The Clan Ranald after the Forty-Five

transcribed by John Dye from a collection of photocopied
notes carrying the stamp of the Nova Scotia Archives
left some years ago by an American visitor.

M. G. 1 559/9 No 321


By MacIan

Students of the history of the Highland clans are aware that the name Clan Ranald was of old applied to the descendants of the five sons of Ranald, eldest surviving son of John, Lord of the Isles, by Amie MacRuarie.

Ranald's sons were as follows:

I Allan, his successor.
II Donald, of whom the MacDonalds of Glengarry.
III John Dall, who left one son, John.
IV Angus Rhiabach, whose family occupied Morar until the first half of the 16th century. There is no record of this family after that time.
V Dugal, designated as of Sunart, of whom the Siol Dhugail of Moidart.

The descendants of Donald were numerous and by historians are treated as a separate branch of the Clan Donald, apart from the Clan Ranald, from which they sprang originally. So that nowadays, when speaking of the Clan Ranald, we refer only to those of the Clan Donald reputed to be descended from the other four sons of Ranald. "The History of Clan Donald" by Rev. Angus and Rev. Archibald Macdonald goes into detail concerning the descendants of all MacRanald, but does not have much to say regarding the descendants of the other sons, and little is said as to the fate of the clan generally after the failure of the Stuart rebellion in 1746. It will be the purpose of this article to speak somewhat of the descendants of these other sons and to relate a little of the history of the commonality of the clan, so far as known, from 1746 to the present time.

First of all, it may be remarked that the descendants of John Dall, Angus Riabhach and Dugal Suinartach, being far removed from the chieftainship of Clan Ranald, no family record of their descendants was maintained by the clan historians and bards. These descendants also were no doubt passed over in the division of property which took place from time to time, in favour of the chieftain's closer relatives. All that can be learned regarding the descendants of John Dall is that the Macdonalds in Eigg were supposed to be descended from him, and were called in Gaelic Sliochd Iain Dall. Some descendants of the Morar family also resided in Eigg. At any rate, as one writer has remarked, there is little traditional history in Eigg: the suffocation of many of the inhabitants about three hundred years ago having effectively destroyed the old traditions and legends.

Nothing is known about the descendants of Angus Riabhach, fourth son of Ranald, subsequent to 1538, at which time their lands were given to the children of Dugal, deposed or murdered chieftain of Clan Ranald.

The Siol Dhugail as a sept were numerous in the glen of Moidart for some time prior to 1715 and for many years subsequent to 1745. Some time prior to 1745, a few families of the sept removed from Kinloch Moidart to Glen Uig. It appears that around about 1547, a few of the sept settled in Lochaber, and at the time of the Keppoch murder, the principal man of the Siol Dhugail in Lochaber was Alastair Macdonald of Inverlair (Alastair MacDougall Ruadh). Following on government action, he and some of his sons were put to death by the party despatched from Skye by Sir James Macdonald, but one of Alastair's sons or a relative fled back to Moidart and eventually settled at Ulgary or Glenforslan, leaving many descendants.

So far, we have only spoken of direct descendants in the male line of Ranald, son of John, Lord of the Isles, but we should remark that early in the seventeenth century, a few of the MacIans of Ardnamurchan fled to Moidart, and were afterwards, with their descendants known as Clan Ranald Macdonalds. There were also of course, Highlanders of other names, who lived in Clan Ranald territory, and fought with them as occasion arose. In this connection, it is interesting to peruse the list - only partly complete - of the mainland retainers of Clan Ranald, called to arms in the rebellion of 1745. There are very few of the Clan Ranald from the islands, but about 180 from Moidart assembled at Glenfinnan, and these were joined by 120 from Arisaig, led by Charles MacEachin Macdonald, who marched at their head from Arisaig to Glenfinnan.

Moidart, with its historic Castle Tirrim, has always been regarded as the real rallying ground for the clan, but there were many scions of the Clan Ranald in some of the islands such as South Uist, Eigg, Canna etc. Knoydart, on the mainland, was originally Clan Ranald but some centuries ago passed to Glengarry and from that time on, the bettor off families were of Glengarry stock. South Morar, as we have stated, was given to the children of Dugal, deposed chief of Clan Ranald, in 1538.

So much for the descent of the body of the clan, and their various places of residence. AS the Clan Ranald were the first to take up arms on behalf of Charles Edward, and as he landed at Moidart, and finally sailed from there, after eluding his pursuers, it was only natural that the government should be especially aware on the mainland Clan Ranald after the collapse of the rebellion. Sackville's regiment was quartered in the neighbourhood and the militia from Argyle also put in an unwelcome appearance. Many of the humble homes of the people were burned or torn to pieces, and the cattle, which comprised all they had, driven off. It should also be remembered that the Clan Ranald were Catholics, and at that time therefore, especially obnoxious to the British Government. There was, of course a great rush to hide and bury such arms as the people possessed. One man in Smerisary, seeing the Campbells approaching, buried a sword in a peat bog, but hid it so well that he was never after able to find it. Perhaps it may yet be found by some crofter cutting peat.

We now approach the time of the great dispersal of the clans and among others the Clan Ranald. So far as my researches show, there was no emigration from this sept, either to the South or across the Atlantic prior to 1772. In that year, due to their hard situation in the mainland and islands and in some degree to religious persecution, a band of Macdonalds and others from South Uist, Moidart and Arisaig emigrated to Prince Edward Island under the leadership of Capt. John Macdonald of Glenaladale. A second band from the same districts left in 1790, and as there were 110 persons evicted from Ard na fuaran, Arisaig in 1780 (according to Chas. Fraser-Mackintosh), it seems likely that many of those evicted would have left in 1790. It also appears that in 1786 about six hundred people left Knoydart for America, the number including, no doubt, many of the Clan Ranald stock. (This information is given in a letter to the College of Propaganda from Rev. Huisdein Macdonald of Moidart). Also in 1791 two vessels loaded with emigrants from the Western Isles and the adjoining mainland landed at Pictou and these vessels brought out some of the sept. From this time on, the Clan Ranald districts steadily sent forth emigrants, chiefly to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, though a good number seem to have gone to Australia early in the nineteenth century. A large number left Moidart for Nova Scotia in 1812, viz., fourteen families from Uligarry, Allisary and Glenforslan, mostly Macdonalds but with one family of MacIntyres. In 1848 four families left Glen Uig, and six left Smerisary, all for Nova Scotia, and this seems to have been the land (last?) band of importance to come to Nova Scotia. The depopulation of Moidart and Arisaig has gone steadily on, and in Ardnish, Arisaig, where thirteen families existed thirty years ago, now only two families remain.

Besides those who emigrated, there were some who enlisted in the British Army and some others moved to the Lowlands. However, owing to their religion, and to the fact that Presbyterianism was the established religion of Scotland, emigration abroad seems usually to have appealed more to the Clan Ranald a century ago, than removal to the Lowlands. Another factor may have had some influence: the chieftains of Clan Ranald after 1745, were of the Episcopal faith, but the body of the clan remained Catholic, and this added to other reasons, served to weaken the clan sentiment. It is doubtful if any of the Scottish clans or septs are now more widely dispersed that the descendants of Clan Ranald.

We have mentioned emigration to Australia. The last emigration from Moidart went to Australia and took place in 1852, when about five hundred went to Port Philip (now Melbourne). Little is known of the history of those of Clan Ranald who left the homeland for Australia. They were far distant from the old land, communication was difficult and the majority were not well educated. I have heard one story of a ship which left for Australia with some of the Clan Ranald aboard, and smallpox breaking out claimed many lives. This happened several times on the vessels which came to Canada.

It seems clear from what records are available, that Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, were from the first and continued to be the places most favoured by the Clan Ranald as new homes. Land was obtainable in both these provinces, and while the winter climate is cold, it sees to suit the Highlander better than the warmer climate of Australia.

Over forty years ago, and interesting book was written by Rev. Charles Macdonald, Parish Priest of Moidart, entitled "Moidart, or Among the Clan Ranald"(sic). For some of the details given in this paper, I am indebted to the book mentioned. Although charmingly written, it is said that the book is not accurate in all details and that it was Father Macdonald's intention, had he lived longer, to write another history, with more accurate data. So far as South Uist is concerned, and the other islands in which the sept resided, no detailed works of local history exist, which treat of the fortunes of the sept subsequent to 1745. In respect of Australia, I have not come across any book or sketch dealing with the history of those of the clan and their descendants who settled there. But in Nova Scotia, some local county histories have been written, which mention many families of the sept who settled in the province and whose descendants are now very numerous.

The Gael, once removed from the old land, seems to be inclined to wander, and from their new homes in the provinces of Eastern Canada, thousands moved subsequently to various states in the American Union and to the Western provinces. But there must still be a few thousand of Clan Ranald Macdonalds in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Perhaps, in view of the speed with which the modern agencies of civilisation are tending to smooth out differences between peoples, and to establish uniformity, another generation or so may see the end of all thought of clan septs and clan histories. In so far, however, as these histories tend to keep in mind such virtues as our forefathers possessed, let us hope that they will not soon be forgotten.

Dec 31, 1930

Handwritten note:

NB - The foregoing article "The Clanranald after the '45" was published in 1931 in "Mosladh" and the writer is including it as it deals with the same subject. There may be some repetition, for which the reader's indulgence is requested.

NB (2) This article was transcribed by John Dye from a collection of notes left some years ago by an American visitor.