Clan Donald

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Clan Donald Magazine No 12 (1991) Online

Keppoch Lines By D. Rory MacDonald

The recent attempt to establish a claim to be chief of the Keppoch branch of the clan failed before the Lyon Court. There is a very good argument against the Lyon Court approving any claim to Keppoch. The few remaining clansmen in the Braes of Lochaber have not shown any notable enthusiasm for the idea and nor apparently have their rather more numerous cousins in Mabou, Cape Breton. The recent court case does, however, raise an interesting issue. If a successful claimant was found, what sort of person would he be? It is illuminating to look at the main family lines. For some reason, which I do not understand, the argument does not, apparently, include the female lines. If it did there would be no argument because the descent from the eldest daughter of Alastair of the '45 is well documented. Assuming that the senior Kennedy line cannot be traced it devolves on the eldest son of the late Mrs Dermid Bingham of Victoria, British Columbia. If, however, we run counter to the practice which brought such distinguished Clan Chiefs as Dame Flora MacLeod and Miss Catriona MacLean of Ardgour, we are forced to look for descendants of earlier generations - the families of the brothers of the famous Coll of the Cows and possibly his Cousins?

Coll nam Bo is a personal hero of mine but I would not attempt to uphold him as an example for modern youth! He held his small clan together through the reigns of four Stuart monarchs, the Dutch spouse of one of them and two Hanovarian Kings. He was an outlaw, hunted by the strong new garrison at Fort William for eight years and pursued by Macintosh for eviction from the disputed lands of Glen Spean and Glen Roy for more than twenty years. He fought and won the last great clan battle at Mulroy. As a child he lived through the Keppoch Murder when the clan not only rejected but killed their young chief. As an old man, he handed the Clan over, united, to his son Alistair who was to win eternal fame at their head at Culloden. It is said that every room in his house had an escape route built into it. General Wade lamented that Coll did not write his memoirs. He was however a legend in his own time and for many generations. The family, for which we should perhaps be looking are descended from one of his captains. They may have unconventional ways!

Taking Coll's brothers' families first - sadly I don't think the Lyon will allow us the perfectly good Inch line, descended from Alastair's son Angus since he was illegitimate. He seems to have been an admirable person, distinguished himself at Culloden and has descendants, flourishing in New Zealand. However, Lyon apparently rules them out along with the ladies, so we must start with Coll's brothers. Ranald, the eldest brother, was as near respectable as the family went. He married Glengarry's daughter, kept out of all except Coll's major campaigns and raised a distinguished family. One of his sons, Donald of Tirindrish, fought the first fight of the '45 at High Bridge and was later captured at Falkirk. He was hanged at Carlisle and his speech at the gallows shows him as a good husband and father, a fervent christian and a loyal Jacobite. Sadly his only son died a young man, unmarried. The elder brother, Archibald, also a comparatively reputable character, had also died early but he left a son whose own short life was packed with action. Archibald married his first cousin, Coll's daughter, Margaret, who was apparently both ill-favoured and in part mad. Their son Donald died, like his uncle and namesake, a hero's death after a show trial in London in 1746. Before the rising, however, his life had been very different. He challenged Cluny Macpherson to a duel and when this was stopped he led the men of Keppoch to a face-off against the Macphersons at Laggan which nearly, in 1742, made a mockery of the reputed disarming of the Clans. By then he was officially a landless man since he had been accused of murdering his father-in-law and had given away all his property rather than be subjected to forfeiture. His son, if we could trace him, may have started a line with a firm claim to be chief of Keppoch. It would probably not be a dull claim.

Ranald's eldest sons are well documented. The two younger ones are only known to us because of a near contemporary witness, Dr Angus MacDonald of the Gellovie family. He apparently knew them personally, however, and we have been able to check his accuracy through the evidence now available on one of them who married a Macpherson and moved to Dellafour in Badenoch. His only son died in the American wars. The remaining brother, according to Dr Angus, moved to Leek in Glengarry (his mother was from Glengarry). He was, almost certainly, the father of the Leek tacksman who, with his brothers was a leader of the Glengarry emigration of 1773. They were a distinguished family in Glengarry, Ontario and if one of them becomes our chief, it would, perhaps, be a safer, if less exciting, choice.

Assuming no claimant, however, from Coll's brother Ranald's Family, we move to his remaining two brothers. Again we have volatile personalities. Alastair, the elder fought with Coll at Mulroy but when Coll sued for peace after Achallader and the frightening neighbouring massacre at Glencoe, Alastair joined King William's army. He fought in Flanders and when the war with France ended, he became for a while a factor for Sir James MacDonald in the Uists. He rejoined the army under Marlborough and was retired on half-pay during the 1715 rising, when he was arrested as a suspected Jacobite spy. Years later, he wrote to Coll saying that his son, who lived abroad hoped to visit Keppoch and meet his family. Perhaps some French or Italian claimant may appear? Again we may have a sound claim from the son of the youngest brother, Angus. He was Coll's closest supporter and the wildest. He, too, was accused of murder - of a Sleat MacDonald from Skye and he was also named for involvement in the Lovat revolt and rape case and for oppression, when he was used to discipline one of Coll's more recalcitrant supporters. Together with Coll he received an independent pardon for his various affrays in 1702 but inevitably, he was out again in 1715 and he led a small Keppoch contingent out with the MacGregors in 1719 when he lost a leg at Glen Shiel. His son is only mentioned in a single letter but he may have some worthy descendants

Finally a brief look at Coll's cousins. His father Archibald succeeded because he was the only one of the family, who did not put his hand to the agreement to the Keppoch murder. The paper was signed by all the other leaders of the clan at Tor na Moine, the knoll of the oath in Glen Roy and tradition has it that Archibald safeguarded his position by signing with the pen between his toes! His eldest brother Alan, a leader in the murder, died a few years later at Tulloch, stabbed with his own, murderous knife but there are stories that he has descendants said, in the last century to be alive in Badenoch and in Nova Scotia. The third brother Donald Gorm of Inverroy, described by a clan historian as a "fiend incarnate" and also active in the murder, was progenitor of the later Inverroy family, who moved in the 1720's to Murlaggan. Apparently the distinguished genealogist from Burke's peerage who testified before the Lyon, confused this family with that of Clianaig. He was wrong; they are alive and well and flourishing in Cape Breton.

If we must have a chief and must perforce reject the female line and the worthy illegitimate one, it is amongst these lines we must look. By their genes the odds suggest a rough ride but probably an exciting one.

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