The Clan MacDougall

The MacDougalls of Lorn are the senior branch of the royal house of Somerled, a famous warrior King of the Hebrides isles and ruler of Argyll until his death in 1164. Clan MacDougall is a very old Highland clan whose Chief, Madam Morag MacDougall of MacDougall, is the 31st Chief of the clan. She is an Honorary President of the Clan MacDougall Society of North America. The Society has a strong membership of MacDougalls whose names are spelled in many phonetic variations such as McDougal, McDougle, Macdouall, Macoual, etc. and for centuries several other families have been important parts of our clan. See Clan Names for more information.

Origins in Scotland

Mac means “son of” while the term “clan” comes from the Gaelic word for children. Thus, Clan MacDougall (Clann Mhic Dhùghaill) means “the children of the son of
Dugal”. The name Dugal derived from the Gaelic words “dubh”meaning dark or black and “gall” meaning foreigner or stranger. Hence Dugal translates as “Dark Foreigner” or “Black Stranger” which was a Gaelic term for persons of Norse descent. Our clan’s heritage from the Gael and the Norse is shown in the present arms of the
MacDougall Chiefs which quarter the lion of the ancient Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada and the black royal galley of the Norse.

In 1164 Somerled died in the Battle of Renfrew fighting the forces of the King of Scots near the banks of the River Clyde. Dugal, his oldest living son, inherited the
central portion of his father’s kingdom and became the founder and first Chief of Clan MacDougall. Our seagoing clan was based on the Hebrides isles of Mull, Coll,
Tiree, Jura and Kerrera then owned by Norway, and on the Scottish mainland in Lorn and Argyll on the west coast of Scotland. In their twin roles of King of the Hebrides
for Norway and ruler of Lorn for Scotland, Dugal and his successor Chiefs protected their islands and mainland territory with a ring of castles and a strong fleet of galleys.

During the summer of 1249 King Alexander II of Scotland sailed to the Hebrides intent on taking these Norwegian owned isles for Scotland but he became sick and
was forced to land on the island of Kerrera. He ordered Ewan the 3rd chief of clan MacDougall to surrender his Cairnburgh Castle in the Treshnish Isles (which was
Norwegian property) to the Scottish Crown. Ewan refused and declared that he had already sworn feudal loyalty to King Haakon of Norway for his Norwegian lands.
Alexander II exclaimed angrily – “No man can serve two masters!” to which Ewan calmly replied: – “One man can easily serve two masters if they are not enemies”.
Alexander died on Kerrera shortly afterwards and Ewan then swore feudal allegiance for his territory on the mainland of Scotland to the new eight-year-old King
Alexander III of Scots. When King Haakon of Norway gave Ewan the same choice in 1263, Ewan returned the Hebridean Isles to him and chose Scotland. King Haakon
was defeated by the Scots at the Battle of Largs in 1263. When the Treaty of Perth of 1266 gave the Scots possession of the Hebrides, Alexander III then returned their old island possessions back to the MacDougalls. This was an early incident in the many struggles to come. The clan next fought in support of the King of Scots against the
English invasions until their enemies tried to take the vacant crown of Scotland for Robert the Bruce.

By 1294 the MacDougall Lordship of Lorn was being challenged by the rising Campbells of Loch Awe encroaching on MacDougall territory in Nether Lorn. Our 4th Chief’s son Iain Bacach or “Lame John” took some of his armed warriors to a meeting at the Stream of the Conference to discuss setting these borders. South of Loch Scammadale they were surprised to see the Campbell Chief Cailean Mor (“Big Colin”) and his followers who had come past their designated meeting place and onto MacDougall lands. The two factions fought so ferociously that the river ran red with blood from the casualties which caused the conflict to be called The Battle of the Red Ford. Cailean Mor led the charge as the outnumbered MacDougalls retreated. Then a MacDougall archer crept up behind a rock and fired an arrow at the distant Cailean Mor. It killed him and ended the battle instantly but the rivalry would continue for a long time.

By 1300 the MacDougalls were a powerful clan in Scotland and were allied by marriage to the even more powerful Clan Comyn. Sir John, the “Red” Comyn of Badenoch, was the nephew of our Chief’s wife. The “Red” Comyn was a prime contender for the vacant crown of Scotland but another contender, the fiery warrior Robert the Bruce, was determined to gain it at any cost. In February 1306 Robert the Bruce stabbed the Red Comyn during a meeting inside the Greyfriars Kirk at Dumfries. This sacrilegious murder led to nearly fifty years of blood feuds, civil war and more English invasions. In the warring which followed the MacDougalls were closely allied with the Macdowalls of Galloway, the Comyns and with other clans against the Bruces, Campbells, MacDonalds and their allies.

A MacDougall ambush nearly captured Bruce at Dalrigh in Strathfillan in June 1306. To narrowly escape he was forced to abandon his torn off cloak brooch in the hand of a dead MacDougall warrior. Thus the famous Brooch of Lorn came into the hands of the MacDougall Chiefs. Less than two years later in the late summer of 1308 Bruce brought his forces against the MacDougalls and defeated them in the Pass of Brander. The clan’s island possessions and most of their lands on the mainland were forfeited and granted to their opponents.

Iain Bacach immediately sailed to England to support King Edward I and his navy against Bruce and his naval allies from the Clan Donald. As Admiral of the Western Seas Iain Bacach’s English fleet attacked Bruce’s ships and garrisons along the coasts and in Ireland for a further ten years until he was finally defeated by the combined fleets of and Clan Donald and Bruce, now Robert 1 King of Scots. Iain Bacach never surrendered but his death ended MacDougall participation in the wars. Some say he died a prisoner of the Scots, but English records settling his estate show that Iain Bacach died in 1318 while he was on a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury, England.

Most of the MacDougall lands had been forfeited and Iain Bacach’s son Ewan was imprisoned but after his release he married Bruce’s (King Robert 1) granddaughter Joan. This helped to revive the clan’s fortunes until Ewan died in 1375 leaving two daughters married to Stewart brothers. Thus the prestigious title of Lordship of Lorn passed from the MacDougalls to the Stewarts. However the Chief’s family retained lands around Dunollie Castle and more lands were restored to them in 1451 by the Stewart Lord of Lorn as a reward for their loyal support.

The Clan remained loyal to the Stewart Kings as the rightful Kings of Scots but suffered greatly for its faithfulness. This brought the Clan MacDougall into conflict with other clans, most notably the Bruces, MacDonalds and Campbells which resulted in the eclipse of power of Clan MacDougall and the loss of most of its domain. During the Civil Wars of the 1640’s and 1650’s the Covenanters with the Campbell 9th Earl of Argyll opposed the Stewart King Charles I and his son. In 1647 General Leslie’s army attacked the royalist clans, massacred the defenders of Dunaverty castle in Kintyre, raided royalist lands, and laid siege to the MacDougall’s Gylen and Dunollie castles. The Brooch of Lorn was looted by one of the men burning Gylen Castle on the isle of Kerrera. His descendants kept the stolen brooch hidden for 177 years. It was believed to have been forever lost until in 1824 it was sold and returned to its rightful owners, the MacDougall Chiefs.

The Clan fought for the Royal House of Stewart under Viscount Dundee “Bonnie Dundee” at Killiecrankie in 1688, and under its fighting 22nd Chief Iain Ciar at Sherrifmuir in the Jacobite Rising of 1715, and at Glenshiel in the Jacobite Rising of 1719. Our 23rd Chief Alexander of Dunollie did not join the Jacobite Rising of 1745 in support of Charles Edward Stuart “Bonnie Prince Charlie” but his brother Duncan fought at Prestonpans and Culloden. Twenty MacDougalls were listed as prisoners of the Government forces after the ’45 including three from the lowlands.

Since those days of strife our now peaceful clan has spread throughout the world but Clan MacDougall retains its ancient base at Dunollie in Oban, Scotland. Our clan Chief plays an active role in the clan’s affairs from the official residence at Dunollie Manor House, a portion of which is now open as a museum and visitors center. Its web site is

Bell Heather

Bell Heather is the plant badge of Clan MacDougall. Heather, the name most commonly used for this plant, is of Scottish origin, presumably derived from the Scots word HAEDDRE. Haeddre has been recorded as far back as the fourteenth century, and it is this word which seems always to have been associated with ericaceous plants.

The origination however is obscure, and the variations are many. Hader is found in Old Scottish from 1399, heddir from 1410, hathar from 1597 (although this form of the word may also be seen in place names dating back to 1094) and finally heather from 1584.

The botanical name for the Heath family is Ericaceae, which is derived from the Greek ‘Ereike’, meaning heather or heath. The name is generally, and more properly reserved for the most widespread of the Heath family Calluna vulgaris, (Calluna from the Greek ‘Kallune’ – to clean or brush as the twigs were used for making brooms and vulgaris from Latin, meaning common.)

However the plant is sometimes also referred to as Ling – derived either from the old Norse ‘Lyng’ or from the Anglo Saxon ‘Lig’ meaning fire and referring to use as a fuel.

Whatever the exact origin, one thing is certain. Heather moors cover a vast amount of Scottish countryside. With approximately 2 to 3 million acres of Heather Moors in the East and only slightly fewer in the South and West, Heather is without doubt one of Scotland’s most prolific and abundant plants.



A Taste of Heather

HEATHER ALE – A Galloway Legend

“From the bonny bells of heather,

They brewed a drink Lang Syne

Was sweeter far than honey

Was stronger far than wine.”

R.L. Stevenson



The Healing Properties of Heather

The healing properties of heather have been recorded as far back as the middle ages, with books on other herbs and their uses dating even further back to the seventh century.

Since 1930, Heather, referred to by the medical profession as Herba Callunae, has been acknowledged by many doctors and chemists as effective against arthritis, spleen complaints, formation of stones, stomach and back ache, even paralysis and tuberculosis. This remarkable plant, which is quite safe for use by diabetics, is also known to be good for sore throats, gout, catarrh and coughs. Some say it even cleanses the blood getting rid of exzema and fevers.

Medical herbalists, to this day, use Calluna vulgaris in the treatment of certain disorders. Containing tannin and several other components, it is used particularly in the treatment of cystitis (bladder infection), as its action is diuretic and antimicrobial.

In the mountain regions of Europe the plant is still used to make a liniment for arthritis and rheumatism by softening the herb in alcohol.

The Brooch of Lorn

The Brooch of Lorn (Braiste Lathuma in Gaelic) is a medieval turreted disc brooch that was taken from Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Dalrigh in 1306.

The brooch is one of three West Highland 16th century silver turreted brooches centered on charmstones, with the brooches thought to be resettings of stones that already had certain reputations. The other brooches are the Lochbuy or Lochbuie Brooch in the British Museum and the Ugadale or Lossit Brooch, still in private hands. All three were exhibited together in the British Museum’s exhibition “Shakespeare: Staging the World” in 2012. In the months following, replicas were made to be exhibited in six local libraries in Argyll.

The silver disc at the back of the brooch is approximately 4.5 inches across, and the brooch is secured by a hinged pin and catch behind it. Underneath the central stone is an empty compartment, possibly designed to hold a relic. The stone is set well above the base disc, and is surrounded by eight detached turrets (chatons), about 1.25 inches high, and each is topped by a Scottish freshwater pearl. There is a great deal of filigree work in terms of ornaments (stellate applique) and cabled borders.

As stated by Catherine Gillies, “There is no reason to disbelieve the tradition that dates the charmstone to the late 13th century; charmstones surface around this time and are linked to the Crusades either in fact or in people’s imaginations for the added holy associations. The re-setting has been narrowed by style and historiography to roughly the third quarter of the 16th century.”

In 1306 at the Battle of Dalrigh, Robert the Bruce was ambushed by John of Argyll, chief of Clan MacDougall. The attack was revenge for the murder of John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch; a nephew of John of Argyll and rival for the throne of Scotland. According to tradition, the attackers tried to dismount Robert the Bruce, but only pulled off his cloak and brooch. The brooch was kept at Dunollie Castle until being moved to Gylen Castle on the island of Kerrera during the Covenanter Wars. The castle was captured and burned by David Leslie, Lord Newark, in 1647 and the brooch was taken.

It was hidden until the early 19th century when it was found in a chest by Major Campbell of Bragleen after his return from fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. A document confirmed that it had been taken from Gylen Castle by the Campbells, and it was viewed by the MacDougall chief before Major Campbell’s death in 1819. It was returned to Clan MacDougall in 1824 by General Duncan Campbell of Lochnell.