Relics of Macdonalds of Glenalladale by Iain Cameron Taylor.

Lt. Col. Iain Cameron Taylor is Historian to the National Trust for Scotland.

Glenfinnan lies at the head of Loch Shiel and, as all readers of this magazine will know, close to the marches between Clanranald and the Cameron country. The National Trust for Scotland, in its display in the new Information Centre at Glenfinnan, has therefore tried to play fair in its allocation of space and emphasis to both clans, as well as to the central historical episode of 1745, in which both played such a noteworthy part. Members of Clan Donald will find much to interest them at Glenfinnan and in the display, where the Glenalladale branch of the Clan is especially well represented.

Probably one of the most historic and valuable items on exhibition is the very old set of bagpipes, long known as The Clanranald Pipes. This superb acquisition was made possible through the generosity of their loan to the Trust by Archibald MacKellaig, Esq., Glenfinnan, who also presented the framed old colour print of Glenalladale’s piper (circa 1820) which is displayed beside the pipes.

The pipes, which are believed to have been played at Culloden, may very likely have been played too at the Raising of the Standard at Glenfinnan eight months before. Certainly the story is told of Clanranald’s regiment marching up the hill to the gathering on Culloden Field, headed by Glenalladale’s piper playing “Hey, Johnnie Cope.” This is the earliest known occasion when that tune, recalling the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans and destined to become so famous, was played. Glenalladale himself, Alexander MacDonald, was Major to the regiment and so it is not stretching credibility very far to conclude that these are the very pipes which skirled and ranted on that fatal morning. After the Rising they remained in, or came into, the keeping of the Macdlonalds of Glenalladale and the last of the “Lairds of the Glens” presented them to Mr. MacKellaig, to whom now the Trust is deeply indebted.

The bagpipes were extensively repaired and remodelled during the 19th century so that it is difficult to know how much of the original piob remains. This also accounts for the difference in their present appearance from those shown in the old print alongside of Glenalladale’s piper. I was fortunate enough to hear the Clanranald pipes on the last occasion on which they were played. This was at the Glenfinnan Gathering in August 1966 and the piper was a Moidart man. It is tribute to the player and to the craftsman of long ago that the pipes had on that day a wonderful and unforgettable mellow tone still.

The tartan, which is displayed in the Trust’s Information Centre, has been reproduced from an old piece discovered in Canada by Ranald S.J. MacDonald (representative of Glenalladale). The original was in the possession of an elderly priest, descended from Captain John MacDonald of Glenalladale. Glenalladale, after selling the estate to his Borrodale cousin, emigrated to Prince Edward Island with many of his clansmen in 1773. The old piece of tartan is believed to come from a plaid taken to Canada by Captain John and treasured there ever since by his descendants. His grandson, by the way, was Sir William MacDonald, the Montreal tobacco magnate, who founded MacDonald College at St. Anne Bellevue, Quebec Province, in 1907.

The Borrodale family, assuming the title and lands of Glenalladale, continued to live at Arisaig, as the house of the ‘4 Lairds of the Glens” had been burned down during the Hanoverian military occupation but last century they built Glenfinnan House to be their seat. The last in the direct male line of this notable family, both branches of which had taken such an active part in the ‘Forty-five’ Rising, was Colonel John Andrew MacDonald of Glenalladale, or Fear nan Gleann. He died in 1916 aged 79 and lies buried in the beautiful little church he helped to build at Glenfinnan.

The tartan, like so many of that or earlier periods, is irregular (i.e. not symmetrical in pattern) and differs considerably from any of the MacDonald setts commonly in use today, although it has one feature in common with the Boisdale tartan, i.e. a blue stripe bounded by white guard lines. Like the Boisdale, as described by James Logan in 1826, the Glenalladale can be said to be “a family tartan of a red pattern, with several colours agreeably varied.”

Because of the family’s close association latterly with Glenfinnan and also to emphasize that in its original form the tartan may well have been no more than a “District” pattern, the National Trust has taken the cautious step (and a necessary one, I think, in these days of controversy over clan and district tartans) of adding a sub-title to the tartan, so that it is now known as “MacDonald of Glenalladale (Glenfinnan) Tartan,” or, if preferred, “Glenfinnan (MacDonald of Glenalladale) Tartan.” But leaving aside the naming or its dissimilarity to better known MacDonald setts, there can be no doubt that the rediscovered tartan is a lovely and distinctive one. The sett shows well the old Highland love of exuberant colour, which could nevertheless be subtly blended and expressed with admirable taste and discernment.

The National Trust for Scotland was delighted to arrange that the tartan should first be worn in public again (for nearly 200 years?) by Ronald Mackellaig, the well-known Warden of the Glenfinnan Centre and himself of an old Clanranald family, on the occasion of his wedding at Glenfinnan in November 1966.

Finally, the interested Clan Donald visitor to Glenfinnan should not leave the Information Centre without acquiring a copy of the little yellow-covered booklet entitled “The MacDonalds of Glenalladale.” This was written, illustrated and published by Iain R. Mackay Esq. of Inverness. Rory Mackay’s historical knowledge of West Highland families, particularly the Glenalladales from whom he is descended on his mother’s side, never fails to excite and intrigue me. I am certain that those who read his pamphlet will join with me in hoping that he can find time from his multifarious activities (and his business!) to embark on a revised and even much fuller edition of this work. It is fitting too that I should acknowledge here that it was entirely due to Rory Mackay (and the fortunate coincidence of the writer’s long friendship with him) that the National Trust for Scotland was able to obtain the design and to reproduce the MacDonald of Glenalladale (Glenfinnan) Tartan.

Although not at Glenfinnan, there is one other historic Glenalladale relic in the neighbourhood which is well worth the additional mileage to go and see. Indeed the detour south by the new road from Lochailort to Kinlochmoidart is a feast of scenery and interest in itself, but just before leaving Moidart at Shiel Bridge the traveller will come to the little Catholic church of Mingary. There, in the church hall and preserved under glass, hangs an old banner, By tradition – and, mind you, oral tradition goes a long, long way back in Moidart – this was the banner carried by Glenalladale’s men of the Clanranald regiment throughout the ‘Forty-five’ and ending at Culloden. History doesn’t relate how it escaped capture and destruction, nor the name of the brave one (a MacMaster?) who carried it back to the safety of “The Glens” and Moidart. No doubt Father Ireland, the priest of Mingary, could be persuaded to tell visitors more, or else they could read for themselves what a famous former priest of Mingary, Father Charles MacDonald, had to say in his classic “Moidart, or among the Clanranalds.”

Perhaps too the visitor to Glenfinnan and Mingary will now agree that among the Clanranalds none was more steadfast and loyal than “The Lairds of the Glens” and their Glenalladale men. The Glenalladales, who built the monument at Glenfinnan, inscribed on its surrounding wall: “Fhir asdair ma’s miann leat luaidh air sgeul ainmeil nan làithean a thréig, thig dlùth agus dèan ùmhlachd. So am ball.” – “Traveller, if you wish to celebrate the deeds of former days, pay homage here now!” These words could well be considered as their own rightful epitaph.