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The MacDonalds of Isla & Kintyre

The MACDONALDS of ISLA and KINTYRE, called the Clan IAN VOR, whose chiefs were usually styled lords of Dunyveg (from their castle in Isla) and the Glens, were descended from John Mor, second son of "the good John of Isla," and of Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II. From his brother Donald, Lord of the Isles, he received large grants of land in Isla and Kintyre, and his marriage with Marjory Bisset, heiress of the district of the Glens in Antrim, he acquired possessions in Ulster. He was murdered before 1427 by an individual named James Campbell, who is said to have received a commission from King James I. to apprehend him, but that he exceeded his powers by putting him to death. His eldest son was the famous Donald Balloch. From Ranald Bane, a younger brother of Donald Balloch, sprang the Clanranaldbane of Largie in Kintyre.

Donald Balloch's grandson, John, surnamed Cathanach, or warlike, was at the head of the clan Ian Vor, when the lordship of the Isles was finally forfeited by James IV. in 1493. In that year he was among the chiefs, formerly vassals of the Lord of the Isles, who made their submission to the king, when he proceeded in person to the West Highlands. On this occasion he and the other chiefs were knighted.

Alexander of Isla was with Sir Donald of Lochalsh when, in 1518, he proceeded against the father-in-law of the former, MacIan of Ardnamurchan, who was defeated and slain, with two of his sons, at a place called Craiganairgid, or the Silver Craig in Morvern. The death of Sir Donald soon after brought the rebellion to a close. In 1529 Alexander of Isla and his followers were again in insurrection, and being joined by the Macleans, they made descents upon Roseneath, Craignish, and other lands of the Campbells, which they ravaged with fire and sword. Alexander of Isla being considered the prime mover of the rebellion, the king resolved in 1531 to proceed against him in person, on which, hastening to Stirling, under a safeguard and protection, he submitted, and received a new grant, during the king's pleasure, of certain lands in the South Isles and Kintyre, and a remission to himself and his followers for all crimes committed by them during the late rebellion.

In 1543, on the second escape of Donald Dudh, grandson of John, last lord of the Isles, and the regent Arran's opposing the views of the English faction, James Macdonald of Isla, son and successor to Alexander, was the only insular chief who supported the regent. In the following year his lands of Kintyre were ravaged by the Earl of Lennox, the head of the English party.

After the death of Donald Dubh, the islanders chose for their leader James Macdonald of Isla, who married Lady Agnes Campbell, the Earl of Argyll's sister, and though the most powerful of the Island chiefs, he relinquished his pretensions to the lordship of the Isles, being the last that assumed that title.

A dispute between the Macleans and the clan Ian Vor, relative to the right of occupancy of certain crown lands in Isla, led to a long and bloody feud between these tribes, in which both suffered severely. In 1562 the matter was brought before the privy council, when it was decided that James Macdonald of Isla was really the crown tenant, and as Maclean refused to become his vassal, in 1565 the rival chiefs were compelled to find sureties, each to the amount of œ10,000, that they would abstain from mutual hostilities.

James having been killed while helping to defend his family estates in Ulster, Ireland, his eldest son , Angus Macdonald, succeeded to Isla and Kintyre, and in his time the feud with the Macleans was renewed, details of which will be found in the former part of this work. In 1579, upon information of mutual hostilities committed by their followers, the king and council commanded Lauchlan Maclean of Dowart and Angus Macdonald of Dunyveg or Isla, to subscribe assurances of indemnity to each other, under the pain of treason, and the quarrel was, for the time, patched up by the marriage of Macdonald with Maclean's sister. In 1585, however, the feud came to a height, and after involving nearly the whole of the island clans on one side or the other, and causing its disastrous consequences to be felt throughout the whole extent of the Hebrides, by the mutual ravages of the contending parties, government interfered, and measures were at last adopted for reducing to obedience the turbulent chiefs, who had caused so much bloodshed and distress in the Isles.

James Macdonald, son of Angus Macdonald of Dunyveg, had remained in Edinburgh for four years as a hostage for his father, and early in 1596 he received a license to visit him, in the hope that he might be prevailed upon to submit to the laws, that the peace of the Isles might be secured. He sent his son, who was soon afterwards knighted, back to court to make known to the privy council, in his father's name and his own, that they would fulfil whatever conditions should be prescribed to them by his majesty. At this time Angus made over to his son all his estates, reserving only a proper maintenance for himself and his wife during their lives. When Sir William Stewart arrived at Kintyre, and held a court there, the chief of Isla and his followers hastened to make their personal submission to the king's representative, and early in the following year he went to Edinburgh, when he undertook to find security for the arrears of his crown rents, to remove his clan and dependers from Kintyre and the Rinns of Isla, and to deliver his castle of Dunyveg to any person sent by the king to receive it.

Angus Macdonald having failed to fulfil these conditions, his son, Sir James, was in 1598 sent to him from court, to induce him to comply with them. His resignation of his estates in favour of his son was not recognised by the privy council, as they had already been forfeited to the crown; but Sir James, on his arrival, took possession of them, and even attempted to burn his father and mother in their house of Askomull in Kintyre. Angus Macdonald, after having been taken prisoner, severely scorched, was carried to Smerbie in Kintyre, and confined there in irons for several months. Sir James, now in command of his clan, conducted himself with such violence, that in June 1598 a proclamation for another royal expedition to Kintyre was issued. He, however, contrived to procure from the king a letter approving of his proceedings in Kintyre, and particularly of his apprehension of his father; and the expedition, after being delayed for some time, was finally abandoned.

In August of the following year, with the view of being reconciled to government, Sir James appeared in presence of the king's comptroller at Falkland, and made certain proposals for establishing the royal authority in Kintyre and Isla; but the influence of Argyll, who took the part of Angus Macdonald, Sir James's father, and the Campbells, having been used against their being carried into effect, the arrangement came to nothing, and Sir James and his clan were driven into irremediable opposition to the government, which ended in their ruin.

Sir James, finding that it was the object of Argyll to obtain from himself the king's lands in Kintyre, made an attempt in 1606 to escape from the castle in Edinburgh, where he was imprisoned; but being unsuccessful, was put in irons. In the following year a charter was granted to Argyll of the lands in North and South Kintyre, and in the Isle of Jura, which had been forfeited by Angus Macdonald, and thus did the legal right to the lands of Kintyre pass from a tribe which had held them for many hundred years.

Angus Macdonald and his clan immediately took up arms, and his son, Sir James, after many fruitless applications to the privy council, to be set at liberty, and writing both to the king and the Duke of Lennox, made another attempt to escape from the castle of Edinburgh, but having hurt his ankle by leaping from the wall whilst encumbered with his fetters, he was retaken near the West Port of that city, and consigned to his former dungeon. Details of the subsequent transactions in this rebellion will be found in the former part of this work.

After the fall of Argyll, who had turned Roman Catholic, and had also fled to Spain, where he is said to have entered into some very suspicious dealings with his former antagonist, Sir James Macdonald, who was living there in exile, the latter was, in 1620, with Ranald of Keppoch, recalled from exile by King James. On their arrival in London, Sir James received a pension of 1000 merks sterling, while Keppoch got one of 200 merks. His majesty also wrote to the Scottish privy council in their favour, and granted them remissions for all their offences. Sir James, however, never again visited Scotland, and died at London in 1626, without issue. The clan Ian Vor from this period may be said to have been totally suppressed. Their lands were taken possession of by the Campbells, and the most valuable portion of the property of the ducal house of Argyll consists of what had formerly belonged to the Macdonalds of Isla and Kintyre.

Last MacDonalds of Isla
By Charles Fraser-Mackintosh (1895) (pdf)

Clan MacDonald Index


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