Clann Laghrainn-The Mac Laurins


From: "The Clans of the Scottish Highlands"
by: R.R.McIan
Webb & Bower, Exeter, England 1980

The Mac Laurins afford an instance of a clan of very ancient descent, having become of inconsiderable importance, compared with other more fortunate tribes. There is a traditional given of the Mac Laurins, with reference to a mermaid, which is among the most puerile of the many similar legends; but it was sufficient to induce the heralds to assign armorial bearings, allusive to the fancied occurence, when the eminent Lord Dreghorn, who claimed the cheifship, applied, in 1781, for matriculation of these family honours in the Lyon College of Arms.

Loarn or Laurin, one of the sons of Erc, who settled in Argyle, 503, acquired that district, which from him is said to have obtained its name. this appellation, however spelt, is invariably pronounced Lawrin, by the Gael; and there can be no reasonable doubt that it is a modification of Lawrence, the name of the saint who suffered martyrdom under Valerian, 261; its Gaelic orthography is Labhrainn, the bh being quiescent.

In 843, Kenneth Mac Alpin, chief of posterity of the above brothers and their followers, overthrew the southern Picts, took possession of their territories, and transfered the seat of of Government to their capital, Abernethie, in Strathearn, county of Perth, where he was crowned King of All Scotland.

It was the well-known practice for conquerors to apportion the lands they acquired among their victorious followers; and it is somewhat stonger than assumption to say, that the chief of the tribe of Laurin, of Argyle received a due share. Balquhidder and Strahearnhan ever been known as "the country" of the Clan of Laurin, and the identity of the apellation as demonstrative of common origin, is corroborated by the tradition that three brothers from Argyle had this territory assigned to them; the eldest occupying Auchleskine, in the centre, the second the Bruach, at the west, and the third Stank, at the extreme east of the district. /p>

This tradition is borne out by an observance, jealously regarded to the present day; the burial places of the three branches being marked out in the kirkyard, from the west to east, according to the above location! In the descent submitted to the Lyon court of arms, by Lord Dreghorn, he traces his ancestry through Donald Mac Laurin of Argyle; and it is certain that a friendship, grounded on a conviction fo common descent, always substisted between those of the name in the west, and the Clan Laurin of Perthshire.

The early history of the Seneschals and Earls of Stathearn, strectches too far back to be known; but there can be no doubt that they were the descendants of those settled in theat district by Mac Alpin. In the reign of King David I. Malise, then Earl, led the "Lavernani" to the battle of the Standard, in 1138. Lord Hailes, so accurate and learned, in this annals of Scotland says, that these could have been no other than the clan of Laurin, which must have comprehended both divisions, Argyle not bein then a separate country; and hence they would form a body sufficient to deserve a special notice from the historian Aldred.

In the Roll of submission to Edward I, of England, which so many of the nobles of Scotland were compelled to sign, 1296, we find Maurice of Tiree, Conan of Balquhidder, and Laurin of Ardveche, in Strathearn, who are presumed by competent authority, to have been cadets of the Earl of Strathearn.

This Earldom underwent many changes, until it vested in the crown, 1370, when the Mac Laurins were reduced from the condition of proprietors to that of "kyndly" or perpetual tenants. IN 1508, it was thought expedient that this celtic holding should be changed, and the lans set in feu "for increase of policie, and augmentation of the King's rental;" but it was justly condidered that as they had punctually discharged what was exacted, and from "aye to aye payed compostions to the exchequer at the entry of heirs, built houses, planted yairds, parks, woods, and other policie, serving their prince at all tymes as at Bannockburn with King James III., Flodden with King James IV., and after at Pinky, whither it is agreeable to justice that so many honest gentelmen should be ruined altogether in their estates, if that Earldome be again separated and evicted from the crown!" The farms of Invernetie and Craigruie were, however, at no distant period, the absolute property of persons of the name of Mac Laurin.

In the Roll of the Clans, who had captains, chiefs, and chieftains, "quhome on thai depend," drawn up in 1587, the "Clanlawren" appear, thus proving their independence. In another list, dated 1954, they appear again in a similar position.

Besides their services in the national wars, the Mac Laurins were engaged in many feuds and encounters which the former state of Celtic society rendered inevitable, and some notice of a few of these will farther show the status of the clan.

One of the Mac Laurins who was an "innocent," or of weak intellect, having gone to a fair, held at Kilmahog, a place west of Callendar, one of the Lenie Buchanas, a neighboring clan passing along, struck Mac Laurin on the cheek with a salmon he was carrying and knocked off his bonnet. The reply to this insult was, that it dare not be repeated "latha fheill aon'ais," or on the fair day of Angus, in Balquhidder, which is held near Auchelskine, an observation which met a contemptuos rejoinder. The fair day arrived, when the Mac Laurins, as usual, attended in considerable numbers. Early in the morning, the people of Auchleskine observed a great body of men, who had come in sight at Ruskachan, in Strathire, and expressing wonder as to whom the might be, the idiot for the first time, related his treatment at the fair of Kilmahog, and said these were the Buchanans come to clear the field of the Mac Laurins. They were thus taken by surprise; but the crois tata,' or warning cross, was immediately sent through the country, and every man ran to the muster. The Buchanans drew near, and were met at Beannachd Ao'nais, east of Auchleskine, by the Mac Laurins, who commenced the battle, although all their force had not arrived. They fought with great resolution, and their friends were coming to their aid from all quarters, but the Lenies pressed on, and drove the clan Laurin off the field, at least a mile. On the place where the manse now stands, they rallied, for a man, having observed his son cut down, shouting the war cry, he turned on the advancing foe with such fury, spreading death with his Clai'mor, that his clansmen, fired with the miri-cath, or madness of battle, rushed desperately after him. So furious an assualt was irresistable and the Buchanans were almost cut off; those who survived sought for escape by plunging into the river Balvie, at a deep pool, which has since been called the Linn nan seicachan. Of these, two only got over, but were pursued by the Mac Laurins, when one was slain at Gartnafuaran, and the other fell at the point, which from him, has since been known as Sron Lainie. these circumstances are detailed in Balquhidder with the particularity of oral tradition, and the period when the occured is said to be the reign of the Alexanders, from 1106 to 1285.

John Stewart, third Lord Lorn, had an illegitamate son, Dugal, by a lady of the Mac Laurins of Perthshire. According to feudal law, this son was incapable of succeeding to his paternal estates, which accordingly went by the entail to his uncle Walter. Dugal is the ancestor of the Stewarts of Appin, and on the death of his father, in 1469, he had to enforce his claims by strength of arms. Whether the contention was for the lands of Appin only, or for his supposed hereditary rights, does not appear; but a desparate conflict was the result, and tradition informs us that he was very strenuously supported by his mother's friends, the Mac Laurins, 130 of whom fell in the battle which took place at the foot of Beandouran, in Glenurchie.

About 1497, this clan again got into trouble, occasioned by their having carried off a creach from the braes of Lochaber. The Mac Donalds followed the spoilers, and having overtaken them in Glenurchie, after a sharp skirmish, recovered the prey. The Mac Laurins went straight to their kinsman, Dugal Stewart of Appin, who, joining them with his followers, they marched hastily, in pursuit, and intercepted the Mac Donalds somewhere about the Black Mount of Glenco, where a desperate conflict forthwith took place. There was a dreadful slaughter on both sides; Dougal and Donull Mac Aonghais mhic Dhonuill, of Keppach, the chiefs of their respective clans, were slain! It may be remarked that friendship of consanguinty always existed between these Stewarts and the Mac Laurins, who followed the Appin banner in considerable numbers, 1745-6. In the return of the regiment we find there were thrirteen Mac Laurins killed and fourteen wounded.

The Mac Gregors were accused of a most shocking deed, committed in 1558, which seems to have consummated the decadence of the Clan Laurin. It is thus described in their trial for the slaughter of the Colquhouns, 1604:-"And siclyk, John Mc Coull cheire, ffor airt and pairt of the crewall muthour and burning of auchtene housbalders of the Clan Lawren, thair wyves and bairns; committit fourtie-sax yeir syne, or thariby!: Nearly half a century had thus elapsed, when the verdict was, that he was "clene, innocent, and acquit of the said crymes." The Mac Gregors, however, occupied the farms which had belonged to the slaughtered householders, and it is singular that these very lands are now the property of the chief of Clan Gregor, having been purchased about 1798 from the Commissioners of Forfeited estates. Whatever was the original ground of quarrel; or how far provocation had been given, the most friendly felling afterwards prevailed and now exists between the two clans, which is strenghtened by frequent intermarriage.

Balquhidder, "the country of the Mac Laurins," is eighteen miles in length and seven in breadth; by the lasyt census the number of inhabitants was reduced to 1,049 souls, of whom, perhaps, not more than twenty bear their appropriate patronymic. It was that no others durst go into the church until the Mac Laurins had entered and taken their seats, and the first question usually asked on their return was, "what fight or quarrel has happened to-day?" As all parties were armed it is easily seen that deeds of blood would frequently arise from these unseemly brawls, and a curious entry in the Lord High Treasurer's account under the year 1532, appears to refer to the practice. In this recorrd we find Sir John Mac Laurin, Vicar or Balquhidder, was killed, and that several of his kinsmen were implicated in the slaughter and were outlawed. There is no other reference to this transaction then the above; and it is very probable that the Vicar lost his life in a humane endeavour to prevent the shedding of blood on one of these unhallowed occasions.

Mac Laurin, of wester Invernetie, was taken prsoner after Culloden, and marched fro Carlisle to take his trial. When the party reached a height near Moffat the prisoner desired to step aside, when, seizing the moment, he tumbled himself to the bottom of the declivity, and ran off with tthe utmost speed; gaining a morass he plunged into the water, immersed himself to the neck, and covering his head with a turf he remained until night, when he made his way to his own country, where, in the disguise of a woman, he lived undiscovered until the act of indemnity relieved him from all fear. this is the foundation of the story of "Pate in Peril," given in the Waverley novel of "Redgauntlet."

Among the most distinguished members of this clan is Colin Mac Laurin, son of a clergyman in Argyle,-successively professor of mathematics in the colleges of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. His various philosophical works, which do him lasting honour, procured him the friendship of a large circle of the most eminent men of his day, but he fell victim to his loyalty at the age of forty-eight. Having taken an active part in providing for the defence of Edinburgh in 1745, when that city fell into the hands of Prince Charles, exposed to cold hardship that led to the complaint which carried him off in June 1746. His son John, who became a senator of the Colleg of Justice, Edinburgh, under the title of Lord Dreghorn, in 1787, was highly eminent as a lawyer, and was author of some professional and other pieces

Ewen Mac Laurin, a native of Argyle, raised, at his own charge, the "South Carolina loyalists" in the first American war.

James Chichester Mac Laurin, M.D., was physician to the Forces. In 1794 he accompanied the British army to Holland, but his health becoming impaired, he died, with the brightest prospects, at the early age of thirty-eight.

Colonel James Mac Laren, C.B., has distinguished himself very highly in the Indian army. His bravery in leading on the 16th Bengal native Infantry at the victory of Sabraon, where he was severely wounded, elicited the pointed commendation of the Governor-General. His father was well known as the "Baron Mac Labhrain," and we cannot but regret to find that this gallant officer like so many others, has adopted the modern corrupt spelling of his name.

The ARMORIAL BEARINGS Clan Laurin of old are, or, two chevronels gules, in base a lymphad, sail, furled, oars in action sable, all within a bordure, ingrailed gules. Crest, on a casque and wreath of the colours, a lion's head erased, between two laurel branches orlewise proper, meeting in an eastern crown of three points or. Motto, over the achievement "Dalriada," underneath "Ab origine fidus."

The figure illustrative of this clan represents a chief of former days; on his head is the clogaid or conical helmet, and he wears a short lurich, or shirt of mail, under a leathern doublet, for which there is old authority. The Breacan fheile, or Belted plaid, is of the clan tartan, and the feet are protected by short Cuarans of deer hide. The bow which he holds is from one found in a moss and now preserved at Inch, in Lochaber. With such a weapon a young chief of Mac Laurins, by a singular act of coolness and dexterity slew Caillian uaine, the leader fo a predatory band of Campbells, and recovered the catle they were driving away. His cairn is still pointed out, and the traditional "sgeulachd," or legend, is interesting. The quiver is of badger's skin, with which old Gaelic peotry tells us they were usually formed.


Return to The Clan McLaurin