Brief history of Clan Macnab

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

The Clan Macnab descend from one of the lay abbots of Strathfillan, and tradition has it that the founder was a son of King Kenneth Macalpine. The early chiefs are first mentioned in 1124 A.D., and in 1306 the then chief joined forces with McDougall of Lorn against Robert the Bruce. For this the Macnab lands were forfeited, but in 1336 Gilbert Macnab of Bovain received a Charter from David II, and Gilbert is recognized as the first proper chief of Clan Macnab.

During the next two centuries the Macnabs consolidated their lands until these stretched from Tyndrum to beyond Killin. Their castle stood at Ellanrayne, or Eillean Ran, an island commanding the strategic Port of Ran at the mouth of the River Lochay at Killin, and from here the Macnabs held power over Loch Tay and Glendochart. Their nearest neighbours to the south were the small Clan Neish.

They descended from Ness, son of one William, who was Sheriff of Perth and Lord of Math established a small, independent clan, and in 1250 A.D. their headquarters were in a keep on a crannog, or artificial islands, at St. Fillans on Loch Earn. They seem to have been an unruly and troublesome lot, for at a Council held at Linlithgow on January 9, 1490, James IV gave orders to Lord Drummond: "Whin 15 dias fra this dai furth to ger cast doon ye hoos of ye Easter Isle of Loch Earn, and distroy all ye strengthis of ye samen, and tak away ye bate, and put her to ye Wester Isle (at Locheranhead)."

However, the MacNesses. or Neishes, as they were now called, still inhabited the ruins of their tower, and continued their unlawful activities mainly at the expense of their northerly neighbours, the Macnabs. The enmity between the clans grew stronger, and there was always fighting whenever isolated groups of clansmen encountered each other. Then in the year 1522 the Neishes made a major raid on the Macnab herds.

Finlay Macnab, 8th chief of the House of Bovain, summoned all his clan, and they marched over the hills from Loch Tay to Glen Boltachan. The Neishes were alerted, and they, too, summoned all their men and advanced up the glen carrying their banner of a cupid armed with bow and arrow. The site of conflict was around a huge boulder on what is now Little Port Farm, and as the Macnabs rushed downhill they threw away their plaids and, naked apart from their brogues, flung themselves upon the Neishes. The Neishes threw off their plaids as well, and soon the glen was packed with naked, screaming warriors locked in mortal combat. The Neishes were no match for their adversaries and they fell Ikie ninepins. The aged chief saw his three sons killed before his eyes. He retreated until he stood against the boulder and fought off his attackers with his claymore, which had a remarkable accessory in the shape of an iron ball that slid on a chain along the blade to give added weight to his blows. But the attackers were too many, and the old man finally succumbed to a hail of stabs from dirks and claymores. It is said that the unusual red lichen that covers the stone is still stained with the blood of the Chief of Clan Neish.

The clan bard, and relation of the chief, MacCallum Glas, managed to drag away only twenty survivors to the island refuge on Loch Earn. During the next century their numbers increased little, and they were now nothing more than thieves and freebooters who preyed upon helpless travelers. However, they were no longer a major threat, and they might have continued their way of life but for a dreadful error in the year 1612. Just before Christmas of that year the chief of the Clan Macnab had dispatched his servants to Crieff to bring back food and drink for the festive season. The laden line of ponies was returning slowly by way of Comrie when the party was suddenly surprised and ambushed by the Neishes. There was great rejoicing when it discovered who the goods were destined for, and they gleefully carried them off to Loch Earn.

As they were nearing the shore they were suddenly confronted by an aged crone who lived nearby. She was reputed to be a witch, being wild of face and deformed, and the Neishes respectfully saluted her and offered her a share of the plunder. She rejected it, pointed her finger at the Neish's moored boat, then raised her arms to the sky and cried out, " beware, sons of Ness, beware of the time when there will be two boats on Loch Earn."

The Neishes looked at each other uneasily, then remembered that they owned the only boat on the loch, and burst out laughing. They conveyed the goods across to their island in the boat, while remainder used the secret causeway of boulders that can still be seen in line with the islet and the villa called "Portmore" at St. Fillans. Meanwhile the Macnab servants had reached Ellanrayne Castle and gasped out the story to Finlay Macnab, 12th chief of the clan, Finlay had married twice. His first wife was Katherine Campbell, the natural daughter of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, and she had borne him two sons and a daughter.

The name of his second wife is unknown, but she gave him ten sons. This lady, on hearing the story, suddenly saw an opportunity of removing her two stepsons, and making her own children the heirs. She looked at the el