Moidart lies to the west of Fort William and is very remote. Its boundaries are the freshwater loch Loch Shiel to the southeast and the open sea to the west, which to the north are Loch Eilt and the river flowing into and out of it. To the south of the narrow pinch between Loch Moidart and Kintra Bay is the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, in Argyllshire. Loch Moidart, a sea loch, is in this southern portion.
The only road into Moidart, the A861, breaks through at Lochailort in the north and at te foot of Loch Shiel in the south.
Moidart includes the townships of Dorlin, Mingarry, Kinlochmoidart and Glenuig. At Dorlin stands the ancient fortress of the MacDonalds, Castle Tioram. During Second World War, HMS Dorlin was based at Dorlin and was used for training of Royal Navy Beach Signals and Royal Signals sections - battle training.
The Macdonalds of Moidart
The Macdonalds of Moidart area were the Clan Ranald, and Moidart was the original and ancient estate of MacDonald of ClanRanald.
John MacGregor WS, writing in 1929, writes of a trial in the Court of Session:
In a dispute over the harvesting of seaweed Colin MacDonald of Boisdale v Ranald MacDonald of Clanranald c1761.
It is a fact both proved in this cause, and admitted between the parties, that all the estates in controversy were originally the property of their common ancestor, MacDonald of ClanRanald, a son of John, Lord of the Isles, who obtained a grant of them from his father, which was confirmed by a charter under the Great Seal by King Robert II of Scotland.Comprehending Terra de Moidart cum castro de Elantirum,de terra de Arisaig, de terra de Morar, de insula de Rume, de insula de Huist, cum castro de Vynvale,de insula de Barry, de insula de Hirts; cum omnibus aliis minutis insulas [and all smaller islands] ad dictus insulas. Pertinentibus &c.
Clanranald left his ancient stronghold of Castle Tioram to join James VII in 1715. According to MacGregor's knowledge Clanranald set fire to his castle when he left at this time. His account of the fire agrees with Seton Gordon's later version of this story, although some accounts state that the fire was started by accident in the castle kitchen.
ClanRanald's pipers were traditionally from a family of MacIntyres who previously lived at Loch Rannoch. At that time this MacIntyre family were anciently pipers to Menzies of Menzies, and were said to have piped the Menzies forward at Bannockburn, with the famous Faery Pipes to which legend attributed magical properties. Some of these MacIntyres moved to Moidart and became pipers to ClanRanald. Today Archie MacIntyre still plays for MacDonald of ClanRanald.
"Between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds of ClanRanald a bitter feud existed. Perhaps the Macdonalds remembered that black day when many of their clan in Eigg were massacred by the Macleods. Be that as it may, the men of ClanRanald planned a deadly revenge.
Picture the dismay of the worshipers when there is a loud shout at the church, and they turn to see the door guarded by armed men, triumphant and without pity, escape is impossible. Resistance is useless for the men are unarmed in the church as the congregation stand against the claymores that guard the narrow door,--- wisps of pungent smoke enter the church.
Shrieks and wailings echo through the doomed building, while the chief of ClanRanald's piper plays wild and scornful music, - to drown the cries of the dying. Unperceived in the dense smoke the solitary survivour of the massacre squeezes herself, inflicting mortal injuries on her person as she does so, through the narrow slit, at the corner of the church which serves as a window...
But, before the men of ClanRanald could escape, the MacLeods came up from Dunvegan, and a desperate fight was fought on the green shore of Ardmore. Uncertain for some time was the issue of the fight:Of a sudden the MacLeods are miraculously increased in numbers in the eyes of their enemies. Where they stood in scores they now stand in hundreds. The Fairy flag has been unfurled! The tide of the battle now goes against the raiders. ClanRanald and his men make for the shore in disorder. To their dismay they find their galleys left high and dry by the ebbing tide, and it is impossible to launch them across the great boulders and slippery stones while the MacLeods do not pause in their harrying. Disheartened and with their means of escape cut off, the MacDonalds sell their lives dearly. The battle becomes a slaughter, but the defence is sufficiently strong to permit a single galley being launched. In her a few of Clanranalds men make their escape and return to South Uist with their bad tidings.
- Rev. Charles Macdonald, Moidart, or among the Clanranalds (1889)