Clan Donald

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Clan Donald Magazine No 6 (1975) Online

What Are You Going to Do About It? By Ranald Alasdair MacDonald FSHAA MRSH.

Mr. Angus MacDonald, our member from Washington DC, has picked an apt heading for his novel, and without the benefit yet of having read his book, I am submitting a few ideas of my own and committing the sin that he attributes to us as being "brave but foolhardy".

The first question I would pose is this: Were the MacDonald clan a great race? If so, by what yardstick does one measure that greatness? Are we to judge it by genealogy, by cultural achievement or by material gain? Perhaps its martial exploits throughout history is a good guideline? Again, maybe its greatness is spiritual. The fact that it has faced insuperable obstacles and problems with a steadfastness that might be wrongly judged as stupidity, may be another way of evaluating it's merit? Without a full and thorough knowledge at our clan history it is sometimes easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. In the case of Angus' heading "The Troublesome MacDonalds", I do not think he is so much crying "stinking fish" as "what the hell are you MacDonalds going to do about?" I agree with Angus' war cry, and gladly add to it my own voice, by offering a challenge to any other clansman or otherwise, to prove that our battle has been irretrievably lost. My reply to the comment "Clan Donald was great" is "Clan Donald is great."

The basis of my reasoning is, that it is the sum total of human endeavour and experience, that is the true and certain way of making a reasonable assessment of an individual, Clan, race or nation. To try to do this in a short article is well nigh impossible. The Monumental works of the two Kirtarlity Ministers, Angus and Archibald MacDonald lay the broad foundation for further study. This well known Masterpiece is "The History of Clan Donald" in 3 volumes. However, even this great work is being reviewed as further historical facts emerge. This is as it should be and is a compliment to the joint-authors not an insult. Having received a copy of Angus' book "The Troublesome MacDonalds", I am now in a position to comment upon it's theme.

It is obvious that Angus has done his home-work as he covers the trail from Somerled the Mighty down to the present day. Frankly, his range of view and comment is mind-boggling to a newcomer like myself. I feel that I am trespassing on hallowed ground. It is therefore not my intention to criticise Angus' work, but more to support his theme, that, in spite of the fact that we are and always have been, the premier clan in Scotland, we have to a large extent been bypassed by the more able Historian in Britain, since the aftermath of the ''45" Rising. Why? Because we did as a clan support the Stewart cause from earliest times, in spite of the fact that we were harshly treated by envious nobles, who urged the Kings to "teach us a lesson". There are two main arguments to support this viewpoint.

Firstly, according to my close friend the Rev. Norman MacDonald a Gaelic scholar with the added gift of great insight, and a thorough knowledge of the history of Clan Donald, our genealogy goes back to a man far mightier than Somerled, or any King who ever sat on the throne of either Scotland or England. This ancestor was known as Righ an Domhain, who flourished between the 6th and 7th century BC. The great Somerled is a direct descendant of this stalwart but Somerled is a comparative newcomer when compared with the age of Righ an Domhain. A conqueror like Alexander the Great, the armies he led swept over Europe and made the Roman Throne tremble on it's foundations, when he approached the gates of the eternal city. They were always on the march, conquering all before them, but they never stayed long enough in any of their conquered territory to consolidate their gains or possessions. This Righ an Domhain was without doubt, the ancestor of the MacDonalds, so you see our origins lead us back into the mists of antiquity, for the very name Righ an Domhain, means "King of the World". During this period the Celts overran most of Asia Minor and as far west as Spain. Herodotus, the first Greek Historian, and therefore "The Father of History", as he was known, mentions them in his great work. This is the first reason why there was a genuine fear of the Mighty Clan Donald throughout the historic period under discussion, namely, up to the period of the Rising of 1745. To be fair to Angus' theory, does this not tend to show that we foolishly gave away our Patrimony?

The MacDonald's, from Righ an Domhain, showed a remarkable disregard for possessions that is true, but when one reatises that they were to a large extent almost on a mission, then it is easier to understand this unusual quality. Conn of the Hundred Battles was of Righ an Domhain and he was King of Ireland in 197 AD. From him we have such stalwarts as Neil of the Nine Hostages, and St. Columba. The life of the latter is well recorded, and it is no coincidence, that he brought civilisation to Scotland when he landed on Iona. Here too, we have a very interesting concept. Iona is said to be the Gaelic for white bird. It may have some bearing on the fact that "A White Dove is supposed to appear, hovering over the grave of a Keppoch Chief when he passes to the other side of life". The progenitors of Keppoch are buried in the burial ground of the Kings and Chiefs on Iona. The Lords of the Isles of whom Keppoch, of Alasdair Carrach fame (1380-1443) is a direct line to the present day, are the Chiefs that I have in mind. These men were not as black as they are painted, not even Donald Dubh himself, for they founded Monasteries, Convents and even a University in North Uist. The subject of the origins of this University, the first in Great Britain, is contained in a very interesting little book, written by the same Rev. MacDonald above mentioned. The title of the book is as follows: "Trinity Temple, Carinish, North Uist". Only copies available in the National Library of Scotland.

The second good reason as to why the Nobles and Kings of Scotland were worried about the MacDonalds, was because much of the tremendous creative force passed down from Righ an Domhain, was self-evident at the times we speak of. If we consider for instance that Somerled was "King of the Isles and Argyll". That his sons and daughters owned between them more than one third of Scotland then you have a fair idea of the power Clan Donald exerted. They were as Angus has said Independent of Scotland and it's Kings and stood very much aloof from them. That they cared for Scotland, this cannot be denied as the age of the Lords of the Isles is often referred to as the "Golden Age".

At Bannockburn, we all know that Angus Og supported "The Bruce" and at the critical time in the battle, that is on the 2nd day of the battle, Monday 24th June 1314, (see Publication of The National Trust for Scotland on Bannockburn). Bruce turned to Angus MacDonald and told him "My Hope is constant in thee". MacDonald and his Islesmen won the day for Scotland, of that their is no doubt. It is said that Bruce rewarded Angus Og by giving him valuable lands in the Isles and on the Mainland. It would be truer to say that Bruce recognised Angus the Younger, as being the most loyal to the cause for freedom for Scotland, and that he confirmed the lands in him that his family already held through the elder son. It was as simple as that.

Angus' descendants were further confirmed in these charters up to and including King Robert III (Ref. Ancient Records of Scotland which were in the Kingdom in the Year 1292, by William Robertson Esq., published in 1798). They were further confirmed by James 1st and in the year 1424, Alasdair MacDonald Lord of the Isles, was further confirmed in his title Earl of Ross, which his father Donald had gone to Harlaw for in 1411 - To say as Angus has done, "that we never had a Sheepskin title to our lands or from the Kings of Scotland", is I am afraid, incorrect. That we were forfeited by James 4th in 1493, does not invalidate the charters or the legal claim by the heirs of line. "The sons are not responsible for the sins of the fathers." This can be evidenced in other ancient titles and charters. Forfeitures there were, yes, but in most cases they were restored to the "heir of line". This happened for instance, in the case of the Earl of Mar, which was forfeited to the Crown in 1621. After a constant legal battle the heir of line was restored, but by the time it was disentangled there were two Earls of Mar, which as far I know remain so today. It is a question of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?'' You can readily see from the genealogy and history of Clan Donald, where the answer lies. The Prince of Wales, at a private investiture at Buckingham Palace some 3 years or so ago was created Lord of the Isles. Why, after all this time? Presumably, this claim is based on the earlier forfeiture of 1493. The Lordship of the Isles was a Celtic title, covering the Celtic kingdom of Scotland ruled by the Donald Clan and their ancestors before them. As such it could not be forfeited but even if it was the heir of line, would succeed, not the Crown. Why has this title not been reclaimed by a MacDonald?

One further point mentioned by Angus in his recent book was, that John, Lord of the Isles, used his power and influence to "disinherit" his sons by his first marriage to Amy Macruari, implying that he was cheating his lawful sons from their patrimony. In the first place, by the law of Celtic tanistry, it was open for the Lord of the Isles to chose his successor. However, from the time of Angus Og, when charters were given by the Scottish Kings to him, and his descendants, covering nearly one-third of Scotland, an important singular change was made in the charters after the marriage between John and his second wife Princess Margaret Stewart. On the renewal of the charters, the King ensured that the lands and titles would fall to the heirs of his daughter's body, page 118, "The Ancient Records of Scotland". Thus, it was the King, who safeguarded his grandchildren's heritage, rather than a scheming ''Good John of the Isles". Who knows, the King may have been preserving his own tine, should the male legitimate line fail? This would be in order so to do.

It was this close family tie that lay behind the real reason for the MacDonald's loyalty to the Stewart Kings. They were in fact part of that same Royal family, through the Princess Margaret Stewart, and we know, that to a clansman, clan or family loyalty was of paramount importance. Couple this with a deep love of country of personal freedom, and independence, and you have in a nut shell, why our ancestor's fought for so long for the same cause.

It has been said, that we MacDonalds have "a genius for failure". This may or not be true but I would challenge this bold statement. With a genealogy reading like this; Righ an Domhain - through Conn of the Hundred Battles, King of Ireland, through Somerled, King of the Isles and Argyll, through Angus Og of Bannockburn fame, through his son John Lord of the Isles, progenitor of Clan Ranald, Glengarry, Keppoch, Earls of Antrim, and so on sic itur ad astra (to fame or immortality) we have nothing to be ashamed of. Bringing matters nearer home, I could list a screed of MacDonalds who have been successful in more recent history. Space does not permit so I shall name but a few of the better known ones.

First we have the famous MacDonald Duo. Angus and Archibald MacDonald, Kiltarlity Joint Authors of that monumental history "The Clan Donald" in 3 Vols. Both ministers of the Church of Scotland. It is still used today as authoritative source of reference although it was first published in 1896. They have many other literary highs in their life's work, some of which are noted in 'Scottish Biographies 1938' (A Scottish Who's Who). The interesting thing about this publication is this. In spite of the claim in ''Troublesome MacDonalds" that we have been outwitted, outsmarted and beaten all the way down the line by our adversary the Campbell, a point of view I could never subscribe to from any angle as they are not, were not and never will be our "natural enemy", our namesakes occupy almost 9 pages of this remarkable book, while our adversary occupy 8 pages. If you conjoin the other two parts of our clan in Scotland only namely, Macdougal and MacAlistair, then we would have almost 12 pages of celebrities up to that year. This information would tend to argue the opposite from a purely mathematical point of view. Bear in mind too, that this is only representative of Scotland and it could be shown that the same applied on a worldwide frontage. However, it is not true to say that every Campbell and every MacDonald is a natural enemy and it does not do to blow your own horn but before I leave the subject I would like to make the following observations.

Although Neil Campbell fought on the side of the Bruce at Bannockburn, and this is very much to the clan Campbell's credit, they were not as highly regarded by him as Angus Og and justly so. The two clans were poles apart from that point of view. Campbell occupied a seat in Argyll at Inveraray and that was about the extent of their power. Even at that, Argyll was under the domination of MacDonald through the aegis of the Somerled legacy. He, we must remember, was King of the Isles and Argyll. Campbell were a small clan at that time and could not be compared with MacDonald for power or strength so that the rivalry question did not come into it at that juncture. No, it was not until later in the power struggle between the King and the Nobles, that Campbell rose to power. King James IV forfeited the Lordship in 1493 and set Argyll up as Sheriff of the North, as a temporary arrangement, to try and bring MacDonald to heel. He was singularly unsuccessful but through misuse of his Kingly power, the Lordship was not restored to the rightful heir of line, and Campbell in charge of the affairs of the North, in the King's name, was able to grab the land and this has proceeded since that date right down to the aftermath of Culloden, when choice land was bought for a song, usurped from the legal owner. Today, The Duke of Argyll displays the MacDonald of the Isles "Galley" on his coat of arms against a background of a gyronny of eight. In the original, it was a Shield with a "gyronny of four" and that is all. The "Galley" has obviously been added. I quote as my authority The Albany Herald, Sir Iain Moncreiffe, Bart. Ph.D., see map of Old Scotland printed by John Bartholomew and Son Ltd., entitled "The Arms of the Realm and Ancient Principalities of Scotland". There are four main clans depicted thereon namely: (1) The Lordship of the Isles (2) The Earldom of Sutherland (3) The Earldom of Carrick (Bruce's seat) (4) The Earldom of the March. On the same map we see that the remaining Earldoms are: (1) The Earldoms of: Angus, Atholl, Buchan, Caithness, Fife, The Lordship of Galloway, The Earldom of Lennox, Mar, Menteith, The Province of Moray, The Earldom of Ross (inherited by MacDonald of the Isles), and lastly but not least, the Earldom of Strathearn. There are no Earldoms of Campbell, Mackintosh or Cameron proving the point that I make that they were not as powerful as MacDonald. At this juncture both Mackintosh and Cameron were vassals of the Lord of the Isles and fought on his side at Harlaw in 1411. That a Campbell became Earl of Islay (no such title existed prior to it's creation) the seat of MacDonald. That others have taken titles in a similar way, bears closer investigation and will be the subject of another article in future. Suffice to show, that we have been "robbed" of our rightful heritage and this has been quite naturally played down by those in power or with a vested interest to protect.

Space does not permit the publishing of all our famous MacDonalds but I would just like to mention another one before concluding. The man is: Sir John Alexander MacDonald, born Glasgow, but lived in Canada since childhood He was known in his time, as the "Perpetual Prime Minister of Canada" He reigned supreme for a period from about 1857 until his death in 1891 (at intervals) thus: 1857, 1858, 1868 to 1873 and 1878 to 1891. He played the leading role in forging Canada into a strong and compact nation from a scattered Province. As a Keppoch MacDonald, I do not carry bitterness in my heart for any clan, race or colour, and though I accept all mankind as my brethren, I shall not ignore past history. With an eye to the future, I whole heartedly accept the challenge of trying to redress the wrongs perpetrated against my clansmen and their noble line, in status, patrimony and Heraldic Order, and to pursue the matter of original charters, with what vigour that I can muster as long as I live.

Please further note, for anyone who doubts the authenticity of the genealogy of "Righ an Domhain", I can substantiate this on philological grounds alone but am not prepared to enter into correspondence about it, though I am willing to make the subject a matter for further publication at some later date. It is not a tenuous assumption. -R.A.M

Editorial Footnote: The Editor takes no responsibility for the statements and opinions expressed in this article. -D.J.M.

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