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Clan MacDonald
The MacDonalds of Clan Ranald

Ranald MacDonald, the 24th Chief of Clan RanaldBADGE: Fraoch gorm (erica vulgaris) common heath.
SLOGAN: Dh’aindheoin co theiraidh e, In spite of all opposition.
PIBROCH: Failte Clann Raonuil, and the Cruinneachadb, or Gathering, composed during the rising of 1715.

MacDonald of Clan RanaldWHEN on 25th July, 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stewart, on board the Doutelle, French sloop of war, containing all his arms and treasure, stood in from the westward towards the mainland of Scotland, it was for the country of Clanranald that he directly set his course. Already, at South Uist, which was one of the island possessions of the chief, he had interviewed Macdonald of Boisdale, the young Chief’s uncle, and had proposed to him to engage in his cause not only Clanranald himself, who was known to be greatly guided by Boisdale’s experience and sagacity, but also MacLeod of MacLeod and Sir Alexander MacDonald of the Isles. Boisdale had assured him that, seeing he bad not been able to bring with him the French troops, arms, and money which the Scottish Jacobites had stipulated for, it was absolutely certain that neither Sir Alexander MacDonald nor the Laird of MacLeod would take arms, and that he was himself determined to advise his nephew Clanranald also to remain quiet. Charles, however, undeterred by what had been told him, steered in for Arisaig, to interview the young chief of Clanranald himself.

He had sound reason in his own mind for doing this. Thirty years earlier, in the Jacobite rising under the Earl of Mar, the young Captain of Clanranald of that time had been one of the most noted figures, and had sealed his loyalty to the Stewart cause with his life at the battle of Sheriffmuir. Nor, as the event proved, was Charles now mistaken in directing his appeal. Entering the bay of Loch nan Uamh, between Moidart and Arisaig, in the very heart of the Clanranald country, he apprised the young Chief of his arrival, and the latter at once came on board, accompanied by his relative, MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart and one or two others. Clanranald met the Prince’s appeal with the same objections as his uncle had used, and if he had remained firm, there seems every reason to believe that Charles would have accepted his answer as conclusive, and would have retired from his great adventure. Thus, one of the most romantic and tragic episodes of Scottish history would never have taken place. But, as the Prince pressed his argument, a young brother of Kinlochmoidart, standing by, began to understand before whom be stood, and to show signs of impatience at the attitude taken by his Chief and his brother. Charles, noticing this agitation, turned it to striking use. Suddenly addressing the young Highlander he exclaimed, "You at least, will not forsake me." " I," said the young Highlander, grasping his sword, "I will follow you to the death, were there no other to strike a blow in your cause." His enthusiasm fired the Chief, who thereupon declared that, since the Prince was determined, he would no longer withstand his pleasure. Charles then landed, and was conducted to the House of Borodale, one of Clanranald’s followers, and the great enterprise was begun which was to leave such a mark on the memories, character, and poetry of Scotland.

Clanranald could at that time put between 700 and 800 men into the field, and his country was perhaps the best suited of any in Scotland for the beginning of so wild and desperate an undertaking as that of the Jacobite Prince. It has been called the Highlands of the Highlands, and its wild mountain fastnesses were believed by its inhabitants to be utterly inaccessible to any Lowland forces till, after Culloden, much to the clansmen’s surprise, they were actually penetrated by the red soldiers of the Butcher Duke of Cumberland. Here, on the south shore of Lochmoidart itself, rose on a peninsula which becomes an island at high water, the stronghold of Castle Tirim, which for ages had been the seat of the Clanranald Chiefs; and perhaps nowhere were the old traditions of devotion to the head of the clan more strongly held than among these wild mountains and along the shores of these sternly beautiful sea-lochs and islands of Clanranald’s country.

While the part which Clanranald took in furthering the project of Prince Charles Edward formed the most notable and far-reaching event in the history of this branch of the great MacDonald clan, the MacDonalds of Clanranald of course claim a common share with the MacDonalds of the Isles and the MacDonalds of Glengarry in the early history of the great MacDonald race. Along with the houses of the Isles and of Glengarry they derive their descent from the mighty Somerled, King of the Isles in the twelfth century. From Donald, son of Somerled’s second son, Reginald, they take their common name of MacDonald, and from Donald’s grandson, Angus Og, they derived the right, by the part he took at the battle of Bannockburn, of occupying the place of honour on the right of the Scottish armies in the hour of battle. They share also the memories of descent through Angus Og’s son, John, first Lord of the Isles; but, while the MacDonalds of the Isles are descended from John’s second wife, Margaret, daughter of King Robert II., the families of Clanranald and Glengarry descend from Ranald, third son of the Lord of the Isles by his first wife, Amie Macruarie, heiress of the line of Roderick, second son of Reginald of the Isles above referred to, whom John, Lord of the Isles, married about the year 1337.

In the attempt made in 1491, by Alexander of Lochalsh, nephew of John, fourth and last Lord of the Isles, to recover the rich Earldom of Ross for his family—an attempt which brought about the final ruin of his house— Clanranald of Garmoran played a part, and along with the other clans engaged, took Inverness, ravaged the Black Isle and Strathconan, and were cut to pieces by the Mackenzies at the battle of Blair na Park. But Clanranald seems to have come out of the strife little harmed. Following the downfall of the Lord of the Isles which followed, Clanranald seems to have risen to importance, so as, about 1530, to be acknowledged Chief of the name. This may have come about by the action of the old Tanist law, which entailed succession, not upon the eldest son, but upon the eldest able male of a house, an arrangement eminently useful in days when the succession of a minor laid a clan or a kingdom open to all the distresses of attack and plunder by unscrupulous neighbours.

Almost immediately upon attaining this climax in its fortunes the house of Clanranald itself afforded an example of the evils of a minority, and the advantages of a succession upon Tanist principles. Dougal, who became Chief in 1513, the year of the battle of Flodden, proved himself highly unacceptable to the chief men of the clan, who, goaded at length by some of his acts of oppression and cruelty, rose against him and put him to death. At the same time they excluded his children from the chiefship, and by common consent declared Alastair, his brother, to be head of the clan. Alastair died in 1530, whereupon John Moidartach of Eilean Tirim, his natural son, who was afterward legitimised, showed sufficient address to have himself recognised as Chief by the elders of the clan, and to secure a title to the estates. The sons of Dougal were still too young to dispute the chiefship, but Alastair’s father, Alan Macruarie, Chief of Clanranald from 1481 to 1509, had been married a second time, to a daughter of Lord Lovat, and an only son by that marriage had been brought up by the Fraser chief. This son Ranald, known as Gallda or the Foreigner from the circumstances of his upbringing, at first also made no attempt to dispute the chiefship. But John Moidartach was of a restless disposition, able and daring, and his ambitious enterprises by and by brought him into collision with the Government of the country. In 1540 he was thrown into prison by James V., and upon this happening, the Frasers took the opportunity to seize the chiefship and estates of Clanranald for their own kinsman, Ranald Gallda.

Gallda, however, had that worst of all faults in the eyes of a Highlander: he was mean in disposition, and though he had secured a revocation in his own favour, of the titles which had been granted to John Moidartach, the clansmen would not acknowledge him as their chief. Matters came to a climax early in 1544 when John Moidartach was released from prison. He returned to Arisaig, and was received with great rejoicings by the clan, while Ranald Gallda was compelled to flee, and seek refuge with his mother’s people, the Frasers.

By way of avenging the injury which had been done him in his absence, John Moidartach gathered a force consisting of his own men, with the MacDonalds of Keppoch and the Camerons, and, marching northward, carried fire and sword into the Fraser country as well as into Glen Urquhart and Glen Moriston. So great was the disturbance that the Earl of Huntly, the King’s Lieutenant in the north, found it necessary to take action, and with a strong force, including the Frasers, the Grants, and the Macintoshes, marched against Clanranald. The latter retired before the King’s Lieutenant, who, without fighting a battle, replaced Ranald GaIlda in possession of Moidart. He then set about to return. In Glen Spean his forces divided, Lord Lovat with 400 men, accompanied by Ranald Gallda, marching northward along the shores of Lochlochy. As Lovat reached the head of Lochlochy, however, he suddenly saw the forces of John Moidartach descending upon him on the front and flank in seven columns with pipes playing and banners flying. A desperate struggle at once began. It was a blazing day in July. In their eagerness the combatants cast their clothes, and from this circumstance the encounter is known as Blar na leine, the Battle of the Shirts. The slaughter was terrible on both sides, among those who fell being Lord Lovat himself, his eldest son, and the unlucky Ranald Gallda, while of the victorious side it is said there were only eight survivors and on the side of the vanquished only four. As a result, John Moidartach was firmly established as Chief of Clanranald, the Earl of Huntly taking no further action in the matter.

Moidartach was an extraordinary man, and many traditions of his deeds were handed down among the western clans. In the year after the battle of Blar na leine, when Mary Queen of Scots was three years old, and Henry VIII. of England was prosecuting his rough wooing of her for his son, afterwards Edward VI., by means of fire and sword on the Border and the expedition of the Earl of Lennox to the Western Isles, John Moidartach was one of the Council of the Isles which empowered two commissioners to treat with the English King. For their parts in this transaction, the Captain of Clan Cameron and Ranald MacDonald of Keppoch, both of whom had taken part at the battle of Blar na leine, were seized and beheaded, but John Moidartach obtained a pardon in 1548. In the end John Moidartach managed to transmit the chiefship to his own son, and as an evidence of his greatness the clansmen for generations preserved his skull with reverent regard in the chapel of lonain Island.

In the matter of feuds and raids the MacDonalds of Clanranald were evidently no better than their neighbours. In an Act of Parliament of 1594, in which a list is given of "Wickit thevis and lymmaris" guilty of "barbarous cruelties and daylie heirschippis," the name of the clan appears along with those of Clan Chattan, Clan Cameron, and others. Eight years later, in 1602, in two Acts of Parliament, MacRanald appears among those ordered to help the Queen of England in her Irish wars, and to practise their weapons regularly at Weaponschaws.

Clanranald, however, was also noted for the more enlightened interests of its chiefs. The family was famous for retaining among its followers a race of bards and sennachies. This family, the MacVuirichs, held a good farm on condition of preserving the history of the clan and the compositions of the great poets of the Gael. As early as the battle of Harlaw in 1411 one of their poets, Lachlan, poured forth, to animate the clan, a most stirring composition, remarkable for its energy and amazing alliteration. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, Neil MacVourich, the bard and sennachy of Clanranald, reckoned his descent through eighteen unbroken generations. Neil was entirely ignorant of English, but treasured the possession of two collections of Gaelic writings known respectively as the Red Book, and the Black Book of Clanranald. When in 1760 James MacPherson, the translator of Ossian, was searching the Highlands for the remains of Gaelic poetry, one of these books was lent him by command of Clanranald, and was made much use of in the production of the translation.

To the present hour the dispute remains unsettled as to who is the supreme Chief of the name of MacDonald In the case of each of the three great claimants there are conflicting circumstances to be taken into account. The day has gone by when the rival claimants to such an honour felt impelled to prosecute their claim of precedence with all the powers of the law and the sword. It is possible, in view of the debate which took place lately in the columns of a well-known West Highland newspaper on the question as to whether the last Lord of the Isles was actually forfeited by James IV., that the question may come again to be of some living and real consequence. Meanwhile, it is interesting to know how the three chiefs—of the Isles, Glengarry, and Clanranald—have agreed to keep their differences in amicable abeyance. After Sir Alexander Bosville MacDonald, Bart., of the Isles, had proved before the Court of Session his right to that title and chiefship, a document was drawn out which is likely to remain unique, and which may be reproduced with interest here. This runs as follows:


"We, the undersigned, Angus Roderick MacDonald, otherwise Mac Mhic Ailein, Chief and Captain of Clan Ranald, Aeneas Ranald M’Donell, otherwise Mac Mhic Alasdair, of Glengarry, and Sir Alexander Wentworth MacDonald Bosville MacDonald, otherwise MacDhonuill na’n Eilean, of Sleat, Knight Baronet, desire to certify and make known by these present letters to the whole kin and name of Clan Donald, and to all others whom it may concern, that, after full consideration of the matters after-mentioned and of the whole writs, evidents, and other testimony now available, we have come to the conclusions following, videlicet:


"That following upon the forfeiture and death of John Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, and the death without issue in 1545 of his grandson, Donald Dubh, the various branches of Clan Donald, of which the Lord of the Isles was supreme and undisputed Chief, separated from and became independent of one another. 


"That although claims to the supreme Chiefship of the whole Clan Donald have been maintained by our predecessors, and are still maintained by ourselves, there is no evidence that the whole Clan has ever admitted or decided in favour of any of the said claims.


"That owing to the change of circumstances and the dispersion throughout the world of so many of the kin of Clan Donald, it is now impossible for the Clan to give any decision on the matter.


"That as a result of these conflicting claims to the supreme Chiefship there have been in the past great jealousy and dissension among the different branches of the Clan, and in particular among our houses of Clan Ranaid, Glengarry, and Sleat, whereby great injury and prejudice have been suffered by our whole race and kin.


With the view of, so far as in us lies, putting an end to such jealousy and dissension, and enabling the whole kin of Clan Donald to join unreservedly in all undertakings that may tend to the honour and advantage of our name.

We, as the Chiefs of our several houses, have agreed and hereby agree as follows, videlicet:


"While no one of us in any way abandons his claim to the supreme Chiefship of the whole race of Clan Donald as justly belonging to him by virtue of his descent, We all and each of us agree to cease from active assertion of our claims, and we call upon our respective houses and all depending thereon to loyally follow and uphold us in so doing.


"In the event of more than one of us being present on any occasion, and the question of preeminence and precedency within the Clan having to be considered, such pre-eminence and precedency shall be peremptorily decided for the occasion by lot without prejudice to the permanent position and claim of any of us.


In order to remove from controversy a matter which has for long given rise to dispute, We, the Chiefs of the houses of Glengarry and Clan Ranald, do not purpose hereafter to object to the use by Me, the Chief of the House of Sleat, of the designation ’ n’an Eilean,’ or ’Of the Isles,’ not because we, the Chiefs of the said houses of Clan Ranald and Glengarry, admit that I, the Chief of the said house of Sleat, am the nearest and lawful heir male of the said John Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, but solely in respect of the fact that the said designation has by custom come to be generally associated with my said house of Sleat.

"IN WITNESS WHEREOF we have signed, sealed, and delivered these presents in quadruplicate on the dates marked by us respectively under our Signatures, and before the witnesses subscribing.

Signed, Sealed, and delivered by Sleat before and in presence of
Godfrey Middleton Bosville MacDonald, B.A., Oxon., his Son, Thorpe Hall, Bridlington.
Celia Violet Bosville MacDonald, Spinster, his daughter, Thorpe Hall, Bridlington.


Alexander MacDonald
of the Isles,
Signed at Thorpe Hall, Bridlington
this fifteenth day of July, 1911.

Signed, Sealed, and delivered by Clanranald before and in the presence of
Ranald D. G. MacDonald (of Sanda), 39 Cours du XXX Juillet, Bordeaux.
Mary Louisa MacDonald, wife of the above.

Angus R. MacDonald,
Signed at Bordeaux, this twenty-ninth day of June, 1911.

Signed, Sealed, and delivered by Glengarry before and in the presence of
Stair C. Agnew, Barrister-at-Law, 4 Paper Buildings, Temple, London.
John C Montgomerie, Jun., Dalmore, Stair, Ayrshire.

AEneas Ranald M'Donell,
Signed at Tuapsé, South Russia, this tenth day of September, 1911.

Septs of Clan MacDonald of ClanRanald: Allan, Allanson, Currie, MacAllan, MacBurie, MacEachin, MacGeachie, MacGeachin, MacIssac, MacKeachan, Mackechnie, MacKeochan, MacKessock, MacKichan, MacKissock, MacMurrich, MacVarish, MacVurrich, MacVurie.

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