24 Jan 2016

How the Mackay Clan came to Scotland

This is one of my favourite folk tales from this part of the world. Unfortunately I forget where I first read it, but I've retold it here in my own words.

(With apologies to the Mackay clan)

How the Mackay Clan came to Scotland.

A very long time ago the chieftain of a small tribe in the Reay district was in the habit of sending to Ireland for shoes and leatherwear for his fighting men. It might seem a long way to go but he was a canny man and although there was plenty of leather to be had in Reay and yet more of it still grazing in the hills around them, there was no-one skilled enough to fashion the footwear like a certain merchant across the Irish sea who also sold his goods at a very reasonable price.

One day the time had come to put in a new order for 21 pairs of brogues and a few other bits and pieces of bridles and breastplates, belts and pouches. The chief wrote a letter listing his requirements and he gave the letter to a messenger who was good at staying on a horse for a long ride and willing to find a boat to take him across the treacherous seas. The messenger set out on a fine day but before long the wind changed and it began to rain. He was travelling west so the rain got harder the further he went along and then there was a rough sea crossing to face. The poor man and his horse got soaked through and the letter didn’t fair much better. He was very thankful when he arrived at his destination and could hand over the order and be treated to a warm meal around a good fire. 

The merchant read the letter through and came to the messenger in some perturbation. ‘Ye’re certain this is what the chieftain wrote?” he asked. The messenger, who could stay on a horse and find a boat, had as yet to learn to read so he had no idea what was in the letter when it started out. He was sure he hadn’t lost any part of the paper though so he nodded his head firmly and said , yes, it was just as the chieftain had written it.

Which, needless to say, with all the wet and moisture from the spindrift, it wasn’t. There was one letter wiped out by the rain and it made all the difference. What the merchant read to his surprise was: ‘ Please send me 21 pairs of rogues, bridles, pouches etc. etc...’ 

The Irish merchant would never disappoint a customer so by the next day he had managed to fulfill the order though it had stretched his ingenuity to the utmost. The messenger returned with his purchases. He might have been a bit surprised but he knew it wasn’t his place to question the wisdom of his chief. Which is how 21 male Mackays and 21 female Mackays , the best rogues the Irish merchant could lay hands on in a hurry, came to Reay to settle.

You may believe this tale or you may not. That is your privilege. 

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