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Coordinates: 55°18′27″N 5°38′41″W / 55.3075°N 5.64472°W / 55.3075; -5.64472

The site of Dunaverty Castle

The Battle of Dunaverty was a battle and siege of Dunaverty Castle, Kintyre, Scotland 1647. The battle and siege was fought between the Covenanter army under the command of General David Leslie and 200–300 Highland troops under the command of Archibald Og of Sanda.

After the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss, the remaining royalist army of Alasdair Mac Colla fled to Kinlochkilkerran where a fleet of birlinn's transported many of the troops to Ireland, while others fled to Dunaverty to be transported to Ireland as well as Dunyvaig Castle. About 200–300 men who could not be transported or did not wish to leave Scotland, prepared to defend Dunaverty Castle.

Upon the arrival of the Covenanter army, they laid siege to the castle and made small raids against the forces of the castle. After being able to capture the water supply for the castle, the defenders who were running out of water requested a surrender on just terms. After agreeing to surrender and leaving the castle, the men, women and children were put to the sword at the request of Reverend John Naves and Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll. A number of people though appear to have survived the massacre, Flora McCambridge and the infant Ranald MacDonald of Sanda, James Stewart and a MacDougall of Kilmun.[1]

The Massacre at Dunaverty

More than 300 MacDougalls and followers, men, women and children, were slaughtered at Dunaverty after being promised quarter from the Covenanters. An account of the massacre from[2] is as follows.

The originals of the two documents that follow are in the possession of the Duke of Argyll, who has kindly allowed their publication by the Scottish History Society. They relate to and throw some fresh light on one of the most disgraceful incidents in Scots history.

In May 1647 Montrose's well-known lieutenant, Sir Alexander Macdonald, the son of Colla Ciotach Macdonald (Alastair Mac Coll Ciotach) left a garrison of some 500 men in Dunavertie Castle in Kintyre, which was besieged by the Covenanters under David Leslie, afterwards Lord Newark. According to Sir James Turner, who was Leslie's Adjutant-General, "after some fighting inexorable thirst made them desire a parley. I was ordered to speak with them. Neither could the Lieutenant-General be moved to grant any other conditions then that they should yeeld on discretion or mercy ; and it seemed strange to me to heare the Lieutenant-General's nice distinction that they sould yield themselves to the kingdomes mercy and not to his. At length they did so, and after they were comd out of the Castle they were put to the sword everie mothers sonne except one young man Mackoull, whose life I begd to be sent to France with a hundredth countrey fellows whom we had smoked out of a cave as they doe foxes, who were given to Captain Campbell, the Chancellors brother.' [3]

There is controversy as to the circumstances. In Bishop Guthry's Memoirs, p. 24.3, it is distinctly said that the garrison had been promised quarter, "But having surrendered their arms the Marquis [of Argyll] and a bloody preacher, Mr. John Nevoy, prevailed with him to break his word, and so the army was let loose upon them and killed them all without mercy, whereat David Lesley seemed to have some inward check. For while the Marquis and he with Mr. Nevoy were walking over the ancles in blood he turned about and said, Now, Mr. John, have you not once gotten your fill of blood?"

In the appendix to his memoirs,[4] Turner, who had seen the Bishop's MS., and seems to have felt that his own honour was involved, contradicts certain of its statements. In particular he denies that there was a promise of quarter, and that Leslie, Argyll, and Nevoy walked over the ankles in blood. An ingenious argument with regard to this latter point is also submitted in his,[5] by the Rev. Dr. Willcock, who says (p. 204, note): 'As a mere matter of fact there was probably but little blood on the ground if the local tradition be correct that most of the prisoners were killed by being thrown over the cliffs into the sea.'

Be this as it may, two questions still remain. Was quarter promised? and, Who was responsible for the butchery?

Even if it be true that Leslie attempted to salve such conscience as he had by the ' nice distinction ' which surprised Turner, it is extremely probable that his victims were misled by his quibbling. For otherwise it is unlikely that they would have surrendered. And the fact that they were induced to believe that quarter had been promised seems established by the decree in an action raised after the Restoration against Argyll, Ardkinglass, and others said to have been concerned in the massacre, at the instance of Sir John Fletcher, the King's Advocate, John M'Dougall of Donnollie, Alane M'Dougall of Rarae, Dougall M'Dougall of Donnach, and John M'Dougall of Dagnish. After narrating that Sir James Lamont had been commissioned to raise troops in the King's service the decree proceeds:

'The said John M'Dougall of Donnollie and the deceast Alexander M'Dougall, his father, having risen in arms with all their followers to the number of 500 men of their friends kindred and tennents and joyned themselves to the said Sir James Lamont during the war in the said years, and being still in his Majesty's most royal father his service were invaded by the said Defenders and particularlie be the said deceast Archibald Campbell, late Marquess of Argyll, and David Leslie and these in armes with them, and pursued to the fort of Dunavertie in Kintyre, which not being able to hold out there being ane message sent into these within the fort that if they did not come forth again ten hours the next day they should not have quarters, and if they came out they should have quarters. And the said Johne M'dougall being within the fort with his friends, who having punctually as wes desired at the verie hour of the day com forth and rendered themselves they wer all be the instigation of the deceast Archibald Campbell, late Marquess of Argyll, to the number of fyve hundredth men, officers and souldiers, cruellie and inhumanelie butchered in cold blood (The said John M'Dougall being then a child and in nonage wes only spared).'

From this decree it is clear that at that time it was believed that quarter had been promised, and the minutely detailed statement of the circumstances seems to show that belief to have been well founded, and this will be confirmed a little later when Leslie's record has been considered. Turning for the moment to the next question—who was responsible for this butchery? Bishop Guthry alleges that Argyll was responsible, and so also does the decree above quoted. In view of the wholesale murder of the Lamonts by the Campbells in June 1646, it is easy to believe that Argyll, whose own people had suffered so much at the hands of Alastair Macdonald, may have been pleased with the killing of the prisoners, and may even have done his best to bring it about. And his instigation of the massacre was actually one of the charges brought against him, not only in the action already referred to, but also in his trial for treason. But Turner, who was a witness in that trial, after saying that there was no evidence against him, goes on to give his account of what really happened:

' Mr. John Nave (who was appointed by the Commission of the Kirke to waite on him (Leslie) as his chaplaine) never ceased to tempt him to that bloodshed, yea and threatened him with the curses befell Saul for spareing the Amalekites, for with them his theologie taught him to compare the Dunavertie men.' And in the Appendix, p. 240, he is even more emphatic : 'It is true'.[6]

The traditional account of this bloodshed and devastation is given in Adventures in Legend, by the Marquis of Lorne, K.T. .[7]

David Leslie hath confessed it afterwards to severalls and to myselfe in particular oftener than once that he had spared them all if that Nevoy put on by Argile had not both by preachings and imprecations instead of prayers led him to commit that butcherie '.[8] Even Leslie, it thus appears, though insinuating that Argyll had stirred up Nevoy, does not venture to say that he ever tried to influence him directly in the matter. It is plain that Turner, as a soldier of fortune, is chiefly anxious to clear Leslie from the charge of having broken his promise of quarter, and his testimony must he taken into consideration. Unfortunately, however, for Leslie such treachery is entirely consistent with his previous record. After Philiphaugh, according to Dr. S. R. Gardiner, there 'ensued a butchery more horrible than any that had followed upon any of Montrose's victories. The wild clansmen of the north had contented themselves with taking vengeance upon men.

The trained and disciplined soldiers of the Covenant slaughtered with hideous barbarity not only the male camp followers but 300 Irishwomen, the wives of these slain or captured enemies, together with their infant children.

To the Scotchman every Irish man or woman was but a noxious beast. It soon repented the conquerors that they had spared the lives of fifty soldiers. The churchmen and the noblemen remonstrated warmly against the act of clemency. Quarter, it was said, by a vile equivocation, had been granted to Stuart alone and not to his men. As the triumphant army passed through Linlithgow, Leslie weakly gave way and stained his honour by abandoning his prisoners. The soldiers were bidden to fall on, and they did as they were bidden'.[9] This statement, it is right to say, has been criticised adversely by the Rev. Professor Mitchell in his introduction to vol. i. of the Records of the Commission of the General Assembly.[10] After preparing the way by quoting (p. xvi.) from Hill Burton some abuse of Celts generally, supplemented by some observations of his own, he cites a statement by Wharton that Sir James Hacket had told him that the Covenanting forces at Philiphaugh ' Killed and took prisoners twelve hundred of their foot, and had put all the Irish to the sword.' Therefore, he argues, 'Leslie could not have bid his soldiers fall on them at Linlithgow, for the very plain reason that they had done so at Philiphaugh.' Unfortunately for this very plain reason Professor Mitchell has failed to remember that, under date Tuesday, 23 December 1645, Balfour records the following resolution of Parliament. 'The housse ordanes the Irische prissoners taken at and after Philiphaughe in all the prissons of Selkirke, Jedburghe, Glasgow, Dumbartane, and Perth, to be execut without anev assyse or processe conforme to the trettey betwix both Kingdomes, past in acte '.[11]

Further light is also thrown on Leslie's character by a significant admission by Turner himself. After the fall of Dunavertie, Turner tells how the Covenanters attacked Dunyveg in Isla, where old Coll Ciotach was in command. And this is what he says occurred: 'Before we were masters of Dunneveg the old man Coll, coming fulishlie out of the house where he was Governour on some parole or other to speak with his old friend the Captaine of Dunstaffnage Castle, was surprised and made prisoner not without some staine to the Lieutenant-Generall' s honour.' So much then for any arguments based on the character of David Leslie as a man of honour.

But while Leslie must ever bear the shame of his cowardly weakness and his broken word, the true bloodguiltiness rests on the Reverend John Nevoy and on the Kirk whose official representative he was. A nephew of the Reverend Andrew Cant, and referred to with much appreciation in the Letters of Samuel Rutherford, Nevoy has most properly been held up to continuous execration. But though more notorious it does not follow that he was in reality worse than many of his neighbours, most of whom are fortunate in this, that their individual activities are not so clearly identified.

Some exceptions, indeed, there are, such as the Reverend Colin Maclachlan, who took a leading part in the butchery of the Lamonts, and the Reverend David Dickson, whose ghoulish epinicion, ' the work goes bonnily on,' passed into a proverb.

It must be remembered, too, that Nevoy was no obscure fanatic, but, like Dickson, one of the leaders of the Kirk (vide Professor Mitchell's General Assembly Commission Records, passim), and had been specially appointed by the Kirk to the Army At that time practically under the domination of Johnston of Wariston. In his Introduction to vol. ii. of the General Assembly Commission Kecotds, Professor Mitchell writes with approval even of Neil Macleod of Assynt, and takes the trouble to state an excuse for his betrayal of Montrose, which Macleod himself had too much sense to put forward, and is contradicted by the defence he actually made!.[12] There is one exception. He is honoured with a notice in the Dictionary of National Biography, in which Dunavertie is not even mentioned.[13]

That it was to such exotic theories, and not to any innate savagery of the Scottish nature, that the atrocities of the Covenanters were due seems plain from what occurred at the Restoration. In spite of all that had happened only three of the Covenanting leaders were executed. The Reverend James Guthrie,4 who had behaved with intolerable insolence in his prosperity, was hanged. Argyll, who would, probably, have been left alone if he had stayed quietly indicted for treason, pleaded that they had surrendered on promise of quarter. From this, one instructive sentence may be quoted. ' If this defence of quarters be susteaned then the whole nation expeciallie the estates of Parliament does violat the oathe of ye Covenant and the oalhe of the Parliament anent the prosequuting and censuring of malignants opposers of the Covenant' [14]). It was thus a sin to give quarter, and if quarter had been promised it was sinful to keep that promise.

Attempts have been made to extenuate the Dunavertie massacre by representing that the victims were mere Irish savages, and that it was the custom of the Covenanters and their English allies to treat them as noxious vermin. These apologies, however, are slightly irrelevant. For whatever may have been the merits or demerits of the Irish race, and whatever may have been the practice of Nevoy and his colleagues, the victims contained in the list that follows were not Irish—but Scots. And the Duke of Argyll, to whose unequalled knowledge of such matters the Editor is so often indebted, has kindly dealt with their identity and with other points in the notes.

Names of some of the men murdered at Dunaverty in Kintyre

This is a list of names of some of the men murdered at Dunaverty in Kintyre, and several others not to be remembered of in 1646 or 1647[15]

Column 1
Duncane M'Dougall brother to the Laird of M'Dougall Allane M'Dougall his brother Alister M'Dougall cousin germaine to the said Laird
Alister M'Dougall cousin germaine to the said Laird Iain M'Dougall his brother Sorlle M'Dougall brother to Iain
Iain M'Dougall nephew to the Laird of Raray Dougall M'Dougall of Ardmoir Iain M'Dougall of Degnishe
Allane Roy alias M'Dougall Sorlle M'conochie alias M'Dougall Allane M'ein Vc coll alias M'Dougall
Alexander son to Hew M'Dougall Allane M'Sorlle alias M'Dougall Allane M'allane dui alias M'Dougall
Alexander M'ewne alias M'Dougall Sorlle roy alias M'Dougall Dougall M'Ewine Vc Ewine alias M'Dougall
Iain M'eine Vc ewine alias M'Dougall Dougall M'Ewine oig alias M'Dougall Alexander M'Ewine oig alias M'Dougall
Dougall Ewine Vc ein alias M'Dougall Angus M'Ewine Vc ein alias M'Dougall Sorll M'ewin vc ein alias M'Dougall.
Sorll M'Sorll alias M'Dougall Dougall M'duill vc ewin alias M'Dougall Iain M'allane vc Conochie alias M'Dougall
Dougall M'Dougall vc ewin alias M'Dougall Dougall M'Ewine vc eun vc ewin alias M'Dougall Iain M'eun vc ewin alias M'Dougall
Iain M'alister vc ewin alias M'Dougall Allane M'alister vc ewine alias M'Dougall Dougall M'ein dui alias M'Dougall
Duncane M'ein dui alias M'Dougall Iain M'ein dui alias M'Dougall Duncan M'conochie oig alias M'Dougall
Dougall M'Ranald alias M'Dougall Iain M'doull vc allane alias M'Dougall Alister M'ewin vc duill alias M'Dougall
Alister M'ewin vc alister alias M'Dougall Alexander M'ewine vc alister alias M'Dougall Tain M'coll vc ewine alias M'Dougall
Dougall M'Sorll vc conochie alias M'Dougall Dougall M'Sorll alias M'Dougall Dougall M'conochie vc duill alias M'Dougall
Dougall M'dougall vc ilveoill alias M'Dougall Sorll M'Dougall his brother Iain M'Dougall his brother
Lachlan M'ilvcoll alias M'Dougall Coll M'Dougall vc Coll alias M'Dougall
Column 2
Iain M'ein vc ein dui alias M'onlea Dunsla M'ein vc onlea Iain M'onlea his brother
Gilchrist M'ilchoan Duncane M'culloch Iain M'murardich
Donald M'callum Donald M'conochie vc William Callum M'callum
Fergus M'callum Gilpatrick M'Keoick Iain M'Keoick his brother
Donald M'ilchoen Iain M'ilchoen Iain M'Keith
Donald M'Keith his brother Murdoch roy M'Murrich Iain M'duill vc Kemlach
Iain M'phatrick Donald M'illchonnell Archibald M'illchonnell his brother
Iain M'Callum vc Raldounoch Iain M'cluglashe Iain M'Innes vc conochie roy alias murrich
Finlay M'Glassane Iain M'Glassane his son Fergus M'Glassane
Ewne M'Glassane Iain M'Glassane Lauchlane M'Glassane
Iain M'Vrion Donald M'Vrion Iain M'Malcallum alias M'ntyr
Donald M'conochie vc noill alias M'onlea Iain M'Gillespick M'Intyre Iain M'conachie M'Keith
Iain M'Mertine Donald M'Gibboun Iain M'Kearrick
Iain M'donochie vc Kenouch alias M'Innes Ewin M'conochie vc William

Comments on List from Argyll[16]

' The first column undoubtedly represents the blood relations of the Old House of Lorne sprung from the Race of Dougall, son of Somerled. It adds valuable details to the Pedigree of the Clan '

' Of the surnames appearing in the second column the M'onleas were originally M'Dunleas ; the D disappears through euphonistic elision in Gaelic. Although Niall 10th Duke of Argyll, thought it quite possible that their eponymic ancestor was Dunsleve, the son of Aedh Alain,[17] the O'Neill Prince evidence now leads to the conclusion that they are descendents of the Ruaidhri Mac Duinnsleibhe, the last king of Ulidia.[18]'

' The M'ilchomghains, or M'llchoen as they here are called, were an ancient race of untraced origin ; the name means Son of the Servant of St. Comgan, and they have now in the Highlands anglicised their name to the form Cowan. Three generations of them are commemorated on the Market Cross of Inveraray, which must have been brought from somewhere in Lorne, or wherever this race were really natives of, as I have not found signs of them about Inveraray itself. On the Cross they are called M'Eichgyllichomghan.[19]'

Testificate by Sir James Turner in favour of Colein M'Eacharne (Colin MacEacharn) 4 July 1662[20]

This curious document was executed in duplicate, and the original in the Argyll charter chest from which it is printed is endorsed ' Dowble of the testificat Sr James Turner in favours of Coline M'Eacharne 1662.'

It will be noticed that the name of Angus M'Eacharin does not appear in the list in the preceding pages.

The Marquess of Argyll had been forfeited in l66l, and his son, the ninth Earl, was not restored until 1663. Turner's declaration was therefore taken during the forfeiture, probably to secure for the MacEacharne family the writs that had been entrusted to the Marquess for safe keeping. Incidentally, and therefore most effectively, it negatives any suggestion that the butchery may have been done in hot blood immediately on the surrender ; and it also shows that Argyll was regarded as a friend at least by Angus M'Eacharin. It therefore seems fully to support the views already expressed as to the guilt of Leslie and the Reverend John Nevoy.

That the lands of Angus M'Eacharin had already been restored to his eldest son appears from the deed mentioned in the note below.

'I Sir James Tumor Knight Be thir pfitis Testifies and declaires That in the yeir of God jmvjc fourtie sevin I being generall agitant to Sir David Leslies forces in the north west Hielands of Scotland And speciallie at the intaking of the hous of Duavarty Ther wes ane gentleman within the said hous named Angus M'Eacharin of Killelan x wha wes taken prissoner and thereafter killed Quha beffor his being laid hold on He presentlie at the randering of the said hous did delyver to me within the samyne ane Litell reid box full of writtis and evidentis belonging to himselff Quhilk he did earnestlie requeist me to delyver to the laitt Marques of Arguyll for to be preservit for himself and his children's use in regaird he wes at that tyme uncertane whidder he sould be killed or sent over seas Quhilks writtis I resaved of his hand and did accordinglie delyver to the said Lait Marques to be preservit for the use of the said Angus and his childreines According to the said Angus his earnest requeist and desyre.

Subscryvit with my hand at Edinburgh the 4 July 1662. Beffor thir witnesses. Niniane Nicoll wrytter in Edr. wrytter heir of & Robert Harra.ll my Serviter Sic Subscribitur, Ja Turner Niniane Nicoll witnes Robert Harall witnes

Comments from Argyll on Testificate of Sir Turner[21]

'A very ancient family at this place. To a priest of this race the Campbeltown High Cross was erected'[22]

'I always thought we had restored them to their old lands, and this disposition found today [19-8-15] proves it. I think some of the family are still tenants in Kintyre. They were there all through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.—A.'

Editors Note: There are many ways to spell the name MacEacharn. These are MacEacharn, MacEachern, MacEacharin, Macharn (as Colin signed his name), MacEchern, MacEacharne to list just a few. Colin MacEacharn was Chief of the MacEacharns.

Executions of Clan and Family Chiefs at Machribeg

Angus MacEacharn Chief of Clan MacEacharn, Donald M'Odhrayhain of Pennnygown an officer in Montrose's Army and Archibald Mor MacDonald of Sanda Chief of the MacDonalds of Sanda and his son Archibald Og were executed for their part in the battle.

"Archibald Mor, as Sanda was called, and his son Archibald Og, and Domhunal Docrach (Donald M'Odhrayhain), the three officers left at Dunaverty by MacCholla, who had been in every species of danger under Montrose, asked for weapons at the time they surrendered, and for time to go about their devotional exercises, and were told thereupon to go upon their knees, and were shot before they had finished their prayer".


  1. Bryne (1997), pp177-178.
  2. Highland Papers Vol 2 Publications of the Scottish History Society March 1916
  3. Sir James Turner's Memoirs, p. 46
  4. Sir James Turner's Memoirs, p. 237
  5. Life of the Marquess of Argyll
  6. Act. Pari. Scot., vol. vii. p. 337
  7. Cobbett's State Trials, vol. v. col. 1409
  8. Turner's Memoirs, p. 46
  9. History of the Great Civil War, ii. p. 337
  10. Scot. Hist. Soc, First Series, vol. xi.
  11. Annales of Scotland, vol. iii. p. 341
  12. Scot. Hist. Soc, First Series, vol. xxv. p. xxv.
  13. Bishop Guthry's Memoirs, p. 208. vol. i. pp. 205, 272
  14. Act.Pari. Scot., vol. vi. pt. i. p. 509
  15. Highland Papers Vol 2 Publications of the Scottish History Society March 1916 p255
  16. Highland Papers Vol 2 Publications of the Scottish History Society March 1916
  17. The Celtic Review 15 January 1910 pp190-192
  18. Dunshleibe Ua Eochadha
  20. Highland Papers Vol 2 Publications of the Scottish History Society March 1916
  21. Highland Papers Vol 2 Publications of the Scottish History Society March 1916

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