Clan Macrae in Scotland
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Mon 28 September 2020
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Kintail was originally part of the estates of Clan Mackenzie. It is thought that the Macraes first came to Kintail in the 14th century, having previously earned a reputation as fighting men while in the service of the Lovats and having agreed to render the same service to the Mackenzies 'Rent Day in the Wilderness' by Edwin Landseer - Lord Seaforth's chamberlain, Donald Murchison, collecting rents from the Macraes of Kintailin return for lands in Kintail. This relationship between the Macraes and the Mackenzies endured until the demise of the clan system and gained the Macraes the nickname: ' Mackenzie’s shirt of mail '.

Following the failure of the 1719 Jacobite Rebellion - in which all the fighting was restricted to Eilean Donan Castle and Glen Shiel - Lord Seaforth, head of Clan Mackenzie, had his lands forfeited to the crown, including the lands tenanted by the Macraes in Kintail. Taking no notice whatever of this decree, his chamberlain, continued to collect the rents and conveyed them to his master in exile in Europe. The Commissioners for the Forfeited Estates tried to demand payment of the rents for themselves, but their attempts to do so were frustrated by the wildness of the countryside and the opposition of the Macraes. On one occasion, the Commissioners launched an armed attack, but their soldiers were driven off by the Macraes after a skirmish in the mountains between Kintail and Glen Affric.

Seaforth was eventually pardoned in 1726 and his lands were bought back for his son. Although nurturing Jacobite sympathies, the son had perhaps learned a lesson from his father’s period of exile and forbade his people from joining the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Despite this, a few Macraes did join Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces.

In July 1746, in the wake of the disaster at Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie and some companions passed through Kintail, having slipped through the cordon of redcoats closing in to trap him. They rested for a day in Glen Shiel in the shelter of a great boulder that can still be seen today, on the north side of the river, about one mile east of Achnangart.

The Five Sisters of Kintail - photograph by Duncan GrayIn the years after Culloden, when the wearing of tartan and other aspects of Highland life were proscribed, many of the men of Kintail emigrated to America. Many others enlisted in the British Army, but were not honourably treated, as was demonstrated by the Affair of the Wild Macraes.

In a census prepared in 1793, all of the inhabitants of Kintail were Macraes except for just two or three families. It appears that the clan system in Kintail at that time was as strong as anywhere in the Highlands. When Boswell and Johnson had visited Glen Shiel just a few years earlier, they found primitive conditions. Boswell described it thus:

We sat down on a green turf seat at the end of a house, and they brought us out two wooden dishes of milk. We had there in a circle all about us men, women and children, all Macraes, Lord Seaforth’s people. Not one of them could speak English. I said to Mr Johnson that it was the same as being with a tribe of Indians. "Yes," said he, "but not so terrifying." I gave all who chose it snuff and tobacco. I also gave each person a bit of wheat-bread, which they had never tasted. I then gave a penny apiece to each child.

Today, the area remains one of the most scenic in Scotland and Eilean Donan is one of the best known and most photographed castles in the Highlands. Today, the heart of Kintail, including the series of mountain peaks known as the Five Sisters of Kintail, is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

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