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Issue 67 - The Clan Logan

Scotland Magazine Issue 67
February 2013


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The Clan Logan

James Irvine Robertson looks at one of Scotland's great families

The immigrants from Ireland who founded the kingdom of Dal Riata brought the Gaelic language to Scotland from Ireland in the 4th century. It spread into the land of the Picts through the missions of the monks from Iona and eventually became the tongue of northern and western Scotland.

The name Logan comes from the Gaelic lagan, which means a stretch of low-lying flat country. The original proprietors of land took on its name for their families, which indicates that the Logans held land before the birth of the Scottish nation.

Several important families shared the name. On the Ragman Roll of 1296, where the 2,000 most powerful men in Scotland - and a few women - swore fealty to Edward I, five Logans affixed their names from places like Montrose, Lanark, Wigtownshire and Dumfriesshire.

Clans did not really evolve for almost nearly a century after this and the origins of the Logan who headed the Highland branch of the family cannot be now determined.

The Logan crest shows a heart pierced by a nail, the latter symbolising Christ's crucifixion. It proudly commemorates one of the most celebrated incidents in Scottish history. King Robert Bruce died in 1329. The following year, in accordance with the late king's wishes, Sir James Douglas with 33 companions, said to be the flower of the chivalry of Scotland, set out on a pilgrimage to deposit his heart, embalmed in a silver casket, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig and Sir Walter Logan were amongst them. They travelled in some style with their attendants. The Scots ships were laden with silver vessels, flagons and dishes.

On their way through Spain King Alphonso of Castile recruited them in his crusade against the Moors. In battle in Andalusia, Sir William St Clair found himself surrounded. Douglas, with the famous cry of 'Onward, brave heart' hurled the casket into the midst of the enemy and the Scots charged after it. Douglas and the two Logans were among those killed. The heart, and the bones of its guardians were brought back to Scotland.

Branches of the Logans had land in various parts of southern Scotland. Sir Robert's ancestors had already been the lairds of Restalrig east of Edinburgh for two centuries before his dramatic demise in Spain. His was the leading family amongst the Logans with extensive properties in southeast Scotland. They also owned much of the town of Leith, the main port of the country.

The last Sir Robert was accused of being involved in the Gowrie conspiracy to assassinate King James in 1600. He was tried for treason in 1609 and a guilty verdict would allow his lands to be forfeited. Letters were produced that implicated him deeply in the plot, but the witness who produced them admitted they were forgeries and was hanged.

Nonetheless the trial was quite straightforward since Sir Robert could not defend himself, as he had been dead for three years. But they dug him up, sat him in the dock, found him guilty and then hanged him. All his estates were confiscated.

The Highland Clan Logan tumbles into history at the beginning of the 14th century when the chief held lands in Wester Ross. That line ended in a girl who married a son of the Baron of Kintail, the founder of Clan Mackenzie. This son took his wife's name as well as her properties. Their descendants became the Logans of Harris.

The senior male line continued the succession of chiefs but had lost the ancient clan lands. They moved east and settled on the Black Isle, south of Munlochy at Drumderfit. Their leader was a famous warrior Gilliegorm, the Blue Lad; gorm is the Gaelic for blue and probably referred to the colour of his armour, uncommon at that time and place, rather than his complexion. He married a Fraser whose clan was still establishing itself in the area. Their chief, Lord Lovat, was an incomer, from a Norman family with several generations of distinguished service to Scotland.

The sources are confused on the reasons for what happened next. The straightforward story says that Gilliegorm and Lord Lovat had a dispute that was settled in battle where the chief and most of his warriors were killed.

The more interesting tale says that the Logans raided the town of Tain and the bishopric of Elgin around 1372 and threatened to do the same to Inverness. The provost sent a large quantity of whisky as a gift to buy off the chief.

While the Logans were busy checking the quality of the offering, the Frasers fell on them.

Under the circumstances they were incapable of putting up much resistance and the battle broke the military power of the clan.

The Frasers continued on to plunder the now defenceless Logan lands.

Among the booty taken by the Frasers was Gilliegorm's widow. She was pregnant, and it was decided that the child, if a boy, should be killed or maimed to prevent it revenging its father’s death. A boy was born, was seen to have a deformed back and was therefore spared.

He was educated by the monks of Beauly, became a priest, and travelled through the Highlands, founded the churches of Kilmore and Sleat in Skye and Kilichrinan in Glenelg. As a Culdee he could marry and one of his sons was the founder of Clan McLennan.

Although without their own chief since the 17th century, the Logans continued to live at Drumderfit and 'maintained themselves in high respect by means of farming and commercial pursuits to modern times'. Today a flourish Clan Society has its headquarters in the USA. s

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