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The Battle of Mulroy

August 4, 1688


Battles of Clan Cameron Page

Battle of Mulroy:

The Battle of Mulroy was fought in August 1688 in the Lochaber district of Scotland between the Chattan Confederation led by the Clan MacKintosh against the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan Cameron. [1]
It is sometimes described as the last of the private battles between clans of the kind fought in the Highlands in ages past; but the Mackintoshes had official support for their actions against the Macdonalds, and their army was in part made up of government troops.

The encounter at Mulroy is notable for one other reason: it was the prototype for Dundee's victory at Killiecrankie the following summer.

Clan Donald of Lochaber

For centuries the Macdonalds of Keppoch had maintained their hold in Lochaber, despite the best efforts of the Mackintosh landlords. For much of the time there was an uneasy stalemate between the two parties. This ended in the 1670s when Lachlan Mackintosh of Torcastle decided to press the ancient claim with considerably more vigour. In 1681 the Scottish Privy Council granted him a Commission of fire and sword against Archibald MacDonald, then leader of the Keppoch clan, allowing him to take extra-judicial action. The issue, however, remained unsettled at the time of Archibald's death in 1682. He was succeeded by his son, Coll, fifthteenth chief of Keppoch.

Coll had been a student at St. Andrews University at the time of his father's death; and far from being the Highland terror he subsequently became, he came down with the educated man's belief that the matter could be solved by peaceful means. On the advice of the Marquess of Huntly, he came with some of his clan gentry to Inverness to meet Lachlan with the offer to pay increased rent in return for a legal charter. With incredible lack of sensitivity, the Mackintosh chief had him thrown into prison, a mistake for which he was to pay a high price. Coll did not spend long in captivity, but his pride had been badly wounded, leaving him with a deep sense of resentment against Mackintosh and Inverness.

Lachlan continued in his campaign to have the awkward squatters removed from Lochaber. In the summer of 1684 he petitioned the Privy Council, saying that "by mere force and bangistry, the Macdonnels had possessed part of his country this 100 years and more, tho he hes interrupted then alwayes and gotten all that the lawes could give him; yet they still despised all." But the government was too preoccupied at the time with the threatened invasion of the rebel Earl of Argyll to offer much practical assistance. Four years later it was in a more accommodating mood.

In 1688, During the latter part of the reign of James VII, Mackintosh's commission of fire and sword was renewed. This time there was one major difference: he was to be aided by Captain Kenneth Mackenzie of Suddie, commanding a company of regular troops based at Inverness. With probably as many government soldiers as clansmen Lachlan marched unopposed into Lochaber in late July. Coll had only 200 fighting men, not nearly enough to counter the invasion. Instead he withdrew into the hills and called on the aid of his neighbours and kin. In response the men of Glengarry, Glencoe, as well as the Macmartins, a sept of Clan Cameron, joined him on 4 August.

Moal Ruadh:

With 800 men Coll was still half as strong as his enemy. He made up for this by placing his army on Moal Ruadh, the hill overlooking Keppoch to the north-east. Mackintosh and Suddie made the mistake of advancing up to meet him, setting the scene for one of the great Highland charges. Serving in Suddie's company was one Donald MacBane, formerly a tobacco spinner in Inverness. Years later he wrote of his experience as a soldier in a vivid and unintentionally humorous manner. This is what he records of the Battle of Mulroy;

The two clans was both on Foot and our Companie was still with McIntosh, who marched towards McDonald and his Clan, until we came in sight of them, (which made me wish I had been spinning tobacco). McIntosh sent one of his friends to McDonald to treat with him, and see if he would come to reasonable terms, McDonald directly denyed, but would fight it be the event as it would: Then both parties ordered their men to march up the hill, a company being in the front, we drew up in line of battle as we could, our company being on the right: we were no sooner in order, but there appears double our number of the McDonalds, which made us then fear the worst, at least for my part, I repeated my former wish, (I never having seen the like). The McDonalds came down the hill upon us without either shoe, stocking, or bonnet on their head, they gave a shout, and then the fire began on both sides, and continued a hot dispute for an hour; then they brok in upon us with sword and target, and Lochaber axes, which obliged us to give way, seeing my captain sore wounded, and a great many more with heads lying cloven on every side, I was sadly affrighted, never having seen the like before, a Highlander attacked me with sword and targe, and cut mt wouden handled bayonet out of the muzel of my gun; I then clubbed my gun and gave him a stroke with it, which made the butt-end to fly off; seeing the Highland men to come fast upon me, I took to my heels and run thirty miles before I looked behind me, every person I saw or met, I took for my enemy...

Suddie was mortally wounded, dying later at Inverness. Many more were killed and many taken captive, Lachalan Mackintosh among them. He was later said to have been rescued by his friends, although it seems just as likely that Coll, embarrassed by his presence in Lochaber, allowed him to be rescued. Coll was later to express regret over his encounter with Mackintosh, describing it as an unhappy accident, but at the time it greatly enhanced his prestige among his kin. The pibroch Blar na Maoile Ruaidh-the Battle of Mulroy- was composed in celebration.