SEPTEMBER 2001 - NO. 119

History file

Although the province of Strathnaver was the homeland of the Mackays, in the sixteenth century the clan had attempted to gain territory in (east) Sutherland. By the early 1600s, Mackay families still maintained claims to various lands in the parish of Creich.

The lands of Ardens above Bonar Bridge belonged to the Earl of Sutherland but were wadset to the Grays of Swordale and Skibo. John Gray allowed one Kenneth Mac Allister from a branch of the Mackays who lived in the parish of Creich to occupy the lands. This branch was, according to Sir Robert Gordon, “a race of people who sometyme bred great trouble in these pairts”.

The Earl of Sutherland, however, assigned the wadset to the Murrays. Angus Murray, a baillie of Dornoch, acquired the wadset. Kenneth Mac Allister died leaving his son Angus in possession. Angus Murray decided to raise the rents but Angus Mac Kenneth would not agree. So Murray turned him out and put Angus’s cousin, William mac Ian mac Kenneth in possession. Angus killed his cousin’s wife and two sons “under silence of the night”.

Angus Murray gave up and resigned the wadset to Gilbert Gray of Skibo who allowed Angus to have possession again. Gilbert disponed the lands to his second son Robert of Ospisdale. Robert turned Angus out and gave the lands to one Finlay Logan. He was killed by Angus in 1604 (in total, Angus killed nine people who tried to possess the lands of Ardens).

Angus joined a band of landless troublemakers and sought refuge in Strathnaver “with a resolution to vex Robert Gray by their incursions”. However, at Christmas 1604 they were surprised by Robert Gray in the parish of Creich and Angus’s brother Murdo was killed. Angus narrowly escaped but made another raid from Strathnaver on May 1.

Finding the Robert Gray was “abrode elsewhere searching for him” they burnt Robert’s stable and some of his cattle at Ospisdale. Robert obtained a commission against Angus and, with the aid of some men provided by the Earl of Sutherland, found and killed Angus at the “Cruffis of Hoip” — the cruives or fishtraps on the River Hope.

A second feud concerned the lands of Achinduich and Invershin which were part of the Skelbo estate, owned by the Sutherlands of Duffus. Achinduich was actually possessed by some Murrays, presumably as tenants to Duffus. A branch of the Mackays, however, held a claim to the lands.
This was a potentially explosive situation and in 1608 a minor feud erupted between Angus Murray and Iver Mackay or mac Donald mac Allister, who belonged to the Seill Thomas of the Clan Mackay.

Iver, who lived in Lairg and his eldest son, John chanced to meet with Alexander Murray in Achinduich and his son Thomas. The parties “began to question one with another, concerning some points of nighbourhood controverted amongst them. From words they fell to blowes”. John was killed, as was Alexander Murray.

Iver fled to the Mackay country of Strathnaver. But Thomas Murray obtained a warrant and went in search of Iver with a band of twenty-four men. Iver, however, managed to surprise Thomas at Ben Clibrig, chased his small force and took five captive, holding them for five days.

Legal proceedings were then led by Thomas and Margaret Murray the widow of Alexander Murray against Iver, “allan mackwan makkomas, donald mceankindla in auchindowiche [and] Johne his sone”.

The parties were eventually reconciled. Donald Mackay, heir to Strathnaver, paid compensation and in May 1613 Thomas Murray and his widowed mother, Margaret Murray, granted an obligation not to proceed any further against Iver and his accomplishers or against those who had sheltered Iver, including “Williame Thonesone in karnache”, “Williame neilsone in muidell”, and the Mackays of Strathnaver. This document confirms a fair amount of the detail provided by Sir Robert Gordon.

The Mackays retained possession of Achinduich until 1636 when Iver and his eldest son, William were granted a wadset of Rosal in Strathnaver by Lord Reay. They gave up Achinduich and moved to Strathnaver.

According to Sir Robert Gordon, the “quarrell was vndertaken and manteyned” by George Murray of Pulrossie” against Iver. The Earl of Sutherland was slow to assist Pulrossie against the Mackays in view of Pulrossie’s “unduetifull dealling” or failure to acknowledge the Earl’s position.

— Malcolm Bangor-Jones

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