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Clan chief invokes ancient law to claim back Lochaber
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 24, 2009 2:22 pm    Post subject: Clan chief invokes ancient law to claim back Lochaber Reply with quote


The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee has heard some strange and eccentric complaints since its inception ten years ago. Never before, however, has it had to determine whether an ancient Gaelic law should be invoked to return a sizeable chunk of the Highlands to a clan chief.

Ranald MacDonald, 79, who recently won a lengthy legal battle to take his rightful place at the head of the MacDonalds of Keppoch, is now fighting to reclaim the entire area of Lochaber for his extended family.

Mr MacDonald — or Mac Mhic Raonuill, Chief of the Honourable Clan Ranald of Lochaber — has lodged a petition asking MSPs to investigate Scottish land ownership under “the authentic and ancient laws of Ur Duthchas”. The Gaelic roughly translates as clan territory.

Mr MacDonald claims that his clan’s land was snatched under the feudal system but since the Scottish Parliament abolished feudalism in 2004 the Ur Duthchas system should prevail. It is believed to involve clan territory being passed down through generations by birthright.

Mr MacDonald’s petition states that, when Holyrood passed the Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) Act, it allowed Udal law, which still operates in parts of Orkney and Shetland, to remain. That system, which Mr MacDonald says is equivalent to Ur Durthchas, states that land is owned by the people, not the Crown. His petition also draws parallels between his cause and the return of land to the indigenous people of Australia, New Zealand and North America.

Mr MacDonald, who lives in Edinburgh, told The Times that he was not prepared to discuss his demands until the committee had reported back. However, he outlined his thoughts on the subject at a recent clan gathering.

He delineated the Keppoch territory as the whole of Lochaber, which is 2,000 square miles in size. The land is currently owned by several families, businesses and other interests. On the MacDonalds of Keppoch clan website, Mr MacDonald writes: “We can reclaim it, at least some if not all of it . . . The sooner our clansmen with legal expertise in Scottish and international law bring their expert knowledge to bear on this vitally important question the more likely that a successful outcome will be the result.”

It is an audacious claim to make, but Mr MacDonald’s lineage suggests that he will be prepared for a bloody fight. The clan fought the last inter-clan battle on British soil when in 1688 they drove their rivals, the Mackintoshes, out of Lochaber.

During the Jacobite rising of 1745-46, the clan’s chief and many of his kinsmen were slaughtered at the Battle of Culloden.

Mr MacDonald has consulted Professor Richard Rennie, of Glasgow University’s law school, on the legal implications of Ur Duthchas. The professor said: “He asked me what \ there was about duthchas, which is what the areas were known as. There is very little on them. They appear to have been the lands held by the chief of the clan, but for the clan, not himself.”

The committee considered Mr Ranald’s submission last week and has asked for advice from the Scottish government, Registers of Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Land Court on the matter.
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