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A History of Rannoch

Although the MacDonalds of Glencoe frequently raided Rannoch and on other occasions joined with the Rannoch MacGregors and Camerson in Spreachs and battles, they did not settle here.  The MacDonalds who did take up residence here were a branch of the MacDonalds of Keppoch.  They built their keep at Dalchosnie and there they lived for two hundred years, bringing great fame to the area.  Each one, with out exception, was a soldier of bravery and renown, first in support of the Stewart kings, and on that line, transferring their allegiance to the House of Hanover.

The first MacDonald of Dalchosnie was Alastair and he came to Rannoch after killing a government soldier in Lochaber.  It was during a clan battle over the possesson of land between the MacDonalds and the Mackintoshes.   Government soldiers were sent in to settle the dispute and the commander of troops, called Captain MacKenzie of Suddie killed Alastair’s brother, Donald.  He then prepared to charge Alastair with pike at the ready.  Although greatly provoked at the loss of his brother, Alastair knew that to kill the officer would bring the wrath of the government on his head and on that of his clan so he hurled his empty pistol at the charging man.  The blow took effect, the skull was fractured and MacKenzie was carried off the field.  Unfortunately he died.  Alastair had not been Rannoch long when the government forces attacked Dalchosnie (1692). Whether this was because of the killing of Captain MacKenzie or whether it was because of his part in the Battle of Killicrankie is not clear.  Troops under Campbell of Glen Lyon turned out the inhabitants at night, including Mrs MacDonald who had to watch her house and her goods burning.  She seemed to bear the calamity calmly until she noticed the mahogany dining table (a very rare article in Rannoch at that time) blazing, when her equanimity deserted her and turning to Campbell she exclaimed. “Wretch! many a good dinner have you eaten off that table’.  You can be sure that she said a good deal more than this, for MacDonald does not take insult or injury without strong retaliation.

Alastair was not there at the time of the attack.  He was of course a wanted man and he would be hiding hereby.  However, he rebuilt his house and passed over his estate to his son, Allan.  He also handed over the gun with which he had killed Captain MacKenzie.  The gun was carried into battle by his successors and was supposed by the Dalchosnie family to have supernatural qualities.  It became known as the ‘Gunna Breac’.

Although Allan did not take part in the Battle of Killiecrankie, it is recorded that he had 100 Rannoch men with him in the attack on Dunkeld. The Highlanders were defeated but Allan returned unscathed to Rannoch.  Here he acquired Tollochroisk and gave it to his son, Donald.  Donald was unlucky.  Perhaps he did not have the ‘Gunna Breac’.  Like his ancestors he was ‘out’ in the Stewart Cause in the 1715 rising.  He marched into England with the Earl of Mar’s army under the command of his best officer, MacKintosh, but he was taken prisoner at Preston, and executed there in November, 1715.

His brother John was luckier.  He had taken over Dalchosnie some time before the ‘15 rebellion.  He joined Lord Nairn’s Athole Highlanders as a lieutenant and took part with them in the Battle of Sheriffmuir.  When he returned home he found the Dalchosnie house and lands occupied by government troops.  They were there to see that the former rebels were subdued.  It seems that he suffered their many insults patiently.  One day the officers of the detachment were arousing in his house when they sent for him.  When he arrived they taunted him and one of them threw a sword down saying ‘That sword belonged to a MacDonald but MacDonalds now are brave enough to take it’.  It was, of course, an offence punishable by death for a ‘rebel’ to be caught with arms after the ‘15 rebellion.  John, being alone, took no notice of the insult but later consulted his friend Alister MacWalter and they devised a plan.

The next day he was called in and the same insult was uttered but this time he grabbed the sword.  Unfortunately he had hold of the blade and the officer had the hilt, but he hung on with all his might and twisted the blade in the handle.  The officer shouted for help but with his men and cause the officer to surrender, leaving John with the twisted sword.  This, together with the ‘Gunna Breac’ is said to be part of the Dalchosnie armory still.

John was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander MacDonald of Dalchosnie, born in 1696.  He was captain in the Athole Highlanders with whom he was at Vladimir (Prestonpans): on the march into England to Derby, the capture of Falkirk and at the Battle of Culloden, where he fell.  Before the last desperate charge made by the Athole Highlanders, he handed his gun, the ‘Gunna Breac’ to a gillie, directing him to carry it back to Dalchosnie, which he himself was to see no more.  Then, rushing sword in hand to the charge, he fell which thirty officers of the same brigade.

Taking part in the rebellion with him were his two sons.  Allan, his eldest son, died of wounds received in 1745, and John, the youngest, escaped from the field of Culloden and for a long time was in hiding from the king’s troops in Rannoch.  With him were many other officers of the Highland army and many are the adventures and hairbreadth escapes they had.  Barbara, his sister, snowing the same bravery and sense of duty as the Dalchosnie men, habitually walked unattended at night distances of several miles taking provisions to them.. She had to return before dawn to escape the vigilant watch kept by the king’s troops quartered at Dalchosnie, Innerhadden and the other gentlemen’s houses.  Legends have grown around the exploits of Barbara and her brother.

John, because of his immense stature was called Big John (Ian Mor).  He was a true Jacobite to the end, in fact the last of the Jacobites, for his son joined the Hanoverian army; 73rd Regiment of George III.  Big John in his old age, never failed each night to drink a loyal toast to the last of the Stewarts.  However, one day he surprised his son by saying, after his usual toast, ’Now Alexander, we will drink your king’s health’.  He continued to drink the two toasts until he died.

The remaining MacDonalds of Dalchosnie continued to bring great honour to their family.  One Captain John MacDonald was shot through both legs in the Peninsular War in 1811 and amputation was propsed as the only means of saving his life but he produced a brace of pistols and threatened to blow the brains of the first surgeon who attempted to amputate them.  His suffering do not seem to affected him for he was shortly after this in action at Waterloo.  He was highly decorated for his bravery.  His superior officers had been either killed or wounded so that he was left commanding 230 men.  In spite of immense odds against him he led a charge which caused 3000 of the enemy to run tail and flee the field.

His two successors continued the fighting tradition of the Dalschosnie MacDonalds for both were Generals in the British Army.  Sir John MacDonald of Dalchosnie, Kinloch Rannoch and Dunalastair, was born in 1788 and he succeeded to the estate in 1809.  In the district he was known as ‘Iain Dubh nan Cath’ (Black John of the Battles).  His army commitments took him to many theatres of war in which he behaved with great distinction.  In spite of leading this busy life he yet had left behind a reputation in the district of a man who cared for his tenants.  A write of his time tells us that on his thriving estates he would have raised hundreds of volunteers who have died for this gallant soldier.

His son Alastair MacIan MacDonald of Dalchosnie, Kinloch Rannoch, Dunalastair, and Crossmount, obtained his commission in the army at the age of 16 in 1846.  He distinguished himself in the Crimean Campaign when he was wounded in two famous battles.  Like his father he traveled all over the world to fight his country’s battles and he held the highest position in the army.  He became Major-General Commanding the Forces in Scotland.

He was an enterprising estate manager, but he is chiefly remembered in the district for the introduction to Loch Rannoch of the ill-fated S.S. Gitana.  He had this made in sections and transported to Rannoch and launched in 1881.  It was 90 feet long and powered by a strong steam engine capable of driving the vessel at speed.  The advent of this powerful craft was not appreciated by the other landowners n the district and he was not allowed to erect a pier at Bridge of Gaur.  Neither was he offered safe anchorage and so he had to moor it in the exposed east end of the Loch.  In the gales of January 1882 the saloon windows stoved and she was swamped and sank to the bottom.  There she lay in the murky depths, 100 feet down.  There she lay for a hundred years until she was raised with great excitement.  She was repaired and refitted but alas to tell, the same fate befell her.  Anchored in the same exposed part of the Loch the severe gales of December, 1983 caused her to drag her moorings and she was battered to pieces against the shore until there was nothing to see of her but pathetic pieces of smashed timber and flotsam.

It is sad that in the last dying hours of 1983 the final remnant of the MacDonalds of Dalchosnie should end its days in this way.  Although the family has disappeared from Rannoch now, their record is a proud one as they have maintained the best ideals of their clan which boasts on its badge to give service ‘Per Mare Per Terras’. The MacDonalds of Dalchosnie certainly did that. 

Electric Scotland Note: We got in an email from Ruth Watson saying:-

Part way down the article it says one Captain John MacDonald was shot through the legs etc and that he later led his regiment at Waterloo. The fact that the author of that booklet could not fit this John MacDonald into the family is relevant because both these incidents related to Major, (later Lt-Colonel), Donald MacDonald who was Sir John MacDonald's uncle (and my three times great grandfather). The fact that the 92nd regiment was led by Donald MacDonald at Waterloo can be confirmed at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen. Donald was born in 1769, 5th son of Big John, and died in 1829.

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