Clan Warfare & Local Clans

The MacLarens

Some time ago I met an old lady called MacLaren (MacLaurin) in her late eighties who told me that she had gone to school with a MacGregor. They had only spoken to each other when absolutely necessary.

They had lived close to each other, gone to the same school, been in the same class, and attended the same Sunday school and Church. They had gone to most of the events which occurred and even had mutual relatives. They didn’t dislike each other, as both shared some common interests. However, they did not socialize, and the reasons lie in their surnames, and goes back three or more hundred years!

In Upper Strathyre and along the Braes of Balquhidder in bordering Strathearn, the MacLarens had lived for centuries before the MacGregors came to set up their stables there. They, like all the clans in the regions, raided each other for cattle and other material possessions. Sometimes the booty was good, but sometimes they came back with a bloody nose.

The MacGregors, on the other hand, had been driven out of their original lands around Loch Awe by the Campbells, and had come as incomers into Western Strathearn and Strathyre. No sooner, however, had they arrived but they adopted a policy of “what is yours is mine, and what is mine is my own!” Their intent was to create as much havoc as possible to anyone within the length of their claymores, and grab as much as possible. They fell out with the Stewarts of Ardvorlich, the Drummonds of Muthill, the Murrays of Ochtertyre, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, the Buchanans of the Lennox, and the Colquhouns of Luss. They fell out with the Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, and Graham, the Duke of Montrose, and even the King. Diplomacy came with the dirk or broadsword!

Throughout time there had always been a strong bond between the MacLarens and the Stewarts of Appin and Ardvorlich. Each swore to come to the assistance of the other in times of need, especially when the MacGregors were involved. By extension, others from Strathearn who were allied with the Stewarts, joined in because, they too, were anxious about the warlike MacGregors. The union between the Stewarts and the MacLarens had been cemented when Sir John Stewart of Lorn, although married, passed a pleasant evening with a daughter of MacLaren of Ardveich. One might infer it was a night of unholy wedlock. A child, Dugald, was subsequently born, and he became in time Chief of the Stewarts. This occurred when Sir John’s wife died in 1463 and sent word to his lady in Ardveich that she and her son join him at Dunstaffnage Castle for the wedding. No doubt it was a merry affair, and was only marred by the fact that the bridegroom-to-be was stabbed to death as he walked across the chapel lawn to the ceremony. This called for some hasty action, and the ceremony was hurried through with Sir John’s last act being to slip the ring on to the bride’s finger, before expiring. His assailant was Alan MacDougall who coveted the Stewart lands of Lorn.

Later Dugald avenged his father’s death at the battle of Stalc when he creamed a combined MacDougall and MacFarlane force. Dugald Stewart after a “normal” life was sadly killed after a cattle raid in Lochaber. He was returning from a cattle raid when they were attacked by the MacDonalds of Keppoch. The MacDonalds had been somewhat put out because the stolen cattle was theirs! It was not recorded where they originally acquired the cattle!

Pride and precedence were endemic in highland communities and Highland Strathearn was no exception. The MacLarens insisted, nay demanded, that due to their numbers and longevity in the area, they should be allowed to enter Balquhidder Church first, and be seated before others came in and took their places in the pews. This caused a lot of distress, and outright rage to the MacGregors, the “Children of the Mist.” It was not uncommon for brawls to break out during and after the sermons preached and church attendance was not particularly safe. In 1532, the minister at Balquhidder Church, Sir John MacLaurin, was murdered at a Church service when trying to keep the enraged MacGregor and MacLaurin parties apart. He hoped to restore order and peace between them. He would, perhaps, have been more successful at whistling in the wind or of walking across Loch Earn! Modern man does not seem to share the same passion for church attendance. This incident created a vendetta between the factions.

Old Church at Balquhidder

In 1542 a band of MacGregors, under the command of a rather fiercesome man called Duncan Laudasach set out from an island in Loch Rannoch and stormed into Balquhidder during Passion Week and killed twenty seven MacLarens consisting of men, women and children. Again a similar raid occurred in 1558 when a party of them from over the hill in Glen Dochart swept into the MacLaren settlements at Edinchip killing eighteen. Once this task was accomplished the MacGregors set up home there in the smoldering ruins. Whilst possession is nine-tenths of the law, it was the other tenth which caused much anguish!

Each year throughout the country Summer Fairs were very popular. It was a time of folk getting together and sharing experience and renewing friendships. A time to let one’s hair down and share a dram or two...or more, somewhat one supposes like a modern day “Rave!” or the Comrie Fortnight. At one held in Kilmahog, near Callander, in 1558, a MacLaren was challenged by a number of Buchanans from Leny who had perhaps too much to drink. It got a bit out of hand and one of the Buchanans slapped the MacLaren with a salmon, knocking off his hat. Well now, one can do many things, but never hit a MacLaren with a dead fish!

Stung by this (no doubt!) the MacLaren dared the Buchanan to repeat the action at the Angus Fair to be held in Balquhidder sometime later in the year. The great day came and everyone was having a real good time when a whole party of Buchanans appeared armed to the teeth, and led by a pipe band! The MacLarens, who were not slow, gathered a party together and they all met in a field called “Beannachd Aonghais” near the Kingshouse.

However, in this encounter called the Battle of Auchleskine, the MacLarens were outnumbered, and things did not look too good. Watching these events on the sidelines was a party of MacGregors who were always willing for a scrap. They were trying to figure out who would win. They decided to pitch in only if the odds of winning were favourable for…after all, there may be easy pickings to be had. They were approached by the MacLarens and a deal was struck. The agreement said that they would fight alongside the MacLarens if they were given, for all time, the right to enter the church at Balquhidder before anyone else. When one sups with the devil, one should sup with a long spoon! Having no real choice, the MacLarens agreed and the combined force routed the Buchanans killing every last one of them. The deal made however, rankled.

The MacLarens withdrew from prominence thereafter, and settled peacefully (if that was possible) throughout Strathyre. Many went abroad to the continent to continue with their martial activities, and they seem to have done well, particularly, in Sweden. Some came together in the ’15 and ’45 for the Stuarts, however, after Culloden, they were a spent force and became scattered. I had one as a teacher and one could say that he could draw a belt! He probably thought I was connected to the MacGregors! Their traditional graveyard is at Leckine, near Lochearnhead.

The MacLaren Clan Crest