Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Duncan Mor McCain's Sword

I have received several inquires about the symbols on the burial slab of Donnchadh Mór Mac Eáin, anglicised Duncan Mor McCain; I post an answer here in case more people are curious about the slab.  Prominent on the slab is a Scottish style broad sword, or claidheamh (said Clay).  There is also ornamental leaves that appear to be vines and several lions, all done in the late medieval Celtic style.

The sword is the most prominent motif by far.  In Scotland, especially in the west Highlands, this symbol on a burial slab denoted a military family, one of noble birth, or a family from the gentry of that district.  Donnchadh Mór we know functioned as a bailiff for the Earl of Argyll and his family and extended family were captains in service of the Earl of Argyll, hence the sword. 

Scottish Gaelic swords had a very unique design to them, which is shown on Donnchadh Mór's burial slab. The hilts were angled, toward the blade side and the pommels of a designed favoured by Gaels.

modern reproduction of a Argyll sword

The Earls of Argyll, who were the chiefs of Clann Chaimbeul, made their fortune supplying Highland Scots, called Redshanks in the 1500s, to Irish Gaelic lords.  The demand for Redshanks was strong in sixteenth century as the Irish Lords, such as the Ó Dónaill, the Ó Neill, needed these stout soldiers in their long wars against the Elizabethan English. Redshanks were expensive to hire and gold and silver poured into the House of Caimbeul.  It is very likely that the migration of McCains from Argyll to their initial settlement in the Laggan district of east Donegal, was in the role of Redshank captains.

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