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An 18th Century Battle
An 18th Century Battle
An 18th century tale from WC Mackenzie, retold by Kinloch Historical Society.
In the mid 18th century when Mr Colin Mackenzie (Cailean Dearg - Red Colin) was Factor of Lewis, Kenneth Mackenzie (Coinneach Ban - Fair Kenneth) was the tacksman of Laxay in the parish of Lochs. Coinneach Ban was renowned for his excellent swordsmanship and being nearly seven feet tall - he was a formidable man indeed.
There was a falling out between Coinneach and Cailean and as a consequence of this disagreement, Coinneach refused to pay his rent to the Factor in Stornoway. Instead, he made it his habit to take the money to Brahan Castle on the mainland near Dingwall and deliver it to the Seaforth himself in person. Now this conduct of Coinneach Ban sorely provoked Cailean Dearg. He was greatly affronted by this snub and being a man of great pride, he resolved to restore the honour of his name. He wrote to three men of reputation in the low country of Scotland telling of Coinneach's behaviour, informing them that he viewed this as extremely disrespectful by making him, the Factor, contemptible in the eyes of his tenants. He offered these men every encouragement to attack Coinneach Ban at a place called Carn a Chaorruinn, a treacherous pass which was noted for the many robberies committed there and was considered so dangerous that travellers were always prepared for the possibility of attack.
On receipt of Cailean Dearg's letter the three men made haste to Carn a Chaorruin, and took a fourth man along for good measure (Coinneach Ban's fearsome reputation had obviously preceded him). However, they missed their target who had already passed through to Brahan Castle, paid his rent and travelled on to Inverness. There he made some purchases, including some of his favourite tobacco. Coinneach had a servant with him who carried a musket, and he himself was armed with a sword, a dagger and a pair of pistols. A one man army!
On their return journey, Coinneach Ban and his servant came in sight of the dangerous pass early in the morning. They sat down to refresh themselves and prepare their arms, then proceeded with care along the pass. On reaching a particularly dark part which projected over a gloomy and narrow chasm, they were confronted by the four robbers who asked them to rest a while with them. Coinneach Ban refused their hospitality as they had far to travel. Then one of the robbers, who appeared to be their leader, asked him if he had any tobacco. Coinneach Ban handed him his spluchan (pouch) which contained two ounces. The robber took a mouthful and then placed it in his pocket, to which Coinneach responded "That is not the conduct of a gentleman."
Immediately he heard the snap of a pistol beneath the robber's cloak, but fortunately for him the gun misfired. Coinneach drew his own pistol and felled the robber. Then a clever swordsman drew his blade and Coinneach engaged him with steel on steel. His manservant covered his back with the loaded musket as he fought for his life. The two men fought desperately, with Coinneach struggling to keep his footing in his stiff-soled new shoes. Despite his handicap, Coinneach prevailed and forced his man to give ground through his superior strength. His adversary lost his footing and before he could recover himself, Coinneach ran him through.
The third robber, seeing his friend fall dead, came forward a few paces but Coinneach Ban grabbed his other pistol and shot him dead. At that the fourth thief fled, but not before leaving one of his ears on the battlefield. Coinneach returned home and it was some time before he discovered that the Factor had arranged the attack. Cailean Dearg never dared cross Coinneach's path again.
Some years later the fourth man came as a beggar to Lewis and found himself at the home of Coinneach Ban at Laxay. Imagine his terror when he realised he was in the company of his erstwhile foe. Coinneach recognised him from his missing ear and challenged him. Trembling he confessed that it was indeed he. The man need not have feared though, as in true island fashion, Coinneach treated him with great kindness and hospitality because he was very proud of his own achievement.