Somerled

Somerled

Somerled was a MacInnes??? Whoa, Clan Donald put down that claymore. There could be truth in the tale, at least there was before the DNA project came into play.

Somerled was one of the great warriors born about 1105 in Northern Ireland. His father was Gillebride of Clan Angus. Thus Somerled would be considered a part of our "family", except for two things. Surnames did not come into being until several centuries later. It was Somerled's grandson, Donald of Islay, who became known as Lord of the Isles and the first of the Clan Donald, or the MacDonalds as they have become known. The second item is that many of the Clan Donald Chiefs have taken the DNA test. The results show they are of the line of the Vikings (R1a) and not of Celtic origin(R1b). The people of Northern Ireland, and also most of the MacInneses, are R1b which is the Celtic line. If Somerled were to be born in Ireland and of the Angus lineage, he should be of Celtic origin, or R1b.  However, even this is not clear.

Donald Whyte, Scotland's foremost genealogist, wrote in his book Scottish Surnames & Families (Barnes & Noble Books):

"The old seanachies proclaimed [Clan Donald] descent from Conn of the Hundred Battles, who flourished in Ireland about AD 125, and from Coll Uais, a Celtic prince with influence in the Western Isles before the establishment of the Scots kingdom of Dalriada by Fergus mac Erc, about 503.  There is more support for descent from Angus, a brother of Fergus, who also founded a dynasty in Argyll called the Cinel Aonghais, credited with intermarriage with the Pictish royal house..."

"...Scots were resisting the Norsemen, and eventually the mighty Somerled drove them from the mainland.  A son of Gillebride, who had probably some Norse blood, he also - perhaps to end feuds with the Norse kings of Man and the Isles - married Ragnhild, a natural daughter of Olaf the Man..."

So Donald says Somerled was of Celtic origins, but had Norse (Viking) blood?

Somerled did have a major influence on Clan MacInnes, or so the tale goes. Somerled had fallen on some hard times and was hiding out with his father in a cave in the Morvern area. Donald MacInnes, before his passing, had found this area and historians agreed this could be the cave. Somerled was out in a stream called the Gear Abhain which runs directly by Kinlochaline. Clan MacInnes had been attacked by Vikings on numerous occasions, and the chief had just been killed. Clan MacInnes had called on Somerled to help them defend themselves. Somerled was interested in getting a large salmon from the river. He told the members if they could catch the salmon he would consider their request. A carving of the salmon is on the Kinlochaline entrance, a tribute to the story.

Somerled then ordered each member of Clan MacInnes to butcher a highland cow. He first paraded all the men to the top of the hill. Below the Vikings awaited with their ships. Somerled then ordered the men to put on the hide with the skin side out, and again went to the top of the hill. Then they came down and put the hair side out on the hide and again went to the top of the hill. The Vikings, fearing they had seen three times the number of men, then fled. The number of men were one of the main items in winning any battle.

Like the cave, the river where Somerled had the salmon has gotten little attention. Even many of the local residents around the area do not know of the river's location. In a recent Clan tour, the group went by and could see the river. Kinlochaline Castle is not far away.

Somerled died about 1164. Like his life, his death is also mired in mystery and controversy. One account says his nephew was bribed, and went into his tent and slew him. Another account has Somerled in a battle between the Scots and men of the Isles where his son was also killed. He was reported buried at Icollumkill or Kiel Church, but another account has him buried at Iona.

 

The picture of a fish outside the entrance of Kinlochaline. This is said to be part of the Somerled folklore.


The bridge over Gear Abhain.

A simple plaque on the bridge.

Gear Abhain, in the distance under the tree is Kinlochaline.

The dark brown waters of Gear Abhain.

A view of the bridge from downstream.

The waters and the bridge.

The dark brown peat-stained waters of Gear Adhain, or "small river".