by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot

The year was 1476 and Alexander Robertson of Strowan, 5th chief of Clan Donnachaidh, would have been sitting in his stronghold or out hunting when word reached him of a terrible massacre to the south in Glenlyon. Sending out his men to determine what had happened, he would have heard a tale of sorrow from the survivors. Their story may have differed somewhat from the traditional story below, as related in 1822 by General David Stewart of Garth in "the Highlanders of Scotland" and in 1886 by Duncan Campbell in "the Lairds of Glenlyon". The victors usually write the history books.

The story begins with a now unknown dispute between Donald MacDiarmid and the chief of the MacIvor clan. MacDiarmid and his brother, seeing that MacIvor refused to provide justice to him threatened to go to his foster-brother for redress. MacIvor, knowing that he would likely lose the dispute if he did, ordered his men to pursue the two brothers. During the pursuit, Donald was wounded by an arrow and then drowned in the River Lyon. When notified by the surviving brother of Donald's death, the foster-brother, John Stewart of Garth, raised his followers and marched westward from Garth castle to Glenlyon seeking justice. MacIvor mustered his own men and halfway up the glen met the invaders.

Both chieftains agreed to meet at the "rock of safety" or "Craig-dianaith". This was a sacred place near Fortingall on which neighboring chieftains could meet to discuss judicial and other solemn matters and do so in complete safety. The sanctity of this rock was due to Saint Eonan (Adamnan), who in the late 600s had prayed on this large flat rock and miraculously delivered the people of Glenlyon from a plague.

The chieftains stepped forward between the two warbands, still in the hope of amicably settling the dispute. Before proceeding to the "rock of safety", Stewart of Garth decided to wear a plaid the one side of which was red and the other side a dark-colored tartan. Garth told his men that if he left the dark side showing all was well, but if he turned the red side out it would be the signal for them to attack. They were still engaged in discussion when MacIvor whistled loudly and a number of armed men jumped up from the adjoining rocks and bushes where they had been hiding. The main band of MacIvors were still drawn up facing the invaders. Garth is reputed to have said, "Who are these and for what purpose are they there?" to which MacIvor replied, "They are only a herd of my roes that are frisking about the rocks". Garth replied, "In that case it is time for me to call my hounds." Garth then turned his plaid and retreated toward his men. His men, watching his motions, instantly advanced and in the ensuing conflict the outnumbered MacIvors were forced to give ground. The site of the initial battle was named "Laggan-na-cath" or "Field of battle". Being pursued for eight miles eastward down the glen, the MacIvors turned to make a last effort, but were again driven back with great loss of life.

Tradition says that 140 MacIvors were killed during this conflict and were buried at "Camus-na-carn", so named from the many cairns which were raised to cover the graves. The survivors reportedly fled northward across the mountains and were not permitted to return for many years. MacIvor's lands were seized by the victors and the law subsequently confirmed what the sword had won. On January 24, 1477, King James III granted a nineteen year lease on Glenlyon to John Stewart of Garth and his son Neil.

My conjecture is that many of the survivors would have stayed under Strowan's protection, intermarried with the local clanfolk and that this tale identifies the initial origin of our MacIver/MacIvor sept. Those who did return later to hostile Glenlyon would eventually become a sept of the Campbells of Breadalbane.