Murderous Macalisters

The 16th of June appears to be a bad day for Macalisters in court. On this same day, but 112 years apart, two murder convictions were handed down to members of this clan. The first was in 1508, when Donald Mole Makalester was convicted of “the cruel slaughter of John Russell, Patrik Weddale, and sundry other persons” in Innermessane, as well as the “hereschip” (plundering and destruction) of their goods; he was also convicted of violent theft against the MacMartins in Kintyre, and of general theft and oppression of “the lieges”.[1] This sort of report is met with somewhat regularly in records of the time. The early 16th century was a particularly lawless period, following immediately upon the forfeiture in 1493 of the Lordship of the Isles. The fall of the Macdonalds had left a power vacuum in the Western Highlands, and the Campbells had not yet been able to establish real control. There were several fairly widespread risings in favour of one or another branch of the Clan Donald, and the events of this period appear to have been something of a free-for-all. The actions of this Macalister were not, therefore, as shocking as we might imagine. As might be expected, Donald Mole was hanged for his crimes.

Things were somewhat different in 1620, when Neill McEan McAllaster, along with Donald Neilson and Donald’s son, was found guilty of drowning Donald McAllaster vic Ean vic Henrie.[2] At this point, the Plantation of Kintyre was well underway, with the Earl of Argyll having had some success in importing English-speaking, Protestant Lowlanders to settle in the area around what is now Campbeltown; many members of previously troublesome clans like the Macalisters had lost their lands. The chaos of the previous century had been brought under some control, and the chaos that would come with the Wars of Religion (1640s) had not yet begun. This crime, then, appears to have been less the result of general lawlessness than perhaps a personal quarrel. The victim was bound hand and foot and put into a ‘boit’ (boat?) which was then thrown into the water. No mention is made of any of these men being a repeat offender, as was clearly the case with Donald Makalester in 1508. The punishment was also less severe: Each man was fined 100 merks.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol. I, p. 51; whose lieges were being oppressed is not specified.
[2] Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol. III, p. 489


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