It is now most interesting to know who the ancient Earls of Ross, from whom the Mackenzies are really descended, were. The first of these earls of whom we have any record is Malcolm Mac Heth to whom Malcolm IV. gave Ross in 1157, with the title of Earl of Ross, but the inhabitants rose against him and drove him out of the district. Wyntoun mentions an Earl "Gillandrys," a name which we believe is derived from the common ancestor of the Mackenzies and Rosses, "Gilleoin-Ard-Rois," as one of the six Celtic earls who besieged King Malcolm at Perth in 1160. Skene is also of opinion that this Gillandres represented the old Celtic earls of Ross, as the clan bearing the name of Ross are called in Gaelic Clann Ghilleanrias, or descendants of Gillandres, and may, he thinks, have led the revolt which drove Malcolm Mac Heth out of the earldom. The same King, two years after the incident at Perth, gave the earldom of Ross to Florence, Count of Holland, on that nobleman's marriage with His Majesty's sister Ada, in 1162, but the new earl never secured practical possession [Celtic Scotland, Vol. III., pp. 66-67.] He is, however, found claiming it as late as 1179, in the reign of William the Lion.
The district of Ross is often mentioned in the Norse Sagas along with the other parts of the country then governed by Maormors or Jarls, and Skene in his earlier work says that it was only on the downfall of those of Moray that the chiefs of Ross appear prominent in historical records, the Maormors of Moray being in such close proximity to them and so great in power and influence that the less powerful Maormor of Ross held only a comparatively subordinate position, and his name was in consequence seldom or never associated with any of the great events of that early period in Highland history. It was only after the disappearance of those district potentates that the chiefs appear under the appellation of Comites or Earls. That most, if not all, of these earls were the descendants of the ancient maormors there can be little doubt, and the natural presumption in this instance is strengthened by the fact that all the old authorities concur in asserting that the Gaelic name of the original Earls of Ross was O'Beolan--a corruption of Gilleoin, or Gillean, na h`Airde--or the descendants of Beolan. "And we actually find," says the same authority, "from the oldest Norse Saga connected with Scotland that a powerful chief in the North of Scotland named O'Beolan, married the daughter of Ganga Rolfe, or Rollo, the celebrated pirate who became afterwards the celebrated Earl of Normandy." If this view is well-founded the ancestor of the Earls of Ross was chief in Kintail as early as the beginning of the tenth century. We have seen that the first Earl of Ross recorded in history was Malcolm Mac Heth, to whom a precept is found, directed by Malcolm IV., requesting him to protect the monks of Dunfermline and defend them in their lawful privileges and possessions. The document is not dated, but judging from the names of the witnesses attesting it, the precept must have been issued before 1162. It will be remembered that Mac Heth was one of the six Celtic earls who besieged the King at Perth two years before, in 1160. William the Lion, who seems to have kept the earldom in his own hands for several years, in 1179 marched into the district at the head of his earls and barons, accompanied by a large army, and subdued an insurrection fomented by the local chiefs against his authority. On this occasion he built two castles within its bounds, one called Dunscath on the northern Sutor at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, and Redcastle in the Black Isle. In the same year we find Florence, Count of Holland, complaining that he had been deprived of its nominal ownership by King William. There is no trace of any other earl in actual possession until we come to Ferquard or "Ferchair Mac an t' Sagairt," Farquhar the son of the Priest, who rose rapidly to power on the ruins of the once powerful Mac Heth earls of Moray, of which line Kenneth Mac Heth, who, with Donald Ban, led a force into Moray against Alexander II., son of William the Lion, in 1215, was the last. Of this raid the following account is given in Celtic Scotland, Vol. I. p. 483:--
"The young king had barely reigned a year when be had to encounter the old enemies of the Crown, the families of Mac William and Mac Eth, who now combined their forces under Donald Ban, the son of that Mac William who bad been slain at Mamgarvie in 1187, and Kenneth Mac Eth, a son or grandson of Malcolm Mac Eth, with the son of one of the Irish provincial kings, and burst into the Province of Moray at the bead of a large band of malcontents. A very important auxiliary, however, now joined the party of the king. This was Ferquhard or Fearchar Macintagart, the son of the `Sagart' or priest who was the lay possessor of the extensive possessions of the old monastery founded by the Irish Saint Maelrubba at Applecross in the seventh century. Its possessions lay between the district of Ross and the Western Sea and extended from Lochcarron to Loch Ewe and Loch Maree, and Ferquhard was thus in reality a powerful Highland chief commanding the population of an extensive western region. The insurgents were assailed by him with great vigour, entirely crushed, and their leaders taken, who be at once beheaded and presented their heads to the new king as a welcome gift on the 15th of June, when he was knighted by the king as a reward for his prompt assistance."
The district then known as North Argyle consisted chiefly of the possessions of this ancient monastery of Appercrossan or Applecross. Its inhabitants had hitherto--along with those of South Argyle, which extended from Lochcarron to the Firth of Clyde--maintained a kind of semi-independence, but in 1222 they were, by their lay possessor, Ferchair Mac an t'Sagairt, who was apparently the grandson or great-grandson of Gillandres, one of the six earls who besieged Malcolm IV. at Perth in 1160, brought into closer connection with the crown. The lay Abbots of which Ferquhard was the head were the hereditary possessors of all the extensive territories which had for centuries been ruled and owned by this old and powerful Celtic monastery. As a reward for his services against the men of Moray in 1215 and for the great services which, in 1222, he again rendered to the King in the subjugation of the whole district then known as Argyle, extending from the Clyde to Lochbroom, he received additional honours. In that campaign known as "the Conquest of Argyle," Ferquhard led most of the western tribes, and for his prowess, the Celtic earldom, which was then finally annexed to the Crown and made a feudal appanage, was conferred on him with the title of Earl of Ross, and he is so designated in a charter dated 1234. He is again on record, under the same title, in 1235 and 1236. Regarding an engagement which took place be-tween Alexander II. and the Gallowegians, in 1235, the Chronicle of Melrose says, that "at the beginning of the battle the Earl of Ross, called Macintagart, came up and attacked the enemies (of the King) in the rear, and as soon as they perceived this they took to flight and retreated into the woods and mountains, but they were followed up by the Earl and several others, who put many of them to the sword, and harassed them as long as daylight lasted." In Celtic Scotland, Vol. II, p.412, it is stated that the hereditary lay priests of which he was the chief "according to tradition, bore the name of O'Beollan"; and MacVuirich, in the Black Book of Clanranald, says that from Ferquhard was descended Gillapatrick the Red, son of Roderick, and known traditionally as the Red Priest, whose daughter, at a later date, married and carried the monastery lands of Lochalsh and Lochcarron to the Macdonalds of the Isles.
In one of the Norse Sagas the progenitor of Ferquhard is designated " King," just the same as the great Somerled and some of his descendants had been called at a later date. Referring to Helgi, son of Ottar, the Landnamabok Saga records that "he made war upon Scotland and carried off prisoner Nidbjorga, the daughter of King Bjolan, and of Kadliner, daughter or Ganga Rolf," or Rollo, who, as already stated, afterwards became the celebrated Earl of Normandy. Writing of Alexander, third Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, Hugh Macdonald, the Sleat historian, says that --
"He was a man born to much trouble all his life time. First he took to him the concubine daughter of Patrick Obeolan, surnamed the Red, who was a very beautiful woman. This surname Obeolan was the surname of the Earls of Ross, till Farquhar, born in Ross, was created earl by King Alexander, and so carried the name of Ross since, as best answering the English tongue. This Obeolan had its descent of the ancient tribe of Manapii; of this tribe is also St. Rice or Ruffus. Patrick was an Abbot and had Carlebay in the Lewis, and the Church lands in that country, with 18 mark lands in Lochbroom. He bad two sons and a daughter. The sons were called Normand and Austin More, so called from his excessive strength and corpulency. This Normand had daughters that were great beauties, one of whom was married to Mackay of Strathnavern one to Dugall MacRanald, Laird of Mudort; one to MacLeod of Assint; one to MacDuffie; and another, the first, to Maclean of Bororay. Patrick's daughter bore a son to Alexander, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, who was called Austin (Uisdean or Hugh) or as others say, Augustine. She was twice before the King, as Macdonald could not be induced to part with her, on occasion of her great beauty. The King said, that it was no wonder that such a fair damsel had enticed Macdonald." [Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis, pp. 304-305.]
It is not intended here to discuss whether Hugh of Sleat and his elder brother Celestine of Lochalsh were illegitimate or not. They were so called by their father, Earl Alexander, and by their brother, Earl John. The first describes Celestine as "filius naturalis" in a charter preserved in the Mackintosh charter chest, dated 1447, and Earl John calls his brother Austin or Hugh "frater carnalis" in two charters, dated respectively 1463 and 1470. This goes far to corroborate the Sleat historian, who was not the least likely to introduce illegitimacy into his own favourite family unless the charge was really true. It is instructive to find that Celestine succeeded to all the lands of the monastery of Applecross in Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and Lochbroom. These lay abbots are also said to have held, under the old Earls of Ross, the Sleat district of the Isle of Skye, which Hugh, first of that family, is alleged to have inherited through his mother, daughter of the Red Priest and a descendant of Farquhar Mac an t'Sagairt, Earl of Ross. It will be observed also that Austin, Uisdean, or Hugh, a common name among the Applecross and old Earl of Ross dynasty, comes into the Macdonald family for the first time at this period, after Earl Alexander of the Macdonald line had formed a union with the daughter of the last lay Abbot of Applecross. Skene distinctly affirms that Hugh Macdonald of Sleat was the son of Earl Alexander by a daughter of this Gille-Padruig (Celtic Scotland, Vol. III. p. 298) while Gregory suggests that the words naturalis and carnalis used by Hugh's father and brother in the charters already quoted "were used to designate the issue of those handfast or left-handed marriages which appear to have been so common in the Highlands and Isles." [Western Highlands and Isles, p.41] Whether the Sleat district of Skye was or was not carried for the first time to the Macdonald Earls of Ross and Lords of the Isles by this union with a member of the family of the original O'Beolan Earls, it is perfectly clear that the latter had an intimate connection with the Sleat district at a much earlier period.
Saint Maelrubba, who is first heard of in Britain in 671, two years later, in 673, founded the original Church of Applecross "from which as a centre he evangelised the whole of the western districts lying between Loch Carron and Loch Broom, as well as the south and west parts of the Island of Skye, and planted churches in Easter Ross and elsewhere." [Celtic Scotland, Vol. II. p. 166.] It is at least interesting to find these lands going to and afterwards remaining in possession of the two sons of Earl Alexander who are said to have been illegitimate, when all their other enormous possessions were in 1493 finally forfeited to the Crown. Hugh, who possessed Sleat during the life of his father and brother, receives a Crown charter of these lands under the Great Seal two years after, in 1495, although his brother John, fourth and last Lord of the Isles, was still alive, his death not having occurred until 1498, three years later. Sir Robert Gordon (Earldom of Scotland, p. 36) shows that the Rosses were originally designated O'Beolan and Gillanders indiscriminately, according to the writer's or speaker's fancy. He says that--