The falcon and the ox-yoke of Clan Hay

The origin of the Hay family, Earls of Errol, is said to date from the time of the Battle of Luncarty believed to have taken place in 971 A.D. The Danish were invading Scotland. The reigning sovereign was Kenneth III who, at the time of the event, was residing at Stirling.

The battle took place in Perthshire, where this story is set, a tale which has existed in Scottish oral legend.

When news reached Kenneth III that Danes had landed north of the River Esk in Angus informing him that they had pillaged, burned and murdered and that they were now enroute to Perth. King Kenneth immediately set off, with his soldiers camping at Montcrieffe Hill on the way.

At Luncarty a fierce battle developed, both sides fought equally hard. At one point the ferocious Danes, broke up one of the groups of the Scots army, resulting in the survivors attempting to retreat in the confusion.

Nearby a countryman and his two sons, ploughing a field saw this happen, the father, commanded his sons to put a halt to this retreat. Armed with what they could find, an ox-yoke they barred the way of the fleeing men. He and his two sons forced them back into battle where they fought so well that the tables were turned and the Danes were left beaten.

The father requested to accompany the King to Perth where he was to be honoured for his contribution to the victory.

King Kenneth III commanded that a falcon be let off from Kinnoull Hill and that as far as it flew, the land would belong to the hero and his sons. The bird flew to a stone in St. Madoes Parish, still known as the Hawks Stone. The stone is now situated in a private garden. This took in some of the best land in the Carse of Gowrie, so overnight the peasant had become a very rich and powerful man.

hawks stone

hawks stone

The Chiefs of the Hays carry their coat-of-arms three bloodstained shields representing the father and his two sons, the falcon, the ox-yoke and the supporters, two peasants, representing the two sons.

Hay - copper engraved heraldic coat of arms by Charles Catton and engraved by Francis Chesham

Hay – copper engraved heraldic coat of arms by Charles Catton and engraved by Francis Chesham

A most interesting aspect relating to the legend is the fact that in 1770 a Mr. Sandeman, who farmed at Denmarkfield, which is the farm now occupying the site of the Battle, decided to level some tumli (mounds of earth, especially ones marking the sites of ancient graves) to make a bleaching field. On proceeding, the bones of men and horses were found. A little distance off, beside a large stone, traditionally pointed out as the grave of a Danish King, a sword was uncovered. This would appear to prove that a battle had been fought, to say nothing of the name of the farm.


About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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