Introducing the MacGregor and MacDuff Podcast
In September, we released our Heritage Collection, dedicated to bringing you closer to your Scottish family heritage in a unique and stylish way. The range includes clan tartan kilts, as well as kilt accessories featuring your clan crest, giving you the opportunity to honour and celebrate your family heritage.
To celebrate the launch of our Heritage Collection, we’ve created our podcast series. The MacGregor and MacDuff mini-podcast series is made up of three episodes that tell the lesser-known stories behind some of Scotland’s most famous clans. These include ghost stories, fairy tales and, of course, bloody clan feuds.
Today’s intro episode is about the Armstrong Clan and the massacre on the Isle of Eigg! Learn more about the rise and fall of Johnnie Armstrong as well as an unexpected but ruthless massacre!
The Armstrong Atrocities.
The Armstrong clan history is bloody and notorious. From inhuman strength to defying kings and leaders, it is of no surprise that the Armstrong clan motto is “I remain unvanquished”! Armstrongs are certainly not known for being wallflowers!
Legend states that the Armstrong name began with a man named Fairbairn. Fairbairn was said to have saved his king during a bloody battle. Legend states that Fairbairn was dressed in full armour when he lifted his king onto his horse using only one arm after the king’s horse was killed beneath him in battle.
Fairbairn’s admirable act of heroism earned him the Grant of the Lands in the borders, and of course, the famous Armstrong name. A visual recognition of Fairbairn’s act is also on the Armstrong clan crest.
Despite such noble beginnings, the Armstrong clan went on to become one of Scotland’s most notorious clans facing trials and tribulations with kings and bishops.
The Armstrong clan’s crimes were so heinous that in 1524, the Bishop of Glasgow issued a curse spanning 1500 words including;
“I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thair leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without…”
Translation – “I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their neck, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their belly, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and each and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without …”
One of the most notorious Armstrong clan members was Johnnie Armstrong.
Johnnie Armstrong was a Borders Reiver. The Reivers were raiders across the borders who rode day and night in pursuit of pillaging and stealing from homes. The Armstrongs were thought to be the most dangerous as they ruled by fear and solidarity though they were not the only clan that committed these acts.
Johnnie Armstrong was the most notorious of the Borders Reivers. By 1530, Johnnie had grown extremely rich and powerful. Admired by some and feared by others, his presence was so powerful that there were myths surrounding him – one saying that he ran a “protection racket” from Canonbie to Newcastle City. This has never been proven but such stories ignite fear by their very nature.
In 1530, the young King James V invited Johnnie Armstrong to meet with him, unarmed. Johnnie naively thought this was an invitation of affection – possibly to go hunting with the king and took his best men with him. It’s unclear how many men Johnnie took with him but it’s said to be between 25 and 50.
The men traveled north to meet the prestigious king with hopeful spirits and the wise Armstrong men themselves could not have foretold the fate awaiting them.
Upon their arrival at the King’s castle, Johnnie Armstrong and his men were captured and a Royal Order was issued to hang them. Despite several pleas for leniency in exchange for obedience, the hangings were carried out. King James V was said to be intimidated by Johnnie Armstrong’s reputation and crimes – his execution was ruthless and some believe unjust.
Defiant to the last, Johnnie Armstrong said these words to the King:
“I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face. Had I known you would take me this day, I would have lived in the Borders despite King Harry and you both”
Johnnie Armstrong’s defiant words continued and have been immortalised in Borders Ballads that are still appreciated to this day.
Massacre on the Isle of Eigg
Try to imagine, if you can, an entire island’s population being killed in one fell swoop.
It all started when three MacLeod brothers were banished from the island, bound by hand and foot and cast adrift on a boat after they insulted a number of Eigg’s women.
The boat washed up at Dunvegan castle and the incensed clan chief set for Eigg with a number of his men, looking to seek revenge on those that banned his kin.
However, the MacDonalds – who occupied the island at the time – knew that the MacLeods were on their way and hid in a large cave. The cave of Francis, in the south of the island.
Just as the MacLeods had decided that their search of the island was fruitless, and were preparing to travel home, a MacDonald watchman was spotted. Even at this point, the MacDonalds refused to surrender, believing that the narrow entrance to their cave would protect them and they stubbornly stayed put. Presumably hoping that the MacLeods would eventually give up.
The MacLeods, however, were not known for giving up easily and, if anything, they were ruthless. So ruthless in fact that they responded to the MacDonalds’ cowardice by lighting turf and fens at the entrance to the cave. The smoke of which suffocated all of those inside.