Alaister Colkito MacDonald.
This is the other story of Alaister
MacColla, of the Scottish Giant a lot has been written and
sung about this man particularly in Scotland where he is
associated with the charismatic figure of the Great Royalist
the Marquis of Montrose. Much is written about MacColla
yet of his period in Ireland very little is known. Indeed
his Irish activities are not as well documented as his activity
This man is among writers, poets, and
musicians, both revered and idolised. He was and is an inspirational
figure to them and not just to the poets and musicians of
an oppressed people. Simply listen to the music of his death
march and his lament, see the simple memorial in Cloneen
Churchyard in Kanturk County Cork, in which many of a sister
Gaelic civilisation made room for the last Great Celtic
Even in death his mortal enemy in the
end Lord Inchiquin (the Protestant Gaelic Chieftain Murragh
O'Brien alias the Burner) felt obliged to maintain and upkeep
his grave. He stands as testimony to the richness, the resolution,
the great enduring strength of Gaelic civilisation, when
even in its death pangs, it subdued, it hypnotised, and
bewildered its opponents.
It is that last point which historians
overlook in there clinical way of analysing the history
of the religious Civil Wars of the mid-17th Century. It
was this desperation, this unbending and unyielding will
which alone accounts for much of the initial Gaelic ferocity
in the Rising in Ulster and indeed the barbarity it provoked
in its mortal enemy the Protestants of England, Scotland
and Ireland (Cromwell, an essentially good and righteous
man, a man of the people, lost all his reason before Drogheda
and Wexford). It explains the tenacity of that fight in
the face of overwhelming odds. As a Contemporary remarked
"They would rather eat the husks from their children's
mouths, they would rather die at the altars, sepulchres
and hearths of their ancestors, than submit, for they regard
themselves as an ancient nobility, kings among kings".
And yet there is another side to MacColla
undeniably he was responsible for cruelty in Scotland, but
in Ireland he was not known for this at all, most evidence
in Ireland about MacColla is very circumstantial, he is
tied to the fortunes his master the Royalist Marquis of
Antrim Randal MacDonnell. The Marquis's romantic schemes
to revive the Lordship of the Isles (an ancient kingdom
of Dal Riada long redundant by the 17th Century) possibly
one of the key unexplored causes of the rising in 1641.
The Marquis is also a much maligned figure but like all
of histories great survivors he remains an enigma.
The initial Rising of the Gaelic Ulster
Clans in 1641 was followed by an orgy of death and destruction
on its unsuspecting and hapless victims - the English planters
in Ulster, the rebel leaders instructed there forces to
leave the Scots planters alone on pain of death. This rebellion
triggered an uncontrollable onslaught in the rest of the
country, as the Catholics both Gaelic and Old English, rose
in rebellion in Ireland and sought retribution for there
material, religious, and military defeats of the past. It
is said that poultry, cattle etc. where slaughtered but
not eaten as they where from the hated planter. This set
in train Irelands bleakest 13 years, 13 years of unbelievable
slaughter, the population is estimated to have been reduced
by a half. It was also a primary trigger of the English
and Scottish Civil wars.
In regard to MacColla's supposed cruelty,
in the context of Ireland one must understand the nature
of the conflict, the soldiers that MacColla led where brutalised
by three years of savage conflict. When speaking of cruelty
one must place the context and norm of society of the times.
I would say he was in command of soldiers who where brutalised
by years of conflict and where used to dealing with opponents
in this way and he could not be responsible for there behaviour.
The facts however do place him at the head of cruelty, as
happened in the ravaging of Campbell territory in Argyll
in 1645. But surely its a case of the pot calling the kettle
Note: It is also one of the tedious
arguments surrounding MacColla to have to deal with the
historical nonsense as to the make up of MacColla's troops,
where they native Scotch? where they expatriate Scotch?
where they Irish?
This is all trivia, they where Gaelic
troops, veterans of a war in Ireland, they where paid for
and recruited not by the King, not by his Parliament, not
by Randal MacDonnell, but by the Catholic Confederation
in Ireland. The Scottish adventure was a tactical move on
the part of the Confederation to tie down the Protestant
party in Scotland, and divert there aid and invaluable resources
from their Protestant cousins desperate plight in Ulster.
Scotland had a standing army waging war in Ulster and it
was to relieve the pressure on the Confederates in Ulster
and at the same time to aid the Royalist forces in England.
As for MacColla himself he was fighting
for his clan, his religion, and sometimes forgotten his
race. The argument as to whether all or some of his troops
where indigenous Scotch is quite irrelevant, a historical
smoke screen clouded in the politics of the past and present
political climate in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Indeed the great historical writer
Buchan who accepts and validates the Irish make up of MacColla's
troops, does so for his own Anti-Catholic, Anti-Irish agenda
as he makes them responsible for much of the barbarity of
MacColla's Highland campaign. It would seem that some writers
gladly accept the Irish element of MacColla's troops but
do so to implicate them as some sort of Popish terrorists.
Unfortunately the facts do make MacColla
out to be some sort of Gaelic demon from hell. That is after
all what draws everyone to him, Celtic people have the greatest
respect for hero's and MacColla was a truly great one.
As a direct result of MacColla's Scottish
Campaign and his use of Irish Levies, the English and Scottish
Parliaments in 1645 issued the decree that any Irish found
on the mainland of the United Kingdom under arms would be
executed on the spot.
And thousands where particularly after
the Battle of Naseby.
MacColla to all of his opponents is
a hated figure, a cruel man in very cruel times yet he remains
there, along with his other contemporaries, Cromwell, Ludlow,
Leslie, Baillie, Prince Rupert, and in Ireland, Lord Inchiquin,
Sir Charles Coote and even the Great Spanish General Owen
Rua O'Neill. All where uncompromising men, full of conviction,
and some of the above where fired with great military vision.
To End you must begin
While MacColla was an expatriate Scot,
born on the small island of Colonsay in the Western Isles,
he and his clansmen where offered the hospitality of there
kinsman Randal MacDonald the Marquis of Antrim when they
where expelled from their Scottish homes by the Marquis
of Argyle(Campbell) in the Bishop's Wars of the 1630's.
The world MacColla found himself in Ulster was not really
different from the one he left.
He would have found himself out of
work though as a fighting man along with thousands of young
Ulster men. The only options open to them where to seek
employ abroad in the armies of the O'Neills abroad. However
the growing rift between King and Parliament meant that
the Kings Lord Lieutenant of Ireland the Earl of Wentworth
created a large Irish Army for the King, for use against
the Kings enemies. These where based in Carrickfergus in
Ulster for use in Scotland. The Marquis of Antrim wanted
these troops for his Lordship of the Isle scheme, the King
wanted the army to threaten the Parliament with, the Irish
wanted the army to secure religious and material rights.
MacColla would have made many friends
among these men, namely the MacDonalds near neighbours in
Ulster the O'Cahan's. The O'Cahan's and MacColla struck
up an undying friendship which only ended in the tragedy
at Knocknanoss for MacColla and on the Gallows in Scotland
He was by all accounts a giant (shades
of Wallace) with a build to match. He gathered about him
what can only be called "Commancheros", a virtual
tribe or clan on the move, Fighting men, Cattle, Women,
Children, Poets, Musicians, Historians, etc. It is this
which means the troops he used where more than likely a
collection of many clans rather than of any single one group.
MacDonalds, MacQuillans, O'Neills, O'Cahan's, O'Hanlons,
MacDonagh's, MacSweeny's, O'Donnells etc. all native Irish
or resident Irish Scotch Clans like the MacSweeney's and