109037: Battle of Carinish

The Battle of Carinish, Blàr Chàirinis, took place in May 1601, just one event during a bitter feud between the MacDonalds of Sleat and the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan.

Roderick Mòr MacLeod, Chief of Clan MacLeod, landed on North Uist with a group of 40 to 60 clansmen. Records differ as to exactly where they landed, some say Locheport, others suggest Newton Ferry. Roderick Mòr stayed near the landing place with his group of bodyguards. He tasked his other men under the leadership of his kinsman MacDonald Glas, mac Dhòmhnaill Ghlais, with raiding MacDonald cattle and plundering valuables that had been placed for safety in Teampall na Trianaid.  The MacLeods made their way to the teampall at Carinish where they spent the night, feasting on one of the beasts.

News of the landing reached Donald MacDonald, Dòmhnall Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais, at his home in Eriskay, whereupon he headed north with his 12 gillemores, gathering another 3 supporters on the way.

A detailed account of the battle, which is said to have been the last engagement fought in Britain with bows and arrows, is provided on pages 42 to 45 of The Clan Donald, from which the following extract is taken:

… as he approached the mainland of North Uist early in the forenoon [Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais] disposed his men as follows:- Dividing them into three detachments, he concealed the first, which consisted of seven men, behind the rising ground north-east of the Temple, and south of the rivulet called Féithe na fala –  the bloody brook; the next division, consisting of four men, he placed in concealment behind a knoll, half-way between the position  of the first detachment and the Temple, and the last (consisting of the remaining four) was appointed to proceed towards the Temple and give the alarm to the Macleods that Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais had arrived. Each division had its definite instructions, and Macdonald himself took up an elevated position in the neighbourhood of where his first division stood. Thence he had the satisfaction of seeing his little band carrying out his instructions to the letter. The alarm having been raised, the Macleod rushed out of the Temple in great confusion, and before they were aware of the imminence of the peril four of them were taken down by the cool aim of the Macdonald archers. These having carried out so much of their orders, fell back with all speed upon the second party and awaited the approach of the enemy. The latter hurrying on, not in the least order, were suddenly checked by another shower of arrows, which made eight of them to reel and bite the dust. The Macdonald second and third divisions now together retired to the position in which the first or main division was concealed and waited as before until the enemy was within range, when all suddenly springing up and letting fly a third discharge of arrows with the same galling effect, rushed across the hollow through which the road now passes, and took up their position for the brunt of the day a little below where their leader stood.

The Macdonald archers had the advantage, as their bows were more powerful than those of the Macleods so had greater reach. As the battle continued, an overly confident Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais approached too close and was injured by an arrow which:

laid him on his length in the brook, called from this accident, Feith na fala. The Macdonalds, seeing their loved leader laid low, got exasperated, rushed furiously upon the foe, and in a few minutes cut them all to pieces.

Only a handful of Macleods escaped. The two swiftest headed for their landing place, carrying the news to Roderick Mòr. The others, led by mac Dhòmhnaill Ghlais MacLeod, made for Baleshare but were overtaken and slain on a sandbank, which is still known as Oitir mhic Dhòmhnaill Ghlais.

Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais recovered from his injuries in time to leave for Skye three weeks later, and so the feud continued…

There are several recordings about the battle and ensuing events, available on the Tobar an Dualchais website, including this selection:

Donald Archie McDonald of Gearraidh Iain made this recording in 1962.

Another account, by Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna, was recorded in 1966.

Reverend William Matheson recorded one of several examples of a waulking song which tells of the injuries suffered by Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais.


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Historical Event
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Related Media

Looking east over Teampall na Trianaid

Looking east over Teampall na Trianaid

The temple, looking west towards Baleshare

The temple, looking west towards Baleshare