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Issue 47 - Clan Maclachlan

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 47
October 2009


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Clan Maclachlan

James Irvine Robertson looks at the history of another of Scotland's great families.

The Maclachlans take their name from Lachlan Mor, the “Great Lachlan”, who lived in the 13th century. His descendant, the Maclachlan of Maclachan , still lives in Castle Lachlan within the old parish of Strathlachlan where the River Strathlachlan flows into Loch Fyne at Lachlan Bay.

Lachlan was a Gael, a member of that great family, descended from the royal Ui Neill dynasty of Ireland whose ancestry goes back to Eochu, King of Tara, who came down from the God-King Conn ‘of the hundred battles’, slayer of King Mug of Ulster, who lived in the second century AD. Lachlan’s forebear Anradhan married the heiress of Cowal in the 11th century and from him sprang the Maclachlans, the Macneills, the MacEwens, the Lamonts , and others.

Clan Lachlan chiefs were appearing in charters before 1300. Gillescop Maclachlan was one of the barons whose lands formed part of the Sheriffdom of Argyll in 1292. Like the entire leadership of Scotland, the chief signed the Ragman Roll swearing fealty to Edward I in 1296 but the clan supported Robert the Bruce who granted a charter to the chief for his lands and his seal is on the letter of 1308 to King Philip IV of France from the barons attending Bruce’s first parliament in St Andrews.

With their lands on the east bank of Loch Fyne, a sea loch that thrusts more than 40 miles into the heart of the country, the clan had formidable neighbours with whom to co-exist. After the decline of Clan Donald, the region was dominated by the Campbells but the political skills of the Maclachlan chiefs maintained their independence and they cemented good relations by marrying scions of this increasingly powerful clan. The Maclachlans were said to be watched over by a Brownie, who was so annoyed by the first Campbell marriage that he spirited away the wedding feast from Castle Lachlan.

Another neighbouring clan with whom they intermarried were their cousins, the Lamonts. Lachlan Maclachlan of that Ilk was the son of the co-heiress of the Lamont chief and put in a bid for leadership of that clan, and ownership of its territory, on his grandfather’s death. In spite of his close association with the 4rd Earl of Argyll, Master of the King’s Household and Lord Justice General of Scotland, with whom he travelled to France in 1536 for the marriage of James V and Mary of Guise, the Privy Council preferred the claim of a male heir.

Relationships with the Lamonts were marked by killings and bad blood for the following century. The clan fought with the Campbells against the Lamonts and the Macleans, but allied themselves in 1603 with the Macgregors in the much condemned Battle of Glen Fruin against the Colquhouns.

Later in the century, two Earls of Argyll were executed for their opposition to the Stuart kings, and the Campbells were always the mainstay of the government during the Jacobite Risings. This makes it more surprising that the Maclachlans fought with such gallantry and tenacity for that doomed dynasty. Colonel Maclachlan led an infantry regiment at the Battle of Alford in July 1645, fighting for the Marquis of Montrose and Charles I, and defeated the enemy cavalry.

He was present the following month at the victory of Kilsyth. Most of Montrose’s Highlanders then went home to attend to the harvest, but Maclachan and his men stayed with the Royalist Forces which were surprised and defeated at the Battle of Philiphaugh in September. The Colonel was captured, taken to Edinburgh and executed.

The Clan claims to have been at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 , and is on surer ground in the 1715 Rising for Lachlan Maclachlan of that Ilk put his name to the address of welcome to the Old Pretender, the rightful James VIII, when he landed in Scotland. Lachlan fought as a colonel at the head of the clan at Sheriffmuir where government forces were led by the Duke of Argyll.

For so offending his powerful neighbours it is said ‘Campbell of Ardkinglas followed MacLachlan like a sleuthhound for five years and shot him dead in 1720.’ This did not prevent his son, the 17th chief and another Lachlan, playing a prominent part in the 45 Rising.

He raised the clan at Kilmichael-Glassary and led his men through the heart of Campbell country to join with the Prince in Edinburgh. The clan took part in the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk. At Culloden, one of the first casualties was the Prince’s aide-decamp Lachlan Maclachlan of Inchconnel, who was killed carrying a message to Lord George Murray ordering the charge.

The clan was in the centre of the front line, the chief at the head of 115 Maclachlans and 182 Macleans, who placed themselves under his command. Killed by a cannon ball, his body was found behind government lines.

After the battle, a government frigate sailed up Loch Fyne and bombarded Castle Lachlan and drove the grieving family out.

Occupied by the Argyll militia, it was destroyed after they had no further use for it.

To the government’s frustration, the Maclachlan lands could not be forfeit since the guilty chief was dead and, as early as 1747, Donald Maclachlan received a charter for the lands ‘at the intercession of the Duke of Argyll’, repaying the centuries long friendship between the clans.

In the early 19th century, a new Castle Lachlan was built, and it remains the seat of Euan John Maclachlan of Maclachlan, Chief of Clan Maclachlan, 25th of Maclachlan and Baron of Strathlachlan.