The Moidart Timewarp
by Tim Roberton

Sometime Before 1550 ……
The clan system evolved from feudal roots dating from 1057 when Malcolm Canmore came to the throne. In 1373, lands on the West Coast of Scotland were granted to the Macdonalds. Amongst these, a swathe running from Arisaig to Loch Shiel was specifically given to Clanranald Macdonald and reconfirmed later under charter from King Robert II. In due course, Clanranald Macdonald would give rise to two further sub-septs of the Macdonalds, namely the Macdonalds of Glenaladale and the Macdonalds of Kinlochmoidart, both of whom subsequently were to acquire their own lands in Moidart.

PREHISTORY: It is likely that Moidart has been inhabited since early times. Shell middens and worked flint found near Acharacle indicate the presence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers/hunter gatherers in the area. Burial cairns on the north shore of Loch Shiel and the remnants of a hill-top fortification at An Dun on the north shore of Loch Moidart are evidence of Bronze and Iron age occupation.

EARLY HISTORY: Norse raiders probably settled in places with Viking names such as Egnaig, and the ford across the River Shiel near Acharacle ( Ath Tharachail or Torquil's ford) is believed to be the site of the Norse leader's defeat by Somerled. Sandra Evans.

PREQUEL: …The Celts, known as Scots came from Ireland during the fifth century and settled in what became Argyllshire, forming a colony which they called Dalriada……To the north and east the Picts were in control and threatened many times to overrun the small kingdom of the Scots….. However in 864 the King of the Scots, Kenneth Macalpine succeeded to the throne of the Picts and Gaelic culture then came to dominate the whole kingdom of Alba, as Scotland was then called. Land was held in common and was considered to belong to the whole tribe……

Under Malcolm Canmore and his successors (1057-1289) the social structure was drastically changed as the feudal system of land-owning was introduced…...and…...a new concept of the legal rights to land developed. The King was considered its owner with power to grant lots by charter to certain of his subjects in return for specific dues, including military service. A "Barony", for instance, was the amount of land expected to provide the service of an armed and mounted man.

After the wars of independence which Scotland waged against England between 1296 and 1314, much land held by the pro-English was made forfeit and reallocated to Scottish patriots. This was an important factor for the growth of clan society. Land allocated to a King's favourite passed to his children…. it was essentially an aristocratic society and each member of the clan claimed kinship with the chief. As time went on, inter-clan warfare developed and it was in the interest of the chief to have a numerous following.

The clansmen were "tenants at will" and could be moved about, but it was always understood that they would always be provided with land. By the seventeenth century a chief with a well-established territory often gave a permanent lease to a son or other close relative. These tenants were known as "Tacksmen" and were responsible for the military organisation of the clan. They sublet most of their land, many living comfortably off their tenants. These tenants worked the land in groups, as joint cultivators, in a system known as "run-rig". Crofts and Crofting, by Katharine Stewart, pages 2-4

1353 In Moidart, a descendant of Somerled, John of Isla, married his cousin Amie and their descendants became the Clanranalds of Moidart. Amie was divorced by John and retired to Moidart where she improved the already existing Castle Tirrim about 1353.

1373 Ranald, first chief of Clanranald, received charter of lands including Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, Knoydart, Eigg, Rhum, and South Uist, from his father and confirmed by King Robert II. Castle Tioram, Christian Aikman, page 6

1532 The eighth chief of Clanranald Macdonald was John "Moidartach", who in 1532 was granted lands in Moidart, Arisaig, the Island of Eigg and in Uist - under The Great Seal. Castle Tioram, Christian Aikman, page 8

1544 Battle of Blar-na-leine (Field of the Shirts) between Frasers and Clanranald of Moidart at Kinlochlochy. The Hub of the Highlands, The book of Inverness and District, page 209

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