Clan MacDonell of Glengarry

Clan MacDonell of Glengarry
MacDonell of Glengarry
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Macdonell of Glengarry.svg
Motto: Cragan an Fhithich (The rock of the raven).
Region Scottish Highlands
District Ross
Pipe music Glengarry Foot Stomp.
Aeneas Ranald Euan MacDonell, 23rd Chief of Chief of Macdonell of Glengarry
Historic seat Strome Castle
Invergarry Castle

Clan MacDonell of Glengarry is a branch of Clan Donald taking its name from Glen Garry where the river Garry runs eastwards through Loch Garry to join the Great Glen about 16 miles (25 km) north of Fort William. The principal families descended from the house of Glengarry were the McDonells of Barrisdale, in Knoydart, Greenfield, and Lundie.



Clan tartan. Illustration by R. R. McIan from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, published in 1845.

Origins of the clan

The MacDonells of Glengarry claim descent from Donald, one of the five sons of Ranald (d.1386), chief of Clanranald. The parents of Ranald (d.1386) were John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, 6th chief of Clan Donald and Amie mac Ruari the heiress to the chiefship of Clan Macruari.

The two distant relatives, John of Islay and Amie MacRuairi both descend from Ranald (d.1207), son of King Somerled. They married and their son Ranald (d.1386) became chief of Clanranald. Ranald was also expected to succeed his father, John of Islay as chief of Clan Donald. However John of Islay later married Margaret Stewart, the daughter of Robert II of Scotland. They had a son called Donald who became the next chief of Clan Donald.

Ranald (d.1386) had five sons. One of these five, Alan (d.1430) succeeded him as chief. Another of the five sons, Donald (d.1420) became chief of the MacDonells of Glengarry. [2]

16th century and clan conflicts

Glengarry first played an independent part in the politics of Clan Donald when in 1539 the Macdonald chief received a feudal charter from the Scottish crown. Glengarry chose to follow Donald Gorm of Sleat in an attempt to reclaim Lordship of the Isles which collapsed with a failed assault on Eilean Donan Castle in which Donald died. Along with other chiefs, Glengarry was tricked into attending on King James V of Scotland at Portree where they were captured and imprisoned in Edinburgh until the King died in 1542.

In 1544 the MacDonells of Glengarry fought against the Clan Fraser at the Battle of the Shirts.

In 1545 Alexander MacRanald of Glengarry and North Morar was one of the lords and barons of the Isles who pledged allegiance to the king of England.

In a bond of manrent, dated 1571, between Angus MacAlester of Glengarry and Clan Grant, Glengarry makes an exception in favour "of ye auctoritie of our soverane and his Chief of Clanranald only ". This is held by Clanranald of Moydart as an acknowledgment by Glengarry of the Captain of Clanranald as his chief.[1]

By the middle of the 16th century the Clan Matheson had greatly diminished in size and influence, and John Matheson’s son Dougal possessed no more than a third of the ancient Matheson property on Lochalsh. Even that property he was in danger of losing by engaging in a dangerous feud on his own account with 'Clan MacDonell of Glengarry. This powerful chief had established himself on the shores of Loch Carron at hand, and he presently seized Matheson and threw him into prison, where he died. This incident brought about the final ruin of the Clan Matheson as a powerful clan.

With a view to avenge his father’s death, and recover his lost territory; Dougal Matheson's son, Murdoch Buidhe Matheson, relinquished all his remaining property, excepting the farms of Balmacara and Fernaig, to the chief of the Clan MacKenzie of Kintail, in return for the services of an armed force with which to attack the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry. The lands thus handed over were never recovered from the MacDonells. Neither Matheson’s generalship or the force given to him by Clan MacKenzie seems to have been enough to the task of forcing terms upon MacDonells of Glengarry.

Later Murdoch Matheson's son, Ruari, the next Clan Matheson chief, had more satisfaction, when, as part of the following of the Clan MacKenzie chief in 1602, he set out to punish the MacDonells of Glengarry. On this occasion Glengarry’s stronghold of Strome Castle, on Loch Carron, was stormed and destroyed. By this time the Mathesons appear to have been merely the "kindly tenants" of the Clan MacKenzie compared to the more powerful clan they once were. In course of time that kindly tenancy, or occupation on condition of rendering certain services, was changed into a regular rent payment, and Balmacara and the other Matheson properties passed from the hands of the chiefs of that name for ever. The family was afterwards represented by the Mathesons of Bennetsfield.

By 1581 the MacDonells of Glengarry controlled extensive territory and became involved in feuding and battles with Clan Mackenzie which led to them burning a church and the trapped congregation while the Glengarry piper marched round the building playing a tune still called Kilchrist after the name of the place.

17th century and the Civil War

The Battle of Morar was fought on 1602 between the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry and the Clan Mackenzie.[2]

Donald, 8th of Glengarry, reportedly lived for more than a hundred years and was clan chief for over seventy years. In 1627 he succeeded in obtaining a charter under the Great Seal to make his lands a free barony. In 1649 he failed to appear before the Privy Council in Edinburgh to answer charges of harbouring fugitives from the Isles, and was denounced as a rebel.

In the Wars of the Three Kingdoms Glengarry supported the Royalist side. Aeneas the 9th Chief was out with James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose in 1645 and followed King Charles II to his final defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. For his pains he had his new house of Invergarry burned by General George Monck and his lands forfeited by Oliver Cromwell, but had them returned at the Restoration, gaining the title of Lord MacDonell and Aross and chiefship of Clanranald and the whole of Clan Donald. As he died without issue his peerage became extinct.

Jacobite Risings

The clans under Glengarry took the Jacobite side in the Jacobite Risings. In 1689 Alastair Dubh Macranald commanded the clan at the Battle of Killiecrankie.

In the 1715 rising Glengarry attended the pretended "grand hunting match" at Braemar arranged by the John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar and followed him to fight at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

The fighting force of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry is given as 500 men in 1745.[3]

The 13th chief was on his way from France to join the Jacobite Rising of 1745 when he was captured by an English frigate and imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1747.

However, six hundred of the Macdonells of Glengarry joined Prince Charles under the command of MacDonell of Lochgarry and were involved in many of the battles including the Highbridge Skirmish which was the first engagement between Government and Jacobite troops during the uprising of 1745 to 1746. The Macdonells of Glengarry also fought at the Clifton Moor Skirmish and Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 where they were victorious. The following year they also fought at the Battle of Falkirk (1746), and the Battle of Culloden.

Colonel Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry

Portrait by Henry Raeburn of Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry in 1812.

Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell was the personality whose character and behaviour gave Walter Scott the model for the haughty and flamboyant Highland chieftain Fergus MacIvor in the pioneering historical novel Waverley of 1814. As was customary for the chief of a clan, he was often called simply "Glengarry." In June 1815 he formed his own Society of True Highlanders in bitter opposition to the Celtic Society of Edinburgh. During the visit of King George IV to Scotland he arrogantly made several unauthorised appearances, to the annoyance of Walter Scott and the other organisers.

Under his authority timber was felled for sale, the cleared land was leased to sheep farmers and many of his clansmen were forced from the land by increasing rents and evictions, with the great majority forced to go to British North America in part of what was later known as the Highland Clearances.

Bishop Alexander Macdonell

In contrast to Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, his contemporary Alexander Macdonell became a Roman Catholic priest whose missionary duty in Brae Lochaber led him to help his displaced clansmen. First he tried getting them employment in the Lowlands, then in 1794 he organised formation of the Glengarry Fencible regiment under the command of Alexander Ranaldson, with Father Macdonell appointed chaplain. When the regiment was disbanded Father Macdonell appealed to the government to grant its members land in Upper Canada but this was not realized until much later. He himself came to Upper Canada Glengarry County in 1804 and in 1826 was elevated to Bishop of Regiopolis Kingston


  • Invergarry Castle which is situated on the Raven's Rock was the seat of the Chief of Clan MacDonell of Glengarry.
  • Strome Castle was also owned by the MacDonells of Glengarry until 1602.


  • The current chief of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry is Aeneas Ranald Euan MacDonell, 23rd Chief of Chief of Macdonell of Glengarry.[4]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Mackenzie (1881), p. 307; p. 308.
  2. ^ ’Conflicts of the Clans’ published in 1764 by the Foulis press, written from a manuscript wrote in the reign of James VI of Scotland. [1]
  3. ^ "The Scottish Clans and Their Tartans”. W. & A. K. Johnston Limited. Edinburgh and London. 1886. Page 44.

External links

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