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Clan MacColl


Tradition has it that the MacColls have been associated with the area round Loch Fyne from an early date and are claimed to be a branch of the great Clan Donald. This is due to the frequent use of the name Coll as a personal name for those of that clan. The MacColls are also connected to other clans including the MacGregors and the Stewarts of Appin. Due to their support of the MacGregors they found themselves opposing the MacPhersons who they met at Drum Nachder in 1602 returning from a raid into Ross. The two sides fought and the MacColls lost most of their men including their leader. The MacColls who lived in Appin and Ballachulish followed the Stewarts of Appin and in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion eighteen MacColls were killed and fifteen wounded in the Appin Regiment. The MacColls most famous exponent was Evan McColl the Gaelic poet who was born at Kenmore on Loch Fyne in 1808. He was the author of the "The Mountain Minstrel" or in Gaelic "Clarsach nam Beann". He died at the end of the century and a monument was erected at Kenmore in his memory, which was unveiled in 1930 by His Grace the Duke of Argyll.

Additional Account of the Clan

BADGE: Fraoch gorm (erica vulgaris) common heath.
PIBROCH: Ceann na Drochaide móire.

THIS small clan, which was anciently settled on the Shores of Loch Fyne, is believed to have come of the great race of the MacDonalds. The belief is supported by the fact that the badge of the MacDonalds and the MacColls is the same, a sprig of common heather. According to the Gaelic manuscript of 1450 so largely quoted by W. F. Skene in his Highlanders of Scotland, the MacDonalds derived their earliest known origin from Colla Uais, an Irish king of the fourth century. No doubt following this tradition the great clan of the Isles was in early times known alternatively as Clan Colla and Clan Cuin or Conn, the latter name being derived from Constantine, the father of Colla. Coll has accordingly always been a favourite name among the MacDonalds. Among the most notable holders of it was the lieutenant of the Great Marquess of Montrose in the Civil Wars of Charles I., who was known as Colkitto, or Coil Ciotoch MacDonald. Of this Left-handed Coil, as his name implies, many stories are told. It was he who brought over the Irish contingent, and acted as its leader throughout the Marquess’ campaign. On his way along the coast after landing, he sent a piper to ascertain the defences of Duntrune castle on the shore of Loch Crinan. The piper not only found the stronghold in a complete state of defence but was himself made prisoner in one of the turrets. His pipes, however, were left to him, and he seized the opportunity to blow out the well-known tune "Shun the Tower." Colkitto took the hint, and, leaving the piper to his fate, marched off to join Montrose. Later, when a prisoner, and about to be hanged from the mast of his galley at Dunstaffnage, he begged that he might be buried under the doorstep of the little chapel there, in order that he might "exchange a snuff with the Captain of Dunstaffnage in the grave."

Clan MacColl, however, dates from a much earlier time than that of Colkitto. Previous to the time of the battle of Glenfruin, in 1602, they appear to have been of some strength. But, like other small clans within the reach of the Campbells, they were liable to be used by the somewhat unscrupulous chiefs of that powerful family as instruments in the Campbell policy of aggression and aggrandisement. By means which are not quite clear they were, along with the Colquhouns and other clans, induced to embroil themselves against the MacGregors. On the other hand, the MacGregor chiefs, to meet the forces which were secretly being accumulated and instigated against them by the crafty Argyll and Glenurchy, made an effort to secure support from other clans, like the MacAulays and Macphersons. When matters came to a climax, on the eve of the battle of Glenfruin, Alastair MacGregor sent word hotfoot to Cluny Macpherson, who sent off fifty picked warriors from Badenoch to his support. These men, however, had marched no further than Blair in Athol when they received word that the MacGregors were victorious, having signally defeated the Colquhouns and their allies in Glenfruin. They accordingly turned back and marched for home. On the way, as they crossed the wild Pass of Drumochter, the highest point of the road between Athol and Badenoch, as luck would have it they encountered the MacColls returning from a foray in Ross or Sutherland, and driving a creagh before them. Apart from their alliance with the MacGregors the Macphersons had a quarrel of their own with the MacColls, and they forthwith seized the opportunity to clear off all scores. The battle took place on the shore of Loch Garry, and resulted in complete victory for the Macphersons. While very few of Clan Vurich were slain, the MacCoils were almost entirely wiped out, losing their chief and nearly all their fighting men.

One of the decimated clan, Angus Ban MacCoil, attracted special attention in the fight by his strength and dexterity. He was encountered by one of the most valiant of the Macphersons, and the two engaged in a mortal combat. This desperate struggle of the two continued till the MacCoIls were finally overcome and driven from the field. Then, seeing the odds overwhelming against him, Angus Ban fought his way, moving backwards, to a deep chasm in the hillside, and leaping the abyss backwards with astonishing agility effected his escape, none of his pursuers being inclined to risk the leap even in the ordinary way and with a run.

Regarding further deeds of the MacCoils tradition is silent. Whatever they were they were probably achieved in conjunction with their powerful neighbours, the Campbells, and in their case it may be hoped that the adage was true, "Happy is the nation that has no history!"

A hundred years ago one of the clan, Evan MacColl, introduced the name into another field by publishing a volume of poems of considerable merit under the title of "Clarsach nam Beann," or "The Mountain Harp." Yet another member of the clan was Alexander McCaul, D.D., who in 1821 was sent to Poland by the London Society for Christianising the Jews, who, after his return to London published a weekly journal, Old Paths, dealing with Jewish ritual, became Principal of the Hebrew College in 1840, and afterwards Professor of Hebrew and Divinity in King’s College, and a prebendary of St. Paul’s.

Thanks to James Pringle Weavers for the following information

MACCOLL: Many MacColls are assumed to be descended from the Clan Donald, wherein the forename of 'Coll' was common, and of a race who settled around Loch Fyne in Argyll where they later came under the influence of the Clan Campbell. Reputedly these MacColls soon became involved in the Campbell versus MacGregor feuds and this in turn brought them into conflict with the MacPhersons. In 1603 a band of MacPhersons enroute to aid the MacGregors, heard of their now infamous victory in Glen Fruin and on turning back to Badenoch encountered a band of raiding MacColls in Drumochter wherein the ensuing fight the MacColls lost most of their men, including their leader. The ancestry of this group has never been truly defined for another line of MacColls had settled in Appin where they became devoted followers of the Appin Stewarts. So intimate was this association that when a Chieftain of the Achnacone Stewarts died it was customary that he should be buried where a MacColl lay on either side of him. They fought in the Appin Regiment during the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising and of the 109 Appin killed or wounded, 33 were named MacColl. The McColls of Lochgilphead and Kilmory in Argyll are said to be more properly McNaughtons. Probably descended from the Loch Fyne race was Evan McColl the Gaelic poet, born at Kenmore on Loch Fyne in 1808. Evan was the author of "Clarsach nam Beann" ('The Mountain Minstrel'), and in 1930 a monument was erected there to his memory. The similar sounding name of MacCALL is of quite separate origin and is early found in Nithsdale where the MacCalls of Guffockland were long established. Guffockland was an estate near the village of Kirkconnel in the parish of Sanquhar. Here the name most probably derives from 'MacCathail' (son of Cathal), and while some MacCalls of Dumfries and Ayr shires may have descended from MacAulays of the Lennox, as sometimes averred, there is little evidence to support this. Clans to which allegiance might be declared would be identified by evidence of the geographical origins of one's ancestors. For those with southern or central Argyll origins the MacDonalds or Campbells would seem most appropriate, while those with Appin or Lorne origins would most probably have Appin Stewart association. 


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