Blood & Guts – Spartans of the North

Who are the Macleans?  Clan Maclean Scottish Gaelic: Clann MhicIllEathain  is a Highland Scottish clan. They are one of the oldest clans in the Highlands and owned large tracts of land in Argyll as well as the Inner Hebrides. Many early MacLeans became famous for their honour, strength and courage in battle. They were involved in clan troubles with the Mackinnons, Camerons, MacDonalds and Campbells, as well as all of the Jacobite risings. The clan surname is an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic MacGilleEathain meaning “servant of (Saint) John”. Or the “son of the servant of Saint John. They grew very powerful throughout the Hebrides and Highlands through allegiances with the Catholic Church in the 9th century, the MacDonalds in the 13th century, the MacKays and MacLeods in the 16th century.

Gillean of the Battle Axe, or Gilleain na Tuaighe in Scottish Gaelic, was the ancestor of Clan Maclean and Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie. He is considered the 1st Chief of Clan Maclean. He was born to a man named Rath and flourished around the year 1250. He was known as Gilleain na Tuaighe, from his carrying as his constant companion, a battle axe. He was a man of mark and distinction. He had three sons: Malise mac Gilleain, Bristi mac Gilleain, Gillebride mac Gilleain – you still following this?  The stories of Gillean being descended from the FitzGerald dynasty are fictitious, as the FitzGeralds are of Cambro-Norman descent and the Macleans are of Gaelic descent, having been in Scotland since the Dalriadic migration from Ulster in the earlier centuries. Gillean’s great-grandfather was Old Dugald of Scone, born ca. 1050 during the reign of King Macbeth of the House of Moray, the principal royal line of the Cenél Loairn. He was a Judex (judge) and Councillor to King David of Scots. Gillean fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263 during the Scottish-Norwegian War where the Scottish were victorious. Gillean’s son Malise mac Gilleain was thought to have taken the name Gillemor in 1263 and is said to have led his followers at the Battle of Largs in 1263 He wrote his name as “Gillemor Mcilyn (“son of Gillean”), County of Perth” on the third Ragman Rolls of 1296.

Red Hector of the Battles Maclean, or Eachann Ruadh nan Cath in Scottish Gaelic, was the 6th Chief of Clan Maclean. He was the son of Lachlan Lubanach Maclean, and he early distinguished himself by daring exploits, and was noted as being one of the best swordsmen of his time. There was an old Gaelic poem, which affirmed that Hector commanded a great fleet to the coast of Ireland, and defeated ships of the King of England. He landed his troops; placed the city of Dublin under contribution; carried fire and sword into the country; destroyed many of his enemies and burnt their houses. This must be the expedition hinted at in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicle of Ireland where it is recorded that “in the year 1400 at Whitesuntide, the first year of King Henry IV, the constable of Dublin, and divers others at Stanford in Ulster, fought by sea with the Scots, where many Englishmen were slain and drowned.”  Hector Roy’s marriage to a daughter of the Earl of Douglas greatly enlarged his influence. While serving as a lieutenant-general under his uncle Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, Hector was killed by Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum in hand-to-hand combat, which was described as “a noble and notable single combat” where both men died of their injuries.

The Statutes of Iona, passed in Scotland in 1609, required that Highland Scottish clan chiefs send their heirs to Lowland Scotland to be educated in English-speaking Protestant schools. As a result, some clans, such as the MacDonalds of Sleat and the MacLeods of Harris, adopted the new religion. Other Clans notably the MacLeans of Morvern & Mull, MacDonalds of Clanranald, Keppoch, Glengarry, and Glencoe, remained Roman Catholic.

During the invasion of Scotland by Oliver Cromwell, the Battle of Pitreavie (Inverkeithing) was fought nearby on 20 July 1651, between an English force commanded by Colonel Robert Overton and a Scottish force, including some 800 Highlanders from the Clan Maclean. The Scots still held Scotland north of the Forth. Charles II threw in his lot with the moderate covenanters, and on 11 January 1651 the Scots Parliament appointed the 27-year-old Sir Hector Maclean of Duart colonel of a regiment of foot. Not all Macleans were eligible to serve in the regiment. Murdoch Maclean of Lochbuie, had been excommunicated for serving under the Marquess of Montrose. Fortunately veterans Donald Maclean of Brolas, John Maclean of Kinlochaline and Allan Maequarrie, younger of Ulva had not been excommunicated. It is likely the Macleans reached Inverkeithing after the battle had begun, which is not surprising considering the distance they had to cover from as far as Borreray. Their leader Sir Hector was untried in battle, but had proved himself dealing with cattle-raiders. The regiment was probably armed with pikes and muskets. In addition each man will have had a sword and targe, the leather circular shield of the Gael. The regiment is also likely to have been organised on a normal military basis: each company led by a landowner, a lieutenant who had professional experience and an ensign who carried the company’s colours.Fathers and sons marched together, families such as the Macleans of Ross, ‘the Race of the Iron Sword’ formed at least one company. Brolas was Lieutenant Colonel, whilst chieftains such as Kinlochaline commanded a company of his own friends and neighbours. One man, Lachlan mac Ailean Maclean of Hynish in Tiree, is described by his descendant Allan of Crossapol in Coil as a ‘captain’. This is a term then used either to describe a professional soldier, who had served overseas, or had been the garrison commander of a castle; in this case the castle was probably Drimnin Castle in Morvern. As the Macleans reached Inverkeithing they probably met the first fugitives fleeing from the royalist right wing. The Macleans stood their ground achieving immortality. Shot down by cannon fire, trampled under horses’ hooves and overcome by Cromwellian pike-men they sold their lives dearly. Eight of them threw themselves between their chief and the enemy pike-men crying out as they did so: ‘Another for Hector’, Fear eu airson Echuin. 750 Macleans were slaughtered. Few received quarter, the Cromwellians regarding Gaels as little more than vermin. 40 eventually found their way back to Mull. After the battle, which was a decisive victory for the Cromwellian forces a group of Macleans sought refuge in Pitreavie House, but cursed the Wardlaw family when they were refused sanctuary. Inverkeithing was as great a disaster for the Macleans as Inverlochy had been six years earlier for the Campbells. At Inverlochy Argyll watched the slaughter of his men from his galley, then slipped away to sea. The Campbells ran. At Inverkeithing Sir Hector stood his ground. His clansmen surrounded him and they were all slaughtered together.