1.1.1 A Clan til Death
Ian1 was a second-generation Australian, but he never forgot his Scottish heritage. Towards the Highland clan of his forebears he retained the feeling of kinship expressed in the verse2
Though our restless feet have wandered far,
And severed wide we be,
The children of a common stock,
A clan til death are we.
What events and what tales of ancient times underlay that sentiment?
Legend has it that about 1200 AD people bearing the Gaelic name Mhic-Rath came from Ireland to settle on the shores of the estuary Loch Duich, east of the Isle of Skye. [Area indicated by the red rectangle in the map of Scotland] In early times the Gaelic Mhic-Rath, meaning Son of Good Fortune, was most commonly rendered MacRa. Many variants of MacRa came into use over the years, all of them being a "Son of" part (Mac or Mc) followed by a "Good Fortune" part (Crea, Creath, Kreth, Ra, Rae, Rath, etc.). In some versions the second part is not capitalized as befits an ordinary rather than a proper noun, e.g. Macrae.
By about 1400 AD a nascent Clan MacRa had established itself in Kintail, situated on the north shore of Loch Duich about one mile from its eastern end. Their leader was Fionnla Dubh MacGillechroisd, meaning Black Finlay, son of Christopher.3 Here "black" signifies dark hair rather than the fair or reddish hair more common in the Highlands.
Black Finlay provided for the safety of the MacRas by ingratiating himself with the locally-powerful chiefs of the Clan Mackenzie. This line of chiefs, the Lords of Kintail, went under the family name of Seaforth.
Though Black Finlay may have been more skilled in the arts of negotiation than in those of war, and his followers were mainly peaceful and hardworking farmers, the MacRas as a whole are better known in song and fable by their aptitude for mayhem.
Here, for example, is the coming-of-age tale of Duncan, the younger grandson of Black Finlay, a youth destined to bear the sobriquet Big Duncan of the Battle Axe. Piqued that because of his tender years hed been denied a place with the MacRa clansmen in their pastimes of fighting and looting, Duncan took a rusty old battle-axe into a fray, slew and beheaded four men of a rival clan and pressed his claim for recognition as a warrior by brandishing his gory trophies at the victory celebration. It is said that his elders admitted him as an equal without further ado.
The MacRa warriors put themselves at the service of the Lords of Kintail in the more violent of their enterprises, and in recognition of their loyalty the Lords eventually made the McRas the keepers of the MacKenzie clans castle on the island of Eilean Donan (also spelled Ellandonan). The island is located just off the north shore of Loch Duich about four miles north-west of Kintail.
Christopher, great-grandson of Black Finlay, was appointed Constable of Eilean Donan castle in 1511, and thereafter the same post was held by one or another MacRa clansman through the seventeenth centuryfor so long indeed that the castle became the symbolic home of the Clan.
Continue reading: 1.1.2 Eilean Donan
1. Ian McRae (1904-1975) Background and Youth (-1929)
1.1 Scottish Origins
1.1.1 A Clan til Death
1.1.2 Eilean Donan
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1. "Ian" is pronounced to rhyme with "Brian".
2. All verse and legend and some factual material relating to the Clan is taken from "The Clan MacRae with its Rolls of Honour and of Service in the Great War," compiled by Ella MacRae Gilstrap of Eilean Donan and Ballimore (Aberdeen at the Rosemount Press, 1923).
3. For a history of the Clan: "The History of the Clan MacRae," by the Reverend Alexander MacRae, A. M. Ross, Dingwall, Scotland, 1899 (out of print, but copies may be obtained from: Higginson Book Co., P. O. Box 778, Salem, MA 01970 USA).