uhi west highland

gaelic language and placenames

The Keppoch Murders

"In 1661, Donald Glas, the eleventh chief of the MacDonells of Keppoch, sent his sons Alexander and Randall to be educated in France, but when he passed away in 1663 the sons were recalled as Alexander was now recognised as the rightful chief of Keppoch lands.

However, at the celebratory banquet the discontented Sioll Dughaill family picked a quarrel with the boys, mocking their French manners. They had come armed “ with swords, dirks and other weapons invasive and there cruelly and unmercifully and by ways hamsuken” set upon Alexander and Randall, “ giving Alexander 33 great wounds and Ronald, 28 wounds of which they immediately died.”

Sioll Dughaill announced the deaths an accident and claimed chieftainship. But one man, Iain Lom, a Keppoch bard, poet and storyteller, was certain the brothers had been murdered and wanted revenge on their behalf. He sought support from Chief Glengarry but Glengarry would not move against Sioll Dughaill. Undeterred Iain Lom persuaded Sir James MacDonald of Sleat, Skye, to ask for permission from The Privy Council in Edinburgh to seek retribution under the law.

Once granted, the two men went to the Sioll Dughaill home at Inverlair and slew the murderers- both father and his six sons. Lom cut off their heads, and tying the hair of the dismembered heads with heather rope, took them to display to MacDonell of Glengarry, stopping to wash the blood and gore away at Tobar nan Ceann. The heads were then affixt on the gallows in Edinburgh."

As told by Jane Strachan, artist

Image: Acrylic on canvas. Artist is Jane Strachan. One of a two part series. Title 'Witness 2 ~ the earth of Croft and Glen beneath Cille Choirill.' "The land saw violence and harsh times. Blood washed over the rocks and into the soil. Bodies lie interred in the ground within and outwith the Kirk curtilage. But despite the sad past of death and intrigue, abandonment and despair, there is hope, light and beauty in this place. The foreground represents more recent times of sunshine, croft life of fertility and growth and the healing effects of nature."

This story and image were submitted as part of a collaboration with the UHI West Highland Creative Arts programme.