Inventory Battlefield

Blar na LéineBTL29

Date of Battle: 15 July 1544

Status: Designated


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Designation Record and Full Report Contents

  • Name
  • Summary Information
  • Overview and Statement of Significance
  • Inventory Boundary
  • Historical Background to the Battle
    • The Armies
    • Numbers
    • Losses
    • Action
    • Aftermath and Consequences
  • Events and Participants
    • Context
  • Battlefield Landscape
    • Location
    • Terrain
    • Condition
  • Archaeological and Physical Remains and Potential
  • Cultural Association
    • Commemoration and Interpretation
  • References


Date Added
Local Authority
NN 28717 96463
228717, 796463

Overview and Statement of Significance

The Blar na Léine is significant as a classic example of the internecine tribal warfare which characterises so much of Scotland's internal history. The violent and merciless nature of the battle shows the bitter enmity which clans could hold against their enemies, in some cases lasting for centuries, along with the inherent martial aspects of Highland culture and the respect they were held in. It also highlights the difficulties which many Scottish monarchs had in keeping the Highland regions in line and under the control of a distant throne, and some of the efforts they were required to make in this quest.

The Blar na Léine took place on 15 July 1544 between a group of Frasers and Macintoshes under Lord Lovat and Ranald Gallda (pretender to the chiefdom of Clanranald) and a group of MacDonalds and Camerons under John Moidartach of Moidart, chief of Clan MacDonald of Clanranald. Lovat and Ranald Gallda were returning home along the Great Glen, having assisted the Earl of Huntly and his armies to penetrate MacDonald territory as far as Inverlochy, when they were ambushed and defeated by the MacDonalds. John of Moidart was supported by the Camerons, led by Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, together with the MacDonalds of Keppoch. The battle settled the issue of the leadership of Clanranald in favour of the MacDonalds.

Inventory Boundary

The Inventory boundary defines the area in which the main events of the battle are considered to have taken place (landscape context) and where associated physical remains and archaeological evidence occur or may be expected (specific qualities). The landscape context is described under battlefield landscape: it encompasses areas of fighting, key movements of troops across the landscape and other important locations, such as the positions of camps or vantage points. Although the landscape has changed since the time of the battle, key characteristics of the terrain at the time of the battle can normally still be identified, enabling events to be more fully understood and interpreted in their landscape context. Specific qualities are described under physical remains and potential: these include landscape features that played a significant role in the battle, other physical remains, such as enclosures or built structures, and areas of known or potential archaeological evidence.

The Inventory boundary for the Blar ne Léine is defined on the accompanying map and includes the following areas:

  • The flat plain at the northern end of Loch Lochy, where the main fighting took place.
  • The A82, which marks the general route of the Frasers along the shore of the loch and which roughly overlies Wade's Military Road.
  • The lower slopes of Ben Tigh, down which Clanranald advanced to attack the Frasers.
  • The area around Kilfinan Church, where bodies from the battle may have been buried.

Historical Background

Following an abortive expedition into Macdonald lands, aimed at punishing John of Moidart, chief of Clanranald of the MacDonalds, for a major raid he had conducted into Grant and Fraser lands, the Earl of Huntly withdrew to his Gordon homeland via Glen Spean. Hugh Fraser, 3rd Lord Lovat, separated himself from the Gordons and took the more direct route to their homelands, through the Great Glen along the line of the modern Caledonian Canal. This led them straight into an ambush at the hands of the waiting Macdonald and Cameron forces.

As Lovat and his company travelled along the south-eastern side of Loch Lochy, they spotted men advancing quickly in front of them to the left, across the head of the loch. The MacDonalds and Camerons had seized the opportunity to ambush Lovat's small and isolated force. John of Moidart had camped on the lower slopes of Ben Tigh at the northern end of the loch, and as the Frasers and Grants marched northwards he sprung his trap. With retreat an impossibility in the face of the enemy, Lovat had no choice but to stand and fight.

The battle itself was a violent clash, really little more than an anarchic struggle for survival. MacDonald sources give credit to Lovat and Ranald Gallda for their courage in battle. Both Lovat and Gallda were among the dead from the battle while John of Moidart was severely wounded.

As the fighting continued, the Frasers were eventually overwhelmed and broke; the remaining Frasers and Grants were then cut down in a rout over ten miles as they attempted to flee for home. The MacDonalds and their allies had paid heavily for the victory, however, as the sources suggest high losses on their side as well.

The Armies

The two armies were of very similar composition, comprising mainly foot soldiers supported by some archers. The forces are likely to have been equipped in the typical Scottish fashion of the time, arrayed in chain mail hauberks, along with helmets and shields, and armed mainly with broadswords, axes and dirks. However, the name 'Battle of the Shirts' may come from a tradition that some of the men may have removed their chain mail due to the heat, and fought only in tunics or jerkins.


Fraser: Lord Lovat and his clan allies, the Grants and Macintoshes, probably totalled around 300 men, though Macintosh records give a figure of 400 men (Mackintosh, 1903: 126). Mackay (1922: 104) proposes 260 Frasers died on the battlefield and 'many Grants also'. Clan Fraser records Lovat sending 100 bowmen to secure the pass for their retreat out of the fray (McKay, 1905), no other account of battle formations are recorded.

Clanranald: Cameron and Clanranald totalled around 500-600 men. The MacDonalds included the Knoydart and Morar MacDonalds and the Ardnamurchan chiefs (Mackay, 1922: 99).


Precise figures of losses and casualties are unavailable. According to Cameron and Clanranald records, only five of Lovat's men survived the battle, including James Fraser of Foyers and four common soldiers. Lord Lovat was amongst the dead; his eldest son (Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat) was fatally wounded and taken prisoner, dying from his wounds three days after his capture. Lovat and his son were later buried at Beauly Priory. Other sources suggest that almost the entire able-bodied population of male Frasers perished in the battle.

The Frasers also record that only ten men from the Cameron / Clanranald force survived the battle. These records also state that 80 of the fallen Fraser men left pregnant wives who all delivered baby boys, replenishing the losses that they had suffered. However, this is a later rationalisation of how the Clan Fraser was able to survive the losses of the battle, and is really an indication of the fact that the casualties were a smaller percentage of the male Frasers than the sources suggest. Similarly, although MacDonald losses are portrayed as being substantial in the sources, Mackay (1922: 104) makes a valid point that no name of real note from the MacDonald force was included in the list of those who were slain in the Battle of the Shirts; more pertinently perhaps, he also points out that if only eight of John's men survived the battle, it is difficult to explain how they would have been in a position to rampage through and seize Fraser lands in the months after the battle.

Despite the lack of precise figures and the obvious exaggeration of the number of survivors, the sources do indicate that the casualties for both sides were high enough to be noteworthy, suggesting higher than average losses for a battle of the period, which is supported by the accounts of the veracity of the battle.


In an attempt to bring to account John of Moidart, chief of Clanranald of the MacDonalds, for a major raid that he had made against his clan enemies, the Earl of Huntly, as the Crown authority for the Highlands, led an expedition westward into MacDonald territory. John had sacked Fraser lands in Abertarf and Stratherrick and Grant territories in Glenmoriston and Glen Urquhart, and Hugh Fraser, the Lord Lovat, was a leading member of the army that Huntly assembled to punish the MacDonalds. The expedition achieved little other than compelling the MacDonalds to retreat westward and, after a negotiation with John, Huntly withdrew to his Gordon homeland via Glen Spean. According to Macdonald records, Lovat separated himself from the Gordons against Huntly's express advice, though Fraser records note that when he reached Letterfinlay, his brother-in-law the Laird of Grant, Mackintosh and others, had urged him to divert to another path where they would escort him safely to his own lands. Lovat, however, was better persuaded by James Fraser of Foynes that this would be an act of cowardice and that they had sufficient force to overcome any potential threat, an act of extreme folly on Lovat's part, as Mackintosh is reported to have had at his disposal 1,500 men who could potentially have secured the safety of Lovat and his men. According to the Kinrara manuscript completed around 1680:

'Mackintosh, being informed of an ambush laid for Lord Lovat, offered to accompany him with his people till he were out of hazard; but the Lord Lovat refused the offer, saying he was strong enough himself for the Clan Ranald; Huntly, being privy to the Clan Ranald's design, applauds Lovat's resolution'(Mackintosh, 1903: 126).

Mackay proposes that the Grants accompanied Lovat and that the group thereafter retraced their steps and walked northwards (Mackay, 1922: 98-9) along the line of the modern Caledonian Canal to their homelands, straight into the hands of the waiting MacDonald and Cameron men, though Leslie records that the Grants were not with Lovat's party when they met the Clanranald men for battle.

As Lovat and his company travelled along the side of Loch Lochy, one of their number spotted John of Moidart's contingent advancing quickly from the left flank:

'His way was directly down the south side of Loch Lochy and halfe way he sent off one Bean Clerach [Iain Cleirich], with a hundred bowmen, to guard a passe, and if need were to assist him if he mett with danger, and strive to be within sight of him. Bean Clerk goes on, and, mistakeing his direction, keept out of sight beyond Drumglach most inadvertently, so that he was off no use to the host. At Laggan Achildrom, near the end of Loch Lochy, they espy the Mackranalds marching down the north side of the loch a body off 7 banners, which could not be under 5 or 600 men, and Lord Hugh had but 300 of a convoy, but prime and proof, yet, as the old proverb is, More then Master Mawes the meadow. Their opposites were more in number, malicious and desperate. Lord Lovat sets a councel off war, heares masse from Sir Robert S...... His own table chaplain and priest, takes their refreshment, and Lord Hugh gives them a short incurraging harrang to this purpose' (McKay, 1905: 135).

The MacDonalds and Camerons, whose scouts had remained at the rear of their enemies until seeing Huntly's men depart, had seized the opportunity to advance quickly northward to cut off Lovat's retreat (Mackay, 1922: 99). John of Moidart had camped on the lower slopes of Ben Tigh at the northern end of the loch, and as the Frasers and Grants marched northwards, they saw Clanranald advancing down the slopes to their north-west. With retreat an impossibility in the face of the enemy, Lovat had to stand and fight. Lovat did attempt to keep an alternative route open, sending Iain Cleirich's men to secure a nearby pass, but this had also failed, and the pass was in MacDonald hands (Mackintosh, 1903: 127).

The battle began with a volley of arrows from archers of both sides, followed by the Camerons charging and meeting their opponents in close-quarter combat. Once the arrows were exhausted, the remaining participants moved to hand-to-hand combat with battleaxes, claymores and dirks. There are nineteenth century accounts of an unnamed early song that apparently mentioned the use of firearms in the battle, but there are no extant sources that mention any such ordnance. The fighting itself was a bloody, chaotic clash with little attempt at tactics or strategy, quickly becoming a simple matter of survival for the fighters on both sides. MacDonald sources give credit to Lovat and Ranald Gallda for their indomitable spirit in fighting furiously, as neither side sought nor gave quarter:

'As he [Lord Lovat] closed his discourse, the enemy was upon them at the very end of Loch Lochy, and there, on the plain, followed a hot ingagement, fought more like lyons than men, with slashes and stroakes, their armes two handed swords and Dence axes, front to front, forcing upon each other, so fierce and forward that they seemed to fell one another like trees falling in a wood, cutting and consumeing down each other till some roome at last was made by the heuches on each side...

Lord Lovat fought so cruelly with his own hands, hammering down all that came in his way, that he was named by his enemies Cruoy Choskir (the hard slayer), a hardy cutter; and, when he fell dead in the field, it animated the few that survived of the Mackrannalds, crying with joy 'Huit Cruoy Choskir, huit Cruoy Choskir' (the hard slayer has fallen). And as they cried they were killed; nay, such as were thought to ly dead among the slain, their swords lying by them, when they saw an enemy pass they made a shift to catch the sword and cut off legg or limb, so eager they were for the mastery' (McKay, 1905: 136-7).

There was a Moidart tradition that Ranald Gallda was killed by a Strontian man called Mac Dhonuill Ruaidh Bhig [son of little Red Donald]. The Strontian man is said to have shouted out a warning to Ranald of an enemy behind, causing him to swing round, whereupon the MacDonald leapt upon Ranald and plunged his weapon into his side. Ranald, with his final act, retaliated with back stroke, hitting the Strontian man with a fatal blow to the head so that he died within a few minutes. An alternative version of Mac Dhonuill Ruaidh Bhig's death suggests that he survived Ranald's blow but that some of his own kin paid a local surgeon to have him killed because they favoured Ranald's claim on Moidart (MacDonald, 1997: 41-2).

A different account of Ranald's death is provided by Mackay, who stated that Ranald was fighting an older warrior and had him almost defeated when the warrior's son took up the fight with Ranald. As he was an experienced and strong swordsman, Ranald looked certain to kill the younger; the boy's father forgot all sense of honour and struck Ranald from behind with a blow (Mackay, 1922: 103). This story may be the same event if the older man were Donuill Ruaidh Bhig.

Another story of warriors on the field given to Charles MacDonald was of a Fraser and a MacDonald, seeking each other out for annihilation, coming to blows:

'The Macdonald, while delivering a vicious lunge with his broadsword, -

'Take that from Clanranald's blacksmith!'

The Fraser, parrying the thrust, and then swinging his battle-axe over the Moidart man's head, -

'And thou, receive this from MacShimie's [Lovat's] blacksmith'

When the day was over these two worthies were found lying beside each other, both dead, their bodies shockingly mangled' (MacDonald, 1997: 42-3)

As the fighting continued, the Frasers and Grants were overwhelmed and the sources suggest almost killed to a man. There is a traditional account that talks about a late attempt to rally by the Frasers and Grants. According to this version, after Lovat and Ranald had been cut down:

''the survivors determined, if possible, to make good their retreat, and draw off to the south-east corner of the field, where they still formed a small band of brothers and kinsmen' (Chalmers, 1848: 13).

The account continues that the attempt was unsuccessful as the MacDonalds mustered their survivors and the Frasers broke. The remaining Frasers and Grants were then cut down in a rout over ten miles as they attempted to flee for home. This is the only mention of such an element to the action, but may be accurate.

The MacDonalds and their allies had paid heavily for the victory, however, as the sources suggest heavy losses on their side as well. Leslie suggests that it was not until the following day that either side knew for certain who the victors of the battle were (Leslie, 1830: 184-5).

Aftermath & Consequences

Almost the entire Fraser and Grant contingent appear to have been slaughtered, including Lovat. His son, Simon was mortally wounded and is said to have been removed by Cameron of Lochiel and 'given such attention as was possible' (Mackay, 1922: 104) before succumbing to his wounds. There is a tradition that he had not been a part of Lovat's army on the expedition and instead had been left at home; he is said to have arrived during the course of the battle against his father's wishes, only to be mortally wounded and captured. This seems rather unlikely, as it requires an explanation of how Simon became a part of a battle that was the result of an ambush; no source indicates that he was en route to meet his father.

There is a further tradition that, rather than dying on the battlefield, Ranald and other wounded men were taken to a knoll on which an inn was located and he was stabbed in the eye by one of his enemies who was pretending to dress his wounds; Ranald is said to have used a dying effort to reciprocate by stabbing him in the heart with his dirk (Mackay, 1922: 104). This is altogether unlikely and does not accord with the majority of the sources.

John survived the battle, although wounded, and returned to Moidart to reclaim his title as chief of Clanranald estates. Having emerged victorious, Clan Cameron and Clanranald conducted further successful raids across Grant and Fraser lands. They took possession of Urquhart and Glenmoriston, including Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, having plundered the areas throughout the summer. Ewen Cameron was accompanied on the 'Raid of Urquhart' in October 1544 and April 1545 by his grandson and heir Ewan (Eoghainn Beag), son of his deceased eldest son, Donald, and Agnes or Anne, daughter of Sir James Grant, Laird of Urquhart. Cameron obtained a rich booty of livestock from the his former in-laws' home farm and numerous objects from Castle Urquhart as well as livestock and household goods from raids on tenants in Glen Urquhart, who were considered to be relatively wealthy.

However, this repeat of the raids of 1543 (which had been the reason for Huntly's expedition in the first place) was seen as too flagrant a challenge to the authority of the Crown, and a new expedition was against MacDonald territory; Keppoch was laid waste, with some of John's supporters hanged. John evaded capture; however, he was declared an outlaw and his property confiscated. In 1546, Mackintosh, a deputy Lieutenant, captured Ewen Cameron and Ranald mac Donald Glas of Keppoch and handed them over to Huntly. Huntly arranged their trial for high treason and they were beheaded at Elgin for their part in the Blar na Léine, though Clanranald lands remained untouched. Huntly's lack of success in apprehending John of Moidart, despite having apprehended chiefs close to Moidart lands, fuelled Fraser suspicion of his conspiracy with Clanranald (Mackintosh, 1903: 128). For their part in this expedition, the Macintoshes became subject to a feud with the Keppochs which lasted over one hundred years and finally came to a head in 1688 at the Battle of Mulroy, the last battle of the clans, where the Macintoshes were defeated and forced to flee.

Events & Participants

The battle was a clan fight between Frasers and Grants on the one side and MacDonalds and Camerons on the other.

Hugh Fraser, 3rd Lord Lovat, supported Ranald Gallda's claim to the chiefdom of Clanranald against John of Moidart, prompting an aggressive reaction from John and the Clanranalds whose loyalty rested with John, their chosen chief. At the time of the battle, Hugh was around 50 years of age. He had been appointed Justiciary for the North for a while in the period of James V's minority. His home castle was Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.

John of Moidart was elected chief of Clan Ranald after a period of instability in hereditary rights of clan lineage. He was the illegitimate son of Alexander, 7th Chief of Clanranald. John had previously revolted against the Crown in 1528 but thereafter John's relationship with the Crown had remained peaceful. In 1540, King James took the unprecedented opportunity of a gathering of Highland nobles to deal with the troublesome Highland chiefs and imprisoned many of them, including John of Moidart. John was freed after the death of James V in 1542, whereupon he reclaimed the chieftainship of the clan. John was never punished for his actions in the battle, but was declared an outlaw for his subsequent raiding activities across Glenmoriston and Glen Urquhart. The queen regent pardoned John and his supporters in 1555 and he died almost three decades later in 1584.

Ranald Gallda was legally the rightful chief of Clanranald as the only legitimate heir. He was the youngest son of Allan MacDonald, 4th Chief of Clanranald, who died in c. 1505. He was half-brother to Alexander, the 7th chief, and should have been the next leader of the clan. However, he had spent most of his life since the death of his father with his mother's family, the Frasers, which is why he was known as Gallda [stranger or foreigner]. The MacDonalds did not accept him as their leader and instead took John of Moidart as the new chief. On John's arrest by James V, Ranald staked his rightful claim on Moidart with the support of the Frasers and he was installed as chief at Castle Tioram ('Trimm' in the sources). When James V died shortly thereafter, John regained his freedom and Ranald was forced to flee to his Fraser relatives because of a lack of support amongst the MacDonalds for his chieftainship.


The Highlands during the reign of James V were an area of considerable unrest. With the disappearance of the Lordship of the Isles in the reign of James IV, there was no regional authority to settle and to mediate disputes; Edinburgh was too remote to be effective in this role. Clanranald was one of the most powerful branches of Clan Donald, and when there was a dispute over the succession to the clan chief in the 1520s, it was inevitable that there would be bloodshed. In 1520, the clan chief Dougall, 6th Chief of Clanranald was assassinated by his own men because of his great cruelty, and his sons were excluded from the succession. Instead, the succession went to Dougall's uncle, Alexander, who was a son of Allan MacDonald, 4th Chief of Clanranald and a direct descendant of the Lords of the Isles. On his death in 1529, it should have passed to his half-brother Ranald Gallda because Alexander had no legitimate heirs and Dougall's heirs were excluded from the succession. However, the position of 8th Chief of Clanranald was taken by John of Moidart, who was an illegitimate son of Alexander; the Clanranald appear to have preferred him to Ranald, who was seen as an outsider (as his eponym indicates). Ranald had been raised by the Frasers, and his claim was supported by Lord Lovat of the Frasers, who was a relative through Ranald's mother, Isabella Fraser of Teachers.

In 1528 King James V's revocation of all land grants issued during his minority acted as a catalyst to exacerbate tensions already existing between Highland clans. John of Moidart was a great supporter of Alexander of Islay who harboured a longstanding dispute with the Earl of Argyll; John and Alexander were both MacDonalds, while Argyll was a Campbell. When Argyll was charged with enforcing the king's revocations, this led to attacks on the Campbells by Alexander and Maclean of Duart in 1529. Although Campbell requested permission to raise an army, the king refused. Instead, on the death of Campbell in 1530, James V bypassed his successor and made a direct approach to the rebel chiefs for a meeting; the new Earl of Argyll was called to account for his father's use of dues and rentals received from the Isles, and was briefly imprisoned. When James had not received responses from all of the chiefs by 1531, Parliament passed a forfeit sentence against the rebel chiefs, leading to their arrest on Skye where they had gathered to pay homage to the king during his tour of Scotland.

The new Earl of Argyll's influence in the Isles was heavily reduced by the obvious lack of support from the Crown, and James V allowed some of Argyll's power to pass to Alexander, who also offered the king assistance in his continuing troubles with his uncle, Henry VIII of England, when Henry sent troops to Edinburgh (Leslie 1830).

By 1543 a sea of political and religious change was sweeping across Europe ' the Reformation was advancing across Western Europe. Henry VIII had broken with Rome in the 1530s and Scotland was under huge pressure as the only Catholic stronghold remaining in Northern Europe. Some Scottish chiefs welcomed the Reformation and alliances with England, but Argyll, whose influence was once more growing, remained opposed to these changes until the mid-1550s.

While Campbell of Argyll was occupied dealing with a dispute with Donald Dubh, a Pretender for the Lordship of the Isles, the Earl of Huntly became involved with Lord Lovat's push for Ranald Gallda's installation as chief of Clanranald during the time that John of Moidart was imprisoned under the order of James V (Paterson, 2011: 66-75).

On the death of his father, John Moidartach, 8th of Clanranald, held Moidart, Arisaig and Castle Tioram (Trimm). When he was arrested and imprisoned by James V, the charters previously held by John were revoked and awarded to Ranald Gallda, supported by Lord Lovat and the Frasers, as heir to his father Allan's estate. Ranald subsequently fled Clanranald lands and sought refuge with Lord Lovat on the release of John from prison whereupon the Macdonalds of Clanranald and their supporters displayed their loyalty to John by raiding and over-running Lovat's lands at Stratherrick and Abertarf as well as the Grant's Castle Urquhart and lands at Urquhart and Glenmoriston. When George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, arrived, supported by Lovat, Grant and Ranald Gallda, Moidartach was forced to retreat and it has been suggested that Ranald Gallda moved once more to occupy Moidart (Gregory, 1975), though there is no evidence to support this proposal.

Lovat and his Frasers stopped at Fort Augustus and met with the other clans, including the Grants, Macintoshes and others who had set up an encampment there while awaiting Lovat's arrival. They then marched through Abertarf, Glengary and Lochaber to meet peaceably with a number of clan chiefs.

However, Fraser records suggest that Huntly betrayed Lovat, who he felt had undermined him the previous year. As Lieutenant of the north, Lovat had been asked to call on the Gordons, Forbes, Mackintoshes, Camerons, Stuarts of Appin and other clans to join forces and support the recently selected Regent, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, against King Henry VIII of England, the Earl of Lennox, and the Douglases. It is thought that the Regent had secured the release of John and other imprisoned Highland chiefs to dampen the growing influence of Argyll (Mackay, 1922: 95). Huntly had reportedly been incensed that anyone other than himself be chosen to undertake this expedition and contrived his revenge upon Lovat (McKay, 1905: 133).

Battlefield Landscape

The battle was fought at the head of Loch Lochy on flat ground between Loch Lochy and Loch Oich. The battlefield lies in the Great Glen, with steep slopes on either side, giving a very defined area in which the fighting would have taken place. The sources indicate that the MacDonalds and Camerons came down the slopes of Ben Tigh cutting across the line of march of the Frasers. The Frasers had marched north-east along the south-eastern side of Loch Lochy, with Ben Tigh looming to the north-west. The fighting is likely to have taken place at the southern end of the land between the two lochs, while the details of the accounts suggest that it was down on the shoreline that much of the combat took place.


No further information.


The ground between Loch Lochy and Loch Oich is reasonably flat and easily passable, with steep slopes on either side. It is within the Great Glen and has been a major line of communication for millennia. The land surface of the area was reduced in the nineteenth century, as the construction of the Caledonian Canal artificially raised the water levels of Loch Lochy, which means that some of the battlefield is now likely to be underwater.


There has been relatively little development in this area. The village of Laggan represents a small amount of domestic development, and there are areas of forestry on parts of the flat ground. The main impact on the battlefield has been the construction of the nineteenth century Caledonian Canal, which runs across the middle of the area of available land. This has undoubtedly impacted adversely on the battlefield and any artefact distributions within its path.

Archaeological & Physical Remains and Potential

In the sixteenth century, Highland armies wore chain-mail, and the Clanranalds and Fraser men rained blows on each other with swords to test the quality of their opponents' chain-mail craftsmanship.

The Fraser account of the battle testifies to its violent nature, and also highlights some of the arms and armour in use which may survive as archaeological evidence as a result of engagement:

'True currage, strength, and valour was known; such as boar armour, head pieces and coats of meale knockt down their opposits without resistance lik tender tuiggs of shrubs...... At length, in their heat and fury two and [two] runn into the Loch, grapling and, lik wrestlers, sticked on another with their durks, many, nay, most fought in their shirts, running at each other like mastives; till in the end all fought in bloud and goare, few or non escaping to carry newes home....... such as were thought to ly dead among the slain, their swords lying by them that Loch they fought so that the stream from the lake run blood for many dayes' (McKay, 1905: 136-7).

It is therefore likely that human remains will survive, along with discarded or broken fragments of armour, such as chain-mail, headgear and arms like swords, axes, dirks and arrow-heads, could be recovered from the vicinity of the battle site. Fraser histories also mention combatants running into the loch, wrestling and injuring each other with dirks to the extent that the stream from the lake ran with blood for several days thereafter. It is thus entirely possible that organic material such as skeletal remains and the remains of clothing or fasteners could also be recovered from close to the shores of Loch Lochy. As the loch level was artificially raised during the construction of the Caledonian Canal, some of the battlefield is now submerged, and this may have affected the survival of remains in these areas.

Two stories exist related to physical remains from the battle. After his death Mac Dhonuill Ruaidh Bhig, the Strontian man who allegedly killed Ranald Gallda at Blar na Leine, was buried in Eilean Fhionnan. Many years thereafter his skeletal remains were moved to accommodate new burials. Through neglect, his skull was not re-buried and it was placed with a mixture of other bones under the altar slab of the ruined church of Eilean Fhionnan. This skull was often handled by the people of Moidart, Ardnamurchan and Suinart who were fascinated with the deep gash caused by the blow from Ranald's sword. One elderly resident of Dalnambreack recalled to Charles MacDonald seeing the skull and hearing elders retell the story of Ranald and Mac Dhonuill Ruaidh (MacDonald 1997, 42). Another traditional story tells of Ranald's sword being taken to Strontian and being kept by a Strontian family for a long time thereafter. The provenance of these stories is unclear and the current location of either item is unknown.

Cultural Association

There is an information board at the head of Loch Lochy, adjacent to the Caledonian Canal, which gives a short explanation of the battle.

A Scottish Country Dance commemorating the battle was compiled by Charles Upton, Deeside Caledonian Society. There is also a tune, Aftermath (Blar na Léine 1544), by the Celtic folk rock band Saor Patrol, who are members of the Clanranald Trust for Scotland.

Commemoration & Interpretation

As parish priest for Moidart, Father Charles MacDonald realised that a great deal of clan history and traditional practices were disappearing and he took the decision to record as much of this as possible about this remote and conservative community. Much of his account (MacDonald, 1997) includes stories passed from generation to generation within the community. Many of these accounts are likely to have been heavily biased in favour of the Clanranald clan, but they are nonetheless invaluable records of past events.



The Kinrara Manuscript. c. 1679. Lachlan Mackintosh

Chalmers, D. 1848. Traditional Account of the Battle of Blairleine. The Scottish Journal of Topography, Antiquities, Traditions, etc. Vol 1. Edinburgh: George Thomas Stevenson & John Menzies.

MacDonald, C. (edited by J. Watt) 1997. Moidart: Among the Clanranalds. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited

Mackay, D. N. 1922. Clan Warfare in the Scottish Highlands. Paisley: Alexander Gardner

Paterson, R. C. 2001. The Lords of The Isles: A history of Clan Donald. Edinburgh: Birlinn

Information on Sources & Publication

The Blar na Léine is well reported in books on the history of Scotland, clan records and web-based resources. Regrettably, the battle occurred in the year 1544, one year before the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland which is available as an online resource. Therefore, very little primary source information has been available for review.

Primary Sources

22 April 1552. Proclamation that the Earl of Huntly has permission to deal with Clan Cameron, the Earl of Argyll with Clanranald, John of Moidart sent apologies and asked for an extension. Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Third Series, Volume I (1545-1569), page lxix.

Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol x.

Antiquarian Notes (2nd Series). 1897. C. Fraser Mackintosh

The charters of the priory of Beauly: with notices of the priories of Pluscardine and Ardchattan and of the family of the founder, John Byset. 1877. E. C. Batten. Edinburgh: Houlston & Sons

Camden, W. 1695 A second edition of Camden's description of Scotland containing a supplement of these peers, or Lords of Parliament, who were mentioned in the first edition, and an account of these since raised to, and further advanced in the degrees of peerage, until the year 1694. (2nd Edition).

The Clan Donald. 1860. A. Macdonald. Inverness: Northern Counties Publishing Company

Chronicles of the Frasers: The Wardlaw Manuscript entitled 'Polichroniconseupolicraticatemporum, or, the true geneaology of the Frasers' 916-1674. By Master James Fraser (Minister of the Parish of Wardlaw (now Kirkhill), Inverness.1905. W. McKay (ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the Scottish History Society

Clerk, A.1834-45. Parish of Ardnamurchan. Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Vol.7: 117-63

Diurnal of remarkable occurrents that have passed within the country of Scotland since the death of King James the Fourth till the year MDLXX. 1833.

History of the Family of Huntly. 1819

The history of the feuds and conflicts among the clans in the northern parts of Scotland and in the Western Isles; from the year M.XXXI. unto M.DC.XIX. Now first published from a manuscript, wrote in the reign of King James VI. 1764. Glasgow

History of the MacDonalds and Lords of the Isles.

The Kinrara Manuscript. c. 1679. Lachlan Mackintosh

Letters re Glengarry and Clan Ranald Controversy.

Miscellanea Scotica. 1818

Navigation of King James V round Scotland, the Orkney Isles, and the Hebrides or Western Isles, under the Conduct of that excellent Pilot, Alexander Lindsay. 1710. Nicolas D' Afreville (Cosmographer to Henry II of France). Pamphlet

Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, Vol xxx. 1984. J. Maitland et al (eds.). Edinburgh: Clark Constable.

Reliquiae Celticae : texts, papers, and studies in Gaelic literature and philology left by the late Rev. Alexander Cameron, LL.D. 1892. A. McBain and J. Kennedy (eds.). Inverness: Northern Counties Printing & Publishing Co

Riddell, J. 1821. Vindication of the Clanranald of Glengarry. Edinburgh: W & C Tait

Archive/Library: National Register of Archives Scotland

Fraser Family/Lords Lovat records, Repository Code 232, Highland Council Archive Service,

Reference NRAS194

Cartographic & Illustrative Sources

Gordon, R. 1636-52. Lochabyr. Map of Lochaber. Available digitally at [Last accessed 11/08/2011]

Moll, H.1745. The West Part of Inverness Sh. Lochaber with all the Territories west from it. Available digitally at [Last accessed 11/08/2011]

Pont, T. 1583-96 The Great Glen and Glen Garry. Available digitally at [Last accessed 11/08/2011]

Roy, W. 1747-55. Military Survey of Scotland. Available digitally at [Last accessed 11/08/2011]

Rutherford, R. 1745. An Exact Plan of His Majesty's Great Roads through the Highlands of Scotland. Available digitally at [Last viewed 11/08/2011]

Willdey, T. 1746. A map of the King's Roads, Made by his Excellency General Wade in the Highlands of Scotland. Available digitally at [Last accessed 23/08/2011]

Secondary Sources

Anderson, G. and P. Anderson 1842. Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland including Orkney and Zetland, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 69

Chalmers, D.1848. Traditional Account of the Battle of Blairleine. The Scottish Journal of Topography, Antiquities, Traditions, etc. Vol 1.Edinburgh: George Thomas Stevenson & John Menzies.

Fraser, W. 1883. The Chiefs of Grant. Edinburgh

Gregory, D.1975. History of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Lee, H. J. 1864. History of the clan Donald, the families of MacDonald, McDonald and McDonnell. New York: Polk & Co.

Leslie, J. (edited by T. Thomson) 1830. The history of Scotland, from the death of King James I in the year MCCCCXXXVI to the year MDLXI. Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club

MacDonald, C. (edited by J. Watt) 1997. Moidart: Among the Clanranalds. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited

Macdonald, C. M. 1950 The History of Argyll: Up to the beginning of the 16th Century. Glasgow: W.R. Holmes

Mackay, W. 1914. Urquhart and Glenmoriston: olden times in a Highland parish, Inverness: Northern Counties Newspaper & Print. & Pub. Co., 94-6

Mackay, D. N. 1922. Clan Warfare in the Scottish Highlands. Paisley: Alexander Gardner

Mackenzie, A.1881. History of the MacDonalds and Lords of the Isles : with genealogies of the principal families of the name. Inverness: A and W Mackenzie

Mackintosh, A. M. 1903.The Mackintoshes and Clan Chattan. Edinburgh: James Skinner & Co.

Paterson, R. C. 2001. The Lords of The Isles: A history of Clan Donald. Edinburgh: Birlinn

Battles of Clan Cameron [Last accessed 10/08/2011]

Brief History of Clan Fraser [Last accessed 10/08/2011]

Caledonian Canal [Last accessed 10/08/2011]

Historic Scotland, Beaufort [Last accessed 15/08/2011]

Loch Lochy photograph [Last accessed 12/08/2011]

RCAHMS Blar Na Leine Battlesite.Site number NN29NE 2. [Last accessed 12/08/2011]

RCAHMS Church of St Killan.Site number NN29NE 1. [Last accessed 15/08/2011]

Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary [Last accessed 10/08/2011]

About the Inventory of Historic Battlefields

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important historic battlefields. Battlefields are landscapes over which a battle was fought. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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