Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars

Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars

Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars

Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars

Synopsis

This biography presents the first full account of MacColla's career, drawing on Gaelic prose, poetry and oral tradition - in which he is celebrated as a hero and liberator - as well as more conventional historical sources. What emerges is a story of a warrior who fought for his clan, his catholic religion and his Highland world - against the supremacy of Clan Campbell, The Lowlands and England.

Excerpt

This book tries to do three things. Firstly, it provides the first biography of Alasdair MacColla who, though one of the greatest warriors of Highland tradition, has remained a shadowy figure where written history is concerned, only emerging from obscurity in 1644–5 when he acted as the Marquis of Montrose’s second in command. Secondly, explaining Alasdair’s part in the Montrose campaigns and assessing his achievements as a soldier provides an opportunity for a general reassessment (long overdue) of these campaigns. They are usually only examined from Montrose’s point of view; to take instead the contribution of the Irish and the Highlanders to the campaigns as a starting point helps provide (it is hoped) new insights into events, and raises doubts about Montrose’s own accounts of his actions, as well as about accounts by those whose starting point has been uncritical hero-worship of him. Thirdly, in placing the lives of Alasdair and his father in the broader context of seventeenth century Highland history, an attempt has been made to interpret the remarkable (and remarkably neglected) political changes which transform many clans from leaders of resistance to the growing power of James vi into ardent supporters of James vii. It is argued that the events of the 1640s, in which Alasdair took a central part, saw the dramatic beginnings of this emergence of Highland Jacobitism. It seems to me that such a fresh look at the seventeenth century Highlands is rendered necessary not only because of past neglect, but also because the one work which does attempt a sustained study and over-all interpretation of the topic is based on fundamental misunderstandings. Audrey Cunningham’s The loyal clans (1932) advanced theories based almost entirely on a single work, John Drummond’s Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Locheill (Abbotsford Club, 1842). From Drummond himself Miss Cunningham took the projection back into the early and mid-seventeenth century of eighteenth century Jacobite attitudes to the Stewart dynasty (Drummond wrote c. 1733); and from the editor’s introduction (by James Macknight) she took an argument about the total incompatibility of ‘patriarchy’ and ‘feudalism’, and belief that this incompatibility was the cause of most of the troubles of the Highlands. Explicitly in my first and last chapters, and implicitly in much that lies in between, I have argued against these interpretations.

In writing on Highland history I lack at least one basic technical qualification; I am totally ignorant of the Gaelic tongue. All I can do is offer two excuses for my presumption. Firstly, those who are skilled in Gaelic have not written much on the themes that this book is concerned with, and sometimes it can be useful for a fool to rush in if no angels show interest in treading in the direction in which he wishes to go. Secondly, I have been fortunate to receive generous assistance from those Gaelic scholars whom I have approached for help. Dr Colm O Boyle and Mr . . .

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