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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter IX.—Hector Roy Mackenzie, first Laird of Gairloch

MANY years ago there lived at Craig of Gairloch an old man named Alastair Mac Iain Mhjc Earchair. He was a man of great piety and respectability, and was one of those who devote much of their time to religious exercises, and are called "the men." He is remembered by old people now living. It was in the first quarter of the nineteenth century that early one morning Alastair went out for a load of bog fir for firewood. When he came to the peat moss where the wood was to be found, there suddenly appeared before him a tall fair-haired man attired in the Breacan an fheilidh, or belted plaid; with him were twelve other men similarly dressed; their plaids were all of Mackenzie tartan, and their kilts were formed of part of the plaid pleated and belted round the waist as was the manner in the old days. The fair-haired one, who from his noble bearing was manifestly a chief, inquired, "How fare the Gairloch family?" Alastair replied, "They are well." Then they departed. When they were leaving him, Alastair heard not the sound of their tread nor saw them make a step, but they passed away as if a gust of wind were bending down the tall grass on the hillside. Alastair, to his dying day, declared and believed that he had had a vision of the great chief Hector Roy with his bodyguard of twelve chosen heroes.

This account not only illustrates the reverential pride and affection with which the memory of the famous Hector Roy is regarded by the elder natives of Gairloch, but it also supplies a slight yet graphic sketch of the traditional appearance of the great chief.

We have already learnt (Part I., chap, iii.) that Hector was the son of Alexander Mackenzie (known as " the Upright"), sixth lord of Kintail by his second wife. She was the daughter of Macdonald of Clanranald, and Hector Roy himself married a daughter of Ronald MacRanald, the laird of Moidart. Hector was born about 1440, but the date cannot be positively fixed. He was called Ruadh or Roy, from the auburn colour of his hair; he was a tall powerful man, of marvellous physique, a fearless hero, and a redoubtable warrior,—in a word, a typical Highland chieftain.

Many of the old traditions of the Gairloch seannachies have centred in Hector Roy and the deeds of his followers, but in the present generation they are passing out of mind, so that our account of the famous warrior cannot be so complete as it might have been made fifty years ago.

In Part I., chap, vii., we have seen the circumstances under which j the king gave Hector Roy a commission of fire and sword for the destruction of the M'Leods who were in Gairloch. Hector Roy soon 1 set about the work of extermination, but he was so much occupied in other warfare that it was long before he made much way in Gairloch. Ultimately he received a charter from the crown in 1494, and later a new charter under the great seal dated 8tl| April 1513, of Gairloch, together with Glasleitire and Coire nan Cuilean in I Kintail, in feu and heritage for ever. Notwithstanding these charters, he never himself succeeded in completely ousting the M'Leods from Gairloch.

Hector Roy resided with his father at Kinnellan or Brahan, and afterwards at Fairbum. When in Gairloch he seems to have fortified himself in the Tigh Dige mentioned in Part I., chap, vii., but the M'Leods still held the Dun or Castle of Gairloch not far away.

At that time a rock stood at the edge of th.e shore near the head of the bay of Ceann an t' Sail, or bay of Charlestown as it is now often called; it is the bay where Flowerdale House and the present Gairloch post-office and pier are situated. This rock then projected so far on the shore that the road round it was covered by the sea at high water. When the present road was made, a great part of the rock was removed and the road banked up above the reach of the | tide. Before this the projecting rock contained several large re- I cesses. Hector Roy went out one day unattended to reconnoitre the Dun, still occupied by his enemies the M'Leods, possibly thinking to devise a scheme for its capture. The M'Leods observed him, and three of them slipped out of the castle hoping to seize him. Hector, unwilling alone to face three of his foes, ran quickly towards the Tigh Dige. When he came to the rock with its recesses, he threw himself into one of them, with his dirk drawn. As the first pursuer rushed round the rock, Hector slew him with one slash of his dirk, and in an instant threw him into another recess just before the second pursuer came round the rock to meet the same fate, as did the third also, leaving Hector free from a rather awkward position. There is now at this place a small well by the roadside; it was formerly within one of the recesses. This recess was always called "the Gairloch," because it was the means of saving the life of the great chief of Gairloch, and since it has been removed the little well has borne the same title. Many persons in the neighbourhood can point out "the Gairloch," but few are now-a-days acquainted with the story. It was a favourite pastime of the sons of the late Sir Hector Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, when they were boys, about 1815, to re-enact this episode, an iris or "flag" being used to represent the destroying dirk of their renowned ancestor.

During the later years of Alexander the Upright, his eldest son Kenneth Mackenzie, who was known as "Kenneth of the Battle," led the clan in the many contests in which it was engaged. Hector Roy usually assisted his brother Kenneth in warfare. He took a leading part in the celebrated battle of Park, which gave Kenneth his appellation.

It seems that Kenneth of the Battle had married Margaret, daughter of John Macdonald of Islay, who laid claim not only to the lordship of the Isles, but also to the earldom of Ross. One Christmas eve Kenneth imagined himself, with some reason, to have been insulted by Alexander Macdonald, nephew and heir of John of Islay. In revenge for the insult Kenneth sent his wife (whom he did not love) back to Alexander, who was her cousin. The lady was blind of an eye, and she was sent away mounted on a one-eyed pony, accompanied by a one-eyed servant and followed by a one-eyed dog. The result was that John Macdonald of Islay determined on a great expedition to punish the Mackenzies. He mustered his followers in the Isles, and his relatives of Moidart and Ardnamurchan, to the number of three thousand warriors. Kenneth called out the clan Mackenzie, and strongly garrisoned Eileandonain Castle. Macdonald and his nephew Alexander marched to Inverness, reduced the castle there, left a garrison in it, and then plundered the lands of the sheriff of Cromarty. They next marched to Strathconan, ravaged the lands of the Mackenzies, put some of the inhabitants to the sword, and burned Contin church one Sunday morning, together with the aged people, women and children, and the old priest, who were worshipping in the church at the time. Kenneth Mackenzie sent his aged father, Alexander the Upright, from Kinellan, where he was residing, to the Raven's Rock above Strathpeffer, and himself led his men, numbering only six hundred, to the moor still known as Blar na Pairc. The Macdonalds came to the moor to meet him. Between the two forces lay a peat moss, full of deep pits and deceitful bogs. Kenneth had his own brother Duncan, and his half-brother Hector Roy, with him. By the nature of the ground Kenneth perceived that Macdonald could not bring all his forces to the attack at once. He directed his brother Duncan with a body of archers to lie in ambush, whilst he himself advanced across the moss, being able from his knowledge of the place to avoid its dangers. The van of the enemy's army charged furiously, and Kenneth, according to his pre-arranged plan, at once retreated, so that the assailants following him became entangled in the moss. Duncan Mackenzie then opened fire from his ambush on the foe both in flank and rear, slaughtering most of those who had entered the bog. Kenneth now charged with his main body, and Macdonald's forces, thrown into confusion by the stratagem, were after a desperate battle completely routed. Kenneth was attacked by Gillespie, one of Macdonald's lieutenants, and slew him in single combat. Hector Roy, who commanded a division, fought like a lion, and most of the Macdonalds were slain. Those who fled before the victorious Mackenzies rallied on the following morning, to the number of three hundred, but Kenneth pursued them, and they were all killed or taken prisoners. Both Macdonald himself and his heir Alexander were taken prisoners, but Mackenzie released them within six months, on their promising that they would not molest him again, and that they would abandon all claim to the earldom of Ross.

During the battle a great raw ploughboy from Kintail was noticed by Hector Roy going about in an aimless stupid manner. The youth was Donnachadh Mor na Tuaighe, or Big Duncan of the Axe, commonly called Suarachan. He was one of the MacRaes of Kintail; you would have called him in English Duncan MacRae. He received the name of Big Duncan of the Axe because, not having been thought worthy—much to his annoyance — of being properly armed that morning for the battle, his only weapon was a rusty old battleaxe he had picked up. Hector Roy called upon Duncan to take part in the fight. In his chagrin at the contempt with which he had been treated, he replied, "Unless I get a man's esteem, I shall not do a man's work." Hector answered, "Do a man's work, and you will get a man's share." Big Duncan rushed into the battle, quickly killed a man, drew the body aside, and coolly sat upon it. Hector Roy noticed this extraordinary proceeding, and asked him why he was not engaged with his comrades. Big Duncan answered, "If I only get one man's due, I shall only do one man's work; I have killed my man." Hector told him to do two men's work and he would get two men's reward. Big Duncan went again into the fight, killed another man, pulled the body away, placed it on the top of the first, and sat upon the two. Hector Roy saw him again, and said, "Duncan, how is this; you idle, and I in sore distress?" Big Duncan replied, "You promised me two men's share, and I killed two men." Hector quickly answered, "I would not be reckoning with you." On this Big Duncan instantly arose with his great battleaxe, and shouted, "The man that would not be reckoning with me, I would not be reckoning with him." He rushed into the thickest of the battle, where he mowed down the enemy like grass, so that that mighty chief Maclean of Lochbuy determined to check his murderous career. The heroes met in deadly strife; for some time Maclean, being a very powerful man clad in mail, escaped the terrible axe, but at last Duncan, with one fell swoop, severed his enemy's head from his body. Big Duncan accompanied his chief in the pursuit of the fugitives next day. That night when the triumphant chief, Kenneth of the Battle, sat at supper he missed Big Duncan, and said to the company, "I am more vexed for want of my great sgalag (ploughman) this night than any satisfaction I had of the day." One of the others said, "I thought I saw him following some men [of the enemy] that ran up a burn." He had scarcely finished speaking when Big Duncan entered, with four heads bound in a woodie (a sort of rope made of twisted twigs and bark of birch trees), and threw them before the chief; "Tell me now," says he, "if I have not earned my supper."

In 1488, as his father Alexander the Upright lay on his deathbed, Hector Roy led five hundred of his clan in the battle of Sauchieburn, near Stirling, in support of King James III. Later on Hector submitted to King James IV., who is said to have granted Gairloch to him, and to have given him Glasleitire in Kintail and other estates. This may have been prior to the crown charter of Gairloch already mentioned as dated 1494.

Alexander the Upright died in 1488, and Kenneth of the Battle only survived his father three years. On his death Kenneth Og, his eldest and only son by his first wife, became entitled to the lordship of Kintail, but was murdered in 1497 through the treachery of the laird of Buchanan, avenged long after by Donald Dubh, as related in the last chapter. The next heir was John Mackenzie, commonly called John of Killin, who was the eldest son of Kenneth of the Battle, by his second wife, a daughter of Lord Lovat. It was a question whether this marriage was regular; but in 1491 the pope legitimised the marriage. On the death of Kenneth Og, Hector Roy, notwithstanding the pope's decree, declared his nephew John of Killin to be illegitimate, and took possession of the Kintail estates for himself, the whole clan, with whom he was a great favourite, willingly submitting to his rule. During this period occurred the battle of Druim a chait, in which Hector Roy, with only one hundred and forty men, completely routed seven hundred of the Munros, Dingwalls, and Maccullochs, under Sir William Munro of Fowlis, at a place on the south side of the hill called Knock-farrel, between Dingwall and Strathpeffer. Sir William was lieutenant of James Stewart, second son of King James III., who had been created Duke of Ross. Munro, instigated "by Lord Lovat, grandfather of John of Killin, determined to punish Hector Roy for his contumacy in holding Kintail. Hector having only time to gather seven score men, resolved to make up for his numerical inferiority by a stratagem. He lay in ambush on Knock-farrel, and as Munro returned in the gloaming from plundering Hector's house at Kinellan, Hector Roy and his men suddenly attacked the triumphant foe. Munro's seven hundred men were not expecting any danger, as they believed Hector Roy had fled the country, hence they were marching carelessly and out •of order. Hector's sudden onslaught in the dusk threw them into •confusion, and the rout became so general that the Mackenzies slew .all the Dingwalls and Maccullochs, and most of the Munros. Hector Roy's men were armed with axes and two edged-swords. The slaughter, on the first charge, was terrific; no fewer than nineteen heads rolled into the well, still called Tobar nan Ceann, or "the fountain of the heads." Our old friend Big Duncan of the Axe was there, and, by the side of his fierce chief Hector Roy, performed prodigies of valour. Duncan pursued one of the enemy to the church of Dingwall; as he was entering the door Big Duncan caught him by the arm, when the man exclaimed, "My sanctuary saves me!" "Aye," replied Duncan, "but what a man puts in the sanctuary against his will he can take out again." So he pushed him back from the door and slew him. It would seem as if Big Duncan had joined Hector Roy that day unexpectedly, for tradition says that when, after the fight, Hector and his men sat down to take food, they only had one bannock for each man, and there was none for Big Duncan; but every man gave him a mouthful, and in that way he got the largest share,—seven score mouthfuls, from which circumstance we gather that Hector Roy lost not a single man in this sanguinary affray, though hundreds of the foe were slain.

In 1499 a royal warrant was issued to the Mackintosh to put down and punish Hector Roy, who had become obnoxious to the government, as a disturber of the public peace. He was outlawed; a reward was offered for his capture, and MacCailean, Earl of Argyle,. was appointed to receive his rents and account for them to the crown. A period of anarchy and disorder ensued. Hector, with his faithful bodyguard, took refuge in the hills, and MacCailean came down to gather the rents. The Caithness men, who at that time made frequent raids on Ross-shire, determined to destroy MacCailean and his force. When MacCailean looked out one morning the Caithness men were gathering above him, but he said to his followers, "I am seeing a big man above the Caithness men, and twelve men with him, and he makes me more afraid than the Caithness men all together." MacCailean and his men determined to cut through the Caithness men. When the combat began, Hector Roy and his twelve warriors came down and also attacked the Caithness men; few of them escaped. After the battle, Hector Roy and MacCailean went to speak to each other. MacCailean asked what he could do for Hector, who replied, "It's yourself that knows best." On this MacCailean bade him go to Edinburgh at such a time, and said he would meet him there. Hector Roy went to Edinburgh and saw MacCailean, who told him to be in a certain place on such a day, and, when he should see MacCailean and the king walking together, to approach them and kneel before the king. MacCailean said the king would then lay hold of him by the hand to take him up, and Hector was to make the king remember that he had laid hold of him. Before this MacCailean and the king were talking together about Hector Roy; the king said Hector was a wild brave man, and it was impossible to lay hold of him. MacCailean replied, "If you will grant my request, I will give you hold of his hand." To this the king agreed. On the day fixed Hector Roy came to where the king and MacCailean were walking together, and kneeled before the king. The king took his hand to raise him up, when Hector Roy gave him such a grasp that the blood came out at the points of the king's fingers. "Why did you not keep him?" said MacCailean, as Hector Roy turned away. "There is no man in the kingdom would hold that man," replied the king. Said MacCailean, "That is Hector Roy, and I must now get my request." "What is it?" asked the king. "That Hector Roy should be pardoned." The king granted the pardon, and took a great liking to Hector Roy for his strength and bravery.

In our last chapter is a reference to the attack made on Hector Roy by his nephew John of Killin, ninth lord of Kintail, and to Hector's surrender to the latter. John of Killin, who had now grown up a fine strong young man, had determined to compel his uncle to recognise his rights as the legitimate heir of Kintail. By a stratagem he put Hector Roy off his guard, and then surrounded and set fire to the house at Fairburn where he was stopping. Hector was compelled to capitulate. He was allowed to continue the management of the Kintail possessions during the remainder of his nephew's minority, and he himself retained Gairloch and Glas-leitire in Kintail, besides other estates, as his own property. This was about 1507.


Hector Roy now again set about the work of driving the M'Leods from Gairloch, and a long struggle ensued. He was greatly assisted by Big Duncan of the Axe, who had become the father of a son of like valour named Dugal. They, with ten other MacRaes of Kintail, were ready to attend upon Hector whenever he desired their aid; these twelve MacRaes seem to have acted as Hector Roy's bodyguard; most likely they all settled in Gairloch. The greatest defeat Hector ever gave to the M'Leods was at Beallach Glasleathaid, near Kintail, where most of them were taken or killed. Big Duncan of course took part in this victory, and on being told that four men were at once attacking his son Dugal, he answered, " If he be my son, there is no risk in that." Dugal MacRae killed those four M'Leods, and came off himself without serious wounds.

After the fight atBeallach Glasleathaid, and several other skirmishes, the M'Leods were content to allow Hector Roy two-thirds of Gair-loch, retaining the other third, which included the parts to the east and south-east of the Crasg, a hill to the west of the old churchyard of Gairloch, and between the present Free and Established churches. Thus the only strongholds left to the M'Leods in Gairloch were the Dun or Castle of Gairloch, and the Uamh nam Freiceadain, mentioned in Part I., chap. vii.

In 1513 Hector Roy, in response to a summons from King James IV., gathered his Gairloch warriors, and with them joined his nephew John of Killin, and the main body of the clan Mackenzie, in the war with England. They fought on the disastrous field of Flodden, and many of the clan perished with their king. The two chiefs of the Mackenzies were not among the slain; John of Killin was made prisoner, but escaped; Hector also made his way home in safety.

In 1517 John Duke of Albany, Regent, appointed "Colin, Earl of Ergile," lieutenant of the Isles and other lands, including Gairloch, for three years or more at the Regent's pleasure, for the purpose of establishing peace among the inhabitants. From this commission it may be inferred how troublous the Highlands then were.

Hector Roy had four sons and three daughters by his marriage with Anne Macdonald. He had also a son called Iain Beg, who, according to some authorities, was illegitimate.

The great warrior chief of Gairloch died in 1528, and some say was buried in the churchyard of Gairloch. If he was born as seems likely about 1440, he must have attained nearly ninety years of age. A large number of families trace their ancestry to him; they are known as Clan Eachainn, a name that signifies that they are the seed of Hector Roy.


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