Loch Duich and Eilean Donan castle, seat of the Clan MacRae
The name MacRae or Macrae began by being given to individual men in various places who were thought to be endowed with an unusual gift of sanctity and grace. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries it was used as the personal name of lords, poets and mostly, ecclesiastics. The earliest traditions point towards an Irish origin of the Clan. During the Scottish-Norwegian War the Clan MacRae fought for King Alexander III of Scotland at the Battle of Largs in 1263 against the Norse Viking army of King Haakon IV of Norway. The Norwegians were defeated and driven out of Scotland.
The first known home of a MacRath in Scotland was at Clunes in the Beauly District on the lands of Bissett, Lord Lovat, sometime during the last half of the 13th century. According to tradition, his name was Maurice and he had four sons. The Bissetts lost control of Lovat sometime between 1305 and 1333, when with no male heirs, their daughter Mary married a Fraser and he became Lord Lovat. Mary and at least two succeeding generations of Fraser children were fostered (raised) in a MacRath home, and they developed such warm feelings for their foster family that the Frasers inscribed over the door at Beaufort Castle in Beauly the following:
“Fhad ‘sa bhitheas Frisealach a stigh, na bitheadh MacRath a muigh” (As long as a Fraser lives within, let not a MacRath remain without.)
Eilean Donan castle and some surroundings
At some point for reasons unclear, the sons of Maurice left Clunes. One son, Ian, went to Kintail on the West coast of the Highlands where he was connected with the Mackenzies, who were just getting a foothold in the west having recently acquired Eilean Donan Castle. Ian established a family which became one of the chief families of Kintail for approximately 200 years. The second MacRae to go to Kintail was invited by Murdoch, fourth chief of the Mackenzies. Other MacRaes likely migrated west to Kintail in succeeding years.
However the founder of Clan MacRae was Fionnla Dubh Mac Gillechriosd (Black Finlay, the son of Christopher.) His courage and wise counsel in a time of crisis led Alexander, the Mackenzie Chief, to greatly increase his power and that of the Kintail MacRaes. The MacRaes were expert marksmen who served as archers and warriors for the Mackenzie forces first in Kintail and also in Gairloch. They were the official bodyguards of the Mackenzies who were themselves the official bodyguards of the King. They became famous as the Mackenzies’ “shirt of mail.”
There was a bond of trust and affection between the MacRaes, Mackenzies and MacLeans perhaps initially because the three clans were of common ancestry. During the ascent of the Mackenzies in the west, this bond between the MacRaes and the Mackenzies was cemented by the loyalty and distinguished service of the MacRaes who were instrumental in the Mackenzies’ acquisition of land and title. Mackenzie Chiefs became Barons, then eventually Lords and Earls of Seaforth. In return, Mackenzie chiefs repeatedly appointed MacRaes to be Constables of Eilean Donan Castle. MacRaes also served as counselors to the chiefs, tutors of the chiefs’ sons, Chamberlains of Kintail and ministers of the local churches. There were also poets, physicians and musicians among the MacRaes. But the times and circumstances dictated that they would be most known for their prowess in combat. Two often quoted sayings were: “Little wat ye wha’s comin’ A’ the wild MacRas are comin” and “Of a’ the Heilan’Clans, MacNab is most ferocious, except the MacIntyres, the MacRas and the Mackintoshes.”
17th century & Civil War
The Rev. Farquhar MacRae, born in 1580, Constable of Eilandonan, was both an energetic churchman and a great Latin scholar. On his first visit to the island of Lewis he is said to have baptised all the inhabitants under forty years of age, no clergyman having resided on the island during that period. His second son, John MacRae, who became minister of Dingwall in 1640 and died in 1704,
During the Civil War the Clan MacRae supported the Royalist cause and fought on the side of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose where they were victorious at the Battle of Auldearn in May 1645.
Rev. Farquhar MacRae’s grandson, Duncan Macrae of Inverinate was the compiler of the famous Fernaig manuscript 1688-93. However due to his marriage to one of the daughters of John Macleod of the island of Raasay, he was deprived of his inheritance.
18th century & Jacobite Uprisings
The Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 was a disastrous event for the MacRaes. The crucial battle was the Battle of Sheriffmuir, near Stirling. The MacRaes formed the left flank and were left unprotected when the Jacobite cavalry was moved by error across to the right. The Highland foot (Macraes) were charged by the Government cavalry, fell back and rallied again and again, up to twelve times. Of the 232 Jacobite casualties suffered in the battle, 60 were killed and 58 of those were MacRaes. Among those killed was Duncan MacRae.
In 1720 a force of men from the Clan Ross, led by chief William Ross 6th of the Pitcalnie line and his brother Robert went on a rent collecting expedition into the lands of the MacKenzies. They were confronted by a force of 300 men from the Clan MacKenzie and Clan MacRae, led by a Colonel Donald Murchison. The Rosses were outnumbered and after a short battle some discussion took place between the two sides and the Rosses withdrew realising that further resistance was useless. The next day chief William Ross died of his wounds. His nephew William, son of Robert Ross was also wounded but survived. Although the Clan Macrae was not out in the ‘45, many of the Macraes took part in the rising and in fact their reputation as warriors continued over the generations and earned them the title “the wild MacRaes”.
Although the Clan MacRae and Clan MacKenzie are known to have largely supported the Jacobites under their clan chiefs, later some took the side of the British government as part of the Independent Companies under Captain Colin MacKenzie. It is recorded that the MacKenzie Company was at Shiramore in Badenoch in June 1746 and it included over sixty MacRaes.
Great War Highlands Monument Clan MacRae
As a young man he was known for both his superior strength and his tender heart. During the battle he killed at least seven men with his claymore before he was shot down by an English trooper. His claymore was exhibited for many years in the Tower of London as “The great Highlander’s sword.” Another MacRae killed at Sheriffmuir was John of Conchra. Distinguished in battle and esteemed in the Highlands, he was one of the “Four Johns of Scotland.” Four years later in the battle of Glenshiel, Eilean Donan Castle was blown up from the inside by Government forces following the surrender of the castle by garrisoned Spanish defenders. It remained in ruins for 200 years.
The Jacobite wars ended with a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Culloden on Culloden Moor in 1746. Afterwards, the people living on the lands of the Earl of Seaforth who had been the richest in the Highlands became impoverished as harsh reprisals were enforced against them. In the process, the clan system was crushed. Highlanders emigrated to places such as Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand. Clan MacRae became the “Scattered children of Kintail.” Among those who remained in Scotland was Lt.-Col. John MacRae- Gilstrap, a direct descendant of the founder of Clan MacRae, Fionnia Dubh Mac Gillechriosd. He purchased the castle ruins and rebuilt it from 1912-1932. Its beauty plus its spectacular setting has made it the most photographed castle in Great Britain and it draws many visitors every year.
Clan castle and seat
Clachan Duich Highland Church in ruins and burial ground of Clan MacRae
The seat of the Clan MacRae is currently Eilean Donan Castle, located on Loch Duich. The castle was formerly the stronghold of the MacKenzie Chiefs.
Origin of the name
The surname Macrae (and its variations) is an Anglicisation of the patronymic from the Gaelic personal name Macraith. This personal name meant “son of grace”.
Sgurr Fhuaran seen from Sgurr na Ciste Dhuibhe.
Today, members of Scottish clans have several different ways of showing their allegiance to their clan. Crest badges, clan badges, and clan tartans are all means of identifying clans and their members. Crest badges are worn by clan members usually on a bonnet or upon the chest. A crest badge usually contains the clan chief’s heraldic motto and heraldic crest, however Clan Macrae does not have a clan chief. The crest badge suitable to be worn by a member of Clan Macrae conatins the crest: A cubit arm grasping a sword all Proper. The motto which circles the crest is: FORTITUDINE, which is Latin and means “with fortitude”. Clan badges (sometimes called plant badges) are often attributed to clans. These are actually plants, of which sprigs of are worn upon a bonnet or upon the chest, like a badge. The clan badge of Clan Macrae is club moss. Club moss is sometimes referred to as staghorn grass, and may refer to the Mackenzie chiefly arms, or at least the Macrae’s close association with the Mackenzies.
Slogans are sometimes attributed to clans, and/or are used in Scottish heraldry by clan chiefs as a second motto. Slogans represent war cry of the clan. Sometimes they refer to a prominent rallying point in the clan’s traditional lands. The slogan attributed to Clan Macrae is Sgurr Uaran. It refers to Sgurr Fhuaran, a mountain in the Kintail area, near Loch Duich. This mountain is one of the “Five Sisters of Kintail“.