LOUP HILL. 16th MAY 1689
THE FIRST 'BATTLE' OF DUNDEE'S JACOBITE WAR
Dr Paul A. Hopkins
It is not surprising that the fight at Loup Hill is little known to local historians - unmentioned even in McKerral's Kintyre in the Seventeenth Century. In terms of numbers it was a skirmish, of its casualty list, a farce. There is a grave lack of surviving sources: on the Jacobite side, six lines in an account by, or inspired by, the Jacobite leader Sir Alexander Maclean, who was not there; on the Williamite side, one brief dispatch from the cormander, Captain William Young, and records of official preparations for the campaign; otherwise. just fragments. Sources which could have filled in details - the correspondence of Kintyre families or of alarmed Hamilton or Montgomerie chamberlains watching from Arran, for instance - are gone. Greater events elsewhere distracted outsiders. The earliest local map detailed enough to be useful, Roy's Military Survey, is later by sixty years of quiet 'improvements'.(1) Any account must at times rely on deduction of what must have occured - while trying to avoid the all-too-easy slide from imaginative to imaginary reconstruction. Yet the effort is worthwhile; for in the wider strategic context of Dundee's Jacobite rising Loup Hill was more decisive than many a bloody battle through the ages.
In local terms, too, the campaign has its place. as one of several attempts by the non-Campbell clans - McAlisters and other MacDonalds, and MacNeills - to throw off the Campbell yoke, often after Long periods during which their chiefs and gentry had collaborated in local government without overt protest. The most notorious of these risings, in support of the 1645-7 attempt by Montrose's MacDonald ally Alasdair MacColla to reconquer the peninsula, brought a fearful retaliation. In May 1647, the Covenanting general David Leslie made one of his lightning marches, from Inveraray south into Kintyre over the Knapdale passes, which Alasdair had left insufficiently guarded, partly, apparently, from an assumption that the real danger was landing from the sea, partly from preoccupation with a planned withdrawal, partly from drink. Some of his forces, belatedly hurrying up to hold the North Kintyre hills, were cut down at Rhunahaorine Point. He and his followers fled to Islay and Ireland; his remaining Argyllshire allies were besieged in Dunaverty Casatle and massacred after surrender, from which some smaller clans never entirely recovered.(2)
Nevertheless, a further period of peaceful co-operation might again leave the Campbells in the dark as to which side other clans might support in a crisis. The 9th Earl of Argyll, landing in Kintyre during his rebellion in May 1685, wrote to the McAlister 'chief', Alexander McAlister of Loup, the son of a friend, not only urging him to rise against Popery but relying on him to transmit the summons to other named gentry: instead, he sent it to the Privy Council.(3) One or two heritors from these clans did join Argyll - for instance, Donald MacNeill of Crear, who saved himself by turning King's evidence later - but most of them came out against him, though not in the most effective way: they retired with badly-needed armed men into the castles, Tarbert, Skipness and Saddell, emerging, after Argyll had marched away, to plunder supposed rebels. (4) Nevertheless, they had denied him the chance of garrisoning them and dangerously prolonging the rising. For fear that future rebels might succeed in this, the regime demolished the great royal fortress at Tarbert and other Kintyre castles: old Walter Campbell of Skipness only saved his, as the family home, by abject pleading.(5) The measure would rebound upon the Stuart cause.
One local figure particularly vigorous both in opposing the rebellion and in plundering was Donald MacNeill of Gallchoille (a place spelt very diversely) in South Knapdale, of whose family little is now known, Yet In 1673 John NacNeill of Taynish, head of the Kintyre MacNeills, whose daughter he married, evidently had Argyll as superior grant him a charter for Taynish, Gigha and the other family lands, a transfer which would carry any 'chieftainship' with it: presumably Taynish's own son Neill was only born later. In May 1686, James VII issued a warrant for a charter to Donald of the barony of Gigha once held of Argyll; and he signed a 1688 loyal address as 'of Taynish'. He also apparently owned lands in Otter parish, Cowal, where a new neighbour on a forfeited Campbell estate was Alexander Maclean, Commissary of Argyll and son of its bishop, an ambitious and determined young man. It would go far to explain their close co-operation could it be established, as some scholars have argued, that the Kintyre McNeills were really a branch of the Macleans; but others equally firmly deny it. A more certain bond between them was determination to oppose the Argyll family's restoration and its certain consequences - renewed vassalage for Gallchoille, Loss of Otter for Alexander, and the ruin of the Macleans through the confiscation of their chief's lands, from which the 9th Earl's fall had saved them in the nick of time.(6)
When William of Orange's invasion threatened such a restoration, a large number of likely sufferers by it signed a loyal address on 6 November 1688 while in arms to defend Argyllshire - Macleans, members of mid-Argyll chiefs' families, and from Kintyre Alexander McAlister of 'Tarbat-Loup', the brother of Archibald of Tarbert, the second most important McAlister laird, Gallchoille and the teenage Archibald MacDonald of Largie, one of Kintyre's few Catholics.(7) Yet, when the collapse of James's Edinburgh government in December produced the unrecorded overthrow of his Argyllshire regime and the Campbells' resurgence, there were not such thorough purges of loyalists as in other parts of the shire the revolutionary Convention of Estates in early 1689 named Loup and Largie among the commissioners of supply. When in late April a captured French ship reached Kintyre, Loup dutifully joined Angus Campbell of Kilberry in seizing and guarding her, reporting to the 10th Earl of Argyll.(8) Secretly, though, he and other non-Campbell lairds desperately desired to keep their independence. They had cause for hope when, in March, the exiled James reached Ireland, where there was a huge Catholic army, part of which was routing the Protestants in Ulster and rapidly overrunning that province. However, the Convention responded to the news by ordering the raising of its own army. Argyll was to recruit one regiment, 600 strong, in Argyllshire. On 29 April, Sir Hugh Campbell of Calder was authorised to raise a further 600 men in Islay and Jura for Local defence; and Lieutenant-Colonel Cleland was ordered, once the new 'Cameronian' regiment raising in the South-West was mustered, to march it to Argyllshire and station 400 men in Kintyre. Two frigates had been hired to cruise, guarding the passage between Ulster and Scotland, Unless the opportunity were seized quickly, it would vanish.(9)
It was seized by Alexander Maclean. Sent to Ireland to seek help for his clan, he found there James with his own young chief Sir John Maclean, fresh from France, and Sir Donald MacDonald younger of Sleat, the very last Highland Crusader, fresh from fighting Turks in Hungary. Alexander's good news that the West Highland clans were preparing to rise for James (exaggerating their armed strength, but not so much as to provoke incredulity) earned him a knighthood. He urged the need to send Irish regular troops to help them, so persuasively that the French ambassador. normally the mainstay of the 'Ireland first' Lobby, himself suggested the compromise that three good regiments should cross as a first contingent. And, the greatest proof of his persuasiveness, he obtained a commission for himself, neither a chief nor a professional soldier, to command a gigantic 900-man regiment, far above the number any single chief could bring out, to be composed of all the Argyllshire small clans from the Kintyre ones in the south northwards to, and including, the Stewarts of Appin; few, if any, of their chiefs could have given him prior approval. The two successes were perhaps connected. Kintyre was the key if James wished to have a sure means of reinforcing the clans and viscount Dundee. If it were in friendly hands, a shuttle-service of small boats could easily carry troops across from Ulster, running ashore quickly if danger appeared. The troops could then march up through Argyllshire, dispersing any Campbell opposition. Otherwise, they would have to make a far longer sea journey, to Mull or Loch Linnhe, requiring larger vessels, good administration to assemble them, and escorts or luck to protect them against English or Scottish warships - all in short supply or entirely lacking. He may have argued that his authority was necessary to make the fragmented clans co-operate effectively to seize and hold the peninsula. These would also be a necessary native veneer to prevent potential supporters from taking fright at the Irish as alien Papists.(10)
Almost at once, things went wrong. James's inept appearance before Londonderry frightened the hesitating citizens into holding out; the regiments for the expeditionary force were quickly sucked into the great siege.(11) Nevertheless, the Highlanders pressed ahead, seizing an opportunity while the Scottish frigates were further along the Irish coast. On 2 May, Sir Donald MacDonald with a small party landed on the island of Cara. That night and the next, the beacons blazed there and on the Mull of Kintyre to guide boats and vessels across. Sir John and Sir Alexander Maclean reached Cara about 6 May, with two Irish companies the latter had already raised for his regiment. Local gentry rose to support them - McAlister of Loup, McAlister of Tarbert, MacNeills of Gallchoille, young MacDonald of Largie and his uncle and Tutor. The Stewarts on the nearby island of Bute might be willing to do likewise if their head, Sir John Stewart Sheriff of Bute took the lead; he was at Edinburgh for the Convention, though avoiding attendance: a messenger was sent to persuade him.(12)
Sir John Maclean was naturally anxious to reach Mull and raise his own clan as a regiment; and he probably heard now that Dundee had appointed a general rendezvous of the clans for 18 May in Lochaber. Sir Alexander, with his Irish companies, went with him, having appointed Gallchoille his lieutenant-colonel to command in Kintyre in his absence. He also may have been responding to Dundee's summons, believing that, if properly supported, he could reconquer Scotland in a brief campaign; or planning to open a passage through Argyllshire from the north to Kintyre. On a practical, self-interested level, he was certainly anxious to show his authority and bring the other Argyllshire small clans into his ideal regiment, 'strong, effectuall & of good continuance', before they had time to start acting independently.(13) Whatever the causes, it was a strategic blunder.' had he only left his Irish companies, their extra numbers might have proved decisive. Young was to hear from Jacobite prisoners that Sir Donald MacDonald remained and fought in Kintyre. However, no Jacobite source mentions this, and it is most unlikely: Sir Donald would be as eager as Sir John to reach home, raise the Sleat clan regiment as colonel and, forestalling his own rivals, incorporate the Keppoch MacDonalds in it. Nor, probably, would Sir Alexander have risked leaving a man whose father claimed the chiefship of all Clan Donald in a position to tempt the Kintyre McAlisters and MacDonalds, whose strength he naturally magnified, to defy Gallchoille - for Sir Donald (later, and probably then also) despised the MacNeills in contrast as half-a-dozen gentry (not always loyal) unable to raise 100 men between them.(14) That point presumably influenced Sir Alexander's choice of Gallchoille (all highland decisions had their Machiavellian elements): lacking a large following, he must be loyal since his authority depended on Sir Alexander's own. A more positive reason was the vigour he had shown in 1685.
Gallchoille, Loup, Tarbert and Largie at once advanced to the east coast and seized Skipness Castle, probably without resistance.(15) This gave them the initiative - an important moral effect, since the Campbells and lowlanders in southern Kintyre, however thoroughly disarmed and cowed in 1685, outnumbered them heavily, Other lairds joined them - two other McAlisters, Balinakill and Kenloch, possibly Maclean of Tarbert in Jura, later penalised for Jacobitism (though he may have preferred the Maclean clan regiment).(16) There was even a family unintentionally straddling both sides, the McIlvernocks of Oib. In 1685, the old father had been forfeited for being in Argyll's camp, though he protested it was as a prisoner, but his loyal son received the estate; now he joined Gallchoille and it was seized, only to be restored, in the general 1690 repeal of forfeitures, to the father.(17) Besides Gallchoille and Oib, both Loup and Tarbert as well had lands in South Knapdale - McAlister of Loup's actual residence was Ardpatrick House, on the north shore of West Loch Tarbert opposite Loup on the south shore: the rising might almost appear a Knapdale occupation of northern Kintyre.(18)A precarious one - there were probably not more than 400 Jacobites in arms. If attacked, they could not retreat to several castles, like the Campbells in Alasdair's day, for a protracted defence till help could come - for the castles were no longer there. Indeed, though holding Skipness, they could not have spared the men for several garrisons. Their dominance depended on not losing the initiative. The Campbells and lowlanders had numbers and some arms, but apparently lacked the Leadership or determination to attack the Jacobites independently: they waited for some blow from outside. On their side, the Jacobites probably avoided directly provoking them by venturing too far south - there is no mention, for instance, of the MacDonalde of Sanda joining the rising.(19) Their control may not have stretched much further south than Largie and the mainland opposite Gigha. Their main attention, besides, would have been directed north, to protect their Knapdale estates against attack from local Campbells such as Kilberry and to meet the government counterstroke, which they evidently expected to come, as in 1647, by land from the north. In those days, before the highway along the east coast was built, a lowland military force advancing through Knapdale must either take a road all round the west coast or some short-cut through the mountains, over formidable passes.(20) Somewhere there the Jacobites intended to check or ambush the invaders: David Leslie would not catch them napping a second time.
Their control of north Kintyre greatly improved Jacobite communications with Ireland and James's court there. This had disadvantages from a commander's viewpoint - MacDonald of Largie's astute Tutor sent over for an independent colonel's commission for his nephew, the first major setback for Sir Alexander's scheme - but it made it possible to keep before James's eyes (always a necessary precaution with him) the urgent need to send the clans reinforcements. He was planning to send over 1,200 troops by small boat shuttle-service, possible only to Kintyre.(21) As yet, though, this was only talk, and meanwhile another hopeful source of reinforcements was cut off. Lieutenant-Colonel Cleland seized at Greenock the messenger returning from Sir James Stewart of Bute; Sir James was imprisoned at Edinburgh; and Bute did not stir.(22) Until Irish reinforcement, or Sir Alexander with the rest of his regiment arrived, Gallchoille must stand on the defensive.
News of the Kintyre rising (with the alarming story that Irishes' were landing there in force) reached the government in Edinburgh, a committee of the adjourned Estates and their military adviser, the Dutch-born Brigadier-General Barthold Balfour, on 7 May, and they had immediately to organise a counterstroke. The experienced regiments were all chasing Dundee or beseiging Edinburgh Castle. Had things gone according to plan, young Cleland and his 'Cameronian' regiment should already have been marching to reoccupy Kintyre; and coups like the arrest of the messenger, foreshadowing the brilliant defence of Dunkeld in which he was killed that August, suggest how well he would have done it. However, the raising of the regiment had been obstructed as the more extreme Cameronians denounced the idea of fighting in alliance with uncovenanted sinners: its very existence remained in the balance until Cleland succeeded in swaying part of a divided General Meeting at Douglas on 13-14 May.(23) 'Traditional' stories might make a modern reader expect Clan Campbell to descend immediately from the north, sword in hand, to extinguish this challenge to them. The reality was less simple. The Earl of Argyll was carrying the offer of the Scottish Crown to William in London. Argyllshire was in confusion as exiled Campbells reclaimed their estates. Argyll's lieutenant-colonel, Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck, went to Inveraray in late April to raise the regiment. However, he was often ill; the local tax-collectors, ordered to finance the levying, lacked money; and there were too few flintlock muskets for the men raised. The first company (of Macaulays, not Campbells )- was mustered only on 8 May, though seven more followed in the next ten days. And Sir Duncan, though ordered to reinforce the expedition against Kintyre, remained nervously inactive, fearing to provoke the sullen mid-Argyll non-Campbell clans into revolt, and lost touch with events to the south.(24)
The peers from the Presbyterian South-West who were raising infantry regiments included the Earl of Glencairn, Lord Bargany and Lord Blantyre; Glencairn's and Bargany's were levied the more quickly because they consisted largely of Protestant refugees from Ireland, many of whom would have borne arms there (though with the balancing disadvantage that they had repeatedly been routed there by smaller Catholic forces).(25) On 7 May, the Committee ordered the eight companies nearest completion in these three regiments - four from Bargany's, two from Glencairn's, two from Blantyre's - to receive arms and accoutrements from the magazines at Glasgow or Ayr and march to Largs. From there or Inverkip they should cross in boats (to be gathered and organised by the MP for Inveraray) to Tarbert. Balfour, given the naming of the commander, took the night to consider and then picked Captain William Young - an excellent choice, but a mysterious one, as Captain Young was apparently from none of the Scottish Young families whose pedigrees have been traced. He commanded no company in any of the regiments then standing or being raised. There is no earlier trace of him in the English or Scottish army or the Scott Brigade in Holland. He might, like many of his men, have been an Irish Protestant refugee; but that would not explain why, having achieved distinction, he makes no later appearance anywhere in an army list. He appears from nowhere, leads raw troops to victory, is given fresh responsibility - and abruptly vanishes from all records without explanation: a Covenanting Clint Eastwood character. To add to the negatives, apparently not a native of Kintyre either. Yet, probably in Edinburgh, he found a guide with the necessary local knowledge - Ronald Campbell (later Commissary of Argyll and a WS who handled the affairs of many Campbell families from the Dukes down). the son of a former Kintyre sheriff-depute, Alexander Campbell in Kilchamaig on West Loch Tarbert.(27)
To be continued....
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Hill 16 May 1689 - The First 'Battle' of Dundee's Jacobite
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