History of the Clan Macrae


Duncan Mac Gillechriosd (ch 2, gen 5)

(Previously: The Macraes of Strathglass)

Donald Gorm Macdonald of Sleat besieges Ellandonan Castle, and is killed.

Duncan (gen 5), second son of Christopher (gen 4), was called Donnacha Mac Gillechriosd.  He was in his own day a prominent man in the affairs of Kintail, and gained great renown for himself by killing Donald Gorm Macdonald, of Sleat, at the siege of Ellandonan Castle, in 1539.1   The circumstances which led to that event were the following: Some time before this, Donald Gorm, having devastated the lands of Macleod of Dunvegan, who was an ally of John of Killin, passed over to the mainland, laid waste the district of Kinlochewe, and killed, among others, Miles, son of Finlay Macrae, as already mentioned.  John of Killin, naturally exasperated by this unprovoked invasion of his own territory, as well as by the raid against his friend and ally, Macleod of Dunvegan, sent his son Kenneth to Sleat with a large body of followers to retaliate on the Macdonalds.  Thereupon Donald Gorm invaded Kintail with a strong party, carried off a great deal of booty, and aggravated matters further still by killing Sir Dougal Mackenzie,2 Priest of Kintail, who was then living at Achyuran, in Glensheil.  It would appear that both parties made more than one raid into each other's territories, and that the feud continued for some time.

At all events, on a subsequent occasion, Donald Gorm, hearing that Ellandonan Castle was but very weakly garrisoned, made a sudden raid upon it with a number of birlins or galleys, full of his followers, in the hope of being able to take it by surprise.   The Constable of the Castle at this time was John Dubh Matheson, of Fernaig, who had married Sir Dougal Mackenzie's widow, and had recently been appointed to the Constableship in succession to Christopher Macrae.

The rumor that reached Donald Gorm with regard to the unprotected state of Ellandonan was only too true, for John Dubh and the watchman were the only two in the Castle.   The advance of the boats was noticed by the watchman, who gave the alarm; but there was no time to gather men from the mainland before the enemy arrived.  It so happened, however, that Duncan Mac Gillchriosd was passing by on his way from Lochalsh, and, hearing the cry of alarm, he made for the Castle with all speed.  He arrived there before the enemy, and thirsting for revenge against the Macdonalds for having lately killed his uncle Miles at Kinlochewe, he took his stand at the postern gate of the tower and killed several of the crew of the first galley as they were landing.  As the enemy crowded upon him in increasing numbers, he made his way into the tower, and barricading the gate behind him, joined the Constable and the watchman in defending the Castle.

Donald Gorm immediately began a furious battering of the gate, but the dauntless three had so strongly secured it with iron bars on the inside, and they harassed the besiegers so much by throwing stones among them from within, that he was obliged to withdraw his men.   Both sides now began to use their bows and arrows.  The Macdonalds, who were suffering heavily themselves, aimed at the embrasures, and in this way they unfortunately succeeded in killing the Constable.  Duncan was now left alone with the watchman and his last arrow to defend the fort.  This arrow he resolved to save until a favorable opportunity occurred for making effective use of it.  The opportunity soon arrived, for at this stage Donald Gorm had the masts of some of his galleys taken down for the purpose of trying to make a breach in the wall or to mount it, and as he moved round the Castle to discover the weakest and most suitable point of attack,  Duncan, thinking the opportunity a favorable one, took aim with his last arrow, and struck him on the foot.   The arrow was a barbed one, and in pulling it out of the wound an artery was severed.  Every possible effort was made to stop the bleeding, but without avail.   The wounded chief was then conveyed by his men some distance away from the Castle to a reef, which is still called Larach tigh Mhic Dhomhnuill, or the site of Macdonald's house, where he died.

For this service against the Macdonalds, James V. gave John of Killin considerable additions of land in the county of Ross, and the Macraes were thus once more instrumental in increasing the substance and the honors of the House of Kintail.

Duncan goes to the Lovat Country

Duncan now thought, with some reason, that he had a good claim to succeed John Dubh Matheson as Constable of Ellandonan, but John of Killin thought him too rash and passionate for the post.  He then put in a claim for his brother Farquhar, but to avoid quarrels and bitterness between the Macraes and the Maclennans, who were also claimants for the post, it was decided to give it to John MacMhurchaidh Dhuibh (John, son of Black Murdoch), priest of Kintail.  Duncan was so much offended at the treatment he received in return for the excellent service he had rendered that he left Kintail in disgust, and went to the country of Lord Lovat, by whom he was kindly and hospitably received.  Lord Lovat gave him the lands of Culigeran, in Strathglass, but Duncan killed so many deer in the neighboring forest of Ben Vachart that Lovat was soon obliged to move him some miles away to a place called Crochel, where he lived for several years.   While living at Crochel the Baron of Kintail paid him several visits, and frequently invited him to return to Kintail. Duncan, who had all along retained an affection for his native place, at last decided to accept Kintail's offers.3  Lord Lovat, however, being anxious to retain him, offered him for a small feu-duty the lands of Clunes which Duncan's predecessors formerly held.  Duncan agreed to this proposal, and Lord Lovat being about to proceed to the south, promised him to have the necessary legal documents drawn up there before his return.

Returns to Kintail and Settles at Inverinate

When Lovat departed for the south, Duncan went to Kintail to inform his friends of the offer he had received and his intention of accepting it; but while on this visit a rumor reached him that Lord Lovat had died at Braemar, and doubting whether Lovat's successor would be willing to confirm the agreement, he finally resolved to return to Kintail, where he received the quarter of land of Inverinate and Dorisduan.  At Inverinate, a romantic spot on the north shore of Loch Duich, he lived for the rest of his days, as did also his descendants after him for more than two centuries.  Duncan married the widow of John Dubh Matheson, Constable of Ellandonan.  She was a daughter of Duncan Ban of Glenmoriston, and was first married to Sir Dougal Mackenzie, as already stated.  By her Duncan had two sons and a daughter, who was carried away from her father's sheiling in Affric, by John Macintaggart from Strathglass, who married her, and by whom he had several sons and daughters.  Duncan lived to a good old age.

Duncan's Family

His sons were---

1. Christopher (gen 6), of whom below.

2. John (gen 6), who was "a resolute and warlike man," and took a very active part in the great feud which raged at this time between the Macdonalds of Glengarry and the Mackenzies of Kintail.  It is said that "few parties were sent out on desparate attempts to infest or annoy the enemy but John was commander, and he seldom or never returned without bloodshed.  He might be called an Hazael for speed of foot."  His brother Christopher used to tell him that his cruelty and bloodshed would bring judgment upon himself or upon his family; and it is stated that, although he had three sons who lived to old age, their progeny were of no great consequence.  His sons were--

a. Christopher (gen 7)

General Monk in Kintail

b. Duncan (gen 7), who was also a warrior like his father, was an old man in 1654, when General Monk visited Kintail.  It is said that, some time before this, Duncan consulted a local seer as to the manner in which he should end his days, and was informed that he would die by the sword.  This appeared so improbable in the case of an old warrior who had taken part in so many bloody frays, and invariably escaped unhurt, that the question was referred to "Coinneach Odhar,"4 the Brahan Seer, who confirmed the first seer's prediction.  Duncan, however, gave the matter no credit, but one day, while Monk and his army were in Kintail, the old man left his house in Glensheil, and went up among the hills, where he was met by some soldiers who were wandering about in search of plunder, and who spoke roughly to him in English, which he did not understand.  Unable to brook such an insult the old man drew his sword, but was immediately overpowered and killed by the soldiers.  This, we are told, was all the bloodshed committed by General Monk and his soldiers in Kintail.

c. Finlay (gen 7)

Next: (Chapter 3, Gen 6). Christopher


1. There seems to be some doubt as to the date of this seige.  1539 is the date usually given, but 1537 is also mentioned. As the feud appears to have continued for some time, and as Donald Gorm made more than one raid into Kintail, it is possible that 1537 may have been the date of the first raid, and 1539 the date of the one which resulted in his death.

2. Sir Dougal Mackenzie appears to have been a member of the House of Kintail.  A certain Sir Dougal Mackenzie is said to have been one of the Commissioners sent to the Pope in 1491 to procure the legitimization of Kenneth Bhlair's marriage with Agnes Fraser of Lovat.   It is not impossible that this may have been the man who was killed by Donald Gorm nearly fifty years afterwards, even though he left a young and marriageable widow.   The Sir Dougal who went to Rome is said to have been made a "Knight to the boot of Pope Clement VIII."  The title Sir, however, as formerly applied to the Clergy, did not imply any superiority of rank.  It simply meant that the bearer of it had taken only the degree of Bachelor of Arts, whereas the title Mr indicated the higher degree of Master of Arts.

3. The year 1557 was probably the date of Duncan's return to Kintail.  It was not until after the siege of Ellandonan Castle in 1539 (or 1537) that Duncan left Kintail and the first Lord Lovat, who died after that date, was Hugh, who was killed at the battle of Blar-na-leine near Loch Lochy in 1544.  The news of his tragic end in such a famous battle could hardly have circulated as a rumor that he died at Braemar.  Hugh's successor, Alexander, the fifth Lord Lovat, died at Aigas Island, in the Beauly River, in 1557.  For some months previous to his death he had been traveling for his health, and it is quite possible that rumors of his death may have circulated during his travels, and may have influenced Duncan's decision to remain in Kintail.

4. Kenneth Mackenzie, better known as Coinneach Odhar (Dun Kenneth), or the Brahan Seer, was one of those prophets of former times whose mystic utterances have so frequently puzzled and startled people by their literal fulfilment.  He is said to have been born in Lews about the commencement of the seventeenth century, and to have subsequently moved to the neighborhood of Brahan, where he worked on a farm as a common laborer.  Having brought upon himself, by certain unguarded utterances, the resentment of Lady Seaforth, he was by her orders apprehended, brought to trial as a wizard, and sentenced by the ecclesiastical authority to be burnt to death at Fortrose.  This is said to have happened while he was still a young man.  (For an interesting collection of the prophesies ascribed to him by the traditions of Ross-shire, see The prophesies of the Brahan Seer, by Alexander Mackenzie, Inverness.)