109059: Donald MacDonald

Donald MacDonald (1570-1630), Dòmhnall mac Iain mhic Sheumaiswas born at Moidart, later moving to Eriskay. In times of peace Donald was a cattle drover and was said to be the first man to ferry cattle from Skye to Uist. He always took a band of strong men, gillemores, as assistants.

Mac Iain mhic Sheumais was sometimes called upon to fight for his clan, whose Chief was Donald Gorm Mòr MacDonald. In May 1601 Mac Iain mhic Sheumais heard the news that a band of MacLeods had landed in North Uist, intent upon raiding MacDonald cattle and valuables. Mac Iain mhic Sheumais headed north from Eriskay with his 12 gillemores, gathering another 3 supporters on the way. He came across the MacLeods early in the morning and used his tactical knowledge to gain a victory in what is believed to have been the last engagement fought in Britain with bows and arrows, now known as the Battle of CarinishBlàr Chàirinis. Late in the fighting, Mac Iain mhic Sheumais was struck by an arrow and fell, lying injured in the aptly named Fèith na Fala, the ditch of blood. Nursed to recovery by his foster-mother, Nic Còiseam, he was able to leave for Skye three weeks later. It was Nic Còiseam who composed the waulking song Bha fuil do chuirp chubhraidh, which provides a vivid sense of his injuries. A version of the song recorded by Reverend William Matheson is available on the Tobar an Dualchais website.

Unfortunately the feud between the MacLeods and MacDonalds was not yet over. As Mac Iain mhic Sheumais headed for Skye to report his victory in the battle, a storm forced his men to shelter at Rodel. They were hosted by MacLeod clan chief Roderick Mòr, who didn’t refuse his help in such weather, and insisted his men keep the peace. With improved weather the MacDonalds left their sleeping quarters before dawn and sailed for Skye. This was fortunate because MacLeod’s men, without the knowledge of their chief, set fire to the building. In the end the Privy Council had to intervene before peace could be restored.

Another exploit in which Mac Iain mhic Sheumais was involved, was the capture of the MacDonald clan chief’s treacherous nephew Hugh, Uisdean MacGhilleasbuig Chleirich. Hugh was discovered by Mac Iain mhic Sheumais taking refuge, disguised as a woman, at Dun an Stìcir, North Uist. Hugh was soon captured and taken to Skye, where he met a thirsty end.

Mac Iain mhic Sheumais was known as a poet as well as soldier, composing this for his grandson, reminding him that a helmet, coat of mail and sword were all necessary equipment for soldiers of the time : 

’S mi thug na tri seoid dha t’ athair

Clogad ‘us lùireach ‘us claideamh 

In his later years Mac Iain mhic Sheumais lived in Carinish. 

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