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--
"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.