Seen on a dreary, cold October day, the swampy reedbed at the head of Loch
Lochy, along the A82 toward Fort William, seemed unremarkable.
Although no sign marked the place, the local directions had been good, and
I was sure of the location. I stood gazing at the site of Blar na Leine, one
the most devastating encounters in Highland clan history.
A carpark below the Laggan Lock edges the northeast head of Loch Lochy. Tucked
between the sandbank and the road, a watery thicket of golden reeds blurs
the head of the loch. This is part of the field where the Frasers once met
the MacDonalds in the battle called Blar na Léine, or Field of Shirts.
When Alasdair, sixth chief of Clan Ranald died--some say killed by his own
kinsmen--a dispute arose over who should succeed him. The fourth Clanranald,
Alan MacRuari of Moidart, beheaded in 1509 by order of James IV, had left
a son, Ranald, by his wife Isabella Fraser, sister of Hugh Fraser, then Lord
Known as Ranald Gallda--the stranger--the son of Alan MacRuari was fostered,
by Highland custom, by his mother's people. In his absence, the MacDonalds
turned to Ranald Gallda's cousin, an illegitimate son of the sixth Clanranald
by a handfast union.
John of Moidart--Iain Moidartach--was legitimized in 1531 by an Act of the
Privy Council and assumed the chiefship. In 1540, he rebelled with several
other Highland chiefs after James V annulled their charters, and was arrested
and imprisoned in Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Lovat came west with his men to install
Ranald in Castle Tioram. Ranald must have been a little over thirty years
old, judging by the date of his father's death. According to tradition, upon
seeing sheeps and oxen roasting for a great feast in his honor, Ranald Gallda
remarked that the fuss was unnecessary--roast chickens would have done well
However he meant it, the remark insulted the MacDonalds, who dubbed him "hen
chief" and sent him packing. He returned to the Fraser stronghold at Beaufort
Castle, and shortly afterward, MacDonalds boldly laid waste to Fraser lands