My dear Grandchildren,
One of the characteristics of the typical Highlander of the past was a desire to remember his forefathers. Cuimhnich air na daoin'e o'n d' thainig thu - Remember the men from whom you have come is a proverb or precept which was respected almost religiously; and it is one which is still worth respecting. Acting upon it, and believing that you will be glad to know something of your forefathers, I sit down to dictate the following sketch of the Mackay’s of Achmonie in Glen-Urquhart.
The Estate of Achmonie belonged to the Church from very early times. The first reference which I have found to it is in connection with a quarrel between the Chancellor of the diocese of Moray, who enjoyed the revenue of the Estate, and Sir Alan Durward, who was proprietor of Urquhart in 1233. Sir Alan claimed that the title which he had from the King embraced the Estate of Achmonie. William, the Chancellor, resisted the claim, and through the intervention of the Bishop of Moray the dispute was settled by a compromise, which was embodied in a deed, the purport of which is given in my " Urquhart and Glenmoriston," p. 16. The old Estate was divided into two parts -one part going to Sir Alan, who bound himself and his successors to pay yearly to the Church of Urquhart a feu-duty of 10/- for it, and also to give to the Church four acres of land in a suitable and convenient place at or near the ancient church it Kilmore (the Big Church). After 1233, therefore, the Estate of Achmonie was bounded on the west by the lands of Culnakirk which were previously part of it. After that year the boundaries were - on the East the Bullburn and a line running from one of its sources eastwards behind Craignay to Abriachan, and including as part of the Estate the lands of Rivoulich and Achpopuli on the borders of Abriachan; on the North party by Abriachan and Caiplich, and partly by the Estate of Belladrum ; on the West partly by the arable and hill lands of Culnakirk, and partly by the lands of Wester and Easter Miltown down to the River Enerick ; and on the South by that river, including as part of the Estate the lands of Kilmichael. Roughly the Estate, as thus restricted, extended to about 2000 acres.
Sir Alan Durward died in 1275 without male issue, and his estates were divided among his three daughters. Ach-monie, however, reverted to the Church, and was in 1334 granted by bishop Philmore of Moray to Sir Robert Lauder (Lauder the Good), Governor of Urquhart Castle. See “Urquhart and Glenmoriston," p. 35. It was subsequently held by Lauder's grandson, Sir Robert Chisholm, also Governor of the Castle. In 1386 Chisholm surrendered the Estate to Bishop Bur, who in the same year granted it to the notorious Alexander, Earl of Buchan, the King's son, better known as the Wolf of Badenoch (" Urquhart and Glenmoriston," p. 44). Urquhart and Glenmoriston there-after fell into the hands of Donald, Lord of the Isles, and were held by his brother, the famous Alasdair Carrach of Gaelic legend and song, who gave the actual occupancy of portions of them, including probably the Estate of Achmonie, to Charles Maclean, a son of hector Maclean of Lochbuie. Charles was the founder of the family of Maclean of Urquhart and Dochgarroch. Subsequently Achmonie again reverted to the Church, and was from time to time let in various holdings to a number of tenants, among them being at the time of the Great Raid by the Macdonalds and Camerons of the West on the Glen in April and May, 1545, John McGillies (John son of Gillies). who was married to Katherine, daughter of Euene Canycht (Ewen the Merchant). The family of Gillies (Gille Iosa, Servant of Jesus), from whom you are descended, held at the time of the Great Raid a large portion of Glen--Urquhart. The following are their losses in the Raid : --
John McGillies (John son of Gillies), in Achmonie: 20 big cattle, 6 young cattle, 10 calves, 20 horses, 10 mares, 80 ewes, 40 wedders, 40 lambs, 40 goats, 20 kids, 40 geese, 100 bolls oats, 60 bolls bear; furniture valued at £15.
The same John McGillies, who was also tenant of Dulshangie: 8 big cattle, 24 young cattle, 16 calves, 6 horses, 20 ewes, 10 wedders, 16 lambs, 100 bolls oats, 40 bolls bear.
John McConnill McGillies (John son of Donald son of Gillies), in Inchbrine: 6 big cattle, 2 young cattle, 3 calves, 2 horses, 14 ewes, 6 lambs, 12 goats, 6 kids, 8 bolls oats, 4 bolls bear; furniture valued at £1 6s 8d.
Bean McGillies (Bean son of Gillies), in Cartaly: 60 big cattle, 12 young cattle, 20 calves, 10 horses, 50 ewes, 30 lambs, 30 goats, 60 kids, 100 bolls oats, 20 bolls bear; furniture valued at £6 13s 4d.
John McEane McGillies (John son of John son of Gillies), in Culnakirk: 40 big cattle, 16 young cattle, 25 calves, 8 horses, 60 ewes, 40 lambs, 24 goats, 16 kids, 60 bolls oats, 20 bolls bear; furniture valued at £6 13s 4d.
Donald McEane McGillies (Donald son of John son of Gillies), in Balmacaan: 30 great cattle, 8 young cattle, 8 calves, 12 ewes, 6 gimmers, 16 lambs, 16 goats, 6 kids, and furniture valued at £3 6s 8d.
The family of Ewen Canycht (Ewen the Merchant), father of John McGillies's wife, also suffered in the Raid, as will be seen by reference to the Balmacaan and Drumbuie sections of the spoil (" Urquhart and Glenmoriston," pp. 474 and 477).
On 31st March, 1554, the Bishop of Moray, with the consent of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Moray, granted to the said John McGillies, "alias McKaye," and Katherine Euene Canycht his wife and the survivor of them, a lease of the Estate of Achmonie and the brew house thereof called Kilmichael with their pertinents, for the period of 19 years from Whitsunday, 1554 (" Urquhart and Glenmoriston," p. 479); and on 6th May, 1557, the Bishop, with the consent of the Chapter, granted a perpetual charter of the same subjects to the same persons and the survivor of them in liferent, and after their decease to their son Duncan McGillies and his heirs male for ever. In the lease John is called McGillies alias McKaye. In the Charter he is named John McGillies McKaye, and his son simply McGillies.
During the next hundred years or more his successors as proprietors of Achmonie are sometimes called McGillies, but more frequently Mackay, which they sometimes wrote McCay; and Mackay was obviously what the family looked upon as their surname. In the old days most families bad patro-nymics which were frequently used instead of the surnames.
You will find in the first chapter of " Urquhart and Glenmoriston " an account of Conachar Mackay, who is said to have been Governor of Urquhart Castle in the 12th century. He had a son who settled in Sutherlandshire and became the first chief of the Clan Mackay; another from whom the Forbeses are descended; and another from whom the Urquharts came. Whether there was any connection between Conachar's family and John McGillies Mackay three hundred years after Conachar's time it is impossible to say.
The first mention of John McGillies Mackay is in an Instrument of Sasine in favour of The Chisholm of Strath-glass in 1539, and to which John was a witness.
In due time John and his wife were succeeded by their son Duncan as proprietor of Achmonie. Duncan married Margaret, daughter of The Chisholm; and through her the family of Achmonie became connected not only with the Chisholms, but also with the Frasers of Lovat, the Mackin-toshes of Mackintosh, the Lauders of The Bass, the ancient Earls of Atholl, and the ancient Earls of Orkney and Caith-ness and their ancestors, the Jarls of Moeri, in Norway, back to Halfdan the Old, who flourished about the year 800. See the pedigree in " Urquhart and Glenmoriston," page 512.
On 30th May, 1592, Duncan granted to his wife, Mar-garet Chisholm, a deed (now in my possession) giving her the liferent of the Estate of Achmonie in the event of her surviving him.
Duncan was alive in 1597. He was succeeded by his son John, who in 1642 granted to Robert Grant of Shewglie discharge of a bond for 500 merks. John is again on record in 1645.
He was succeeded by his son Gillies, who was served heir to him in 1656. It was Gillies who, about the year 1670, slew the Laird of Grant's chamberlain at Temple House, as recorded in the 11th chapter of "Urquhart and Glen-moriston," and who consequently temporarily lost the Estate of Achmonie. Shortly the story is that the Laird of Grant's chamberlain or factor, a man of the name of Grant who resided in Strathspey, appointed the mod or rent collection court to be held on a certain day at Kil St Ninian or Temple House. The chamberlain did not appear at the appointed time, and while the people waited for him they drank freely at the expense of the gentlemen of the glen, among whom Gillies Mackay was prominent. The mod was proceeded with and closed, and thereafter the gentry and tenantry were entertained in the usual manlier in the Grange barn. All sat late and drank heavily, and disputes arose - the Grants and such as were not of that name taking opposite sides, as was their wont. An insulting epithet which the chamberlain applied to the men of Urquhart brought the tumult to its height. Every man started to his feet and drew his dirk. In an instant the torches which served to light the barn were extinguished, and high above the shouts that followed was heard the death-cry of the chamberlain, who had been stabbed to the heart.
By whom the fatal thrust was given no one could tell, but next morning Achmonie's dirk was found red with blood. Time passed, however, and no step was taken to bring the crime home to him, or to subject him to the punishment for which it called. But after a lapse of many months the Laird of Grant invited him to a hunt in Strathspey. The invitation was accepted, and Mackay and a few attendants journeyed to Castle Grant. They were hospitably entertained the first day, but early on the second Achmonie's room was entered by an armed band headed by the Laird, who informed him of his knowledge of his guilt, and intimated that he must yield his estate or his life. The Laird meant what he said, and Mackay was compelled to surrender the estate - on the under-standing, however, that it should be restored to him as vassal of the Laird instead of being the direct vassal of the King.
No sooner was the business arranged than the Laird's illegitimate son, whose mother had become the wife of the unfortunate chamberlain, entered the room in which the Laird and Mackay were, and asked, " Ciod tha mise dol a dh’ fhaighinn airson eirig mo bhobug? "- What am I to receive as my stepfather's eric (compensation for his death) ?'' The Laird bade the young man hold his peace; but he was not thus to be put off. As Achmonie and his men passed homeward through the gorge of Slochd Muic lie suddenly fell upon them with a number of the chamberlain's relatives and friends. Several were killed on both sides, and of the Urquhart men Achmonie and one other only escaped.
Possession of the surrendered estate was given by the Laird, not to Gillies Mackay, but to William Grant of the family of Glenmoriston, whom we find in possession in 1677 and as late as 1691. Gillies did not live to see the promised restoration; but the promise was fulfilled on 24th May, 1721, when his eldest son John, who succeeded him as representative of the Achmonie family, obtained from Sir James Grant a fue disposition of the estate, which was thereafter held of the Laird of Grant, and not of the Bishops as it was before the Reformation, or of the King as it was after that event.
Gillies, as I have said, was succeeded by his eldest son John. John and his younger brother, Donald, practised as solicitors in Inverness, and John was legal adviser to Brigadier Grant of Grant in connection with the Urquhart estate. He must have been very proud of his signature (Jo. McCay). It is given at the close of this paper, with the signature of his son, and successor, Alexander, and the signature of his great--grandson, William Mackay, Blairbeg, my father. I have no signature between the latter two.
John Mackay got re-possession of the Estate of Achmonie about the end of the 17th century, although he did not get a written title till 1721. He married Elizabeth Grant, daughter of James Grant of Shewglie. Shewglie was a noted man in his day. He fought under Dundee at the battle of Killicrankie in July, 1689. At that battle Urquhart and Glenmoriston men formed part of a battalion led by the young Chief of Glengarry, who carried the Royal Standard of King James. As they charged down the hillside on which the battle was fought James Grant of Shewglie was brought to his knees by a bullet that struck his shield. It was only for a moment. Exclaiming, '' Och, but the bodachs (=oldmen I.A.) are in earnest," he, as is told in Chambers's History of the Rebel-lions, bounded forward and helped to gain the victory for Dundee, who, however, himself fell ('' Urquhart and Glen-moriston," chapter XI). Shewglie returned to Glen--Urquhart, but was killed by Lochaber men in the Raid of Inchbrine in the year 1691 or 1692, at a spot in the Shewglie moor known as Corribuy (" Urquhart and Glenmoriston," chapter XII). As more fully told in that chapter. Shewglie and the men of the Braes of Urquhart followed the raiders, and the spoil was given up to them. As the Urquhart men started with their cattle a hare ran across the moor between the two parties. Kenneth Macdonald. from Meiklie raised his gun and fired at it. The shot had no effect on the hare, which was believed to be a witch, but it brought disaster on Kenneth and his companions. The Lochaber men thought the shot was intended for themselves and returned the fire. A fierce fight followed. For a time the Urquhart men kept their ground, and several of their opponents fell; but in the end they were forced to fly, leaving eight of their number, including Shewglie, dead in the heather. The Lochaber men not only took possession of the cattle again, but also returned to Shewglie and took every hoof belonging to that township. As told in Urquhart and Glenmoriston," a son of Shewglie many years afterwards went to Lochaber and slew the man who led the raid.
John Mackay died in 1726, leaving a considerable fortune in bonds by neighbouring proprietors. He was succeeded in Achmonie by his son Alexander. Before 1731 his widow married Alexander Grant, a brother of John Grant of Glen-moriston (Iain a' Chragain). Alexander Mackay was a very litigious person, and I have a large number of letters addressed by him to his law agent, Alexander Macdonell, of Milnfield, Inverness a near relative of the Chief of Glengarry. These letters, together with other Achmonie papers, were given by the late Captain McDonnell of Milnfield, a descendant of Alexander Macdonell, to the late Mr Charles Fraser -Mackintosh, M.P. for Inverness-shire (whose father was a first cousin of my grandfather, Charles Fraser, Ruiskich), and gifted by Mr Fraser-Mackintosh to me. Alexander Mackay had brothers and sisters ('' Urquhart and Glen-moriston," p.513), the youngest of the brothers being Donald Mackay, my father's grandfather.
Alexander was married twice. By his first wife, Mary Grant, he left twin daughters, Jane and Elspet or Isobell (born 1st January, 1753). Jane married Colonel James Fraser of Kincorth, grandson of Major James Fraser of Castle Leather, Inverness, author of Major Fraser's Manuscript, and from her was descended a noted race of soldiers, including the late Sir James Fraser, Commissioner of Police for the City of London, and his brother, General Robert Walter Macleod Fraser. Isobel became the wife of Major John Grant of Auchterblair, Strathspey, the father (by a second marriage) of the late General Sir Patrick Grant, a noted soldier, who was for a time Governor of Chelsea Hospital.
Alexander's second wife was Angus, daughter of Colonel Angus Macdonell of Glengarry, who commanded the Glen-garry men in the '45 and was killed at Falkirk. By her he had no family.
Alexander Mackay's brother, Patrick, was for a time in the army, and fought against America in the War of Independence. He became tenant of Polmaily, and is supposed to have built Polmaily house. He took a number of Urquhart people to Pictou, Canada, where he settled them, returning himself to Glen-Urquhart where he died. I have an order for a sum of money remitted by him from New York to his wife, Elizabeth Fraser, with her receipt thereon. In a report on Urquhart by Mr William Lorimer, Secretary to the Laird of Grant, dated 1763, the passage occurs: “ A brother of Achmonie’s, formerly in the army, has begun liming and should be encouraged. His mind has been enlarged by going abroad.”
Both Alexander Mackay and his youngest brother, Donald Mackay, fought for Prince Charlie at Culloden.
Donald was one of the Glen- Urquhart men, who sur-rendered
to Ludovic Granit of Grant at Balmacaan on 14th May, 1746, on a promise
of protection. Alexander Mackay refused to surrender, and for a long
time, hid himself in “Achmonie’s Cave” in Achmonie Craig. His name
is included in a “List of persons concerned in the Rebellion transmitted
to the Commissioners of Excise and the Several Supervisors in Scotland
in Obedience to a General Letter of 7th May, 1746,'' which List
was in 1890 published by the Scottish History Society at
the expense of, and with a Preface by the Earl of Rosebery. Notwithstanding
the fact that his hiding place was known to many people in Glen-Urquhart
he was not betrayed; and he
was allowed to live in peace. In 1750 he entered into a long litigation with James Fraser of Belladrum regarding the march between their estates. The matter was referred by the Sheriff of Inverness to The Chisholm, Mac-lean of Dochgarroch, and other leading men as arbiters, who, after enquiry, fixed the boundary as it now stands. The traditional account of the proceedings was well known among old men whom I knew in my boyhood. According to that account Belladrum’s principal witness walked along what he called the true march and at a certain point swore-'' My face is to Craig Ard and my feet are on Belladrum ground to which Achmonie, who was present, retorted '' Your face is to the devil, and your feet are in hell.'' According to the story the man had Belladrum soil in his shoes! The result of the litigation as that the disputed ground became part of Belladrum.
Alexander Mackay, who lived for some years in the old house of Corrimony, which still stands, sold the Estate of Achmonie to Sir James Grant of Grant in 1779, and settled in Nairn in a house which he called '' Achmonie," and which is now known as Achmonie Place. In '' Stories and Sketches of Nairn,'' by Mr George Bain of the Nairnshire Telegraph, there is a chapter on Mackay under the title of '' A Jacobite Laird.'' I may quote the following from it
“Some of the personal traits of old Achmonie have come down to us. He associated but very little with the townspeople, and was of a somewhat irascible temper. The kilt, the native dress of a Highland gentleman, having been proscribed by Act of Parliament, the Laird of Achmonie attired himself when he appeared on public occasions in a superlative claret-coloured velvet jacket, green embroidered waistcoat, knee-breeches and stock-ings, with huge silver buckles on his shoes. He still retained the sword he fought with at Culloden Moor, and on the anniversary of that fateful day indulged in somewhat amazing exercises with it on his projecting door-steps. His neighbours, however took no alarm as they quite understood that the old Jacobite chief was merely fighting his battles over again."
Alexander Mackay died in 1789 without male issue. He was
predeceased by his brothers, James, Patrick, and John, and was succeeded
as representative of the family by his youngest brother, Donald, who, as
I have said, fought for Prince Charles. He, as I have told you, was
one of the men of Urquhart who surrendered on 4th May, 1746, on the promise
of protection. Also among the surrendered was Donald Mackay's uncle,
Alexander Grant of Shewglie, and his son James, as well as the Rev. John
Grant, Minister of the Parish, who had shown sympathy for the Prince's
cause. Alexander Grant was an enthusiastic Jacobite, and had fought for
Prince Charles in the Rising of the '15. He was a noted player on
the violin and the harp. He composed a welcome to Prince Charles,
the words of which began-
Do bheatha Thearlaich Stiubhart,
Do bheatha do ar duthaich."
Welcome Charles Stewart,
Welcome to our country.''
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