Usually called "Murchadh Dubh na h' Uagh," or Black Murdoch of the Cave, from his habits of life, which shall be described presently.
Murdoch was very young when his father was executed at Inverness. During Kenneth's absence on that occasion, and for some time afterwards, Duncan Macaulay, a great friend, who then owned the district of Lochbroom, had charge of Ellandonnan Castle. The Earl of Ross was determined to secure possession of Murdoch, as he previously did of his father, and Macaulay becoming apprehensive as to his safety sent him, then quite young, accompanied by his own son, for protection to Mackenzie's relative, Macdougall of Lorn. While here the Earl of Ross succeeded in capturing young Macaulay, and in revenge for his father's gallant defence at Ellandonnan during Kenneth's absence, and more recently against his own futile attempts to take that stronghold, he put Macaulay to death, whereupon Murdoch, who barely escaped with his life, left Lorn and sought the protection of his uncle, Macleod of Lewis.
The actual murderer of Macaulay was the same desperate character, Leod Macgilleandrais, a vassal of the Earl of Ross, who had in 1346 been mainly instrumental in the capture and consequent death of Mackenzie's father at Inverness. The Earl of Cromarty describes the assassin as "a depender of the Earl of Ross, and possessed of several lands in Strathcarron (of Easter Ross) and some in Strathoykell." When he killed Macaulay, Leod possessed himself of his lands of Lochbroom and Coigach "whereby that family ended." Macaulay's estates should have gone to Mackenzie in right of his wife, Macaulay's daughter, but "holding of the Earl of Ross, the earl disponed the samen in lyfrent by tack to Leod, albeit Murdo Mackenzie acclaimed it in right of his wyfe."
Leod kept possession of Kenlochewe, which, lying as it did, exactly between Kintail and Lochbroom, he found most convenient as a centre of operations against both, and he repeatedly took advantage of it, though invariably without success so far at least as his main object was concerned--to get possession of the stronghold of Ellandonnan. On the other hand, the brave garrison of the castle made several desperate reprisals under their heroic commander, Macaulay, and held out in spite of all the attempts made to subdue them, until the restoration of David II., by which time Murdoch Mackenzie had grown up a brave and intrepid youth, approaching majority.
The author of the Ardintoul MS. informs us that he was called Murdo of the Cave; being perhaps not well tutored, he preferred sporting and hunting in the hills and forests to going to the Ward School, where the ward children, or the heirs of those who held their lands and wards from the King, were wont or bound to go, and he resorted to the dens and caves about Torridon and Kenlochewe, hoping to get a hit at Leod Mac-gilleandrais, who was instrumental, under the Earl of Ross, to apprehend and cut off his father. In the meantime Leod hearing of Murdo's resorting to these bounds, that he was kindly entertained by some of the inhabitants, and fearing that he would withdraw the services and affections of the people from himself, and connive some mischief against him for his ill-usage of his father, he left no means untried to apprehend him, so that Mackenzie was obliged to start privately to Lochbroom, from whence, with only one companion, he went to his uncle, Macleod of Lewis, by whom, after he had revealed himself to him alone, he was well received, and both of them resolved to conceal his name until a fit opportunity offered to make known his identity. He, however, met with a certain man named Gille Riabhach who came to Stornoway with twelve men, about the same time as himself, and he, in the strictest confidence, told Gille Riabhach that he was Mackenzie of Kintail, which secret the latter kept strictly inviolate. Macleod entertained his nephew, keeping it an absolute secret from others who he was, that his enemies might think that he was dead, and so feel the greater security till such time as they would deem it wise that he should act for himself and make an attempt to rescue his possessions from Macgilleandrais, who now felt quite secure, thinking that Mackenzie had perished, having for so long heard nothing concerning him. When a suitable time arrived his uncle gave Murdo two of his great galleys, with as many men (six score) as he desired, to accompany him, his cousin german Macleod, the Gille Riabhach and his twelve followers, all of whom determined to seek their fortunes with young Kintail. They embarked at Stornoway, and securing a favourable wind they soon arrived at Sanachan, in Kishorn (some say at Poolewe), where they landed, marched straight towards Kenlochewe, and arrived at a thick wood near the place where Macgilleandrais had his residence. Mackenzie commanded his followers to lie down and watch, while he and his companion, Gille Riabhach, went about in search of intelligence. He soon found a woman cutting rushes, at the same time lamenting his own supposed death and Leod Macgillearidrais' succession to the lands of Kenlochewe in consequence. He at once recognised her as the woman's sister who nursed or fostered him, drew near, spoke to her, sounded her, and discovering her unmistakeable affection for him he felt that he could with perfect safety make himself known to her. She was overjoyed to find that it was really he, whose absence and loss she had so intensely and so long lamented. He then requested her to go and procure him information of Leod's situation and occupation that night. This she did with great propriety and discretion. Having satisfied herself, she returned at the appointed time and assured him that Macgilleandrais felt perfectly secure, quite unprepared for an attack, and bad just appointed to meet the adjacent people next morning at a place called Ath-nan-Ceann (the Ford of the Heads), preparatory to a hunting match, having instructed those who might arrive before him to wait his arrival. Mackenzie considered this an excellent opportunity for punishing Leod. He in good time went to the ford accompanied by his followers. Those invited by Leod soon after arrived, and, seeing Mackenzie before them, thought he was Macgilleandrais with some of his men, but soon discovered their mistake.
Mackenzie killed all those whom he did not recognise as soon as they appeared. The natives of the place, who were personally known to him, he pardoned and dismissed. Leod soon turned up, and seeing such a gathering awaiting him, naturally thought that they were his own friends, and hastened towards them, but on approaching nearer he found himself "in the fool's hose." Mackenzie and his band fell upon them with their swords, and after a slight resistance Macgilleandrais and his party fled, but they were soon overtaken at a place called to this day Featha Leoid or Leod's Bog, where they were all slain, except Leod's son Paul, who was taken prisoner and kept in captivity for some time, but was afterwards released upon plighting his faith that he would never again trouble Mackenzie or resent against him his father's death. Murdoch Mackenzie being thus re-possessed of Kenlochewe, "gave Leod Macgilleandrais' widow to Gillereach to wife for his good services and fidelity, whose posterity live at Kenlochewe and thereabout, and to this day some of them live there." According to the Cromarty MS., Mackenzie possessed himself of Lochbroom in right of his wife and disposed of Coigach to his cousin Macleod, "for his notable assistance in his distress; which lands they both retained but could obtain no charters from the Earls of Ross, of whom they held, the Earls of Ross pretending that they fell to themselves in default of male heirs, the other retaining possession in right of his wife as heir of line."
Paul Macgilleandrais some years after this repaired to the confines of Sutherland and Caithness, prevailed upon Murdo Riabhach, Kintail's illegitimate son, to join him, and, according to one authority, became "a common depredator," while according to another, he became what was perhaps not inconsistent in those days with the character of a desperado --a person of considerable state and property. They often "spoiled" Caithness. The Earl of Cromarty, referring to this raid, says that Paul "desired to make a spoil on some neighbouring country, a barbarous custom but most ordinary in those days, as thinking thereby to acquire the repute of valour and to become formidable as the greatest security amidst their unhappy feuds. This, their prentice try or first exhibition, was called in Irish (Gaelic) `Creach mhacain' the young man's herschip." Ultimately Murdo Riabhach and Paul's only son were killed by Budge of Toftingall. Paul was so mortified at the death of his young depredator son that he gave up building the fortress of Duncreich, which he was at the time erecting to strengthen still more his position in the county. He gave his lands of Strathoykel, Strathcarron, and Westray, with his daughter and heiress in marriage, to Walter Ross, III. of Balnagown, on which condition he obtained pardon from the Earl of Ross, the chief and superior of both. Mackenzie, after disposing of Macgilleandrais, returned to his own country; where he was received with open arms by the whole population of the district. He then married the only daughter of his gallant friend and defender, Duncan Macaulay--whose only son, Murdoch, had been killed by Macgilleandrais--and through her his son ultimately succeeded to the lands of Lochbroom and Coigeach granted to Macaulay's predecessor by Alexander II. Mackenzie was now engaged principally in preserving and improving his possessions, until the return of David II. from England, 1357-8, when Murdoch laid before the King a complaint against the Earl of Ross for the murder of his father, and claimed redress but the only satisfaction he ever obtained was a confirmation of his rights previously granted by the King to "Murdo filius Kennethi de Kintaill, etc.," dated "Edinburg 1362, et Regni Domini Regis VI., Testibus Waltero Senescollo et allis." [MS. History of the Mackenzies.]
Of Murdoch Dubh's reign, the Laird of Applecross says:--"During this turbulent age, securities and writs, as well as laws, were little regarded; each man's protection lay in his own strength." Kintail regularly attended the first Parliament of Robert II., until it was decreed by that King and his Privy Council that the services of the "lesser barons" should not be required in future Parliaments or General Councils. He then returned home, and spent most of his time in hunting and wild sports, of which he was devotedly fond, living peaceably and undisturbed during the remainder of his days. This Baron of Kintail took no share in the recent rebellion under the Lord of the Isles, who, backed by most of the other West Highland chiefs, attempted to throw off his independence and have himself proclaimed King of the Isles. The feeble and effeminate Government of David II., and the evil results consequent thereon throughout the country, encouraged the island lord in this desperate enterprise, but, as Tytler says, the King on this occasion, with an unwonted energy of character, commanded the attendance of the Steward, with the prelates and barons of the realm, and surrounded by this formidable body of vassals and retainers, proceeded against the rebels in person." The expedition proved completely successful, and John of the Isles, with a numerous train of chieftains who joined him in the rebellion, met the King at Inverness, and submitted to his authority. He there engaged in the most solemn manner, for himself and for his vassals, that they should yield themselves faithful and obedient subjects to David their liege lord, and not only give due and prompt obedience to the ministers of the King in suit and service, as well as in the payment of taxes and public burdens, but that they would coerce and put down all others, and compel all who dared to rise against the King's authority to make due submission, or pursue them from their respective territories." For the fulfilment of these obligations, the Lord of the Isles not only gave his most solemn oath before the King and his nobles, on condition of forfeiting his whole possessions in case of failure, but offered his father-in-law, the High Steward, in security and delivered his son Donald, his grandson Angus, and his natural son, also named Donald, as hostages for the strict performance of the articles of the treaty, which was duly signed, attested and dated, the 15th November, 1369. [For a full copy of this instrument, see Invernessiana, pp. 69-70.] Fordun says that in order to crush the Highlanders, and the more easily, as the King thought, to secure obedience to the laws, he used artifice by dividing the chiefs and promising high rewards to those who would capture or kill their brother lords; and, that writer continues "this diabolical plan, by implanting the seeds of disunion amongst the chiefs, succeeded, and they gradually destroyed one another."