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Clan Donald Magazine No 3 (1965) Online

Colkitto's Sword by Donald J. Macdonald.

All Macdonalds know of Alasdair Cholla Chiotaich and his deeds of valour in Montrose's Wars: the victories of Inverlochy and Auldearn, the spectacular march from Cille Chumein (Fort Augustus) to Bun Nibheis (Fort William) with Ian Lom as guide, the sack of Inveraray, and the final retreat from Scotland to Ireland leaving his garrison at Dunaverty, hoping to return with reinforcements.

But he never returned. Instead, hearing that all was lost in Scotland, he engaged in the same struggle against the Commonwealth in Ireland and joined with his veterans of 1645, more of Clan Donald from Antrim, and others, on the side of the Catholic Confederation under Lord Taafe at Mallow. In this campaign he died. So much is known. Accounts vary as to the details of his death.

Some time ago I read in an old book of Irish harp music a footnote to a tune called in that book "MacAlusdrum's March." On trying it out, it seemed to me very obvious that the tune was a mangled version of our well known Inverlochy Pibroch - "Pibroch of Donald Dubh", which of course is a mistake anyway for it was Donald Ballach of Isla who used it at the first battle of Inverlochy in 1431.

The footnote stated that Alasdair's sword was preserved in "Loghan Castle, Co. Tipperary."

Naturally I wanted to locate that sword. What a relic it would be for our Clan! I wrote to many sources in Ireland who ought to have known something about it and got few replies and still fewer clues as to the whereabouts of the sword.

At last, my old friend, Mr Snider of Toronto, who tours annually in Ireland and Scotland in search of interesting antiquities, from the wood of the Armada galleons to the sea chest of Gow, the Orkney pirate, very kindly carried out a thorough search. He did not find the sword, but did find some very interesting details about Alasdair's death. Here they are:

On 13th November 1647 a bloody battle was fought at Cnocanos in County Cork. The army of the Catholic Confederation with headquarters at Mallow was commanded by Lord Taafe. It consisted mainly of raw recruits, no cannon, and few horse. Facing them was the army of the Commonwealth under the 6th Baron Inchiquin, who had at the battle 8,500 foot, two regiments of horse and 17 cannon. Inchiquin was a renegade Irishman, Muradach O'Brian of Thomond in Clare. He was known as Muradach na do-toine (said to mean "Murdo of the burnings" from the acts of arson committed by him on his enemies) and was of course thoroughly execrated by his countrymen.

Alasdair commanded Taafe's right wing with 1879 men (according to the muster roll found on his body), consisting of many of the Clan Donald from Antrim mainly, and other gille-glasa collected on his way south. He occupied the hill of Cnocanos, and the name is said to be derived from the drones of his war-pipes heard during the night before the battle. If so, the name would of course be Cnoc nan Dos, and very fitting too. No doubt his piper would play the pibroch so well known to us, and the country folk have preserved it in its rather distorted form as found in the old book I mentioned earlier.

With all his old fire and valour Alasdair attacked as soon as the battle opened, probably before the official command to advance! His warriors drove the opposing left wing of Inchiquin's force back two miles, capturing 13 colours; two guns and several supply wagons. Turning back to link up with the main body, he was cut off and surrounded by the undefeated centre of his enemies. He fought to the bitter end, killed five soldiers with his own sword, was badly wounded and taken prisoner. How often has the mir-chatha or the battle frenzy of the Gad led him too far!

So, Alasdair was taken, wounded but alive; and his fate from that time is the subject of two accounts. One says he was shot at once through the head by an English major named Purdon, who thought a prisoner with his reputation too dangerous to leave alive.

The account given by the Irish authorities consulted on the spot, however, is as follows: Alasdair was tied on a horse and sent under an escort of 25 men to be taken to Mallow. At the crossing of a small stream called Allt Moire (Mary's Brook) the horse went down to the ford sending him forward in the saddle, thus exposing his bare back by the corselet he wore being drawn upwards. A soldier without orders lanced him through the back and so he died. His body was left there at the spot known to this day as Chieftain's Ford, where he was picked up by a family of MacArthy who lived nearby and buried in the south-west corner of their garden. There he lay for three days and nights, and the spot marked today by an enormous ash tree known as the Chieftain's Tree. Thence he was taken by some O'Callaghans to Clonmeen Abbey, three miles away. There, still to be seen is a passage eight feet underground, which leads along to the high altar, and local antiquaries say that Alasdair's remains are still there!

But what of the sword which started all this enquiry? No one locally knew of a "Loghan Castle." But there was a Lohort Castle not very far away which had belonged to the O'Brians at that time; and they thought Inchiquin may have left it there. Where is it now? I wish I knew. I have not given up hope; but there is not much chance of it coming to light now, I fear.

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