The Battle of the Shirts – Blàr nan Lèintean

Shirts or Swamp

Maybe 15 July 1544 was an exceptionally hot day. The heat would have been the reason why those men who fought the brutal battle here took their plaids off and continued in their shirts. These half-dressed combatants gave the battle its name: The Battle of the Shirts. Maybe.

Maybe the second theory about how the battle came to its name is closer to the truth. The swamp at the north end of Loch Lochy was called Blar-na Leana (swampy meadow) and the location (misread or misspelled in the years after the battle) gave the battle its name. The picture of half-naked Highlanders fighting a bloody battle on this very ground certainly is the more vivid of the two. I prefer the shirt interpretation for the images it creates in my mind. The truth is hard to come by after all these years, though.

A Brutal Battle

Archaeologists believe, that a dig in the flat north end of Loch Lochy would produce interesting results, weapons and human remains are expected to be likely finds. Many lost their life in this battle, the water turned red with the blood of the dying highlanders, the sources say. Some of the fighting even took place in the Loch itself.

This was a tribal war, merciless and deadly. Hundreds were killed and a lot of blood was spilled. Right here.

Why was the Blattle of the Shirts fought?

The reason was differences between two Clans and their supporters.

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.                                                                   (Historic Scotland)


Kilfinnan Graveyard

Many of the bodies would have been buried close-by in Kilfinnan graveyard. But since 1544, things have changed. The water level has risen after  the building of the Caledonia Canal and the graveyard was moved to slightly higher ground.

Now, guarded by two ancient Yew trees, there’s the entrance to what is an amazing graveyard. The striking Macdonell (of Glengarry) Mausoleum, dates back to the 19th century, possibly even earlier. This dark, grey, and roofless stone box houses Alasdair Ranaldson Macdonell’s grave who died 1828.

Next to his grave is a pair of late 17th-century grave slabs. These were among the tombstones moved from their original position to the current graveyard after the relocation. The sheep of the neighbouring farm left traces too.

Once, the monument of the Well of Seven Heads Monument (Tobar nan Ceann), stood here as well. It was erected 1812 by Col. Alasdair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry, in commemoration of the Keppoch murders of 1663. It was moved to a new location at the side of the road just after Laggan Lock in the 1930s.

sources and further reading:

Historic Scotland – The Inventory of Historic Battlefields – Battle of Blar na Leine (2012)

Liked the post? There’s more here…

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. These stories have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and everything about Scotland except whisky, sheep and tartan.

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

6 thoughts on “The Battle of the Shirts – Blàr nan Lèintean

Add yours

    1. I assume it isn’t very likely that a public library would stock up at Amazon but you never know. There’s a Kindle version available at Amazon that is a lot cheaper than the paperback. That also includes pictures. All the best, Nellie

  1. Hi Nellie! Yet another wonderful blog. I often thought of learning about this battle and using it on the 50 plus Glencoe & Loch Ness tours I led in 2019, but never got round to it. I can on future such tours! “One for the ladies” is how I will introduce it, simplify the story and make analogies with Jamie Fraser – the famous Outlander character – without his shirt on!!

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