Clan Donald Magazine No13 (1995) Online
Hugh MacDonald and the
Knock MS by the Editor
the principal sources used by our modern Clan Historians and other
writers of West Highland history are what are generally known as The
Book of Clanranald
and the History of
attributed to one Hugh MacDonald. The former was compiled during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by members of the MacVurich
family who acted as bards and seanachies, firstly to the Lords of
the Isles and later to the chiefs of Clanranald. The latter, the
authorship of which forms the subject of this article, is said to
have been written in the reign of Charles II but internal evidence
shows that it was certainly written after 1628.
MS. itself is now in the National Library of Scotland and may be
consulted in the Manuscripts Room. It is clearly written, in
English, although unfortunately, it is not the original MS. but a
copy, of which the first and last parts are missing. It covers the
period from approximately 1100 to 1500 and although in many cases it
is inaccurate, it is, nevertheless, an invaluable record of the
traditional customs and history of the Clan Donald as accepted in
the Isles in the seventeenth century.
original owner of the MS. was Sir William MacLeod Bannatyne
(1743-1833), the respected genealogist and historian, descended from
the MacLeods of Bernera, who has left us the invaluable MS. history
of the MacLeods which bears his name. In an introductory note
attached to the MS., Bannatyne states: "Copy, fragment History of
the MacDonalds from mant. possessed by Major Macdonald Knock, father
of the late General Donald Macdonald, the fragment from which this
copy was taken beginning with the history of Somerled and ending
with the succession of Donald grandson of Austin brother to
Alexander Lord of the Isles, in whose person that great family was
forfeited, Austin being himself founder of the Sleat family,
afterwards Baronets and then Irish peers by the title of Lord
Macdonald..." Pencilled above this note, in the hand of Donald
for Scotland is the following: "Belongs to Sir Wm. Bannatyne. lent
11th Augt 1833 to Wm F Skene by Donald Gregory. To be returned to
Mr. Gregory when Mr. Skene has done with it."
cataloguer's note attached to the MS. states that Sir William
Bannatyne lent it to Gregory and died in November, 1833. Gregory, in
turn, lent it to W.F. Skene in 1833 and died in 1836. Skene quoted
from the manuscript in 1834 in MS. 14897 (f 119) and in 1837 in The
Highlanders of Scotland (vol 2, pp41,58) and printed the complete
text in 1847 in Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis (pp. 282,325).
The cataloguer suggests that Gregory's ascription to Hugh Macdonald
(History of die Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland, 1836, p.10)
may result from a misreading of Bannatyne's preface, in which
"Austin" (Hugh) in fact occurs twice although the words "Austin
being himself resemble "written by himself." He also states that
"nowhere does he (Skene) ascribe it (the MS) to more than 'a
highland Sennachie.' The Hugh Macdonald ascription was followed,
without comment, by MacPhail in his edition of the text in 'Highland
Papers,' vol. 1 (Scottish History Society, 1914), pp 1-102."
Incidentally, the last section of the MS. is not, in fact, included
in Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis. This, however, has been rectified
by Sheriff J.R.N. MacPhail in Highland Papers Vol. 1. It is
difficult to accept that such a scholar as Gregory would be so
easily misled (as the result of a mistrading by him of the words
"Austin being himself as "written by himself) into concluding that
the author of the MS. was Hugh MacDonald, progenitor of the
MacDonalds of Sleat and brother of Alexander, Lord of the Isles and
Earl of Ross. The present writer is of the opinion that Gregory may
well have been given the information regarding the identity of the
author, from Sir William Bannatyne, who in turn may have obtained it
from the owner of the original MS. whom he says was Major MacDonald
of Knock. This was Allan MacDonald of Knock in Sleat, who served as
a major in one of the Independent Companies during the Forty-Five,
and who "was particularly inveterate in his severity towards the
Jacobites of Skye, and ... won an unenviable notoriety in the
traditions of the island." His son, Donald, joined the British Army
and commanded the Loyalist force, mainly composed of emigrant
Highlanders, including Allan MacDonald of Kinsburgh, husband of
Flora MacDonald, which was defeated by the American Revolutionaries
at Moore's Creek, North Carolina, in 1776. It may have been from
General Donald MacDonald, that Bannatyne obtained the copy of the
MS. If so, one wonders whether the original manuscript may have been
taken to America.
in Celtic Scotland (Volume 3, P.357) refers to the MS. as the Knock
Manuscript which, to the present writer at least, seems to be the
most suitable title for it.
there was a Hugh MacDonald who wrote a history of the MacDonalds can
be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. Martin Martin, tutor in
Sleat, writing c.1695 refers to "the Genealogist Mack-Vurich and
Hugh Mack-Donald, in their Manuscripts" (A Description of the
Western Islands of Scotland, 2nd., 1716 ed., P.212; 1934 ed.,
P.250). Although the identity of this Hugh MacDonald cannot now be
ascertained with certainty it is worthy of consideration that among
the Family Papers of Lord MacDonald now held in the library at the
Clan Donald Visitor Centre, Armadale in Skye there is a deed
executed in 1686 by "Captain Hugh Mconal Lawfull son to umq." Alexr.
Mcdonal of pabelscary," and among the witnesses thereto was "Mr.
Martin Martin governour to the Laird of Mcdonal younger."
Paiblesgarry is in North Uist and as William Matheson has already
stated: "The author (of the MS.) certainly shows a marked
familiarity with the oral
North Uist, and, in particular, with the traditions relating to the
ancestors of the MacDonalds of Paiblesgarry" (Hugh Macdonald's
Manuscript, in The Society of West Highland Historical Research,
Notes and Queries, XXI, August, 1985, P.16).
According to The Clan Donald (Vol. Ill, P.471) by the Rev. Angus J.N.
MacDonald, D.D., and the Rev. Archibald MacDonald, D.D., Hugh
MacDonald was the son and heir of Alexander MacDonald of
Paiblisgearry, in North Uist, fifth son of Sir Donald MacDonald, 1st
Baronet of Sleat. He succeeded his father in Paiblisgarry and also
appears on record as of Duistill (Duisdale), in Sleat. He was
brought up under the Reay influence (his mother being the sister of
John MacKay, Lord Reay), which was anti-Jacobite, and favourable to
the Orange movement. He held the rank of Captain in the regiment of
General MacKay, his relative (and may therefore have been present at
Killiecrankie, in 1689, on the government side), and had the freedom
of Montrose conferred on him inl692. Much of his military life was
passed in Flanders, where he fought in the army of the States
General in the war with France. He died before 1721, when he was
succeeded by his son, John Macdonald of Paiblisgarry, who appears
that year in an enumeration of the gentlemen of North Uist. There is
no record of when he died but with him the male line of Paiblisgarry
Duisdale, which, as already stated, was possessed by Captain Hugh
MacDonald of Paiblisgarry and Knock, the ancestral home of Major
Allan MacDonald of Knock, are both situated in Sleat, within a few
miles of each other. It is not impossible, therefore, that there may
have been intermarriage between the two families and it is worth
noting that there appears to be no surviving record of whom Captain
Hugh MacDonald married. It seems reasonable, therefore, to suggest
that, if Captain Hugh MacDonald was the author of the MS., it may
well have come into the possession of the Knock family either after
his death or that of his wife or
with Mr. John
Macdonald, Genealogist at the Clan Donald Visitor Centre Library and
Study Centre, had occasion to compare from a photocopy, the
handwriting from the MS. with that of Captain Hugh MacDonald of
Paiblisgarry from letters written by the latter which are contained
among Lord MacDonald's Papers from which comparison it was concluded
that the writer of the MS. was not Captain Hugh MacDonald. This was
not surprising since the MS. is stated to be a copy of the original.
A similar comparison between the handwriting of the MS. and that of
Major Allan MacDonald of Knock, from a letter written by the latter,
carried out by Miss Margaret Macdonald, Archivist and Mr. John
Macdonald, Genealogist at the Library and Study Centre, at the
present writer's request, showed also that Major Allan MacDonald of
Knock, was not the writer of the MS.
John Bannerman in his excellent book on the Beatons, hereditary
physicians in the Western Isles has, apparently, proved that the
bulk of the so-called
Black Book of
Clanranald is in the
hand of a member
of this talented
family, one Christopher Beaton, whom he concludes from the book's
contents, was tutor to a family of the Clan Donald of Antrim in
Northern Ireland. Dr. Bannerman puts the question as to whether the
author of the MacDonald History, i.e. the Knock MS., may have been a
Beaton. He concedes that the author was not Christopher Beaton, on
the grounds that specimens of his English in the Black Book of Clanranald
and orthography but
Christopher's facility in English may be itself a pointer to a
relationship between him and the author of the MS. He suggests that
it could be argued that the way in which the author of the MS.
referred to "our Highland shenakies" indicates that he did not
himself to be one and therefore that he was not a member of the
learned orders, or that as
a member of a
family whose profession had
always, in the
past, been medicine, he may have regarded himself as an amateur in
referring to the fact that Donald Gregory names Hugh MacDonald as
of the MS., Dr. Bannerman suggests that he may have got his
Sir William Bannatyne and that either Gregory or Bannerman could
the author's identity from Martin Martin's reference to the
manuscripts of the
genealogist Mack-Vurich and Hugh Mack-Donald, aforementioned. It
be significant that Martin Martin did not describe Hugh MacDonald as
which might suggest that the latter was, indeed regarded as an
or at least less competent as a genealogist or historian than
Bannerman, also, claims that internal evidence suggests that the
source from which the material (of the MS.) derived was the Beatons;
for example, the author, describing the seating arrangements at a
Wmquet held by Alexander, Lord of the Isles, specifically places "Beatton,
the principal physician" above "MacMurrich, the poet" in order of
precedence, more space is devoted to the surname Beaton than to any
other in the list of surnames of those who came over to Scotland in
the retinue of Aine Ni Chathain (i.e. the Irish wife of Angus Og),
that the specific family of Beatons (to which Christopher belonged)
involved was the one domiciled in North Uist is suggested by the
knowledge displayed of local conditions in North Uist being more
detailed than for any of the other territories belonging to the
MacDonalds of Sleat and that the attitudes of Christopher and the
author of the MS. towards the surname Beaton and the implications of
its use are exactly similar, that is that the Beatons were an
off-shoot of the Irish O'Neals, it may also be argued that since
Captain Hugh MacDonald of Paiblisgarry (of whom Dr. Bannerman makes
no mention) was a Sleat MacDonald and a native of North Uist that he
may well have chosen to give more prominence to the Beatons than to
the MacVurichs since in his time, the former, or at least a family
of them, were prominent as physicians in North Uist and in the
employ of MacDonald of Sleat while the MacVurichs served Clanranald
and resided in the territory of the latter, in South Uist. There may
even have been some rivalry between Hugh MacDonald and MacVurich.
Dr. Bannerman states that there is evidence from the seventeenth
century that a servitor, in whatever capacity, was sometimes given
his employer's surname and cites as an example a contemporary MacRae
genealogical tract which names Maol-Domhnaich O Muingheasain, poet
and seanachaidh to the MacLeans of Duart in the second half of the
seventeenth century as Mildonich MacLean. The present writer,
however, is not alone in taking the view that persons of such a high
social standing as the Beatons in North Uist at the end of the
seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries would be
unlikely to use the surname MacDonald in preference to that of their
own. It is also worth remembering that the author of the MS.
repeatedly refers to Hugh of Sleat as Austin, obviously an
Anglicised corruption of Uisdean, the Gaelic name of the progenitor
of the MacDonalds of Sleat but as Dr. Bannerman shows in his book,
the Gaelic name used by the Beatons of the Outer Hebrides was not
Uisdean but Aodh which is also rendered in English as Hugh. The
Gaelic Christian name used by the MacDonalds which, in English, is
rendered Hugh has always been Uisdean, never Aodh.
true identity of the author of the Knock MS. , will, due to
insufficient evidence, probably never now be established but it
would perhaps be appropriate
to let the Rev.
Angus J.N. MacDonald, co-author of The Clan Donald and a native of
Benbecula, have the last word on the subject. In his unpublished
history of North Uist, Dr. MacDonald states: "...Alexander Macdonald
son of Sir Donald Macdonald of Sleat had Paiblisgarry and other
lands. He died before 1657, and was the father of Hugh Macdonald, as
I believe the Sleat Seanachie, and author of the manuscript that
bears his name."
Beatons - a medical kindred in the classical Gaelic tradition
(1986), by John Bannerman.
Celtic Scotland, Vol
III (1890) by W. F. Skene.
The Clan Donald, Vol
III (1904), by the Revs. A & A MacDonald.
Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis (1839), ed. by D. Gregory and W. F.
A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (1716 and 1934 edns),
by Martin Martin.
The Highlanders of Scotland, vol II (1837), by W. F. Skene.
Highland Papers, Vol
I (1914), ed. by Sheriff J.R.N. MacPhail, K.C.
History of North Uist (unpublished), by the Rev. Angus J.N.
MacDonald, D.D., in Special Collections, University of Edinburgh
History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland (1836), by
Donald Gregory. Hugh MacDonald's
Manuscript, by William Matheson, in The Society of West Highland
Historical Research, Notes and Queries, XXI (Aug., 1983).
The Knock MS - History of the MacDonalds attributed to Hugh
MacDonald, Gaelic MS CVII -Ref. ADV 73.1.12, in National Library of
Papers, located at the Clan Donald Library and Study Centre,
Armadale, Sleat, Isle of Skye.
Relique Celticae, Vol
II (1894). Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness,
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