HOMES OF OUR CLAN CHIEFS
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
Most clanfolk are familiar with "Tom an Tigh Mhor" (knoll of the great house) which is located beside Struan Kirk. Despite the name, this was not the home of our first recognized chief, Duncan the Stout. This site at the confluence of the rivers Garry and Errochty was considered by the pre-Christian local people to be an ‘assembly' place or ‘court of justice'. It probably served as the ‘mote hill' where the clan would gather to see their chief administer justice. When Saint Fillan arrived to bring Celtic Christianity to Atholl, he naturally established his church here.
The first recorded stronghold of our clan chiefs was built on an artificial island in the northwestern corner of Loch Tummel. This was the home of Duncan, our first chief. The ruins of this tower castle were submerged in 1950 when the level of the loch was raised by 5 meters on completion of a hydro-electric dam.
Our 3rd chief, Duncan, was known as Duncan "of Atholia" (of Atholl) and as the Lord of Rannoch. His residence was at Bun Rannoch at the southeastern end of Loch Rannoch. Duncan acquired the lands of Strowan through marriage and his son, Robert (4th chief), known as Robert Ruadh (the Red), is the first chief to be called by the designation "of Strowan" when all of his lands were erected into a free barony by King James II in August 1451.
In 1513, the battle of Flodden was a Scottish disaster. The King and much of the aristocracy were killed. The resulting regency allowed lawlessness to reign. The Earl of Atholl captured William (6th chief) after a boundary dispute and he was eventually beheaded on April 7, 1516. A year earlier, the Earl of Atholl was able to acquire most of the Strathtummel property including the island stronghold "for default of a payment of debt of 1,592 pounds Scots." These clan lands were never recovered.
Robert Robertson of Strowan (7th chief) was an infant when his father was executed by the Earl of Atholl at Tulliemet. In 1545 MacGregor outlaws living on the wild northern slope of Loch Rannoch captured him. Eventually freed, he then built a fortified tower house as his primary residence. The site of the ‘Black Castle' of Invervack lies west of the current Invervack farm on the south bank of the river Garry near the footbridge that crosses over the river from the west gates of Blair Castle. The Invervack estate was the principal home of the barons of Strowan probably from before the barony's creation until the 1720s. The heavily mortgaged estate was eventually bought by a Duke of Atholl in 1826. The castle itself was burned "in Cromwell's time" after the abortive 1653 rebellion against Oliver Cromwell known as the Glencairn Rising. The old home of the Robertson of Lude family and Garth castle were also destroyed by the parliamentary forces garrisoned at Blair Castle. There is no record of the castle being rebuilt. After the English forces were withdrawn Robert continued to live on the Invervack estate until his death on May 23, 1566. He was buried at Struan Kirk.
Robert (10th chief) was fortunate to have his father's forfeited estates restored to him debt-free by gift from a loyal clansman in a Crown Charter dated January 1600. The sasine was taken in July 1604 at his residence at Invervack for all the lands remaining in the barony of Strowan. Sometime between then and the death of both Alexander (12th chief) and his oldest son Robert who predeceased him in 1688, the family had a home at Kinloch Rannoch near where the present Dunalastair Hotel is located. It too was burned down in 1746.
Alexander (13th chief), became chief on the death of his father and older brother in 1688. His mother had written (to no avail) from her dower home at Carie requesting the chieftains of the clan to discourage her son from leaving St. Andrews University to participate in the 1689 Rising. Alexander came home and raised the clan anyway. He was eventually pardoned for his activities in that Rising and returned from exile in France in 1703 and built his residence, the ‘Hermitage', at Dunalastair (Mount Alexander). After the 1715 Rising, he was once more deprived of his estates and fled to France. His forfeited estates were restored to his sister living at Carie in 1726 and he was allowed to return to live at Mount Alexander. It was probably around this time that the designation "of Invervack" was transferred to Alexander's cousin Robert Ban (the Fair) Robertson who was instrumental in rescuing Alexander after his capture at the battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. After the last Jacobite rebellion, the ‘Hermitage' was burned down and he retired to Carie House on the southern shore of Loch Rannoch. This was where he died on April 18, 1749 and was buried at Struan Kirk.
Col. Alexander Robertson (15th chief) built a new house at Dunalastair (see picture) in 1796 while living at ‘Rannoch Barracks'. George Duncan Robertson of Strowan (18th chief) was the last chief to live there. He sold Dunalastair in 1853 and built a new home ‘Dall House' in 1855 on the southern shore of Loch Rannoch west of Carie. Terms of the sale guaranteed in perpetuity the Dunalastair burial grounds for him and future clan chiefs. Five clan chiefs are known to be buried there.
Unfortunately, Dall House too had to be sold in 1861 and our chiefs moved to the west end of the loch to ‘Rannoch Barracks'. This 19,000 acre estate was sold in 1926 to pay estate taxes due after the death of the 20th chief in 1910. It is a strange irony that although originally built to house the government troops stationed in the clan country to keep us in check; it became the last home of our clan chiefs in clan country.
"Life in the Atholl Glens", John Kerr, 1993
"The Robertsons", Iain Moncreiffe, 1954, pp.15-17
"Short History of the Clan Robertson", J. Robertson Reid, 1933
"Chiefs of Clan Donnachaidh 1275-1749", James Robertson, 1929
"The Robertsons, Clan Donnachaidh in Atholl", James Irvine Robertson, 2005