This unusual monument (Well of the 7 Heads) on the shores of Loch Oich commemorates a bloody incident from Scotland’s exciting past. It shows a hand clutching a dagger, and 7 severed heads, and recalls a family disagreement which had deadly consequences.
This was MacDonald territory, specifically the MacDonalds of Keppoch – a powerful branch of the Clan Donald Federation. In 1663, the 13th Chief, Alexander, and his brother Ranald had returned from France where he had been studying, and was murdered by his cousins in an argument. The reasons for this are unclear – possibly his cousins had been making fun of the French mannerisms they had acquired, or perhaps this was a grab for power. The end result, however, was a double murder.
The murderers were another Alexander MacDonald, and his 6 sons, who were well known locally with influential friends. This was a place outwith central authority, and subject to clan discipline, which failed to take any action.
One man, however, decided to settle the matter himself. Iain Lom, or “Bald Iain” was the clan bard – the Gaelic Poet Laureate of his time – and was determined to exact vengeance. Having been refused help by the High Chief of the clan and other prominent family members, he eventually persuaded Sir James MacDonald of Sleat, who had fostered the victims, to become involve. 2 years after the murders, Sir James obtained letters of “Fire and Sword” – court authorisation to use all necessary force to eject the named parties from their land.
Sir James provided 50 men who accompanied Bald Iain in attacking Alexander MacDonald and his supporters. All 7 murderers were killed (and probably others as well). Bald Iain wanted to send a message, so wrapped the heads of the 7 men in a plaid, presenting them to the High Chief at Invergarry. On the way, he stopped by Loch Oich to wash the heads, and the monument marks this spot. The heads were then taken to Edinburgh where they were put on display at the gallows.
The monument was erected in 1812 after excavations of a burial mound nearby revealed a number of headless corpses.
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