Clanranald’s Blacksmith by Hugh Cheape, Assistant Keeper, National Museums of Scotland

Clanranald’s Blacksmith may seem to be more a figure of vague tradition than a matter of firm and verifiable fact. But by drawing together stray references, traditional information and ideas generated by the subject of Gobha Mór Mac Mhic Ailein, details seem to expand into a more coherent story.

One of the benefits of a professional scholarship in Celtic Studies has been a greater understanding of the learned and professional families of medieval Gaelic society.[1] Facts buried in a range of historical or orally transmitted information are being recognised and interpreted in such a way that it is possible to identify and describe families or kindreds as following a craft or profession on a hereditary basis over generations under the patronage of the court or household of chieftain and noble. This background in most cases recedes into a remote past to the extent that the few known facts do not naturally coalesce, their signifcance is only dimly perceived, and the continuity of their potential story is lost. Such a victim of the winnowing process of history may be Clanranald’s ‘Big Smith’, the Gobha Mór Mac Mhic Ailein.

The status and prestige of the Blacksmith of Clanranald are undoubted though traditions are vague. By ‘blacksmith’, we should understand not only the gobha of more recent Gaelic idiom, but also a skilled and versatile worker in metal and probably also an armourer. He performed a different task from the ceard although his workshop was the ceardachsmithy or forge. Supporting this contention although by no means conclusive evidence, we have the remarkable survival in Moidart of ‘Clanranald’s Anvil’, a possibly medieval relic from the now deserted township of Upper or High Mingarry. Something more than the bare fact of hard, unyielding metal must have preserved this anvil into modern times. It appears to be the most tangible link with Clanranald’s Blacksmith although such assumptions have to remain more implicit than explicit.

Clanranald’s blacksmith or armourer, as an office or appointment, would have probably survived over several generations, representing a minor ‘dynasty’, if evidence from other known cases can be considered in comparison. Such a dynasty, whether long or short lived, may have served the chiefs of Clanranald exclusively on their mainland estates. Clanranald’s mainland territories comprised Moidart, Arisaig and Morar and originally also Knoydart to the north, being the main part of the Lordship of Garmoran granted by John Lord of the Isles to Reginald or Ranald, his son, about 1370.

At this early date of possibly the mid-fourteenth century, the headquarters of this extensive landholding seem to have been Castle Tioram. Tradition attributed the building of the castle at the doirlinn of Loch Moidart to Arnie MacRuairidh, the mother of Ranald and the discarded wife of the first Lord of the Isles.[2] If Castle Tioram was the early caput or ‘head-house’ of Clanranald, it would have attracted the professional and craftsman classes whose status and role were so prominent in medieval Gaelic society. In spite of the existence of favourable tacks in Arisaig and South Morar for example, tradition suggests that families of ecclesiastics, doctors, rnetalworkers, lawmen, stewards, and musicians were settled in Moidart and we find stray and albeit late references to them in the area of Loch Sheilside, Glen Moidart and Glenuig. The exercise of mutual obligations and privileges with respect to their chief was thus pragmatically possible.

Today we think of the blacksmith as a farrier, but in our historical context the demands on his skills as a metalworker were different. Most of the material evidence that we have for this topic belongs to a relatively modern period, but nevertheless we are left with the impression that weapons and armour were highly regarded possessions and their provision and maintenance of great importance. The persistent image of the Highland soldier has often in the past been articulated so powerfully that it seems to pander even to today’s imagination. Peter Rae, in his History of the Late Rebellion published in London in 1718, described the march of an armed company along Loch Lomondside:

“That night they arrived at Luss, where they were joined by Sir Humphrey Colquhoun of Luss and James Grant of Pluscarden, his son-in-law, followed by forty or fifty stately fellows in their hose and belted plaids, armed each of them with a well-fixed gun on their shoulders, a strong handsome target, with a sharp-pointed steel of about half an ell in length screwed into the navel of it, on his arm, a sturdy claymore by his side, and a pistol or two, with a dirk and a knife in his belt.”

Slightly earlier in date, when the soldiers of the ‘Highland Host’ were quartered on the conventicling parishes of Renfrewshire and Ayrshire in 1678, an observer could comment on their appearance, seemingly odd to the contemporary Lowland eye:

“It would be truly a pleasant sight, were it at an ordinary weaponshow, to see this Highland crew. . . . As for their armes and other militarie accoutrements, it is not possible for me to describe them in writing; here you may see head-pieces and steel-bonnets raised like pyramids. . . strange pieces of armour mentioned in our old lawes, such as bosnet, iron-hat, gorget, pesane, wambrassers. and reerbrassers, panns, leg-splents, and the like, above what any occasion in the Lowlands would have afforded for several hundreds of yeers. “[3]

Manuscript collections relating to early Gaelic society are well-supplied with heroic and romantic tales whose stock themes are the virtue of strength and bravery and the possession of fantastic weapons.[4] This ingredient in imaginative literature was required to inform succeeding generations in what was required of them. For those whose duty and vocation it was to do battle, there was plentiful employment.[5] The mainstay for example of the small, mobile armies that fought the Anglo-Norman occupation in Ireland from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries were the gall-òglaichthe ‘gallowglasses’, professional soldiers supposedly of mixed Gaelic and Norse descent. They were men of substance and traditionally heavily armed: their weapon was the axe and they wore body-armour. Their role and reputation was important and emphasizes the importance of the individual warrior in Gaelic society. The different branches of Clan Donald were obvious candidates for mercenary employment in Ireland. Their territories straddle the North Channel between the Mull of Kintyre and Fair Head, and many of the clan occupied lands in Antrim by the fifteenth century and had personal interests to protect By the sixteenth century, Gaels were in Ireland in such numbers as to form a significant strategic element in the O’Neill and O’Donnell rebellions against Elizabethan rule.

Such warfare and its requirements of well-made accoutrements are recurrent themes of Highland history. The three marks of the warrior-hero and artistocrat, the helmet, the mail-coat and the sword, might be used as a symbol and formula of classic panegyric song. They were neatly formularised by one who knew their worth. Donald MacDonald, MacIain Ic Sheumais (c. 1570-1630), the victor of the battle in 1601 at Carinish in North Uist, composed an extempore song in old age addressing his baby grandson and telling him that he had given his son-in-law, the baby’s father, the three ‘jewels’ of mail-shirt, helmet, and sword, as well as a good wife:

“S mi thug na tri seòid dha t’athair,
Luireach, is clogad, is claidheamh …” 

Surviving poetry and song preserves colloquialisms of earlier generations, and a familiar and conventional term for weapons of value was lannan Spàinnteach, ‘Spanish blades’. This was a phrase used frequently by the bards of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was often shortened to Spàinnteach. It might sometimes be augmented by reference to claisean or flutings on the blade, the most highly prized being the lann trichlaiseach, the ‘three­times fluted blade’. We should not exclude the likelihood that such a phrase might be employed as a poetic metaphor and may or may not in fact have described a sword or sword blade made in Spain. Poetry at least suggests that fashion and prestige dictated that swords had to be imported from abroad. No doubt, the prevailing situation wasmore complex than this.

It has been suggested that the fact of the sword being used liberally as a symbol on funerary and commemorative monuments may indicate that such weapons were of native manufacture. The fact that they are of a particularly distinctive type and possibly unique to Scotland may corroborate such a suggestion.[7] Tradition however seems to be strong in its contention that there was a considerable sword-making industry at home in the Highlands. The most frequently repeated names of swordsmiths and armourers of the clan period were the MacNabs of Dalmally on the mainland and MacRurys in the islands.

The customary high regard for metalworkers is evident from earliest mythology where, for example, Vulcan, the smith, was the god of blacksmiths and workers in iron. The making of swords had been imbued with an aura of magic since the possession of the best sword conferred invincibility. Such belief was well expressed in the Ossianic cycle of prose tales and ballads which had a continuous and lively existence as the oral literature of the Gael from at least the eighth until the eighteenth centuries. One of the repeated motifs described the sword of Fionn the leader of the warrior band and archetype hero. Typically, the sword had magic properties and was familiarised as Mac-an-Luinn. Another motif was the smith’s advice that the arms should be tempered in the blood of a living person.[8]

Something of the material culture of medieval Gaelic society may be inferred from the portrayal of weapons and tools on tombstones and commemorative monuments in the West Highlands and Islands. It was for example a well established practice in the late medieval period to use the symbols of hammer, anvil and tongs as the smith’s insignia. Typically, its symbolism would be carved to commemorate a member of a hereditary family of smiths who might have carried on their trade through many generations. Early contemporary sources are unequivocal about the status of the smith. He was customarily treated in the same fashion as gentleman or noble.

In a tradition that can be traced back to the law tracts of the seventh and eight centuries, craftsmen belonged to the Oes Dànathe ‘Folk of Gifts’, of the Gaelic society of Ireland and Scotland whose rank and privileges equated with those of the lay nobility. This learned or professional class included the poet or fíle, the historian or seanchaidhthe law-man or brithem, the physician or ligicheand the craftsman or saer including workers in stone and wood as well as metal. The social equation is specifically codified in the early Irish law tracts in which the smith is said to be of the same status as the physician, and both the craftsman and the doctor were equated with a nobleman.

Memories and first-hand information on the status and dynastic significance of craftsman families have even been recorded in the modern period. An early eighteenth century manuscript history of the Campbells of Craignish, a coastal parish in south Argyll, described one of the leading families of the district as MacEacherns and continued: ‘There are other tribes of them yet in Morvine and in Ilay commonly called Clan Gowan, they being haereditary Smiths in these countries for seaverall Generations.’ In this context ‘Clan Gowan’ represents Clan a’Ghobhainn, the ‘Children of the Smith’ or Gobha. [9]

The travel writer, Thomas Pennant, refers to a smith named MacNab in his account of the Glenorchy district in 1769: ‘On an eminence on the South side of this vale dwells McNabb, a smith, whose family have lived in that humble situation since the year 1440, being always of the same profession.’ Pennant also noted a tombstone in the Kirkyard of Glenorchy carved with the smith’s hammer and tools of his trade.[10]

The MacNab armourer-blacksmiths at Barachastalain, Dalmally, were discovered by others. Dr Thomas Garnett, the physician and scientist, published his Observations on a Tour through the Highlands undertaken in July 1798 when he had been teaching in Glasgow in the Anderson Institution, the forerunner of the University of Strathclyde. His book was narrow in geographical range but wide-ranging in subject-matter. In Dalmally, he visited the local minister and his sister who enthralled him with stories of the MacNabs who, as local blacksmiths, had a formidable reputation as hereditary smiths and armourers. It seems not without coincidence that they had a manuscript of ‘several poems of Ossian’.[11]

The best known of the hereditary smiths and armourers in the islands were MacRurys who were said to have served the MacDonalds in Skye having their place of dwelling in Trotternish in the north of the island. The same kindred moved to North Uist in the seventeenth century and others of the family continued in the same profession in Benbecula and South Uist, and certainly in the latter islands, MacRurys considered themselves to be descended from the MacDonalds of Clanranald.

The common element in these references is that of the kindred such as Clann a’Ghobhainn following the same profession for generations, if not centuries, and in the case of the MacNabs, according to their own testimony, since the mid-fifteenth century. Though apparently random, the date of 1440 may be of significance beyond family tradition and might be related to other contemporary developments, such as the rule of Alexander, the third Lord of the Isles, who seems to have been more consistently committed to mainland territories than others of his dynasty.

These are some of the aspects of Highland history in a more or less remote past that provide a relevant setting for Clanranald’s Blacksmiths and demonstrate that such a man occupied a special position in Gaelic society.

One of the avenues by which Clanranald’s Smith enters written history is through Stewart tradition.[12] Following the return of the clan from Flodden, Alan Stewart, third of Appin, granted the lands of Invernahyle to his youngest son Alexander, known to tradition as Alasdair an T-Sithchail, ‘The Peaceful’. A feud with the Campbells of Dunstaffnage resulted in the murder of the same Alexander on Eilean nan Gall in Loch Linnhe. Alexander was married to Mairead (Margaret), daughter of Donald of Moidart, known as Domhnall an Lochain, one of the sons of Alexander seventh of Clanranald and the youngest brother of John of Moidart. Margaret brought with her to Appin, Monag, the wife of Clanranald’s Smith, described as the armourer of Moidart. His name was Raibeart a ‘PheitidhThis is certainly an unusual name in the context of Moidart and the Clan Ranald, and begs questions of origin. The name ‘Robert’ is of essentially Anglo-Norman and Continental origin rather than Gaelic, though its use by the kings of Scots in the fourteenth century would probably have given it wider currency. The qualifying ‘a Pheti’ or a’ Pheitidh may indicate a place of origin such as Petty on the Moray Firth or, alternatively, may preserve an archaic substantive.

We might expect the professional and craftsman families or kindreds to belong immemorially to a district or locality. The balance of evidence is otherwise, suggesting that craftsmen tended to be more mobile than the rest of the population, possibly being invited or lured to a noble court on the strength of their reputation. It is for example a firm tradition that a Corbett of Moidart had made the flag staff for Prince Charles’ standard raised at Glenfinnan in August 1745. This is an unusual name in the context of Moidart and it is a local tradition that the first Corbett had come from Ross and had been brought in to work as a carpenter, the Gaelic saor or early Irish saerHis arrival may have been possibly in the same context as the David Paterson who was brought into Moidart to work on the embellishment of Castle Tioram. As with ‘Robert the Smith’, ‘David the Mason’ represents an unusual name in Moidart tradition.[13] Tradition is firm that as smith or armourer of Moidart he was a man of status and substance. Whether by his own ability and resourcefulness or by virtue of his office as armourer, he was the tacksman of farms on Loch Sheilside. This was probably in the area of Mingarry and Sheilbridge since tradition records that his young foster-son could dive into a pool of the River Sheil near the smith’s house and bring up a salmon with his hands. His skill is recalled in Stewart tradition which averred that ‘Raibeart’s armour-work bore the highest reputation, so much so that it was a common question in the district “Is that a Moidart-made sword you wear?”

On the occasion of the murder of Stewart of Invernahyle, the Campbells of Dunstaffnage under the leadership of Cailean Uaine killed all his followers and took possession of his land and gear. No one was allowed to escape though it happened that the Smith’s wife, Morag, who, as the nurse of Stewart of Invernahyle’s son Donald, was away out in the fields with her infant charge, heard of the imminent threat to the heir of Invernahyle, and escaped with him, intending to return to Moidart. The account of events includes the circumstantial detail of the child being hidden in a cave temporarily to escape detection and surviving for three days on a meagre but cunningly contrived ration of lard. In Moidart, Donald of Invernahyle was reared by Raibeart and Morag, the Blacksmith and his wife, as their dalta with all that this meant for trust, loyalty and affection. As the boy grew to manhood, he assisted the Blacksmith in his work. Such was his strength that he could wield a large fore-hammer in each hand for the length of the longest day. He thus earned the name Domhnall nan Ord, ‘Donald of the Hammers’, in addition to the by-name of Dalt’ a ‘Ghobhainn, ‘The Armourer’s Foster-son’.

In order to strengthen the ties of kinship and clanship, and apparently deriving from a close friendship, Morag was acting as ‘nurse’ to the infant son of Alexander and Margaret of Invernahyle. The child was called Donald after his mother’s father. As rendered in the English in which these traditions were transmitted, ‘nurse’ most probably derives from Gaelic banaltrum, from which we might infer the more significant relationship of fosterage. By this, the nurse adopts the weighty responsibility of rearing and part educating the child from infancy virtually to adulthood in her family. Her husband becomes foster-father and her own sons foster-brothers to the child; he is their dalta and the relationship of fosterage, comhdhaltas, created firm social bonds from generation to generation.[14]

Chieftains were in the habit of fostering their sons with kinsmen or vassals in such a way to ensure loyal support, and the honour of fostering the child of a chief was eagerly sought by his clansmen. The strength of the relationship thus created was proverbial in Gaelic society; as the saying went: Comhdhaltas gu ciad, ‘s cairdeas gu fichead, or ‘fostership to a hundred degrees, and blood-relationship to twenty’.[15]

The other main piece of evidence concerning Clanranald’s Blacksmith belongs also to the sixteenth century, significantly a period of ferment and vigour and one that has left a considerable mark on tradition. One of the most renowned of Clanranald chieftains was ‘John of Moidart’, still readily recalled in local tradition as Iain MùideartachHe belongs to that period of Highland history whose significance is often recalled in terms of warfare and bloodshed but in reality belongs to the era in which clans and their territories were formed and defined. He is a figure round which cluster stories whose motifs belong to a wider context of oral tradition, for example that he was said to have spent a year in his mother’s womb and to have cut a tooth before birth. Though an illegitimate son of a younger son of Allan, the Chief of Clanranald, he was elected to the chiefship in preference to Allan’s son by a later marriage. This was a legitimate heir, Ranald Gallda or ‘Stranger’, so named because he had been brought up by his mother’s people, the Frasers of Lovat, far away from Moidart.

The Frasers enjoyed the favour of the king, James V. and began to intrigue on behalf of their kinsmen Ronald Galldato revoke John of Moidart’s title to his lands confirmed by Crown charter. In the prolonged struggle that followed, John of Moidart and his men defeated the Frasers and their supporters at the head of Loch Lochy, in the battle of Kinloch Lochy, variously called Blar na Léine or Blar Lèinidh.

While lamenting the unhappy business of an uncompromising clan battle, Father Charles MacDonald recounts with a hint of ambivalence a tradition current in Moidart in his day. His ambivalence would doubtless stem from a necessary priestly disavowal of such brutality, however far distant in time, weighed against the obvious popularity of the story as repeated by his parishioners in the ceilidh house. The immediacy and circumstantial detail of the vignette that he gives us in his Moidart suggests that he had heard it told vigorously at first hand. [16]

He tells of the encounter of two champions, a Clanranald MacDonald and a Fraser who, having deliberately singled each other out for combat, challenged and taunted one another and then attacked. The verba ipsissima as used by Father Charles should be repeated, their significance lying in the fact that they may possibly represent a precis in English of a Gaelic original:

“The MacDonald, while delivering a vigorous lunge with his broadsword – “Take that from Clanranald’s blacksmith!”- The Fraser, parrying the thrust, and then swinging his battle axe over the Moidart man’s head, – “And thou, receive this from MacShimie’s blacksmith!” When the day was over, these two worthies were found lying beside each other, both dead, their bodies shockingly mangled.”

It is interesting to speculate over words, idioms, expressions or phraseology used by the Moidart seanchaidh whose delight it was to recall this circumstantial detail of the Battle of Kinloch Lochy. The reported speech may have been couched thus: Gabhaidh sin bho Gobha Mac Mhic Ailein, which in turn drew the retort: Agus sibhse, gabhaibh seo bho Gobha Mac Shimidh! Much of Father Charles’ information derived from a John MacDonald (c.1770-c.1860) who lived in Scardoish, a much respected seanchaidh known as Iain Bàn Sgardois who may have been the source of this account of. Clanranald’s Blacksmith.

The theme of battle is a familiar one in Highland history and the motif of single combat between warriors recurs. Descriptions of the Celtic peoples in Europe by the pens of classical writers dwell on such traits of character and behaviour as the practice of single combat and verbal challenge and mutual abuse by the champions of opposing armies, and the ritual of claim and contest of the hero’s portion of food at the feast. All these details are closely matched in the later Irish sources. The warriors of the Ulster sagas behave as the Celts of Gaul, and the challenge to single combat, for example, is the central theme of the great Irish prose epic of the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’. This sort of combat was the preserve of a privileged and militarised aristocracy and was itself symbolic of aristocratic privilege.

There are few facts to flesh out the traditions of Clanranald’s Blacksmith, although the traditions themselves seem to bear out the importance to history of the man and his office. According to Alastair Cameron, ‘North Argyll’ (1896-1973), there was a ‘fencing school’ at or near Glenuig, a fact which though scant in detail, conforms to the logic of proximity to Castle Tioram, the Clanranald ‘head-house’, and the availability of metalworking skills and sources of iron smelted in or near the denser woodland on the Clanranald mainland territory.[17] Other instances occur elsewhere of ‘schools’ for training and exercise in arms and swordsmanship. Highlanders earned a reputation for skill with weapons and it was well known that speed is of the essence in fencing and that constant exercise and practice were absolutely necessary in swordsmanship. The Stewarts of Ardsheil kept a school for sword exercise in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and about the same time the men of Glencoe were said to be particularly expert in swordplay. The minister of Kirkhill, Mr James Fraser, described in the Wardlaw Manuscript how successive chiefs of Lovat trained their men in the martial arts and swordsmanship.[18]

It is a point of curiosity perhaps rather than of great significance that Alexander MacDonald, Mac Mhaighstir Alasdairhas included in his Vocabulary of 1741 the Gaelic for ‘fencing master’, Fear Claodhaimh Feinnsair, a phrase residing oddly in the compiler’s Section 33, ‘Of Tradesmen and their Tools, Etc.’. Whether he was influenced in this choice by knowledge of his native Moidart can only be speculation.[19]

Alastair Cameron, ‘North Argyll’, also speculated on the manufacture of the Bell of St Finnan which had acquired a tongue of iron rather than a possible earlier tongue of bronze. He suggests that for a task as significant and prestigious as resurrecting the voice of Clag Beag Fhìannain the hereditary armourers to Clanranald might have been entrusted with it ‘North Argyll’ invites us to imagine that one of the Gobhainn Móra, ‘Big Blacksmiths’ of Moidart cast and inserted the tongue, what Alexander MacDonald names in 1741 as teanga a’ Chluig.[20]

In the present state of knowledge, we have no firm conclusions to offer except for the significance of the mainly sixteenth century evidence from Moidart and the wider context.

Clanranald’s smith or armourer, known as the Gobha Mor, must have been more than a figment of tradition although corroborative written evidence is sparse. It is said that members of his family were known for their physical strength, a tangible point allowing us to visualise them. It is uncertain when the dynasty became extinct although earlier this century it was said that descendants were still in Ardnamurchan. It is unfortunate that few tacks on the Clanranald estates were held on written leases at least until the late eighteenth century, since it might be imagined that the race of armourers survived while traditional society remained largely intact. A Judicial Rental of Clanranald’s Estates carried out for the Barons of Exchequer in August 1748, pending a possible forfeiture, records Mingarry, the reputed home of the armourers, as a penny land. The tenants were Archibald Mclllick and Hugh McVarish (half farthing land), Mary MacDonald and Mary McVarish (fourth part of farthing land), Roderick McPherson and Donald Mclsaac (each three quarters of a farthing land), and Donald Brown (farthing land). If one of these was of the family of the Gobha Mor. their family had lost the status and prestige of former generations.[21]

After sifting fugitive evidence we are left with only one major item to strike the senses. It is a curious symbol and a badge of office. ‘Clanranald’s Anvil’ is a most impressive relic, a rare survival possibly from the late medieval period or even earlier. It is an irregularly shaped lump of iron or steel of a density such as to make it very difficult to lift without a conscious and deliberate exertion of strength. Given its relatively small size, this dead-weight quality will come as a surprise to anyone intending to lift or move it. Without sophisticated testing, it is not possible here to account for its character except to suggest that the anvil is of steel with a relatively high carbon content subjected to a long process of hardening and tempering.

The base measures 7 1/8 in (18cm) over its longest dimension and is not flat and barely in the same plane as the top. This may be a deliberate feature rather than an indication of damage in antiquity, the irregular surface potentially bedding more securely into a wooden block to bring the anvil up to a practical working height. Certainly, the anvil should have been set perfectly level for best results. One might speculate that it would have been set air ploc dàraichon a block of best Loch Sheil oak. The height of the anvil is almost 8in (20cm approximately). The top working surface is approximately 11 3/4in (30cm) over its length and 6 3/4in (17cm) across. A protruding ‘beak’ gives it added length over the base.

A good anvil may be judged by its ring. When struck, the anvil gives off a clear, high-pitched ‘ring’, of a note and an intensity that is nothing short of memorable and mystical, perhaps, to the receptive ear, a voice from the past.[22]


1.     See for example Derick S. Thomson, Gaelic Learned Orders and Literati in Medieval Scotland, in Scottish Studies Volume 12 (1968), 57-78; John Bannerman, The Beatons: a medical kindred in the classical Gaelic tradition, Edinburgh 1986.

2.       Rev. Fr. Charles MacDonald, Moidart; or among the Clanranalds Oban 1889, 23. Father Charles MacDonald was Priest of Moidart (Sagart Ruadh Mhùideartfrom 1860 to 1892 and a tireless collector of traditional and historical lore in his parish. See also Jean Munro and R.W. Munro, editors, Acts of the Lords of the Isles 1336-1493 Edinburgh : Scottish History Society 1986, 10-11, 13.

3.       Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis Edinburgh : lona Club 1847, Appendix, 42.

4.     The use of these themes is exemplified in long heroic tales such as Eachdraidh Chonaill Ghulbann which were so popular in oral tradition and derived from early Irish literature. An outstanding feature of this particular tale is the extended descriptions of swords and their qualities. See J.F. Campbell, Popular Tales ofthe West Highlands Volume III, Edinburgh 1862, 190, where the hero is given the sword, A ‘Gheur Ghlas.

5.     Early sources suggest that there was hard and fast discrimination between those who fought and those who worked, between a warrior aristocracy and the adscniptus glebae; see for example W.F. Skene, Celtic Scotland Volume III, Edinburgh 1880, 429.

6.     Rev. A. MacDonald and Rev. A. MacDonald, The MacDonald Collection of Gaelic Poetry Inverness 1911, 34.

7.     See for example K.A. Steer and J.W.M. Bannerman Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 1977, 141-42 and Plate 29.

8.   J.F. Campbell (as above), 110-111, 394.

9.   Herbert Campbell, editor, The Manuscript History of Craignish, in Miscellany of the Scottish History Society Volume 4 (1926), 205.

10.  Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland 1769 Fourth Edition London 1776, 235-36.

11.   See also K.W. Grant, Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll Oban 1925,47-48, stressing their dynastic continuity, their learning and ability to read and write.

12.  John J.H. Stewart and Lt. Col. Duncan Stewart, The Stewarts of Appin Edinburgh 1880, 165-167; R Jamieson, The History of Donald the Hammerer, in Burt’s Letters from the North of Scotland Edinburgh 1876, LIII-LXVI.

13.   Cohn S. MacDonald (Kingston, Ontario), Historical Notes on Moidart Typescript rc. 1950]; Rev. Fr. Charles MacDonald (as above), 25.

14.  The fosterage of Donald of the Hammers followed customary lines so that when he went to recover his patrimony, the Blacksmith presented him with his sons to aid him in recovering his natural rights.

15.  In this context, the ties must have been strong since marriage and kinship between Moidart and Appin were well established in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

16.  Rev. Fr. Charles MacDonald (as above), 50.

17.   Cohn S. MacDonald (Kingston, Ontario) (as above).

18.  Rev. John MacKechnie, editor, The Dewar Manuscripts Glasgow 1963, 161,238; William Mackay, editor, Chronicles of the Frasers: The Wardlaw Manuscript Edinburgh : Scottish History Society 1905, 171, 257.

19.  Alexander MacDonald, A Galick and English Vocabulary Edinburgh 1741, 50. It has to be borne in mind that this work was a translation ofpre-existing Latin word-lists commissioned by the SPCK rather than a compilation within the Gaelic idiom.

20.   Alastair Cameron, St Finnian ~ Isle. Eilean Fhianain : its story Oban 1957, 4-5; T.S. Muir, Ecclesiological Notes on Some of the Islands of Scotland Edinburgh 1885, 77; Alexander MacDonald (as above), 109.

21.  Cohn S. MacDonald (Kingston, Ontario) (as above); Scottish Record Office E 744/1, Judicial Rental of the Estate of Clanronald, Taken up by David Bruce Esq., one of the Surveyors of the Forfeited Estates in Scotland, 1748, 100.

22.   I have benefitted from discussing many of the above points with Charles MacFarlane, Glenfinnan, John Dye, Acharacle. and Fiona Marwick, West Highland Museum, Fort William, and I would like to acknowledge their help and advice with grateful thanks.