BADGE: Giuthas (pinus sylvestris) pine
PIBROCH: MacGregor's Salute, and Glen Fruin
"Don't mister me nor Campbell me! My foot is on my native heath, and my name is MacGregor!" These words, put into the mouth of the cateran, Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott, express in a nutshell much of the spirit and history of this famous clan. Strangely enough, no tribe of the Highlands was more proud of its ancient name than the MacGregors, and no tribe had to suffer more for bearing that name, or was more cruelly compelled to abandon it. "Is Rioghal ma dhream" - my race is royal - was and is the proud boast of the MacGregors, and no more bitter fate could be imposed upon them than to give up the evidence of that descent.
The clan traces its ancestry and takes its name from Gregor, third son of Alpin, King of Scots in the latter part of the eighth century, and from Alpin himself it takes its alternative patronymic, Clan Alpin. Doungheal, the elder son of Gregor, was the first MacGregor, and handed on the name to his descendants, while his brother Guarai became the ancestor of the Clan MacQuary. In the early feudal centuries the clan possessed a wide stretch of territory across the middle Highlands, from Ben Cruachan to the neighbourhood of Fortingall in Glen Lyon, and as far south as the Pass of Balmaha on Loch Lomondside and the chain of lochs which runs eastward to Coilantogle ford in Menteith, not far from Callander. Throughout all the centuries of Highland history they were notable for their deeds of valour. When Alexander II overthrew MacDonald of the Isles and conquered Argyll one of the leaders of the royal army was the MacGregor chief, as a vassal of the Earl of Ross, and as a reward he received a grant of the forfeited estate of Glenurchy. A later chief, Malcolm, who lived in the days of Robert the Bruce, supported that King and the cause of Scottish Independence with the whole might of his clan. He was among those who fought stoutly at Bannockburn, and afterwards he accompanied Edward Bruce in his invasion of Ireland. There, at the siege of Dundalk, he was severely wounded, and through that circumstance is remembered in the clan story as "am Mor' ear bacach" - the lame lord. Through that fact the MacGregor chiefs might have been expected, like others whose fortunes were built upon their support of the house of Bruce, to find their prosperity go on like a rising tide. But this was not the case. The chiefs made the fatal mistake of adhering to the old order of things in the security by which they held their lands. Like the MacKays in the far north, they scorned the "sheepskin tenure" of feudalism, introduced by Malcolm Canmore and his sons. Taking their stand on their descent from the ancient Celtic kings, they kept to the old allodial system of independent ownership, and determined still to keep their possessions, as their fathers had done, by the coire a glaive, or right of the sword. As a result, throughout the feudal centuries, they. found themselves constantly engaged in brawls over the possession of territory for which they could show no title-deeds. Their endeavours to hold their own were looked upon as mere lawless disturbances of the peace, and again and again their more powerful neighbours found it profitable, first to stir them up to some warlike deed, then to procure a royal warrant for their extermination, and the appropriation of their territory.
Chief among these enemies were the Campbells of Loch Awe, who, in the fifteenth century, became Earls of Argyll, and the collateral branch of the Campbells who, in later days have held the titles of earls and marquesses of Breadalbane. A notable incidence of the methods of these enemies of the MacGregors occurred in the fifteenth century, when Campbell of Loch Awe induced the MacNabs of Loch Tayside to pick a quarrel with the MacGregor chiefs. The two clans met in a bloody battle at Crianlarich, when the MacNabs were defeated and all but exterminated. Forthwith Campbell procured a commission from the King to punish both of the breakers of the peace, with the result that presently the MacGregors were forced to procure a cessation of hostilities by yielding up to Campbell a considerable part of their territory.
Stories of the clan's escapades in those days make up much of the tradition of the Central Highlands. On one occasion the MacGregors made a sudden descent upon the stronghold on the little island in Loch Dochart. This was a fastness deemed all but impregnable by reason of the deep water round it; but the MacGregors chose a winter day when the loch was frozen, and, sheltering themselves from the arrows of the garrison by huge fascines of brushwood which they pushed across the ice in front of them, they stormed and took the place. In the gorge of Glen Lyon again, there is a spot known as MacGregor's Leap. Here, after a fierce conflict, in which a sept of the MacGregors, known as the MacIvers, were all but cut to pieces, their chief, fleeing before his enemies, came to the narrowest part of the gorge, and by a wild leap from rock to rock across the torrent succeeded in making his escape.
The troubles of the MacGregors came to a climax towards the close of the sixteenth century. Driven to desperation, and fired with injustice, they were induced to perpetrate many wild deeds. In 1588, for example, took place the dreadful ceremony in the little kirk of Balquhidder, remembered as Clan Alpine's Vow. A few days earlier a mysterious body, "the Children of the Mist", had surprised the King's forester, Drummond-Ernoch, in Glenartney. They had killed him, cut off his head, and on their way home along Loch Earnside had displayed. that head in barbarous fashion on the dinner table at Ardvorlich to the sister of the slain man, who was Ardvorlich's wife, by reason of which she had fled from the house demented. On the following Sunday the MacGregor clansmen gathered in Balquhidder Kirk where one after another approached the altar, laid his hand on the severed head, and swore himself a partner in the dark deed that had placed it there.
Acts like this were bound to bring upon the clan the last extremities of fire and sword. The house which profited most by the reprisals was the younger branch of the Campbells of Lochow. Already early in the fifteenth century Sir Colin Campbell, head of that younger branch, had become laird of Glenurchy, formerly a MacGregor possession. He had built Kilchurn Castle at the north end of Loch Awe, and he and his descendants had built or acquired a string of strongholds across the middle Highlands, including the castle on Loch Dochart already referred to, Edinample on Loch Earn, and Finlarig and Balloch, now Taymouth Castle, at the opposite ends of Loch Tay. In their heading-pits and on their dule trees these lairds of Glenurchy executed "justice" on many persons as the king's enemies and their own, and among others who suffered publicly on the village green at Kenmore was a Chief of MacGregor in Queen Mary's time, Gregor Roy of Glenstrae, Nevertheless, according to Tytler, the MacGregors were in the royal army, commanded by the young Earl of Argyll, which suffered disastrous defeat at the battle of Glenlivat in 1594.
In 1603, instigated by the Earl of Argyll, Alastair of Glenstrae made a descent upon the Colquhouns of Luss, fought a pitched battle with them in Glenfruin on Loch Lomondside, and defeated them with a loss of 140 men. The Colquhouns secured the indignation and sympathy of King James VI by parading before him a long array of widows of their clan with the bloody shirts of their husbands upon poles. As a result, Argyll was commissioned by the Privy Council to hunt the "viperous" MacGregors with fire and sword till they should be "estirpat and rutit out and expellit the hail boundis of our dominionis". This Argyll undertook to do, and among other matters managed to trap the Chief of MacGregor by persuading him to accompany him to the new court of King James in England. He promised to conduct MacGregor safely into that country and procure his pardon. The first part of his promise he performed, but no sooner was the MacGregor Chief across the Tweed than he had him arrested and carried back to Edinburgh, where he was executed, with thirty of his clan. At the same time severe laws were made against the clansmen. Any man might kill a MacGregor without incurring punishment, and for doing so receive a free gift of the MacGregor's whole movable goods and gear. The very name MacGregor was proscribed under pain of death. No MacGregor was allowed to carry a weapon, and not more than four of the clan were permitted to meet together. The unfortunate clansmen, it is said, were even chased with bloodhounds, and the spot is still pointed out on Ben Cruachan where the last of them to be hunted in this fashion turned and shot his pursuer. Among other clans stirred up to attack the MacGregors were the Camerons, but, even in its extremity, Clan Alpin mustered its force and, reinforced by its friends the MacPhersons, marched northward and inflicted a signal defeat upon the followers of Lochiel.
Through all its troubles, however, Clan Gregor survived. Among interesting episodes of its history there is a wild story of the year 1640, remembered on Speyside. A MacGregor, the tradition runs, wooed, won, and carried off Isabel, daughter of the Laird of Grant. A member of the Robertson clan, whose suit had been favoured by the lady's friends, pursued the fugitives with a number, of his followers. MacGregor took refuge in a barn, and with dirk and claymore, and a musket which his wife loaded for him managed to destroy everyone of his assailants. Then, in the joy of his victory, he took his pipes, and on the spot composed and danced the wild air still known as the "Reel o' Tulloch". Alas ! this doughty champion was afterwards shot, and at the sight of his bloody head which they fiendishly showed her, the poor girl who had fought so bravely to save her lover suddenly expired.
Five years later the MacGregors took the field for King Charles I, with the whole strength of their clan under Montrose, who promised that the King, when his affairs were settled, should redress the grievances of the clan. By way of reprisal Cromwell sent one of his forces into the fastnesses of Clan Gregor. Loch Katrine, which took its name from its owners' character as caterans, was still a possession of the Clan, and on the little islet now known from Sir Walter Scott's account of it as Ellen's Isle, they had placed their women for safety. Not a boat was to be found, though several were seen on the island shore, and the English officer offered his purse to the soldier who should cross and bring one back. Forthwith a young soldier plunged in and swam to the island side. The exploit seemed easy; and he had indeed laid his hand on one of the shallops, when the branches parted, a knife in a woman's hand flashed in the air, and the would-be ravisher sank in the water dead.
At the restoration of Charles II the clan was rewarded for its support of the royal cause by having all its rights and privileges restored to it; but a generation later, after the Revolution, this act of clemency was rescinded by William III, and all the old laws against the MacGregors were again put in force. It was little wonder, therefore, that, when the Rebellion of 1715 in favour of the Stewarts broke out, the clan should favour that cause. John MacGregor, who was then the Chief, though he had adopted the name of Murray, was a Jacobite, but he did not take the field, and instead the clan was led by the "bold Rob Roy", who belonged to the Dugal Ciar branch of the family. At the battle of Sheriffmuir he might have decided the day by charging with his men, but he prudently waited to see how affairs would turn, and in reply to the urgent message of the Earl of Mar, imploring him to attack, he answered that if the day could not be won without the MacGregors it could not be won with them.
The next Chief; Robert, raised his clan and mortgaged his whole estate for the cause of Prince Charles Edward in 1745, and refused the offer sent him by the Duke of Cumberland, that if the MacGregors would lay down their arms they should have their name and all their privileges restored. When the day was lost at Culloden the clan marched from the field with its banners flying, but as a result the whole MacGregor country was ravaged by the victorious "Butcher Duke", and the Chief was long confined a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle.
On the death of this Chief in 1758, the honour fell to his brother Evan, an officer in the 41st regiment, who served with much distinction in Germany. The eldest son of the latter was John Murray, a lieutenant-colonel in the East India Company's service, and Auditor General in Bengal. General Murray was created a baronet in 1795, and on the removal of the laws affecting his name and family, he resumed by royal licence the original surname of MacGregor. On that occasion, 826 clansmen of mature age subscribed a deed acknowledging him to be Chief, and though the honour was disputed by MacGregor of Glengyle of the "Sliochd Gregor a Chroie", Rob Roy's branch, descended from the twelfth chief who died about 1413, Sir John and his descendants have been loyally recognised as the actual heads of the race.
This reinstatement took place in 1822. In the same year Sir John Murray MacGregor died. His only son and successor, Sir Evan MacGregor, was a Major General, K.C.B., G.C.H., and Governor General of the Windward Isles, and he married a daughter of the fourth Duke of Athol. His son, again, Sir John, married the eldest daughter and co-heir of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Baronet, G.C.B., Governor of Greenwich Hospital, who was the famous Captain Hardy of Nelson's ship the Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, and through this connection several interesting relics of Nelson and the Victory are preserved at the present seat of the family. Sir John died Lieutenant-Governor of the Virgin Islands, and since then, probably through the Hardy connection, the Chiefs of MacGregor have followed a naval career. His son, Sir Malcolm, was a Rear-Admiral of the British Navy, and received the Crimean medal and clasp for Sebastopol, as well as the Turkish War medal and the medal of the Royal Humane Society. He married Helen, only daughter of the ninth Earl of Antrim, and died in 1879. His eldest son, the present baronet, Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor, entered the Navy in 1886, attained the rank of Commander in 1904, became Assistant to the Director of the Naval Ordnance at the Admiralty in 1907, and retired with the rank of Captain in 1911. Sir Malcolm's sister is the Countess of Mansfield, and his grand-aunt was the author of a fragmentary history of the Clan prepared at the request of the Clan Gregor Society.
Edenchip, the present residence of the Chief, stands at the eastern end of the Braes of Balquhidder, pretty near the centre of the old country of the clan, and it is pleasant to think how, after all their fierce trials and troubles of the past, the chiefs and members of the clan are now able to settle quietly upon their native heath, and to acknowledge once again the now long respected and always honourable name of MacGregor.
Among many notable members of the clan throughout the centuries, MacGregor, Dean of Lismore in the time of Mary Queen of Scots, should be mentioned for his famous collection of Ossianic and other Gaelic poetry known as the Dean of Lismore's Book. Fortingall in Glenlyon, where he lived, was also the home of a famous race of MacGregor pipers, known as Clann an Sgeulaich,
SEPTS OF CLAN GREGOR