The Government plotters originally planned to include many other clans, but only
the Glencoe McDonalds provided the excuse. King William signed the orders in England
but later washed his hands of the whole thing and claimed to know nothing of it when
the London press got hold of the story. That’s politics for you.
The atrocity occurred at 5.00am on February 13, 1692 when some of the 135 men in the Argyll regiment, turned on the MacDonalds after receiving orders to kill all the men below the age of 70. The soldiers had been billeted for 11 days with McDonald families in the little Glencoe communities and receiving hospitality. The regiment were not only Campbells. Only a few were professional soldiers.
The Captain of the troop, Robert Campbell of Glenlyon who was 60, seems to have been deliberately chosen as a shambles of a man by all accounts, a drunkard, who had recently taken his army commission to help to clear his large gambling debts. He was given his orders only the night before, by a Major Robert Duncanson who was billeted with support troops at Ballachulish House. He knew nothing of the plan until then.
More telling facts
The killings began with gunfire. That is a sure way for the soldiers to warn everyone up the glen that trouble is about. That was clearly deliberate. Swords and daggers would have been far quieter and more effective and would have seen off half of the targets before the MacDonalds were roused. They were at close quarters, for goodness’ sake.
It is thought that there were about 200 McDonald men in Glencoe. Only 39 were killed including women and children. After a surprise attack 3 hours before dawn, as they all lay sleeping in their beds, with soldiers outside, in their yards and they succeeded in killing only 39? If the soldiers killed three McDonalds each, then only 13 soldiers were needed to do the job. These soldier lads couldn’t do it. Not in any way. The person who had cooked for them for the past ten days was like their own mother. They had laughs with the boys, who worked on the farm just as their own families worked theirs. They eyed the girls, and the girls eyed them. Then they were told suddenly to get out their swords and rifles and kill all the men – it couldn’t be done. And they did not do it. They made sure the families were warned. – the soldiers got the blame for it. Two of Glenlyon’s lieutenants refused to carry out the murders and broke their swords. They were later prosecuted and freed. Also, according to tradition, the family of Campbell of Airds at Castle Stalker helped many of the fugitives. Glenlyon, the leader of the attack, saved two young McDonald men but both were murdered by Duncanson.
Another telling fact
Additional soldiers were sent to block off the passes out of the Glen. Escaping McDonalds
would head naturally the other way towards Duror in Appin. That is where their long-