The Chiefship of Keppoch By Norman H. MacDonald, Editor

With the death of Chichester MacDonell, son of Major Alexander MacDonell (A Maidsear Mór, or The Big Major), only brother of Major Ranald MacDonell, 18th of Keppoch, reputedly at Greenock in 1848, the direct male line of the Keppoch Chiefs would appear to have terminated. According to the more recently published sources, Chichester married and had two sons who are said to have gone to Canada and been killed in action there, unmarried, while serving in the army. Enquiries in recent years failed to substantiate any of the above facts regarding the deaths of Chichester, now generally regarded as 21st Chief, or his sons. Had either of those sons married and left legitimate male issue, their descendants would undoubtedly have the strongest claims to the Chiefship today.

Since the time of Chichester, several individuals or their families have claimed to represent Keppoch but none of them took steps to press their alleged claims in the Court of Lord Lyon until the mid 1970s when a petition was presented by Ranald Alexander MacDonald, a Hearing-Aid Consultant in Edinburgh, claiming descent from Alexander MacDonald of Delafour, youngest son of Ranald Mor of Tirnadris, a brother of Coll MacDonell (Colla nam Bo, or Coll of The Cows), 16th of Keppoch. The petition failed and it has since been establihed that the male line of Alexander of Delafour terminated with the death, without issue, of his only son, Donald, while serving as an officer with the 76th MacDonald Highlanders in the American War of Independence.

In April, 1990 a second petition from the same claimant, this time claiming descent from Donald Gorm MacDonald, a son of Alexander or Alasdair Buidhe, 14th of Keppoch, from whom, it has been asserted the MacDonalds of Clianaig are descended, was heard in the Court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms. The Lord Lyon in his Interlocutor, refused the petition “in hoc statu” i.e. granting the petitioner leave to come back to the Court if further evidence could be produced to substantiate the existence of three successive forebears included in the sloinneadh, or direct male ancestral line submitted by him. Lyon in his judgement also expressed the view that with the exception of the authors of The Clan Donald, the Revs. A. & A. MacDonald and the late Father Andrew Mac Donell, whom his Lordship stated had had access to The Clan Donald, there appeared to be no proof whatever that Donald Gorm MacDonald, son of Alasdair Buidhe, 14th of Keppoch, was the progenitor of the MacDonalds of Clianaig.

Since the direct male line of Keppoch – females were never considered as candidates for Highland clan chiefships – from Alexander, 17th Chief, who fell at Culloden in 1746, would appear to have been extinguished with the death of his grandson, Chichester, 21st representative of the family, it is necessary to examine the lines of the brothers of Coll, 16th Chief.

The eldest of Coll’s brothers, Ranald Mor of Tirnadris, left three sons, Archibald of Coirechoille, who died in 1729, Donald of Tirnadris, who was executed at Carlisle in 1746 and Alexander of Delafour. Archibald, the eldest son left a son, Donald of Coirechoille, who was executed on Kennington Common in 1746 and may have left male issue; Donald, the second son left one son, Ranald, who died without issue; Alexander, the third son, left one son, Donald, an officer in the army, already referred to, who died unmarried during the American War of Independence.

Coll’s next brother, Alexander, married a widow named Mrs Leslie, whose identity has yet to be established, who already had two sons by her first marraige, Thomas and Alexander Leslie. By his wife, Alexander, who served for some years in the army, attaining the rank of Captain, had a son, Alexander, who certainly reached manhood although details of his later life have not yet come to light.

Coll’s youngest brother, Angus, also married and had a son of which nothing further is known.

Failing descendants of Coll’s brothers it would then be necessary to look to the descendants of the brothers of Archibald, 15th of Keppoch i.e. the other sons of Alasdair Buidhe, 14th of Keppoch.

The eldest son of AlasdairBuidhe is considered to have been Allan, orAilean Dearg and to have been passed over in favour of his next brother, Archibald, on account of his complicity in the murder of his cousins, Alexander, 13th Chief and his brother Ranald in 1663. He is said to have fled to Badenoch and been murdered there in 1668 but according to another tradition he died in the Isle of Lewis. There were families in Mabou, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia as late as 1880, claiming descent from him.

The sons of Archibald, the second son of Alasdair Buidhe, who succeeded his father as 15th Chief, having been dealt with, the next son in order of seniority was Alexander, who apparently died without issue.

Alasdair Buidhe married a second time and had two more sons, the elder of which was Donald Gorm who, along with his eldest half-brother Allan, was charged with the murder, in 1663, of their cousins and he too is stated to have fled from the district. Curiously enough, the names of these two brothers appear along with that of their brother Archibald, there named Ronald, by then “of Keppoch” and other prominent members of their Clan in a complaint to the Privy Council in 1676, on behalf of the Earl of Argyle against Lord MacDonell and Aros, Chief of Glengarry. It has been claimed that this Donald Gorm was the progenitor of the MacDonalds of Clianaig and the views of the Lord Lyon on the matter have already been stated. The younger son of Alasdair Buidhe by his second marriage was Ranald, known as Raonull na Dalach, who appears to have died without issue.

Failing descendants from all the above lines it would be necessary to consider the brothers of Alasdair Buidhe, i.e. the other sons of Alexander or Alasdair nan Cleas, 10th Chief.

The eldest son of Alasdair nan Cleas was Ranald Og, 11th Chief, who died without issue c.1641. The second son was Donald Glas, 12th Chief, whose sons, Alexander, 13th Chief and Ranald, were murdered at Keppoch by members of their own Clan in 1663. The third son, Alasdair Buidhe, 14th Chief, has already been dealt with. The fourth son was Donald Gorm of Inverroy, the reputed progenitor of the MacDonalds of Murlagan whose descendants still flourish in Nova Scotia. A son, listed as the fifth, though he might well have been older, was John Dubh, killed at Inverness in 1593, who died without issue. The sixth son was Angus Odhar, mentioned as Keppoch’s youngest son in a bond of service to the Earl of Argyle in 1595, progenitor of the MacDonalds of Achnancoichean, of whom there are descendants in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Angus Odhar died of wounds received at the Battle of Stronachlachain, fought above Killin against the Campbells of Breadalbane in 1646. This Angus has been erroneously described by some writers as a son of Ranald Og, 11th of Keppoch. Had this been the case he would, in all probability, have succeeded to the Chiefship instead of Donald Glas, who succeeded Ranald Og.

Finally, going back one further generation, the descendants of Ranald of Insch and Donald of Fersit, the younger brothers of Alasdair nan Cleas, 10th Chief, are well documented, the descendants of the former being widespread in Utah and throughout the United States of America.

At the time of writing this article it is understood that the petitioner, following the result of the recent hearing of his claim by the Lord Lyon, “is appealing the Decision in the Court of Session and that a motion has been enrolled to that effect”. 

Footnote to the Online Edition.

MacDonald of Keppoch. On 30 January 2004 the Court of Session accepted Ranald Alasdair MacDonald’s petition to be recognised as the rightful heir to the chiefship of Keppoch for aught yet seen. (link to Court opinion).