Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart

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Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart
Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Tràigh Ghruineart
Part of the Scottish clan battles
Lachlan Mor Maclean of Duart Fell Here - - 1774739.jpg
Cairn marking the spot where Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean fell in battle
Date 5 August 1598
Location Islay, Scotland
55°49′19″N 6°21′18″W / 55.822°N 6.355°W / 55.822; -6.355Coordinates: 55°49′19″N 6°21′18″W / 55.822°N 6.355°W / 55.822; -6.355
Result Clan Donald victory
Clan Donald Clan Maclean
Commanders and leaders
Sir James MacDonald, 9th of Dunnyveg Maclean of Duart and Morven arms (2).svg Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean  
Around 300–500 men 800–1,000 men
Casualties and losses
30 MacDonalds dead with 60 wounded 280 Macleans dead

The Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart or in Scottish Gaelic Blàr Tràigh Ghruineart or sometimes called the Battle of Gruinart Strand was a Scottish clan battle fought on 5 August 1598, on the Isle of Islay, in the Scottish Highlands. It was fought between the Clan Donald and Clan Maclean.[1][2][3][4] A tràigh or stand is the flat area of land bordering a body of water, a beach, or shoreline; specifically flats. In this particular case, the flats in question are the Gruinart Flats.



Prior to 1506, the Isle of Islay, along with the part of Jura south of Loch Tarbert, had belonged to Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg. In 1357, the MacDonalds acquired the rest of Jura, but owing to hostility with the Clan MacInnes, who lived there, they replaced them with the MacLeans. In 1501, Black Donald, leader of the broader MacDonald clan, escaped imprisonment, and caused an insurrection which sought to re-establish the Lordship of the Isles, a quasi-independent realm. This was defeated in 1506, and the MacDonald leadership was exiled.

In 1545, the king of Scotland terminated the exile, and restored MacDonald authority on Islay. By this point, the MacLeans appear to have taken advantage of the absence of the MacDonalds, and expanded into Islay; it may be that they had been given some authority to do so, or it may not - the details are unclear. In particular, when the MacDonalds were restored, the MacLeans claimed lairdship over the Rinns of Islay.

A series of skirmishes followed over the next few decades. In 1578, the leader of Clan MacDonald of Sleat attempted to visit Angus MacDonald, leader of the MacDonald of Dunnyveg, but poor weather forced them to land on the part of Jura controlled by the MacLeans. For unclear reasons, this led to a spiral of violence between the MacLeans and the MacDonalds of Sleat. Angus attempted to mediate, but was seized by Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean, leader of the MacLeans, and forced to quitclaim the Rinns to Sir Lachlan.

When Sir Lachlan sought to take possession of the Rinns, he and his men were captured by subterfuge at Mullintrae. A rumour spread by a MacLean rival of Sir Lachlan lead to the MacDonalds beheading Sir Lachlan's men, two at a time, but intervention by the king enabled the release of Sir Lachlan. Following Sir Lachlan's release, and return to Duart, Angus went to Ireland (where he had connections, as a result of his family's former exile).

Taking advantage, Sir Lachlan obtained authority of fire and sword, and set fire to Islay. In revenge, Angus attacked MacLean lands in Mull, burning properties, and killing many. Sir Lachlan then attacked the MacDonald of Dunnyveg lands in Kintyre. Once again, the king stepped in, forcing both sides into good behaviour, and taking hostage the eldest sons of Angus and Sir Lachlan. After a few years, the sons were released.


Sir Lachlan landed about 800 to 1,000 men on the Gruinart Flats at the south end of Loch Gruinart, on Islay. The Gruinart flats are the northern part of the narrow isthmus which seperates the Rinns from the rest of Islay; it was therefore a highly strategic location. In reaction to Sir Lachlan's arrival, Sir James MacDonald, the son of Angus (and of Sir Lachlan's sister), offered Sir Lachlan half of the island for MacLean's lifetime only. MacLean refused to accept anything less than the entire island.[1][2]

James MacDonald had fewer troops but they were well trained. Allies to the Clan MacDonald sent men from Kintyre and Arran, including Clan MacAlister, which were led by Angus MhicMhuirich of Arran. MacDonald's forces feigned retreat toward the setting sun then turned around to fight with the sun in the eyes of their enemy. The MacDonalds were victorious and the MacLeans were defeated.[1]

A dwarf named Dubh Sith (Black Fairy) was hidden in a tree and he killed Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean with a shot through his eye after he had removed his helmet.[5]

With Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean and about 280 of his men killed in battle, the rest were chased to their boats and some sought refuge in the chapel of Kilnave. The chapel was burnt down, killing all but one of the men inside.[1]

Sir James MacDonald was seriously wounded after being shot through the body with an arrow. He was found after the battle amongst the dead MacDonalds, which also included Angus MhicMhuirich of Arran. About 30 MacDonalds were slain and 60 wounded.[1]

Afterwards James VI and I, the King of Scotland, awarded MacDonald lands to Clan Campbell, leading to an extension of the feud.[2]

Clan MacDonald's reign in Islay came to an end in 1612 when Angus MacDonald, 8th of Dunnyveg, the father of Sir James, sold his land holdings to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor of Clan Campbell of Cawdor.


  1. ^ a b c d e Reverend Angus Macdonald and Reverend Archibald Macdonald (1900). The Clan Donald, Volume 2. A fierce battle was fought at a place called Traigh Ghruinneart, at the head of Loch Gruinneart. The Macdonald leader is said to have displayed some strategy at the beginning of the day. By making a semi-retrograde movement, he secured the advantage of getting his men posted on a hill, and at the same time avoided the discomfort which his adversaries experienced of having the glare of the summer sun in his eyes. In the end, the Clan Donald, having repulsed the Maclean vanguard, and thrown them back upon the main body, threw the whole force into confusion, with the result that they were totally routed, and the brave Sir Lauchlan, with 80 of his kinsmen and 200 of his common soldiers, were left dead upon Traigh Ghruinneart. Lauchlan Barrach Maclean, who was severely wounded, escaped with the survivors to the galleys. Nor did the Clan Donald get off scatheless. About 30 of them were slain and 60 wounded, while Sir James, who was dangerously wounded by an arrow through the body, was during most of the following night left for dead among the slain. 
  2. ^ a b c Conflicts of the Clans: The Death of Sir Lauchlan Maclean in 1598. Foulis Press. 1764. Sir Lauchlan Maclean's ambition, together with his desire of revenge, thrust him on to claim the inheritance of the whole Isle of Islay, being always the possession and ancient inheritance of the Clan Donald, all which Maclean thought easily now to compass, Sir James Macdonald (the just inheritor thereof) being young, and his father, Angus Macdonald, aged. ... 
  3. ^ Murder Under Trust by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol. Tuckwell Press. 1999. 
  4. ^ John Patterson MacLean (1889). A History of the Clan MacLean from Its First Settlement at Duard Castle, in the Isle of Mull, to the Present Period: Including a Genealogical Account of Some of the Principal Families Together with Their Heraldry, Legends, Superstitions, etc. R. Clarke & Company. ... He fell in a clan battle with the MacDonalds of Islay, on August 5, 1598. 
  5. ^ "Gaelic-Rings". 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-03. Before battle started, an ugly hunch-backed dwarf called Dubh Sith (Black Fairy) offered his services to MacLean. His offer was spurned. On offering his service to MacDonald, he was welcomed and armed as one of his men. ... Dubh Sith hidden in a tree above Tobar Neil Neònach killed Sir Lachlan with a shot through the eye when the MacLean chief had removed his helmet to drink.