The MacDonall people from Ireland were originally the masters of the 5,000 year old
crannog communities. These little dwellings were built on tiny islands around the
West Coast lochs. You can see a re-
The awkward clan
The MacDonalds have always been an awkward clan for the rulers of Scotland. The real
clan founder, the great warrior Somerled McDonnell, rebelled against his Viking overlords.
His mother was a Viking and his father a Celt. This would make him a slave under
Viking law. Sea battle followed sea battle, one possibly in Glencoe, and the Vikings
were finally cleared out in the 13th century. Somerled was killed while campaigning
against the then Scottish king -
A separate kingdom -
The status of the Isles was a problem for the Scottish Crown. Under Angus Og the area was run as a separate Kingdom, he had absolute rule over all the clans living in the Islands, and woe betide any who stepped out of line. They would be invaded by a fleet of MacDonald longships, and smaller birlinns.
The MacDonalds had problems with everyone. Not for the MacDonalds the oily tongue
of the politician, their swords and dirks spoke a more effective language. They quarrelled
with friends, neighbours and enemies alike. People moved in the West coast by water,
not land. The MacDonalds were master mariners and controlled the traffic from Skye
to the Isle of Man -
They had forged their fighting skills against the Viking raiders since the 9th century. They kept captured Vikings as slaves, just as Vikings kept McDonalds as slaves.
Their MacDougall enemies and the alliance with Robert the Bruce.
Their great mainland rival was another clan also descended from Somerled, the MacDougalls. This clan supported a claimant to the Scottish throne, John Comyn. He was killed by his rival Robert The Bruce in a church in Dumfries in 1306 and Bruce immediately sought the Scottish crown for himself. The Bruce claim was as good as, but no better than, the claims of two others. Bruce hid as an outlaw under MacDonald protection in the Islands while the McDougalls fought strongly against Bruce all his life.
The MacDonalds at the battle of Bannockburn then as Lords of the Isles. They win Glencoe lands
So the MacDonalds allied themselves to Robert the Bruce who won the freedom of Scotland
from England. The clan, together with the Campbells and with Robert the Bruce himself
laid seige to, and won, Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban. Their leader, Angus Og, a
grandson of Somerled was a notable ally of Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in
1314. After the victory, he was granted the lands of "Durror and Glenco, Mull and
Lochaber". These lands were previously owned by the McDougalls. You can see to-
It was Angus Og's son John who was granted the first title Lords of the Isles about
1340. The Isles they ruled until 1495 were always a semi-
The MacDonalds had another problem after Bruce had seen off the MacDougalls -
The battle of Inverary -
In 1644 a force including MacDonalds supporting a rebellion against the Crown launched
a surprise attack on the Campbell stronghold of Inverary and massacred 900 of them.
The Campbells re-
Here, in a battle between the 3,000 Argyll Campbells facing only 1500 troops, including MacDonalds, the Highlanders again used a surprise march and slaughtered 1500 Campbells and supporters.
Campbells wrongly blamed for the Glencoe massacre -
It might not seem surprising then that exactly 49 years later on 13th February the Campbells were the clan used by King William to massacre the MacDonalds of Glencoe in their beds at 5.00am. To their everlasting credit they killed only 39 MacDonalds, letting most go free. Yet the Campbells still got the blame.
The MacDonalds sulk at the battle of Culloden. They gradually leave Glencoe after 500 years
The MacDonalds came out in 1745 with the other Highland clans in support of the action by Bonnie Prince Charlie to regain the Crown for the Stewarts. But the Highland army leaders at the final battle of Culloden made a very grave error in not giving the right flank to the MacDonalds, their traditional place since Bannockburn and Angus Og 432 years before. The MacDonalds took umbrage at this and did not fight to their full power.
After this defeat the Highlanders’ families were systematically cleared out of their
lands over the next 100 years. They left Glencoe in despair for Canada, and to-
Many of the MacDonalds emigrated to North America. One of their descendents built the biggest hamburger chain the world has ever known. So maybe they got their own back in the end.