Sandside Chase

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Sandside Chase
(Battle of Ruoig-Hansett)
Part of the Scottish clan wars
Sandside Beach, Summer 2006.jpg
Sandside Bay
Date 1437
Location west of Thurso, Caithness
grid reference NC950642 [2]
Coordinates: 58°33′48″N 3°47′13″W / 58.56333°N 3.78694°W / 58.56333; -3.78694
Result Mackay victory[3]
Clan Mackay Clan Gunn[1]
Commanders and leaders
Neil Mackay, 8th of Strathnaver
John Aberach Mackay
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown "Crushing defeat"

The Sandside Chase (The Chase of Sandside, The Chase of Sansett; in Gaelic, Ruoig-Hansett, Ruaig Handside or Ruaig-Shansaid) was a Scottish clan battle which took place in 1437 in Caithness, about 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Thurso. The Clan Mackay launched a raid from Strathnaver towards Thurso until they encountered resistance from the locals at Dounreay.[2] The Mackays then pulled back to Sandside, where they were joined by reinforcements and slaughtered the defenders on the coast north of Reay.[2]


Neil Wasse MacKay, son of Angus Dow MacKay, chief of Clan MacKay had been imprisoned in the Bass Rock by King James I of Scotland in 1427 for his part in the Battle of Harpsdale, which took place in 1426. Neil Wasse MacKay was released from the Bass Rock in 1436 and the following year raided Caithness in a repeat of the Battle of Harpsdale eleven years before.


The MacKays met the Caithness men at Dounreay (grid reference ND006658[2]) and pushed them to the Forss Water before Caithness reinforcements made them retreat to Sandside (grid reference NC950642[2]). There they were joined by the MacKay forces that had been posted on Drum Hollistan to protect their rear.[4] Ian Aberach manoeuvred his opponents into a loop of the bay below Sandside House, and slaughtered them around the ancient fort of Cnoc Stangar.[4] The survivors were chased back to Dounreay.[4]

A row of some 60 stones still standing at grid reference ND007660 in 1915 were said to mark the graves of some of those killed in the battle, but they had disappeared by 1964.[5]

Accounts of the Battle[edit]

Sir Robert Gordon[edit]

Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656) wrote an account of the Battle of Rouig-Hansett in his book A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland:

Neil- wasse-MacKay, immediately after his release out of the Bass, the year 1437, entered into Caithness, and spoiled the country. He skirmished with some of the people of the country, at a place called Sansett, where he overthrew them, with slaughter on either side. This conflict was called Ruoig-Hansett, that is, the flight or chase at Sansett. After which Neil-Wasse died, leaving two sons, Angus and John-Roy. Of this John-Roy, the Sleaght-ean-Roy (offspring of John-Roy) are descended. [6]

Conflicts of the Clans[edit]

An account of the battle was written in the book Conflicts of the Clans published by the Foulis Press in 1764, written from a manuscript from the time of King James VI of Scotland (1566 - 1625):

The year of god 1437, Neil Wasse Mackay, after his release out of the Bass, entered Caithness with all hostility, and spoiled all that country. He skirmished with some of the inhabitants of that province at a place called Sanset, where he overthrew them with slaughter on either side. This conflict was called Ruaig-hanset, that is the Chase at Sanset. Shortly thereafter Neil Wasse died.[3]

Robert Mackay[edit]

A traditional account of the battle written by Robert Mackay in his book the "History of the House and Clan of the Name Mackay", published in 1829:

The tradition regarding this invasion, is to the following effect: The people of Caithness had committed some depredations on the east parts of the Reay country, in return for which, he and his brother John-Abrach with their men, marched into Caithness, and took a great spoil with them. The better to provide against an assault, they placed a reserve about the border beyond Drimholisten, (Prospect-hill) to be ready to assist, if necessary. Neil and John were overtaken by a great company of Caithness-men at Downreay, when a fierce conflict ensued; but at length the latter fled, and were pursued with slaughter about four miles to the water of Forss, where Niel and John saw a fresh company marching with speed down the hill of Forss, to assist their flying countrymen. The MacKays then retired back as far as Sanside, before their opponents got up with them, and by that time they were joined by their reserve. A most desperate engagement followed, which terminated in the defeat and flight of the Caithness-men, who were pursued with considerable slaughter as far as Downreay, about three miles. It is to this day called Ruoig Haundsaid, i.e. the Sandside Chace.[7]


  1. ^ Sinclair, Thomas. (1890). The Guns. pp. 7.
  2. ^ a b c d e Site Record for Upper Dounreay, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 
  3. ^ a b Foulis Press, 1764, "The History of the Feuds and Conflicts Among the Clans in the Northern Parts of Scotland and in the Western Isles: from the year M.XX1 unto M.B.C.XIX, now first published from a manuscript wrote in the reign of King James VI." The only changes made is the modernising of the orthography to 1890 standards:-- . Retrieved on January 06, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Mackay, Angus (1906), The Book of Mackay, Edinburgh: Norman Macleod, p. 65 
  5. ^ Site Record for Upper Dounreay, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 
  6. ^ Gordon, Sir Robert. (1580 - 1657). A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland. Originally written between 1615 and 1625. Republished in 1813. pp. 68
  7. ^ Mackay, Robert. (1829). History of the House and Clan of MacKay. pp. 76.