- Clan Name: MacRae
- Clan Motto: Fortitudine
- Clan Seat: Eilean Donan Castle
- Castle Location: Loch Duich, Scotland
- Clan Lands: Beauly, Kintail.
- Plant Badge: Alpinum - savin leaved club moss
- Castle Paintings : Eilean Donan Castle Painting
There are mentions of a Clan MacRae taking part in the Battle of Largs in 1263 against King Haakon of Norway. Around that time there is evidence of MacRae's, or MacRath, living in Clunes and around the area to the north-east of Loch Ness. The lands were owned by the Bissett family of Lovat. They co-existed in harmony.
In the early 1300's the chief of the Bissett's died without a male heir and on the marriage of his daughter to a Fraser the lands changed hands.
About that time an Ian MacRae set out and ended up in Kintail on the west coast near Skye. This was the start of what was to end up as the main line.
Kintail was controlled by the MacKenzie clan who were fast gaining lands and power at that time. Over the next two hundred years the MacRaes were joined by other families of their clan from old Lovat lands and were most numerous around the Kintail area and Inverinate in particular.
The clan thrived in the area and fought alongside the MacKenzies. They earned their place and lands by giving armed support in joint defence. Specialising in archery they were a welcome addition to the larger clans arsenal.
The 16th and 17th century was when the MacKenzies were at their peak. Taking on all who dared they controlled a strip of Scotland from east to the west coast.
Eilean Donan castle was their stronghold on the east coast and under constant harassment. In 1509 the MacRaes were en-trusted with the position of Constable of Eilean Donan to ensure the safety of the stronghold and protect and defend the surrounding areas.
In 1539 the castle was under siege from the MacDonalds. Their chief Donald Grubach was intent on restoring lost power. At that time it was being defended by only two men and a boy. The constable, Christopher MacRae was killed but when a barbed arrow struck in the foot of the MacDonald chief he ended up bleeding to death and that brought the siege to an end.
The MacRaes were hereditary Constables of Eilean Donan and Chamberlain of Kintail for most of the next 200 years.
The Clan supported the Royalist side in the Civil War taking part in the Battle of Auldearn in 1645 under James Graham.
The Clan were also faithful to the Stuart cause and came out to support the Jacobites at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. Unfortunately although the Earl of Mar, commander of the Jacobites, had vastly larger forces than John Campbell Duke of Argyll who controlled the government side, the battle ended inconclusively. The way the battle played out saw the Macraes taking most of the fatalities.
The MacKenzie 5th Earl of Seaforth had raised 3,000 men for this venture and ended up fleeing to France and having his estates forfeited. This was probably the start of the lowest ebb for the clan. Another factor tried to collect the rents on the estate unsuccessfully. The 5th Earl returned in time for Glen Shiel where he was severely wounded.
The Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719 and the destruction of Eilean Donan. I have covered in a separate page with paintings to illustrate.
In 1741 Kenneth MacKenzie, son of the 5th Earl was allowed to buy back some of the MacKenzie estates.
The MacRae Clan, as a whole, did not take an active part in the remaining Jacobite rebellions although individual groups set off for Culloden, never to return.
Apart from their prowess at warfare the MacRaes were also known for their poets and clergy.
If I were to tell the story of any notable clansmen then the exploits of Lt Col Sir George McCrae in the first world war stands out. In the early stages of the war it was decided to keep football fixtures going to keep up the public spirit. However by the end of 1914 the war was starting to consume a large number of lives when the powers that be kept wasting lives forcing the men to charge machine guns.
George was a local businessman and Member of Parliament for Edinburgh. He answered the call and started raising a new battalion. Speeches and bagpipes raised 800 volunteers in seven days. George's "I would not, I could not, ask you to serve unless I share the danger at your side. In a moment I will walk down to Castle Street and set my name to the list of volunteers. Who will join me?" given at the Usher Hall in November had mothers trusting him with their sons.
The full football team from Hearts of Midlothian, players from Hibs, Raith Rovers and Dunfermline together with golfers, rugby players and their fans joined up en-masse. It became known as the The Sporting Battalion, MacRae's Battalion, officially the 16th Royal Scots.
After training the Battalion were moved to France and their first full engagement was July 1st 1916, the opening of the Battle of the Somme. At 0728 hours they were ordered to fix bayonets. At 0730 the whistles blew...and the slaughter began. The darkest day in British military history.
20,000 men died that morning, 40,000 were wounded. The cream of their generation. Including 12 officers and 600 men from the MacRaes who gave their lives "for their Country".
George who was 54 years of age, had stayed true to his word, and was in the thick of the fighting with his men. He was wounded and physically broken and sent home. The battalion was disbanded shortly afterwards with 1400 having paid the ultimate price. By the end of the war there was only 36 survivors of the original MacRaes Battalion.
When George died in 1928 at the age of 68. His funeral was the largest ever witnessed in Scotland. Businesses closed for the day, traffic was suspended and Edinburgh came to a standstill with thousands of mourners lining the streets. Remembering not only the man but the sacrifice.
While on melancholy topics another would have to be the touching poem penned by Major (surgeon) John MacRae at Ypres in 1915.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.