A Family History Collection
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Duthaich Mhic Aoidh, familiarly known as the Mackay Country, covered approximately five-eighths of the County of Sutherland. Measuring some eighty miles in length, it extended from Drumholstein in the east to Cape Wrath in the west, thence southward to Eddrachillis Bay which separated it from Assynt. It adjoined the lands of the Gunns, Sinclairs, Sutherlands, and MacLeods of Assynt.
In earlier times the Mackay chiefs were described as "of Strathnaver," and this term was commonly used to describe the whole Mackay country. The name" Lord Reay's Country" appears to have come into use following the year 1628 when Sir Donald Mackay of Farr was raised to the Scottish peerage as Lord Reay.
The first Mackay lands, twelve davochs of church lands at Durness, were acquired in the early thirteenth century. From this first foothold, which was secured before the Norsemen were expelled from Scotland, successive Mackay chiefs added to their estates until by the seventeenth century they owned the greater part of the modern County of Sutherland.
In 1415, the Lord of the Isles gave Angus Du Mackay, his brother-in-law, a charter on the lands of Strathhalladale and Ferrmcoskry (Skibo, Creich, etc.). In the charter Angus Du is described as " of Strathnaver " (de Strathnawir) which suggests that the Mackays had acquired other lands in addition to the church lands at Durness. In 1499, the lands of Farr, Strathy, Armadale, Cattach, and others were given to Odo Mackay by King James IV. These lands, the confiscated possessions of Sutherland of Dirled, were Mackay's reward for capturing Dirled who had been outlawed. A royal gift of non-entry in 1504 confirmed to Y Mackay all his possessions in Duthaich Mhic Aoidh. The islands of Strathnaver with Melness and Hope were added by purchase, Melness and Hope in 1511, and the Islands of Strathnaver in 1624. These lands had originally been gifted in 1379 to Ferchard Mackay by the Wolf of Badenoch, son of King Robert II. Ferchard was described in his charters as " the king's physician " and " the leech." He was the son of lye Mackay killed at Dingwall in 1370. In Farr churchyard there is a beautiful sculptured stone called Clach Fhearchar which was traditionally said to mark the grave of Ferchard "the leech." This, however, is extremely unlikely.
In 1624 the Mackay lands reached their greatest extent, extending from the hill of Skaill to G1encoul, near Assynt, a stretch of one hundred miles. The 1st Lord Reay added considerably to his possessions by purchasing lands in Caithness from Lord Forbes.
It is a wild and rugged country of high mountains, fertile valleys, and open moorland, with rivers and lochs offering excellent fishing. The Laxford has always been regarded as the best salmon river and its name, of Norse derivation, means " the salmon ford." Other good salmon rivers are the Borgy, Hope, Dionard, and the Naver, while the whole of the Mackay country abounds in lochs full of trout. The Reay Forest, from Ben Loyal to Ben Leod, has long been famous, and many early accounts speak of the great herds of deer which roamed the forest and of the many hunting expeditions of Mackay and his guests. The country was rich in natural food. Sea fish were plentiful on the coast. Trout and salmon, venison and game were all in good supply.
The people raised cattle, sheep, and goats, selling the surplus not required for their own use to the markets of the south. Their crops were mainly barley, oats, and rye; potatoes and vegetables not being cultivated until a fairly late date. They were almost self-supporting and independent of outside supplies. Strathnaver was the most fertile valley and the most populous. Stretching from Bettyhill to Mudale, it was from here that the greatest number of people were evicted during the Sutherland clearances.
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