Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page

CLAN MACCOLL

BADGE: Fraoch germ (erica vulgaris) common heath

PIBROCH: Ceann na Drochaide moire

This small clan, which was anciently settled on the shores of Loch Fyne, is believed to have come of the great race of the MacDonalds. The belief is supported by the fact that the badge of the MacDonalds and the MacColls is the same, a sprig of common heather. According to the Gaelic manuscript of 1450 so largely quoted by W.F. Skene in his Highlanders of Scotland the MacDonalds derived their earliest known origin from Colla Uais, an Irish king of the fourth century. No doubt following this tradition the great clan of the Isles was in early times known alternatively as Clan Colla and Clan Cuin or Conn, the latter name being derived from Constantine, the father of Colla. Coll has accordingly always been a favourite name among the MacDonalds. Among the most notable holders of it was the lieutenant of the Great Marquess of Montrose in the Civil Wars of Charles I, who was known as Colkitto, or Coll Ciotoch MacDonald. Of this Left-handed Coll, as his name implies, many stories are told. It was he who brought over the Irish contingent, and acted as its leader throughout the Marquess' campaign. On his way along the coast after landing, he sent a piper to ascertain the defences of Duntrune castle on the shore of Loch Crinan. The piper not only found the stronghold in a complete state of defence but was himself made prisoner in one of the turrets. His pipes, however, were left to him, and he seized the opportunity to blowout the well-known tune "Shun the Tower". Colkitto took the hint, and, leaving the piper to his fate, marched off to join Montrose. Later, when a prisoner, and about to be hanged from the mast of his galley at Dunstaffnage, he begged that he might be buried under the doorstep of the little chapel there, in order that he might "exchange a snuff with the Captain of Dunstaffnage in the grave".

Clan MacColl, however, dates from a much earlier time than that of Colkitto. Previous to the time of the battle of Glenfruin, in ]602, they appear to have been of some strength. But, like other small clans within the reach of the Campbells, they were liable to be used by the somewhat unscrupulous chiefs of that powerful family as instruments in the Campbell policy of aggression and aggrandisement. By means which are not quite clear they were, along with the Colquhouns and other clans, induced to embroil themselves against the MacGregors. On the other hand, the MacGregor chiefs, to meet the forces which were secretly being accumulated and instigated against them by the crafty Argyll and Glenurchy, made an effort to secure support from other clans, like the MacAulays and Macphersons, When matters came to a climax, on the eve of the battle of Glenfruin, Alastair MacGregor sent word hotfoot to Cluny Macpherson, who sent off fifty picked warriors from Badenoch to his support. These men, however, had marched no further than Blair in Athol when they received word that the MacGregors were victorious, having signally defeated the Colquhouns and their allies in Glenfruin. They accordingly turned back and marched for home. On the way, as they crossed the wild Pass of Drumochter, the highest point of the road between Athol and Badenoch, as luck would have it they encountered the MacColls returning from a foray in Ross or Sutherland, and driving a creagh before them. Apart from their alliance with the MacGregors the Macphersons had a quarrel of their own with the MacColls, and they forthwith seized the opportunity to clear off all scores. The battle took place on the shore of Loch Garry, and resulted in complete victory for the Macphersons, While very few of Clan Vurich were slain, the MacColls were almost entirely wiped out, losing their chief and nearly all their fighting men.

One of the decimated clan, Angus Ban MacColl, attracted special attention in the fight by his strength and dexterity. He was encountered by one of the most valiant of the Macphersons, and the two engaged in a mortal combat. This desperate struggle of the two continued till the MacColls were finally overcome and driven from the field. Then, seeing the odds overwhelming against him, Angus Ban fought his way, moving backwards, to a deep chasm in the hillside, and leaping the abyss backwards with astonishing agility effected his escape, none of his pursuers being inclined to risk the leap even in the ordinary way and with a run.

Regarding further deeds of the MacColls tradition is silent. Whatever they were they were probably achieved in conjunction with their powerful neighbours, the Campbells, and in their case it may be hoped that the adage was true, "Happy is the nation that has no history !" A hundred years ago one of the clan, Evan MacColl, introduced the name into another field by publishing a volume of poems of considerable merit under the title of "Clarsach nam Beann", or "The Mountain Harp". Yet another member of the clan was Alexander McCaul, D.D., who in 1821 was sent to Poland by the London Society for Christianising the Jews, who, after his return to London published a weekly Journal, Old Paths, dealing with Jewish ritual, became Principal of the Hebrew College in 1840, and afterwards Professor of Hebrew and Divinity in King's College, and a prebendary of St.Paul's.

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com