Ewan The Headless
During the 1300s two dominant branches of the same Clan existed. MacLean of Duart and MacLaine of Lochbuie were headed by two brothers; Eachann Reaganach (Hector the stern) controlled the MacLain of Lochbuie and Lachainn Lubanach (Lachlan the Wily) controlled the stonger Macleans of Duart.
Hector had a son who he called Ewan with the small head, this name perhaps evidence that Ewan was not the brightest clan member. Ewan married a rather dominant woman who picked on him from morning to night. She was known as ‘The black bottomed heron of the MacDougals‘. His father was now elderly and his wife wanted to make sure that it was Ewan who would inherit the clan castle and it’s lands. Hector eventually became annoyed at their constant badgering of him and eventually an argument took place. During the argument Ewan drew his sword and hit his father on his head with it and stormed off. Furious with his son’s behavior Hector went to speak with his brother Lachlan. Unable to contain his anger Lachlan challenged Ewan to a battle.
On the eve of the battle Ewan took a walk through a nearby wood. As he approached the stream that runs through the wood to Ewans astonishment he spotted a washer woman siting at the ford of the river. The woman is hunched over with long hair and large drooping breasts. She washes clothes that are not dirty and as she does blood runs from them and into the stream. The washer woman is not mortal but one of the fairy folk (known as the Bean Nighe) and a bad omen to those who see her. Ewan knew what he had to do and sneaks up behind her, she is singing a lament to all those soldiers who have fallen in battle. Ewan took her breast in his mouth and suckles like a baby. He tells her that he is her first born, to this she grants him a wish. Ewan not very brightly asks what the outcome of the battle will be. To this she replies:
“If tomorrow morning you are given butter with your porridge without asking then you will be victorious.” Ewan is angry at this answer and curses the washer woman and in a bad temper goes back to the castle. It is not a good idea to curse at a washer woman.
The next morning Ewan and his clan members are in the banqueting hall waiting for breakfast to be served. The servants bring the porridge but Ewan refuses to let anybody eat, everyone sits in silence and waits. As time goes on and no butter has arrived Ewan becomes angry and shouts at his wife:
“The servants we have are terrible they don’t even bring me butter with my porridge!”
He leaves for battle with his men, none of whom have had their porridge.
A fierce battle commences, In the middle of battle Ewan aptly receives a sword blow to the top of his head slicing the top of it off. Ewan manages to mount his horse, but as the horse gallops off Ewan dies slumped in his saddle. The MacLeans of Duart leave the battlefield victorious.
From this point on it is said that whenever a member of the Lochbuie MacLaines dies that the presence of the headless horseman is felt and the clattering of hooves is heard. Some even say that Ewan ‘The Headless’ rides out to harvest in the souls of the Lochbuie MacLaines.
Our Visit to Mull – Tracing the steps of Ewan the Headless
On a visit to Mull we managed to locate the area Ewan the Headless grew up. Here are some photos, was a very wet day. Can click on the photos to see larger versions.
Find out more about the Clan involved
The name MacLean is rendered in gaelic “MacGille Eoin” or “son of the servant of St. John”. The clan claims its descent from “Gilleathan Na Tuaidh”, of the royal house of Lorn. The Duart branch of the clan claim as their progenitor Lachlan Lubanach, son of Iain Dhu MacLean of Mull, and a direct descendent of Gillean.
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Descending from the royal house of Lorn through Gillean of the Battle-Axe, the MacLean clan possessed extensive lands in Mull.
The Lochbuie branch of the family are descended from Hector, the brother of Lachlan, who founded the Duart branch of the MacLeans. The brothers received their estates from John of Islay, 1st Lord of the Isles, in the mid fourteenth century. The lands of Lochbuie were later confirmed in a charter from James IV to John Og MacLaine.
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A Gaelic generalisation when describing the Viking invaders was by colouring, Finn Ghall for fair stranger and Dubh Ghall for a dark stranger. Dubh Ghall was the descriptive name given to the eldest son of King Somerled.
Somerled’s father-in-law was Olaf, King of man and when Somerled died in 1164 Dougall became senior King of Dalriada. Duncan MacDougall of Argyll was mentioned in records of 1244 so by this time the name had established into a clan.
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