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Scotland Magazine Issue 41
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The Clan Lamont
James Irvine Robertson shines the spotlight on another of Scotland's great family names
The ancestral home of the Lamonts is the Cowal Peninsula in Argyllshire.
And therein lies their problem. Three centuries of trying to resist Clan Campbell expansion culminated in one of the worst and least excusable massacres in Highland history. It was one of the factors that led to the 1st Marquis of Argyll, Chief of the Campbells, losing his head in 1661 at Edinburgh, but it was too late for the 200 or more Lamonts who perished on that fateful occasion.
The Clan Lamont descends from Irish Royalty. It takes its name from Ladman, a descendant of Aodh O’Neill, King of the North of Ireland in the 11th century. The Chief then was Mac Laomainn mor Chomhail gu h-uiles – Great MacLamont of all Cowal – and the Clan’s history is decorated by some splendid anecdotes. The Chief’s seat was at Dunoon, but, soon after his accession to the throne in 1371, Robert II, the first Stewart monarch, made Sir Colin Campbell of Lochawe the Hereditary Keeper of Dunoon Castle. This marked the beginning of an increasingly bitter feud between the two clans, as the Lamonts tried to resist Campbell attempts to take over Cowal.
In 1400, with the King at Rothesay Castle, three of his courtiers crossed to Cowal on a hunting trip and encountered three local damsels with dire results. As a result, the Lamonts caught up with the ravishers and killed them. An account of the incident was relayed to the King who, as punishment, passed some eight square miles of Lamont territory at Strath Echaig to the Campbells.
The Clan’s next loss came 40 years later.
The eldest son of Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochawe died in the Lowlands. Since it was midwinter and the Highland passes were blocked by snow, Sir Duncan received the permission of the Lamont Chief to bury him at the ancient Kirk of Kilmun of the Holy Loch. This was granted and, in 1442, Sir Duncan endowed the Kirk and petitioned the Pope to found a Collegiate Church – a mini cathedral with canons and supporting clergy. This he turned into the burial place of the Campbell chiefs, which it remains to this day. Thirty years later, the Campbells received charters of the land round Dunoon and turned the castle into their main seat.
Nonetheless, in 1544, the Lamonts joined with the Campbells, unsuccessfully, to defend Dunoon and its castle against an English fleet which sailed up the Clyde Estuary in 1544 during Henry VIII’s attempt to seize the infant Mary Queen of Scots and marry her to his heir.
Atradition from the early 17th century tells that the son of a Lamont Chief went hunting on the shores of Loch Awe with the heir of MacGregor of Glenstrae. At nightfall the two young men made their camp in a cave and a quarrel arose between them. Lamont drew his dirk and his companion fell mortally wounded. Pursued by MacGregor’s retainers, the aggressor fled, and, losing his way in the dark, he saw a light and asked for shelter. He poured out his troubles to his host, unaware that he was at MacGregor’s own house of Glenstrae. The old chief was stricken with grief when he heard the tale, and guessed it was his own son who had been slain. But the Highland laws of hospitality were inexorable. “Here, this night,” he said, “you shall be safe”; and when the clansmen arrived, demanding vengeance, he protected young Lamont from their fury. Then, while it was still dark, he conducted the young man across the hills to Dunderave on Loch Fyne, and procured him a boat and oars. “Flee,” he said, “for your life; in your own country we shall pursue you.
Save yourself if you can!” Years afterwards an old man, hunted and desperate, came to Toward Castle gate and besought shelter. It was MacGregor of Glenstrae, stripped of his lands by the rapacious Campbells, and fleeing for his life. Lamont had not forgotten him, and he took him in, gave him a home for years, and when he died, buried him with all the honour due to his rank in the little graveyard about the chapel of St. Mary on the farm of Toward-an-Uilt, where his resting place was long pointed out.
In the bitter civil wars of the 17th century, the Lamonts initially were on the same side as Archibald, 1st Marquis of Argyll against the King. But the advent of the Marquis of Montrose and the Macdonalds rallying to the cause of King Charles, and the golden opportunity to join them in devastating Campbell lands, was too much of a temptation for Sir James Lamont, a graduate of Glasgow University, a Justice of the Peace and one-time member of the Scottish Parliament for Argyllshire, and he switched sides. When the King gave himself up to the Scots in April 1646, Sir James Lamont and his men went home. But the damage was done.
Campbell of Arkinglass led an army of his revenging clan into Cowal and laid siege to the Lamont castles of Toward and Ascog. Sir James Lamont surrendered himself and his followers under terms that granted indemnity to himself and his clan, but the terms were ignored. Lamont lands were brutally plundered, perhaps a hundred men, women and children killed. Some 36 of the Clan’s gentry and up to 250 clansmen were taken to Dunoon. Some were summarily hanged; others were hacked and stabbed to death, some being buried while still alive. Sir James was taken to Inverary where the Marquis forced him to sign over his lands and jailed him until Oliver Cromwell took over the country in 1651. The massacre was one of the charges that cost the Marquis his head when tried for High Treason in 1661.
The Lamonts had their lands restored to them when Charles II took the throne and they kept out of the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745. But, as with so many clans, economics swept away the majority of the clan landholders in the 19th century and the Lamonts scattered across the globe.
The 29th Chief of Clan Lamont is Father Peter Noel Lamont of that Ilk, a Parish Priest in a suburb of Sydney, Australia.