Outlawed Scottish clan to gather for 200th anniversary and bless stones of their ancient chiefs

A 19th Century romanticised image of Clan MacGregor, which was outlawed by James VI following a particularly brutal episode of clan warfare. PIC: Contributed.A 19th Century romanticised image of Clan MacGregor, which was outlawed by James VI following a particularly brutal episode of clan warfare. PIC: Contributed.
A 19th Century romanticised image of Clan MacGregor, which was outlawed by James VI following a particularly brutal episode of clan warfare. PIC: Contributed.
MacGregors to meet in their Argyll heartlands.

Members of a Scottish clan which was outlawed for 150 years – so much so that using its name came at risk of death – are to gather in its heartlands to bless the medieval stones used in the burial of its chiefs up to 700 years ago.

On Monday, around 140 MacGregors will attend a ceremony at Glenorchy Parish Church at Dalmally in Argyll where the stones marked the graves of its forefathers during the medieval period.

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The stones are the only real surving relics of the clan which was banned by James VI following the Battle of Glen Fruin in 1603 with a royal warrant claiming the MacGregors attacked their rival neighbours of Clan Colquhoun “without pitie or compassion” or regard for young or old.

The stones were latterly used on other graves in the grounds of the church and have since been restored. PIC: Contributed.The stones were latterly used on other graves in the grounds of the church and have since been restored. PIC: Contributed.
The stones were latterly used on other graves in the grounds of the church and have since been restored. PIC: Contributed.
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Within a couple of months of the document being signed, James VI ruled the name MacGregor should be “altogether abolished” and that all people of the clan should renounce their name and take another, under the pain of death, with the proscription attempting to rid the clan of its identity and property.

A 28-year project to restore the stones is now complete with much of the money raised comong from clan members scattered around the world, many of whom will attend the ceremony.

Professor Richard E McGregor, chairman of the Clan Gregor Society. PIC: Contributed.Professor Richard E McGregor, chairman of the Clan Gregor Society. PIC: Contributed.
Professor Richard E McGregor, chairman of the Clan Gregor Society. PIC: Contributed.

Professor Richard E. McGregor , chairman of the Clan Gregor Society, said: “The history of the clan is not a glorious one.

"We would call them basically mercenaries and in the 16th Century they ran up against the Campbells and against the government. When the Battle of Glen Fruin took place, James VI, in one of his last acts as the King of Scotland, banned the name and for up to 1660 you couldn’t be called MacGregor, you had to adopt another name.

"They had all sorts of strategies to get rid of the clan so there was even something about trying to ship them off to Ireland, but it never happened. If you killed a MacGregor you could claims his lands, as long as you proved it. "

Prof McGregor said proscription relaxed a little around the years of 1660 to 1690 but it was then reinforced with the arrival of William III, with the ban in place until 1774.

Two of the seven restored stones, the earliest which dates to the late 14th Century grave of a MacGregor chief. PIC: Contributed.Two of the seven restored stones, the earliest which dates to the late 14th Century grave of a MacGregor chief. PIC: Contributed.
Two of the seven restored stones, the earliest which dates to the late 14th Century grave of a MacGregor chief. PIC: Contributed.

He added: “So there are no castles for MacGregor, there are no structural ruins or anything like that. So the only thing that the clan has from the medieval period, from its history, are these stones. That is what makes them so important. They are key monuments to the clan. It is what we have got left.”

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While the Argyllshire MacGregors were the biggest group, other branches of the clan were found in Ireland, Rosshire and Perthshire. A DNA project launched by the society has found that those with the name Bain and Drummond are among those who stem from the outlawed MacGregor line.

On Monday, clan members travelling from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia will be among those attending the dedication to the stones.

The church at Glenorchy is the third to be built on the site. The original medieval church, which was replaced in 1615 and again in 1811, had its altar in the east side and was surrounded by raised tombstones, which were the graves of the earliest recorded MacGregor Chiefs.

Glenorchy Parish Church in Dalmally, where the MacGregor stones are now on show following a 28-year project to restore and conserve them. PIC: geograph.orgGlenorchy Parish Church in Dalmally, where the MacGregor stones are now on show following a 28-year project to restore and conserve them. PIC: geograph.org
Glenorchy Parish Church in Dalmally, where the MacGregor stones are now on show following a 28-year project to restore and conserve them. PIC: geograph.org

Sir James MacGregor, Dean of Lismore in the 1520s, compiled a detailed list of their obituaries and would have personally known some of these chiefs, who are buried beneath the floor of the present church.

In 1996, the Clan Gregor Society identified seven gravestones which had been removed during the rebuilding of the church and then used to mark other graves. Over time, they eroded due to the weather and the pressure of rotary lawnmowers.

Prof McGregor added: “We think the biggest stone is possible was very likely to be the one for John who died in 1519. We can’t be absolutely sure of that but he was celebrated in poems in the Book of Lismore.

"We have got six others. There was one that we weren’t able to find but we think we have the main chiefs.”

One stone is believed to have marked the grave of Iain Cam – also known as One Eye – who was named the second chief sometime before his death in 1390.

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Keith MacGregor, of Connecticut, is a direct descendant of the late 14th Century chief and will travel to Argyll for the ceremony.

The North American representative of the Clan Gregor Society said: By combining family research with the DNA results we may now be able to glimpse our place in the Clan’s history. It is as if you are re-uniting with your ancestors in the story that is Scotland. As the old Gaelic proverb goes ‘Remember the people from whom you came’.”

He is one of 22 members of the clan who contributed more than £50,000 towards the £81,00 required to complete the conservation of the stones with the project also been supported by Historic Environment Scotland, the Pilgrim Trust and the Strathmartine Trust. An archaeological exploration of MacGregor sites in the glen is ongoing.

Amy Eastwood, Head of Grants at HES,said: “We are delighted to support the Clan Gregor Society with £26,813 funding as part of our Historic Environment Support Fund. The project will help to protect and preserve the historic 14 th Century stones as well as make them more accessible, providing engagement opportunities for the public and local community.”

The Clan Gregor Society was formed in 1822 around the time of the visit of George IV to Scotland, which was largely organised by Sir Walter Scott, author of Rob Roy which centred around the famous MacGregor outlaw. A group of professional men, including bankers and army figures, decided to seize the new-found acceptance of the Highlands – and make their name known, once again.

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