Dunnyveg and the Glens

The crest of Dunnyveg and the Glens is a arm bent at the elbow , with a cuffed sleeve, holding the cross, crosslet fitchee gules (Scottish Heraldic term meaning red cross with crosses on each tip and a pointed bottom). Clan Donald tradition links this with the warrior’s cross (usually associated with the Crusades). This cross has also been associated with collum cille (St. Columba), but it is most likely linked to St. Julian’s Cross . The cuffed sleeve is a symbol of the Celtic common man’s attire as opposed to the Norman armour depicted in most heraldry. The motto, “Toujours Pretis believed to be Old French meaning “always ready”. The absence of a crown in the crest indicates the Lord Lyon did not recognize any Earldom or Lordship to the chief of Dunneyveg and the Glens. This crest may be worn by anyone who traces their ancestry to the area referred to as Clan Donald South including the island of Islay and the Glens of Antrim, Ireland.

Dunnyveg, was originally Dun Naibhig (or nyvaig) Dun(pronounced Doon) is Gaelic for castle and naibhig is Gaelic for little ship (castle of the little ship) was home to Somhairlidh or Somerled’s fleet which began with two in 1140 AD, grew to 53 by 1158 AD, and 160 in 1164 AD when Somhairlidh (Somerled) was assassinated as he invaded Scotland with thousands of Islesmen. A replica nyvaig was built by James MacDonald & Sons shipbuilders of Dunegal, Ireland in 1991. Dunnyvegcastle ruins are located on the south tip of the island of Islay.

The Lords of the Isles and the Council of the Isles met on Islay (pronounced Eye’ la) at Finlaggan Gaelic for white hollow. Finlaggan loch has two small islands. Upon the larger was the residence of the Lord of the Isles. The smaller of the isles was called Eilean nan Comhairle (pronounced ‘coarlay’) meaning ‘council island’. The Council of the Isles met on the smaller island. The Lordship of the Isles was not governed anything like later feudal Lords governed. It was more like the Celtic kingdoms of Ireland and the Dalriadic Kingdom from which it evolved. Local chiefs elected by their clan made up the Council of the Isles. They acted as judge to settle disputes in their own clan.They were the chiefs of Clan Donald branches Dunnyveg, Clanranald, Keppoch, and Ardnamurchin and the clans of ancient Dalriada including MacFinnan, MacMillan, Magee, MacNicoll, Maceachren, MacKay, and MacGillivray. Several clan chiefs of the MacLeods and MacLeans were on the Council. The Council of the Isles then chose the Lord of the Isles from the derbfine or leadership clan which were the Sons of Somerled or in Gaelic mac Sorleys, or Clan Donald. Unlike feudalism, the person chosen was not automatically the eldest son of the previous Lord. It could be an uncle, brother, or younger son. They chose the person they saw as the most capable.

Saxon Feudalism often did not determine the character of their kings until after they ascended to the throne. Unlike feudal royalty (who imprisoned or killed their competition) the other candidates supported the chosen Lord of the Isles. In the Lordship of the Isles the clans lived on the lands of their ancestors which belonged to the clan. Saxon Landlords were appointed by the King to collect “rent” from the residents who were considered tenants on the Lord’s land, living in the Lord’s crofts, and eating the Lord’s cattle. The Saxon/Norman Kings and Lords branded the Highlanders, Islanders, and Irish as thieves because they refused to pay rent to the King’s appointed Lord and did not accept the feudal idea that the cattle belonged to the Lord. The Highlanders referred with contempt to the sheep hide bearing the King’s signature and held their land “by sword” and herded cattle “by night”. Ironically, the Highlanders finally accepted their feudal king as he lost the support of Parliament and the throne. It was their rally behind Bonnie Prince Charlie that brought an end to their Celtic way of life.

The Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland are Glenarm, Glencloy, Glenariff, Glenaan, Glencorp, Glendun, Glenshesk, and Glentaisi. These are the glens referred to in Dunnyveg & the Glens. John (or Iain) Mhoir was the second son of Good John Lord of the Isles by his wife Magaret Stewart. His brother, Donald, was Lord of the Isles while Iain Mhoir established his own branch in the southern isles and Kintyre. Iain Mhoir married Margery Bisset of the Glens of Antrim and which acquired those vast lands in Ireland. When the Lordship of the Isles was forfeited in 1493 to King James IV of Scotland, John Macdonald of Dunnyveg & the Glens was knighted during the peace negotiations, but he strongly objected to the King seizing Dunaverty Castle. Before the King had even left the bay, John had stormed Dunaverty and hung the royal governor from the castle wall in plain sight of Royalty. Perhaps that is why no crown adorns the crest of Dunnyveg and the Glens. From that time John and his sons were declared outlaws, but they continued to live and govern their ancestral lands despite the King’s appointed governors. Two years later they were taken captive by MacIain of Ardnamurchan, turned over to the King and hanged.

In 1612 Angus of Dunnyveg sold Islay to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor for the paltry sum of 6,000 merks (a merk equals 13 pennies which was the price of enough land to support a family cottage!) or about 324 pounds sterling total. Several young chiefs of MacDonald occupied Dunnyveg in defiance of Cawdor including Angus Og and Coll Ciotach of Colonsay. In 1615 Sir James of Dunnyveg, assisted by the chief of Keppoch and the son of the chief of Moidart, escaped prison in Edinburgh and fled through Rannoch moor to Moidart and then to Sleat. Sir James was joined by Coll Ciotach who had put his seafaring talents to use as a pirate. They were joined by several Ardnamurchan pirates and seized Dunnyveg from Cawdor. While Coll Ciotach sought help from Antrim, Cawdor laid siege to Dunnyveg and took it back. Sir James of Dunnyveg barely escaped and fled to Spain where he was joined by Keppoch and his son Donald Glas.

Dunnyveg castle had a remarkable characteristic. The approach to Dunnyveg was treacherous by day and impossible by night. To assist friendly nyvaigs navigate their way to Dunnyveg the castle had a deep, narrow window in the outer wall. When a lamp was lit in the residence window it produced a narrow beam that was only visible when the ship maintained a straight course to the castle avoiding treacherous rocks and swells. Coll Ciotach returned to Dunnyveg by night not knowing it had been retaken by Cawdor. He knew the secret of Dunnyveg and steered a safe course by the light beam as his ancestors had done for hundreds of years. Coll’s piper observed Cawdor’s troops laying a trap so he played a Pibroch. This form of piping actually communicated messages in Gaelic by combining the various musical phrases into “sentences”. For this reason a Pibroch sounds very complicated and is a difficult tune to follow for non-Gaelic speakers. The piper played “Choola mo run, Seachain an Dun, Seachain an Dun, Seachain an Dun.” Which is “Coll, my beloved, avoid the castle repeated three times. Coll received the message and turned away in time to avoid capture. The piper was rewarded by having his fingers chopped off. Coll retook Dunnyveg one more time , but was forced to surrender under a long siege. Coll escaped again, but Islay was left to Cawdor’s troops. The glorious days of the Lordship of the Isles were now past. Restoring King James to the throne was the only hope Clan Donald had of a restoration of the ancient Celtic Kingdom. With the failure to of the rising in 1715 and then 1745, under Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Celtic way of life became lost, until recently, to history.