Skye’s Blood Soaked Locations – The MacDonald-MacLeod Feud

The Highlands and Islands of Scotland are stereotypically known for their bitter Clan feuds. One of the most infamous of these long running wars was the conflict between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds. The feud lasted hundreds of years and only ended when the Scottish crown stepped in to forcibly end the conflict.

I don’t plan on a pointless retelling of the entire conflict, however I’d like to point out some of the interesting locations associated with the feud between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods, all of which are worthwhile visiting.

The first site I wanted to identify is also probably one of the most difficult to get to. It is known as The Bloody Stone and is located at a place called Harta Corrie, near Glen Sligachan in one of the most remote parts of Skye. It was at Harta Corrie that a fierce battle took place between the MacDonalds and MacLeods, and legend has it that they fought for the entire day until every MacLeod had been killed. The bodies of the slain were then stacked up around a huge rock which subsequently became know as the The Bloody Stone. Visiting the stone is for more seasoned hill walkers, as it is a number of miles from any roads and nestled snugly in a rocky glen between the mountains of Sgùrr na h-Uamha and Meall Dearg.

The Bloody Stone.
The Bloody Stone.
The location of The Bloody Stone, marked appropriately in red.
The location of The Bloody Stone, marked appropriately in red.

The next location is Trumpan Church, located on the Waternish peninsula in the north of Skye.  Trumpan was by all accounts a thriving township through the medieval period and although Trumpan Church has never been conclusively dated, it’s possible that it dates from as far back as the 1300s. In 1577 an invading party of MacLeods from this area landed on the neighbouring island of Eigg, the native MacDonalds of Clan Ranald escaped to a cave for safety but were pursued by the MacLeods after they saw footprints in the snow. The MacLeods subsequently lit a fire at the entrance of the cave in an attempt to flush out the MacDonalds.  As a result of this fire, almost the entire population of the island was suffocated, a total of 395 MacDonalds.

Massacre Cave, located on the south coast of the island.
Massacre Cave, located on the south coast of Eigg.

A year later, the MacDonald’s of Uist came to Skye to avenge their kin massacred by the MacLeods at Eigg. Eight birlinns landed at Ardmore Bay as the MacLeods were gathered in Trumpan Church. The church was surrounded and set on fire with only one MacLeod, a young girl, surviving.  She feld to Dunvegan Castle, raised the alarm and a body of MacLeods went quickly to Trumpan to meet the MacDonalds in battle. The MacDonalds were wiped out, and the story goes that their bodies were buried under a turf dyke, giving the name to the battle now known as The Battle of the Spoiling Dkye.

Trumpan Church is relatively easy to get to by taking the turn off from the A850 road to Dunvegan.  Just follow the single track road until it runs out at the end of the peninsula. You will be rewarded with spectacular views, and on a clear day you will be able to see North Uist in the distance. Incidentally, there are two impressively well preserved Iron Age Brochs on Waternish named Dùn Hallin and Dùn Borrafiach.

Trumpan Church, which remained a ruin following the massacre.
Trumpan Church, which remained a ruin following the massacre.
Trumpan Church and Ardmore Bay.
Trumpan Church and Ardmore Bay.

The last location I would like to highlight is also the location of the last Clan battle between the MacDonalds of Sleat and the MacLeods of Dunvegan. It took place during the uniquely named War of the One Eyed Woman. The war started when Donald Gorm Mòr MacDonald of the MacDonald’s of Sleat married the sister of Rory Mòr MacLeod. At that time of Gaelic history, it was customary to have a trial marriage period of one year and one day, if the marriage was considered agreeable, it was formalised, if not it was annulled. At some stage during the trial period, Rory MacLeod’s sister lost an eye at Dùn Thuilm at Trotternish in Northern Skye. Further, she bore no children and when the expiry date had been reached for the trial period of marriage, Donald Gorm Mòr MacDonald unceremoniously sent her back to MacLeod on a one eyed donkey, led by a one eyed man with a one eyed dog.  Rory Mòr MacLeod was outaged and the War of the One Eyed Woman had begun. It culminated in the Battle of Coire na Creiche, which many will also recognise as the location of the fairy pools, the mysterious pools of crystal clear water.

History records the battle as a victory for the MacDonalds of Sleat, but it was said that the the battle was so fierce and so many had been slain, that Allt Coir a ‘Mhadaidh ran red with blood. There may be some truth to the legend, as the Scottish crown was sufficiently horrified by the battle to step in and force a truce between the feuding clans, who never again went to war against each other.

Coire na Creiche, location of the fairy pools and last battle between the MacDonalds and MacLeods.
Coire na Creiche, location of the fairy pools and last battle between the MacDonalds and MacLeods.
Location of Coire na Creiche, although the exact location and dispositions of the battle are unknown.
Location of Coire na Creiche, although the exact location and dispositions of the battle are unknown.

Coire na Creiche is another easy location to find. Simply take the road to Glen Brittle and watch out for the sign and carpark for the fairy pools on the right hand side. It is a simple walk up the coire but can be more difficult if the ground is wet.

Well there you have it, a few of the locations connected with the MacDonald’s and their rivals, the MacLeods. There are many other locations that I haven’t mentioned across Skye and beyond into the other islands of the Hebrides. I will leave it up to the reader whether or not you take the stories as the literally truth, or actual events embellished with the passage of time.

8 thoughts on “Skye’s Blood Soaked Locations – The MacDonald-MacLeod Feud

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  1. Colin, I mentioned the MacDonald/MacLeod feud, in my blog As a little Canadian-Scottish girl, my grandfather Roderick Peter Campbell McLeod (Rod), told me tales about the 2 clans. Your entry is a very intriguing and detailed explanation of our mutual history. Well done and very scary. All the best, Janet S. McLeod

    1. Not a problem Janet, thanks for sharing my piece. I would be interested to hear a bit about your grandfather Roderick McLeod, was he from Skye?

      The MacDonald-McLeod feud is fascinating, but sadly it’s an often overlooked aspect of Scottish history, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The MacDonalds and McLeods may have been enemies, but they also suffered together, particularly at the hands of MacDonald of Sleat and McLeod of Dunvegan, who didn’t always have our best interests at heart.

  2. I heard this same story yrs ago , i,m a Mac Donald on my mums side . The MacDonald’s are repopulating again my gram had 16 babies 3 sets of twins my mum was a twin .

  3. The “War of the one-eyed woman” (Cogadh na Cailliche Caime) involved the MacDonald of Sleat right enough, but the Eigg massacre /Trumpan episodes involved the MacDonalds of Clanranald.

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