History of the Clan Macrae


Eilean Donan Castle in Wester Ross in the Highlands of Scotland

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A note about spelling...  This castle, the ancestral post of the Macrae clan, who were soldiers guarding the castle, has about as many different spellings as the Macrae name itself.  The Rev. Alexander Macrae spells it Ellandonan, which is the spelling used most often in this website.  Current residents of Kintail, such as one Alexander MacRae tell me the name is actually spelled Eilan Donan and is Gaelic for Donan's Island.  St. Donan was an Irish settler of legend in the sixth century, a missionary from the Inner Hebrides island of Iona.  It is also spelled Eilean Donan, 

The history of the castle is described in Eion McRae's story of his parents, Ian and Blanche.

Eilean Donan lies at the intersection of Loch Duich and the contiguous estuaries Loch Alsh and Loch Long. Or as more colorfully described in the ballad "The Brave MacRa": Where the western sea divides.

According to legend it was built by Alexander II of Scotland (about 1200 AD) as a defense against the incursions of Danes and Norsemen. In 1266 the king granted a deed of possession to "Colino Hibernico," Colin Fitzgerald, for defeating Haco, King of Norway, in a battle at Eilean Donan in 1263. The descendants of Colino took the family name MacKenzie.

Like most of the Highland Scots, the MacRas were opposed to the unification of Scotland with England and Wales. Even after unification was formalized in the 1707 Act of Union, they continued to follow Seaforth in supporting the Scottish House of Stuartís ultimately unsuccessful claim to the British crown.  In the 1715 Jacobite uprising, the MacRas under Seaforth suffered a defeat at Sheriffmuir with the loss of 58 men. The English claimed the castle and installed a garrison of 30 soldiers.

The English soldiers, finding Eilean Donan castle uncomfortably chilly, ordered the people to supply them with sufficient firewood to heat the castle through the winter. The Scots were outraged at what they saw as an unreasonable demand, and they sent a representative group of ten men to protest. The English commander gave the order to shoot, but before the soldiers could level their weapons the Scotsmen sprang upon the English with dirks drawn, killing all but one of them.

The castle being vacant, Seaforth put it at the disposal of his Spanish allies, and they established a garrison there. Meanwhile the MacRas under Seaforth, joined by Rob Roy MacGregor and his followers, established a military position opposite Eilean Donan.  The Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain responded in force in 1719.  Three warships bombarded Eilean Donan, the Spaniards surrendered, and the old castle, rallying place of the MacRas, was blown up by gunpowder and reduced to ruins.

In 1913, Lt.-Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap purchased Eilean Donan and started restoring the castle to its state before the bombardment of 1719.  The restored castle has been open to the public since 1928.

The castle is the poem, Eilean Donan Reborn, by Michael W. McDermott

The Preface of the Macrae Clan book says the Torlysich family claims their progenitor Farquhar (g5) was the eldest son of Christopher (g4), who was the Constable of Ellandonan.

The Connection of the Macraes with the House of Kintail explains how the Macraes guarded the castle for the Mackenzies.

There do not appear to have been any Macraes settled in Kintail as landholders before this, but it is more than probable that several of them had already been in the service of Mackenzie.  It is said that Ellandonan Castle was garrisoned by Macraes and Maclennans during the latter part of the thirteenth century, when it was first taken possession of by Kenneth, the founder of the House of Kintail.   The newly arrived Macrae of Clunes, however, took precedence of the others, and he and his family gradually assumed a position of great importance in the affairs of Kintail.  So loyal were the Macraes in the service of Kintail that they became known as Mackenzie's "shirt of mail."  This term was generally applied to the chosen body who attended a chief in war and fought around him.  It would thus appear that the bodyguard of the barons of Kintail was usually compsed of Macraes.  But in addition to the important services they rendered as mere retainers of the House of Kintail, the Macraes were for many generations Chamberlains of Kintail, Constables of Ellandonan Castle, and sometimes Vicars of Kintail, so that the leading members of the Clan may be said to have taken, from time to time, a much more prominent part in the affairs of Kintail than the Barons themselves did.  This continued to be the case until Kintail passed out of the possession of the Mackenzies in the early part of the [nineteenth] century.

The stories Angus Og Of Glengarry Invades Lochcarron, Intercept Augus Og and Angus Og Of Glengarry describe a military maneuver that takes place in the vicinity of the castle.

The story Fionnla Dubh Macgillechriosd-c02g01 refers to Macaulay, a constable of the castle who mismanaged his job.

In Duncan MacGillechriosd-c2g5, the siege of Ellandonan Castle, in 1539 (or maybe 1537) is referenced.

The Rev. Farquhar Macrae Rev (g7), second son of Christopher (gen 6), was born at Ellandonan Catle in 1580, and later became its constable.

The article Ironworks at Gairloch describes Mr. Farquhar's stay at the castle in detail.

He succeeded his grandfather as Constable of Ellandonan and Vicar of Kintail. Mr. Farquhar's father (Christopher gen 6), married a daughter of Murdoch Murchison, Constable of Ellandonan and Vicar of Kintail

In 1618 the vicarage of Kintail became vacant by the death of the Rev. Murdoch Murchison, who was also Constable of Ellandonan Castle, and Mr. Farquhar was appointed to fill both offices. The deed by which those appointments were conferred upon him was drawn up at Fortrose in that year. At Ellandonan Castle he lived for many years in "an opulent and flourishing condition, much given to hospitality and charity."

John Murchison, called John Mac Mhurchaidh Dhuibh (John, the son of Black Murdoch), Priest of Kintail, was made Constable of Ellandonan, in succession to John Dubh Matheson, who was killed by Donald Gorm in 1539

When Earl George's son and heir, Kenneth, who was born at Brahan Castle in 1635, was about six years of age his father placed him under the care of Mr. Farquhar of Ellandonan. He became known as Coinneach Mor--big Kenneth.

In 1651, Mr. Farquhar was kicked out of Ellandonan Castle, after a residence of thirty-three years, by Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin

Finlay (gen 3) gives a fascinating account of how, around the turn of the 16th century, Finlay's son, Christopher became constable of the Ellandonan.  It seems that John Killin, (who became the 9th Baron of Kintail after his half brother Kenneth Og died), was the first son of the irregular marriage of Sir Kenneth ŗ Bhlair and Agnes Fraser, daughter of Lord Lovat.  (Sir Kenneth  disposed of his wife as retribution for an insult, then went to Lord Lovat, demanding his daughter, whom he took as a wife without the benefit of any ceremony.)  Hector Roy Mackenzie, son of Alexander, the sixth Baron of Kintail, declared his nephew John Killin illegitimate, and seized the estates for himself.  Later, John Killin surprised his uncle and took him prisoner.  John and Hector agreed that Hector should hold the estates until John attained the age of twenty-one, after which Hector promised to restore the estates, and to acknowledge John ever afterwards as his chief.  John's supporters laid siege to the castle, and eventually Hector persuaded the constable, Malcolm Mac Ian Charrich, to surrender, whereupon John of Killin dismissed him from the constableship, and appointed Christopher as constable.