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James MacGregor, Dean of Lismore and Family

This account of the Dean of Lismore and his family has been taken from Amelia, Vol I, chapter 13.

See the genealogy of the family of the Dean

William Skene in the preface to “The Dean of Lismore’s Book,” a selection of ancient Gaelic poetry :-
“In the latter part of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, there dwelt here, the village of Fortingall, a family of the name of Macgregor. They were descended from a vicar of Fortingall, who, at the time when, during the century preceding the Reformation, the Catholic Church was breaking up, and their benefices passing into the hands of laymen, secured for himself and his descendants the vicarage of Fortingall and a lease of the Church Lands.

“Of the history of this family we know something from an obituary commenced by one of his descendants, and continued to the year 1579, by the Curate of Fortingall (Fothergill) which is still preserved. “His son was Ian Rewych, or John the Grizzled, termed Makgewykar or son of the Vicar. [1]  

“His Grandson was Dubhgall maol, or Dougall the Bald or Tonsured called patronymically Dougall Johnsoun, or the son of John. This Dougall Johnsoun appears in 1511 as a notary public, and dwelt at Tullichmullin, where his wife Katherine, daughter of Donald McClawe, alias Grant, died in 1512. He is twice mentioned in the ‘Obituary or Chronicle of Fortingall’; in 1526, as repairing the cross in Inchadin, or the old Church of Kenmore, situated on the north bank of the river Tay, nearly opposite Taymouth Castle; and in 1529, as placing a stone cross in Larkmonemerkyth, the name of a pass among the hills which leads from Inchadin to the south.

“Of Dougal the Bald, the son of Eoin riabhach, or John the Grizzled, we have no farther mention; but of his family we know of his two sons, James and Duncan. [2]  

“James was a churchman. He appears as a notary-public, an office then held by ecclesiastics, along with his father, in the year 1511, and he early attained to honour and influence, through what channel is unknown; for in 1514, we find him as Dean of Lismore, an island in Argyleshire, lying between the districts of Lorn and Morven, which was at that time the episcopal seat of the Bishops of Argyll. He was besides Vicar of Fortingall and Firmarius or tenant of the church lands; and died possessed of those benefices in the year 1551, and was buried in the choir of the old church of Inchadin.

“In 1557, a year after his death, Gregor Macgregor, son of the deceased Sir James MacGregor, Dean of Lismore, as became the head of a small, but independent sept of the MacGregors, and with a due regard to his safety, bound himself to Colin Campbell of Glenurchy and his heirs, ‘taking him for his chief in place of the Laird of MacGregor,’ and giving him his calp.

“In 1557 Gregor and Dougall MacGregors, natural sons of Sir James Macgregor, receive letters of legitimation; and in 1574 Dougall MacGregor appears as Chancellor of Lismore.

The two brothers James and Duncan were born and reared in the farm house of Tullichmullin, in the vale of Fortingall, and imbued with that love for old Highland story and cherished fondness for Highland song, which manifests itself so much in many a quiet country Highlander, and which the scenery and associations around them were so well calculated to foster - the one from his high position in the Church of Argyll, having peculiar facilities for collecting the poetry current in the West Highlands - the other though his brother, yet as was not uncommon in those days, his servitor or amanuensis, and himself a poet - and both natives of the Perthshire Highlands - collected and transcribed into a commonplace book, Gaelic poetry obtained from all quarters. [3]  

“This collection has fortunately been preserved. It is, unquestionably, a native compilation made in the central Highlands, upwards of three hundred years ago.”


“1564. April 26. at Edinburgh. Edward Reidheugh of Cultibragane became surety for Patrick Duncanson in Glenlednoch Patrik Johnsoun McGregor there and Patrik his brother That thai and ilk ane of thame sall enter thair persones in ward within the Burgh of Perth.

“May 25. at Edinburgh Archibald Naper of Merchainstoun became plege and souertye for the entrie of Neill McGregour Mcinvalycht in Tullichchannane within the lordschip of Dessoyer and Toveir .” [4]   - Record of Justiciary.

From Obituary :-
“1564. 7th Dec : Patrick McAyn VcCouill VcAyn slain by James McGestalcar at Ardewynnek and buried at Inchaddin in the tomb of his Fathers.

“1565. June 11th. Slaughter of Gregor son of the Dean of Lismore alias McGregor and Robert McConil Vcgregor viz in the afternoon of the Penticost and the house was burnt and they slain by James McGestalker with his accomplices and buried in their grave in the Choir of Inchadin (Kenmore). A just God judges hidden things and punishes those who do them in the third and fourth generation.

“1565. July 27. James McGestalcar VcPhatrik and his accomplices were slain by Gregor McGregor of Stronmelocan with his soldiers at Ardowenec. they were wicked and oppressors of the poor and the said malefactors could not be suffered to live upon the earth.

“1565. Item ane gud symmer and harist viz sexte fyv yeris - gret hayrschippis in mony partis of Scotland, in Stratherne, in Lennox in Glenalmond, in Breadalbane bayth slattyr and oppressyon beand mayd in syndry vdr partis be the Erll of Ergill and McGregor and ther complesis. Siclyk in Strathardill mony men slain be the men of Atholl and the Stuartis of Lorn.”



The following is the text of a warrant given by Queen Mary to the avengers of the murder of Gregor, the son of the Dean of Lismore which had occurred on the 2nd June 1565 :-
“1565. June. The Quenis Majestie understanding that Patrick Dounkanesoun, [5]   James McGregor, Malcallum Croy McGregor Pitteny, John Cam McCondoquhy VcGregor in Fortingall, Malcum McGregor in Drumquharrycht, [6]   Patrik Johnsoun Mcgregour in Glenleidnocht (Innerzaldie), [7]   Patrick his breder, John McCondoquhy Mcgregour thair, John duncanson his broder, [8]   and Neil McAne wallicht in Tullyctcannan [9]   ar under soureties actid in the buikis of Secrete Counsell and adwurnale or keping of gude rewle and entering agane in certain wardis as thai salbe requirit as the actis maid thairupoun at lenth beris And now laitlie umquhile Gregour Deneson in Stwix ane peciabill trew man quha witht the personis abune written wes under souerti, is cruellie murtherit be certane rebellis for persequwtioun of quhome nane ar mair mete nor the above namit personis having thair neir kinsman slane, quhilkis dar nocht put on armes and persew the tressonabill murthuraris of the said umqle Gregour be reason of thair souerties standand undischargit. And thairfoir the Quinis Matie ordanis the Justice Clerk and his deputis and the Secretar and his deputis Keparis of the buikis of Secreat Counsale to deleit and put forth all actis furth of the saidis buikis or uther of thame be the quilkis the foirsaidis personis or thair soureties ar in ony wyss restrictit, for his hieness having sa gude experience of thair gude behaviour the tyme, thinkis nocht expedient to retene thame langer under the Band of Caution. Kepand ther presentis for thair warrant signed Marie R.” - Taken from the original in the Books of Adjournal and copied into the “Chartulary.”

This Deed, relieving the relations from their obligation to keep the peace and thus authorising them to pursue the murderers, is very remarkable, and is specially noticed by Mr. Donald Gregory in his “Historical Sketch” [10]   The retribution on the culprits was formally carried out by the acting Chief himself, in the month of July, as recorded on the previous page.

About the same time, however, the following Letter of Fire and Sword was issued against the ClanGregor by the Earl of Argyll :-
“At Dunstafnis the 16. day of June 1565. my Lorde Erle of Ergyle with awyis (advice) of his kin, and friends present for the tyme, commandis that all and sindrie his subjects, barrones, gentillmen, and tennentis, within his boundais, in cais the Clangregour now being the Quenis rebellis and enemies to the hous of Glenurquhay resort to thair boundis Sall with any woce concur togidder and rais the schoutt agains thame, and persew thaim with bayth sword and fyre to ther destructioun, and givis full commissione to every man within our boundis to tak and apprehend the said Clangregour quhairever they may be gotten, and the takeris to have their escheit to their awin behuif, certifeing quhaevir contravenis this act or favouris or concelis the said Clangregour in ony sort that we sall persew thaim be extremite of law according to our former act maid theranent.

“And in cais the said Clangregour gett ony refuge or fortificatioune of ony utheris our nychtbouris or cuntremen ewis us, we promise to tak plane pert with the said Lard of Glenurquhay in persute of thame and their fortifearis according to equitie with our haill force and poeer.”

Glenurquhay, in the ground of great abuses committed by him in the face of his Bond, was later deprived of his commission to search out the Resetters of the ClanGregor.

Henry and Mary: - Discharge of Glunurchy's Commission.
“1565. August 25. The King and Quenis Majesties understanding that thair wes ane commissioun gevin be hir Hienes of befoir to Colene Campbell of Glenurquy, Gevand and committand to him full power to pas serche and seik all manner of personis duelland in quhatsumevir partis or places of this realme quhilkis in ony time sould happin to reset ony rebellis and surname of ClanGregour or thair complices or to furneis thame oppinlie, quietle or be quhatsumevir uther cullour, meit drink cleythis, armour or utheris necessaries and to apprehend and tak thame and send thame to the Justice or his deputtis to underly the law thairfoir as the said commissioun of the dait at Edinburgh the 8. day of Jan. 1563 mair fullelie proportis. Quhilk Commissioun the said Colin hes not onelie alluterlie (utterly) abusit Bot alsua under cullour thairof hes be himself and uther evill personis his complices, in his name of his causing command, assistance and retihabitioun; (confirmation) committit. sensyne diverss and sindrie sorningis, oppressionis, heirschippis, spulzies, yea and crewall slachteris upoun diverss oure saidis soveranis liegis not being rebellis, and thair throw the said commissioun is worthie to be dischargeit and annullit. Quhairfoir oure saidis Soveranis be thir presentis casses (breks, make void ) annullis and dischargeis the said commission and all points thereof and discernis the samyn to expyre and have no forder strenth in tyme cuming for the causes foirsaid; and ordainis letteris to be direct heirupoun to mak publicatioun heirof in forme as efferis, sua that nane of thair graces liegis pretend ignorance herein.” - Record of Secret Council, Acta, quoted in “Chartulary.”






[1] 1542, Dec. Death of Katherine Neyn Ayn Neill, wife of Ian Rewych Makgewykar, in Achlie (Auchline).

[2] Duncan MacCowie voil vic Eoyne Rewych.

[3] Such of these poems as relate to MacGregors are given in Chapter VII.

[4] Discher or Deasaidh and Toir or Tuagh - side facing Leven and side facing north respectively, of Loch Tay.

[5] In Glenleidnoch, See 25th April 1564, page 92. volume 1 chapter 9

[6] The place is near Aberfeldy

[7] Also mentioned page 92 volume 1 chapter 9

[8] These sons of Duncan were also in Glenleidnoch

[9] Neil, son of John McInvallycht - but on 25th April 1264 he is styled son of Gregor.

[11] These three sons of Gregor, eldest son of Duncan Laddosach, the last of these being usually known as Patrick Adholach or Auloch i.e., brought up in Atholl as was Duncan in Lochaber.

[12] Glenstray

[13] Descendants of Dougall Ciar.

[14] Duncan, younger son of Duncan Laddosach, who here is shown still in Ardchoill, he seems to have kept the distinctive name of “young” through life.