Allaster Macalister and the Fall of Dunyvaig

In November 1614, several men of significance in the Clan Alasdair took part in a Macdonald rebellion in which the Islay stronghold of Dunyvaig Castle was held against the king. The Macalisters had been supporters of the Dunyvaig Macdonalds for generations. After the forfeiture of the Lord of the Isles (1493), the Clan Alasdair was technically an independent clan, but “they were not sufficiently powerful to rely upon their own resources amid the turbulent conditions of the age”[1] and they sought the protection of the greatest remaining Macdonald kindred, the Clan Donald South of Dunyvaig and the Glens. Their association with this branch of Clan Donald can be seen in their involvement in the Macdonalds’ feuds, both in the north of Ireland and in the Macdonald-Maclean feud at home. Godfrey Macalister of Loup was one of the witnesses to a letter of renunciation by which Angus of Dunyvaig, facing forfeiture because of that feud, attempted to preserve his family’s position by turning his estate over to his son, Sir James.

When the same Godfrey fell out with and murdered his former guardian, the Tutor of Loup, it was to Angus of Dunyvaig that the Tutor’s sons (probably the chief’s cousins) fled, taking refuge at his home in Askomil. As close relatives of the chief, the Tutor’s family held an important position in the clan, and the Macalisters’ continued association with the Clan Donald South ensured that the Tutor’s son Allaster would play a part in that clan’s attempts to recapture their traditional stronghold at Dunyvaig.

Dunyvaig Castle had been surrendered to the Crown by Angus Macdonald in 1608 and occupied by a garrison under the Bishop of Argyll. In 1614, however, it was retaken by Ranald Og, Angus’s illegitimate son. Hearing the news, Ranald’s half-brother Angus Og gathered a force to recover the castle for the king, which was soon accomplished. “For some time the castle remained in the hands of Angus Oig, who professed his readiness to restore it to the Bishop on receiving a remission for any offences committed by him and his supporters.”[2] By November 1614, those supporters included Coll MacGillespick (father of Alasdair MacColla) and several members of the Clan Alasdair, including Allaster. But when the Bishop finally arrived, Angus Og refused to turn the castle over. Macdonald adherents were gaining in number, and the Bishop knew he was outnumbered; so, leaving his nephew as hostage, the Bishop went for help. 

At this point the Privy Council abandoned its plan to end the siege peacefully and prepared to take the castle and rescue the hostages by force. Campbell of Calder was granted a commission to accomplish this, with promises that Islay would thereafter be granted to the Campbells. With a force of mostly hired men, Calder advanced on the castle and demanded in the name of the king that it be surrendered. Instead, the rebels began firing on Calder’s men, five of whom were killed. Now there was murder to be answered for as well as treason.

The siege dragged on into February, at which point Calder stormed the castle. Quite a few of the rebels were executed on the spot, but Angus Og Macdonald and the other ringleaders were to be tried by the Privy Council. The fact that two Macalisters are among this latter group once again illustrates the connection between our clan and the Clan Donald South. Information suggesting the complicity of the Earl of Argyll and a supposed mediator named Graham was ignored[3] and the men were all convicted. Allaster Macalister is named in the Privy Council records as one of several Macalisters who were involved in the siege, and he is one of only two of this clan to be hanged with Macdonald.[4]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Macdonald and Macdonald, vol. II, p. 40
[2] Gregory, pp. 349-5
[3]Ibid., pp. 365-6. The Bishop had reported to the authorities that the Earl of Argyll was the one who encouraged Angus Og not to surrender the castles to him, something Angus later claimed in his own defence. At the time of the deaths of Calder’s men, there was suspicion that Angus Og had been tricked into violence by the interference of a Gaelic speaker called Graham who claimed to be mediating but who, like everyone else involved, had his own agenda.
[4] Pitcairn, vol. III, pp. 364-5; Macdonald and Macdonald, vol. II,pp. 49-50