Clan Donald Magazine No 12 (1991) Online
Glencoe By The Rev. Kenneth Wigston, Rector, St. Mary's, Glencoe,
Associate Member of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh
Of all the places in
Scotland, the best known are Loch Lomond for its "bonnie banks" and
Glencoe because of the infamous massacre. The Glen was inhabited by
Hendersons before the MacDonalds came on the scene in the fourteenth
century, when Robert the Bruce rewarded Angus Og MacDonald with
Glencoe for supporting him against the English and the hostile
Comyns and MacDougals. Angus gave the lands to his illegitimate son,
Iain Iraoch (Heather John) and from him the MacDonalds of Glencoe
lake their name, the Maclains. Glencoe, however, had inhabitants
long before this, though they were purely ecclesiastical.
St. Kenneth, or
Canice, like others of his time, had Irish connections. There is a
tradition that not only did he live in the Glen but that he gave the
place its Gaelic name, Gleann Comhain, the Glen of the Shrine, or
cell of the saint. In Loch Leven near the narrows there is Eilean
Choinneich, Kenneth's Isle. M.E.M. Donaldson writes of a duel that
was fought between two swordsmen of great repute, and that the
island is named after MacKenzie who was killed there. D. MacDonald
of Castleton calls it St. Kenneth's Island. We commemorate the Saint
on October 11, the day of his death in 600 A.D.
Another Saint with
Irish and local ties is St. Munn, Munda, or Fintan Munnu, who built
his church early in the seventh century on the island in Loch Leven
that still bears his name, Eilean Munda. He was a contemporary of
St. Columba. He died in 635 and we commemorate him on 21 October.
The island was used
as a burial place by the MacDonalds of Glencoe, Stewarts of
Ballachulish, and Camerons of Callart. Those murdered in the
slaughter of 1692 are buried on the island. In 1495 the Church was
burned down when it would have been used for the last time, though
apparently it was rebuilt and used again and for the last time once
more in 1653. Burials from St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Glencoe,
have continued to the present, the last taking place in January
1972, and the last interment of ashes in 1979. Most of the Chiefs of
the Glencoe MacDonalds have been buried there. The last ones were
Ewen, 17th of Glencoe, 25 August 1840, his heiress Ellen, 1887, and
both her sons, Alexander Duncan, 1894, and Duncan 1907, and her
younger daughter, Caroline in 1954.
In affairs of Church
and matters of State the Glencoe MacDonalds were Episcopalian and
loyal to Scotland's Stewart Kings. No record of this very troublous
period of our country's history of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries can be complete without reference to religious matters of
the time. The MacDonalds of Glencoe are often, though inaccurately I
believe, called Roman Catholics because most of Clan Donald
generally were so. Dalrymple, Master of Stair, himself a
Presbyterian, was Secretary of State in 1691, and in a letter
written before the amnesty for all those who had taken up arms
against the Government of William of Orange was due to expire on 31
December, he, delightedly anticipating a massacre of some Jacobite
clan wrote of the MacDonalds - "That's the only popish clan in the
kingdom and it will be popular to take severe course with them."
He was wrong and on
two points. First, there were other clans that were Roman Catholic,
and secondly, the MacDonalds of Glencoe were Episcopalian, a fact
borne out by many other authorities. To many then, as still today,
"popish" and "Episcopalian" were one and the same thing:
Episcopalians and Roman Catholics were alike, "all papists." In this
very active Jacobite period, in which the MacDonalds of Glencoe took
part in all three successive failures for the Stuarts, Killiecrankie
in 1689, the Rising of 1715 and that of 1745/ 46, the people
(Stewarts, MacDonalds, and Camerons) of this area, Appin,
Fasnacloich, Achnacon, Ardsheal, Ballachulish, Duror, Glencoe,
Lochaber and Ardnamurchan, were often described as "at least half
papist," or "a kind of Protestant," or "susceptible to some Catholic
doctrines." The plain inference is that they were neither
Presbyterian nor Roman Catholic but Episcopalian. It was as much
because they were Episcopalians as because they were Jacobites that
the MacDonalds of Glencoe, a very small clan, were chosen for
massacre. And that conviction is firm here in the Glen.
In 1660 at the time
of the Restoration of the Monarchy in the person of Charles II.
Alexander McCalman was inducted to the Parish of Lismore, which had
by then included the Glencoe part of the ancient parish of Eilean
Munda. Two years later. Episcopacy was once again restored to the
Reformed Church of Scotland, and Alexander McCalman became Dean.
When Parliament passed legislation in June 1690 making the Church of
Scotland Presbyterian once again, Alexander McCalman refused to
change and ministered as an Episcopalian until his death in 1717.
What this means is that at the time of the Massacre in 1692 the
Parish and its incumbent were Episcopalian.
A foray was made into
Glenorchy in April 1691 by the Glencoe men. The purpose, however,
was not to plunder but to carry off "by twelve men fully armed", a
Presbyterian minister who had come to displace the Episcopalian
incumbent, the Revd. Dugald Lindsay.
In 1713 the whole "catechisable
population" was given as 229, all Episcopalian. It is inconceivable
that just twenty one years after the Massacre the population, had
they then been Roman Catholic, should have been converted to the old
disestablished Episcopal Church of Scotland just at a time when her
own priests were sufficiently occupied with their own congregations.
There would have been none to spare converting Roman Catholics to
There is a letter
dated 20 October 1782 addressed to Bishop Arthur Petrie of Argyll
requesting him to appoint a resident Gaelic priest for the "numerous
concourse of people in Appin district, and this is signed by "Alex
Stewart of Invernahyle, Jas Stewart of Fasnacloich, and John
MacDonald of Glenco."
Our church"s Burial
Register contains the entries for the last of the Glencoe MacDonalds:
of Glencoe. buried 25 August 1840 in St. Munn's Island".
An account of the
funeral is given by D. Rory MacDonald in the Clan Donald magazine
No. 8, page 57.
Macpherson Burns MacDonald, Carnoch, Perth and Invercoe House.
Glencoe, died 3 March 1887, aged 56. Buried 9 March 1887 in St.
Maxwell MacDonald (her son) died 9 June 1894, aged 39. Buried 15
June in St. Munn's Island".
MacDonald (his brother), a Major in the Cameronians, died in
London, 6 June 1907, aged 48. Buried in St. Munn's Island, 12
Amongst the clergy
officiating at his funeral in St. Mary's Church was the Revd. Dugald
MacDonald who was descended from MacIain's younger son, Alasdair Og
who fled to Dalness at the Massacre. Some of the Revd. Dugald's
relatives are still about. "On Holy Saturday (17 April) the ashes of
Caroline Cook, sister of the last MacDonalds of Glencoe, who died in
England in January 1954, aged 81, were interred in the MacDonald
vault on St. Munn's Island after a Memorial Service in St. Mary's
Also in St. Mary's
Church are three memorial tablets to these descendants of the
Maclain of Glencoe, two of which tablets, along with the reredos,
are kindly being restored by a very generous donation to cover the
cost from the Glencoe Foundation Incorporated, Delaware, U.S.A.:
"In loving memory
of Ellen Caroline Macpherson MacDonald Wife of Archibald Burns
MacDonald of Glencoe Died Carnoch, Perth, 3 March 1887 Interred
in St. Munn's Isle"
Maxwell MacDonald of Glencoe Born at Fanans, Inverawe, 1st
January 1855 Died at Taifletts, Perth, 9 June 1894. Eldest son
of Mrs Ellen Caroline Macpherson MacDonald and Archibald Burns
MacDonald and became Laird of Glencoe upon the death of his
mother who had been owner for 47 years. He was the last
Laird of his race, the lands held by the Maclains of Glencoe
from early in the Fourteenth century wherein his mother
succeeded her father, and he succeeded her, having passed out of
the family on his death. Placed by his sister, Ellen MacDonald,
wife of Andrew Hunter Ballingal, W.S. Taifletts, Perth".
"Erected by her
family in ever loving memory of Caroline Cook, younger
daughter of Ellen Caroline Macpherson Burns MacDonald of
Glencoe, aged 93 years."
There is a
discrepancy between the age of Caroline as stated in the Burial
Register, 81 years, and this memorial plaque.
At the top end of the
village beyond the Bridge of Coe on a hillock on the south side of
the river there stands a unique slender tall Celtic Cross erected in
August 1883 by Ellen Caroline Macpherson MacDonald in memory of
Maclain and his people who were slaughtered on that fateful February
day. The famous Henderson Stone, Clach Eanruig, can be seen on the
adjacent croft (though permission should be sought before tramping
over the ground).
On February 13th an
impressive ceremony of commemoration is held at the Cross. About
1929 or 1930 Angus MacDonald, the "Gille Breac" who claimed descent
from the Glencoe MacDonalds and lived at Braefoot Cottage,
Tighphuirst, Glencoe, laid a wreath at the Memorial Cross. The
wreath was provided by the Rankin sisters of the Old Croft,
Tighphuirst. The wreath-laying ceremony was often carried out at the
precise hour of the Massacre, 5 a.m. and was continued by Angus's
sons, first Robert, then Donald, and later by his nephew, Ewen, and
more recently still by Mrs Hilda MacTaggart. No doubt because these
were all Episcopalians and members of St. Mary's, the Rector, the
Revd. Duncan Macinnes. later Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness,
1953 to 1970, initiated in 1935, a year or two after his arrival in
the village, the memorial service at the Cross on 13 February. The
Service has continued in unbroken tradition ever since, each Rector
inheriting the Service from his predecessor. As Rector of the
village church school (still the only one) the Revd. D. Macinnes
involved the children, who attended the Commemoration Service at 8
a.m. before going on to their studies. Occasionally, one of the
children would lay the wreath, and two of our members at St. Mary's
can recall doing this at school. The children and teachers still
attend whenever possible.
The Clan Donald
Society of Edinburgh became involved in the wreath-laying ceremony
in 1959 under its President, the late Donald J. MacDonald of
Castleton and opened it out to Clan Donald Societies and others
outwith the locality and Scotland. Such an arrangement with the
Service and the wreath-laying ceremony will ensure the remembrance
on February 13th far into the future.
The Saints of
Scotland. E.S. Towill.
A Dictionary of Saints, Penguin Reference Books.
Wanderings in the Western Highland and Islands. M.E.M. Donaldson.
Scotland's Suppressed History. M.E.M. Donaldson.
Clan Donald. Donald J. MacDonald of Castleton.
Glencoe and Dalness. National Trust 1966.
Massacre: The story of Glencoe. Magnus Linklater.
Pages from the History of the Parish of Eilean Munda compiled by the
Revd. Archie Russell.
The West Highlands of Scotland. W.H. Murray Book of Scottish
Ian Grimble The Scottish Historical Review. XLVI.
Clan Donald Magazine. No. 8
The Headship of the Gael. Clan Donald Lands Trust.
A Short History of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, Frederick
17th Century in the Highlands by Inverness Field Club Scotland.
1689 to the Present by William Ferguson.
The Parish of Kinlochleven by A.G. MacKenzie.
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