Thursday, May 12, 2022

By Land, By Sea, my Clan Experience

There is more to Scotland than just tits, (like this coal tit).  One cannot go to Scotland and not notice the local culture, the kilts, the tartan, the titles, and the Clans.  I have hated to admit this, and for most of my life ignored it, but as it turns out I have deep roots around the Highlands of Scotland.  As it turns out, I am a member of the Clan Donald, one of the largest clans around and usually known as the Clan Mac Donald.  By land and By sea, the motto of the clan is etched in my soul somewhere.

Clan Donald traces its descent from Dòmhnall Mac Raghnuill whose father Ranald or Reganeld was styled "King of the Isles" and "Lord of Argyll and Kintyre" and grandfather was Somerled, King of the Hebrides.

Specifically, I am from the branch known as the McDonnells of Antrim, in County Antrim in Northern Ireland.  You see, I have deep roots in the whole of Scottish history.  The MacDonnells of Antrim are descended from John Mor MacDonald chief of the MacDonald of Dunnyveg, John Mor MacDonald was the second son of Good John of Islay, 6th chief of Clan Donald and six generations descendant from the founder of the clan.  This birth was through John of Islay's second marriage to Princess Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II.  Hence why the MacDonald's ended up on the Jacobite side of the whole threat to the English crown when the Tudors of Henry the VIII's line had no more children and the Stewarts took over but then they were removed by William of Orange in 1688 when the Protestants kicked out Catholic King James in the Glorious Revolution.  James or Jacobus would lead revolts from Scotland as would his son Charles,  Scotland would lose its independence in the ensuing years. 

John Mor MacDonald married Margery Byset daughter of the Mac Eoin Bissett Lord of the Glens of Antrim. They would take on the title Lord of Antrim from the Bissets even though that was not given.  It would turn out John Mor would be murdered in Edinburgh in 1427 by James Campbell continuing a feud that continues between the two clans, possibly even until today.

 John Mor MacDonald is my 20th Great Grandfather as it would turn out, and like probably hundreds of thousands, I am a direct descendant of the founder of the clan.  As the Jacobites gathered their forces in 1688, the second son of of the nobility of the Clan McDonnell, a young man named Bryan McDonnell was commissioned at Lieutenant of the Jacobite army, to fulfill the loyalty of the clan to the Stewart king James II, this despite that they were protestant.  James was open to al religions or so the history states. In 1691, James II left his army to go to Europe to secure support and left Lord Tyrconnell in charge of the Williamite War in Ireland, and he distrusted protestants in his army despite Clan loyalty and purged them all including my ancestor Bryan, who not being the family heir, decided it would be a good time to leave for America.  He purchased 693 acres from William Penn & moved to Delaware in 1691 with his family.  He was then known as "McDonald the immigrant."

So my ancestors have been in America for a very long time, oddly, as far as can be determined, none of my ancestors ever married another Irish person.....

Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by my Clan history.

The Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness was sacked by the Clan in 1513 and just about everything was carted off.  It was retaken in 1517 by the Clan Grant and then sacked again by my clan in 1545 when even more was taken.  The Grants blew up the castle in 1690 so the Jacobites would not use it in the Uprising of the period. 

Now it just gives a nice view to look for monsters

The Loch Ness Monster?  No, just a pipe.

We went to Skye, which we would learn must be the most crowded place on Earth in the summer and was still nuts.  The weather is also nuts out there.  Rain, fog, wind, cold, .....seeing the sky in Skye, a lucky break. 

It is also home of the ancestral and spiritual center of the Clan Donald out at the ruins of Castle Armadale. 

The view from the castle

The MacDonald's have been largely replaced by the Clan MacLeod of the other side of the island and who owns like 100,000 acres of the island which is most of it.   

We toured their castle, Dunvegon.  The MacDonald's were kicked out as "Lord of the Isles" in 1493.  The end of the MacDonald Lords came in 1493 when John MacDonald II had his ancestral homeland, estates, and titles seized by King  James IV of Scotland. Since that time, the MacDonald Clan has contested the right of James IV to the Lordship of the Isles and uprisings and rebellions against the Scottish Monarch were common.  This is why they sacked things like the castle on Loch Ness.

The MacLeod's (Leod which means "Ugly" in old Norse, the son's of Ugly, is a rather interesting name).  and the MacDonald's have had a rather odd and UGLY history.  Let us review a few of them.

Until the Lordship of the Isles was forfeited to King James IV of Scotland in 1493, both MacLeod branches were loyal to MacDonald Lord of the Isles, and kinsmen from both families fought side-by-side at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 for the Bruce cause; the Battle of Harlaw (1411) for the Chief of Clan Donald; and at the Battle of Bloody Bay in 1481 for John of Islay. After the loss of the Lord of the Isles’ title and lands, however, Scotland fell into a period of crisis and anarchy and the two major family branches — the MacLeods of Dunvegan and MacDonalds of Sleat — became locked in a violent feud that would last for over a century.

The enmity was bitter, the fighting barbaric, and both clans committed terrible atrocities towards each other’s kinsmen in a bid to regain and extend their powers over the Island. The fighting laid waste to farmland and the collateral damage to communities was high with reports of the civilian population being reduced to eating horses, pets “and other filthie beasts".

In addition to the battle sites during the Wars of the One-Eyed Woman, there are many places on Skye which mark the historical hostilities between these two vying clans. One such place is Trumpan Church, now a ruin, on the Waternish Peninsula.

In 1577, after a MacLeod raiding party landed on Eigg, the island’s population of MacDonalds fled to a cave in the south of the island. With a view to flushing them out, the MacLeods blocked the cave entrance with heather and vegetation and set it alight. Instead of becoming prisoners, however, all 395 MacDonalds were suffocated to death. Enraged by the slaughter, the following year, the MacDonalds of neighboring Uist landed eight birlinn war galleys at Ardmore Bay. While the MacLeods were all gathered inside nearby Trumpan church for their Sunday worship, the marauding MacDonalds barred the doors and set alight to the church, killing all but one – a young girl. The girl apparently managed to escape through a window, run the 10 miles to Dunvegan Castle and raise the alarm. Unfortunately for the MacDonald party, a low tide had grounded their escape vessels, leaving time for the MacLeods to catch them. A battle ensued, during which MacLeod raised the fairy flag and slaughtered his enemies to every man. The bodies of the fallen MacDonalds were lined up behind a turf dyke which was collapsed over the top of them. This bloody moment in history is widely known as the Battle of the Spoiling Dyke.

The Damn fairy flag of the McLeods, supposedly given to them by the supernatural and it hangs in the Dunvegan, when I saw it, my instinct was to steal it.

They were brutal...

Iain Ciar MacLeod, 4th chief

Iain Ciar and his wife were a particularly infamous couple. He was described as a “tyrannical and bloodthirsty despot” who was not only hated by his enemy but also his own clansmen. His wife apparently had her two daughters buried alive in the castle dungeons for trying to escape the clan.

Alasdair Crotach, Alexander the Humpbacked, 8th chief
“The Crotach” is lauded as the MacLeods’ greatest chief. Said to have been mutilated by a strike with a MacDonald battle axe during the Battle of Bloody Bay off Mull, this belligerent warlord who was feared by many had an aesthetic side to his nature. He embraced culture: he positively encouraged dancing, poetry and music. He formed a piping college on Skye and installed the MacCrimmons as pipers to the MacLeod chiefs, a relationship that still lasts today. He built the castle’s Fairy Tower and entertained King James V to a mountain feast on Healabhal Beag, one of the MacLeod’s tables overlooking Orbost. ‘The Crotach’ spent the latter part of his final years living as a monk on Harris and died there in 1547.

The strange but true

In 1739, Norman MacLeod of Dunvegan (The Wicked) and Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat and others were accused of being involved in the kidnapping of 96 of their kinsmen, men, women and children with a view to selling them into slavery at £3 per head. The plot was led by Waternish tacksman Sir Norman Macleod of Berneray who managed to herd his victims onto a ship bound for the Americas. A storm wrecked the vessel off the coast of Northern Ireland and the reluctant passengers were all rescued.  They escaped justice.

He also locked his first wife in the dungeon of Dunvegan to starve slowly to death, lost the ancestral lands of Harris due to excessive spending, never visited Skye, and was a generally all around bad dude.

John MacLeod of MacLeod, 29th chief, this man was featured on the introductory video of the castle, had a prominent painting and was a classically trained actor and looked like an outstanding citizen.  His picture is everywhere....but the truth, maybe is not so great.

I had thought MacLeod was a cool dude, but then I read about him.  He was just like the rest of the elites and not unlike his ancestor Norman, anything for profit mentality.  In 2000, John MacLeod attempted to sell-off the Black Cuillin for £10million in order, he said, to restore the dilapidated roof of Dunvegan Castle. At the same time, he also put forward plans to build a 60-80 bedroom hotel and leisure complex near the village. The intended sale of Scotland’s most iconic mountain range caused public outrage and fuelled a heated debate about Scotland’s ownership. When the plans fell through and the Cuillin taken off the market, MacLeod was forced back to the table for funding ideas. A subsequent bid to the National Lottery for £25 million with a promise to hand over the Cuillin and Dunvegan Castle to the public also failed. Further controversy followed his death in 2007 when he left £15million in his will.  Pleading poverty?  Hope his death was painful.

The Black Cuillins would be like selling Yellowstone to a mining concern or Exxon.  Would he have let go the famous Fairy Pools where his kin may have gotten the famous battle flag?  Stunning mountains, the best in the whole UK.

There were birds (and other creatures) on Skye and the son did shine.

Common ringed plover

Eurasian Curlew, a lifer

Gray heron

Greylag goose

Highland cattle

hooded crow

rock pipit

Northern wheatear 
Don and then Leroy befriended this chicken at the old MacDonald hunting lodge nee Sconser Hotel on Skye.

Old Man of Storr, owned by the MacLeods is an over popular hike

We finally moved on 

First Glenfinnan, another MacDonald site, better known as the site of the Bridge scene in Harry Potter and everyone came to see the steam train go over it

Inadvertently on the MacDonald tour as the monument to the Jacobites and the clan is on the other side of the road

Then on to Glencoe back on the mainland in the Highlands, despite this fleeting picture, the stunning area was encased in fog and rain on our entire visit.  

Again, MacDonald land.  In 1692, the MacDonalds took in a patrol of Loyalist forces from the king during a terrible snowstorm.  Twelve days later, violating the code of the Highlands, the men, led by a Campbell, massacred somewhere over thirty men and women with children in their sleep, and forced the rest into the Highlands in a blizzard, most and unknown number died.  This even shocked the nation, but after a parliamentary investigation, nothing happened.  There have been coverups for centuries.

Can I even listen to Glenn Campbell's music again?

Lesser redpoll, a lifer, recent split from the common redpoll, British birding thinks there is 5 species of redpolls, there is probably just one, but here we say three

I needed a pub after all of this Clannish stuff, some serious pints

I was overwhelmed.  I even thought, do I contact the Clan Chief for the Irish arm of the clan?

The Clan chief is the Right and Honourable Randall Alexander St. John McDonnell, 6th Earl of Antrim even looks a bit like me., well maybe.  LOL

Do I buy a kilt with the colors?  Do I keep up the feud with the MacLeods and Campbells?  Do I join the MacDonald Society USA?  What to do...but maybe history IS bunk.  Even for me, I had way too much, and it was all surprisingly thrust upon me due to poor choices for places to go birding.  maybe it was my genes dragging me here, I do not know.  It made me want to go home.  There was too much here for me, and the damp clouds did NOT help and we had some sun.  

More to come


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