CC BY-SA, Francis. C.Franklin


knoydart,a history, denis rixson, 2011

Location: Road to the Isles and Knoydart
the jacobites, gaelic language and placenames

The inventor of blackmail

Larger than life with a commanding personality inspiring more fear than love, Coll MacDonnell of Barrisdale in Knoydart had "devouring looks, bulky strides, an awful voice, a long and tremendous sword which he generally wore in his hand, with a targe and a bonnet edged broad on the forehead which imparted awe."

He is credited with bringing the word blackmail into the English vocabulary, extracting mail or payment in kind (oatmeal as the local commodity) from neighbouring proprietors in exchange for protection of their black cattle from cattle raiders, over whom he secretly presided. By 1743, he was said to have had 180 men under his command and an array of torture instruments for those suspected of not giving him his share of the booty seized.

Drawing immense profits from his protection racket in Knoydart and Gelngarry, he built himself an imposing house at Inverie, 2 storey high, roofed in blue slates with 18 "fire-rooms". The Jacobite rising put an end to his activities, and saw him distinguish himself at the battle of Prestonpans. He survived the rising but spent 2 years in a French gaol on suspicion of being a double agent. Returning to Knoydart in 1749, he found his cattle driven off and sold and his house burnt down as reprisal for his part in the rising. Arrested again, he died of a fever a year later, a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.