In Moidart, the mid fourteenth century witnessed the beginning of the powerful Clanranald dynasty who were to rule a large area of land known as of the “Rough Bounds” for about 700 years. The Rough Bounds included Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, Knoydart and Ardnamurchan. Reginald, the son of John of Isla, a descendent of Somerled, became the first chief of Clanranalds of Moidart, with the acquisition of the lands of Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, Knoydart, Eigg, Rum and South Uist in 1373, an inheritance passed through his mother’s line and confirmed by royal charter of King Robert II3. Ironically, it was to be another Reginald who finally loss the ‘family fortune’. Castle Tioram, located on a rocky tidal island at the confluence of Loch Moidart and the River Shiel became the stronghold of the Clanranald dynasty, until its ruination in the eighteenth century on the order of Allan, 14th Chief.
The Clanranald MacDonald gave rise to MacDonalds of Glenaladae, Borrodale, Morar and Kinlochmoidart who later acquired their lands in the area3. The ill-fated MacIains of Ardnamurchan were also related. This clan was extirpated in 1625 at the hands of the government and clan forces headed by Donald Campbell, following a clan history of mixed fortunes, including royal favour, persecution and piracy. Donald Campbell (later knighted by Charles I) became the Bart of Ardnamurchan and Sunart, and populated the peninsula with clans sympathetic to his rule from Perth and Argyll10.
The Clanaranalds, along with many other clans, supported feudal justice, and its chiefs have at various times indulged in lawlessness, treachery, tyranny, insurrection, barbarity, hostility, pillage and plunder, as well as sacrilege and murder. Such activities were born of the arrogance, ambition and the despotism of some of its chiefs, such as Allan MacRuari and Donald (son of John). In addition, Allan (son of Dougall) was usurped of his inheritance by his uncle, Alexander, and forced to be content with the lands of Morar. However, the clan can also boast of the ‘beau- ideal’ of a Highland chief in Allan Dearg (son of the aforementioned Donald) with the display of the fine qualities of gallantry, discipline, courteousness and honour10. During their domination of the Rough Bounds, the Clanranalds have been engaged in many ‘warlike enterprises’ and, at their finest, demonstrated such qualities as bravery, courage, resourcefulness, determination and loyalty, as well skilled soldiery. However, too often absolute power can lead to irrationality and despotism, no more evidently so than in Donald whose eccentric rule is stained with blood of not only his foes, but his clansmen, servants and a priest. His rule is also the source of many a myth and legend. However, later in life he sought salvation through Christianity and carried out some charitable deeds before his death in 1686.
The Clanaranalds have been staunch supporters of the Royalist cause, a loyalty that has brought then into much conflict with Government and Crown. Such campaigns have brought short-lived victories, and subjected the opposing forces to ravages of the land, property and personage; actions that have later been rebutted with equal vehemenance and ferocious atrocities. As such, there have been many attempts to subdue the feudal powers and lawlessness of the Highland chiefs, and conditions imposed at various times upon the management of their estates, education, armoury, employment and even diet. This has been met with a spirit of forbearance and defiance depending on circumstance, and the nature and sympathies of the chief of the clan.
The Clanaranalds achieved notable prominence in their support of the Old Pretender, James Edward Stuart (son of James II of England), and his son, the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stewart. Both pretenders sought the throne of Britain and re-establishment of the Catholic religion. Allan Dearg, the 14th Chief, died in Sherrifmuir, in support of the Old Pretender’s uprising in 1715, involving nearly 1200 men and led by Earl of Mar. The insurrection that was to follow a period of occupation of Castle Tioram by Government troops, formerly stationed at Fort William, and result in the pre-emptive burning of the Castle to avoid its re-capture and occupation. The 1745 uprising, known as the ‘Forty-Five’, in support Charles Edward Stewart, also ended in defeat and exile of the Pretender to France, but Ranald, Clanarald's son, was spared death and managed to escape to France. Both uprisings ended in retribution.