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BADGE: Conasg (Ulex Europreus) furze

SLOGAN: Druim nan deur

The romantic district of Kintail, with its steep mountains and deep sea-lochs, on the western coast of Ross-shire, must be regarded as the heart of the old Mackenzie country. Eileandonan in Loch Duich was their chief stronghold, and far to north and south and east of it their word was law throughout a territory as extensive almost as that of the Campbell chiefs in the south. Yet Kintail was peopled almost entirely by two races which, so far as tradition or Highland genealogies declare, had no blood relationship with the Mackenzies themselves. Neither the MacRaes nor the MacLennans were conquered clans. Rather, to judge from their bearing and their treatment by the Mackenzies, do they appear to have held the position of honourable and valued allies. The MacRaes, we know, were known as "Seaforth's shirt of mail", and for generations held the office of Constable of Eileandonan, and it would appear as if the MacLennans were held in similar trust and esteem, and were Mackenzie's standard-bearers. The districts occupied by these two clans were separated only by a river-running into Loch Duich; frequent intermarriage took place between them; but throughout the centuries they nevertheless remained unfused and distinct. Among other matters, the tartan of the MacLennans was quite different from that of the Mackenzies and MacRaes. The clan has laboured under the distinct disadvantage of being unable to name the head of any particular family as Chief; and while not reckoned a "broken" clan it has been accustomed to take the field under chiefs of other names. The MacLennans fought under the banners both of the Frasers and of the Mackenzies, and for this reason it is not possible to ascertain the actual strength of the clan, but there is no question that their valour was of the highest quality.

Under the Marquess of Montrose at the battle of Auldearn in 1645 the MacLennans as usual were entrusted with the banner of Lord Seaforth, the Mackenzie Chief.

Round that standard, the famous "Caber feidh", so called from its armorial bearing of a stag's head, a large number of them were cut down. It is on record that eighteen of the widows of those who fell afterwards married MacRaes from the neighbouring district of Kintail.

According to one derivation, the name MacLennan means simply the son of a sweetheart or young woman, but the sole authority seems to be a similarity of sound, and is not sanctioned by Highland usage. A tradition likely to be much more authentic carries the origin back to a certain Gilliegorm, Chief of the Logans of Druimdeurfait in Ross-shire at the end of the thirteenth century. After a bloody battle with the Frasers near Kessock, in which Gilliegorm fell, his widow was carried off, and soon afterwards gave birth to a son. The story runs that the boy was deliberately deformed in order to prevent his ever attempting to avenge his father. Educated in the monastery of Beauly, he was known from his deformity as Crotach (or Hump-backed) MacGhilliegorm, and on becoming a priest he travelled through the West Coast and Skye, founding churches at Kilmory in Sleat and Kilchrinan in Glenelg. Pope Innocent III had issued the decree strictly enjoining the clergy of the Roman Church to celibacy; but whether MacGhilliegorm belonged to the older Columban or Culdee Church which allowed its clergy to marry, or whether he simply did not conform to the Papal edict, it appears that he was married and had several children. One of his sons was named Gillie Fhinan after the famous St.Finan. That son's son was of course MacGil'inan, which name was shortened by his descendants to MacLennan.

In the annals of the MacLennans considerable space is taken up with the exploits of a member of the clan who was as remarkable for the ingenuity with which he planned his fraudulent enterprises as for the audacity with which he carried them out. On a dark night, for instance, when a certain dealer was leading a string of horses to a distant tryst or market, MacLennan waylaid the convoy, and, cutting the rope, made off unperceived with a number of the animals. To complete the transaction he rapidly trimmed the stolen horses, altogether altering their appearance, and at a later stopping-place on the journey, actually succeeded in selling them at a good price to their original owner. On another occasion, it is said, he joined a 'party of smugglers preparing on a stormy and moonless night to transport their illicit product over the mountains. Passing as one of themselves, he was entrusted with the carrying of one of the kegs, with which he presently contrived to drop behind and disappear. Yet again, in the character of a seannachie or bard, he was employed by a certain laird, after the fashion of the time, to lull him to sleep by the recitation of ancient poems. Having sent his unsuspecting employer into a sound slumber, he betook himself to the stable, untied several horses, and silently swam them to the opposite side of the loch. Leaving them in a place of concealment he as silently returned, and was still going on with his poetic recitation when the laird awoke. Next day, when the theft was discovered, he remained unsuspected, but presently another person having been arrested for the offence and in danger of hanging, MacLennan handsomely confessed his exploit, and, restoring the horses with a flourish of generosity, was allowed to go unpunished.

About the same time another member of the clan made a name for himself in a different way. The Rev. Murdoch MacLennan was minister of Crathie on Deeside at the date when the Earl of Mar raised the standard of James VIII and I" in that neighourhood. The rising, which with vigorous and able leadership, might have succeeded in replacing the Stewarts on the throne, was denied an promise of success by the inefficiency and indecision of Mar himself, and when at long last it came to blows with the forces of George I under the Duke of Argyll on the Sheriffmuir above Dunblane, the conflict was as inconclusive as all the other acts of the campaign. The event roused the Rev. Murdoch MacLennan to satire, and in a humorous poem of twenty-one verses, in an original form of stanza, he not only enumerated the leaders on both sides and their parts in the flight, but chronicled the result in singularly appropriate lines -

And we ran and they ran,
And they ran and we ran,
And we ran and they ran awa' man.

A more modern author is Mr. J.F. McLennan, whose Studies in Ancient History, Exogamy, Primitive Marriage, The Patriarchal Theory, and other works contain much learning and information.


Lobban Logan

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