All written content copyrighted by William G.A. Shaw of Easter Lair ~ May 2000/March 2008. No part of this website can be used in entirety or in part or in reference or in paraphrase without proper credit to the author, or if republished,
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Shaw Mhor
Spearhead of the Clan Chattan

Throughout The History of the Highland Clans, the ancient Celtic Laws of Tanistry were and remain an intricate yet pragmatic method of determining the path of succession of both local kings and tribal Chieftains. Sometimes a King or Chief was elected by the way of his direct lineal descent from father to son. Because of evolving circumstances or necessity, many other times the new King or Chief was elected via the laws of Tanistry from suitable brothers or male cousins of the Derbfine, the extended (royal) family line of the Kingly or Chiefly family. * In all cases, most eligible males within Derbfine of the tribe were singularly trained to lead - molded and strengthened by practice, examples,
deeds and lives of the entire clan and it's past Chiefs, historical and mythical. During times when the Chief was unable to lead the clan in battle, feud or raid, circumstances demanded election of a Ceann-Cath, or temporary "War Leader" to do so. It was from the ranks of the Derbfine again, that the candidate was found.

It was from within this setting that the intertwined Celtic spiral of national geopolitics and Badenoch and Lochaber tribal and personal feuds and alliances swirled together to affect the fate of one such able Ceann-Cath who was elected from within the Derbfine of Clan Mackintosh to lead the Clan Chattan tribal federation: Shaw Mhor.

The many origins and theories of the great Clan Chattan - Clan Cameron feud remain veiled in the mists of the history of the Kingdom of Moray. The country of old Clan Chattan was the environs of Glenlui and Loch Arkaig in Lochaber. From its main tribal center at Torcastle, the early Clan Chattan chiefs were loosely allied with the Mac Donald Kings (or Lords, depending on your political view) of the Isles. The Chiefship of Clan Chattan passed circa 1291 to Angus MacFearchar Mackintosh with his marriage to Eva (Eo) Nhic Dougal, daughter of Dougal Dall, the 6th Chief of Clan Chattan. This marriage did much to alter the fabric of tribal and family alliances in Lochaber. It was a pivotal point in the Clan Chattan - consolidating the increasing power of the Clan Mackintosh while subtly distancing relations with the descendants of the family lines of the 'old' Clan Chattan Chiefs residing in the aboriginal tribes and clans of Lochaber.

This geopolitical shift led to the occasional independence of the Clan Mhuirich (later called Clan MacPherson . . . Mhuirich the Parson was Prior of Kingussie in Badenoch and was a brother of Dougal Dall) within and without Clan Chattan. It also resulted in "the little tribes of Lochaber"(also descendants of the 'old' Clan Chattan Chiefs), the MacMartins of Letterfinlay, the Macmillan's of Murlaggan and the influential MacGillonies of Strone to be alienated from the new Mackintosh leadership. After the marriage of Angus and Eva, circa 1291, the couple lived in Rothiemurchus - probably at the strategic hill-fort at the Doune (cradle of Clan Shaw).

In 1336, the Mackintosh chiefs moved from Torcastle to Moigh in Strathdearn outside of Inverness. During this time, the power and long-reaching influence of the local Clan Comyn Lords of Badenoch began to wane (thanks to the vigorous earlier campaign of suppression against the Cuimeanach by Robert the Bruce. (Their energetic branch at Altyre rose to action against the Mackintoshes in 1412, but that's another story!) This local power vacuum was quickly filled by the ascending power of the Chiefs of Clan Cameron (also, like the Mackintoshes, transplants to the Highland from the Kingdom of Fife) who assumed the Chiefship of the three "Little tribes of Lochaber" by a combination of marriage, tanistry and oaths of fealty and mutual protection (and, I'm sure, by a bit of good natured bullying - W.S.). Indeed, during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the Gaelic title of the Cameron chiefs was "MacGillonie". It was about 1340 or so that the Cameron chiefs took the lands of Torcastle by the sword. Soon afterwards, Clan Cameron and the Clan Chattan tangled at Drumlui. It was not to be their last fight.

It was within this turbulent background that found our hero, Shaw MacGilchrist MacIain Mackintosh as a young man, living with his chiefly cousins at or around Moigh. Shaw 'bheagh' (little Shaw) or 'Sgor fhiaclach' (buck-tooth) and his father Gilchrist MacIain (Iain was Angus and Eva's second son) most likely took part in the Battle of Invernahavon in 1370 or 1386 when the Camerons of Lochiel, their MacGillonie cousins and the MacMillan and MacMartin cadet septs went a-raiding in Badenoch. They were met at the confluence of the Truim and Spey by two separate parties of the Clan Chattan, one of Clan Mackintosh and one of Clan Mhuirich (or the Macphersons).

Due to a disagreement (probably about precedence- either in battle or in leadership of Clan Chattan in general), the MacPhersons withdrew, which caused the Mackintoshes to go it alone against the Camerons. The Mackintoshes received a bit of mauling, That night at camp, the MacPhersons were stung into action by the powerful oratory of a Mackintosh Seannachaidh or Bard. Very early the next morning, the united MacPhersons and Mackintoshes rallied and pursued the Camerons and the MacGillionies et al up the glen and soundly defeated them in running battle at the sides of Loch Erict.

Naturally, this only caused the feud to continue to bubble. In 1391, Lachlan the 8th Chief of Mackintosh was elderly or infirm. As a member of the chiefly derbfine, Shaw MacGilchrist was elected to lead Clan Chattan in the legendary raid or Spulzie of Angus-shire. This occurred when Duncan, the son of Alexander the Earl of Buchan, Lord of Badenoch (a natural son of Robert II) formed a large rowdy army of Highland caterans, of which Clan Chattan formed a major part. From Duncan's lair at Lochindorb Castle (just north of Rothiemurchus) this huge raiding party descended howling from the Cairngorms down Glenshee to loot and plunder the fertile and prosperous plains of Angus. Buchan's son (both father and son were known as the Wolf of Badenoch) and his wild army routed the forces of the Sherrif of Angus and David Lindsay of Glenesk ( the powerful Lindsay was Overlord of Strathnairn (in Clan Chattan country), and was also brother-in-law to Robert III). Earlier, Shaw Mhor, Clan Chattan and some of Wolf's men even torched the Cathedral at Elgin.)

Five years later, the infamous Cameron - Clan Chattan feud neared the boiling point again. So intricate and linked were the tribal, feudal, familial and geopolitical alliances both open and convert within the central and western Highlands that the feudal Earls feared an all-out multi-tribal war throughout Gaidhealtacht (Gaeldom). Both the Earl of Moray and Lindsay of Glenesk (later Earl of Crawford) persuaded Robert III that he order the two clans settle the matter once for all. Again, Shaw MacGilchrist was elected to lead Clan Chattan in battle . . . this time at Perth.

For nearly nine hundred years before, Sgain and Aberthaigh (Scone and Perth) had been royal and sacred places in both the Cruithne (Picts) and Alban/Scottish kingdoms. They had also been a center of commerce, shipping, manufacture and law. From Perth, Parliaments were held and (at Scone's sacred Stone of Destiny) kings were inaugurated. At the two islands or "inches" (Gaelic:innis) in the Tay, capital and judicial trials by combat were held. Arranged by Moray and Glenesk (Moray was also a brother-in-law to Robert III), on the feast of St. Michael on 28 September 1396 at the North Inch- the thirty champions of Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron met.

Officiated by the Constable of Scotland, Royal Exchequer funds of 14 Pounds were used to construct timber lists and bleacher-style seating for the event. Indeed, the entire 'who's who' of the royal court turned out for the contest: King Robert III, his Queen, his brother the Duke of Albany, many nobles (including the Dauphin of France, and a number of other foreign dignitaries), knights, clergy, local merchants and craftsman and even apprentices were on hand to view the action. Stalls outside the lists and seating sold ale and sweetmeats, lending an atmosphere of a fair to the battle.

Shaw Mhor and his twenty eight (one amorous warrior was more interested in making love and not war and missed the fight while languishing (no doubt spent by his sexual exertions!) in the arms of a lover) hand picked Clan Chattan champions were armed "with bow and ax, knyff and swerd". To ensure equality (and thus only God and righteousness would choose the victor), mail shirts or jacks were not allowed (excluding the famous armorer or saddle-maker of Perth, who acted as a mercenary for Clan Chattan for the day.). The combatants were some of Badenoch and Lochaber's most seasoned warriors who knew their craft and knew the rules of conduct: no quarter asked or given.

This writer, who for many years was quite practiced in both the art of saber-fencing and the discipline of Ken Do) can only imagine the opening scenes: thirty men, most barely clad in saffron colored tunics (due to a long-standing Celtic penchant to fight naked or wearing as little as possible (besides jewelry and weapons), all tartan mantles and non essential war gear would have long since been quickly shed) with long hair braided in warriors' knots - letting out a snarling sluaigh ghairm or war cry as they followed the yellow war-coat and cloghaid clad Shaw in a charging wedge of fury and steel. Before reaching mid-field, archers on the flanks would quickly fire their three allotted arrows each into the center of the advancing opponents line, fling their short bows aside and grab their one-handed axes (cousins to the Dalcassian axes made popular by Brian MacKennedy na Boruma, High King of Eire, three hundred years earlier) to join the fray. With the Celtic love of personal combat, the two Captains would no doubt be at first blows in a savage and private dance of death while around them the two groups smashed headlong together in a noisy, grunting tangle of clanging steel and straining sinew. Eye to eye, man-to-man, there were no rules and little time for tactics except to survive and gang up on anyone that wasn't kin who was still fighting. In the end, Shaw and ten of Clan Chattan stood (or swayed, blood-soaked and sweating, barely standing from numerous wounds) over the bodies of twenty-nine Cameron warriors ( the lone Cameron survivor wisely leaped the lists and swam the Tay to safety).

For his strength, bravery, battle skill and for his loyalty, Shaw was given the duchas of (or right of occupancy, management and possession of the assets generated by) the fertile Speyside farmlands and Forest of Rothiemurchus by his grateful cousin and Chief, Lachlan 8th of Mackintosh. Shaw lived his remaining years at the Doune, the ancient hill fort that guarded a strategic ford over the River Spey (The Doune and Loch an Eilean were also well positioned to guard the Mackintosh Chief's southern flank and access to the Cairngorm passes as well). He died in 1405 and is buried in his beloved Rothiemurchus Kirk, guarded by : an Bodach an Doune".

May our name-father's memory and fortitude be honored forever.

Suas na Si'each.
Wester Crathienaird

*viz. The ancient Celtic laws of Tanistry (still acknowledged by Scottish and Irish Heraldic Courts) include succession to a Chiefship, etc. via the election by the previous Chief of an eligible male who was within three generations descent of a common great grandfather who was King or Chief. This interesting method of alternate cousinic lateral succession was extremely tribal in nature and ensured the best candidate as head of clan or sept. In ancient times, our Celtic ancestors considered the method of permanent lineal descendant of title from father to son only to be Latin, Mediterranean and foreign.