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The History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland
From A.D. 1493 to A.D. 1625, with a brief introductory sketch From A.D. 80 to A.D. 1493 By Donald Gregory, Joint Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; Secretary to the Iona Club; Honorary Member of the Ossianic Society of Glasgow; Honorary Member of the Society of Antiquarist, Newcastle-on-Tyne; and Member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of the North at Copenhagen. (Second Edition) (1881) (pdf)


It may naturally be asked by those who read only the title-page of the present work, why it should have been limited to the history of a portion merely of what are commonly called the Highlands of Scotland, as well as to a particular period of that history. I shall endeavour to explain in a few words the reasons which have induced me thus to limit my subject.

Various causes contributed, in former times, to divide the Scottish Highlands into two sections, between which there existed a well-defined line of demarcation. The West Highlands and Isles formed one of these sections: the Central Highlands, and all those districts in which the waters flowed to the East, formed the other. The great mountain-ridge, called, of old, Drumalban, from which the waters flowed to either coast of Scotland, was the least of these causes of distinction. The numerical superiority of the Dalriads on the west, and of the Picts on the east side of Drumalban, and the frequent wars between these nations; the conquest, and occupation for nearly four hundred years, of the Hebrides, by the warlike Scandinavians; and, lastly, the union of the Isles and a great part of the adjacent coast, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, under the sway of one powerful family, while the eastern clans had no similar community of interest, and owned no similar controlling power:—these were the chief causes of the distinction which, in later times, was found to exist between the Western and Eastern Highlanders. The history of the latter cannot properly be blended with that of the former; and, if introduced into the same work, would only serve to distract the attention of the reader. A perusal of the following pages will show that, during a great portion of the period I have endeavoured to illustrate, the Western Clans had a common object which frequently united them in hostility to the government. In this way, the measures employed at first for their coercion, and afterwards for their advancement in civilisation, came naturally to be separate from those directed to the subjugation (if I may use the phrase) and improvement of the Eastern tribes. In the public records of Scotland, with scarcely an exception, the distinction I have pointed out is acknowledged either directly or indirectly. So much for the reasons which induced me to select, for the subject of the present work, the history of the West Highlands and Isles.

Having chosen this subject, I very soon perceived that the history of this portion of the Scottish Highlands might advantageously be divided into three portions. The first portion might embrace its early history, and the rise and fall of the great Lordship of the Isles; the second might trace the immediate effects of the forfeiture of that Lordship, and bring the history down to the time when, by the exertions of James VI., the Western Highlanders, from being frequently in rebellion against the royal authority, had begun to be distinguished for their loyalty; and the third might record their exertions in support of the house of Stewart, increasing in energy in proportion as the hopes of that unfortunate family became more desperate.

The great power and resources of the old Kings of the Isles, and of the more modern Lords of the Isles, have forced the history of the first of the periods above mentioned on the attention of many of our historians. Moreover, the national records, hitherto discovered, referring to this period, are comparatively scanty, and offer few materials for adding to what has already been written on this branch of the subject. Again, the numerous historical works which have appeared on the great civil war, and on all the later struggles of the house of Stewart, have made us tolerably familiar with the conduct and relative position of the leading Highland clans during the third period.

These considerations alone would have influenced me in choosing for my subject the history of the second period—that, namely, from a.d. 1493 to a.d. 1625, which was as nearly as possible a perfect blank; but when I discovered that our national records and other sources of authentic information were full of interesting and important matter bearing upon this portion of the history of the West Highlands and Isles, I no longer hesitated.

It is now six years since, desirous of procuring information from every quarter, I announced to the public the task I had imposed upon myself, and stated the leading objects of the present work. I am bound to acknowledge that I have received, in consequence, from many private sources, information which, but for that announcement, I never might have heard of, and of which it will be perceived that I have made considerable use.

To the late Right Honourable Lord Macdonald; to the late Sir John Campbell of Ardnamurchan, Bart.; to the late Sir William Macleod Bannatyne, and the late John Norman Macleod of Macleod; to the Right Honourable Lord Macdonald; Sir John Campbell of Ardnamurchan, Bart.; Sir Donald Campbell of Dunstaffnage, Bart.; Murdoch Maclaine of Lochbuy, Esq.; Hugh Maclean of Coll, Esq.; Alexander Maclean of Ard-gour, Esq.; Captain Macdougall of Macdougall, R.N.; Dugald Campbell of Craignish, Esq.; Major Campbell of Melfort; Alexander Campbell of Ardcbattan, Esq.; Lieut.-Colonel Macniel of Barra; Captain Stewart, Ardshiel; and John Stewart of Fasnacloich, Esq.; I am indebted for being permitted to examine their ancient family papers, from which I have derived much curious information.

Cosmo Innes, Esq., gave me access to the valuable charter chest of Kilravock, from an inspection of which I added greatly to the information I had previously collected. Captain Alexander Macneil], younger, of Colon-say, allowed me to peruse some of the ancient charters and papers of the Gigha family, which have lately come into his possession.

The late Sir William Macleod Bannatyne; Sir George S. Mackenzie of Coul, Bart.; Colonel Sir Evan J. M. Macgregor of Macgregor, Bart.; George Macpherson Grant, Esq., of Ballindalloch and Invereshie; John Gregorson of Ardtornish, Esq.; Colin Campbell, Esq., Jura; Lauchlan Mackinnon of Letterfearn, Esq.; the Rev. Dr. Norman Macleod, Glasgow; the Rev. Angus Maclaine, Ardnamurchan; the Rev. Alexander Mackenzie Downie; Charles Cameron, Esq., barrister-at-law; Lieut.-Colonel Cameron, Clunes; Captain Donald Cameron, Stone; Colin Macrae, Esq., Nairn Grove; John Macdonnel, Esq., Keppoch; Angus Macdonnell, Esq., Inch; Donald Macrae, Esq., Auchtertyre, Kintaill; Dr. Mackinnon, Kyle, Sky; Dr. Maclean, Isle of Rum; Dr. Maceachern, Arasaig; Mr. Lauchlan Maclean, Glasgow; and Mr. Hugh Macdonald, Dervaig, Mull—have assisted me either by submitting to my inspection copies of various family histories, which have been of much service, by pointing out various useful sources of information, or by communicating authentic traditions; and I have everywhere found a disposition to forward as much as possible the inquiries in which I have been engaged.

The use I have made of the public records will readily be perceived; and, in this department, my researches have been facilitated by the kindness of the learned

Deputy Clerk Register, Mr. Thomas Thomson, and of Mr. Alexander Macdonald, who have pointed out to me many curious original documents.

To the Curators of the Advocates’ Library, I, in common with many others engaged in historical pursuits, feel much indebted for the ready access afforded to the valuable MS. collections of the Faculty of Advocates.

Frequent communications with my friends, Mr. Alexander Sinclair, Mr. Cosmo Innes, and Mr. William F. Skene, have assisted me to clear up several points hitherto doubtful; and Mr. Robert Pitcairn, editor of that curious work, the Criminal Trials, has enabled me to add considerably to my collections. I am likewise under great obligations to Mr. David Laing, the active secretary of the Bannatyne Club.

I did not neglect to examine the Scottish MSS. in the British Museum, in which I received much assistance from Mr. Joseph Stevenson. Mr. Tytler communicated to me some valuable documents (since published) connected with the history of the Isles, from the State Paper Office, London. Lastly, such information as I required from the Irish records and historical MSS. was communicated to me most readily by Mr. John D’Alton, barrister-at-law, Dublin, from his own valuable historical and genealogical collections.

In order the better to arrange the information thus collected, and to make myself acquainted with such traditions as were not alluded to in the family histories, or, if alluded to, were without dates or otherwise defective, I made frequent visits to the West Highlands and Isles; and succeeded in satisfying myself on many doubtful points. In these journeys I conversed with every individual supposed to be well informed that I had the good fortune to meet; and the information thus gained proved of essential service afterwards, when I came to prepare the following pages for press.

Such have been the sources of my information. Of the use I have made of it, it does not become me to speak; but I may at least say, that I have striven to be impartial. The necessity for minute research implied in a work like the present, has a tendency to prevent the author from drawing those general conclusions which are so desirable in all historical works, and which may occur more readily to those who peruse the result of his labours without any previous knowledge of the subject. This defect seems to be almost inseparable from the pursuits of the antiquary, who, in fact, generally acts as a pioneer to the historian. I shall be satisfied, therefore, if this work prove of service to a future writer on the History of the Highlands, and assist him in forming those general views which give to history its chief value.

It was my intention to have added a dissertation on the manners, customs, and laws of the Highlanders, in which I had made considerable progress. Want of space, however, has forced me to postpone, but by no means to abandon my design. When I resume it, I hope to be able to bring forward from my collections, which are increasing every day, many new illustrations of these subjects.

The Introduction of the present Work embraces what I have called the first historical period of the West Highlands and Isles. Such an Introduction seemed indispensable; and, while it is necessarily brief, I have taken the opportunity of correcting some of the more glaring errors of former writers.

Edinburgh, 10 Ainslie Place, April, 1836.

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