THE MEN OF LORNE IN RANNOCH
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
In June 1306, shortly after his crowning on March 27th at Scone, King Robert Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven by the Earl of Pembroke, the English Governor of Perth. It had been a surprise attack in the woodlands and was a serious defeat for Scotland. Bruce headed west with the survivors of his army and sought refuge in the Perthshire hills. It would be some years before Perth saw him again.
A mile or so down Strathfillan lies `Dail Righ' or Dalry, the King's field and it was here that Robert the Bruce almost met his death after he had fled from Methven. Bruce was attacked in this low lying strip of land by a formidable band of MacDougall and MacNab clansmen led by the celebrated John MacDougall of Lorne. The MacDougall chief was the maternal uncle of the Red Comyn, who had been a claimant for the Scottish throne. Lorne owed Bruce a blood vengeance for Bruce's sacrilegious murder of John `Red' Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch, in church at Dumfries in February 1306. One of the men of Lorne caught hold of Bruce's plaid in the melee and despite a deadly wound kept dragging Bruce back toward his attackers with such force that Bruce could only free himself by releasing his plaid. His plaid broach went with it and remains a trophy in MacDougall hands. It is now preserved at Dunollie Castle in Argyllshire by the descendants of those same MacDougalls of Lorne. Bruce and his remaining men managed to escape this ambush and took refuge for a while in Glen Falloch and in a cave near Inversnaid in what is now MacGregor country.
Fortunately, Bruce found a strong friend in Rannoch. Long centuries have now passed since Donnachadh Reamhar sent around the Fiery Cross or `crois taraidh' to gather his clansmen for Bruce at Fea Choire, `the assembly place'. This site is a secluded glen connecting Rannoch with Glenerochty and was the central rallying place for the defense of the clan territory. Twice the MacDougalls and their allies came into Rannoch to find and kill Bruce and twice our clansmen was mustered to defeat them.
The first invasion was from the south so Duncan deployed his forces to meet the MacDougall invaders at the point where the glen emerges into the flat lands at the east end of Loch Rannoch. Although details of the Battle of Innerhadden are not clear, it was definitely a victory for the supporters of Bruce since the place names associated with this battle are still well known. Innerhadden was the name given to the place where the battle started. Dalchosnie means the `Field of Victory' and that name commemorates the battlefield site. Glen Sassunn or `Glen of the English' is the glen where the MacDougall's English allies fled and the name of the site of the victory beacon, Lassintullich, are all still in use today.
Shortly after this defeat, the MacDougalls and their MacNab allies again threatened. This time they approached from the northwest and camped within two miles of Loch Rannoch. Scouts reported their presence but `Stout' Duncan decided to determine for himself the strength of the foe before he committed his forces.
Disguised as a beggar or travelling man, he was able to enter and wander about the MacDougall camp. Unfortunately, his great stature gave him away and he had to take to his heels with the enemy chasing after him. Having outdistanced all but one of his pursuers, `Stout' Duncan turned back and slew him. This allowed his other pursuers time to catch up. According to tradition, the remaining MacDougalls soon had Duncan trapped at the River Ericht where he made a prodigious standing leap of 16 feet and was able to clear the river and escape. This rocky site is still called Leum Donnachadh Reamhar or "Stout Duncan's Leap".
Based on the information he learned during his visit, the surprise attack early the following morning was totally successful. Not only were the surviving men of Lorne scattered over the wasteland of the Rannoch Moor but their leader, Alexander MacDougall, was captured. Duncan placed his prisoner in the island fortress known as the "Isle of the Gulls" at the western end of Loch Rannoch. He remained in this island fortress until he tricked his captors and managed to escape in his jailor's boat.
This second defeat ended MacDougall incursions into Rannoch and `Stout' Duncan didn't meet up with them again until 1314 when the clan was mustered at Fea Choire a third time to join Bruce at Bannockburn.