The Wars of the One Eyed Woman

crest_blue1 crest_blue-11In the western isles of Scotland two great clans were locked in a long running feud. The MacLeod’s who occupied parts of Skye and Harris and their neighbouring MacDonalds from Skye and Uist. Over centuries the two clans had a number of pitched battles as dominance of the area swung to and fro. These ‘tit for tat’ atrocities had reached a head 23 years earlier when almost the entire MacDonald population of the island of Eigg were wiped out by the MacLeods. A reprisal attack was launched by the MacDonald men a few years later at Trumpan church on Skye, the church full of worshiping MacLeods was barricaded and set alight killing all inside but not before one girl mortally wounded managed to raise the alarm. The MacLeods rose up and pursued the MacDonald perpetrators and killed them all at Ardmore bay. The bodies were buried in a turf dyke and so this battle became known as ‘the battle of the spoiling of the dyke’.


Both sides realised that this could not go on. and so some attempt was made to broker a peace between the two warring clans. Unfortunately this would end up making matters a whole lot worse!

Around 1600 a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style romance blossomed between the Margaret, sister of the chief of the MacLeods and Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald the son of the MacDonald chief. surely such a match would see an end to war between the clans? err not exactly!

It was tradition in the highlands that a form of marriage contract called ‘hand fasting’ could be entered into. This contract was in all respects similar to marriage except that it could have certain ‘conditions’ that could be agreed beforehand, in this instance that Margaret would produce a male heir. Unfortunately for Margaret and Donald a son was not forthcoming and to make matters worse Margaret somehow managed to loose sight in one eye during the first year of the handfasting.

Donald was now intent on ending his contract with Margaret and so his father decided to send her home to Skye. Unfortunately the old chief had never forgotten the old feud and could not resist the opportunity to stir things up again. Margaret was landed back on skye and sent to Dunvegan sitting backwards on a one eyed horse, accompanied by a one eyed servant and a one eyed dog. This had the desired effect of enraging Rory, the MacLeod chief and war was back on again.

Trinity Temple, North Uist

Trinity Temple, North Uist

Rory sent his cousin, Donald Glas MacLeod along with a party of 40 men over to the island of North Uist to exact revenge and raid the land taking any livestock they could lay hands on. The locals had been warned of the approaching MacLeods and had gathered up any goods they had and stored them at the Trinity Temple and Carinish. The Macleods soon found out and headed there, breaking the sanctity of the temple in doing so. The MacLeods now camped out there were were surprised by twelve MacDonalds led by Donald MacIain ‘ic Sheumais (Donald, son of John, son of James) of Clan Ranald. Clearly outnumbering the MacDonalds the MacLeod men pursued them but this had been a carefully planned ambush drawing them into open ground. A fierce battle ensued which by all accounts lasted most of the day. At one point the leaders of both forces faced each other and all other fighting stopped as Donald Glas and Donald MacIan traded sword blows, neither giving an inch of ground. This fight carried on for some time, many MacLeods had already been killed and those observing this titan battle were mostly Macdonalds. On seeing that their leader was gradually loosing ground to MacLeod some of them rushed in to assist. MacLeod was said to have killed two of them instantly but another landed a sword blow which mortally wounded him.

Donald MacIan survived the engagement but had received an arrow in the foot during the battle and his foster mother removed the arrow, tradition has it that she sang a song to drown out his cries of pain, the translation from the Gaelic was:

Son in Iain, my Darling
Soon you heard the wailing
You saved the shore on the paling day
You struck terror into the seed of the stallion (Macleod)
The seed of the white faced lame mare

The result was a victory for the MacDonalds but at a high cost and with the entire party of MacLeods wiped out the bodies littered the small field, the nearby ‘Feith na Fala’ or ‘Ditch of Blood’ attests to this.

The Ditch of Blood

The Ditch of Blood

This has been said to be the last battle fought in Scotland using only traditional weapons (swords and arrows) but it wasn’t the end of the feud, later that year the MacDonalds headed for Skye. They raided the north of the island, driving cattle down towards Glen Brittle. The Macleods who had been busy attempting to get support from Campbell of Argyll against the MacDonalds were surprised but pursued their enemy to Coire Na Creiche. Rory MacLeod’s brother Alastair led the attack on the MacDonalds and this battle lasted for a day and well into the night. Alas it did not go well for the MacLeods who were defeated once again by the MacDonalds with 30 MacLeods including Alastair being taken prisoner.

For Scotland’s Privy council though this had gone too far and they decided to intervene. Both leaders were ordered to surrender; MacDonald to Gordon of Huntly and MacLeod to Campbell of Argyll. Both sides agreed to release their prisoners and call an end to all hostility. Peace between the clans was celebrated with a party at Dunvegan castle that lasted 3 weeks and since then (more or less) The MacLeods and MacDonalds have lived together peacefully!


About rodger moffet

Rodger is the Director of ScotClans. Expert in all things clan and tartan.

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