The LanDs of ClanranalD

The crest of Clanranald is an armored bent arm bearing a sword rising out of a castle. The clan motto is “My Hope is Constant in Thee”, words spoken by Robert the Bruce to Angus Og Macdonald and his Men of the Isles at Bannockburn in 1319. The Bruce reserved the Islesmen until the initial forces had engaged and then sent them into the frey with their famous Highland charge which won the day and Scotland’s independence. This crest can be worn by anyone who has traced their ancestry to Clanranald branch of Clan Donald. The history of the Clanranald branch is so entwined with the land that it is impossible to learn about this branch without first becoming familiar with the land. The Names the Celts gave these lands tell us much about both the lands and customs of our ancestors.

Though much has been made of the presence of Norse names in these parts of Scotland one need only look at the Celtic legends and local folk lore to realize many of the Norse personal names remain because they recall the bay or landing where Somhairlidh defeated and slew a Norse Viking army. An example is Acharacle. The original Gaelic is Ath Tharracaill meaning “retraction or repulsion” (as in forcing an army to retreat). W.F.H. Nicolaisen’s Scottish place-name book claims its meaning is “ford of Torquil” (a Norse name).

Indeed local legend states this is where Torquil was slain and his forces repulsed by Somhairlidh! It is just 3 miles (5k) south of castle Tioram. Another local legend is that Glenborrowdale, just 9 miles (15k) further is where Borodil (another Norse name) was slain by Somhairlidh. There are other Norse names that are still in use for this area such as Knoydart from the Norse name Cnut’s bay, but that is also where you will find place names such as Sourlies which is how Somhairlidh is pronounced in Gaelic. If one is seeking evidence of Norse names in Clanranald lands they are plentiful. But conclusions that these place-names are evidence of Norse settlements ignores the Gaelic meanings, local traditions, and written Gaelic histories that reveal these are the very lands from which Somhairlidh drove Norse Viking raiders. Clanranald lands are still occupied by many of Somhairlidh‘s descendants today.

Gaelic meanings
gleann = glen, a narrow valley, used in many lands that Scots have settled.
loch= body of water either a lake or a bay
tir =land.
art = ort derived from Norse fjordr from which Scots derived firth meaning bay.
aig = from uig another word for bay when in a cove.
ard = high place, point, or cape.
mhòr or mòr = big.
dobhar = water.
muir = sea.
bhearn = gap.
eilean = island.
aber = mouth (same as inver)
ath = ford or crossing point.

Clan DonalD LanDs with Gaelic & Norse Place-names

Lochalsh:Loch= bay, alsadh to one side= “bay to one side”

Glenelg: Gaelic gleann= glen, eilgin= new Ireland= “glen of New Ireland”.

Knoydart: Norse Cnut’s= name, art= from fjordr, firth, or bay= “Cnut’s bay”.

Morar: Gaelic mor= big, dobhar= water= “big water”.

Arisaig:Gaelic Aros= name, uig= bay= “Aros’ bay”.

Moidart: Mundi’s= Saint, Norse art= from fjord, firth, or bay= “St. Mundi’s bay”.

Ardgour: Gaelic ard= high place, point, or cape, ghober= goat= “goat point”.

Ardtornish: Gaelic ard= high place, or point, Thori= name, nish= point(Ironically modern Scots refer to Ardtornish point which literally translates into “point of Thori’s point point”!)

Morvern: Gaelic muir= sea, bhearn= gap= “sea gap” or Gaelic mhor = big = “big gap”.

Lochaber: P-Gaelic aber= mouth (Q-Gaelic inver)=”the loch where rivers Lochy & Nevis meet”.

Eilean Tioram: Gaelic eilean & tir (tior) = dry island or dry land island

Mull: Gaelic mul = mound

The Gaelic words paint an accurate picture of the multiple peninsulas and bays of the west coast of Scotland. This is the reason the Viking longboats gained inland access so easily in this area. And this is why the nyvaigs of Clan Donald inherited these lands because they could out maneuver the longboats. Not only were the Nyvaigs shorter, but Somerled’s invention of the central, fixed rudder made them more maneuverable than the Viking longboats.

SEE ClanranalD Lands in thE Clan Donald Journey to ArmaDalE ViDEo


This powerful branch of Clan Donald supported the Lordship of the Isles with nyvaigs and warriors. The Lords of the Isles always considered themselves a sovereign kingdom in the Celtic sense. They considered themselves “children of the soil” and the Saxon Scottish Kings and Norman English Kings as foreign invaders with no right or claim to the land. They were “loyal” to whatever king recognized the Lordship of the Isles as a sovereign kingdom (be it Norse, Scottish, or English). Scotland had attempted invasion of the Lordship several times increasing Clan Donald’s allegiance to England. One exception was Angus Og who befriended Robert the Bruce before either man rose to their eventual positions of power. Angus Og brought 5,000 clansmen to Bannockburn and the Bruce sent them into battle on his right flank with the words, “My Hope is Constant in Thee” which became the motto of Clanranald. The lands of Lochaber, were granted to Angus Og by Robert the Bruce after Bannockburn. Angus Og’s son, Good John of Islay, became the next Lord of the Isles. Good John’s eldest son, Ranald by Amie MacRuairi, was the chief of the Clanranald branch (see Ancestry). The clan chief in the ancient Celtic culture was selected from the ruling family and governed all the families associated with that branch. So the chief of Clanranald had responsibility for much more than just his his own immediate family. Those whose ancestors lived within the area governed by Clanranald, fought to defend Clanranald, and gave their allegiance to Clanranald are “of Clanranald”.

Despite the Bruce’s recognition of the crucial role the Lordship at Bannockburn, subsequent Scottish kings sought to subjugate the Isles. In 1493 James IV required the forfeiture of the Lordship. This occurred after another Angus Og Macdonald was assassinated in his sleep just as his ancestor Somhairlidh had been. Ironically, 250 years later Bonnie Prince Charlie would seek and obtain the lion’s share of his support from Clan Donald.

Clanranald often found themselves at odds with Glengarry and Sleat especially after the Scottish King required the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles. If James IV thought removing the Celtic threat would secure his Scottish crown he found just the opposite occurred. Without Celtic leadership the Highlanders & Islanders were even more defiant of Scottish government. Clanranald became one of several Celtic clans that were in a constant state of rebellion. The story of Clanranald is very much the story of its chiefs. Like Cuchulainn of old the greatest clan leaders were its victorious warriors.

Alan was the chief of Clanranald who supported Angus Og right before the loss of the Lordship. He supported Alexander of Lochalsh in his bid to recover Ross which led to the forfeiture. Alan was on James IV’s list of rebellious chiefs. Alan’s son Ranald Ban (fair haired) was the next chief of Clanranald. Ranald Ban did not join with other Clan Donald branches in support of restoring Donald Dubh (dark) as Lord of the Isles after the forfeiture. The Scottish crown rewarded Ranald Ban with lands, but a new term came with the lands. A Merk was a value of 13 ½ pennies. Lands were granted as “Merklands” indicating the amount of rent due the crown. From this time on the crown granted the right to occupy so many “Merklands” on condition rent was paid. The Celtic response to this Saxon idea was to ignore it. When the clans fell behind on their “rent” certain “Earls” were charged with collecting them. Alexander, Earl of Huntly and Sir John Campbell of Cawdor were two given this charge from the King. Ranald’s son Dugall was not liked by his clan because he submitted to both of the King’s men.

Dugall had many sons from which Clanranald selected John of Moidart as their chief. In 1539 Donald Gorm(blue/green) of Sleat launched his unsuccessful attempt to restore the Lordship. John of Moidart was imprisoned as a result and the crown tried to appoint Ranald Gallda (foreigner) as their own chief of Clanranald. This was another example of the government’s attempt to impose Saxon Feudalism with its appointed leaders on people who for over a millennia had elected their leaders. The Celts have a special contempt in their voice when they refer to Sasunnach (Saxon). The clansmen would not accept Ranald Gallda. When the crown became concerned with Campbell of Argyll gaining too much power they released John of Moidart in 1542 knowing he would challenge Argyll’s authority. This is another example of government policy of managing the clans by turning them against each other.

ClanranalD Current Events

For another wonderful web site specifically about Castle Tiorim and its

history check out Eilean Tioram. It is based on another classic history of Clanranald “Moidart: Among the Clanranald” 1889 by Charles Macdonald.

Ranald MacDonald of Clanranald, Chief of Clanranald, has sponsored many fine projects through the Clanranald Trust to help Clan Donald and the world better appreciate our ancestry. These projects have included the galley Aileach (now The Lords of the Isles Trust) and the Duncarron Project giving everyone an opportunity to see online or, while in Scotland, personally experience how our ancestors actually lived. Ranald MacDonald of Clanranald is a member of the High Council of Clan Donald Chiefs.

Locals Reclaiming Knoydart

Clan Ranald Trust Duncarron Project

A 1990 Herald Scotland article about modern Knoydart morns the loss of the old Highland way of life and the failure of the Lairds system in modern Scotland. Two decades later the Knoydart update paints a promising picture as the residents invested in their community and bought out the Lairds. An interesting article about how the current residents, who have only recently moved to Knoydart, are reclaiming this remote area for the locals.