Clan MacLachlan Legends


  • From The Middle Ages
  • From The Jacobite Era
  • From The Cadet Families
  • Legends of the Clan's Brounie

    From The Middle Ages

    There is an old, charming legend that states the reason why the MacLachlan Chief's coat-of-arms is supported by two roebucks (deer). In 1249, when King Alexander II made his great show of strength in Argyll, he ordered the local chiefs to send their money (taxes) by the fastest messenger, and Lachlan Msr (the younger) tied the moneybags to the horns of a roebuck. Not only is this a demonstration of the ingenuity of the early MacLachlan's chief, but also shows his thoughts regarding having to pay taxes in general.

    Another tale tells of how the MacLachlan Chief would pay his feu duty (a sign of submission to an overlord in true feudal fashion). The duty itself was a pair of gloves handed over through an annual ceremony which took place over a large rock called Capull Cruaidh. This rock is located along the shores of Loch Fyne near Strachur and bordered on the property of Campbell of Strachur. The Laird would take a servant along as a witness of payment. After placing the gloves on the rock and turning away, the servant would pick up the gloves and take them back to the castle. There they remained until the following year when the ceremony would be repeated.

    A third tale also comes from the Middle Ages that brings to life to an old Celtic superstition - a Chief would not rest well, in death, if buried on or in foreign soil. The MacLachlan Chief and his neighbor, the Laird of Strachur (who was the Chief of the Campbells of Strachur), agreed that if either should be killed while fighting the Saracens (during the Crusades), the survivor would see that the body was taken home for burial on Lochfyneside. For many generations, the head of each house would attend the funeral of his neighbor.

    Legend has embellished the story of the loss of the MacEwen homelands in 1450 to include both deception and treachery on the part of the Campbells. The MacEwen clansmen were invited by the Campbells to a huge feast in their honor. While at the feast, the MacEwens were encouraged to imbibe freely, which they did. After all of the MacEwens had become intoxicated, the Campbells proceeded to massacre them. Those few that survived sought protection from their neighbors, the MacLachlans.

    In 1602, several MacGregors, MacEwens, MacLachlans and MacNeills, under the direction of the Earl of Argyll, raided the lands of the Colquhouns of Luss in retaliation for the arrest and execution of two of their own by the Colquhouns. According to the records from the Privy Council of Lennox, a series of raids against the Colquhouns were committed in which two men were killed and over 900 head of livestock were stolen to be sold in lands held by the Campbells, who also happened to be feuding with the Colquhouns. Because of the proceedings, the Earl of Argyll was held accountable for the actions of his men and the Colquhouns were given permission to pursue the raiders "with fire and sword". In 1603, the MacGregors and their allies staged a retaliatory raid on the Colquhouns that resulted in the Battle of Glen Fruin where 80 Colquhouns, including the Colquhoun Chief, died in an ambush. After this battle, a Special Order In Council was issued by King James VI that outlawed the entire Clan Gregor. The Earl of Argyll was ordered to "fall on the perpetrators with fire and sword."


    From The Jacobite Era

    Legend has it that on his way to join the Prince, Lachlan stopped to pray at the old chapel of Killevin with its Celtic Cross. On remounting his horse, the beast became restive and turned around thrice widdershins (backwards), almost throwing Lachlan. Immediately, Lachlan knew that he would never return to his native Argyll.

    It is said that, as the clansmen staggered back from Culloden, the dead chief's riderless horse broke away and galloped toward home, swimming across Loch Fyne, bringing the first news of the catastrophe. The horse thereafter took up residence in a ground-floor cellar of the castle. Most of the MacLachlans who fought as Jacobites were killed at this battle.

    John MacLachlan of Greenhall, the younger brother to the laird of Coruanan and a merchant in Fort William, his wife, who was the daughter of Alexander Campbell then Governor of Fort William, and their daughter were Jacobite spies who would entertain the officers of the Government forces stationed at the Fort. They often learned of the planned movements for the troops and would send word of these movements in advance to the Jacobites.

    In 1745, Sir Andrew Agnew, 5th Baronet of Lochnaw and 12th and last hereditary Sheriff of Galloway, commanded the forces loyal to King George that defended Blair Castle against the Jacobites. Two MacEwen brothers from High Mark, John and Thomas, served under his command. Two other brothers, Robert and Gideon, joined the Jacobite forces that laid siege to the castle. It is said that Sir Andrew was making his rounds one day when he saw Robert among the rebel forces. He ordered John to shoot his relative, an order John refused to obey. Sir Andrew obviously had an understanding of Celtic kinship whereby blood is thicker than water for John continued to serve under his command. John was present with Sir Andrew Agnew at the Battle of Dettingen, where Sir Andrew commanded the North British Fusiliers.


    From The Cadet Families

    Tradition holds that a member of the MacLachlans of Kilbride travelled to Aberdeen to purchase cattle. While there, he fell in love with the daughter of the Duke of Gordon. The two lovers eloped and eventually settled down and built a home on the island of Seil. After a time, the MacLachlan, his wife, and their two small sons returned to Aberdeenshire to make peace with the Duke and Duchess. When the family reached the castle, the two bairns were sent ahead. Upon seeing the lads, the Duke and Duchess immediately recognized them as being the children of their daughter. The two families subsequently reconciled their differences.

    When Iain Beag MacLachlan, a member of the MacLachlans of Coruanan, reached the age of ascension, he was reminded of his father's death and decided to seek revenge. Soon thereafter, Iain Beag began lurking near the Glen Nevis House. He managed to become friendly with one of MacSorlie's dairy-maids. Iain Beag arranged for this maid to give him a signal when Donald went to the sheiling for a drink of warm milk, something Donald frequently did. The MacLachlan, a noted archer, who was lying in wait for his enemy, let an arrow fly as Donald was drinking. The arrow split both the wooden vessel containing the milk and Donald's head.

    Iain Beag MacLachlan then fled from his home and wandered throughout the Highlands and Isles for years in constant fear of being captured or slain by his enemies. He later returned to his homeland and attempted to steal a very fine unique gun from Angus McSorlie, the 7th of Glen Nevis (Donald MacSorlie's younger brother) which he had spied through an open window. Iain Beag was almost caught by Angus, escaping when Iain Beag managed to stab the Laird with his dirk. Iain Beag then escaped the house and was never heard of again. The prize gun sought by Iain Beag is still preserved by Glen Nevis.

    In the early part of the 18th century, during the annual fair at Aberfoyle, Rob Roy MacGregor was offended by a member of the MacLachlans of Auchentroig. In retaliation, Rob Roy decided he would attack John MacLachlan of Auchentroig, the laird of Auchentroig. (The attack is believed to have taken place after the Battle of Flanders Moss.) Rob Roy's initial attack of the house failed, but he returned later and kidnapped both the laird and his son John. (Records exist in the Dumbarton Accounts showing a ransom being paid to Rob Roy for the safe return of the laird and his son.) The feud between the MacLachlans and the MacGregors appears to have ended with this event for the laird of MacLachlans and Rob Roy became friends.

    The MacEwens of Lennox were said to be physically powerful men. One story tells of one such member of the clan carrying a stone coffin under one arm, and the lid under the other arm, from the loch to the churchyard of Luss.

    Sir Andrew Agnew, in his history of The Agnews of Galloway, relays an interesting tale of how the MacEwens came to live in Galloway. In the middle of the 15th century, the Laird of Lochnaw, also named Andrew, who was appointed Sheriff of Wigtown in 1451, was besieged in his castle, an island fortress in the middle of the loch, by forces loyal to the last of the Black Douglas line because of a feud between the Laird of Agnew and the Black Douglas over the Sheriffdom of Galloway. At the point the Laird of Agnew was about to capitulate, he was surprised to see that his enemies had been attacked from the rear by an unknown ally. The Agnews then emerged to help their new-found allies route their adversaries. As a reward for their assistance, the allies, who turned out to be a remnant group of MacEwens from Otter, were given tenantship to four of the farms on the Agnew estate - Knock, Maize, Achnoterach and High Mark.

    According to one legend, when the original Chieftain from the MacEwens of Inverness died, he left two sons and a beautiful white horse. To settle the claim as to which son would inherit the horse, both sons agreed to compete in a rather strenuous test. The winner would be the son that could roll a millstone down a certain mountain by means of a straw rope passed through the hole in the center of the stone. The son that failed to pass this test, thus loosing the horse, is said to have relocated to Ayrshire where he founded another branch of the clan.


    Legends of the Clan's Brounie

    It was the belief throughout the Highlands of Scotland that every castle had a brounie to watch over the Chief and his family. Clan MacLachlan was no exception. The MacLachlan's brounie, known as both Harry and Munn, has been associated with the clan for so many generations that no one really knows when the brounie first appeared. While most often mischievous, the MacLachlan's brounie is reputed to be also benevolent. (Harry is one of two that are spirits of goodwill. The other resides in Foulis Castle in the north of Scotland.)

    Two legends of the brounie involve the marriage between a member of the Chief's family and the Campbells . Another recounts a dire warning the brounie gave to a MacLachlan chief during a very unsettled time and the last recounts the brounie's first encounter with trousers.

    MacLachlan of Strathlachlan, seeing that his territories were surrounded on all sides by Campbells, decided to contract himself in marriage to a daughter of one of the families nearby related to the Campbells. He proposed and was accepted and made great preparations for the marriage feast at Strathlachlan and put himself to great expense to make a suitable display. The lavishness of the preparations of the young Chief perturbed the guardian spirit or brounie who disapproved of any alliance with a girl of a clan who for long centuries had been the rivals and enemies of his house. Nothing however would deter the young Chief who caused his Castle on Loch Fyne to be decorated as it had never been during all its history. The banquet was prepared in the Great Hall and the members of the two clans were seated according their exact rank in pairs all down the Hall.

    Just as the Chaplain was about to say the grace, everything vanished in a mist from the table to the consternation of the guests. The Chief knew full well that Master Harry, the brounie, was the author of this theft and stammering an apology, he commanded his servants to follow him to the vaults where not a trace of the brounie or his stolen goods could be found; all was dark and silent. Overcome with rage, he shouted to the brounie and threatened wildly. A faint jingle of silver spoons fell on his ear, and changing his tone, he remonstrated more calmly with his invisible servant, saying that his conduct would leave a disgraceful stain on the ancient and honorable Clan MacLachlan, and on the brounie himself -- if the Campbells had but some scraps to feast on.

    The brounie's gruff voice was immediately heard muttering -- 'Aye, Aye the Campbells may get the braw rivers -- the fairest and the fattest that the woods and waters of Strathlachlan can produce, it will not be long till the greedy Campbells enjoy the fair lands of Strathlachlan itself.' The various dishes suddenly were thrust into the hands of the servants who speedily carried them back to the hall, and placed them before the wondering guests. The feast went on without further incident and the marriage itself was consummated.

    But it was not long before the brounie's disregarded warning began to appear true. The young Chief's profusion at the time of his marriage had to be kept up in a similar degree afterwards. Money difficulties began to crowd upon him.

    The second legend involving the brounie and a pending marriage recounts a time when the Chief of the MacLachlans arranged the marriage of his daughter to a Campbell gentleman. As with all unions between the Campbells and the MacLachlans, Harry did not approve of this match. On the eve before the wedding, Harry crept into the main hall of the castle and upset all the tables to such an extent that the Chief had to postpone the wedding. During the postponement, facts became known that changed the Chief's mind about the suitability of the marriage. The Chief learned that the Campbells wanted to use the marriage to take over the lands of the MacLachlans thereby breaking the clan. Harry had thus saved the clan from extinction, an act for which the Chief was most grateful.

    The third legend comes from the era of the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Like other desperate men of the time, the Chief of Clan MacLachlan took part in the attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne of Scotland. One night in the summer of that year, wishing to draw aside the dark curtain which overhung the era, the Chief descended into vaults to seek an interview with the faithful and far seeing brounie. (Master Harry had confined himself wholly to his cell, mourning over the unavoidable downfall of the house that he had guarded and loved for unnumbered generations.) On the Chief's approach, he burst into tears.

    'What is the cause of your grief, Master Harry?' said the young Chief, 'have any of the servants been annoying you?'

    'No, my Chief, none.'

    'Then what is the cause of your bitter lamentation?'

    'Ochone! My Chief, ochone! There is a stranger arrived this day in the North, whose fortunes you will follow and never return!'

    'What,' cried MacLachlan, 'has the Prince indeed arrived? Then the crisis of my misfortunes has arrived also. I shall now either live in a way becoming the descendent of an ancient and honorable race, or else I shall die gloriously in the best of causes -- the restoration of my rightful King to the throne of his ancestors.'

    Without delay, the MacLachlan sent forth the Feiry Cross to call together his clan and with all his retaines and vassals was among the first to join the Prince on his march to Edinburgh.

    MacLachlan was one of the few Jacobite Lairds to fall at the fatal battle of Culloden. Thus was fulfilled the doleful prophecy of the brounie of Castle Lachlan.

    The fourth legend is set in the eighteenth century when a well-meaning member of the clan decided it was time for Munn to change his attire and made him a pair of brown trousers. The trousers were carefully laid over a chair one night to insure Munn would notice them during his nocturnal wanderings. When Munn arrived, he took one look at the trousers and cried out in disgust, "Ach, it's time Munn wis nae here". Munn was so offended at being offered the trousers that he vanished for over a hundred years. No one saw or heard him during this period. Munn has been seen since, running about the castle, begrudgingly wearing his trousers.



    For More Information

    For more information on Clan MacEwen, we recommend the following sources:

    "The History and Legends of Clan MacLachlan", a self-published book on the history and legends of the MacLachlans, the Gilchrists and the MacEwens was originally released in 1995. This book has been updated and republished, and can be ordered here through PayPal, or by contacting any officer.




    This site is maintained by the Clan MacLachlan Association of North America, Inc.
    This page was last updated on April 14, 2014.

    © 1996-2011 Clan MacLachlan Association of North America, Inc.