Clann Ruaidhrí

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Clann Ruaidhrí was a leading mediaeval kindred in the Hebrides and western seaboard of Scotland. The eponymous ancestor of the family was Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill, a leading member of Clann Somhairle in the thirteenth century. Members of Clann Ruaidhrí were a factor in both the histories of the Kingdom of the Isles and the Kingdom of Scotland in the thirteenth- and fourteenth centuries. In the early thirteenth century, the family appears to have held power in Kintyre. By the fourteenth century the family controlled an extensive provincial lordship stretching along north-western Scottish coast and into the Hebrides. Whilst a leading force in the Kingdom of the Isles, the family fiercely opposed Scottish authority. With the collapse of Norwegian hegemony in the region, the family nimbly integrated itself into the Kingdom of Scotland.

Members of Clann Ruaidhrí distinguished themselves in the First War of Scottish Independence, opposing adherents of both the English and Scottish crowns. Like other branches of Clann Somhairle, Clann Ruaidhrí was a noted exporter of gallowglass warriors into Ireland. The mid fourteenth century saw the diminishment of the family in both Scotland and Ireland. The last Irish gallowglass captain appears on record in 1342, whilst the last great chief of the family was assassinated in 1346. Following the latter's death, the Clann Ruaidhrí lordship passed into the possession of the chief of Clann Domhnaill, a distant Clann Somhairle kinsman, and thereby formed a significant part of the Lordship of the Isles. There is reason to suspect that the lines of the family may have continued on, albeit in a much diminished capacity, with one apparent member holding power as late as the early fifteenth century.

Clann Somhairle

Kingdom of the Isles

The eponymous ancestor of Clann Ruaidhrí was Ruaidhrí mac Raghnaill, Lord of Argyll (died 1247), a paternal grandson of Somhairle mac Giolla Brighde, King of the Isles (died 1164). Ruaidhrí appears to have been an elder brother Domhnall, eponym of the Clann Domhnaill branch of Clann Somhairle. In the early thirteenth century, Ruaidhrí seems to have been the leading member of Clann Somhairle, and appears to have oversaw a marital alliance with leading members of the Crovan dynasty that temporarily reformed the Kingdom of the Isles under Rǫgnvaldr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles. The threat of this rejuvenated realm may have been one of the factors that led to Ruaidhrí's apparent expulsion from Kintyre by Alexander II, King of Scotland in the 1220s.

There is reason to suspect that Ruaidhrí was the unnamed Clann Somhairle dynast who was recorded slain in 1247, battling the English in Ireland. Immediately afterwards the kindred was represented by Ruaidhrí's son, Dubhghall (died 1268). Under the later, the family certainly involved itself against the English in Ireland through a marital alliance with the Uí Conchobhair of Connacht. During his career, Dubhghall competed with Eóghan Mac Dubhghaill, chief of the Clann Dubhghaill branch of Clann Somhairle, for the Clann Somhairle stake in the kingship of the Isles. As Eóghan eventually gave way to Scottish aggression, Dubhghall successfully resisted the Scots, and was recognised as King of the Isles by Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway. Although Dubhghall steadfastly supported Norwegian sovereignty in the Isles, all came to naught when the Norwegian Crown was finally forced to transfer possession of the Isles to the Scottish Crown in 1266.

Kingdom of Scotland

Coat of arms of Alasdair Mac Dubhghaill, father-in-law of Lachlann Mac Ruaidhrí, as it appears in the fourteenth-century Balliol Roll.[1][note 1]

Clann Ruaidhrí disappears from the Scottish historical record until 1275, when Dubhghall's younger brother, Ailéan (died ×1296), appears on record as a leading magnate in the ever-consolidating Scottish realm.[4] Both Ailéan's participation in the suppression of a Manx revolt in 1275, and an important parliamentary council concerning the royal inheritance in 1284, demonstrate the extent of the integration of Clann Somhairle into the Scottish realm.

Ailéan seems died at some point before 1296.[5] That year, Edward I, King of England invaded and conquered Scotland. Ailéan illegitimate sons, Lachlann (fl. 1297–1307/1308) and Ruaidhrí (died 1318?) appear at about this time aligning themselves with Alasdair Mac Dubhghaill, chief of Clann Dubhghaill, against Alasdair Óg Mac Domhnaill, chief of Clann Domhnaill, a family which then had the support of the English Crown. Another Scottish magnate who enjoyed English support was William II, Earl of Ross, a man who appears to have struggled against Clann Ruaidhrí for control of Uist, Skye, and Kintail. At about the turn of the thirteenth century, Lachlann aligned himself against the Guardians of Scotland. In 1307, after Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick made himself King of Scotland, Ailéan's legitimate daughter, Cairistíona (fl. 1290–1318), appears to have played a crucial part in the survival of this embattled king when he was forced to flee from English power into the Hebrides.

Clann Ruaidhrí territories (red) consumed by Clann Domhnaill following the assassination of Raghnall Mac Ruaidhrí in 1346.

Lachlann disappears from record in the second decade of the century,[6] and appears to have been succeeded by his brother, Ruaidhrí, another illegitimate son of Ailéan.[7] It seems that Ruaidhrí not only secured his own succession through his recorded submission to the reigning Robert I, but also his family's hold over its ancestral lands,[8] as Cairistíona—a woman married into the comital family of Mar, a kindred closely related to the king himself—was well connected and clearly possessed a strong claim to the family's lordship.[9] In fact, Cairistíona's relationship with the king likely accounts for her steadfast support of him; and it appears that Clann Ruaidhrí reached the height of its power under the Bruce regime.[10] Although Ruaidhrí ensured the continuation of his line,[8] he appears to have been the unnamed Clann Ruaidhrí dynast who was slain in Ireland, whilst in the service of the Scottish Crown during the Bruce campaign in 1318.[11]

Although Cairistíona may have attempted to gain control of the family's territories after Ruaidhrí's fall, it appears that the latter's son, Raghnall (died 1346), succeeded as chief. Under Raghnall's leadership, the family appears to have continued its feud with the Rosses, and succeeded in wresting control of Kintail away from William III, Earl of Ross. The ongoing feud between these families appears to have led directly led to Raghnall's death in 1346, when the earl had the latter assassinated at a royal muster on the eve of an invasion of England. Following Raghnall's death, the Clann Ruaidhrí territories passed into possession of Clann Domhnaill through Raghnaill's sister, 'Amie', who was the wife of the chief of Clann Domhnaill, Eóin Mac Domhnaill, Lord of the Isles. Although, Amie appears to have either died or been divorced by her husband by 1350—when the latter married Margaret, daughter of Robert Stewart, Steward of Scotland (died 1390)—the former Clann Ruaidhrí territories remained a part of Eóin's Lordship of the Isles.

A view down the spine of Glen Tilt, a region that appears to have been granted to a member of Clann Ruaidhrí.

Although severely diminished, there is evidence indicating that Clann Ruaidhrí continued on for several generations. Members of the family were noted gallowglasses in Ireland at about this time. In fact, one such man, the gallowglass commander of Toirdhealbhach Ó Conchobhair, King of Connacht (died 1345) was notably slain in 1342;[12] and there is reason to suspect that a certain Eóghan, granted the thanage of Glen Tilt by Robert at some point before 1346, was an Irish-based brother of Raghnall and Amie,[13] brought back to Scotland to serve the military forces of the expanding Steward.[14][note 2] As in Scotland, it seems that the Clann Ruaidhrí line dwindled and faded away in Ireland in the fourteenth century.[15] Even so, the fact that the family continued into later centuries appears to be evidenced by the fifteenth-century executions of Alasdair Mac Ruaidhrí (died 1428) and Eóin Mac Artair (died 1428), chieftains said to have commanded one thousand men apiece.[17] About a century earlier, during the reign of Robert I, Cairistíona attempted to divert the Clann Ruaidhrí inheritance to a certain Artúr Caimbéal.[18] This could indicate that the aforesaid Alasdair Mac Ruaidhrí and Eóin Mac Artair were continuing a feud that stemmed from Cairistíona's contested inheritance and her connections with the Caimbéalaigh.[19]


  1. The coat of arms is blazoned: or, a galley sable with dragon heads at prow and stern and flag flying gules, charged on the hull with four portholes argent.[2] Since the galley was a symbol of Clann Dubhghaill and seemingly Raghnall mac Somhairle (died 1191/1192–c. 1210/1227)—ancestor of Clann Ruaidhrí and Clann Domhnaill—it is conceivable that it was also a symbol of the eponymous ancestor of Clann Somhairle, Somhairle mac Giolla Brighde (died 1164).[3]
  2. The record documenting the gallowglass slain in 1342 is the last notice of Clann Ruaidhrí gallowglasses in Ireland.[15] The slain man may well be identical to the "Gregorius McRyry" who appears on record in 1328 as a member of rúta of Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Desmond (died 1356).[16]


  1. Campbell of Airds (2014) p. 204; McAndrew (2006) p. 66; McAndrew (1992) p. 693; The Balliol Roll (n.d.).
  2. McAndrew (2006) p. 66; The Balliol Roll (n.d.).
  3. Campbell of Airds (2014) p. 202.
  4. McDonald (2004) pp. 181, 183–184; McDonald (1997) pp. 130–131.
  5. McDonald (1997) p. 189; Barrow (1973) p. 380.
  6. McDonald (1997) p. 190.
  7. McDonald (1997) p. 191; Barrow (1988) p. 290.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Boardman, S (2006) p. 46; McDonald (2006) p. 79.
  9. Boardman, S (2006) p. 46.
  10. McDonald (2006) p. 79.
  11. Duffy (1991) p. 73 n. 64.
  12. Annals of the Four Masters (2013a) § 1342.2; Annals of the Four Masters (2013b) § 1342.2; McLeod (2005) p. 46; Roberts (1999) p. 8; Boardman, S (1996a) p. 9.
  13. Boardman, SI (2004); Brown, M (2004) p. 333; Roberts (1999) p. 6; Grant (1998) p. 79; Boardman, S (1996a) pp. 9, 26 n. 46; Boardman, S (1996b) pp. 7, 28 n. 31; Atholl (1908) pp. 26–27.
  14. Roberts (1999) p. 10; Boardman, S (1996a) p. 9; Boardman, S (1996b) p. 7.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Nicholls (2007) p. 89.
  16. Nicholls (2007) p. 89; Waters (2004) pp. 240, 301; Lydon (1992) p. 10; Sayles (1966) p. 17.
  17. Boardman, S (2006) p. 126; Boardman, SI (2005) p. 133; Campbell of Airds (2000) pp. 114–116, 226; Brown (1991) pp. 290–291; Watt (1987) p. 261; Hearnius of Airds (1722) pp. 1283–1284.
  18. Boardman, S (2006) pp. 46–47; Boardman, SI (2005) p. 149 n. 4; Fisher (2005) p. 91; Raven (2005) p. 63; Boardman, SI (2004); Campbell of Airds (2000) pp. 71–72; McDonald (1997) pp. 189–190 n. 120; PoMS, H3/0/0 (n.d.); PoMS Transaction Factoid, No. 79436 (n.d.).
  19. Boardman, S (2006) pp. 126, 137 n. 53; Campbell of Airds (2000) pp. 114–116, 176, 226.


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