The MacIains of Glencoe

The last recorded crest for the MacIains of Glencoe is a hand holding a sgain dhu, pronounced “ske-in gu” meaning “dark dagger,” surrounded by an open laurel wreath. This branch of Clan Donald does not currently have a chief registered with the Lord Lyon so there is consequently no “official” crest & motto for the MacIains of Glencoe. Clan crests are literally determined by the symbol on the “crest of the helm” (top of the helmet) of the chief’s matriculated coat of arms. The Armorial Bearing upon the Glencoe monument bears the motto “Nec Tempore Nec Fato” which is Latin for “Neither Time nor Fate” which has ominous meaning for this fateful Branch of Clan Donald. Very popular “unofficial” crests are often depicted with the motto “Cuimhnich” pronounced “Kooi nich” Gaelic for “remember” . There is no heraldic justification for this motto, but there is a Clan Donald tradition that explains the use of the Gaelic “Cuimhnich”.

According to Donald J. Macdonald “Remember Glencoe” was a rallying cry for all of the branches of Clan Donald in the Jacobite cause leading up to Culloden. The Glencoe massacre was the government’s response (arguably a terrorist act) upon the Highlanders loyal to Prince Charles Edward Stewart. There is no official record of “Cuimhnich” being the battle cry or clan motto of the MacIains of Glencoe or any other branch of Clan Donald at the battle of Culloden. But the intent of The Disarming Act of 1747 was to outlaw anything that could again rally the Highland, Jacobite cause. “Cuimhnich” is popular, even today, for the same reason that the events of Glencoe are remembered February 13th of every year by Clan Donald and others all over the world.

The MacIains of Glencoe were a small branch of Clan Donald descended from Iain Fraochor, Iain of the heather and those who followed him. Glencoe was among the lands granted Angus Og by Robert the Bruce. Iain Fraoch was a younger son of Angus Og and founder of this small, but scrappy branch. They lived in almost isolation scattered up the glen known for its haunting beauty even before it became the unwilling scene of the Highland’s most infamous “Murder Under Trust”.

See Glencoe in the Clan Donald Journey to Armadale video

The MacIains of Glencoe were the victims of the most infamous massacre in Scottish history. Even more than the other branches of Clan Donald, the people of Glencoe were isolated and slower to change than the world around them. While other clan chiefs were converting to the Saxon feudal lord system, the MacIain chiefs presided in the old Celtic sense even into the 17th century, living among their people more like a father than a feudal lord.

The Glencoe MacDonalds were mostly Episcopalian and Jacobites (Jacob is Latin for James), loyal to King James in exile while the other clans around them had become Presbyterian Covenanters, loyal to King William. In the previous centuries the Catholic Church had suppressed the Protestant Reformation by heresy trials and public execution of those who dared challenge the authority of the Bishops. The Reformation gave birth to the Episcopal Church of England so named because its hierarchy remained Bishops. Scotland gave birth to a church run by council, a presbytery, rather than bishops. These Protestant Covenanters responded to the years of suppression by burning Cathedrals, destroying records, and massacring Catholics and even Episcopalians solely because of their religious beliefs. Clanranald, Glengarry, and Keppoch all felt the brunt of this religious civil war, but none more than the MacIains of Glencoe.

The enmity between Clan Donald and Clan Campbell was, if not orchestrated, at least utilized by the government to maintain a “balance” of power between the clans. It didn’t take much to set one clan against another. This old weakness of Celtic culture would soon lead to their undoing at Culloden. After the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles in 1492 the government concentrated on preventing any clan ever again obtaining that level of influence. For the next 200 years the Kings took lands from Clan Donald control and handed them to Campbell of Argyll, Campbell of Cawdor, Mackintosh, and the Earl of Huntly just as Robert the Bruce had given MacDougal and Comyn lands to the Lords of the Isles. The people of Clan Donald still lived on the lands, but instead of their Celtic representative style of government the King appointed lords over them. All of these factors contributed to the most infamous “Slaughter Under Trust” in Scottish history for which the MacIains of Glencoe are best known to the world. It is tragic that this branch of Clan Donald with a history longer than many modern countries (including the USA) is only known for the events of one day, February 13, 1692.

The Glencoe Monument

A Memorial Cairn was erected in 1883 by Ellen Burns-Macdonald, last representative of the MacIains of Glencoe. The cairn has a tall Celtic cross patterned after St. Moluag’s cross ornately engraved with Celtic knotwork. Each February 13th a wreath is laid at the base of the cairn. “MacDonalds and others gather here to lay wreaths and somehow reassure those spirits so horribly jolted that some Celtic tenderness is reaching out to them”. The words of Peter MacDonald, past resident director of Armadale Gardens & the Museum of the Isles.

Current Events in Glencoe

“The Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum was co-founded by Miss Barbara Fairweather MBE and Mrs Rae Grant in the 1960s, and for both ladies it was a life’s work. In 1971 the museum was gifted the two cottages, which create the main building, by the late Hugh Grant. The museum opened its doors in 1972 and over the last forty years the unique and eclectic collection of objects has grown.”