ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment

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 in Scotland.

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 hero.

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 black?

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 for O'Cahan.

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 the MacDonnells.



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