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Clan Donald Magazine No 5 (1971) Online

The Dunaverty Affair by R. I. McAllister.

Although the infamous Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 occupies (and rightly so) a prominent place in Scottish History, few people are aware of a massacre much more sanguine and just as dastardly committed at Dunaverty in Kintyre in 1647. This massacre, notoriously absent from most records, was perpetrated against 500 of Sir Alexander Macdonald's followers, possibly including women and children.

By the summer of 1647, the affairs of the Royalists in Scotland had sustained a series of crushing blows. Montrose had been defeated at Philiphaugh in September 1645 and was now in exile in France. Philiphaugh had seen also the massacre of several hundred Royalist prisoners merely because they spoke the "Irish" tongue. It is very significant that most West Islanders spoke only the "Erse" or Irish language at this period, so little distinction could have been made, and many a Highlander or Islander was killed merely because he spoke "Irish". Add to the total of men killed the 300 women with their children and we have a hideous picture of the times. The King, much to the everlasting shame of the Scots Army, had been handed over to the English Parliament, to Cromwell. This occasioned some ribald songs in England and France such as "L'Ecosse, parjure a sa foi, Pour un denier vendit son roi" - or "Traitor Scot sold his King for a groat". Thus, on 8th January 1647, Huntly, with Sir Alexander Macdonald (the son of old Colkitto) the last bastion of the Royalist cause in the North, had fallen to the Parliamentary forces under Lt. General David Leslie. Now, Alexander Macdonald with around 1500 men was making a fighting retreat down to the peninsula of Kintyre, hotly pursued by Leslie with 2,000 men of the Highland Regiments of the Marquis of Argyll and Campbell of Ardkingass, together with 500 men in 6 troops of Horse and his own Lowland Regiment comprising 1,000 men. [1]

For some incredible reason Macdonald failed to meet Leslie's forces at the narrow neck of Tarbert where he might conceivably have held them, despite being outnumbered almost 5 to 1. It is likely that he had already sent off a considerable number of his men and that the remainder were no more than a holding force - a "Forlorn Hope" in fact. However, his forces met Leslie's at Kilcalmonell and the Battle of Rhunahaorine Point ensued, resulting in the loss of 80 men to Macdonald. This seems to prove that Sir Alexander and old Colkitto with Macdonald of Largie and others, had already left for Islay. However, the remaining 500 men, including 49 MacDougalls and 41 Kintyre men, together with a considerable number of Macdonalds under Archibald Macdonald and his son, of Sanda, under the supreme command of John MacDougall of Dunollie, retreated down the peninsula to the fortress of Dunaverty. No sooner were they ensconced in the fortress than Leslie arrived and laid siege to them.

At first Leslie offered "fair condition" - "for their persons and baggage if they would give over the house." [2] This first offer they refused, whereupon Leslie attacked the small party defending the one and only supply of water to the fortress. Forty of the defenders were killed and the water supply stopped. This failure on the part of the besieged to preserve their lifeline - a small stream - was their last, and fatal, blunder.

Thirst soon made them seek terms and they eventually yielded "at discretion" and what that meant we shall see. [3] Over 300 persons came out, the rest having been killed or escaped. It is not known if women and children were among them. Some time later approximately 100 men were "smoked out of a cave, as they do foxes." [4] They were eventually sent to France and forced into service there.

Of the remaining Dunaverty party, Leslie, Argyll and the other officers discussed their fate at length, before it was decided that they be killed. Macdonald of Sanda and his son were hanged, but Sanda was later shot, as the gallows was too short. [5] A tomb erected in 1846 at Machribeg marks the spot where he was buried along with some of his followers. The rest of Macdonald's men and the Macdougalls "were put to the sword, every mothers sonne of them, except one young man (a Macdougall) whose life I begged." [6] There is little doubt that having been promised some form of quarter, and immediately upon them surrendering their arms "the army was let loose upon them, and killed them all without mercy." [7]

Leslie appear to have suffered some revulsion at this work, "for while the Marquis (Argyll) and he with Mr Nevoy (a preacher) were walking over the ancles in blood he turned about and said 'now Mr Nevoy, have you not once gotten your fill of blood.'" [8] (Despite many criticisms to the contrary, blood would indeed be splashed over the ankles under similar circumstances - do not forget that this is an eye-witness description by one of Leslie's own party.) Turner. in evidence given during the restoration, refers to the Rev. John Nevoy as a "bloody preacher" to Leslie "one who never ceased to tempt him to that bloodshed." Leslie himself stated on several occasions that, "if Nevoy, put on by Argyll, had not by both preachings and imprecations, instead of prayers, led him to commit that butcherie" [9] he would never have condoned it.

A study of the Civil wars of the period must inevitably lead to the conclusion that much blood was shed and many atrocities committed in the name of God, and that much was done at the exhortation of so-called "Men of God."

There are present day analogies.


[1] Bishop Guthry's Memoirs. (Return to text)

[2] James Turner Memoirs, Bannantyne Club 1829. (Return to text)

[3] Turner Op. Cit. (Return to text)

[4] Turner Op. Cit. (Return to text)

[5] The Diplomatic Correspondence of Jean de Montereul Scot. Hist. Soc. 1898. (Return to text)

[6] Turner Op. Cit. (Return to text)

[7] Guthry Op. Cit. (Return to text)

[8] Guthry Op. Cit. (Return to text)

[9] Turner Op. Cit. (Return to text)

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