MacDonalds of Glencoe were the smallest of the branches of Clan Donald.
are mostly remembered for the infamous massacre of 1692, but this was
small part of their long and turbulent history.
Glencoe in northern Argyll runs from
The glen was long in the possession of the MacDougall, Lords of Lorn. They however chose the wrong side during the Wars of Independence and were forfeited by King Robert I, who granted Glencoe and other MacDougall property to Angus Og MacDonald, Lord of Islay. Angus Og had been one of the King’s main supporters and played a leading role in the victory at
John Abrach’s descendants as chiefs of Glencoe lived at Polvig and are often described in State Documents as MacDonald or MacIain of Polvig. By the start of the seventeenth century there were a number of small townships in Glencoe at Achnacon, Achtriachtan, Carnoch, Coalasnacon, Inverigan, Laroch, Leacantuim and Strone. Other members of the family moved outside the glen to Dalness in Glenetive and Lagnaha in Appin. Later still Glencoe MacDonalds were to be found in Ardnamurchan, Morvern and Sunart.
The population of Glencoe never reached above 500 people and the chief could bring out 100 to 150 men. The clan usually only appeared in official documents recounting their misdeeds. As a result they now have a reputation, perhaps sometimes justified, as murderers and thieves. It is true that their livelihood was mainly from cattle, and raids on their neighbours to the east and beyond supplemented their income.
From the seventeenth century onwards the Glencoe family used variations on the surname MacDonald. In various documents they call themselves MacDonald, Macdonald, McDonald and MacDonell. By way of standardisation I have decided to use MacDonald throughout except when quoting directly from an old document.
The family in the male line ended with the death of Alexander James John MacDonald, 19th of Glencoe, in 1889. In 1883 Ellen Caroline Macpherson Burns MacDonald, only child of Ewen MacDonald, 17th of Glencoe, caused to be erected at the top edge of Glencoe village, a tall Celtic Cross to commemorate those who died in the massacre of 1692. The female line continued to hold land in Glencoe until 1894 when it was sold to Sir Donald Smith, later Lord Strathcona and
In about 1929 or 1930 Angus MacDonald who lived in Tighphuirt and claimed descent from the MacDonalds of Glencoe, laid a wreath at the memorial cross. The wreath was provided by Rankin sisters also of Tighphuirt. On the death of Angus the wreath continued to be laid by his son Robert, then his younger son Donald, and later still by his nephew Ewen. The wreath laying ceremony has continued ever since, initially by Mrs Hilda MacTaggart, and then by successive Rectors of St. Mary’s
In 2001 the remaining part of the Glencoe estate came on the market. This comprised about 130 acres, including a half share of the burial isle, Eilean Munde; 100 acres of crofters common grazing, including the 18th century ruined Corn Mill, formerly the Mill of Glencoe; the largest stretch of the River Coe and woodlands in the lower reaches of the glen. Alastair MacDonald, a Glencoe man, in order to ensure that this land remained in local hands, raised the sum of £105,000 from family and friends by way of unsecured loans. His bid was successful and he immediately formed The Glencoe Heritage Trust, which now owns the land. A worldwide appeal was then made to repay the donors in order to ensure that this Glencoe land never has to be sold again.
Recently Colin MacDonald, a retired farmer from