Most histories of Clan Ross are merely summaries of the O'Beolan Earls of Ross ... usually nothing more, and certainly nothing less. When the histories boldly venture forth with the additional Earls of Ross, they invariably include the Leslie, the Stewart, the MacDonalds, three or four Countesses of Ross and even Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), none of whom (thus far) was actually known by the surname of "Ross". We have the word of Sir Robert Gordon (Earldom of Sutherland) on that. [Gordon, Op.cit. & Adam, Op.cit., p.285] In the absence of other tales, this unusually sterilized product must prove boring to descendants of the ordinary clansperson.
Even then, we tried to recall where our attention became riveted during these limited forays into Clan Ross history. Yes, we admit, contributions of the O'Beolan Earls of Ross or their descendants in a historical context most definitely did grab our attention. Clan Ross, after all, for better or for worse, is great in numerous aspects.
People from the land of Ross were unique in many ways from the very earliest of historical time. The full tale of the clan cannot be appreciated if the stories of the people are separated from the stories of the land. From this perspective, the greatness of Clan Ross was almost assured from the start. Although there might seem to be a dearth of documents about the beginnings of the clan, bits and pieces have been recorded about the many historical firsts, about the uniqueness of the clan and about the involvement of the individuals of Ross in Scottish history. In these early tales, it is the job of a historian to take a fresh look at events from the first notations by the Roman historian Tacitus during the late first century to the reports of the infamous Highland Clearances during the middle of the nineteenth century.
Just as the ordinary clansmen were being driven from their homeland, there was a revival of sentimentality about the Highlanders and their culture. We might say that this rebirth began with the romantic "English literature" of Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) and continued with the subtle invention and reinvention of pretty plaids and "revived traditions" during the mid-nineteenth century ... at a time when the clan system of the Highlands was on its deathbed. What kind statements can be said about writers who did not possess a basic understanding of the meanings of "clan" or "sept"? Library shelves are filled with the nostalgia and romanticism churned out for the Southern gentry by Scott's imitators. Even a casual observer might conclude that the pre-Victorian "lies of England's hostility were replaced by the patronizing fictions of its genuine friendship". [Prebble, Op.cit., p.313] The flocks of such "experts" included some who excelled in counting setts in the patterns of surviving tartans as well as many who became well-paid servants of patrons (absentee chiefs, landlords and "gentry") to provide revisionist versions of shameful events of the past. So much the better for the writer, if he bolstered the ego and importance of his patron as well. Some of these histories might be compared to looking at a photograph, and trying to guess what happened during the week before the snapshot was taken. Give us Rabbie Burns over this lot any day!
These hacks, to use a term with Scottish roots beyond "haggis" and "haggle", found it easier to sweep away (like dirt under a carpet) all contemporary evidence of clearances, which were occurring under their upturned noses. Of the two major kinds of clearances affecting the Rosses, the most publicized was the one, which involved the violent and inhuman removals of our clansmen by the Factors or Landowners' Agents to provide pastures for sheep. The more peaceful removals occurred for the benefit of landowners who were motivated to improve the economic possibilities of their properties by combining the cotters' smaller, runrig farms into larger units under the management of Factors. Both methods of clearances, however, contributed to the depopulation of the lands of Ross and Sutherland.
A true Ross clansman cannot forget the "Clearances".
The histories by William Forbes Skene (June 7, 1809 - August 29, 1892), a respected authority for the period, benefited from a better understanding of the transition from Pictland to Alba to Scotland in his "Chronicles of the Picts, Chronicles of the Scots and Other Memorials of Scotish (sic) History, 1867" and his "Highlanders in Scotland". We can appreciate the many facts and arguments which he presents, but we may tend to draw slightly different logical conclusions from those same facts. Where he relies upon certain nineteenth century gurus, we may also disagree. More recent historians appear to have had access to additional sources for the history of Clan Ross, as we shall see.
It is most fortunate, that the events in the history of the people from the land of Ross were recorded. Even though some Morays, "troublesome" to the monarchy, were dispersed during the rebellions of the twelfth century, there are chronicles of neighbouring clans, Scottish historical documents and some Norse sagas to breathe life into our tale of the great Clan Ross at its peak.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .