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--
"From the second son of the Earl of Ross the lairds of Balnagowan are descended, and had by inheritance the lands of Rariechies and Coulleigh, where you may observe that the laird of Balnagowan's surname should not be Ross, seeing that there was never any Earl of Ross of that surname; but the Earls of Ross were first of the surname of Beolan, then they were Leslies, and last of all that earldom fell by inheritance to the Lords of the Isles, who resigned the same unto king James the Third's bands, in the year of God 1477. So I do think that the lairds of Balnagowan, perceiving the Earls of Ross decayed, and that earldom, fallen into the Lords of the Isles' hands, they called themselves Ross thereby to testify their descent from the Earls of Ross. Besides, all the Rosses in that province are Unto this day called in the Irish (Gaelic) language Clan Leandries, which race by their own tradition is sprung from another stock."
In the same work, p. 46, we find that the Earls of Ross were called O'Beolans as late as 1333, for Sir Robert informs us, writing of the battle of Halidon Hill, that "in this field was Hugh Beolan, Earl of Ross, slain." It is established to the satisfaction of all reasonable men that the Applecross and O'Beolan Earls of Ross were one and the same, and that they were descended from Gilleoin na h' Airde, corrupted in the Norse Sagas into "Beolan," the general designation by which they were known, until Earl William, the last of his line, died without surviving male issue on the 9th of February, 1372, when the title devolved upon his daughter, Euphemia, Countess of Ross in her own right, whose daughter, Mary, or Margaret, by Sir Walter Leslie, carried the earldom to Donald of Harlaw, second Lord of the Isles. That the O'Beolan Earls of Ross, of whom Ferquhard Mac an t'Sagairt was the first, descended from the same ancestor, Gilleoin na h' Airde, as the older "Gillandres" earl of 1160, is equally certain. Earl Gillandres was probably forfeited for the part he took against Malcolm IV. on that occasion, and Ferquhard having rendered such important services to Alexander II. was restored probably quite as much in virtue of his ancient rights as the grandson of Ferquhard as on account of his valiant conduct in support of the crown in Moray, in Argyle, and in Galloway, in 1215, 1222, and 1235.
The surname Ross has in early times been invariably rendered in Gaelic as Gilleanrias, or Gillanders, and the Rosses appear under this appellation in all the early Acts of Parliament. There is also an unvarying tradition that on the death of the last Earl of the O'Beolan line a certain Paul Mac Tire was for some years head of the Rosses, and this tradition is corroborated by the fact that there is a charter on record by Earl William of the lands of Gairloch in 1366 in favour of Paul Mac Tire and his heirs by Mary Graham, in which the Earl styles Mac Tire his cousin. This grant was confirmed by King Robert II. in 1372. In the manuscript of 1467 the genealogy of Clann Gille-Anrias, or the descendants of Gillean-Ard-Rois, begins with a Paul Mac Tire. The clan whose genealogy is there given is undoubtedly that of the Rosses, and in the manuscript they are traced upwards from Paul MacTire in a direct line to Gilleon na h'Airde, the "Beolan" of the Norse Sagas, who lived in the tenth century, and who will be shown to be also the remote progenitor of the Mackenzies. The Aird referred to is said to be the Aird of Ross.
In the manuscript of 1467 the name Gille-Anrias appears in the genealogies of both the Mackenzies and the Rosses exactly contemporaneous with the generation which preceded the original grant to "Ferchair Mac an t'Sagairt" of the Earldom of Ross. The name Gille--Anrias has been rendered as the Gaelic equivalent for Servant of Andrew, or St. Andrew, and that, according to Skene, would seem to indicate that the first of that name, if not a priest himself, must have belonged to the priestly house of Appercrossan or Applecross, of which Earl Farquhar ultimately became the head. The dates exactly correspond; and when, in addition to this, it is remembered that of the earls who besieged Malcolm IV. at Perth in 1160 one was named "Gillandres" it seems fully established that Ferchard Mac an t'Sagairt was descended from the original earls and that he was entitled to the earldom by ancient right on the failure or forfeiture of the direct representative of the old line, as well as by a new creation. Although there may have been one or two usurpers--a common event in those turbulent times--Ferquhard was undoubtedly a near relative and the legitimate successor of the Celtic "Gillandres" earl of 1160. He is described in the Chronicle of Melrose as "Comes Rossensis Machentagard," and in Dalrymple's Annals of Scotland as "Mc Kentagar," a designation which the author describes in a footnote as "an unintelligible word," though its meaning is perfectly plain to every Gaelic-speaking Celt.
Ferquhard founded the Abbey of Fearn, in Easter Ross, about 1230, and died there in 1251. Referring to his position during the first half of the thirteenth century even the Earl of Cromartie is forced to admit in his MS., a copy of which we possess, that "it cannot be disputed that the Earl of Ross was the Lord paramount under Alexander II., by whom Farquhard Mac an t'Sagairt was recognised in the hereditary dignity of his predecessors, and who, by another tradition, was a real progenitor of the noble family of Kintail." And this was said and written by an author, who, in another part of the same manuscript, stoutly maintains that the king granted these identical lands to Colin Fitzgerald by a charter which, if it was ever signed at all, must have been signed a full generation before the date which the forged document bears--thirty years after the witnesses whose names attest it had gone to their last home.
THE O'BEOLAN EARLS OF ROSS.