At last both clans
mustered their full force, and meeting in Glen Boultachan, a regular
battle was fought.
The chief of the Neishes
for long held his own, standing with his back to a large boulder,
until at last he was overcome and fell covered with wounds.
Tradition says that his blood still stains this boulder, and that
the marks cannot be obliterated.
The rest of the Neishes
fought equally stubbornly, but finally they were completely
over-come, a remnant only making their escape. These settled down on
the easter island of Loch Earn under the leadership of a relative of
the chief, and became practically freebooters, lying in wait for
defenseless travelers, whom they robbed and murdered. Many years
elapsed since the battle of Glen Boultachan ere the Neishes thought
themselves once more formidable enough to try conclusions with their
ancient enemies, the MacNabs.
The Neishes lay in ambush in Glen Lednoch," &c &c. [This
account ends here, presumably the rest of it concerns the hijacking
and massacre as related below in the Clan Macnab Account.
A short account of the
Nish feud is also given in the Statistical Account of Scotland,
published in 1838.
THE CLAN MACNAB ACCOUNT, [This
account probably comes from “The Clan MacNab, by Jo. MacNab printed
in 1907, which is cited, by Mr. Tod, as one of his sources.
Another, very colorful
and fictionalized account may be found in “Macnab, The Last Laird by
Roland Wild, The MacMillan Company, 1938. Long out of print but
available in some libraries, I found a one in the Cincinnati and
Hamilton County Public Library and made a copy for myself. David
In 1487 Finlay (IV.) became chief of the Clan MacNab.
At this time the MacNab seem to have set about the recovery of those
of their possessions, which had been lost in their struggle with the
MacNab’s backed the Comyn in the struggle for the crown and when
Bruce emerged the victor their estates were seized and their writs
wer burnt. David Rorer]
They became involved in a feud with the Dewars [The
Dewars were the hereditary custodians of the relics of St. Fillan,
founder of the Abby of Glendochart. The Macnab’s descend from a
holder of that Abbacy. David Rorer]
concerning certain relies of St Fillan, and at the same time they
commenced that struggle with the Neishes which culminated many years
afterwards in the defeat of the Clan Neish at the battle of Glen
Boultachan, about two miles north of the lower end of Loch Earn.
In 1487 the Dewars
obtained a charter confirming them in their possessions, and from
that date they had no further trouble with the MacNabs.
Finlay (IV) died (between the years 1502-11), and was
succeeded by his son Finlay (V). It was in the time of this chief
that the Neishes were at last defeated, and reduced to a small band
of reckless outlaws. [The
Battle of Boultachan in 1522. David Rorer]
This Finlay MacNab of Bowayne died at Illa Rayne, [According
to the official Clan Macnab history Finlay of Bovain who died at
Eilean Ran, 12 April 1525 was the 8th chief. He was
buried at Killin. The Lord Lyon counts Gilbert of Bovain as the
first chief of the Clan Macnab and issued a recognized list of
The spelling “Bowayne”
and “Illa Rayne” presumably follow that of the original source.
and he was buried at Killin, I3th April 1525.
Finlay (VII), chief of the MacNabs, married Catherine
Campbell, daughter of the Laird of Glenurchy [Modern
Glenorchy. David Rorer],
and had a family of twelve stalwart sons, of whom the weakest is
said to have been able to drive his dirk through a two-inch board. [In
the official Clan Macnab history this Finlay is the 12th
chief, and though he did marry Katherine a natural daughter of John
Campbell of Glenorchy, these were actually the children of his
second wife who’s name is not known. David
At Christmas-tide, 1612, MacNab sent some of his
clansmen to the neighboring town of Crieff [Crieff
may be found south of Loch Tay on the A85. The route to it runs
along the shores of Lock Earn. David Rorer]
to purchase the necessary stores for the approaching festivities. On
their homeward way the MacNabs were ambushed by a party of the
Neishes, who sallied from their island fortalice [This
had originally been built as a royal castle and then destroyed in an
effort to prevent its being used by outlaws, which is what happened.
in Loch Earn and captured the supplies.
Dire was the wrath of
chief and clansmen when the plundered messengers returned to Eilean
Ran and reported their mishap. Enraged as the MacNabs were, they
could think of no method by which they could punish the reivers. In
the evening the twelve strong sons of MacNab were assembled in the
hall of Eilean Ran, and busily engaged in planning some signal
vengeance on their foes, when their father entered and said in
Gaelic: "Si an nochd an oidhche nam biad na gillean na gillean"
(This night is the night if the lads were the lads). In an instant
the twelve lads were on their feet and arrayed in their war gear.
Then hurrying down to the waterside they crossed the stream and took
up the family barge, which they bore on their shoulders across the
hills to Loch Earn, by way of Glentarken. Having reached the loch,
they launched their boat and rowed to the island, where the robbers
were holding their carousal with the stolen supplies. On their
arrival at the island the grim avengers sunk all the boats in the
little harbor, and then proceeded to the habitation of the Neishes.
In the keep was a scene of revelry and confusion, for, holding all
the boats on the loch in their own keeping; the Neishes deemed their
hold to be impregnable.
Strange, therefore, must have been the thoughts which
passed through their minds when, loud above the din of their noisy
mirth, they heard a sharp and sudden knocking at the outer door.
Immediately their noisy merriment ceased, all became silent, and
then in a quavering voice the terrified Neish demanded the name and
mission of the one who had thus disturbed their orgy. Swiftly came
the answer, "Whom would ye least desire?" The speaker was Iain Min,
or "Smooth John," the heir of MacNab, and the strongest and fiercest
man in all Braidalbin. [Modern
Breadalbane. David Rorer]
With this stern voice
sounding in his ears, and with a foreboding of his doom rising
before him, the Neish replied, “lain Min."
through the midnight air came again that grim voice, "Then I am he,
but rough enough I’ll be this night." Trusting in the strength of
the stout door, the robbers attempted to treat
for terms. But spurning
all thought of parleying, Iain Min, with one swift blow, sent the
door reeling off its hinges, and next instant he and his brothers
were dealing death to the hereditary foes of their House. The
Neishes, surprised and demoralized by the rapidity and ferocity of
their assailants, offered but little resistance. When the fighting,
if such it can be called, was over, there remained of the Neishes
but two survivors: one was a young lad who had succeeded in
concealing himself in time to avoid the vengeance which overtook his
family; the other was a female child who escaped the notice of the
MacNabs by being under an overturned cradle.
Their task having been
accomplished, the young MacNabs secured the gory head of the Neish
as a trophy of their victory. They then recovered their boat, and
retraced their journey of the previous night.
left Glentarken they abandoned their boat, as it retarded the news
of their triumph. The boat was never removed from the place where
the MacNab left it, and men born within the past century [The
book this was taken from was printed in 1925 and this account
probably comes from “The Clan MacNab, by Jo. MacNab printed in 1907.
Therefore, “within the past century” probably means the early
portion of the 19th century.
have talked with men who have viewed its well-bleached fragments.
Some time early in the
past century a portion of the keel was dug out of the moss in which
it was embedded. Part of it was given to Mrs. MacNaughton who lived
near St Fillans, and she had it made into a walking stick. She was
Margaret, daughter of James MacNab, Milmore, near Killin, and was
known as "Margaret Innishewen." The bicker is still preserved by her
morning the chief was delighted to find that the mission of
vengeance had been successful: the proof was convincing when Iain
Min cast Neishs head at his feet, and said in Gaelic,”Na biodh fiamh
oirbh," or "dreadnought." [In
the official Clan Macnab history “Gun Eagal” or “Dreadnought” was
the watchword with which Smooth John answered the lookout and Ian
Min told his father that “the night had been the night and the Lads
were the Lads.” David Rorer]
Moreover, MacNab acknowledged as he received the gruesome trophy
that the night had been the night, and the lads were the lads. From
this deed are derived the modern arms of the MacNabs. [See
second paragraph below]
There is a
local tradition to the effect that but three of the sons took part
in the enterprise, and that the chief in giving the signal for the
attack on the Neishes only acted at the instigation of his wife, who
had some real or fancied cause of grievance against the three eldest
sons. It is said that she hoped that they would be slain, so that
her favorite son should be heir to the estates. Moreover, according
to the same tradition, the three were by an early marriage. History,
however, makes no mention of a second wife (46). [The
official Macnab history also states that the three eldest sons were
by a previous wife (name unknown) and speculates that the second
wife hoped they might be slain so one of her sons would be heir.
MacNab arms are: Sable, on a chevron argent three crescents vert, in
base an open boat with oars argent, sailing in a sea proper. Crest
the head of a savage affronte proper. [Black
(shield), on a silver chevron three green crescents, in base (of the
shield) an open boat with silver oars sailing on a sea (rendered
natural). The head of a savage facing front rendered natural.
Supporters Two Highlanders with shouldered
coat of arms as depicted, in The Clans Septs and Regiments of the
Scottish Highlands is as described, however, instead of the
highlanders as supporters, it has two black dragons, with claws and
tongues of gold and erect wings of silver, on which are three green
crescents each. David Rorer]
Motto "Timor omnis abesto" (“Be all fear absent" [Alternatively
“Dreadnaught” as the official clan history would have it.
of MacNab matriculated the modern arms in 1765, but they had been
used before that time. The author of The Clan MacNab [This
would be the Jo. MacNab who wrote a Clan MacNab history in 1907,
quoted by Mr. Tod as one of his sources.
informs me [William
A. Tod, FSA SCOT. The presumed author of the “History of the Clan
Macnish or Nish” from which this is taken.
that his account of the Neishes was obtained from the following
sources: Shearers Traditions of Strathearn, Scottish Wars, also
from some private histories of the Clan MacNab, and from old natives
The Rev. Samuel Ferguson,
minister of Fortingall, mentions the feud in his “Queens Visit.”
Malcolm Ferguson also
gives the story in his “Rambles in Breadalbane,” published in 1891.
A short account of the
Neishes is given in The Beauties of Upper Strathearn, 1870; also in
the Scottish Tourist, I825, P. 79.
The Neish tradition was
utilized by James Grant in Mary of Lorraine, pp. 261-281. Grants
account contains some facts and much fiction. He describes the
country of the MacNeishes as: Glentarkin, Dundurn, part of
Glenartney, the Pass of Strathearn, and the Hill of St Fillan
It is curious that Grant
says that one of the Neish survivors in 1522 was Muriel, daughter of
the chief, who eventually married the Laird of Torwood.
The Lairds of Torwood were
the Forrester family, the ancient hereditary foresters of Torwood
Forest. Mariot Forester, spouse to James Campbell of Lawers,
obtained a charter of the lands of Glentarkin in 1525.
Campbell of Lawers was
granted a charter of Glentarcane in 1540, and James VI gave a
confirmation of the grant in 1616.
probably held Glentarkin originally by the sword; many of the Gaelic
clans in earlier times neglected to obtain charters of their lands
from the crown. [Charters,
historically, were a relatively recent development. Many families
and clans held their lands from before the time when writing and
written charters were known and often preserved a relic that had
been given to an ancestor as token of their ownership. Only later
did it become common to obtain charters from the crown. Many
families, of course, did not get charters and were displaced, as
also happened to the Macgragors, when rivals purchased or were
granted title to the same lands. David
We find that the lands of
Glentarcai, Morall, and the Fordees were set to John of Murray and
his mother before the year 1492.
James IV granted the lands
of Glentarkane to the Drummonds. In 1511 (R.M.S.i. 3574)
Glentarken is a glen in
Comrie parish, descending from an altitude of 1150 ft., 2 miles
south by eastward to Loch Earn (306 ft.), at a point 1 ¾ miles west
by north of St Fillans.
It contains a huge
monolith, "The great stone of Glentarken." It is not a traveled
stone, but a mass detached from the low cliff below, which has
rolled but a short distance and is poised in the most singular way
upon one of its edges. It measures 70 ft. in circumference at the
base, 110 ft. in circumference 10 ft. above the ground, and its
solid contents above ground exceed 25,000 cubic ft. The glen
probably derives its name from "Tarachin," or "Talargan," an old
Pictish personal name.
In the olden days what
might be called a clachan existed on the hillside at the entrance to
Glentarken, but life on that exposed site was latterly found
inconvenient and uncomfortable; accordingly, the families were moved
to more suitable surroundings at the foot of the loch, and the
cottages in the glen were allowed to fall into ruins. The remains of
these may still be seen in heaps of stones here and there.
Loch Earn is one of the
most picturesque of Scottish lakes, and next to Loch Ness, the
deepest in Scotland, in one part being about 300 ft. deep. Limited,
as are the dimensions of Loch Earn, it is exceeded in beauty by few
of our lakes. Its style is that of a lake of far greater dimensions,
the mountains that bound it being lofty, bold, and rugged. The
mighty Ben Vorlich stands majestically above the loch, which is
sometimes calm as a mirror, and other times dark and turbulent, its
waves dashing wildly against the shores.
At the east
end of the loch is a beautiful small wooded island, known for many
centuries by the name of Neish Island. It is an artificial isle,
which appears to date back to the era of the lake-dwellers. [The
prehistoric peoples, known as lake dwellers, built their villages on
artificial islands in shallow waters, just offshore in Scottish
lakes. These islets are in lakes all over Scotland.
In after ages, according
to tradition, the island became a Royal fortalice of many of the
kings or chiefs of Fortrenn.
The island was a residence
of the Clan Neish at an early period, probably from circa 1250 to
1420; after that date it was probably only in occupation by the
Neishes at periods until 1622, the date of the massacre.
The keep was a stone
building, divided into different chambers, which now lies in ruins;
the great thickness of the walls testifies to the care, foresight,
and energy which was expended in the erection thereof.
A small harbor and
landing-place for boats still exists on the east side, and at one
time the island was connected with the mainland by a kind of
causeway formed of large boulders, the remains of which may still be
seen in a line between the isle and the villa called Portmore.
Colin Dewar commented, after reading the story of the Battle of
Boultachan between the Macnabs and Macnishes, “It makes the feud
between the Hatfields and McCoys look like a picnic!” Indeed we must
remember that Law and civilization were latecomers to the Highlands
of Scotland and until relatively recently a Scots best defense was
his broadsword and the good will of his neighbors. The following
story is a good illustration of how wild and violent the Highlands
could be. Even in the presence of the King!
battle described below took place on the banks of the River Tay, not
too far from where the Macnab’s and Macnishes lived.
Deadly Clan Combat In Front Of The King.
From the Highlander Web Magazine Copyright 1995/96 Catalyst
It is very hard
indeed for us, when looking back over the centuries, to understand
the depths of the feelings each Highland clan had for its own
particular set of traditions. But certainly, this was very much the
case, and for one clan - or even a branch of the same clan for that
matter - to cast doubt upon, take in vein, or in any way sleight
these traditions often led to bloodshed and even to open warfare. To
illustrate the point, let's go back some 600 years or so, to 1386
and a feud between Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron.
First, to make the situation a little clearer, some background
on Clan Chattan, which can be traced back to its founder,
Gillichattan Mor. However, this ''traditional'' line faltered when
Eva, heiress of Clan Chattan married the chief of the Mackintoshes
in 1291. A loosely bound confederation of clans developed as a
result, with clans ''of the blood'', such as the Macphersons for
example, seeing themselves belonging more to the traditional side,
while the Shaws, Farquharsons and others looking to the Macintoshes
as the line of descent. Underneath all of this sat a number of
smaller - but nonetheless independent - clans, such as the
Davidsons, who allied themselves with, and sought the protection of,
the larger clans of the Mackintosh-led confederacy.
Now bear all that in mind as we jump ahead again to the feud
between Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron. The Mackintoshes owned some
lands in Lochaber, which they rented out to the Camerons who, by all
accounts, were pretty poor payers. When they didn't stump up the
rent owed, which was quite frequently, the Mackintoshes carried off
the Cameron's cattle as payment.
This state of affairs caused more than a little bit of an
irritation among the Camerons, so they decided to get their own
back. Gathering some 400 clansmen under the command of Charles
Macgilony, they marched into Badenoch for a bit of revenge. The
Macintosh chief got wind of the raid and called his clansmen
together and his friends, the MacPhersons and Davidsons.
Now there was no argument that Mackintosh should command the
centre of the force, this being readily agreed by all. However, a
bitter, and as it turned out almost fatal, dispute arose over who
should command the right wing, the MacPhersons claiming it should be
they because of their links with the ''traditional'' Clan Chattan
line. Not so, said the Davidsons, pointing out command of the right
was theirs because they were the oldest branch.
Anyway, there was
no settling the row and it was left to the Mackintosh chief to
choose. Did he choose wisely? No, it would seem, deciding in favor
of the Davidsons. The Macphersons were extremely offended by what
they saw as a very biased choice, made all the more difficult to
swallow because not only did they outnumber both the Davidsons and
Macintoshes that day, but all this had taken place in Macpherson
With perfect timing, at the climax of the dispute, along came
the Camerons who could hardly believe their luck as the mortally
offended Macphersons withdrew their wounded pride, and their men,
from the field of battle, becoming merely spectators.
The Macphersons watched as the deadly broadsword and Lochaber
axe sliced easily through bone and muscle in a ferocious encounter
that quickly developed into a one-way contest, favoring the Cameron
men. However, the Macintoshes and Davidsons, although outnumbered,
fought well and of course, wounded pride or not, this was something
not lost on the watching MacPhersons. They were also becoming more
than a little worried about their friends who were now practically
surrounded. At last they could take it no longer and charged into
the battle which was over very quickly after that, the exhausted
Camerons having suffered a large number of casualties despite their
success up until that point.
However, following the victory, there were recriminations over
the Macintosh chief’s choice. Relations between the Macphersons and
Davidsons had never ever been cordial at the best of times,
principally because of this perception over the line of descent, and
now the enmity turned into open strife, with both sides over the
next 10 years carrying on a war of extermination.
King Robert III was on the throne at the time and became more
and more disturbed over the effect the constant clashes between the
two sides were having on the rest of the country. To put an end to
the uproar, he sent two of his leading nobles, the Earl of Moray and
the Earl of Crawford to broker an amicable solution. But the two
noblemen failed in their royal peace mission and suggested the
differences could be settled once and for all by means of open
combat, a fight to the death in front of the king.
The Macphersons and Davidsons agreed and it was decided that 30
clansmen from each side should meet on a beautiful and perfectly
level meadow at North Inch on the banks of the River Tay on the
Monday before Michaelmas. The rules laid down for the combat allowed
only one weapon to be used, the broadsword, although other accounts
of the time talk of the clansmen also being armed with bows,
battle-axes and daggers, a far more likely scenario.
At the appointed day and hour, the clansmen of both sides made
their appearance on the meadow, which had been cordoned off with
barriers to prevent the spectators from straying onto the field. A
platform had also been built to allow the king and his queen, along
with the nobles, a better view of the contest. The clansmen on both
sides eyed each other up with looks of deadly revenge as the crowd
of spectators grew into thousands.
But a hiccup almost threatened the proceedings when one of the
Macpherson clansmen had second thoughts and pulled out of the
contest panic-struck, escaping by swimming across the Tay and out of
danger. The king almost called off the contest because of the
unevenness of the sides, but at the last minute the small, crooked
but fierce figure of Henry Wynd, a burgher of Perth and an armorer
by trade, stepped in to balance the contestants.
The murderous conflict began and the substitute Henry Wynd
immediately loosed off an arrow and killed one of the Davidsons.
Both sides took to their bows and after the showers of arrows had
subsided charged into each other. The ferocity of the slaughter
appalled both spectators and the royal observers alike, as they
watched the deadly thrust of daggers driving home and the tremendous
gashes inflicted by both broadsword and axe. Heads were split apart,
limbs hacked off and the meadow turned crimson with the blood of the
dead and wounded men.
Macphersons were declared the winners after 29 of the 30 Davidsons
had been killed. Only 11 of the Macphersons survived, but not
unscathed, all having suffered serious wounds. Henry Wynd, who
played a major part in the victory through his excellent
swordsmanship, escaped without a scratch, as did the surviving
Davidson clansman. The royal combat achieved the desired result and
peace returned to the Highlands - at least for a little while.