Home John of Moidart (Clanranald part 2)
PDF Print E-mail

Iain Moidartach (John of Moidart)

John of Moidart (Moidartach)was a Celtic champion in the tradition of Cuchulainn. He assembled an army of Alan of Morar, Angus of Knoydart, Alasdair of Glengarry, Ranald   of Keppoch, Ewan of Cameron of Lochiel, and Alasdair MacIain of Ardnamurchan with clansmen numbering more than 600. They raided Fraiser country and took Urquhart castle on Loch Ness. The Earl of Huntly gathered his vassals including Clan Chattan, Grants, and Fraisers under Lovat to retaliate. They marched deep into Glengarry (Gaelic Garu meaning rough). They were unable to find the Clan Donald raiders in their own country so Huntly and Lovat divided their forces to return home. John of Moidart positioned his clansmen on high ground surrounding Lovat’s men. In the Gaelic this Highland charge is called Cothrom a’ Bhràigh (advantage of height) in which the Highlanders ran downhill full speed into the enemy. The battle lasted all day and casualties were high on both sides. Lovat and Ronald Gallda fell in the battle. The victory was John of Moidart’s. Huntly returned to retaliate, but was again unable to find them in their own land. John was summoned several times to appear before the Scottish government for his “crimes”. He ignored them all.

Tiram castle ruins
John of Moidart sat on the Council of the Isles again and supported Donald Dubh in his last attempt to restore the Lordship of the Isles in 1545. After Donald Dubh’s failure John of Moidart returned to Tioram (Gaelic meaning dry land pronounced Chur'im). Castle Tioram (often spelled Tiram) is on a small island in Moidart that can only be reached on “dry” ground at low tide. It’s massive walls facing the sea (the only avenue of attack) have no windows. In 1547 Scotland assembled the clans, including Huntly , to do battle with England. Clanranald did not support Scotland. From the Scottish point of view they were traitors. From a Clan Donald point of view they felt no loyalty to the Saxon Scottish government who granted Clanranald portions of their own lands only on condition they pay rent. Clanranald and specifically John of Moidart actually benefited from Scotland’s defeat. The Scottish government recalled the warrants against John on condition he stop raiding his neighbor clans.

Within a few years the Scottish government, now under a “Queen-Regent”, ordered Huntly to attack Moidart by land and Argyll to attack by sea. Both Huntly and Argyll promised they would return with Moidart, but Huntly’s lowland troops refused to go into the rough Highlands of Glengarry and Moidart. Argyll attempted a naval bombardment of Tirram with very little effect. Huntly returned in disgrace and was removed from his position and banished to France for his failure. In 1555 the Queen sent the Earl of Atholl with another Lowland army against John of Moidart. Again the Lowlanders feared to enter Clan Donald lands.

The Earl of Atholl approached John with a letter from the Queen promising safe passage  if he would meet with her at Perth. John accepted her guarantee and was graciously received by the Queen, but not allowed to leave. He escaped a short time later even more resolved in his distrust of this Saxon Queen. The only punishment she could impose was to grant “1,000 Merklands” of Clanranald land to other branches of Clan Donald including James Macdonald of Dunnyveg. John continued to hold Clanranald lands “by sword”. His nyvaigs and warriors dominated their homelands.  No other army could navigate Clanranald land or seas as he did. In 1584 John of Moidart passed away peacefully. In fact he spent his last years building churches in Kilmorie (Church of St. Mary), Arasaig (Aros’ bay), and Kildonan (Church of St. Donan).

In 1595 Donald of Clanranald joined Donald Gorm of Sleat and Macleod of Harris on a campaign to help Ruadh O’Donnell resist Queen Elizabeth armies in Northern Ireland. Clanranald had a long-standing feud with Macleans over the crown granting them the Isle of Mull. The Clanranald nyvaigs landed nearly 2,000 troops on a small island (Calve or Baca) in Tobermory Bay to sleep. The Macleans attacked them in the night and took Donald of Clanranald captive.
.
Clanranald held little respect for James IV, but found Charles I to be a king they could choose to follow. Clanranald supported him against the Covenanters (radical Protestants) in the religious civil war that gripped England. Clan Donald’s old rival, Campbell of Argyll, was a leader of the Covenanters. Ironically the historically rebellious Clanranald’s total dedication and loyalty to Charles I and Bonnie Prince Charlie through the many battles leading up to Culloden resulted in the defeat of the Highland clans, the total suppression of Celtic culture, and finally the Highland clearances.