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Issue 53 - The clan shaw

Scotland Magazine Issue 53
October 2010


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The clan shaw

James Irvine Robertson looks at one of Scotland's familes.

The ancestors of Clan Shaw are believed to be immigrants from continental Europe who settled in Caithness well before the dawn of history.

When records began the head of the family was the Pictish king of Moray. His descendants became the mormaers and earls of this ancient province of the nation. When Kenneth MacAlpine united Pict and Scot in 843 he appointed a progenitor of the clan, governor or thane of Fife.

The clan were MacDuffs - dubh or dark in Gaelic – but they became Shaw - Sitheach or wolf – when a son of the thane with this Gaelic personal name was given lands in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and made constable of Inverness castle in the middle of the 12th century. Shaw became the toisech and his descendents became known Mac-an- Toisich, the MacIntoshes, as well as Na si’aich – son of Shaw.

The latter became the leading group within Clan Chattan, the remarkable confederation of a dozen full-blown clans that occupied the heart of Scotland from Inverness to the Boar of Badenoch, the mountain that squats by the modern route north alongside the Sow of Atholl.

Although designated as the third chief, the first leader of a Clan Shaw, distinct within the Clan Chattan, was Shaw Mor who held the lands of Rothiemurcus. He led the Clan Chattan contingent on the notorious Raid of Angus in 1391 but is believed to have obtained his estate from the leader of Clan Chattan for commanding its warriors at the equally notorious Battle of the North Inch in Perth. The details of this encounter are not clear but it seems to have been a conflict between Clan Cameron and Clan Chattan to settle a feud. Robert III sent the earls of Crawford and Dunbar north to try to settle the dispute which was disrupting the peace of the Highlands but they found they risked being attacked by both sides should they become involved. So they came up with the solution of a trial by combat.

The king had given the lovely Inches of Perth, north and south of the town on the banks of the Tay, to the citizens of the town as parkland in 1377, which they still remain. In late September 1396 he, his court and everyone else arrived at the North Inch to witness the spectacle. The two clans arrived, each with 30 of their best warriors who lined up opposite each other. The Clan Chattan contingent included, famously, a Perth smith named Hal who, in exchange for a gold coin and a pension, agreed to stand in for a combatant who had fallen sick. At a signal from the king, they set into each other.

Eventually only 11 members of Clan Chattan were left.

Shaw Mor’s son James died fighting with his clan for the king against the Lord of the Isles at the battle of Harlaw in 1411. His son Alister ‘Ciar’ (brown) fathered Adam who founded the Shaws of Tordarroch, an estate a few miles south of Inverness and this family is the ancestor of today’s chief. Another of Alister’s sons, Farquhar was progenitor of Clan Farquharson whilst the youngest founded the Clan McIvor which spread itself from Skye to the other western isles. In 1524 Lachlan MacIntosh of MacIntosh was murdered by a rival and the Earl of Moray appointed himself guardian to his young heir. This outraged the Clan Chattan and, with the Shaws taking a leading part, they began raiding the earl’s lands. But, the chief, Alan Ciar miscalculated by also supporting the Earl of Angus, Moray’s rival and stepfather to the young James V, who had made himself deeply unpopular to his stepson and other magnates. When James took power he revenged himself on those who supported the earl. Alan Ciar was fined and this forced him to sell his charter of Rothiemurcus to the Gordon earls of Huntly.

The Shaws supported Montrose and were out as part of the Clan Chattan contingent in the 1715 Rising. Angus Shaw of Tordarroch and his brother were captured and transported. On Angus’s return he signed an oath of loyalty to the new regime and he stuck to this in the ‘45 although several Shaw lairds were officers in Farquharson of Monaltrie’s battalion of Ogilvie’s regiment.

Angus actually made the decision to join the Rising just as the two sides were preparing for the battle of Culloden a few miles away.

The image which represents the Shaws is that of Farquhar Shaw, a private soldier in the Black Watch Regiment who was shot for mutiny at the Tower of London in 1743. He is described as ‘perfect swordsman, and deadly shot alike with the musket and pistol ; and his strength was such, that he had been known to twist a horse-shoe, and drive his skean dhu to the hilt in a pine log ; whilst his activity and power of enduring hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and fatigue, became a proverb amongst the companies of the Black Watch.’ The regiment mutinied when it was posted to London, breaking their promise of engagement that it would only serve in Scotland. After marching 100 miles towards home the dragoons caught up with them; the men surrendered rather than cause bloodshed.

Three of their number, including Shaw, were made examples and executed. The Regiment and most of Scotland were indignant and the men became heroes. Lord Murray hung their portraits in his dining room and Farquhar himself is depicted by McIan. The artist got the tartan wrong but, in memory of Farquhar the clan retains this tartan as one of its setts.

The imposing statue by the Tay which commemorates the first muster also depicts Farquhar.

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