Clan at war over man who would be chief

THEY were once one of the fiercest clans in Scotland - proud Highland warriors who were the first to rally to the support of Prince Charles Edward Stuart when he raised his standard at Glenfinnan in 1745.

Now the MacDonalds of Keppoch are engaged in a new battle over who has the right to be installed as their next chief.

The bitter clan uprising is threatening plans by an Edinburgh pensioner, now officially recognised as Chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch, to be formally installed as the first new clan head for almost two centuries in a ceremony in the heart of the clan's ancestral homeland in Lochaber.

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Ranald MacDonald, 75, a retired hearing aid practitioner, is due to be officially inaugurated as clan chief in a ceremony in Fort William next month.

The ceremony will mark the end of a long legal fight to secure the title, which has been fought out in Scotland's court of heraldry and finally in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

But the fiery cross has already been lit in the lands of the MacDonalds of Keppoch, with claims by fellow clansmen that the pensioner has no right to the title because he comes from an illegitimate side of the family.

They maintain one of his ancestors, Alexander, was born in 1832 out of wedlock. And they are warning the new chief that there will be no welcome for him in their historic heartland.

Mr MacDonald won his lengthy legal battle to be recognised as the 22nd chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch in a ruling by judges at the Court of Session two years ago. The title had lain dormant for 156 years because the 21st chief died without male heirs in 1848.

His formal inauguration is due to be held on 13 September, when the new chief's Letters Patent and Ensigns Armorial will be presented by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, QC, Rothesay Herald of the Lyon Court.

But Rory MacDonald, a fellow kinsman and top clan historian, yesterday challenged Mr MacDonald's right to the title.

Rory MacDonald, who lives in Spean Bridge, said: "He might be recognised as chief, but I don't think his right to the title will be recognised here. My view is that his branch of the family were not legitimate and that he therefore is not entitled to the chieftainship. It could be argued his family may possibly come from the chiefly line, but if he is not legitimate it doesn't mean he has a claim.

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"I think people with any knowledge of the clan history are upset. He has been a bit of a thorn in our flesh for a long time, but we didn't think that anyone would take him seriously."

The history of the MacDonalds of Keppoch is as colourful as any in Scotland. The clan's 17th chief, Alexander, was among the thousands of Jacobites who were slaughtered by the Duke of Cumberland's force on the battlefield at Culloden in 1746.

A century earlier another chief of the clan, also known as Alexander MacDonald, and his younger brother Ranald were stabbed to death by rivals in a clan feud. Their murderers were hunted down and decapitated.

At his home in Edinburgh's Lauriston Place, Mr MacDonald dismissed the illegitimacy claims as "codswallop".

"My claim comes from the legitimate line - without question. My claim to the title is irrefutable, they are trying to continue to oppose something that is unopposable. And if they wish to do something about it they have to produce the evidence and go to court.

"I have been officially chief of the clan from the day I won that court action in January 2004. But next month's ceremony means that the world will know that the Keppoch clan are back in the homeland where they have been absent for 158 years."