Famed for their skill as archers, warriors and bodyguards, the ‘wild MacRaes’ were a clan feared and respected in equal measure. The lochs and mountains of Kintail were their realm, with spectacular Eileen Donan castle the clan’s home.
The ‘wild MacRaes’ is the dashing and romantic nickname of this clan, thanks to their prowess as warriors. The name MacRae comes from the Gaelic Macraith, which means "son of grace”. It was given to men endowed with an unusual gift of sanctity and grace - mostly to lords, poets and ecclesiastics.
During the Scottish and Norwegian War the Clan MacRae fought for Alexander III of Scotland at the Battle of Largs in 1263. The Norwegians were defeated and the army of King Haakon IV was driven out of Scotland.
The first known home of MacRaes was at Clunes in the Beauly District in the 13th century. They had a close relationship with the Frasers of Lovat, so much so that they had above the door at Beaufort Castle, ‘If a Fraser is within a MacRae shall never be without’.
The MacRaes then moved to Kintail where they were loyal to the Clan Mackenzie. They were such expert marksmen they became the Mackenzies’ bodyguards, and were known as that clan's ‘shirt of mail’. MacRaes also became the Constables of Eilean Donan Castle, which stands on a tiny island in a sea loch surrounded by hills.
The Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 was disastrous for the MacRaes. At the Battle of Sherrifmuir, near Stirling, the MacRaes formed the left flank and were left unprotected when the Jacobite cavalry was moved by error to the right. The MacRaes on foot were charged by the Government cavalry up to 12 times. Of the 232 Jacobite casualties, 60 were killed and 58 of them were MacRaes. Their reputation as warriors continued over the generations and earned the title of the ‘Wild MacRaes’.
After the Clan system was crushed following the 1746 Battle of Culloden, a lot of MacRaes emigrated and are known as the ‘scattered children of Kintail’. The clan’s motto is ‘Fortitudine’, which means ‘with fortitude’ in Latin.
The clan society usually holds a clan lunch in April and a clan ceilidh in October. MacRaes from far and wide are welcome! Check their website for full details.
MacRae sights to visit
If you are touring the lands of Clan MacRae you simply must visit Eilean Donan castle - it is one of the most famous and iconic images of Scotland. The MacRaes once guarded it fiercely, but after the clans were suppressed in the 18th century the castle fell into ruin. In 1912, Lt Col John and Ella MacRae Gilstrap bought and rebuilt Eilean Donan Castle, adding a bridge to the mainland, and it is now open to the public. It famously featured in the movie Highlander and is a gathering point for MacRaes near and far.
St Duthac's Church
You can enjoy a moment’s peace and contemplation at the ruins of this church, which was dedicated to Saint Duthac in 1050. Beside the church is the Clachan Duich, the traditional burial ground of Clan MacRae.
The hike up to the battleground of Sheriffmuir will reward you with some spectacular Scottish scenery and bring you face to face with a very real part of Clan MacRae history. It was here in 1715, on a remote heathland plateau, that 58 brave MacRae warriors were cut down while fighting for the Jacobite cause at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
The site of the “affair of the wild Macraes” mentioned earlier. The Macraes of the Kintail Battalion of the Earl of Seaforth’s Reginent mutinied at Edinburgh Castle in 1778 believing that ships were lying off the Port of Leith to ship them to India without their consent and contrary to their contract of service. They marched behind their piper down the High Street to the delight of the Edinburgh crowds and down the Easter Road to Leith Links before returning and scaling Arthur’s Seat where they set up camp and were fed and supplied by Edinburgh citizens until a resolution to their grievances was negotiated. It is often referred to as the only successful mutiny in the British Army. To this day there remains on the hill the “Piper’s Walk” where Retreat was played each evening whilst the camp remained there.