BADGE: Labhrail, or Buaidh craobh (laureola) laurel
SLOGAN: Craig Tuire !
It is a melancholy fact that many of the clans of the Scottish Highlands are at the present day without a chief. Considering that the feudal system was substituted for the patriarchal so many centuries ago, it is perhaps a marvel, on the other hand, that so many clans have retained a record of the descent of their patriarchal heads to the present day; but undoubtedly interest is added to the story of a tribe when that story can be traced through a succession of leaders who have been the recognised main stem of their race from an early century.
Of recognised chiefs of the clan MacLaurin there have been no more than faint traces within modern times, and the attempt of the Scottish judge, John MacLaurin, Lord Dreghorn, in 1781, to establish his claim to the chiefship, can be regarded as little more than a verification of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the chiefship a couple of hundred years before. The last record of the existence of these chiefs appears to be in the rolls of the clans drawn up in 1587 and 1594 for James VI, when that monarch hit upon the excellent plan of making the Highland chiefs responsible for the good behaviour of the members of their tribes. But the clan MacLaurin, nevertheless, claimed a highly interesting origin, and achieved a record of doughty deeds in its time, which was strenuous and heroic enough.
Romantic legend has associated the origin of the clan with the romance of a mermaid who appears in the armorial bearings assigned by the Lion Court to Lord Dreghorn when he claimed the Chiefship. Another more plausible derivation is that from Loarn, one of the three sons of Erc, who crossed from Ireland in 503, and founded the infant Kingdom of the Scots. From these settlers the district about Loch Awe got its name of Earrha Gaidheal, or Argyll, the "Land of the Gael", and from Loarn or Lorn, the youngest of the three brothers, the district of Lorne immediately to the westward is said to have taken its name. The name Loarn or Laurin, in the first instance, is understood to represent Laurence, the Christian martyr who is believed to have suffered under the Emperor Valerian in 261 A.D. Whether or not the chiefs MacLaurin were actually descended from the early son of Erc, families of the name appear to have been settled at an early date in the island of Tiree and in the upper fastnesses of western Perthshire, about the Braes of Balquhidder and the foot of Loch Vail. Tradition declares that three brothers from Argyllshire came eastward and settled in these lands in Balquhidder, named respectively, from west to east, the Bruach, Auchleskine, and the Stank. The descendants of these three brothers had their burial-places divided off in the little kirkyard of Balquhidder, in agreement with this tradition. While the chiefs of the clan appear to have had their seat in Tiree, and it was to them that Lord Dreghorn made his claim of descent, the history of the race appears mostly to have been made by the families of the name settled in Balquhidder. In keeping with this fact Tiree long ago passed into possession of the great house of Argyll, though down to a comparatively recent date there were landowners of the name of MacLaurin at Craiguie and Invernentie on the shores of Loch Voil.
In Balquhidder the MacLaurins were followers in early times of the great Celtic Earls of Strathearn, and by some authorities they have been taken to be cadets of that ancient house, settled in the district possibly as early as the days of Kenneth MacAlpine. At the great battle of the Standard, fought by David I in 1138, it is recorded by Lord Hailes in his well-known Annals that Malise, Earl of Strathearn, was the leader of the Lavernani. And a century and a half later, in 1296, when the notables of Scotland, in token of submission to Edward I of England, were compelled to sign the Ragman Roll, three of the signatories, Maurice of Tiree, Conan of Balquhidder, and Laurin of Ardveche in Strathearn, have been assigned as cadets of the Earl's house.
From an early period the MacLaurins figured in the battles of their country. Whatever were the undertakings extorted by Edward I, it is recorded in a later document that the clan fought by the side of Bruce at Bannockburn. They were also among the followers of the luckless James III, when that monarch fought and fell at Sauchieburn seventy-five years later. Three-quarters of a century later still, through a romantic episode, they became mixed up with one of the great family dramas of the West Highlands, which, drawing down upon them the animosity of the ambitious house of Argyll, may have done not a little to darken the later fortunes of the clan. About the middle of the fifteenth century, John, third and last of the Stewart Lords of Lorne, as a result of a love affair with a lady of the MacLaurins of Balquhidder, became father of a natural son, Dugal. He had at the same time two legitimate daughters, the eldest of whom, Isabel, was married to Colin, Lord Campbell, first Earl of Argyll, while the younger became the wife of the Earl's uncle, Campbell of Glenurchy. On the death of his father in 1469, Dugal Stewart claimed the Lordship of Lorne. Against him he had the powerful forces of the Campbells. Nevertheless he gathered his friends, among whom were his mother's relatives, the MacLaurins of Balquhidder, The two forces met at the foot of Bendoran in Glen Urchy, when a bloody battle ensued. In the end the Stewarts were overcome, and among the dead on their side, it is recorded, were 130 of the MacLaurins. As a result Dugal Stewart had to content himself with only a part of, his father's possessions, namely Appin; and he became ancestor of that well-known house, the Stewarts of Appin.
Stewart, however, did not forget the MacLaurins, among whom he had been brought up, and who had served him so well in his great attempt. In 1497 they made a sudden appeal to him for help. According to the custom of the time the MacLaurins had made a foray on the lands of the MacDonalds in Lochaber. On their way home, driving a great spoil of cattle, they were overtaken in Glen Urchy by the wrathful MacDonalds, and the spoil recaptured. Thereupon the MacLaurins appealed to Stewart of Appin, who instantly raised his men and joined them. The united forces came up with the MacDonalds in the Black Mount, near the head of Glencoe, where a fierce struggle at once began. Many were slain on both sides, and the dead included the two chiefs, MacDonald of Keppoch and Stewart of Appin.
The MacLaurins, however, had enemies nearer home - the MacGregors on one side and the Buchanans of Leny on the other. A story well remembered in Balquhidder, and told with many circumstantial details by the inhabitants of the district at the present day, is that of their great conflict with the Buchanans. Local tradition assigns the incident to the twelfth or thirteenth century, but the Buchanans were not then in strength at Leny, and it seems much more probable that the event occurred sometime in the days of James V. According to tradition the episode began at a fair at Kilmahog, at the foot of the Pass of Leny. Among those who attended the fair was a certain "natural" or "innocent" who was one of the MacLaurins of Balquhidder. As this wight strutted along he was met by one of the Buchanans, who, by way of jest, slapped his face with the tail of a salmon he was carrying, and knocked off his bonnet. In the way of a weakling the MacLaurin innocent dared his assailant to do this again at the fair at Balquhidder. The natural then went home, and promptly forgot all about the incident. On the day of the fair at Balquhidder, however, when the MacLaurins were busy buying, selling, and enjoying themselves, word was suddenly brought that a considerable body of the Buchanans were marching up through Strathyre, and were already no farther away than the Clachan of Ruskachan. Then the idiot suddenly remembered what had happened to him at Kilmahog, and the challenge he had given. There was no time to lose; but the fiery cross was at once sent round the MacLaurin country, and the clan rushed to arms. The MacLaurins had not all come in by the time the Buchanans arrived on the scene, hut those who were present, nothing daunted, began the attack. At first the Buchanans carried everything before them, and drove the MacLaurins for a mile, to the place where the manse now stands. There one of the MacLaurins saw his son cut down, and, being suddenly seized with battle madness, turned, shouted the slogan of the clan, "Craig Tuirc", and, whirling his claymore, rushed furiously at the enemy. The clansmen followed him, and before this new furious attack the Buchanans went down like corn. Only two escaped, by swimming the river Balvaig, but even these were followed, one being cut down at Gartnafuaran and the other at the spot since known from the circumstance as Sron Lainie. The whole episode is typical of the ways of the Highlands at that time.
In their encounter with the MacGregors, their enemies on the other side, the MacLaurins were not so fortunate. It was in 1558 that the event occurred. Mention of it appears in the indictment of the MacGregors for the slaughter of the Colquhouns at Glenfruin in 1602, and an account of it is to be read on a tombstone in Balquhidder kirkyard at the present day. The MacGregors, it appears, who by this time had become the Ishmaels of the West Highlands, made a sudden and unprovoked descent on Balquhidder, and murdered and burned no fewer than eighteen householders of the clan MacLaurin with their wives and families. The attack seems to have been a disabling one, for the MacGregors remained in possession of the farms of their slaughtered victims, and from that time appear to have been dominant in the district.
It was at any rate in the little kirk of Balquhidder that, towards the end of the century, the dreadful ceremony took place which has since been known as Clan Alpine's vow. The story of this is told by Sir Walter Scott in the preface to his Legend of Montrose, and, as it belongs rather to the story of the MacGregors, than to that of the MacLaurins, it need not be repeated here. It was one of the chief acts, however, which brought Nemesis upon the Clan MacGregor, and in view of the fact it may seem strange to find a MacGregor at all in possession of lands in Balquhidder at the present day. These lands, however, some of them the possession of the MacLaurins of early times, were purchased by the Chief of the MacGregors from the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates in 1798.
Meantime the MacLaurins had not failed to play a warlike part in the greater struggles of the nation. The clan fought for James the Fourth at Flodden, and for the infant Queen Mary at Pinkie, and when Prince Charles Edward raised his standard at Glenfinnan in the autumn of 1745, considerable numbers of the clan rallied to his cause under the banner of their distant kinsman, Stewart of Appin. Under that banner during the campaign thirteen MacLaurins were killed and fourteen wounded. The story of one of the clan, MacLaurin of Wester Invernentie, who was taken prisoner after Culloden, afforded the subject for the episode of "Pate in Peril" which appears in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Redgauntlet. This young man was being marched south, like so many others, to take his trial at Carlisle. As the party made its way through the defiles of the Lowthers above Moffat, the prisoner, who had formerly driven his cattle southward to the English market by the same route, and knew the spot, where the path passed along the edge of the curious hollow now known as the Devil's Beef Tub, asked to be allowed to step aside for a moment, when, seizing the opportunity, he disappeared over the edge of the abyss. Hiding himself up to the neck in a bog, with a turf on his head, he eluded the search of his pursuers till nightfall, then, returning to Balquhidder, lived disguised as woman till the Act of Indemnity set him free to show himself again.
Among the most famous personages of the name have been two sons of an Argyllshire minister, John and Colin MacLaurin. The former, born in 1693, was a famous preacher and controversialist, a leader of the Intrusionists in the Church of Scotland, and author of Sermons and Essays, published in 1755. His brother Colin, five years younger, is regarded as "the one mathematician of first rank trained in Great Britain in the eighteenth century". He was Professor of Mathematics successively at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. In 1745, when Prince Charles Edward was marching on the Scottish Capital, he organised the defence of the city, and in consequence, being forced presently to flee, he endured such hardship that he died in the following June. It was his son John, an advocate and senator of the, College of justice, with the title of Lord Dreghorn, who made a claim to the Chiefship of the clan in 1781. Another of the name, though spelling it differently, was Archibald MacLaren, soldier and dramatist. Entering the army in 1755, he served in the American war. On his return to Scotland he joined a troupe of strolling players, and was author of a number of dramatic pieces and an account of the Irish Rebellion. Ewen MacLaurin, again, a native of Argyll, on the outbreak of the first American war, raised at his own expense the force known as the South Carolina Loyalists. There was also Colonel James MacLaren, C.B., son of the "Baron MacLaurin", and a distinguished Indian soldier, who played a distinguished part at the head of the 16th Bengal Infantry at the battle of Sobraon. And it was Charles MacLaren who established the Scotsman newspaper in 1817, edited it from 1820 till 1845, and, besides editing the 6th edition of the Encyclopcedia Britannica in 1823, published several geological works.
From first to last it is a sufficiently varied record, this of the clan MacLaurin, from the days of Loarn son of Erc to the present hour, and it was one of the regrets of those interested in "old unhappy far-off things" when, a few years ago, the Corporation of Glasgow proposed to annex Loch Voil as a reservoir, that the undertaking would entail the disappearance of many spots associated with the tragic and romantic memories of the clan.
SEPTS OF CLAN MACLAURIN