Sunday, April 11, 2010

How the McDonalds won Glencoe about 700 years ago

Inverlochy Castle, given to the Campbells by Robert the Bruce around 1314

It started with a knife fight in a Church
Around 700 years ago the Chief of the Clan Donald, Angus Og, was awarded the "lands of Durro' and Glenco" by the King of Scotland.
On 10th February in 1306, before the altar of a monastery in Dumfries, one of the two most powerful nobles in Scotland, John Comyn, was killed after a knife fight between him and his rival Robert the Bruce, later King of Scotland. The motive for the fight was clear - Comyn had reported the Bruce's "treason" to Edward 1st of England meaning a certain, and horrible death for the Bruce if caught. Bruce' friends finished off the Red Comyn in the church, a dreadful crime in what was a very religious country. Excommunication followed for all of them.
What is not clear is why Comyn was there at all, he would have known the danger he faced. What is also not clear is why the Comyn had no friends with him, when his deadly rival for the Scottish Crown had his family seat just 5 miles up the road at Lochmaben Castle. Why was the Comyn alone in his enemy's territory?
For some years, Scotland had been on the edge of civil war between these two great families, each claiming the throne. Of the two, the claim by the Comyns, backed by their many friends including the McDougalls of Lorne was the slightly stronger. In those days, civil war was very violent. No prisoners were taken except nobles for their ransom value. This is how winners of battles were paid out.
The knife fight, and Comyns death, settled the issue. Bruce had no option but to go directly for the Scottish Crown. Six weeks later it was placed upon Bruce's head on the famous Stone of Scone.
Instantly he was a renegade and went into hiding from the powerful and brutal Edward 1st. Half of Scotland's noble families were against the Bruce and most of the other half kept switching sides. But two families remained loyal to Bruce, the Campbells of Argyll, and the Clan Donald who reigned over the Western Isles from their base in Islay.
Why these two families? Well, Bruce was half a Highland man, a Gael, from his mother's side. The other half was from a Norman family brought over to England by William 1st in 1066. Bruce spoke Gaelic, while the clansmen could barely understand the language of the other Scottish noblemen. But they understood the Bruce. He was almost one of them, and these clans reigned totally over their lands and the subordinate families on their lands. They could raise armies which were expert in guerilla fighting and raiding, and they did. It was their way of life.
Angus Og hid the Bruce, while Edward's forces were looking for him. Some say this was at Castle Tioram, on Ardnamurchan a remote hideout almost impossible for Edwards galleys to raid even if they could find it. The Castle belonged to cousins of Clan Donald, also descendants of Somerled, the MacRuarie. A romantic tale has the Bruce and Christina MacRuarie as lovers.
Their problem was the opposition to Bruce by the McDougalls, a big powerful family based upon Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban. They were just as warlike as the Clan Donald their distant cousins, descended as they both were, from a common ancestor the great warlord Somerled, himself half a Viking.
The decisive battle between the three clans probably in 1308, was the famous one fought at the Pass of Brander, by Cruachan at the head of Loch Awe. This is the narrow gorge along the river, where the road past the power station runs to-day. A clever and skilful movement on the hillside above by the Bruce supporters led the MacDougalls into a trap. Their leader, John, escaped while his father gave up Dunstaffnage Castle to the Bruce after a short siege in 1309.
The Comyn Castle at Inverlochy by Fort William was given to the Campbells by the King, as was Dunstaffnage Castle. The Clan Donald were more sea-going clansmen and Glencoe and Ardnamurchan were closest to their Island home. Both of the castles are well worth a visit, as is Castle Tioram. The three ruins are kept in good order. You'll have to find Tioram first. The exact dates of all these gifts is uncertain, but the period of 1310 to 1314 would cover it.
Later, the two clans fought beside The Bruce at the famous Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. The Scots won, despite being outnumbered by possibly 5 to 1.

The Battle has reverberated in Scottish history ever since. I cut my teeth on the story at Glasgow High School in 1944.

Some data you might find interesting relating to this story.

The MacDonalds, one of Scotlan'd greatest clans
Was there a "Scottish parliament" at Ardchattan Priory, by Loch Etive?
Did Knights Templar help Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn?
Appin, Land of the Stewart Kings
plus links below to the Glencoe Massacre, the Viking story;
Lochside cottage near Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland
Last minute, late availability Glencoe, self catering cottage
20 brilliant walks around our cottage area
Spectacular wild life around our cottage
Golf in the Scottish highlands, Dragons tooth golf course, Glencoe
Weather in the mountains of Glencoe
Weather month by month in the area
Scotlands weather misconceptions
The Viking battle in Glencoe
The true story of the Glencoe massacre
Spring breaks, March April May Glencoe
Honeymoon cottages in Scotland
Find the best Scottish holiday cottages on the internet
Cut the costs of your holidays
Cheap travel in scotland
The Clachaig Inn - great atmosphere in this world famous climbers pub
The Glencoe and Loch Leven Association with 40 B&Bs
Email 14 properties with one click
The new Glencoe Skiing centre information website
Essential information for holidaymakers in Scotland, in one page
Video. Skiing on Glencoe mountain

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