MacDonell of Glengarry Clan History

A branch from very early in the MacDonald line became the Clanranalds and a branch from them settled on the mainland near Inverness. The clan takes its name ‘Glengarry’ unsurprisingly because they were based in Glen garry where the river Garry winds through. There were also MacDonnells at Keppoch which became a separate branch in the same way.

The chiefs of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry were originally seated at Strome Castle but later moved to Invergarry Castle.

Strome Castle


They built Invergarry Castle and chose to spell their name MacDonnell, which is nearer the Gaelic original MacDhomhnuill. The castle overlooks Loch Oich on Creagan an Fhithich – the Raven’s Rock – in the Great Glen, this held a strategic position in the days of clan warfare. The MacDonnells show the Raven in their Clan Crest for this reason.

Invergarry Castle (Creacan an Fhithich) For Many yeast’s the stronghold of the MacDonellls of Glengarry. Burnt by the Butcher of Cumberland in 1746.

The lands of Glengarry lie in Lochaber, once part of the ancient Pict Kingdom of Moray.

Photo taken from the Glengarry Viewpoint. 

The Lords of the Isles and The origins of the MacDonnells of Glengarry

The Lords of the Isles were the powerful Viking/Gaelic rulers on the West of Scotland. Essentially they functioned as a separate Country, their Royalty were the all powerful Clan Donald Chiefs. At their height they were the greatest landowners and most powerful lords in the British Isles after the Kings of England and Scotland. Somerled, Gilledomman’s grandson, seized the Isles from the King of Man in 1156 and founded a dynasty that in time became the Lords of the Isles. He had Celtic blood on his father’s side and Norse on his mother’s: his contemporaries knew him as Somerled Macgilbred, Somhairle or in Norse Sumarlidi Höld (‘Somerled’ means “summer wanderer”, the name given to the Vikings). He took the title Rí Innse Gall (King of the Hebrides) as well as King of Man. After Somerled’s death three of his sons divided the Kingdom between them:

  • Aonghus (ancestor of Clan Macruari)
  • Dughall (ancestor of Clan MacDougall)
  • Ragnald, whose son Donald Mor McRanald would give his name to the Clan Donald which would contest territory with the MacDougalls.
  • King Haakon IV of Norway (reigned 1217–1263) confirmed Donald’s son Angus Mor (the Elder) Mac Donald (the first Macdonald) as Lord of Islay.

Ranald was the younger son of the 1st Lord of the Isles and had five sons. Alan, one of the sons, would be progenitor of Clanranald. Another son, Donald, would have a son, Alexander, who could be considered the first Glengarry chief.

15th Century Loss of Land

Donald, Alan and the other brothers had been denied their lands by their uncle Godfrey.

When Godfrey’s son Alexander was executed in 1427, the lands became the property of the Crown. The MacDonnells became tenants of the Crown on what should have been their own land.

In 1491 James IV received the submission of most of the Clan Chiefs regarding the new feudal relationships and acknowledgement of Royal superiority. With his rebellious attitude, however, Alexander of Glengarry resisted submission for forty years more. On the 6th March 1539 he received a Crown charter to Glengarry, Morar, half of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Lochbroom and the castle of Strome. Nonetheless he joined a rebellious attempt to aid Donald Gorm of Sleat reclaim the Lordship of the Isles.

16th Century – Clan Conflicts

The start of this Century began with a death of the chief, The 5th Chief John the 5th chief of Glengarry was killed by Fraser of Lovat after being invited to a meeting with him in 1501.

He was succeeded by Alexander Ranaldson (Alasdair Mac Iain Mhic Alasdair) who in 1544 with the MacDonells of Glengarry fought against the Clan Fraser at the Battle of the Shirts. Alexandr, the 6th chief died in 1560.

In 1581 a serious feud broke out between the chief of Glengarry, who had inherited one half of the districts of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and Lochbroom in Wester Ross, and Colin Mackenzie of Kintail, who was in possession of the other half. Disputes over land in western Ross-shire were at the heart if their problems, but it seems to have been made more violent by the revenge taken by two cousins of Glengarry for the murder of their fathers in Lochcarron in 1580. They burned the house of one of the murderers at Applecross, killing him and his family, and, in the course of this, also killed a Donald Mackenzie who happened to be staying in the house. The Mackenzie Chief, Kenneth Mackenzie, 1st Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, and the Glengary Chief Donald Macdonell of Glengarry, both went to the Privy Council in Edinburgh to present complaints against each other, but Mackenzie of Kintail is said to have got the better of his opponent by producing before the Privy Council Donald Mackenzie’s shirt, covered in his blood, as evidence. Glengarry fled the city and, although repeatedly summoned, failed to put in an appearance, and hostility between Mackenzies and Macdonells of Glengarry continued.

In November 1601, Angus Macdonell, younger of Glengarry, son of the Glengarry Chief Donald, with a large following of Macdonells, attacked the Mackenzie lands at Torridon, killing many Mackenzies and looting the territory extensively. In response to this, Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail appealed to the Privy Council in Edinburgh against Donald Macdonell of Glengarry for his son’s actions. Macdonell of Glengarry was summoned to appear at Edinburgh to answer the charges, but ignored the summons, and so Mackenzie if Kintail procured from the government a Commission of Fire and Sword against Glengarry, authorising him to take action and employ any means necessary against him. Mackenzie of Kintail then gathered a large force of Mackenzies as well as men from his allies, the Ross clan, and invaded Glengarry’s lands at Morar in early 1602. A battle was fought there against the Glengarry men, in which many Mackenzies and Macdonells were killed, including Glengarry’s son Angus, although some sources say that Angus was killed in a later battle with the Mackenzies in 1603 in Ross-shire. Glengarry forces also raided Mackenzie territory in Lochalsh and Applecross in 1602. Eventually, both Mackenzie of Kintail and Glengarry were made to swear to keep the peace on orders from the Privy Council, and Glengarry eventually abandoned any claims he had to land on the west coast of Ross-shire.

The Battle of Morar was fought on 1602 between the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry and the Clan Mackenzie.

Donald, 8th of Glengarry, reportedly lived for more than a hundred years and was clan chief for over seventy years. In 1627 he succeeded in obtaining a charter under the Great Seal to make his lands a free barony. In 1649 he failed to appear before the Privy Council in Edinburgh to answer charges of harbouring fugitives from the Isles, and was denounced as a rebel.

Conflicts with the MacDonnells of Keppoch

The 12th chief of Keppoch, Alexander, and his brother were both slain in 1663 in what is remembered as Tobair-nan-ceann, the Well of Heads, not far from Invergarry. This is where the heads of seven murderers were washed before presentation to Lord MacDonnell of Invergarry.

In 1581 a serious feud broke out between the chief of Glengarry, who had inherited one half of the districts of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and Lochbroom in Wester Ross, and Colin Mackenzie of Kintail, who was in possession of the other half. The Mackenzies, having made aggressions upon Glengarry’s portion, the latter, to maintain his rights, took up his temporary residence in Lochcarron, and placed a small garrison on the castle of Strone in that district. With some of his followers he unfortunately fell into the hands of a party of the Mackenzies, and after being detained in captivity for a considerable time, only procured his release by yeilding the castle of Lochcarron to the Mackenzies. The other prisoners, including several of his near kinsmen, were put to death. On complaining to the privy council, they caused Mackenzie of Kintail to be detained for a time at Edinburgh, and subsequently in the castle of Blackness. In 1602, Glengarry, from his ignorance of the laws, was, by the craft of the clan Kenzie, as Sir Robert Gordon says,easalie intrapped within the compass thereof,” on which they procured a warrant for citing him to appear before the justiciary court at Edinburgh. Glengarry, however, paid ni attention to it but went about revenging the slaughter of two of his kinsmen, whom the Mackenzies had killed after the summons had been issued. The consequence was that he and some of his followers were outlawed, and Kenneth Mackenzie, who was now lord of Kintail, procured a commission of fire and sword against Glengarry and his men, in virtue of which he invaded and wasted the district of North Morar, and carried off all the cattle. In retaliation the Macdonalds plundered the district of Applecross, and, on a subsequent occasion, they landed on the coast of Lochalsh, with the intention of burning and destroying all Mackenzie’s lands, as far as Easter Ross, but their leader, Allaster MacGorrie, having been killed, they returned home. To revenge the death of his kinsman, Angus Macdonnell, the young chief of Glengarry, at the head of his followers, proceeded north to Lochcarron, where his tribe held the castle of Strone, now in ruins. After burning many of the houses in the district, and killing the inhabitants, he loaded his boats with the plunder, and prepared to return. In the absence of their chief, the Mackenzies, encouraged by the example of his lady, posted themselves at the narrow strait or kyle which separates Skye from the mainland, for the purpose of intercepting them.. Night had fallen, however, before they made their appearance, and taking advantage of the darkness, some of the Mackenzies rowed out in two boats towards a large galley, on board of which was young Glengarry, which was then passing the kyle. This they suddenly attacked with a volley of musketry and arrows. Those on board in their alarm crowding to one side, the galley overset, and all on board were thrown into the water. Such of them as were able to reach the shore were immediately despatched by the Mackenzies, and among the slain was the young chief of Glengarry himself. the rest of the Macdonnells, on reaching Strathaird in Skye, left their boats, and proceeded on foot to Morar. Finding that the chief of the Mackenzies had not returned from Mull, a large party was sent to an island near which he must pass, which he did next day in Maclean’s great galley, but he contrived to elude them, and was soon out of reach of pursuit. He subsequently laid siege to the castle of Strone, which surrendered to him, and was blown up.

The Jacobite Rebellions and The End of The Clans

The Highbridge Skirmish

In 1745 the first strike was made against Government Men by Jacobite Loyalists at Highbridge, Lochaber, on the River Spean this was known as the Highbridge Skirmish. Prince Charles Edward Stuart had not long landed and was meeting with the Chief of Clan Cameron of Lochiel and the Chief of the Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald. Jacobite forces, loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie were starting to amass and organise themselves, reacting to this the Government sent two companies of the Second Battalion of the Royal Scots regiment under the command of a Captain Scott of the Clan Scott. 85 Government men in total were marching towards Fort William where they were to meet re-inforcements. The marched unchallenged until they reached High Bridge over the River Spean. On the Bridge, Major Donald MacDonald of Tir nan dris with a mere 11 men and 1 piper, all of the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch, stood armed with swords and muskets, ready to meet the approaching enemy.

High Bridge Today


Captain Scott halted his men and sent forward a sergeant and servant to negotiate but both were taken prisoner. Scott then ordered his men to retreat and they began marching back the way they came. As they did so, they were fired on from both sides of the road. Captain Scott’s men returned fire but he and his men were forced to change direction and move off the road.

Scott resolved to throw himself for protection into Invergarry Castle, the seat of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry, and accordingly crossed the isthmus between the two lochs. This movement, however, only rendered his situation more embarrassing, as he had not marched far when he perceived another body of Jacobites, the Macdonells of Glengarry, coming down the opposite hill to attack him. In this dilemma he formed his men into a hollow square, and proceeded on his march. Meanwhile, MacDonald of Keppoch’s men, headed by the chief, hastened the pursuit. The Royal Scots eventually found themselves completely surrounded on all sides by the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry. MacDonald of Keppoch advanced alone to Scott’s party, required them to surrender, and offered them quarters; but assured them, that, in case of resistance, they would be cut to pieces. Fatigued with a long march, and surrounded on all sides by increasing bodies of Jacobites, Captain Scott, who had been wounded, and had had two of his men killed, accepted the terms offered, and surrendered. It is said that in this skirmish the Jacobites did not loose one man.

This incident marked the commencement of the 1745 Jacobite uprising against the Hanoverian crown.

The Macdonells of Glengarry also fought at the Clifton Moor Skirmish and Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 where they were victorious. The following year they also fought at the Battle of Falkirk (1746), and the Battle of Culloden.

At the time of Culloden the Clan was said to be 700 strong. The MacDonnell Chief MacDonell of Scotas fell at Culloden.

The Dispersal of The MacDonnells of Glengarry – The Highland Clearances

The Highland Clearances devastated the Highlands. The gaelic speaking people were visiously removed from their homes. This happened to those living in Locaber and the MacDonells of Glengary. Known Jacobite sympathisers were treated particularly badly. Catholicism was being replaced with Protestantism.

Duncan, the current Chief of the Glengarrys had restored the family fortunes by marrying an heiress and introducing sheep-farming on his estates, but his policy led to the emigration of large numbers of his clansmen. (From £700 per annum in 1761 his rental rose to £5,000 before the end of the century). This was The Highland Clearances. While the Chief got richer his tenants and Clan members were forced out and replaced with sheep. This was a massive betrayal that happening all over The Highlands. The Clearances also happened in the Lowlands and Borders and even in the North of England but in a more drawn out way over the next 100 years.

The MacDonnells suffered more than other Clans with the Clearances. It is important to remember that these clans people were forceably removed and did not leave by choice. We talk of emigration like it was a choice.

The Glengarry Chiefs remained in the Highlands.

Romantic Revival of the Highlands

Colonel Alexander Ranaldson Macdonell (15 September 1773 – 17 January 1828)

15th Chief of the MacDonnells of Gengarry was known simply as ‘Glengarry’, inheriting huge estates from Glengarry in the Great Glen to Knoydart on the Atlantic.

Glengarry was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, he was described as a haughty and flamboyant man who Scott based the character Fergus Mac-Ivor, the Highland Chief on in the pioneering historical novel Waverley of 1810.

In February 1793, after war with France had begun, Glengarry was commissioned as a Captain to recruit a company of the Strathspey Fencibles, raised by Sir James Grant, a kinsman. In August 1794, he was given a colonel’s commission to raise the Glengarry Fencibles regiment of Glengarry Highlanders, recruits being drawn from the Glengarry estates, under threat of eviction if persuasion did not work. Glengarry commanded his regiment in Guernsey until August 1796, when he resigned. His hope of a career as a regular officer in the British Army had been undermined by his commander-in-chief, the Duke of York and Albany, perhaps due to concerns about his character.

It was from the distinctive boat-shaped cap with ribbons hanging behind that these soldiers wore that we get the well known ‘Glengarry’ from. This style of hat became part of the uniform of a number of Scottish regiments.

When George IV. paid his visit to Edinburgh in 1822, Glengarry took a body of his clansmen to the city, where they excited the wonder and admiration of the people. In his youth he had killed in a duel a young officer who at a county ball was a rival for the hand of Miss Forbes of Culloden, and later in life he picked a quarrel with a doctor at Fort Augustus who in consequence was severely mauled by his henchman. For this he was fined £2,000.

Glengarry considered himself the last genuine specimen of a Highland chief, always wore the Highland dress.

He was a member of the Highland Society and the Celtic Society of Edinburgh, and in June 1815 formed his own Society of True Highlanders, subsequently leaving the Celtic Society and complaining that “their general appearance is assumed and fictitious, and they have no right to burlesque the national character or dress of the Highlands”. His mortification at the acceptance of Lowlanders became a bitter complaint about the prominent role the Celtic Society had in the visit of King George IV to Scotland, and he made several unauthorised and flamboyant appearances during the visit, to the annoyance of his friend Walter Scott and the other organisers, but causing no more than mild amusement to the King.

In 1824 Glengarry unsuccessfully attempted to wrestle the chiefship of Clan Donald from Ranald George Macdonald by bringing an action in the Court of Session.

Glengarry had continued with Clearing people from his land to make way for more profitable sheep following what his mother began when his father was chieftain, and most of the clan was forced to emigrate to British North America, as part of what was later known as the Highland Clearances. Robert Burns wrote a satirical poem about Glengarry in the Address of Beelzebub.

The Glengarry fencibles were disbanded in 1802, and Glengarry failed to honour a pledge to find land for the men. This resulted in a mass emigration to British North America led by Father Alexander Macdonell, the regimental chaplain.

Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell. A colonel, and major of the Glengarry Fencibles, he was an enthusiastic upholder of the old Highland games, and gave prizes yearly to the winners at the great sports at Inverness and Fort William. He invented ‘traditional’ highland games and went as far as introducing a test of strength which involved twisting off a cows leg.

He set much store upon keeping up the historic memories and feudal splendours of his house. It was he who set up the monument at the Well of the Heads in 1812, his own name being inserted upon it as “Colonel M’Donell of Glengarry, XVII. Mac-mhic-Alaister.”

All this while clearing the Clans people from his lands as well as the people who had just fought for him.

In David Stewart of Garth’s correspondence to Sir J MacGregor: “Glengarry farms contained 1500 souls. Those farms have now 35 persons. Is not this extirpation? and yet Glengarry with a consistency only to becalmed by the rest of his character goes about the country attending public meetings and making speeches in his own praise as a true friend to the Highlanders.”

On 17 January 1828 Glengarry died from jumping from the boat slipped, hit his head on a rock causing ‘brain fever’, according to the Inverness Courier, the funeral procession of five miles from Invergarry to Kilfinnan was followed by 1,500 men and 150 gentry, the coffin being carried breast-high by eighteen Highlanders. Glengarry’s personal piper, Archie Munro, composed a lament, as did the blind household bard, Allan MacDougall. As Brian Osborne records, “In Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott was moved to compose Glengarry’s Death Song, an undoubted expression of his genuine affection for the dead chief, if not perhaps a work of the greatest literary quality”.

Father Alexander Macdonell (bishop) – a hero

Born 17 July 1762, Glen Urquhart, Inchlaggan. His life was in stark contrast to the Chief Glengarry. Father Alexander McDonnell spent his life helping his fellow clansmen who had been cleared and displaced by the Clearances and their homes destroyed and land now the home of sheep and sheep farms. He worked to get these desperate people employment in the lowlands.

In 1794 he organised the formation of the 1st Glengarry Fencible regiment, commanded by his kinsman Glengarry, with himself as chaplain. When the regiment was disbanded Father MacDonell arranged a tract of land in Canada in 1804 and went with them. After the eviction of his kinsmen, Father Macdonell led them to Glasgow. The town of Alexandria in North Glengarry, Ontario is named after him.

The Glengarry Emigration of 1786


The seventeenth/15th chief, Alexander Ranaldson, left his son and successor in serious difficulties, and, in 1828, the estate was sold to the Marquess of Huntly, from whom it passed successively to the Earl of Dudley and to Honourable Edward Ellice.

Portrait of Alasdair Ruadh MacDonnell of Glengarry


Just outside The Clan Donald Centre at Armadale Castle on Skye there is a memorial to Air Commodore Donald MacDonell of Glengarry, 22nd Chief of Glengarry and Father of the current Clan Chief. He was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. He led No 64 Squadron in the thick of the air fighting over the South of England, notching up 11½ kills, before being shot down in the spring of the following year while on one of the fighter sweeps over occupied France which proved so costly to Fighter Command and claimed so many of its best pilots. This is the battle that was said to have won the war.

Memorial to Air Commodore Donald MacDonell of Glengarry

The current chief is Ranald MacDonnell of Glengarry, full name Aeneas Ranald Euan MacDonell, 23rd Chief of Glengarry.