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Garmoran is the name of a realm within medieval Norway, which subsequently became part of western Scotland. It lay at the south-western edge of the present Highland Region, and at different times variously comprised the Rough Bounds (specifically, Knoydart, North Morar[note 1], Arisaig[note 2], and Moidart), and the Small Isles, as well as The Uists and Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The term is sometimes used in modern times as a synonym for the Rough Bounds.

Occasionally, the term is extended to cover the entirity of south west Highland, thus including Ardnamurchan and/or Morvern, which were historically part of Lorn.


There is universal agreement that the first element of the name derives from the gaelic word Garbh, meaning Rough. The remainder of the name, however, is a matter of controversy, with the following explanations variously given:

  • Garbh Mor Earrain, literally meaning Rough Great Portion, hence Rough Mainland
  • Garbh Mor Bhearna, Rough Great Passes
  • Garbh Mor-roinn, Rough Province[1]
  • Garbh Maoirne, Rough Stewardry[1]


Early history

The Arisaig coast

Following raids by Vikings, the Rough Bounds became part of the Kingdom of the Isles, a Norwegian dependency. In the late 11th century, however, Malcolm III of Scotland made a written agreement with Magnus Barelegs, the Norwegian king, which moved the border to the coast; the area thus became Scottish.

In the early 12th century, Somerled, a Norse-Gael of uncertain origin, came into possession of the Rough Bounds and Lorn; no reliable record explains how this happened, but at some point in the 1140s, David I of Scotland's control of the region had been eroded[2]. In the middle of the century, Somerled launched a coup in the Kingdom of the Isles, which resulted in that kingdom joining his other possessions, as a single independent state. Upon Somerled's death, Norwegian authority was restored/established over the areas Somerled had ruled, but in practice the kingdom was divided; the portion containing the Rough Bounds, Uist, and the islands in between (Eigg and Rùm), became Garmoran, and was ruled by the MacRory, a faction among Somerled's heirs.

The Lordship of Garmoran

MacRory Lords

Castle Tioram

Following the 1266 Treaty of Perth, Garmoran became a Scottish crown dependency - the Lordship of Garmoran. At the turn of the century, William I had created the position of Sheriff of Inverness, to be responsible for the Scottish highlands, which theoretically now extended to Garmoran[3][4]. Most of the remainder of the Kingdom of the Isles had become the Lordship of the Isles, ruled by the MacDonalds (another group of Somerled's descendants).

In 1284 When Alexander III's son died, he demanded that the Scottish nobles accept Margaret, Maid of Norway as the heir to the Scottish Crown; Ailéan mac Ruaidhrí, the Lord of Garmoran, was among those of whom he made this demand[5]. Ailin had died by 1296, by which time he had fathered two illegitimate sons (named Ruaidhri and Lachlan), as well as a legitimate daughter - Christina - his sole legitimate heir. However, When Christina succeeded to the extensive estates of her father, she resigned a large proportion of them to Ruaidhri.[6][7]. At around that time, Castle Tioram was built as the Lordship of Garmoran's main seat.

In 1343, King David II issued a charter to Ruaidhrí's son, Raghnall, confirming his possession of the islands of Uist, Barra, Eigg and Rhum (Ywest ... Barra ... Egghe ... Romme) and eight pennylands of Garmoran (Garw Morwarne), which were defined as 'Moidart (Mudeworth), Morar (Mordhowor), Arisaig (Aresaig) and Knoydart (Cundeworth) with 'their pertinents'[8]. In October 1346, Raghnall was assassinated at Elcho Nunnery near Perth as the result of a quarrel with Uilleam III, Earl of Ross. He had been the "last chieftain of the MacRuaris"[9]

Amy of Garmoran and her progeny

The Lordship of Garmoran now fell to Raghnall's sister, and sole heir, Amy of Garmoran. Amy married the MacDonald leader, John of Islay, but a decade later he divorced her, and married the king's niece instead (in return for a substantial dowry). The divorce theoretically annulled John of Islay's rights to her lands, although he managed to procure a royal charter to them in which her name is not even mentioned.[10][11]. As part of the arrangement, John deprived his eldest son, Ranald, of the ability to inherit the Lordship of the Isles, in favour of a son by his new wife. As compensation, John granted Lordship of the Uists to Ranald's younger brother Godfrey, and made Ranald Lord of the remainder of Garmoran.

North central Moidart

However, on Ranald's death, at the end of the 14th century, Ranald's sons were still children, and Godfrey took the opportunity to seize the Lordship of Garmoran. Furthermore, Godfrey had a younger brother, Murdoch, whose heirs (the Siol Murdoch) now claimed to own a portion of North Uist. This led to a great deal of violent conflict involving Godfrey's family (the Siol Gorrie) and those of his brothers (which surviving records do not describe in much detail).

In 1427, frustrated with the level of violence generally in the Highlands, together with the insurrection caused by his own cousin, King James I demanded that highland magnates should attend a meeting at Inverness. On arrival, many of the leaders were seized and imprisoned. Alexander MacGorrie, son of Godfrey, was considered to be one of the two most reprehensible, and after a quick showtrial, was immediately executed[12]. As Alexander had by now inherited Godfrey's de facto position as Lord of Garmoran, and in view of Ranald's heirs being no less responsible for the violence, King James declared the Lordship forfeit.


An abandoned house on Morar

However, in 1427, following the forfeiture, the Lord of the Isles granted Lairdship of Barra and most of South Uist to Giolla Adhamhnáin Mac Néill, leader of the MacNeils. The rest of Garmoran (including North Uist) remained with the Scottish crown, until 1469, when James III granted Lairdship of it to John of Ross, the Lord of the Isles.

Blaeu's 1654 map, showing Garmoran's nameless separation from other provinces

The Siol Gorrie had been brought to the brink of extinction by the violence, and played no further part in regional history. Ranald's eldest son, Allan, gave rise to Clan Ranald, while a younger son, Donald, gave rise to the MacDonells of Glengarry.

However, instead of these families, John of Ross passed Garmoran (excepting the MacNeil lands) to his own half-brother, Hugh of Sleat (confirmed by the king in a 1493 charter). For reasons which are now unknown, when Hugh died, in 1498, his son immediately resigned the lands back to the king. The king and his successors granted lairdship over the lands as follows:

  • Arisaig and Eigg : in 1505, to Clan Ranald
  • Moidart : in 1532, to Clan Ranald
  • Morar : in 1539, to the MacDonells of Glengarry
  • Knoydart : in 1537, to Clan Cameron, who transferred it to the MacDonells of Glengarry, in 1611
A 1689 map showing Loquaber (Garmoran) in green, Lochaber in yellow

The leader of the MacNeils did not submit to the 1609 Statutes of Iona. Using this as justification, Clan Ranald drove the MacNeils out of South Uist, and was subsequently awarded a charter for South Uist, in 1610.

In 1509, Alexander, the Earl of Huntly, was made sheriff of Inverness, giving him authority in the former Garmoran. He had already been granted the adjacent Lordship of Lochaber (in 1500). From this time, the term Garmoran appears to have dropped out of use, and the region gradually acquired a perception of being associated with Lochaber. Yet though a 1669 map names the rough bounds as Loquaber, it is clearly marked as outside the borders of Lochaber. Even in the 18th century, the lands were regarded as distinct from Moray and Lochaber; in Moll's pre-1732 map, the area is clearly distinguished from these neighbouring provinces, but has no name itself, other than the description the territory west from Lochaber. This nameless distinction had already been established in Blaeu's 1654 map, where the lands are simply those that lay west from Lochaber. They are now form part of the Lochaber district.


  1. ^ the peninsula north of Loch Morar
  2. ^ including the region immediately south of Loch Morar


  1. ^ a b Divided Gaels : Gaelic Scotland and Gaelic Ireland, 1200-1650 - perceptions and connections, Wilson McLeod, 2004, Oxford University Press, p. 10
  2. ^ MacDonald, IG (2013). Clerics and Clansmen: The Diocese of Argyll between the Twelfth and Sixteenth Centuries. The Northern World: North Europe and the Baltic c. 400–1700 AD. Peoples, Economics and Cultures (series vol. 61). Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-18547-0. ISSN 1569-1462. , p. 37; Woolf, A (2004). "The Age of Sea-Kings, 900–1300". In Omand, D. The Argyll Book. Edinburgh: Birlinn. pp. 94–109. ISBN 1-84158-253-0. , p. 102.
  3. ^ Dickinson W.C., The Sheriff Court Book of Fife, Scottish History Society, Third Series, Vol. XII (Edinburgh 1928), pp. 357-360
  4. ^ The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2017), 15 July 1476
  5. ^ Gregory (1881) p. 24
  6. ^ Barrow (2003) p. 347
  7. ^ Gregory (1881) pp. 24, 27
  8. ^ Regesta Regum Scottorum VI ed. Bruce Webster (Edinburgh 1982) no. 73.
  9. ^ Hunter (2000) p. 127
  10. ^ Gregory (1881) pp. 30-31
  11. ^ Oram (2005) p. 128
  12. ^ Gregory, Donald, History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland, from A.D. 1493 to A.D. 1625, with a brief introductory sketch, from A.D. 80 to A.D. 1493, Edinburgh, W. Tait, retrieved 11 May 2012 , p. 65


  • Barrow, G.W.S. (2003) The kingdom of the Scots: government, church and society from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. Edinburgh University Press
  • Gregory, Donald (1881) The History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland 1493 - 1625. Edinburgh. Birlinn. 2008 reprint - originally published by Thomas D. Morrison. ISBN 1-904607-57-8
  • Hunter, James (2000) Last of the Free: A History of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Edinburgh. Mainstream. ISBN 1-84018-376-4
  • Oram, Richard, "The Lordship of the Isles, 1336-1545", in Donald Omand (ed.) (2005) The Argyll Book. Edinburgh. Birlinn.

Coordinates: 56°45′N 5°47′W / 56.750°N 5.783°W / 56.750; -5.783

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