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A Hundred Years in the Highlands
Chapter II - Family History


Some of my readers interested in genealogy may be glad to know something of our Gairloch ancestor, Eachainn Ruadh (Red Hector). Since his day we have been known as Clan Eachainn Ghearloch (sons of Hector of Gairloch). Hector was the second son of Alexander the sixth of Kintail; so that we were not by any means what would be called to upstarts even in a.d. 1400. Hector Roy's mother was a daughter of the famous Ruairidh MacAlain of Moidart and Clanranald, whose wife was a granddaughter of the first Lord of the Isles by his wife Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II. Hector Roy also had royal blood in him on his fathers side as well as on that of his mother; for his grandfather, Murdo the fifth of Kintail, married Finguala, daughter of Malcolm Macleod, third of Harris and Dun vegan, whose wife was Martha, daughter of Donald Stewart, Earl of Mar, nephew of King Robert the Bruce. The Gairlochs also have Norwegian blood in their veins, as Tormod Macleod, second of Harris and Dun vegan, and father of Malcolm, was a grandson of Olave the Black, the last of the Norwegian Kings who owned the Isle of Man, and who died about 1237.

Gairloch belonged to the Macleods in the earlier part of 1400. When Hector Roy was a young man it was owned by his brother-in-law, who had married Alexander the sixth of Kintail’s daughter. Allan Macleod of Gairloch married as his second wife a daughter of Macleod of the Lews. The Lews Macleods were also otherwise nearly connected with Allan of Gairloch. Well, it seems that two brothers of Macleod of the Lews had sworn an oath that no one with a drop of Mackenzie blood in him should ever succeed to Gairloch, and crossing from the Lews they landed at Gairloch. Allan Macleod, perhaps from having heard some whispers of the ideas of his relatives, had placed his family for safety on a small crannog or artificial island stronghold in Loch Tollie, along which the road from Gairloch to Poole we runs, which must have been an uncomfortable residence for a wife with her own young daughter and her three stepsons.

It seems that these Macleods, the day after their landing, got word of the fact that Allan had left the j island that morning, and had gone to fish on the Ewe. They found him asleep on the river-bank at Cnoc na michomhairle (the Mound or Knoll of Bad Advice), and at once made him “ short by the head/' which was the term then in use for beheading. Retracing their! steps to the island, they managed to get ferried across to it, and, informing the unfortunate widow of what they had done to her husband, they tore the two boys from; her knees—the third boy was fortunately absent— carried them along to a small glen through which the Poole we road now passes, and at a spot called Meal): bhadaidh na Thaisg (the Rock of the Place of Burial] stabbed them both to the heart with their dirks. Thei], stepmother managed, through the strategy of one of her husband's retainers, to secure the blood-stained shirts of the boys, and sent them to their grandfather, Alexander the sixth, either at Brahan Castle or Eileandonan, and Alexander at once despatched his son (our ancestor Hector Roy) with the shirts along with him, as evidence of the atrocious deed, to report the matter in Edinburgh. His Majesty, on hearing of the crime, granted Hector a commission of fire and sword against the Macleods, and gave him a Crown Charter of the lands of Gairloch in his own favour, dated 1494. The two murderers were soon afterwards slain near South Earadale. But it took Eachainn Ruadh some years with his small army of Kintail men before he could drive the Macleods out of their stronghold of the Dun, or fort, on the rocky peninsula not far from the present Gairloch Parish Church, and he had many a tussle with them. For instance, one morning he had reason to believe that some of the head-men of the Macleods in the Dun were to try to find their way to the south round the head of the small bay of Ceann t-Sail, so, hiding himself behind a rock which jutted out on the shore just below the present Gairloch Bank, he waylaid them. The Macleods, not having any suspicion that the enemy was anywhere in the vicinity, came along singly, and as each one passed he rushed at him, stabbed him with his dirk, and dragged his body behind the rock, and was quite ready for the next. So his “ bag ” was three Macleods before breakfast, and thus he avenged the deaths of his two little nephews.

But peace by no means came at once, for the Macleods made various attempts to regain Gairloch, as will be seen from the following story taken from the “History of the Mackenzies”: “A considerable number of the younger Macleods who were banished from Gairloch were invited by their chief to pass Hogmanay night in the castle of Dun vegan. In the kitchen there was an old woman known as Mor Bhan (Fair Sarah), who was usually occupied in carding wool, and generally supposed to be a witch. After dinner the men began to drink, and when they had passed some time in this occupation they sent to the kitchen for Mor Bhan. She at once joined them in the great hall, and having drunk one or two glasses along with them, she remarked that it was a very poor thing for the Macleods to be deprived of their own lands of Gairloch and to have to live in comparative poverty in Raasay and the Isle of Skye. ‘ But/ she said to them, ‘ prepare yourselves and start to-morrow for Gairloch, sailing in the black, birlinn (war-boat) and you shall regain it, and I shall be a witness of your success when you return/ The men trusted her, believing she had the power of divination. In the morning they set sail for Gairloch. The black galley was full of the Macleods. It was evening when they entered the loch. They were afraid to land on the mainland, for they remembered the descendants of Domhnall Greannach (Rough Donald, a celebrated Macrae) were still there, and they knew the prowess of these Kintail men only too well. The Macleods, therefore, turned to the south side of the loch and fastened their birlinn to the Fraoch Eilean (Heather Island) in. the sheltered bay beside Leac nan Saighead (Slab of the Arrows), between Shieldaig and Badachro. Here they decided to wait till morning, and then disembark and walk round the head of the loch. But all their movements had been well and carefully watched. Dumhnall Odhar Maclain Leith and his brother Iain, the celebrated Macrae archers, recognised the birlinn of the Macleods and determined to oppose their landing. They walked round the head of the loch by Shieldaig, and posted themselves before daylight behind the Leac, a projecting rock overlooking the Fraoch Eilean. The steps on which they stood at the back of the rock are still pointed out. Domhnall Odhar, being of small stature, took the higher of the two ledges and Iain took the lower. Standing on these, they crouched down behind the rock, completely sheltered from the enemy, but commanding a full view of the island, while they were quite invisible to the Macleods on the island.

“As soon as the day dawned the two Macraes directed their arrows on the strangers, of whom a number were killed before their comrades were even aware of the direction from which the messenger of death came. The Macleods endeavoured to answer their arrows, but, not being able to see the foe, their efforts were of no effect. In the heat of the fight one of the Macleods climbed up the mast of the birlinn to discover the position of the enemy. Iain Odhar, perceiving this, took deadly aim at him when near the top of the mast. ‘ Oh,’ says Donald, addressing John, 1 you have sent a pin through his broth/ The slaughter continued, and the remainder of the Macleods hurried aboard their birlinn. Cutting the rope, they turned their heads seawards. By this time only two of their number were left alive. In their hurry to escape they left all the bodies of their slain companions unburied on the island ! A rumour of the arrival of the Macleods had during the night spread through the district, and other warriors, such as Fionnlaidh Dubh na Saigheada and Fear Shieldaig, were soon at the scene of action, but all they had to do on their arrival was to assist in the burial of the dead Macleods. Pits were dug, into each of which a number of bodies were thrown, and mounds were raised over them which remain to this day, as anj^one landing on the island may observe.”

Almost the last fight with the Macleods was urhen Murdoch Mackenzie, second surviving son of John Roy Mackenzie, fourth of Gairloch, accompanied by Alexander Bayne, heir-apparent of Tulloch, and several brave men from Gairloch, sailed to the Isle of Skye in a vessel loaded with wine and provisions. It is said by some that Murdoch’s intention was to secure in marriage the daughter and heir of line of Domhnall Dubh MacRuairidh! (Donald Macleod). It is the unbroken tradition in! Gairloch that John Macleod was a prisoner there, and! was unmarried, and easily secured where he was. In the event of this marriage taking place—failing issue by John, then in the power of John Roy—the ancient rights of the Macleods would revert to the Gairloch family and a troublesome dispute would be finally settled. Whatever the real object of the trip to Skye, it proved disastrous. The ship found its way, whether intentionally on the part of the crew or forced by a great;

storm, to the sheltered bay of Kirkton of Raasay, opposite the present mansion-house, where young MacGillechallum of Raasay at the time resided. Anchor was cast, and young Raasay, hearing that Murdoch Mackenzie of Gairloch was on board, discussed the situation with his friend MacGillechallum Mor Mac-Dhomhnaill Mhic Neill, who persuaded him to visit the ship as a friend and secure Mackenzie’s person by stratagem, with a view to getting him afterwards exchanged for his own relative, John MacAilain Mhic Ruairidh, then prisoner in Gairloch. Acting on this advice, young Raasay, with MacGillechallum Mor and twelve of their men, started for the ship, leaving word with his bastard brother, Murdoch, to get ready all the men he could to go to their assistance in small boats as soon as the alarm was given.

Mackenzie received his visitors in the most hospitable and unsuspecting manner, and supplied them with as much wine and other viands as they could consume. Four of his men, however, feeling somewhat suspicious and fearing the worst, abstained from drinking. Alexander Bayne of Tulloch and the remainder of Murdoch’s men partook of the good cheer to excess, and ultimately became so drunk that they had to retire below deck. Mackenzie, who sat between Raasay and MacGillechallum Mor, had not the slightest suspicion, when Macleod, seeing Murdoch alone, jumped up, turned suddenly round, and told him that he must become his prisoner. Mackenzie of Gairloch instantly started to his feet in a violent passion, laid hold of Raasay by the waist, and threw him down, exclaiming, “I would scorn to be your prisoner!” One of Raasay’s followers, seeing his young chief treated thus, stabbed Murdoch through the body with his dirk. Mackenzie, finding himself wounded, stepped back to draw his sword, and his foot coming against some obstruction he stumbled over it and fell into the sea. Those on shore, observing the row, came out in their small boats, and seeing Mackenzie, who was a dexterous swimmer, manfully making for Sconsar on the opposite shore in Skye, they pelted him with stones, smashed in his head, and drowned him. The few of his men who kept sober, seeing their leader thus perish, resolved to sell their lives dearly, and, fighting like heroes, they killed the young laird of Raasay, along with MacGillechallum Mor, author of all the mischief, and his two sons. Young Bayne of Tulloch and his six inebriated attendants, who had followed him down below, hearing the uproar overhead, attempted to come on deck, but they were killed by the Macleods as they presented themselves through the hole. But not a soul of the Raasay men escaped alive from the swords of the sober four, who were ably assisted by the ship's crew.

Eventually matters became a little more peaceful, and we Mackenzies got Gairloch, which has never yet been bought or sold! I have occasion very frequently to pass the little island in Loch Tollie and the spot where Hector Roy slew the Macleods. And though I have been passing there now for over seventy years, I never do so without realising that but for the tragedy of the island in Loch Tollie, we should never have been Mackenzies of Gairloch, my nephew would not be Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, seventh baronet of Gairloch and thirteenth in direct succession to Hector Roy, and I should not be at Inverewe!

I may mention that for many generations the few Macleods left in the district were naturally very unpopular in the parish, even as late as my grandfather Sir Hector's time. If he asked a question as to the name of a man, and the man happened unluckily to be a Macleod, the answer to my grandfather was certain to be apologetic, and as follows: “Le bhur cead Shir Eachiinn se Leodach a tli-ann ” (“ By your leave, Sir Hector, it is a Macleod that is in him ”). There is one thing, however, I must add in favour of the Macleods. My dear mother and I often remarked about the few scattered remnants of that clan among our crofter population, that they were distinguished by a very superior personal beauty. Often on our making enquiries regarding a specially handsome family of Mackenzies or some other clan, it would turn out that the mother or grandmother had been a Macleod. Another thing we noticed was the similarity of the type of face of our crofter Macleods to our friends the Dunvegan and other Skye Macleods. They are usually tall, with pale, oval faces, blue eyes, and specially fine aquiline noses, never with flat and broad faces, with sandy hair, snub noses, and red cheeks, such as are to be found in other clans.

And now I ought perhaps to say something about what Gairloch did in the ’45. Well, I fear I can tell very little except that my grandfather’s grandfather, Sir Alexander, the second baronet, called the Tighearna Crubach on account of his being lame, did not turn out as did many of his clan, and although a good many Gairloch, Poolewe, and Kenlochewe men were at the battle of Culloden, they were followers of the laird of Torridon and other smaller lairds, and were not led there by my ancestor, who succeeded to Gairloch on his coming of age in 1721,. and therefore must have been about forty-six and in his prime at the time of Culloden. He had hardly finished the building of his mansion, the new Tigh Dige, and was doubtless proud of having accomplished the great feat of covering it with leacan gorma (blue slabs), and could not be bothered with such dangerous politics at the time. Sir Alexander was a great improver of his property, and was in all respects a careful and good man of business, and, after Culloden, when John Mackenzie of Meddat applied to him in favour of Lord Macleod, son of the Earl of Cromartie who took so prominent a part in the rising of 1745 and was in very tightened circumstances, Sir Alexander replied in a letter dated May, 1749, in the following somewhat unsympathetic terms: “Sir,—I am favoured with your letter, and am extremely sorry Lord Cromartie’s circumstances should obliege him to solicit the aide of small gentlemen. I much raither he hade dyed sword in hand even where he was ingag’d then be necessitate to act such a pairt. I have the honour to be nearly related to him, and to have been his companion, but will not supply him at this time, for which I believe I can give you the best reason in the world, and the only one possible for me to give, and that is that I cannot."

My uncle, however, refers in his Notes to the ’45 period in Gairloch, and tells a story of his great-grandfather as related by the family bard, Alasdair Buidhe Maciamhair (Yellow Sandy Mclver). I shall quote from my uncle’s Notes about the bard:

“This reminds me that one of our summer evening’s amusements was getting the bard to the dining-room after dinner, where, well dined below stairs and primed by a bumper of port wine, he would stand up, and with really grand action and eloquence, give us poem after poem of Ossian in Gaelic, word for word, exactly as translated by Macpherson not long before then, and stupidly believed by many to be Macpherson’s own composition, though had Alasdair heard anyone hinting such nonsense, his stick would soon have made the heretic sensible! Alasdair could not read or write and only understood Gaelic, and these poems came down to him through generations numberless as repeated by his ancestors round their winter evening fires; and I have known persons as uneducated, who could not only repeat from memory interesting poems like Ossian, but could work out uninteresting complicated sums in arithmetic. Alasdair related as follows: ‘Behind the western Tigh Dige rose a mass of rock covered with wood, with a charming grassy level top about one thousand feet above the sea, which in the sheltered woody bay flowed within a thousand yards of the old chateau.’ Alasdair told us that in 1745, when men-of-war were searching everywhere for Prince Charlie, one of them came into the bay, and the Captain sent word to our ancestor to come on board. The latter, who really had not been at Culloden, although some of his people had, thought he was quite as well ashore among his friends, so sent his compliments to his inviter, regretting he could not accept his invitation, as he had friends to dine with him on the top of Creag a Chait (the Cat’s Rock), where he hoped the Captain would join them. The reply was a broadside against the Tigh Dige as the ship sailed off, and I can remember seeing one of the cannonballs sticking half out of the house gable next to the sea, apparently an 18-pound shot. Had it hit a few feet lower it might have broken into a recess in the thickness of the gable, the admittance to which was by raising the floor of a wall-press in the room above, although this had been forgotten till masons cutting an opening for a gable door to the kitchen broke into the recess, where many swords and guns were found. Then it was recollected that Fraser of Foyers was long concealed by our ancestor, and of course in this black hole.”


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