Caisteal Bharraich, (Castle Varrich) Highlands
Nr IV27 4XE
Caisteal Bharraich is a small tower rebuilt in the sixteenth century. However, its history is ancient and goes back at least to the Vikings, built upon and early fort and lookout tower.
In later years, the estate became the property of the clan MacKay who in the 15th century built themselves a stronghold.
The location for this tower is simply spectacular, with a commanding position looking north for any sails on the horizon and any movement on the east-west road. Best viewed away from the tower on the main road heading east, looking back where you will see the tower set against the mountains.
~ History ~
1100's ~ Clan Mackay, meaning son of Aodh (Hugh), descendants from the Royal Moray family of Macbeth, move their family home north to Strathnaver at the very northernmost edge of the Scottish Highlands.
1360's ~ Clan Mackey are now the controlling family in the area and upon a great headland build themselves a tower on the site of an ancient Viking fortress to command shipping, the main east-west road and serve as defence in times of local clan raiding parties.
1415 ~ A charter to Angus Mackay by Donald Lord of the Isles confirms their territory as their own, as a consequence of marriage between Angus and Donald's sister Elizabeth. In return the Mackay's would guard the MacDonald's north-eastern flank of their territory and support each other in times of need.
1420 ~ Following Angus's alliance with the powerful MacDonald's, Lords of the Isles and with it the assurance this provided the clan, as a symbol of the clan's growing wealth and power, he builds Caisteal Bharraich on the site of an earlier building of his family.
1427 ~ King James I of Scotland requests the presence of all forty Highland cheiftains to his Parliament in Inverness. Despite many of the clan chieftain's misgivings as to the true nature of this invitation, they are obliged to attend. Their misgivings are proven true as they are all imprisoned by the King as part of his quest to bring the Lord of the Isles and all the clans to heel under his control. As Angus Mackay is reputed to be able to bring 4,000 men to his call, and with strong connections to the Lords of the Isles, he is seen as a key clan cheiftain to imprison. Each clan chieftan is later released upon oath allegiance to the Crown
1433 ~ As part of the Crown's continued attempts to undermine the whole clan system by divide and rule, the neighbouring clan Gunn's are encouraged to march upon the Mackay's. The Gunn's march a force of more than 1,500 men from Lairg towards Tongue, into the heartland of Mackay territory. They are met by clan Mackay at the pass to Ben Loyal, near Caisteal Bharraich. Angus Mackay was not fit to lead his men so was carried into the field in a litter by his most trusted men. His army was led by his son Iain Abrach (John of the Lochaber Men), his child to his second wife who is a MacDonald of Lochaber.
The invading force is lured deeper into Mackay territory before the Mackay's finally give the order to attack, from their higher defensive position. With a great loss of life, the invaders are driven back. Despite being surrounded by his most trusted and loyal guards; Angus Mackay is killed. At the end of the Battle Dum na Cub, Iain is proclaimed the new chief of the Mackay's.
Victory also increased the clan's enemy's determination, encouraged by the Crown, to wipe out the Mackay's. The Earl of Sutherland placed a price on Iain's head and sets about a number of assassination attempts, as well as invasions to bring about battle with the Mackay's, some of which are met, others Iain skilfully avoids using gorilla hit and run tactics. On a number of occasions he is forced to go into hiding in the mountains to avoid capture.
Whilst Iain's leadership and skill is admired, he willingly decides to hand the cheiftanship over to his elder brother Neil, who after serving years imprisoned on Bass Rock, feels best placed to lead the clan.