom of Inverness, while those south of that range were included in the sheriffdom of Perth. In this state the Highlands remained till the reign of Alexander II., divided into two sheriffdoms, each of which in extent resembled more a petty kingdom than the sheriffdom of the rest of the country; and that sheriff-making monarch revived the Saxon policy of bringing conquered districts under permanent subjection to the laws and government, by erecting them into a new and separate sheriffdom, and thus arose the additional shires of Elgin, Nairn, Banff, Cromarty, and Argyll. In this way, previous to the reign of Alexander II., the districts of North and South Argyll were included in separate shires, the former being in Inverness, the latter in Perth. To the Norse the whole district was known by the name of Dala, under which appellation it is first mentioned in the end of the tenth century, and is included among the conquests of Sigurd, the second of that name, Earl of Orkney, and the same term is used by the Norse writers for this district down to the end of the twelfth century. In 1093 the Western Isles were conquered by Magnus Barefoot, king of Norway, and the conquest was confirmed to him by Malcolm Kenmore, then commencing the expedition into England, in which he lost his life, who resigned to Magnus all the Western Isles round which he could sail in a boat of a particular size, but Magnus causing his boat to be dragged across the isthmus which unites Kintyre and Knapdale, asserted that the former district came within the description of those which were resigned to him, and thus was Kintyre separated from Argyll, [Magnus Barefoot’s Saga.] and united to the kingdom of the Isles, of which it ever afterwards formed a part. This great district of Argyll was inhabited by a number of powerful clans, of which the most potent were the Macdonalds and other clans of the same race, who exercised for a long period an almost regal sway in these regions, and who were anciently included under the general designation of the Siol Cuinn, or race of Conn, a remote ancestor of the tribe.

Siol Cuinn.

      This tribe was one far too distinguished to escape the grasping claims of the Irish Sennachies, and accordingly it appears to have been among the very first to whom an Irish origin was imputed; but later antiquaries, misled by the close connection which at all times subsisted between the Macdonalds and the Norwegians of the Isles, have been inclined rather to consider them as of Norwegian origin. Neither of these theories, however, admit of being borne out either by argument or authority. The followers of the Irish system can only produce a vague tradition in its support against the manifest improbability of the supposition that a tribe possessing such extensive territories in Scotland should have been of foreign origin, while history is altogether silent as to the arrival of any such people in the country. Besides this, it has been formerly shewn that there is reason to regard the Irish traditions in Scotland as of but late origin. As to the Norwegian theory, it has principally arisen from its supporters having overlooked the fact, that when the Danish and Norwegian pirates ravaged the shores of Scotland and brought its inhabitants under their subjection, the conquered Gael adopted in some degree the Norwegian habits of piracy, and took frequently an active share in their predatory expeditions. These Gael are termed, as we have seen in the Irish Annals, Gallgael, or the Norwegian Gael, to distinguish them from those Gael who were independent of the Norwegians, or who took no part in their expeditions, and we have every reason to think consisted principally of the Siol Cuinn.

      The traditions of the Macdonalds themselves tend to shew that they could not have been of foreign origin. The whole of the Highlands, and especially the districts possessed by the Gallgael, were inhabited by the northern Picts, as we have seen, at least as late as the eleventh century. In the middle of the twelfth, the Orkneyinga Saga terms Somerled and his sons, who were the chiefs of this tribe, the Dalveria Aett, or Dalverian family, a term derived from Dala, the Norse name for the district of Argyll, and which implies that they had been for some time indigenous in the district; and this is confirmed in still stronger terms by the Flatey-book, consequently the Macdonalds were either the descendants of these Pictish inhabitants of Argyll, or else they must have entered the country subsequently to that period.

      But the earliest traditions of the family uniformly bear that they had been indigenous in Scotland from a much earlier period than that. Thus, James Macdonnel, of Dunluce, in a letter written to King James VI., in 1596, has this passage – “Most mightie and potent prince, recommend us unto your hieness with our service for ever your grace shall understand that our forebears hathe been from time to time [The expression of “from Time to time,” when it occurs in ancient documents, always signifies from time immemorial.] your servants unto your own kingdome of Scotland.” And again in 1615, Sir James Macdonald, of Kintyre, expresses himself, in a letter to the Bishop of the Isles, in these words – “Seeing my race has been tenne hundred years kyndlie Scottismen under the kings of Scotland –.” Although many other passages of a similar nature might be produced, these instances may for the present suffice to shew that there existed a tradition in this family of their having been natives of Scotland from time immemorial; and it is therefore scarcely possible to suppose that they could have entered the country subsequently to the ninth century. But besides the strong presumption that the Macdonalds are of Pictish descent, and formed a part of the great tribe of the Gallgael, we fortunately possess distinct authority for both of these facts. For the former, John Elder includes the Macdonalds among the ancient Stoke, who still retained the tradition of a Pictish descent, in opposition to the later tradition insisted in by the Scottish clergy, and this is sufficient evidence for the fact that the oldest tradition among the Macdonalds must have been one of a Pictish origin. The latter appears equally clear from the last mention of the Gallgael, in which they are described as the inhabitants of Argyll, Kintyre, Arran, and Man; and as these were at this very period the exact territories which Somerled possessed, it follows of necessity that the Macdonalds were the same people.

      The identity of the Gallgael with the tribe over which Somerled ruled as hereditary chief, being thus established, the independent kings of the Gallgael must in all probability have been his ancestors, and ought to be found in the old genealogies of the family. The last independent king of the Gallgael was Suibne, the son of Kenneth, whose death is recorded in 1034, and exactly contemporary with this Suibne, the MS. of 1450, places a Suibne among the ancestors of Somerled; accordingly, as the Gallgael and the Macdonalds were the same tribe, the two Suibnes must have been meant for the same person. But the MS. makes the name of Suibne’s father to have been Nialgusa, and there does not occur a Kenneth in the genealogy at all. As an authority upon this point, Tighernac must be preferred, and his account is corroborated by most of the old Scottish writers, who mention the existence at that time of a Kenneth, Thane of the Isles; and farther, at the very same period, as we have seen, one of the northern Maormors who opposed Sigurd, earl of Orkney, was named Kenneth. We must consequently receive Tighernac’s account as the most accurate; but above Kenneth we find the two accounts again different, for there is no resemblance whatever between the previous kings of the Gallgael and the earlier part of the Macdonald genealogies; and the MS. of 1450, without mentioning any of these kings at all, leads the genealogy amongst the Irish kings and heroes.

      Here then we have the point where the fabulous genealogies of the Highland and Irish Sennachies were connected with the genuine history.

      The MS. of 1450 is supported in its genealogy of the Macdonalds by all other authorities up to Suibne, and here the true history, as contained in the Irish Annals and the genealogy of the MS., separate; the one mentions the Gallgaels under their leaders as far back as the year 856, while the other connects Suibne by a different genealogy altogether with the Irish kings. It is obvious, then, that this is the point where the Irish genealogies were connected with the real line of the chiefs, and an examination of this MS. will shew that the period where the genealogies of the other clans were also connected with the Irish kings was the same. We may therefore conclude, that previous to the eleventh century the MS. of 1450, and the Irish genealogies of the Highland clans, are of no authority whatever, and consequently, that the Siol Cuinn is of native origin.

      After the death of Suibne we know nothing of the history of the clan until we come to Gille Adomnan, the grandfather of Somerled, who, according to the fragment of an ancient Gaelic MS., was driven out of his possession in Scotland by the violence of the Lochlans and Fingalls, and took refuge in Ireland. The expedition of Magnus Barefoot in 1093 is probably here alluded to. The same authority proceeds to inform us, that “whilst Gillebride Mac Gille Adomnan was residing in Ireland, the descendants of Colla, consisting of the Macquarries and Macmahones, held a great meeting and assembly in Fermanagh, the county of Macquire, regarding Gillebride’s affairs, how they might restore to him his patrimony, which had been abdicated from the violence of the Lochlan and Fingalls. When Gillebride saw such a large body of the Macquires assembled together, and that they were favourable to his cause, he besought them to embark in his quarrel, and to assist the people in Scotland who were favourable to him in an attempt to win back the possession of the country. The people declared themselves willing to go, and four or five hundred put themselves under his command. With this company Gillebride proceeded to Alban, and came on shore —.” [MS. penes Highland Society of Scotland.] Here, unfortunately, the fragment concludes abruptly, but it would appear that this expedition was unsuccessful, for another MS. history of considerable antiquity, but of which the beginning is also lost, commences with these words – “Somerled, the son of Gilbert, began to muse on the low condition and misfortune to which he and his father were reduced, and kept at first very retired.” But Somerled was a person of no ordinary talents and energy; he put himself at the head of the inhabitants of Morven, and by a series of rapid attacks he succeeded, after a considerable struggle, in expelling the Norwegians, and in making himself master of the whole of Morven, Lochaber, and North Argyll. He soon afterwards added the southern districts of Argyll to his other possessions, and David I. having at this period conquered the islands of Man, Arran, and Bute, from the Norwegians, he appears to have held these islands of the king of Scotland; but still finding himself unable, in point of strength, to cope with the Norwegians of the Isles, he, with true Highland policy, determined to gain these ancient possessions of his family by peaceful succession, since he could not acquire them by force of arms; and accordingly with that intent he prevailed, by a singular stratagem, in obtaining the hand of the daughter of Olaf the Red, the Norwegian king of the Isles, in marriage. Of this union the fruit was three sons, Dugall, Reginald, and Angus; by a previous marriage he had an only son, Gillecolum.

      Somerled, having now attained to very great power in the Highlands, resolved to make an attempt to place his grandsons, the sons of Winiund or Malcolm M’Heth, who had formerly claimed the earldom of Moray, in possession of their alleged inheritance. This unfortunate earldom seems to have been doomed by fate to become, during a succession of many centuries, the cause of all the rebellions in which Scotland was involved; and it now brought the Regulus of Argyll, as Somerled is termed by the Scottish historians, for the first time in opposition to the king. Of the various events of this war we are ignorant, but from the words of an ancient chronicle it appears to have excited very great alarm among the inhabitant of Scotland. In all probability Somerled had found it expedient to return speedily to the Isles, by the recurrence of events there of more immediate importance to himself than the project of establishing his grandsons in their inheritance; for Godred, the Norwegian king of the Isles, and brother-in-law to Somerled, having at this time given loose to a tyrannical disposition, and having irritated his vassals by dispossessing some of their lands, and degrading others from their dignities, Thorfinn, the son of Ottar, one of the most powerful of the Norwegian nobles, determined to depose Godred, as the only means of obtaining relief, and to place another king on the throne of the Isles. For this purpose Thorfinn went to Somerled, and requested that he might have Dugall, his eldest son, who was Godred’s nephew by his sister, in order to make him king in his place. Somerled rejoiced at the prospect of thus at last obtaining his object, and delivered up Dugall to the care of Thorfinn, who accordingly took the young prince, and conducting him through the Isles, compelled the chiefs of the Isles to acknowledge him for their sovereign, and to give hostages for their allegiance.

      One of them, however, Paul Balkason, a powerful nobleman, who was Lord of Sky, refused to make the required acknowledgment, and, flying to the Isle of Man, acquainted Godred with the intended revolution. alarmed at the intelligence, Godred instantly ordered his vassals to get their ships ready, and without delay, sailed to meet the enemy. He found that Somerled had already prepared for the expected struggle, and was advancing towards him with a fleet of eighty galleys. “A sea battle,” says the Chronicle of Man, “was fought between Godred and Somerled during the night of the Epiphany, with great slaughter on both sides. Next morning, however, at daybreak, they came to a compromise, and divided the sovereignty  of the Isles; so from that period they have formed two distinct monarchies till the present time. The ruin of the Isles may by dated from the moment when part of them were ceded to the sons of Somerled. By this treaty, Somerled acquired all the islands south of the point of Ardnamurchan, but he no sooner found himself in secure possession of these islands than he was again involved in hostilities with the government, having joined the powerful party in Scotland who at this time determined to dethrone Malcolm IV. and place the Boy of Egremont on the throne, and in prosecution of that design commenced to infest the shores of Scotland with his fleet. On the failure of this attempt, Malcolm appears at length to have discovered that Somerled was becoming too powerful to be permitted to remain in the state of partial independence which he had assumed; he accordingly demanded that Somerled should resign his lands into the king’s hands, and hold them in future as his vassal, and he prepared to enforce his demand by the aid of a powerful army. Somerled, however, emboldened by his previous successes, was little disposed to yield compliance to the king’s desire, but on the contrary, resolved to anticipate the attack. Collecting his fleet accordingly from among the Isles, he soon appeared in the Clyde, and landed at Renfrew. Here he was met by the Scottish army under the command of the High Steward of Scotland, and the result of the battle which ensued was the defeat and death of Somerled, together with his son, Gillecolum.

      This celebrated chief is described by an ancient Sennachie to have been “a well-tempered man, in body shapely, of a fair piercing eye, of middle stature, and of quick discernment.” His territories at his death were very considerable, comprehending the whole of the district of Argyll, the original possession of the clan, and that portion of the Hebrides termed by the Norwegians the Sudreys. These great possessions, which he had acquired by his own personal exertions, did not descent entire to his successor; for, although his grandson, Somerled, the son of Gillecolum, succeeded to the whole of his Highland territories, the Isles, with the exception of Arran and Bute, had come to him with his wife, and consequently descended to Dugall, his eldest son by that marriage.

      For a period fo upwards of fifty years after the death of Somerled, his grandson of the same name [The Scottish Historians and Highland Sennachies are unanimous in asserting that Somerled was succeeded by another Somerled, who rebelled against Alexander II. in 1221; and their account is confirmed by the Anecdotes of Olave the Black, a Norse Saga, which mentions a Somerled a king, and calls him a relation of Duncan, the son of Dugall. I have ventured to call him son of Gillecolum, and grandson of Somerled, as the only probable supposition.] appears to have remained in undisturbed possessions of the extensive territories on the mainland of Scotland, to which he succeeded; and although we do not find him during that period in active rebellion, or offering any decided opposition to the government, het there is reason to think that he formed the principal support to the numerous rebellions raised during that period in favour of the rival family of Mac William.

      He appear, however, to have rendered a more active assistance to the last attempt made by that family in 1221, and the king probably took advantage of that occasion to make an effort to reduce him more effectually under his power, for in that year, Alexander, having collected an army in Lothian and Galloway, attempted to penetrate the recesses of Argyll by sea, but was beat back by a tempest, and forced to take refuge in the Clyde. On the failure of this attempt, Alexander was not discouraged, but was resolved to attempt an expedition by land. He collected a large army from every quarter, and entered Argyll, and whether it is to be attributed to the military skill of the royal leader, or, as is more probable, to the incompetency of his adversary, and the divisions which have always existed in a Celtic country so extensive as that ruled by him, yet certain it is that in this year the king make himself master of the whole of Argyll, and Somerled took refuge in the Isles, where he met a violent death eight years afterwards.

      According to Winton, the most honest and trustworthy of all our chroniclers –

                        “De kyng that yhere Argyle wan
                        Dat revell wes til hym befor than
                        For wythe hys Ost thare in wes he
                        And Athe’ tuk of thare Fewte,
                        Wyth thare serwys and thare Homage,
                        Dat of hym wald hald thare Herytage,
                        But of the Ethchetys of the lave
                        To the Lordis of that land he gave.”

      By “the Lordis of that land,” to whom the forfeited estates were given, Winton means the foreign vassals placed there by Alexander, for Fordun is quite distinct that those who had offended the king too deeply to hope for pardon fled, and their properties were bestowed upon those who had followed the army into Argyll. The general effect of this conquest, as it may well be called, was that the district of Argyll was no longer under the rule of a single lord. Wherever those who had previously held their possessions as vassals of Somerled submitted to the king and were received into favour, they became crown vassals, and held their lands in chief of the crown, while the estates of those who were forfeited were bestowed as rewards upon many of those who had joined the expedition into Argyll; and from the nature of the expedition, and especially from its complete success, it is probable that these were principally Highlanders. The forfeited estates were farther brought under the direct jurisdiction of the government by being, according to the invariable policy of Alexander II., erected into a sheriffdom by the name of Argyll, and the extent of this, the first sheriffdom bearing that name, enables us to define with certainty the districts which were forfeited by the native lords and bestowed upon strangers. The sheriffdom of Argyll originally consisted of that part of the country now known as the district of Argyll proper, consisting of the districts of Glenorchy, Lochow, Lochfine, Glassrie, and Ardskeodnish. These were bestowed upon the ancestors of the M’Gregors and Macnauchtans, and of a family, probably Lowland termed De Glassrie, while the ancestor of the Campbells was made hereditary sheriff of the new sheriffdom. Besides this, the shire of Argyll included part of Lochaber, retained by the crown; the north half of Kintyre, bestowed upon a certain Dufgallus filius Sufin, and the upper half of Cowall given to a Campbell, The whole of Ergadia Borealis or North Argyll was granted to the Earl of Ros, who had rendered powerful assistance to the king both upon this and a former occasion.

      This remainder of this great district of Argyll was now held of the crown by those who had formerly been vassals of Somerled, and consisted of Lochaber, held by the chief of the clan Chattan; Lorn, by sons of Dugall, the eldest son of the first Somerled by his sr

second marriage; Knapdale by the ancestor of the Mac Neills; South Kintyre, by Roderick the son of Reginald, second son of Somerled; and the lower half of Cowall, by the ancestor of the Lamonds. These formed no part of the new sheriffdom of Argyll, but remained, ad formerly, part of the sheriffdoms of Perth and Inverness.

      In this manner was the power of the descendants of Somerled, by the first marriage, on the mainland completely broken for the time, and the fragments of the clan now looked up to the race of Dugall, the eldest son of the second marriage, who was in undisturbed possession of the share of the Isles acquired by Somerled, as their head. Dugall, the eldest son of this marriage, possessed, besides the Isles the district of Lorn, as his share of the possessions of his paternal ancestors. But on his death, the Isles did not immediately descend to his children, but appear to have been acquired by his brother Reginald, according to the Highland law of succession, who in consequence, assumed the title of king of the Isles. By the same laws, the death of Reginald restored to his nephews the inheritance of their father.

      Dugall had left two sons, Dugall Scrag and Duncan, who appear in the Norse Sagas, under the title of Sudereyan kings. As the Hebrides were at this time under the subjection of the Norwegian king, the sons of Somerled appear to have nominally acknowledged his authority, but as these Sagas abound in complaints against their fidelity, they seem to have professed submission to either king, as best suited their object for the time, while, in fact, they were in a state of actual independence. This state of matters occasioned Haco, at that time king of Norway, to determine, at length, to reduce these refractory chiefs to obedience; and for this purpose he selected a Norwegian, termed Uspac, gave him the name of Haco, with the title of king, and dispatched him to the Sudereys, with a Norwegian armament. Upon his arrival at the Hebrides, it was discovered most opportunely for the Sudereyan kings, that Haco Uspac was in fact a son of Dugall, and brother of Dugall Scrag and Duncan, and accordingly, that which was intended for their overthrow, turned to their advantage. But in the meantime, Olave the Swarthy, king of Man, had proceeded to Norway, and had made the king aware of the real state of the case, upon which Haco dispatched him to the Sudereys with another fleet. When he had reached the Sound of Isla, he found the brothers, king Uspac, Dugall, and Duncan, already there, together with their relation, Somerled, who had taken refuge in the Isles from the power of the king of Scotland. These chiefs, alarmed at the force of the Norwegians, attempted to overcome them by stratagem, and for this purpose “invited them to an entertainment, and provided strong wines,” not an uncommon stratagem among the Highlanders. But the Norwegians had suspicion of their goo faith, and refused to go, whereupon each of the commanders proceeded to draw their forces together, and in the night the Norwegians made an unexpected attack upon the Sudereyans, in which they succeeded, having slain Somerled, and taken Dugall prisoner, while the other two brothers effected their escape. Uspac, upon this judged it prudent to submit himself to the Norwegians, and afterwards joined them in their expedition to Bute, where he met his death in an attack upon a fortress in that island. [This account is taken from the Anecdotes of Olave the Black.] Duncan was now the only one of his family who retained any power in the Sudereys, but of his farther history nothing is known except the foundation of the priory of Ardchattan, in Lorn. On his death, his son Ewen succeeded to the whole power and territories of this branch of the descendants of Somerled; and he appears to have remained more faithful to the Norwegian king than his predecessors had been, for when Alexander II., king of Scotland, had determined upon making every effort to obtain possession of the Western Isles, and, deeming it of the greatest consequence to win Ewen to his interest, had besought him to give up Kerneburgh, and other three castles, together with the lands which he held of king Haco, to the king of Scotland, adding, that if Ewen would join him in earnest, he would reward him with many greater estates in Scotland, together with his confidence and favour, and although all Ewen’s relations and friends pressed him to comply, he declared that he would not break his oath to king Haco, and refused all offers of compromise.

      Alexander, it is well known, died in Kerreray, in the commencement of an attack upon the Isles, and his son, Alexander III., when he had attained majority, determined to renew the attempt to obtain possession of the Isles, which his father had commenced. But instead of proceeding in person to the execution of this enterprise, he excited the Earl of Ross, at that time the most powerful nobleman in Scotland, and whose great possessions extended over the mainland opposite to the Northern Isles, to commence hostilities against them, and this Earl accordingly, accompanied by the chief of the Mathiesons and other powerful dependents, suddenly crossed over to the Isle of Sky, where he ravaged the country, burned villages and churches, and killed great numbers both of men and women. Upon this, the Sudereyan kings immediately dispatched letters to Haco, complaining of the outrages committed, and acquainting him that it was but part of a plan by which the Scottish king purposed to subdue all the Sudereys, if life was granted to him.

      Haco was no sooner aware of the extent of the danger to which his insular dominion was exposed, than he determined to proceed in person to the Hebrides, with all the troops which his means could supply. Upon Haco’s appearance, he was at once joined by most of the Highland chiefs, among whom was king Dugall, son of Ronald, the son of Reginald Mac Somerled, and upon his arrival at Gigha, he was met by king Ewen. Haco desired that Ewen should follow his banner, but the politics of that prince had changed in a most unaccountable manner, for he excused himself, and said that he had sworn an oath to the Scottish king, and that he had more lands of him than of the Norwegian monarch, and therefore he entreated king Haco to dispose of all those estates which he had conferred upon him. The unfortunate termination of Haco’s expedition, eventually justified the sagacity at least of Ewen’s change, but Haco did not find the other Sudereyan lords so keen sighted or so scrupulous in breaking their oaths as Ewen appeared to be, for he was not only shortly afterwards joined by Angus, Lord of Isla and South Kintyre, but even by Murchard, a vassal of the Earl of Menteith, in North Kintyre, who had been granted by Alexander II. The result of this enterprise is well known to everyone, and the defeat of the Norwegians by the Scots at Largs, produced a treaty by which the Isles were finally ceded to the Scottish king. [Norse account of Haco’s expedition.] In consequence of Ewen’s timely change, this event rather increased than diminished his power, but the ill-luck of the Macdonalds, which invariably prevented the concentration of their power in the hands of one family for any length of time, had commenced to display itself, for Ewen died without male issue, and left but two daughters, the eldest of whom had married the Norwegian king of Man, and the second, Alexander of the Isles, a descendant of Reginald.

      The failure of the male descendants of Dugall in the person of Ewen had now the effect, in consequence of the well-devised treatment of the conquered district of Argyll by Alexander II., and subsequent annexation of the Isles to Scotland by his successor, of dividing this great clan into three, the heads of each of which held their lands of the crown. These were the clan Rory, clan Donald, and clan Dugall, severally descended from three sons of these names, of Reginald, the second son of Somerled by his second marriage. “Ranald, from whom sprung the Clan Rory, Clan Donald, and Clan Dugall” – MS. of 1450.]

Clan Rory.

      On the death of Somerled, although the superiority of Argyll and the Isles fell respectively to hi grandson Somerled, and his son Dugall, yet according to the Highland law of gavel, the property of which he died possessed was divided among all his sons, and the portion which fell to Reginald appears to have consisted of Islay among the isles, and Kintyre are part of lorn of the mainland.

      Of the events of Reginald’s life little is known, and even that little is not free from uncertainty, for, as he was contemporary with Reginald, the Norwegian king of Man and the Isles, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the act of the two princes.

      Reginald, however, appears on the death of his brother Dugall, to have been designated “dominum insularum,” and sometimes even “rex insularum,” and “dominus de Ergile and Kintyre,” under which title he grants certain lands to the abbey of Saddell, in Kintyre, which he had founded.

      There titles, however, did not descend to his children, and he was succeeded in his paternal inheritance by his eldest son, Roderic, who, on the conquest of Argyll by Alexander II., considerably increased his powers by agreeing to hold his lands of the king as crown vassal; and after this period he is generally styled Dominus de Kintyre. Roderic appears to have adopted the Norwegian habits of piracy in their fullest extent, and to have become, in everything but his birth, one of that race. He was one of the most noted pirates of his day, and the annals of the time are full of the plundering expeditions which he made. In these habits he was not followed by his sons Dugall and Allan. Dugall ruled over his Gaelic possessions in the usual manner of a Celtic chief, and when Ewen had at length agreed, in 1249, to desert the Norwegian interest for that of Scotland, bore the Norwegian title of king of the Isles until his death.

      On Haco’s expedition to the Western Isles, king Dugall acquired great accession to his territories. Few of the Island chiefs had afforded so much assistance to Haco, or taken such an active part in his expedition as Dugall, and Haco therefore bestowed upon him all those parts of Ewen of Lorn’s territories which had fallen into his hands. King Dugall appears to have died without descendants, and his brother Allan succeeded to the possessions of this branch of the Siol Cuinn. On the cession of the Isles, Allan, along with the other Hebridean chiefs, transferred their allegiance to Alexander III. of Scotland; for his name is found among the barons in the list of those who assembled at Scoon in 1284, to declare Margaret, the maid of Norway, heiress to the crown; and on that occasion he is designed “Allangus, filius Roderici.” On this occasion, when Alexander appears to have been willing to purchase the support of his nobles to the settlement of the crown on his daughter at any price, the adherence of Allan was obtained by a grant of a great part of the ancient earldom of Garmoran, which remained ever afterwards in this family, and was now known as the lordship of Garmoran. Allan left one son, Roderic, of whose history little is known, but it would appear that he was not considered legitimate by the feudal law, for we find that Allan was succeeded in his lordship of Garmoran by his daughter Christina, although the Highland law, by which Roderic was unquestionably considered legitimate, had still so much influence as in some measure to compel Christina to legalise Roderic’s possession of these lands by a formal resignation and regrant. Roderic afterwards incurred the penalty of forfeiture during the reign of Robert Bruce, probably from some connexion with the Soulis conspiracy of 1320. But his lands were restored to his son Ranald by David II. Roderic had but one son, Ranald, and one daughter, Amie, married to John, lord of the Isles. Ranald, however, did not long enjoy his extensive territories, for holding some lands in North Argyll, of the Earl of Ross, his proximity to situation gave rise to a bitter feud between these powerful chiefs. David II. having in 1346 summoned the barons of Scotland to meet him at Perth, Ranald made his appearance there with a considerable body of troops, and took up his quarters at the monastery of Elcho. William, Earl of Ross, who was also with the army, took this opportunity of revenging himself upon Ranald, and having surprised and entered the monastery in the middle of the night, he slew Ranald with seven of his followers. By the death of Ranald, the descendants of Roderic became extinct, and John of the Isles, the chief of the clan Donald, who had married his sister Amy, became entitled to the succession, to which he immediately laid claim.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast