In the introduction to his history of Clan Donald, Donald J. McDonald gave a brief account of Cú chulainn and why it is of interest to Clan Donald. He referred to James Macpherson’s Works of Ossian and one of the sources he used for his history called thePixar’s “Brave” depicts the important role of legends in Celtic culture as Queen Elinor instructs her rebellious daughter by reminding her of a legend of a former kingdom lost due to selfishness. Her daughter protests, “Oh Mum. It’s only a legend”. The queen’s response is classic, “Legends are lessons that ring with truth”. These 17th century books, written in Gaelic, contain the traditions of Clan Donald from centuries earlier. The Gaelic le lachluinn mor mac mhuirich albannaich seanachaidh chloinn domhnill contain the traditions recorded by the MacMhuirich Scottish historians of Clan Donald from the 14th century.
Celtic mythology or legends from Ireland are inseparably intertwined into these ancient histories for good reason. The Black & Red Books of Clanranald, contained in the Tuan mac Cairill
This myth takes place at Dunscaith on the Isle of Skye which became a Clan Donald castle. This legend explains the castle’s name.Cú chulainn passes through a bog enroute to Sgathach that may well be the first description of the bogs of Rannoch Moor that were so familiar to our ancestors.
This is a tragic story that teaches the value of a champion’s keeping his word. Keeping an oath (one’s word) was to be valued above all else, even family. Being familiar with this Celtic value helps us better understand the motives & actions of our ancestors.
This myth also conveys the Celtic value of honor and how an individual’s actions would cast honor or dishonor upon his family, clan, and race. Of course every Celtic youth pictured himself a champion. These legends show us the ancient Celtic ideal or the standard set for which the youth would aspire. This legend also demonstrates the significance of the raven or battle crow in Celtic culture. This is especially significant to Glengarry MacDonells.
This myth takes place in Glen Etive near Glencoe and is the classic tragic tale of Celtic mythology included in the Black & Red Books of Clanranald. It is eerie that a millennia before the Glencoe Massacre these glens of ancient Dalriada were already associated with tragedy.
This one explains the transition from the old Celtic religion to Christianity. One of the legends of Manannan includes an account of a prominent ancestor of Clan Donald who nearly lost his entire posterity (that’s us) when tempted with an apple. And just as recorded in the Biblical account our ancestor’s taking the apple provides the Celtic explanation of how he acquired the knowledge & wisdom for which he was famous.
This is not a Celtic legend, but a French Crusader legend that provides a possible explanation of the unique cross found carved into the crest of theFinlaggen Cross. This head of a typical Standing Celtic Cross was discovered during a 1990 archaeological dig at Islay, the central seat of government of the Lords of the Isles. The Finlaggen cross is believed to be from the 14th century and bears what has become known as the “cross, crosslet fitchee, gules”. This unique cross has been the central feature of most crests of Clan Donald. The legend of St. Julian provides a plausible explanation for why Clan Donald crests feature this unique cross.
Was believed by James MacPherson to be the same person as Ossian referred to in the Highland oral legends he compiled. Even though this author does not agree that they were the same person, being familiar with the ancient legend of the seanachaidh Oisin helps us understand the standard set for all Celtic seanachaidh (Gaelic = oral historians), including the MacMhuirich who were the historians of Clan Donald and the Lords of the Isles. Ossian‘s cave is in Glencoe.
This Celtic myth is one that Clan Donald will find the most familiar. It is startlingly similar to Clan Donald legends ofSòmhairlidh(Somerled) who like Fionn mac Cumhaill, became the champion who could unite the clans to overcome foreign invaders after obtaining the Salmon of Knowledge.
Becoming familiar with these legends or myths does give us a glimpse into the values and society of our ancient Celtic ancestors. It also helps us understand the values of our more recent Celtic ancestors who retold these same legends around peat fires in their crofts all over the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland for hundreds of years.
The introduction to Donald J. Macdonald’s history of Clan Donald quotes from The Works of Ossian about Fingal’s battles with the Lochlainn (Norse). Donald J. Macdonald also suggests the Black & Red Books of Clanranald verify the Works of Ossian’s authenticity. I recently discovered an online copy of the original 1765 Works of Ossian, son of Fingal by James MacPherson.