Alexander Gilbert Haldan Robertson of Struan.
The gaunt ruin of Dunalasdair house built on the site of the “Hermitage” where the Jacobite chief Alexander Robertson of Struan entertained in heroic style.
Modern Robertson Tartan
The oldest written history of Clan Donnachaidh was the Red Book. Unfortunately, the Red Book was burned in a fire back in the 1600’s. In the 17th century, Chief Alexander Robertson of Struan did his best to have the history re-written and commissioned his great-great uncle John to write it from memory. Apparently, the aged uncle had amazing recall; but the results seem to owe more to imagination than historical fact.
According to the Red Book – which now only exists as a copy of a copy, the first chief of the clan was Duncan de Atholia. Recent research seems to confirm the Robertson claim to have ancient Celtic roots, and the clan is almost certainly descended from the Celtic Earls of Athol. Duncan de Aothlia lived in Atholl in the early 1300’s. It was he who gave the clan the name we recognise today as Clan Donnachaidh. Duncan translates as Donnachaidh in Gaelic. Clan Donnachaidh were Duncan’s clan - the children of Duncan – his wider family and all those who sought his protection. Later, in honour of another great chief called Robert, the clan adopted the name Robertson.
A traditional rival of Clan Donnachaidh were the MacDougalls of Lorn, whose land bordered theirs across the great wastes of Rannoch Moor, the scene of many violent clashes in their history. This was a blood feud that gave the Robertsons one of the most beautiful and mysterious relics of any highland clan – the Clach na Bratach.
Today, this treasure and heirloom of the chiefs is carefully looked after at the clan museum at Bruar. According to legend, when the clan’s standard was pulled from the ground on the eve of a battle against the MacDougalls, chief Duncan discovered a quartz stone that looked like a crystal ball in the ground beneath the staff. It is – according to the superstition of the clan – a magical stone. Carried by all chiefs since Duncan, it was consulted like an oracle and is also said to have remarkable healing powers.
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Robert 'Riabhach' ('Grizzled') - 4th Chief of Clann Donnchaidh, was a strong supporter of King James I (1406–1437), who was brutally murdered in front of his wife by assassins at the Blackfriars Dominican Friary in Perth. Grizzled Robert tracked down and captured two of the assassins, Sir Robert Graham and the King's uncle, the Earl of Atholl. They were both tortured to death in Edinburgh.
The Robertson crest badge of a right hand upholding an imperial crown recognizes the clan’s help in finding the king’s killers. It is in honour of Robert 'Riabhach' that his descendants took the name Robertson.
Alexander Robertson of Struan
Alexander Robertson of Struan – the poet chief, was born in 1670 was perhaps the most colourful of all Robertson chiefs. An ardent supporter of the exiled Stuart monarchy, he is the only man known to have fought in all three Jacobite rebellions. When he wasn’t fleeing from the government, or from his many creditors, he entertained in lavish style, drinking and reciting the poems he had written – many of a quite scandalous, sexually explicit and seditious nature. Alexander was a notorious misogynist, and women were forbidden to visit his retreat at Dunalastair.
At the battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715 Alexander charged too far ahead of his men. A party of government dragoons briefly captured him, but his men returned and saved him, just as he was being forced at sword point to hand over his purse of gold to one of the Dragoos. As the government trooper fled, he called back to Alexander, “Your purse by right is mine”. “Yes it is”, replied the chief. “Why don’t you come back for it?”. According to the story, Alexander discovered the man’s name and sent his purse and gold to an address in Carlisle.
After the disastrous defeat of the Jacobite Army at Culloden in 1746, government troops burned Alexander Robertson’s home at Dunalastair. Alexander spent the last years of his life exiled in his own lands. Far from the company he loved, he eked out his days living in a single story hut on the edge of Rannoch Moor. He continued to write about the heroic exploits of the clan. He also continued to drink. But his alcoholism now dismayed the few visitors who made it through the desolate country to meet him.
Church at Struan
The end for Alexander came one night in April 1749. He was in his 80th year. Two thousand men of Clan Donnachaidh followed their chief’s coffin as it was carried fifteen miles to the church at Struan. Incredibly for such a monumental character, Alexander’s last resting place has been lost. All we know is that his is body lies somewhere beneath the colds sods of earth in the old grave yard.