Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cash for a Peerage Prompts Clan Slaughter and Two Pipe Tunes

We were contacted yesterday by a lady called St Clair from West Palm Beach, Florida. She will be here for The Gathering in 2009 and wishes to visit Inveraray Castle (below) where her 3 x great grandfather was a gamekeeper. Well, Inveraray Castle in the south west of Scotland is the seat of the Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell; the Sinclairs, on the other hand, come from Caithness in the far north east. Back in the early 19th century people did not move around that much and so this struck me as interesting.

I speculate that this may have its roots in an affair of 1680. The Sinclair Earl of Caithness was short of cash and sold his lands and title to Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy. The latter's claim was however disputed by George Sinclair of Keiss and Glenorchy marched north to settle the matter. The armies met in the evening of 12 July at Altimarlach, but it was too late to join battle. What happened next is open to debate but it seems the Sinclairs were able to lay hands on significant quantities of whisky in Wick. Next day they were ill-equipped to take on the Campbells and the Wick River was packed so full of Sinclair bodies that the Campbells were able to walk across it dry-shod.

Glenorchy became Earl of Caithness and laird of those lands for six years, during which time it seems that many Sinclairs took up the offer of employment down in Argyll. This, the last clan battle, also gave rise to two pipe tunes composed by the Campbell piper Finlay Ban MacIvor on the way north to Caithness: 'The Campbells are Coming' and 'The Breadalbane Gathering'. Play either of these in Wick at your own risk!

But all this may explain why our 2009 St Clair client is making a special journey to the seat of Clan Campbell.


Anonymous said...

Interesting! I have also heard that the MacNokairds of Islay in Argyle anglicized their surname to Sinclair........


Anonymous said...

I have some evidence that agrees with your St. Clair client's claim that her ancestor was the gatekeeper for the Duke of Argyll.
From "The Kist", Apr. 1983, "The fifth family was the Sinclairs of Coulfochan, at the foot of the glen [Glen Shira]. Their land stretched from the south end of the DhuLoch to Portinshtonich, where the salmon for the table at Inverary Castle was netted. The house of the Sinclairs has long since disappeared by was probably sited near the present-day Lodge House at the Boshang Gate, entrance to the Castle avenue ......" [I understand this is now the Deer Park]
Claire was also correct about the original name, according to this article..."This family were not really Sinclairs at all, but McNokairds. The "Mac-na-Cearda" were an ancient Argyll family, "sons of the metal workers", the old craftsmen in precious metals of the early Celts. Later, with the decline of the people's industries, these artisans became armour-makers and tinsmiths. Later still, with a continuing decline in light metalworking, their output was confined to the making and patching of cooking pots and pans." [ie.Tinkler, rhymes with Sinclair, if you believe this at all]

I've done a lot of research in Argyllshire history, and I have yet to find a McNakaird who was any type of metal smith. However, a Duncan McNokaird from Coulfockan sat on an assise at Inveraray in 1664. There were a few other Sinclairs/McNakairds in Inveraray,in the 17th Century, and many in the 18th, often merchants.
I'll be happy to share more information with Ms. St. Clair if you can help to arrange a connection between us. Toni

Anonymous said...

Toni and Claire,

Many thanks for these fascinating insights. I will have to see what I can turn up on the McNokairds. Sadly my St Clair client for the Gathering never booked; I will try to find her email but I fear she may have missed out on The Gathering AND some interesting clan history.
Happy Holidays!