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Battle of Bealach nam Broig
Part of the Scottish clan wars
Ben wyvis.jpg
Ben Wyvis seen from the west. Carn Mòr is the smaller hill on the far left, the pass lies between the two.
Dateprobably 1452 (may be as early as 1299)
Locationbetween Inverness and Ullapool, near Garbat
grid reference NH422713[1]
Coordinates: 57°42′3″N 4°39′4″W / 57.70083°N 4.65111°W / 57.70083; -4.65111
Result "Munros and Dingwalls won a sorrowful victory"[2][3]
Allies of the Earl of Ross:
Clan Munro
Clan Dingwall
Clan Fraser of Lovat
Septs of Clan Mackenzie:
Clan MacIver
Clan Macaulay
Clan MacLeay
Clan MacLennan
Commanders and leaders
George Munro, 10th Baron of Foulis[4]
William Dingwall, Baron of Kildun[4]
Hugh Fraser, 1st Lord Lovat[5]
Supporters of Alexander Mackenzie, 6th of Kintail:[4]
Donald Garbh MacIver[4]
Duncan Macaulay.[6]
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
According to Sir Robert Gordon (1625):
"lost a great number of men"[2]
According to Alexander Mackenzie (1894):
140 Dingwalls killed[4]
11 Munros killed[4]
According to Sir Robert Gordon (1625):
"Utterly Extinguished"[2]
According to Alexander Mackenzie (1894):
"Extirpated" (Extinct)[7][8]

The historic district of Ross.

The Battle of Bealach nam Broig (Scottish Gaelic language: Pass of the Brogue; also known as the Great Battle of Bealach nam Broig, Bealach nam Brog, Beallighne-Broig, Bealach na Broige) was a battle fought between Scottish clans from the lands of north-west Ross, against north-eastern clans of Ross who supported the Earl of Ross. The actual date of the battle is debated, it probably occurred in 1452[9] but the Conflicts of the Clans suggests a date as early as 1299.[10]

Bealach nam Brog lies about 20 miles northwest of Inverness in the parish of Fodderty, overlooking the A835 road that goes west past Loch Glascarnoch to Ullapool. The pass separates the high ridge of Ben Wyvis from the lower summit of Carn Mòr, overlooking Loch Bealach Cùlaidh to the east. Thomas describes it as 2 miles NW of Garbat, at the watershed between the Strathrannock River and Garbat River, and also as being between Ferrin-Donald and Loch Broom.[6] The Garbat and Strathrannock both run into the Blackwater, a tributary of the River Conon that flows east from Loch Glascarnoch.


"A perfect specimen of an arrowhead" was found near the battlefield in 1913.[1]

Accounts of the battle

Sir Robert Gordon (c.1625)

The earliest account of the Battle of Bealach nam Broig was written by Sir Robert Gordon (1580 - 1656) in his book History of the Earldom of Sutherland.

A rising took place against the Earl of Ross by highlanders living in the mountains, consisting of the "Clan-juer" (Clan Iver), "Clantalvigh" (Clan-t-aluigh, i.e. Clan Aulay), and "Clan-leajwe" (Clan-leaive, i.e. Clan Leay).[2]

The Earl Ross responded by capturing the leader of the insurrection and imprisoned him at Dingwall Castle. Incensed, the revolting clans seized the Earl of Ross's second son at Balnagown, to aid in the release of their leader, and carried him with them. The Munros and Dingwalls in response pursued and overtook the rising clans at Bealach nam Broig. A bitter battle ensued, fuelled by old feuds and animosities. In the end the MacIvers, MacAulays and MacLeays were almost utterly extinguished and slain, and the Munros and Dingwalls won a hollow victory: though the Earl's son had been rescued, they had lost a great number of men.[2]

Wardlaw Manuscript (c.1674)

James Fraser wrote the Wardlaw manuscript in about 1674. It states that the Battle of Bealach nam Broig took place in 1374. Fraser states that there was an insurrection against Hugh, Earl of Ross. (At the time the Earl was Euphemia I, Countess of Ross however the chief of Clan Ross was Hugh Ross, 1st of Balnagowen). Fraser states that the rebels attempted to seize the Earl at Dingwall, who being aware of this made an expedition and captured their leader Donald Garve MacIver. The rebels in response captured the Earls' second son, Alexander at Balnagowan. The Earl then acquaints Fraser, Lord Lovat who with the Monroes and Dingwalls pursued the rebels and overtook them at Beallach in Broig, where they were encamped and there ensued a cruel conflict. The rebel clans were almost cut off and the Monroes had a sorrowful victory of it, having lost a great number of their own men but carried back the Earl's son. The Laird of Kildun was killed along with seven score of the name Dingwall.[3]

Letterfearn Manuscript (c.1675)

The Letterfearn manuscript, written in the late 17th century, contains a bardic story concerning the "battle of the brogues". However Euphemia I, Countess of Ross had died by 1398 and Euphemia II, Countess of Ross had died by 1424. The generally accepted date of the Battle of Bealach nam Broig is 1452 which therefore casts doubt on the story written in the Letterfearn manuscript.

The story runs that Euphame of Ross wished to marry Mackenzie, despite his refusals. Her followers imprisoned him and tortured his servant, who stated that Eilean Donan Castle would never be surrendered by its constable, Macaulay, except to the one who wore Mackenzie's ring. The ring was then taken from Mackenzie, and used to deceive Macaulay into handing over the castle as a pledge that Mackenzie would not break his alleged engagement to the countess. When Macaulay learned that he was tricked snuck into Dingwall Castle, and communicated with Mackenzie who devised a plan to kidnap the countess' uncle. When the deed was carried out, Macaulay was then pursued by Munros and Dingwalls. When Macaulay and his followers were about to be overtaken he sent his prisoner and two men to continue while he stood to defend a pass. The pass, the story says, has since then been known as the 'pass of the brogue', because the pursuers were forced to cover their chests with their brogues to defend themselves against the arrows of the defenders. When Macaulay's arrows had run out he was forced to quit the pass and retreat towards Kintail. Along the way he surprised a party of Rosses who were carrying provisions to Eilean Donan Castle. Macaulay and his followers then arrived at the castle, passing as the Rosses with provisions, and re-took the castle. Macaulay prepared for a long siege and sent word that he would hang his prisoner, the Laird of Balnagowan, unless his master, Mackenzie, was set free—and so Mackenzie was freed in exchange for Ross of Balnagowan.[11]

George Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Cromartie (c.1700)

George Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Cromartie wrote an account in his MS History of the Mackenzies also known as the Ardintoul MS in the late 17th or early 18th century. He placed the battle immediately after the Battle of Harlaw, in 1411.[12] The Earl of Ross in 1411 was in fact Euphemia II, Countess of Ross who did not have a son and therefore casts doubt on the date of 1411 given by George Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Cromartie, in that he states it was a Mackenzie ("Murdo Nidroit Mackenzie")[12] who was made prisoner by the Earl of Ross. The Earl of Ross's son was then seized by a force of Mackenzie's who were successful in using their captive in bargaining for the release of their leader in exchange.[12]

John Anderson (1825)

Historian John Anderson wrote an account of the Battle of Bealach nam Broig in his History of the Frasers in 1825, quoting from the MSS of Frasers (Wardlaw MS), MSS of Mackenzies and MSS of Foulis family - in the Advocate's Library.

In 1374, vassals of the Earl of Ross rose against him, the bulk of who were MacIvers, MacAulays, and MacLeas. It was decided they would surprise the Earl, but having been forewarned, the Earl captured and imprisoned their leader, Donald Garbh MacIver in the castle of Dingwall.[5]

The rebelling faction then apprehended the Earl of Ross's second son, Alexander, at Balnagown and carried him captive with them to make a deal with the Earl.[5] The Earl of Ross asked for assistance from the Laird of Lovat, who then sent 200 men and a force of Dingwalls and Munros, in aid of the Earl. This force overtook the clans at Bealach nam Broig where they had encamped. During the battle which followed the clans Iver and Leave (MacLeay) "were almost cut off."[5]

The Laird of Lovat and his force were victorious in the affair, as he had rescued the Earl's son, but the victory was dearly bought. The Dingwalls suffered heavy casualties including their chief, William Dingwall of Kildun, and 140 of his clan. The Munros besides losing many men, also suffered losses to their leading family of Foulis. The Munros of Foulis lost 11 members who were to succeed one another, and after the battle the succession of the house fell to an infant.[5]

It should be noted that the Earl of Ross in 1374 was Euphemia I, Countess of Ross who did have a son named Alexander, however this Alexander was her eldest son not her second son and the generally accepted date of the battle is 1452 and not 1374.

Alexander Mackenzie (1890/1898)

Alexander Mackenzie maintained the battle was fought in 1452, citing a manuscript, (the Fowlis papers), which backed up his theory. If the battle was fought in 1452 then the Earl of Ross at the time was John MacDonald of Islay (Lord of the Isles). The battle was instigated by Donald Garbh MacIver and vassals of their chief Mackenzie of Kintail, who attempted to seize the Earl of Ross. After MacIver's plot was discovered he was imprisoned in Dingwall Castle by followers of the Earl of Ross.

Mackenzie's followers from Kenlochewe, consisting of MacIvers, MacLennans, MacAulays, and MacLeays, freed him and then seized Alexander Ross of Balnagown (chief of Clan Ross) who was a relative of the Earl of Ross.[4]

The Earl of Ross then asked for assistance from the Lord Lovat (chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat) who was "His Majesty's Lieutenant in the North". Lovat sent 200 men who joined Ross's vassals including the Munros of Foulis, and the Dingwalls of Kildun. This force then overtook the clans from Kenlochewe, at Bealach nam Broig.[4]

The clans of Kenlochewe were said to have been almost extirpated, while all Dingwalls who numbered 140 were killed and the Munro family of Foulis lost 11, which included the leading men of their clan.[4]

R. W. Munro (1978)

Historian R. W. Munro published a book "The Munro Tree 1734" in 1978 which includes both the details of a Munro family tree dating from 1734 as well as his own historical research into the Munro family. Munro states that the Munro tree of 1734 mentions the Battle of Bealach Nam Broig but it does not say that the Munro chief was killed even though it does mention that other Munro chiefs were killed in other battles such as the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547, and it is therefore possible that the Mackenzie statement that the Munro chief was killed at the Battle of Bealach nam Broig is incorrect. There is also no mention on the Munro tree of 1734 of the eleven Munros stated by earlier accounts to have been killed in the battle who were supposed to succeed each other as chief of the clan.[13] However RW Munro does state that it is recorded that George Munro of Foulis was dead by 1453, just a year after the battle.[14]

A Mythical account of the name 'Pass of the Brogue'

A mythical account of the Battle of Bealach nam Broig gives light as to the origin of its name. At a great battle between the Mackenzies and Dingwalls, where the Dingwalls were defeated by the vastly smaller force of Mackenzies who had the aid of a little bodach (old man). Before the battle the old man came to the Mackenzies and promised to help them. He told the Mackenzies to put the left brogue on the right foot and the right brogue on the left foot, and because of this the MacKenzies were able to kill all the Dingwalls.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Site record for Bealach Nam Brog". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.  Note the modern spelling of "Brog".
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Gordon, Sir Robert. "History of the Earldom of Sutherland". Written in about 1625. Re-published in 1813. Page 36.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fraser, James. Chronicles of the Frasers: the Wardlaw manuscript entitled 'Polichronicon seu policratica temporum, or, The true genealogy of the Frasers', 916-1674. Originally written in about 1674, re-published in 1905 by William Mackay. Pages 82 - 83.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Mackenzie, A, History of the Mackenzies: With Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name. Published in 1894. [1]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Thomas, Capt., F W L, "Traditions of the MacAulays of Lewis", Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland., Volume 14, p.382. "Anderson's 'Family of Fraser'. Published in 1825. Quoting from the MSS of Frasers, MSS of Mackenzies and MSS of Foulis family - in the Advocate's Library
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Thomas, Capt. F. W. L.. "Traditions Of The Macaulays Of Lewis". p. 381.  Quoting Robert Gordon's Genealogie of the Earles of Southerland. Published in the early 17th century.
  7. Mackenzie, Alexander. History of the Mackenzies. Page 77. Published in 1894.
  8. Mackenzie, Alexander. History of the Munros of Foulis. Page 18. Published in 1898.
  9. "Scotland’s Historic Fields of Conflict Appendix 4: Initial Priority List of Battles". Battlefields Trust. p. 16. 
  10. "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.XX1 unto M.B.C.XIX, now first published from a manuscript wrote in the reign of King James VI.". Fowlis Press. 1764. 
  11. Thomas, F.W.L. "Traditions of the Macaulays of Lewis". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 14.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Thomas, Capt., F W L, "Traditions of the MacAulays of Lewis", Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland., Volume 14, p.382
  13. Munro, R. W. "The Munro Tree 1734". Published in 1978, Edinburgh. Page v. ISBN 0-9503689-1-1.
  14. Munro, R. W. "The Munro Tree 1734". Published in 1978, Edinburgh. Page 9 - on opposite unnumbered page - paragraph M. ISBN 0-9503689-1-1.

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